Authors: Rick Shelley
Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction
OTHER BOOKS BY RICK SHELLEY
The Dirigent Mercenary Corps
The Spec Ops Squad
HODLING THE LINE
The Federation War
THE BUCHANAN CAMPAIGN
THE FIRES OF COVENTRY
RETURN TO CAMEREIN
The Varayan Memoir
SON OF THE HERO
THE HERO OF VARAY
THE HERO KING
THE WIZARD AT HOME
THE WIZARD AT MECQ
THE HERO OF VARAY
The Varayan Memoir, Book 2
Copyright © 1991 by Richard M. Shelley
All rights reserved.
Cover art by Isaac Stewart.
First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a divison of Penguin Group USA, in July 1991. Published as an ebook by Jabberwocky Literary Agency in 2012.
Parthet, Lesh, and I walked down to the town of Basil after supper in the castle.
. The main gate of the castle is nearly a hundred feet above the town’s streets. Castle Basil sits on a big hunk of naked rock, and the road curves back and forth down the southern face of Basil Rock through five hairpin switchbacks. That road—eight feet wide on the straightaway, twelve on the turns—was hand-hewn, carved out of the rock without the benefit of any explosives or power tools like jackhammers. A lot of that stone was hoisted to the top and used in the construction of the castle. Most of the rest, according to Parthet, became part of various fireplaces and chimneys in and around town.
Parthet groused about walking, but my uncle the wizard would have complained just as much about riding. “We could have taken the doorway down,” he said when we were just a single turn below the castle gate.
“It’s a beautiful summer evening,” I replied, gesturing expansively, “and we can all use the exercise.” After being cramped up on a boat for three weeks, returning from a goodwill tour of the kingdoms west of Varay in the buffer zone, I wanted to get out where I could do more than pace back and forth a dozen yards at a time.
“At my age, cranking my eyes open in the morning is exercise enough,” Parthet said.
“How many centuries have you been sliding by on that excuse?” I asked.
“Trade secret. Speaking of secrets, you pick up any on your travels?”
“One dandy rumor is all. In Telemon they’re saying that the blind wizard of the late Etevar of Dorthin is the bastard son of the Elfking and Xayber’s wife … or maybe it’s the other way around. I heard both versions.” The man the Dorthinis had simply called “The Wizard” was still roaming around Fairy or the buffer zone—somewhere. Blind, he was no threat to anyone, so I had seen no reason to punish him any further when we captured him after the Battle of Thyme. Sure, he had made it possible for the Etevar’s soldiers to kill my father, and he had done his best to give me the same treatment, but my first few weeks as Hero had made me … well, if not more tolerant, certainly less eager for “a life for a life” revenge, and after three years I had seen no reason to regret my clemency.
Parthet snorted. “Where’d they pick up
kind of trash?”
“Seems they do a little trading across the Mist now and then,” I said. “The story apparently came from the sailors. They did know about the Battle of Thyme and the fall of the Etevar.”
sailors,” Lesh said.
won’t sail out of sight of land for fear that they won’t be able to find their way back. But the Elflord of Something-or-other sends a trading ship across the Sea of Fairy every year or so, so they say.”
“The voice of doubt?” Parthet asked in a laughing voice.
“When did Fairy folk ever take to being merchants?” Lesh asked. He was a veteran soldier, and his view of Varay’s habitual foes was rather narrow.
“Whenever it suited their purpose,” Parthet said with a chuckle. “It isn’t always war over in Fairy. Those folks have to eat just like us, and slaves can’t grow it all. And anyway, traders can be spies at the same time.”
“Even the Vikings back in my world turned to honest trading when that looked more profitable than raiding,” I said. I had mentioned Vikings to Lesh during our “cruise.” The trading ship we sailed on had a vague resemblance to a Viking dragon ship.
The pub we were aiming for was the Bald Rock, the larger of the two inns in town, the one with the best beer (by almost unanimous agreement among everyone but the proprietor of the other inn, the Castrated Dragon, and his regulars). Still, the differences weren’t great, and I tried to divide my patronage as equally as I could.
We were given the big table in the front corner as usual, and the landlord’s lads brought out the best mugs in the house, then plopped a ten-gallon keg in the center of the table and tapped it so we could serve ourselves and not have to waste a second waiting for refills. Bowls of nuts and pretzels were set up for us also, so we would have something to nosh on and so the salt would keep us thirsty and drinking—as if we were likely to need help. At least Old Baldy didn’t salt his beer. It was a nice, homey arrangement.
The lighting was a dirty yellow glow that came from a series of oil lamps set high enough to keep them out of the way of the occasional brawl. The room was always a little smoky. By the end of a long evening’s debauch, a person’s eyes could be stinging madly and watering continuously.
Make no mistake. The three of us set out to get blind, stinking drunk that night. Lesh and I were unwinding from our long travels—the goodwill tour had gone on for a total of three months altogether—and Parthet doesn’t need an excuse to match anyone in the kingdom drink for drink. But it isn’t all that easy to get blind, stinking drunk in Varay. The same force that causes everyone to eat so much also hurries up the conversion of alcohol to sugar and burns those calories as fast as all the rest to fuel the basic magic of the land. There was never any real doubt that we would empty the first keg of beer. Quite likely, we would make a good start on a second. And before you strain something trying to figure it out, let me save you the math. A ten-gallon keg split three ways works out to about thirty-six twelve-ounce bottles or cans apiece … or about fourteen trips to the latrine, out back. To be honest, though, it was never just the three of us who emptied a keg. Every time the landlord came over to see how we were doing, we would invite him to share a mug with us. And other people would stop by our table now and then to pay their respects, say hello, or whatever, and they always got the same hospitality. When we drank down in town, it was almost drinks on the crown for everyone. But I wasn’t causing a scandal by showing the “common” touch. That is, I wasn’t doing anything unheard-of. Parthet was willing to drink with anyone to anything, and he had often said that my father was the same way. That’s how we sometimes got deep into the second keg in an evening’s drinking.
to see us come into the pub.
“Dieth having any special trouble in Dorthin?” I asked Parthet after we were settled at our table and into our first round.
“About like always,” Parthet said through a foam mustache. He shrugged. “Some of the warlords are still unhappy about the situation. There’s a half-dozen of them thought they should have stepped into the Etevar’s shoes, and they still won’t acknowledge Dieth or you. They cause trouble for Dieth. They cause trouble for Mauroc.” Mauroc-by-the-Sea, east of Dorthin, was the seventh of the seven kingdoms.
“Anything serious?” I asked. There was really nothing new in what Parthet had to say. Dorthin had been plagued by occasional fighting, mostly raids among neighbors, since the death of the Etevar. On two different occasions I had been forced to travel to Dorthin to help Duke Dieth put down bloody feuds and hold the kingdom for me. I still hadn’t found a way to dump Dorthin permanently on Dieth or anybody else, and I really didn’t have the motivation to spend the time it would take to fully “pacify” the country. I didn’t care to go looking for unnecessary trouble.
“He hasn’t asked for help,” Parthet said. “He knows how you feel about Dorthin.” I just grunted and took another drink.
“At least we don’t have to worry about the Elflord of Xayber yet,” Parthet said an hour or so later, returning to the thread of threats as if there hadn’t been sixty minutes of irrelevant conversation in between. “Far as we can tell, the civil war in Fairy is still raging.” He laughed loud enough to draw stares and ignored them. “Xayber has had his hands full since we sent your message to the Elf king three years back.”
“And if Xayber finally wins up there, he’s going to be at our throats in a hurry,” I reminded Parthet. I hadn’t forgotten Xayber’s vow of vengeance against me for a minute, and I didn’t care to do any intermediate gloating over the elflord’s problems.
“You connected with your young lady since you got back?” Parthet asked near the bottom of the first keg.
I growled. I knew damn well that he was using
as a euphemism for
… which is the euphemism I normally use for … well, you get the idea. Some nights, Parthet would carry on at length about his thousand-plus years of
. “Just because a wizard can’t sire children doesn’t mean that he can’t play the game,” he liked to say. It was the only time he was likely to refer to the sterility that his vocation caused.
“Joy’s in St. Louis, at her folks’,” I said. “I talked to her on the telephone this afternoon. She’s flying back to Chicago tomorrow.”
Parthet nodded. “Oh, by the way, Annick made a visit to Arrowroot a few weeks back.” There was no
by the way
about it. Parthet had led up to that bit of news intentionally. I had never told Parthet—or anyone else—that Annick and I had made love that night while we were waiting to bring the army through to Thyme from Arrowroot and Coriander, but he always seemed to know. And every time a new sighting or rumor about Annick came to his ears, he made sure to tell me about it.
“Oh? What’s she been up to?” I asked, casually enough to disappoint my uncle. Annick. I was no closer to understanding her than I had been three years before when she made it clear that she wasn’t going to stop hunting for her elf-warrior father … so she could kill him.
“No idea,” Parthet said. “There are the usual stories that she’s been off on another foray in Xayber, killing any Fairy folk she could get to.” Parthet shrugged. “Unless she starts the tales herself, it would be hard to put much faith in them.”
“I wouldn’t find it hard,” I said. I had seen her in action up on the isthmus. “But what about this visit?”
“She visited her mother, then disappeared again.”
“Probably off in Fairy slitting sleeping throats again,” I said.
“Hear, hear,” Lesh said, one of his few contributions to the table talk that night. He prefers to concentrate on the beer. That night, he was doing a wonderful job. Every few minutes his head started to sag toward the table, but he always got a mug in place before he could pass out.
“By the way,” I said, throwing the phrase back at Uncle Parthet, “isn’t it about time for you to start training an apprentice? You’re not getting any younger, you know. That’s what you keep telling everyone, anyway.”
Parthet’s instant pique was almost strong enough to sober him up.
again,” he said, slamming his mug down on the table. “Believe me, I’ll
when it’s time to train an apprentice.”