TWOLAS - 06 - Peril's Gate

BOOK: TWOLAS - 06 - Peril's Gate
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Peril's Gate

Janny Wurts is the author of numerous successful fantasy novels including the acclaimed
Cycle of Fire
trilogy. She is also co-author, with Raymond E. Feist, of the worldwide bestselling
Empire
Series. Her skill as a horsewoman, offshore sailor and musician is reflected in her novels. She is also a talented artist and illustrates many of her own covers. She lives in Florida, USA.

Janny Wurts

PERIL'S GATE

The Wars of Light and Shadow

VOLUME
6

Third Book of the Alliance of Light

 

 

 

Voyager

An Imprint of HarperCollinsPu
bl
is
h
ers 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

www.voyager-books.com

 

 

This paperback edition 2002 135798642

First published in Great Britain by
Voyager
2001

Copyright © Janny Wurts 2001

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

ISBN 0 00 710108 2

Typeset in Palatino and Belwe by Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Polmont, Stirlingshire

Printed and bound by Griffin Press, Netley, Australia

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted,
i
n any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

 

 

To
J
eff Watson,
the guardian gryphon in charge
of technical wonders without
which more deadlines
would have been missed.

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

Many hands have been of invaluable assistance
o
n the journey to complete this creation. Profound thanks are owed to Jonathan Matson, Jane Johnson, Caitlin Blasdell and Jennifer Brehl, Sara and Bob Schwager, my husband, Don Maitz, Lynda-Marie Hauptman, and Devi Pillai and the rest of the staff and sales force at HarperCollins who have stood by me throughout the massive length of this project.

Contents

Third Book

 

I. Retribution

II. Recoil

III. Baiyen Gap

IV. Prime Successor

V. Spinner of Darkness

VI. Clan War Band

VII. Threshold

VIII. Evasion

IX. Caithdein

X. False Step

XI. Nightfall

XII. Rockfell Peak

XIII. Teirs's'Ffalenn

XIV. Hunted

XV. Peril's Gate

XVI. Path of the Damned

XVII. Second Recovery

Glossary

 

 

 

Winter Solstice Night 5670

Arithon s'Ffalenn,
c
alled Master of Shadow!
For the sake of your crimes against
our
fair city of Jaelot, your spirit shall be
delivered by sword and by fire to your
rightful hour of death . . .

- Mayor of Jaelot, decree of execution
Third Age Year 5669

 

 

I. Retribution

The storm settled over the Eltair coast just after the advent of nightfall. Like the worst winter gales, it stole in on cat feet. The fitful, fine sleet dusting over sere landscape changed on a breath into muffling snow as the temperature plunged below freezing. The moment caught Arithon s'Ffalenn, last living Prince of Rathain and birth-born Master of Shadow, crouched in the iced brush of a hedgerow.

Each labored breath burned his lungs like cold fire. His sprint was cut short, though the city of Jaelot's stone walls lay scarcely a bowshot behind him. A skulking fugitive hard-pressed by enemies who hunted by sword and by spellcraft, he shot a concerned glance sidewards as Fionn Areth folded, gasping, beside him. The young man had spent the dregs of his strength. Even the threat of relentless pursuit could not stave off stark necessity: the goatherd just snatched from death on the scaffold could run no farther without pause for recovery.

'Rest
.'
whispered Arithon, as winded himself. 'For a moment. No more.'

Fionn Areth's clipped nod showed resentment, not gratitude.

Yet no moment could be spared to treat with the young man's inimically misguided loyalties. Enemies hounded their backs without respite. Koriani seeresses would be tracking with spelled snares. If the mayor's armed guardsmen from Jaelot prevailed first, the pair would be slaughtered on the run.

'They'll find us.' Fionn Areth cast a harrowed glance over his shoulder. His chilled hand tightened on his sword grip as he noticed the patrol sweeping the high crenels of the battlements. The flutter of their pine brands speared rays of light through the thickening snowfall. Arithon measured their movement, intent. The alarm bells stayed mute. No outcry arose from the gatehouse. Careful to mask his own tension, he said, 'Bide easy. The mayor's guards can't know we've slipped through the walls unless the Koriathain decide to inform them.'

Nor would the senior enchantress, Lirenda, be anxious to disseminate word of her failure. Since her towering arrogance had granted her quarry the opening to escape, she would be loath to approach her male allies. Once again, her order had bungled their promise to entrap the Master of Shadow.

Left raw by the price he had paid to win back his threatened autonomy, Arithon closed with dry irony, 'From stung pride, I expect the witches will try to recoup their blunder in secret. That's to our advantage. Thick snowfall should foil their scryers and hide us, at least for a little while.'

Fionn Areth returned a poisonous glower from a face that, feature for feature, was a mirror image of the Shadow Master's. Having narrowly missed execution and burning for the crimes of his look-alike nemesis, he still suffered the morning's shock of discovery, that his appearance had been fashioned by the meddling design of Koriani spellcraft. The cruel fact chafed, that he had been used as unwitting, live bait in their conspiracy to ensnare the unprincipled killer beside him.

The betrayal stung yet. 'Never mind witches,' he gasped in spat venom to the Spinner of Darkness.
'
The Alliance won't rest until you've been dismembered and burned to serve justice.'

Expressionless, Arithon refused answer. He was no less enraged at being made the political pawn in the feud that pitched the enchantresses against the authority of the Fellowship Sorcerers. Since bare-bones survival perforce must come first, he took ruthless stock of bad circumstance.

While night settled like impenetrable felt over the Eltair Bay coastline, he wrested the lay of the land from his reluctant memory. Northward, past the black spur of Jaelot's walled headland, small farmsteads patched the land like paned glass. The occupants were suspicious and ill set toward strangers, the ancient codes of hospitality long lost since the rising that threw down the high kings. Nor did the countryside offer safe prospects. Tangled cedar windbreaks and hedgerows of red thorn squared the rough, fallow fields. Two vagrants in flight from the mayor's justice dared not ply the lanes, with their drystone walls high enough to entrap, and their rutted mazes of crossroads. To the east, the salt waves of Eltair Bay thrashed a raked stretch of shingle, and a wind-razed, shelterless marshland. To the west rose the forbidding stone ramparts of the Skyshiels, sliced by ravines of weather-scabbed rock, and mantled in glaze ice and fir.

Fitful gusts already stirred the stilled air, first warning whisper of the bass-note howl yet to build to an oncoming gale. Arithon tucked frozen hands under his cloak. He held no illusions. The snowfall that helpfully covered their tracks, and disrupted the Koriani scryers carried a double-edged threat. The night ahead would bring lethal cold, and blinding, bewildering drifts. Inadequately clothed to withstand hostile elements, he and the victimized herder he had rescued could easily die from exposure.

For the storm that drove in had not arisen out of natural forces. Arithon sensed its song deep in his bones. The subliminal, whining vibration of dropped pressure came exacerbated by the imbalance wrought by disturbed magnetics. Earlier, Dakar the Mad Prophet had served him hard warning: the Fellowship Sorcerers were themselves caught in crisis, distracted by some larger upset. The illicit magics Dakar had engaged to unravel the Koriani defenses in Jaelot had assuredly added more stress to the roiled currents of lane flux. With the surge of winter solstice cresting at midnight, Arithon lacked accurate means to measure the backlash that might follow. As he chewed over that burden of worry, Fionn Areth stirred in the darkness.

Warned by a muffled, metallic ring, Arithon spun. He clamped the boy's wrist in a strangling grip and arrested the sword halfway pulled from the scabbard. 'Eighth hell of Sithaer, are you insane?'

'I should kill you here!' Fionn Areth gasped through locked teeth. 'There are widows across the five kingdoms who'd thank me.'

'They might,' Arithon agreed, his annoyance turned acid. 'But a blade in my back won't see you safe. The opposite in fact. My blood in the snow would act as a beacon for Koriani scryers. If you think you can manage to evade their spelled snares, Dakar has the food and the horses we'll need. You aren't going to find him without my guidance. Better to salve your fool's craving for justice after we've scrambled to safety.'

Fionn Areth's murderous resistance failed to slacken under restraint. Darker truth eclipsed reason. He knew this creature who entreated in pressed self-defense was unnatural, an unprincipled sorcerer whose guileful strategies had slaughtered three dedicated war hosts. Across the continent, men flocked to Lysaer's sunwheel standard and pledged to the Light to destroy him.

'
Then swear me your bond,' Fionn Areth insisted. 'As Prince of Rathain, prove you meant what you said when you offered me trial by combat.'

'Very well. Accept my given word. We'll cross swords at the first opportunity, but
after
we've slipped our pursuit.' Solemnity spoiled by a stressed thread of laughter, Arithon provoked with glib melodrama, 'Dharkaron's Black Spear strike me dead should I fail you, though the point will likely prove moot. Koriathain and Jaelot's guards would end Rathain's royal line with no help from Ath's angel of vengeance.'

Fionn Areth found his sword arm released, though his volatile temper stayed unsettled. Ice showered down in cracked shards from the branches as Arithon ducked free of the hedgerow. All animal grace and dangerous focus, he cast no glance backward to ascertain whether his oath was accepted. On the insufferable assumption his young double must follow, he pursued his route across country. Brisk progress was sustained in swift bursts that utilized each quirk of terrain for masking cover.

Fionn Areth flanked him through closing curtains of wet snow, dreading the oncoming thud of hooves, and fearing, each step, the clarion cry of the gate watch's horn at his back. Led on by a felon whose motives were suspect, he nursed his distrust through the erratic sprints between hayrick and thicket and cowshed. The low-lying fields confounded simplicity
. The verges were crosscut with
dikes and ditches, or brush brakes riddled with badger setts. The ice-capped stone walls could turn a man's ankle. Despite such hazards, Arithon stayed clear of the cottages with their inviting, gold-glazed windows. The byres and yards with penned sheep and loose dogs were avoided, no matter the punishment exacted by chilled hands and feet and the limits of flagging stamina.

Another pause, snatched in a thicket, while snow sighed and winnowed through the frost-brittle brambles. Under lidded sky, wrapped in lead-sheeted darkness, Fionn Areth sensed Arithon's measuring scrutiny. However he strove, he could not hide his weakness. Jaelot's abusive confinement had worn him, and the relentless pace of their flight left him battered half-prostrate.

Each passing second redoubled their risks. The storm would grow worse, and the snow pile deeper. They struggled ahead on borrowed time, against the inevitable odds: at any moment, the town gates would disgorge mounted patrols with pine torches. Guardsmen would ride with the trained trackers lent by Eltair's league of headhunters. For the prospect of claiming the bounty on royalty, they would unleash their dread packs of mastiffs, cut mute as pups to course human quarry in silence.

In uncanny answer to brooding thoughts, Arithon whispered encouragement. 'If there are dogs, they won't scent well in snow. Can you manage? Let's go then.' He forged onward, the tenuous landmarks he steered by scarcely recognizable after a quarter century of change. Stone markers and storm-bent sentinel oaks were masked by snowfall and darkness; buildings and bylanes appeared blurred into maddening sameness. No margin remained for mistakes. A single wrong turn would lose his bearings amid the flat apron of coastal landscape. Nor did Arithon dare slacken. Koriathain might guide the mayor's patrols, intent on recouping their losses. They knew, as he did, the storm would not wait. Posed the grave danger of being outflanked, Arithon chivvied his stumbling double into the lash of the wind.

A dike almost tripped the herder. His sliding descent fetched him short in a drain ditch. The skin of ice smashed underfoot. Muddy water soaked through his fleece boots. Fionn Areth swore in grasslands dialect, his consonants rattled by chattering teeth. As chilled himself, Arithon forged ahead. The mismatched pair splashed over the slough and labored up the eroded berm. A field of corn stubble speared through the snow, rutted mud frozen underneath. Past an osier fence, they flushed a herd of belled ewes, who bolted in jangling terror.

The wind had gained force. Its bite chilled their wet feet and keened through snow-sodden clothing.

'Not far, now,' Arithon murmured, then broke off. 'Get down!'

Dazed to plodding exhaustion, Fionn Areth missed the cue. Jerked back, then knocked prone as Arithon felled him, he stifled a shrill cry of outrage. Disastrously late, he reached understanding:
the drumming he heard was not caused by the thrash of bare branches.
Flattened beneath the frail sticks of a hazel thicket, shivering under his wadded wool cloak, he held breathlessly still while the torch of an outrider flittered by.

'Well, we had to expect this.' Arithon stirred, shaking out clotted snow spooned up by his oversize cuffs.

With the mayor's guard now sounding the alarm, the countryside offered no haven. Uneasy farmsteaders would be out, scouring their hay byres for fugitives. They would unchain their dogs and round up their horses, and stab pitchforks through the mesh of their cornricks.

Nor did the worsening storm sustain its fickle gift of respite. The snow had already piled too deep. Once a search party stumbled across their plowed prints, they were going to become hunted animals.

'We're farther afield than they realize
.'
Arithon assured, to every appearance unperturbed as his extended hand was refused. While Fionn Areth struggled erect on his own, he added, 'Nor will they guess we've an ally waiting to shield us. If fortune favors, they'll keep the belief we're given to aimless flight.' For prudence, he chose not to mention that Dakar would likely need spellcraft to further mislead their pursuit.

Inured to harsh weather by his moorland upbringing, the young herder stumbled onward. The overwhelming speed of events had left him too numbed to think. Through bitter necessity, he trailed Arithon's lead through the banked snow of the sheepfold. Another deep ditch, and a slippery crossing over the logs of a stile, then partial respite as they plunged into the fir copse beyond.

Fionn Areth tripped twice before his dulled mind made sense of his jumbled impressions. In fact, they had covered more ground than he thought. The open land of the farmsteads lay behind them.

An evergreen canopy closed on all sides. The sky was blank pitch. Each gust shook crusted snow from the spruce, a mere clutch of seedlings before the towering growth that ruched foothills to the west. The tumbled chimney of a cottar's house jagged under the pillowing drifts, the broken yard gate a mute testament to some cataclysmic misfortune. Beyond the old steading, a ravine razed the dell, where the annual spring snowmelt roared in white cataracts to egress in Eltair Bay.

Despite the hard freeze, the crossing was arduous, the undercut banks being ice clad. Jutted rocks caved away at each step. Wet to the knees, and wrung wretched with shivering, Fionn Areth cursed the cold rivulets that chased down his boot cuffs and collar. His gloves had soaked through, the fingers inside chilled to lumps of shrill agony. Close on Arithon's heels, he panted uphill and crossed the exposed crest, harrowed each step by the howling winds off the seacoast. Descent proved as difficult, the stony soil overgrown with young firs cased in glaze ice, and uncut by even a deer path. Raked and slapped by needled boughs, Fionn Areth broke through to a clearing, too miserable to care that Arithon had reached his obscure destination.

BOOK: TWOLAS - 06 - Peril's Gate
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