The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold

BOOK: The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold
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The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold

 

Peter V. Brett

 

 
 

The Great Bazaar

 

By Peter V. Brett

 

328AR

 

Sunlight was heavy in the desert. More than heat or brightness, it was an oppressive weight, and Arlen kept finding himself hunching over as if to yield before it.

He was riding through the outskirts of the Krasian Desert, where there was nothing but cracked flats of dry clay as far as the eye could see in any direction. Nothing to provide shade or reflect heat. Nothing to sustain life.

Nothing to make a sane person wander out here,
Arlen scolded himself, nevertheless straightening his back in defiance of the sun. He had a thin white robe on over his clothes, the hood pulled low over his eyes, and a veil over his mouth and nose. The cloth reflected some of the light, but it seemed scant protection. He had even slung a white sheet over his horse, a bay courser named Dawn Runner.

The horse gave a dry cough, attempting to dislodge the ever-present dust from its throat.

“I’m thirsty too, Dawn,” Arlen said, stroking the horse’s neck, “but we’ve used our water ration for the morning, so there’s nothing for it but to endure.”

Arlen reached again for Abban’s map. The compass slung around his neck told him that they were still headed due east, but there was no sign of the canyon. It should have come in sight a day ago, and harsh rationing or no, they would have to turn back to Fort Krasia in another day if they did not reach the river and find water.

Or you could spare yourself a day of thirst, and turn back now
, a voice in his head said.

The voice was always telling him to turn back. Arlen thought of it as his father, the lingering presence of a man he hadn’t seen in close to a decade. Its words were always the stern-sounding bits of wisdom that his father had liked to impart. Jeph Bales had been a good man, and honest, but his stern wisdom had kept him from traveling more than a few hours from his home for his entire life.

Every day away from succor was another night spent outside with the corelings, and not even Arlen took that lightly, but he had a deep and driving need to see things that no other man had seen, to go places no other man had gone. He had been eleven when he ran away from home. Now he was twenty, and had seen more of the world than any but a handful of other men.

Like the parch in Arlen’s throat, the voice was simply another thing to be endured. The demons had made the world small enough. He would not let some nagging voice make it even smaller.

This time he was seeking Baha kad’Everam, a Krasian hamlet whose name translated into “Bowl of Everam”, which was the Krasian name for the Creator. Abban’s maps said it rested in a natural bowl formed by a dry lakebed in a river canyon. The hamlet was renowned for its pottery, but the pottery merchants had stopped coming more than twenty years ago, and a
dal’Sharum
expedition had found the Bahavans taken by the night. No one had gone back there since.

“I was on that expedition,” Abban had claimed. Arlen had looked at the fat merchant doubtfully.

“It’s true,” Abban said. “I was just a novice warrior carrying spears for the
dal’Sharum
, but I remember the trek well. There was no sign of the Bahavans, but the village was intact. The warriors cared nothing for pottery, and thought it dishonorable to loot. Even now, there is pottery left in the ruins, waiting for any with the courage to claim it.” He had leaned in closely then. “The work of a Bahavan pottery master would sell for a premium in the bazaar,” he said meaningfully.

And now, Arlen was in the middle of the desert, wondering if Abban had made the whole thing up.

He went on for hours more before he caught sight of a shadow creasing across the clay flats ahead of him. He could feel his heart thudding in his chest as Dawn Runner’s plodding hooves slowly brought the canyon into view. Arlen breathed a sigh of relief, reminding himself that he ignored his father’s voice for a reason. He turned his horse south, the bowl came into sight not long after.

Dawn Runner was grateful when they rode down into the bowl’s shade. The hamlet’s residents had apparently shared the sentiment, because they had built their homes into the ancient canyon walls, cutting deeply into the living clay and extending outward with adobe buildings indistinguishable in color from the canyon and invisible from any distance. A perfect camouflage from the wind demons that soared out over the flats in search of prey.

But despite this protection, the Bahavans had still died out. The river had gone dry, and sickness and thirst had left them vulnerable to the corelings. Perhaps a few had attempted the trek through the desert to Fort Krasia, but if so, they were never heard from again.

Arlen’s initial high spirits fell with the realization that he was riding into a graveyard. Again. He drew wards of protection in the air as he passed the homes, calling out “Ay, Bahavans!” in the vain hope that some survivors might remain.

Only the sound of his own voice echoed back to him. The cloth that had served to block sun from windows and doorways, where it remained at all, was ragged and filthy, and the wards cut into the adobe were faded and worn from years of exposure to harsh desert wind and grit. The walls were scarred by demon claws. There were no survivors here.

There were demon pits dug in the center of the village to trap and hold corelings for the sun, and blockades running up the steep stone stairways that zigzagged in tiers up the canyon wall to link the buildings. They were hastily built defenses, put in place by the
dal’Sharum
not to defend the Bahavans, but rather to honor them. Baha kad’Everam had been a village of
khaffit
, men whose caste made them unworthy of the right to hold spears or enter into Heaven, but even such as they deserved hallowed ground to lay to rest, that their spirits might be reincarnated into a higher caste, if they were worthy.

And there was only one way the
dal’Sharum
hallowed ground. They stained it with their blood, and the black ichor that flowed through coreling veins. They called it
alagai’sharak
, meaning “demon war”, and it was a battle waged every night in Fort Krasia, an eternal struggle that would go on until all the demons were dead, or there were no more men to fight them. The warriors had danced one night’s
alagai’sharak
in Baha kad’Everam, to sanctify the Bahavans’ graveyard.

Arlen rode around the blockades and down to the riverbed, a mighty channel that now held only a muddy, buggy trickle of water. Some thin vegetation clung stubbornly to the water’s edge, but further back the stalks of dead plants jutted, choked with dust and too dry to rot.

The water collected in a few small pools, brown and stinking. Arlen filtered it through charcoal and cloth, but still looked at the water doubtfully, and decided to boil it, as well. Dawn Runner nibbled at the bits of weed and prickly grass while he worked.

It was getting late in the day, and Arlen looked at the setting sun resentfully. “C’mon, boy,” he told the horse. “Time to lock ourselves up for the night.”

He led Dawn Runner back up the bank and into the main courtyard of the village. With little rain or erosion, the demon pits, twenty feet deep and ten feet in diameter, remained intact, but the wards that had been cut into the stones around them were dirty and faded. Any demon thrown into one of the pits now would likely climb right back out.

Still, the pits gave some security. Arlen set up his portable circles right between the adobe walls and one pit, limiting the path of approach to his camp.

Ten feet in diameter, Arlen’s portable warding circles were composed of lacquered wooden plates connected by lengths of stout rope. Each plate was painted with ancient symbols of forbiddance, enough to shield him from every known breed of coreling. He laid them out in precise fashion, ensuring that the wards lined up correctly to form a seamless net.

He drove a stake into the clay inside one circle, and looped rope around Dawn Runner’s legs, hobbling the horse and tying it to the stake with a complicated knot. If the horse struggled or tried to bolt when the demons came, the ropes would tighten and hold it in place, but Arlen could free the knot with but a tug, dropping the loops and freeing Dawn Runner instantly.

In the other circle, Arlen made his own camp. He laid a fire, but did not yet set spark to it, for wood was precious this far out, and the desert night would grow bitter cold.

As he worked, Arlen’s eyes kept drifting up the stone steps to the adobe buildings built into the walls. Somewhere up there was the workshop of Master Dravazi, an artisan whose painted pottery had been worth its weight in gold while he lived, and was priceless now. One original Dravazi, lying forgotten on the potter’s wheel, would likely finance his entire trip. More would make him a very rich man.

Arlen even had a good idea of where the master’s workshop lay from his maps, but as much as he wanted to go and search, the sun was setting.

As the great orb settled below the horizon, the heat leached from the clay flats, drifting skyward and giving the demons a path up from the Core. An evil gray mist rose from the ground outside the circles, coalescing slowly into demonic form.

As the mist rose, Arlen began to feel claustrophobic, as if his circle was surrounded by glass walls, cutting him off from the world. It was hard to breathe in the circle, even though the wards blocked only demon magic, and fresh air blew across his face even now. He looked out at his rising jailors, and bared his teeth.

Wind demons were the first to form, standing about the height of a tall man at the shoulder, but with head fins that rose much higher, topping eight or nine feet. Their great long snouts were sharp-edged like beaks, but also hid rows of teeth, thick as a man’s finger. Their skin was a tough, flexible armor that could turn any spearpoint or arrowhead. That resilient substance stretched thin out from their sides and along the underside of their arm bones to form the tough membrane of their giant wings, which often spanned three times their height, jointed with wicked hooked talons that could cleanly sever a man’s head when they dived.

The windies took no notice of Arlen, as he was set back against the adobe walls and had yet to light his fire. As they solidified, they set off towards the riverbank at a run. Their stunted legs offered little grace on land, but as they shrieked and leapt from the edge of the bank, the cruel elegance of their design became apparent as they spread their enormous wings with a great snap and swooped upwards, flapping just a few powerful strokes before soaring into the gloaming in search of prey.

Arlen had expected to see the sand demons that haunted the dunes of the Krasian desert rise next, but the twilight showed the mists thinning already, forming only a last few wind demons.

Arlen perked up at this. Though corelings would hunt and kill most anything, their true hatred was for humanity, and they were sometimes reluctant to leave ruins once the inhabitants were dead, in case more humans were one day drawn to the site. Unaging, demons were nothing if not patient, and could lie in wait for decades or more.

It was only natural for the windies to continue to materialize here. The canyon cliffs provided an ideal takeoff spot, and they could soar far and wide in the night to seek out prey. But land-bound sand demons had no such luxury, and Arlen could find no sign of them in the area. Sand demons hunted in packs known as storms, and it seemed that some time in the last twenty years, the storm had moved on in search of other prey.

Arlen stood and began to pace impatiently as he watched the last of the wind demons go, looking up at the adobe buildings, calculating. If he kept low, it was unlikely a wind demon would spot him on the cliff walls. Even if one did, he could retreat into the adobe buildings. The windows and doorways were too narrow to admit windies unless they landed, and wind demons on land could be easily tripped or outrun. There was still no sign of sand demons; their size and coloring would stand out in the adobe village.

And One Arm wouldn’t arrive for hours. If he was quick . . .

Don’t be stupid. Wait for dawn!
his father’s voice snapped at him, but Arlen had seldom listened to it before. If he’d wanted to live a safe life, he would have remained in the Free Cities, where most people went from womb to pyre without daring to step outside a wardnet.

Arlen had been outside in the naked night many times, especially in Fort Krasia, where he was the only outsider ever to dance
alagai’sharak
. This time, though, there were no
dal'Sharum
warriors at his side to help him if something happened. He was on his own.

Nothing new there
, Arlen thought.

He lit a slow-burning fire at the center of his circle, so he might easily find his way back in the darkness, and affixed a torch socket to the end of his spear. He slung spare torches over his back in a loose pack he hoped would soon be full of Bahavan pottery. Finally, he took up his round shield, painted with the same defensive wards as his circle, and stepped over the barrier.

BOOK: The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold
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