"My pleasure, Lord General." The Fjeltroll saluted
It was a long way-a long way-to the observatory,
to the very top of the utmost tower of Darkhaven. Tanaros climbed
it step by step, feeling his heartbeat increasing as he labored.
A mortal heart, circumscribed by the silvered scar of his branding.
When all was said and done, he was a Man, nothing more. It was his
Lordship who had made him one of the Three, and deathless. He heard
his breath labor, in and out. Mortal lungs, circulating blood. How
long had they been at that task? It had been a thousand years and
more since Tanaros had answered his Lord's first summons, his hands
red with the lifeblood of one he had once loved, his heart filled
with rage and anguish.
It felt longer.
He wondered, briefly, how Vorax made the long climb.
Darkness, spiraling on darkness. Broad steps, wrought
by Fjeltroll, made to endure their broad, horny feet. Tanaros reached
out, touching the spiraling wall of the tower, fingers trailing.
It should have burned, the marrow-fire; it did burn, but faintly.
Here the veins branched and branched again, growing ever thinner
and fainter as the tower thrust upward into the darkness.
It was always dark, here.
Tanaros paused in the entrance to the observatory,
letting his eyes adjust. Dark. It was always dark. Even the windows
opened onto darkness, and the night sky. There, the stars, that
never shone in cloud-blotted daylight.
"My Lord." He bowed, crisp and correct, as he had
bowed for centuries on end.
"Tanaros." The voice rumbled, deep as mountains;
it soothed, easing his joints, loosening the stiffness of centuries,
of honor betrayed and never forgotten. It always had. In the darkness,
the Shaper was silhouetted in the windows of night, vast shoulders
occluding the stars. A pair of eyes glinted like crimson embers.
"You have come."
Tanaros took a breath, feeling his lungs loosen.
"Always, my Lord Satoris."
"It is well."
In a carven chair in the corner sat Vorax, his
thick legs akimbo, fanning himself and breathing hard. Long ago,
he had been a lord of the race of Men, dwelling in the cool clime
of Staccia, far to the north. Gluttony, greed and a ruthless pragmatism
had moved him to answer the Shaper's summons, becoming one of the
immortal Three. He grinned at Tanaros from where he sprawled, his
beard fanning over his massive chest. "Grave doings, cousin! Is
it not so?"
"If you say so, cousin." Tanaros did not sit in
his Lord's presence. Long ago, he had stood vigilant in the presence
of his King as he stood now, in the presence of one far greater.
Loyalties changed; protocol did not. He inclined his head in deference.
"We await the Dreamspinner, my Lord?"
"Yes." His Lord turned to the westernmost window,
gazing out at the night. "Tell me, Tanaros. What do you see, thence?"
He made his way to his Lord's side. It was like
standing beside a stoked forge, the might of the Shaper beating
against his skin in waves. In the air a scent, coppery and sweet,
like fresh-spilled blood, only stronger. "Where, my Lord?"
"There." Satoris pointed to the west, the line
of his arm unerring.
It could not be otherwise, of course, for westward
lay Torath and the Souma, the Eye in the Brow of Uru-Alat-and Lord
Satoris was a Shaper. Though his brethren had cast him out, though
their allies reviled him and called him Sunderer, Banewreaker and
Prince of Lies, he was a Shaper. Day or night, above the earth or
below it, he knew where the Souma lay.
Beyond the Sundering Sea.
Tanaros gripped the edge of the casement and looked
west into the night. The low mountains surrounding Darkhaven rose
in ridges, silvered by a waning moon. Far, far beyond, he could
see the faintest shimmer of surging darkness on the distant horizon
where the sea began. Below, it was quiet, only an occasional clatter
to be heard in the barracks of the Fjeltroll, a voice raised to
break the silence.
Above there was the night sky, thin clouds scudding,
scattered with pinpricks of stars and the waning moon. As it was
since time had begun, since Arahila the Fair had Shaped them into
being that the children of Men might not fear the darkness.
There… there. Low on the horizon, a star.
A red star.
It was faint, but it was there. Its light throbbed,
faint and fickle, red.
Leather and steel creaked as Vorax levered his
bulk to his feet, his breathing audible in the tower chamber; louder,
as he saw the star and sucked his breath between his teeth with
a hiss. "Red star," he said. "That wasn't there before."
Tanaros, who had not known fear for many years,
knew it now. He let go the edge of the casement and flexed his hands,
tasting fear and wishing for his black sword. "What is it, my Lord?"
The Shaper watched the red star flicker low in
the distance. "A warning."
"Of what, my Lord?" The taste of fear in his mouth.
"My elder sister." The voice was as soft as a Shaper's
could be, touched with ages of sorrow. "Oh, Arahila!"
Tanaros closed his eyes. "How can that be, my Lord?
With the Souma shattered and Urulat sundered… how can it be that
Arahila would Shape such a thing?"
"Dergail," said Vorax. "Dergail's Soumanië."
A chip of the Souma, long since shattered; a chip,
Shaped by Haomane First-Born, Chief of Shapers, into a gem, one
of three. It had been lost even before Tanaros was born, when Haomane
sent his three Wise Counselors to make war upon his Lordship. The
Counselor Dergail, who had borne the Arrow of Fire, had known defeat
and flung himself into the sea rather than allow the gem or the
weapon to fall into enemy hands. For over a thousand years, both
had been lost.
"Yes," said Satoris, watching. "Dergail's Soumanië."
Tanaros' mouth had gone dry. "What does it mean,
Satoris Third-Born watched the red star, and the
faint light of the waning moon silvered his dark visage. Calm, so
calm! Unmoving, he stood and watched, while ichor seeped like blood
from the unhealing wound he bore, laying a glistening trail down
the inside of his thigh, never ceasing.
"War," he said. "It means war."
Footsteps sounded on the tower stair, quick and
light, announcing Ushahin's arrival. The half-breed entered the
chamber, bowing. "My Lord Satoris."
"Dreamspinner," the Shaper acknowledged him. "You
In the dim light, there was beauty in the ruined
face, the mismatched features. The half-breed's smile was like the
edge of a knife, deadly and bitter. "I have passed across the plains
of Curonan like the wind, my Lord, and been walked in the dreams
of Men while they slept. I have news. Cerelinde of the Ellylon,
granddaughter of Elterrion, has agreed to wed Aracus Altorus of
the children of Men."
When a daughter of Elterrion weds a son of Altorus…
It was one of the conditions of Haomane's Prophecy,
those deeds by which the Lord-of-Thought vowed Satoris would be
overthrown and defeated, and Urulat reclaimed by the Six Shapers
Vorax cursed with a Staccian's fluency.
Tanaros was silent, remembering.
There had been another of that House, once; there
had been many others, and Altorus Farseer first among them, in the
First Age of the Sundered World. For Tanaros, born in the years
of dwindling glory, there was only one: Roscus Altorus, whom he
had called 'King,' and 'my lord.' Roscus, dearer to him than any
brother. Red-gold hair, a ready smile, a strong hand extended to
clasp in friendship.
Or in love, as his hand had clasped that of Tanaros'
wife. Claiming her, possessing her. Leading her to his bed, where
he got her with child.
Tanaros trembled with hatred.
"Steady, cousin." Vorax's hand was heavy on his
shoulder, and there was sympathy in the Staccian's voice. They knew
each other well, the Three, after so long. "This concerns us all."
Ushahin Dreamspinner said nothing, but his eyes
gleamed in the dark chamber. Near-black, the one, its pupil fixed
wide; the other waxed and waned like the moon, set in a pale, crazed
iris. So it had been, since the day he was beaten and left for dead,
and Men said it was madness to meet his eyes. What the Ellylon thought,
no one knew.
"My Lord Satoris." Tanaros found his voice. "What
would you have of us?"
"Readiness." Calm, still calm, though it seemed
the ichor bled faster from his wound, the broad trail glistening
wider. "Tanaros, command of the armies is yours. Those who are on
leave must be recalled, and each squadron rendered a full complement.
There must be new recruits. Vorax, see to our lines of supply, and
those allies who might be bribed or bought. Ushahin…" The Shaper
smiled. "Do as you do."
They bowed, each of the Three, pressing clenched
fists to their hearts.
"We will not fail you, my Lord," Tanaros said for
"My brave lieutenants." Satoris' words hung in
the air, gentle. "My brother Haomane seeks my life, to end the long
quarrel between us. This you know. But all the weapons and all the
prophecies in the Sundered World avail him not, so long as the dagger
Godslayer remains safe in our charge, and where it lies, no hands
but mine may touch it. This I promise you: for so long as the marrow-fire
burns, I shall reign in Darkhaven, and you Three with me. It is
the pact of your branding, and I shall not fail it. Now go, and
see that we are in readiness."
On the horizon, the red star of war flickered.