Authors: L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic
THE White Order
by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Copyright © 1998
Edited by David G. Hartwell
Edited by David G. Hartwell
Endpaper map by Laszlo Kubinyi
Interior maps by Ellisa Mitchell
A Tor Book Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010
Tor® Books on the World Wide Web: http://www.tor.com
From inner cover flap:
The White Order is the story of Cerryl, a boy orphaned when the powerful white mages killed his father to protect their control of the world's magic. Cerryl, raised by his aunt and uncle, is a curious boy, attracted to mirrors and books, though he is unable to read. When he is old enough, Cerryl is apprenticed to the local miller. The miller's daughter teaches Cerryl to read his father's books, and it seems that the talent for magic has been passed from father to son. When Cerryl witnesses a white mage destroy a renegade magician, the miller realizes the boy will not be safe there, so Cerryl must be sent to the city of Fairhaven to find his destiny.
Thus Modesitt takes one of the most enduring and mythic themes in fantasy and makes it his own. The White Order is a powerful new addition to the Recluce saga, guaranteed to add many new readers to Modesitt's devoted following.
For and to my soprano sorceress
The brown-haired child clung to the long shadow cast by the ancient house as he edged toward the south end of the tailings pile. His eyes led him toward the barely shimmering oblong of light reflected from somewhere in the tailings against the rough planks of the doorless shed, a shed that had once held mining tools. His bare feet made no sound as he slipped from the shade into the late afternoon sunlight and over the rocky ground to the gray and reddish brown heap of stone and slag.
After he went to one knee, his fingers brushed away the thin coating of dust that had half-concealed the fragment of mirror, perhaps half the size of his palm. He teased it out of the dirt and laid it flat on half of a broken yellow brick. He turned his head toward the house, but the door was closed and the front stoop vacant. He glanced past the next closest tailings pile to the south, checking the other piles of earth and stone and slag, and the abandoned mineheads, but the only movement was that of scattered summer-browned grass waving in the hot afternoon breeze.
A lizard scuttled from where he had lifted the broken brick. The boy tensed until he saw the large brown stripe down its tan back. Then he smiled, watching as the lizard vanished behind a fist-sized chunk of slag. His eyes went back to the lizard hole, but no other lizards emerged.
The hot wind ruffled his clean but armless and ragged shirt as he squatted on the lower slope of the waste pile and gazed intently at the fragment of mirror. His pale gray eyes narrowed. The oblong of light cast against the toolshed winked out. Silver mists swirled across the glass, thickening into nearly a misty white. A faint smile crossed his lips, vanishing as he tightened them, concentrating on the irregular mirror.
“Cerryl! Stay away from that glass!” A heavyset woman, broom in hand, appeared on the clay-and-rock stoop of the house behind the boy.
Cerryl did not move, intent as he was on the image forming in the glass. His mouth formed a silent O, and his eyes widened at the sparkling white tower looming over a green park.
Abruptly, at the sound of heavy steps crunching across the ground, he looked up, his eyes flicking to the squat figure in clean but mottled gray trousers and tunic.
“How you found that... suppose it doesn't matter.” The woman's big hand seized his shoulder, and she lifted him to his feet and twisted him away from the shard of mirror. Her booted right foot came down on the glass with a crunch. All that remained of the window that had shown Cerryl an impossibly beautiful white stone tower was a heap of sparkling dust. His eyes burned with unshed tears.
“Glasses, mirrors, they be tools of chaos and evil! Have I not told you that, boy?” Nail's free hand brushed a wisp of iron gray hair off her forehead, but her gaze remained fixed on him.
Cerryl's thin shoulders drooped, but his gray eyes met hers, looking up to a woman more than half-again as tall as he was, and far burlier than even most of the sheepmen and peasants around Hrisbarg. “It was only a little shard, Aunt Nail.”
“A little shard. Like saying a little night lizard-one bite, one shard-that's enough to kill you, boy.” Nail took a deep breath, then another. “How many times been that I told you to stay away from mirrors and shiny things?”
“Enough,” Cerryl admitted in a low voice, his eyes still meeting his aunt's.
“You be the death of us yet.”
“I wanted to help,” Cerryl said. “They find things with the shimmer glasses. You told me that Da said so.”
“Always yer da.” Nail shook her head. “Poor I may be, child, but poor be not evil, and evil be the shimmer glasses. Even you know where that took yer da.” She glanced toward the door of the house, swinging half-open in the light wind. “You come with me 'fore the soup boils over.”
“Yes, Aunt Nail.” Cerryl's voice was polite, level, neither apologetic nor begging.
“Child ...” Nail sighed again. “Back to the house.”
Cerryl walked across the dry and dusty ground, a pace to her left and a pace back. He glanced toward another tailing pile, farther eastward. If there had been a mirror in one pile, what about the others?
“No lagging, child.”
Cerryl followed Nail to the stoop, where she reclaimed the broom. She gestured with it, as if to sweep him into the house. Cerryl stepped inside. At the end of the main room of the two-room house was the hearth, with the cook table to the right, the narrow trestle table with its two short benches before the hearth, and a weathered gold oak cabinet with cracked drawer fronts to the left.
“Not even enough sense to fool around where no one could see you,” snapped the woman, closing the door behind the boy. “Your poor mother, no wonder she died young. Not a scrap of sense in you or in your worthless father. A white mage, he was going to be.” Nail shook her head sadly. “Poor fool... thinking he was that them mighty types in Fairhaven would welcome him. Him a peasant boy from Hewlett...”
Cerryl lowered his eyes to the spotless stone floor.
“How did you spy that glass?”
“I saw its reflection on the side of the toolshed. I had to look. I just looked.”
“Aye, and that was because yer aunt was there afore you could do more, I'd wager, young fellow.”
Cerryl remained silent.
“You men, even young. Syodor ... even he ...” Nail broke off the words abruptly and looked at Cerryl. “No sense in that. What be done be done.” She pointed to the stool by her kitchen table. “Well, leastwise you can help. You're careful enough with the roots.”
Cerryl climbed onto the stool and looked at the handful of bedraggled golden turnips. His eyes flicked to the open shutters of the single window and the other tailing piles, then back to the turnips.
All life composes itself of chaos and order. Yet too many forget that without chaos there is no life. Far within the earth, chaos abides, giving warmth and life to the depths beneath the lands and oceans.
The very light of the sun is white chaos, and it, too, brings life. Within the very sunlight are all the colors of white, the pure chaos from which springs all life ...
The sun can be seen but by solely its own light, and thus all that is under the sun can only be because of the chaos of the sun. Even the wisest of mages cannot perceive any portion of all that exists on and under the earth itself except through the operation of chaos.
To claim that order is the staff of life, as some acolytes have done since the ancient heretic Nylan, is not only false but folly, for the sole perfect order in life is death.
Even a blade or a shield must be forged through the heat of chaos and wielded by a man whose very lifeblood is heated by chaos.
Chaos is the foundation of power and strength. Mastering chaos is the first step in controlling power. Power is the foundation of all lands and towns that would prosper, and those who would have their homelands free of invaders and devastation must then seek the mastery of chaos...
Colors of White
(Manual of the Guild at Fairhaven)
In the corner where the hearth fire spilled light onto the floor, Cerryl looked at the book, eyes straining at the incomprehensible black symbols on the aged tan page. He turned the page. The symbols on the next page looked the same.
“Cerryl?” Nail continued to place the rolled-out biscuits in the battered tin baking pan on the table at her left.
“Yes, Aunt?” He did not turn, fearing she might see the book, afraid she might see the tears of frustration in his eyes.
“Your uncle be a-coming up the south path soon. Would you be fetching another pail of water?”
“Yes, Aunt Nail.” He slipped the ancient tome inside his ragged tunic and forced his face into composure before standing and turning.
“And a cheerful face would be good. Days been hard for Syodor lately,” she added. “Specially after he found that cursed white bronze...” The after-statement was whispered to herself, but Cerryl heard it as clearly as though she had spoken loudly.
He only nodded, knowing she would not want him to know what she had said, and walked quickly across the threshold, stopping by his pallet and slipping the book inside it before continuing and picking the ironbound wooden pail off the long peg set into the cross-timber behind the door. His bare feet carried him out the door and off the stoop and toward the path leading to the stream uphill and in back of the house.
He wished they could use the stream where it wound in front of the old house, but there it had turned orangish from the tailings. And it smelled like brimstone, sometimes rusty like iron as well. Cerryl's nose twitched at the thought of the odor as he trudged up the path toward the spring from which the smaller stream flowed.
A sharp terwhit slashed through the early dusk-a bird hidden somewhere in the scrub junipers that sprouted willy-nilly in the areas untouched by tailings or the orange teachings. Cerryl glanced to his right, in the direction of the stone arched tunnel with a foreboding name carved in the rock over the beams. While he couldn't read the name, he could sense that something left better alone lay deep in the tunnel. Still, the dusk that strained Nail's eyes, or his uncle's, was as bright as dawn just before the sun rose-something he'd tried not to let them know.
The bird did not call again, and the chirping of insects rose in the dusk. Cerryl wondered if they were crickets or something else. He shrugged. Insects had never been that interesting. He turned westward, heading up the foot-packed clay toward the spring.
The faint gurgling of the brook did not rise over the insects' chirping until he reached the end of the spring itself, dark silver waters nearly still, except where they flowed over the rock dam created years back and covered in thick green moss.
Cerryl edged along the south side of the spring until he reached the rock embankment from which the waters flowed. There, in the long shadows and the gathering dusk, he looked at the dark waters bubbling over the rock ledge and into the narrow basin, then at the mockgrape vines clinging to the reddish rocks above the ledge.
Where did the water come from?
He frowned and looked at the ledge, then at the dark-silvered and rippled surface of the pond, so much like a mirror, and so unlike it. Could he make the mirror trick show him where the water started?
He squinted at the twilight-dark springwater, imagining ... what? Was there a hole in the red sandstone that led to the depths of the earth? Cerryl took a deep breath, his lips pressed tightly together, the empty bucket at his feet forgotten for the moment.
Silver mists swirled across the pond, silver mists, Cerryl realized, that only he could see. “Nail and Syodor couldn't, anyway,” he murmured under his breath, puzzled over why he had even to say that, but knowing that he did, knowing that his whispered words were a sort of defiance that were somehow important, if only to him.
The gray-haired image of Nail flitted through the mists, and Cerryl pushed it away, seeking the source of the waters. Darkness spilled across the water, only darkness.
After a time, as his head began to ache, he finally took another deep breath, a gasping one, before bending down to pick up the bucket and dip it into the spring. Water splashed across the ragged bottoms of his trousers, across his bare feet, and onto the dry clay of the path.
He lifted the heavy bucket and turned back downhill, bare feet sure on the beaten clay path. Once he slipped past the juniper barely his own height at the base of the trail, his eyes went toward the south path.
A deep breath followed when he saw the distant figure of Syodor, still more than a kay away on the lower part of the south path. Cerryl stepped up his pace, but slowly, so that the water wouldn't slosh out of the bucket.
“Uncle Syodor's on the bottom of the south path now,” he announced as he stepped into the house.
“Cerryl... you took a time. Be not good woolgathering out in the twilight. The demons abide then.”
“I am sorry, Aunt Nail,” he said dutifully, lugging the pail across the room to the hearth.
Without looking at Cerryl, she checked the biscuits in the baking tin before replacing the tin sheet that served as a cover. “Bein' sorry like as not save you from bein' carried off.”
“I got back before full dark.”
“See as you do.” She lifted the bucket and poured water into the gray crockery pitcher, then set the bucket on the floor to the right of the hearth.
“Put the pitcher on the table.”
Cerryl carried the pitcher from the worktable to the eating table.
Behind him, Nail lifted the lid on the cookpot, stirring the heavy soup with the long-handled wooden spoon.
“Yes, Aunt Nail.” Cerryl glanced at the corner where he had been sitting before he'd gotten the water. Then he waited.
Shortly, the heavyset woman turned as the door squeaked.
“Evening, woman.” The one-eyed and gray-haired man set the heavy iron hammer on the rough, one-plank table inside the door and the patched canvas pack beside the table on the floor with a thud. Dust puffed from the fabric, settling slowly toward the polished floor stones that had come from an abandoned grinding mill.
“How was the day?” Nail replaced the tin cover on the ancient iron cookpot and stepped away from the hearth composed of battered yellow and brown bricks.
“Better since I'm seeing you.” Syodor laughed, moving toward his consort. He hugged Nail, the gnarled and stubby fingers of his hands meeting for a moment before releasing her.
“Supper be a-waiting. The day?” Nail smiled, then bent and swung the iron arm and the cook pot back out over the coals, ignoring the squeal of the ancient iron swivel bracket.
“The day be fine. One bit of malachite, looks to be solid, and mayhap Gister will pay a copper for it. A fine pendant it would make for a lady, ground and polished.”
“Aye, and he'll cut it and wrap it in two silvers and then sell it for a gold.” Nail checked the biscuit tin once more. “Best you wash up.”
“Wash up ... that be all you think of, woman?”
“After all your grubbing through tailings and tunnels? Should I be thinking of aught else?”
Syodor turned and walked toward the pitcher and wash table in the corner on the far side of the room from the hearth. “You as well, Cerryl.”
“Right, lad,” added Syodor with a grin.
Cerryl waited for Syodor, then washed his own hands with the heavy fat - and - ash soap, rinsing them with the clean water from the pitcher.
His hands still damp, Cerryl sat down on the bench across from Syodor, his left side to the fire.
Syodor lifted the crockery mug. “What have you done here?”
“Little enough,” said Nail. “Arelta had some of the bitter brew. She said it wouldn't last. So I brought it home.”
“Poor enough to take the brewer's youngest daughter's charity, are we?”
“Should I have let her pour it out?”
“No. Waste be worse than charity.” Syodor laughed, not quite harshly.
“Don't be so hard on yourself,” Nail said softly, slipping a pair of biscuits from the tin onto the chipped earthenware. “All know you work hard.”
“Much good it did me when they closed the mines.”
“It did you good. Who else has a patent to grub the tailings?” Syodor shrugged, then grinned. “No man has a better consort. No man.”
“You'll not be turning my head, either.” Nail set the large tin bowl filled with steaming root stew before Syodor, then turned back to the cookpot and filled a smaller bowl with the wooden ladle. “Cerryl, here you go. You want more, let me know.”
“Thank you, Aunt Nail.” Cerryl offered a smile. “No brew for you, thanks or no,” Nail replied with her own knowing smile. She took the smallest of the tin bowls and filled it, setting it on the table. Then she slipped onto the bench beside Cerryl.
Cerryl took the biscuit and nibbled one corner, then took a mouthful of stew with the wooden spoon he'd carved himself. Another corner of biscuit followed the stew.
“Hot... and filling. Brew's not too bitter, either.” Syodor smiled at Nail.
“Been a long day for you. Some brew might set well.” Nail smiled. “There's enough for a night or two more.”
“You be not having any, I'd wager.”
“Not to my taste.”
Though Nail smiled, Cerryl could sense the lie, the same kind of lie Nail always told when she gave something special to him or to Syodor and took none herself.
“Dylert, he said he needs a boy at the mill,” Syodor said slowly to Nail, but his eyes crossed the table to where Cerryl sat on the bench beside her. “Wants a serious boy. Cerryl's serious enough. That be certain, I told him.”
“Sawmill be a dangerous place for a boy,” answered Nail.
“Mines were a dangerous place for a boy,” Syodor said. “I was younger than Cerryl is, back then.”
“You were stronger,” Nail pointed out.
“I'm stronger than I look,” Cerryl said quietly. His gray eyes flashed, almost like a jungle cat's, with a light of their own.
“Be no doubt of that, lad. You look like a strong wind would carry you all the way to Lydiar.”
“He's not even half-grown,” protested Nail.
“Got to grow up sometime. We'll not be here till the death of chaos.” The former miner looked intently at his consort.
“Syodor! No talk like such around the boy.” Nail made the sign of looped order.
“Chaos is, Nail.” Syodor took a deep breath. “I see it all the time. Watch the tunnels crumble. Watch the folks sneak around mumbling about who courts darkness. Or who knows which white mage.”
Cerryl's eyes slipped toward his pallet and the hidden book he could not read.
“You know, Cerryl, the mines here, they're older than places like Fairhaven...”
Nail's mouth tightened, but she only cleared her throat, if loudly.
“Older than the trees on the hills,” Syodor added quickly. “When my grandda was a boy, the duke sent folk here, and they mined the old tailings piles, and then they dumped all the leftovers and the slag from their furnaces into the piles we got now.”
“Furnaces?” asked Cerryl, mumbling through the last of his second biscuit. “What happened to them?”
“The duke took the iron fixings back, and the bricks, well...” The gnarled man laughed. “See the hearth-that's got some of the bricks. So's the west wall. Good bricks they were, 'cept some broke easy 'cause they got too hot in the furnaces.”
“Bricks, they got too hot?” asked the youth.
“Anything can get too hot, if there's enough fire or chaos put to it. Too much chaos can break anything.”
“Anyone, too,” added Nail quietly.
“That, too.” Syodor sipped the last of the brew from his mug. “Ah ... miss this the most from the days when I had two coppers a day from the mines. Now what have I... a patent to grub that any new duke can say be worthless.”
Nail nodded in the dimness of harvest twilight.
“Shandreth, I saw him this morning,” Syodor said after a time. “Said he'd be needing hands for the vines in an eight-day. Said you were one of the best, Nail.”
“Two coppers for all that work?” she asked.
“Three, he said.” Syodor laughed. “I told him four, and he said you were worth four, but not a copper more, or he'd be coinless 'fore the grapes were pressed.”
“Four ... that be a help, and I could put it away for the cold times.”
“Aye ... the cold times always come.” Syodor glanced at Cerryl, his jaw set and his face bleak. “Remember that, lad. There always be the cold times.”
For some reason, Cerryl shivered at the words.
“These be not the cold times, lad.” Syodor forced a smile. “Warm it is here, and with a good meal in our bellies.”
Cerryl offered his own forced smile.