In the world of the Isles, the elemental forces of magic are rising to a thousand-year peak. A small bank of companions has set forth across a world in the process of transformation in search of their destinies. Now their epic adventure continues. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
As the protagonists in this sequel to Lord of the Isles (1997) journey through multiple worlds, Drake conjures a sense of enchantment?and danger?with original and convincing settings, situations and characters. Moreover, unlike too many fantasy characters, these protagonists mature through their adventures. Garric, aided by the ancient but lively spirit of King Carus, assumes the throne and grows into the unexpected?and often boring?demands of true kingship. His sister, Sharina, finds more male protectors but also learns to protect herself. Cashel rescues a princess?though the result is no fairy tale, and Cashel's sister, Ilna, seeks worthwhile purposes for her weaving-magic and expiation for the sins of its past uses. Liane emerges as a major character, dependable adviser to Prince Garric; other intriguing folk are introduced, from a drug-addicted wizard to Zahag, an ape magically given speech but still nonhuman in personality. If anything, the book covers too many stories, and so the reader is relieved when the protagonists are united at book's end. And though the evil eponymous Queen and the blood-hungry Beast have been defeated, more adventures await in implied future volumes.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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December 15, 1999
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Excerpt from Queen of Demons by David Drake
Garric or-Reise leaned on the rail of a balcony that existed only in his fancy, watching his physical body practice swordsmanship in the garden below. He wasn't asleep, but his conscious mind had become detached from the body's motions. In this reverie he met and spoke with the ghost of his ancestor who had died a thousand years before.
Garric gestured toward where his physical self hacked at a post with his lead-weighted sword. "It's as boring as plowing a field," he said. "And there at least you have a furrow to show for it."
"You've got the build to be a swordsman, lad," said King Carus from the railing beside Garric. He grinned engagingly. "At least they always told me I did, and my worst enemies never denied my skill with a sword. But to be really good, you have to go through the exercises till every movement is a reflex."
He pretended to study the clouds, picture perfect in a blue sky. "Of course," he went on, "you can always save yourself the effort and let me take over running your body when there's need for that sort of work."
Roses climbed a supporting pillar and flooded their red blooms across the balcony's solid-seeming stone. When Garric was in this state he had the feeling that nothing existed beyond the corners of his vision: if he turned his head very quickly, he might see formless mist instead of the walls of the building from which the balcony jutted.
Garric grinned at the king, pretending that he hadn't heard beneath the banter a wistful note in the voice of the man who hadn't had a physical form for a thousand years. "My father didn't raise me to shirk duties in order to save myself effort," Garric said. "And I don't care to be beholden to another man for work that I ought to be able to do myself."
Carus laughed with the full-throated enthusiasm of a man to whom the strong emotions came easily, joy and love and a fiercely hot anger that slashed through any obstruction. "You could have had a worse father than Reise," he said. "And I'm not sure that you could have had a better one."
He turned his attention to the figure below, Garric's body swinging the blunt practice sword. The men who guarded the compound of Master Latias, the rich merchant who was sheltering Garric and his friends here in Erdin, watched the exercises with approval and professional interest.
"You lead with your right leg," Carus said, gesturing. "One day a smart opponent will notice that your foot moves an eyeblink before your sword arm does. Then you'll find his point waiting for your chest just that much before your own blade gets home."
"I'm tired," Garric said. "My body's tired, I mean."
Carus smiled with a glint of steel in his gray eyes. "You think you're tired, lad," he said softly. "When you've been through the real thing, you'll know what tired is."
"Sorry," Garric muttered. Even as the words came out of his mouth he'd been embarrassed. He'd reacted defensively instead of listening to what he was being told. He grinned. "A scythe uses a lot of the same muscles, but I never had the wheat swing back at me. I'll practice till I've got it right."
The king's expression softened into bright laughter again. "Aye, you will," he said. "Already the strength you put into your strokes makes you good enough for most work."
The two men on the dream balcony were so similar that were they visible no one could have doubted their relationship. Carus had been a man of forty when wizardry swallowed down his ship. He was broad-shouldered, long-limbed, and moved with a grace that gulls might envy as they slid across the winds.
Garric would be eighteen in a month's time. He had his height and strength, but compared to the full adult growth of the king beside him he looked lanky. Both were tanned and as fit as an active life could make a man. Garric was barefoot with the wool tunic and trousers of a Haft peasant. Carus wore a blue velvet doublet and suede breeches, with high boots of leather dyed a bright red.
On the king's head was a circlet of gold, the diadem of the Kings of the Isles. It had sunk with him a thousand years before.
"There's more to being King of the Isles than just being able to use a sword," Carus said. His elbows were on the railing; he rested his chin for a moment on his tented fingers, an oddly contemplative pose for a man who was usually in motion.
He turned and looked at Garric. "Part of the reason I failed and let the kingdom go smash," he said, "was that my sword was always the first answer I picked to solve a problem. But you'll need a sword too, lad, when you're king."
"I'm not a king!" Garric said, grimacing in embarrassment. "I'm just a ..."
What was he really? A youth from Haft, a backwater since the Old Kingdom fell. A peasant who'd been taught to read and appreciate the ancient poets by his father, Reise, an educated man who had once served in the royal palace in Valles and later had been secretary to the Countess of Haft in Carcosa.
A peasant who'd faced and killed a wizard who'd come close to assembling all the power of evil. A youth who had in his head the ghost of his ancestor, the last and greatest king the Isles had ever known.
"Well, I'm not a king," Garric finished lamely.
"But you will be," Carus said, his tone genial but as certain as the strokes of his mighty sword arm. "Not because you're of my blood; that just lets me speak with you, lad. You'll be king of the Isles because you can do the job. If you don't, the crash that brought down civilization when I failed will look like a party. All that'll be left this time will be blood and plague and slaughter till there's no one left to kill."
Carus smiled. "But we won't let that happen," he said. "On our souls we won't, king Garric! Will we?"
Two of Garric's companions had joined the spectators in the garden below. Cashel or-Kenset was nearly Garric's height and built like the trunk of an old oak. He and his sister Ilna came from the same village as Garric, Barca's Hamlet on the east coast of Haft. They and Garric's blond sister Sharina had been friends for as long as any of the four of them could remember.
Tenoctris, the old woman with Cashel now, was as complete a contrast with Cashel as Garric could imagine. A force that she refused to call fate had plucked her from her own time and carried her a thousand years forward to deposit her on the coast of Barca's Hamlet. Tenoctris was a wizard. She was a wizard with very little power, she said; but she understood where others merely acted--and by their actions brought destruction on themselves and those about them.
"No," Garric said. "We won't let that happen."
He'd have given anything to return to the life for which he'd been raised, the son of the innkeeper in a tiny village where nothing was expected to change except the seasons of the year. He couldn't go back, though.
The forces that ruled the cosmos were reaching another thousand-year peak. In the days of King Carus, a wizard with unbridled power had broken the kingdom into individual islands warring with one another and within themselves. Civilization had partly risen from that ruin; but if the cycle were repeated, Barca's Hamlet would be ground into the mud as surely as great cities like Carcosa on Haft, capital of the Old Kingdom of the Isles, had been shattered when Carus died.
"Join your friends," Carus said with a cheerful gesture. "Besides, you shouldn't overdo or you'll take more from the muscles than you get back from the exercise. Though you're young and you won't believe that any more than I did when I was your age."
The king, the balcony, and the sky above dissolved. Garric's mind slipped from reverie back into his sweaty, gasping body on the exercise ground. The shield on his left arm was a fiery weight, and all the muscles of his right side quivered with the strain of swinging the practice sword.
Garric reeled back, wheezing. Every time he'd struck the unyielding target, his hand had absorbed the shock. Garric's palm now felt as though a wagon had rolled over it. He struck the sword down in ground he'd stamped hard.
"Ho!" Garric said, clearing his lungs. He fumbled with the strap that transferred some of the shield's weight to his shoulders. Cashel's big hands were there before him, lifting the buckler of cross-laminated wood away as easily as if it had been a lace doily.
The captain of the guards stepped forward. Serians like Master Latias were pacifists, unwilling to use force on another human being. That didn't prevent them from hiring men who had different philosophies, though. The men guarding this compound in Erdin were hard-bitten by any standards, and their chief looked to be the equal of any two of his subordinates.
"You said you hadn't any experience with a sword, sir," he said to Garric. "But that's not what I'd have thought to see you using one just now."
Garric had gotten back enough of his breath to speak. "An ancestor of mine was a great swordsman," he said, half-smiling. "Perhaps some of his skill passed to me."
He touched his chest. A coronation medal of King Carus hung from a silk ribbon beneath his tunic. Garric's father had given him the medal the day Tenoctris washed up in Barca's Hamlet. From that day everything started to change....
"Tenoctris and I thought we'd go for a walk around the harbor," Cashel said. His voice was slow, steady, and powerful, a mirror of the youth himself. He shrugged. "My sister's got Sharina and Liane weaving with her. It's some special idea, she says."
Cashel and his sister Ilna had been orphaned when they were seven, making their way since then by skill and dogged determination. Garric was stronger than most of the men he'd met, but he knew his friend Cashel was stronger than anyone he was likely ever to meet.
"It's been a great many years since anyone called me a girl, and nobody ever mistook me for a weaver," Tenoctris said. She spoke with a bright, birdlike enthusiasm that made her seem only a fraction of the age Garric's eyes judged her to be. "We thought you might like to come with us, though if you want to practice more...?"
She nodded to the post. Despite the blunt edge of the practice
sword, Garric had hammered fresh chips away all around the wood.
"No, I'm done for the day," Garric said. "Let me sponge off and I'll come with you."
He chuckled. "If you overdo with exercise," he added, "Your muscles lose more than they gain."
Neither his friends nor the guards understood Garric's amusement, but the king lurking somewhere in the back of Garric's mind laughed his approval.
* * *
Cashel or-Kenset was satisfied with life as he sauntered along Erdin's busy waterfront with his friends. He was usually satisfied. Cashel didn't require much to be happy, and he'd found hard work would bring all but one of the things he needed.
The only thing missing had been Garric's sister, Sharina, the girl Cashel had secretly loved for as long as he could remember. Now he had Sharina too.
Cashel and Garric strolled at a pace Tenoctris found comfortable. Though she was a frail old woman, she nonetheless moved faster than the sheep who were Cashel's most frequent companions.
He'd watched flocks on the pastures south of Barca's Hamlet since he was seven years old. As he got his growth he'd been hired more often for tasks that required strength: ditching, tree-felling, moving boulders in locations too cramped and awkward to admit a yoke of oxen to do the work. Folk in the borough had quickly learned that you could depend on Cashel to do a careful job of any task you set him.
"Is that a shrine to the Lady?" Garric asked. He nodded toward an altar at the head of a brick quay stretching out into the channel of the River Erd. It would be discourteous to gesture too openly toward a deity, and in a strange place--as Erdin certainly was to a pair of Haft peasants--there was the chance someone would get angry with the boorish strangers.
Not that men the size of Cashel or Garrie were likely to be attacked. Even so, they'd been well brought up and didn't want to give offense.
The altar was a carved female figure holding a shallow bowl. Three sailors were burning incense in it. The statue wore loose pantaloons and a sleeveless jacket that left her limestone breasts bare. Cashel had never seen garments like those, and certainly not on an image of the Lady, the Queen of Heaven. The incense surprised him into a sneeze.
"That's the Lady as she's worshipped on Shengy," Tenoctris said. She grinned ruefully. "I should say, in my day that was the costume the Lady wore on Shengy. But you have to remember that in my day, Erdin was an uninhabited marsh and the Earls of Sandrakkan were a coarse lot who lived like a gang of bandits in a castle on the eastern tip of the island."
"But the sailors aren't from Shengy, are they?" Garric said. "I thought folk from there are short and dark."
"Sailors tend to take spiritual help from whoever offers it," Tenoctris said. "They're more aware than most people of how much their safety depends on things they can't control."
In a softer voice, one meant as much for herself as for the ears of her companions, the old wizard added, "I sometimes wish that I could believe in the Great Gods myself. All I see are powers, and it's only because of my human weakness that I even call them Good and Evil. I'm sure that the cosmos doesn't put any such labels on the forces that move it."
"The cosmos may not care if people serving Malkar sink the Isles into the sea," Garric said as he fingered the medallion he wore under his tunic. "But we care, and we're not going to let it happen."
"I believe in the Lady and the Shephered," Cashel said without anger. "I believe that Duzi watches over the flocks of Barca's Hamlet...not that the sheep didn't need me as well, silly beasts that they are."
Tenoctris was a good woman, and a smart one who was even better educated than Garric. She could believe whatever she pleased. But the truth for Cashel was usually a simple thing, and what other folk believed didn't change that truth.
Cashel was big. He moved with deliberation because he'd learned early that a man of his size and strength broke things by being hasty. He counted on his fingers, and the only reason he could write his name was that Garric had spent days teaching him to laboriously draw the letters.
A lot of people thought Cashel was stupid. Well, maybe he was. But a lot of people thought an ox was stupid too because it was strong and slow and did its job without the shrill temperament of a horse.
The people who thought an ox was stupid were wrong.
The three of them skirted a stack of hardwood being unloaded from an odd-looking twin-hulled freighter. The logs had a pronounced ring pattern that would stripe boards like lengths of Ilna's fancy weaving.
"Tigerwood from Kanbesa," Garric said in wonder.
"Brought here, all the way across the Inner Sea to panel some merchant's house. Erdin's certainly grown since the Old Kingdom fell."
Cashel eyed the wood with critical appraisal. Pretty enough, he supposed, but he'd take oak--or hickory, like the quarterstaff he carried here in Erdin just as he had in the pastures back on Haft.
Cashel didn't carry the quarterstaff just for a weapon He'd shaped the tough wood with his own hands. It was a part of Haft and a part of Cashel before he left Barca's Hamlet to wander the Isles. The smooth, familiar hickory made him feel more at home among these close-set buildings and a crowd as thick as fishflies in spring. Why shouldn't he carry it?
"Doesn't Sandrakkan have forests?" he asked. He found Garric's comments about the Old Kingdom odd. Cashel understood when Tenoctris said somthing about the world of a thousand years ago: She'd lived in it, after all. Sometimes Garric sounded as though he had too.
"There're a lot of forests, especially in the north," Garric said, "but they don't grow fancy species like tigerwood. It's just for show, so that a rich man can brag that he brought wood a thousand miles to cover his dining hall"
Cashel frowned as he planned what he wanted to say. A merchant passing in the other direction gave him a startled look. The man's bodyguard gripped the hilt of a sword that certainly wasn't for show. Cashel took no notice.
"There're goods from just about everyplace here," he said. He grinned slowly, the even-tempered youth from Barca's Hamlet again. "Bags of wool from Haft. I shouldn't wonder. People seem happy enough. It's peaceful and they get on with their lives."
Tenoctris nodded, waiting for Cashel's point. Garric was listening intently also.
"But if it turns to fights and demons and dead things walking, they all lose," Cashel said forcefully. "Why do they let that happen? Why do people make that happen?"
The old wizard shook her head. "Partly it's the way people are, Cashel," she said. "Not you and certainly not me. I never wanted any kind of power, just quiet in which to study."
She smiled broadly, shedding a decade with the expression. "I avoided power, all right, but it looks as though I'm not going to have the quiet study because we're trying to keep the world from going the way you describe."
She sobered instantly. "But that's the other thing: forces reached a peak a thousand years ago, and before they subsided they'd brought down the kingdom--what your age calls the Old Kingdom. The powers from outside don't cause disaster in themselves, but they amplify tiny imbalances, petty anger and ambition and jealousy."
Tenoctris looked out over the river. Cashel guessed she was
really viewing things more distant than the barges crawling down the brown Erd and the larger vessels that brought cargoes from all across the Inner Sea.
"Wizards with some power find that they have many times that power now," the old woman continued softly.
"They can sink islands or raise demons who have the strength to wreck cities. But the wizards don't have any better understanding than they did before."
She looked at Garric, then Cashel, with eyes as fierce as an eagle's. "And they understood nothing before, though they thought they did. Because they were fools!"
"But you understand," Garric said, placing his big tanned hand on Tenoctris' shoulder. "And we won't let Malkar win this time. Evil isn't going to win."
Cashel scratched the back of his left ear, thinking. Sharina had left Barca's Hamlet; forever, it seemed. She hadn't known how Cashel felt about her because Cashel hadn't had--and wouldn't ever have had--the courage to tell her.
So Cashel had left home also, going no particular direction--just away from the place where so many memories tortured him. In the end he'd found Sharina again, and he'd saved her when nobody else could have. Nobody but Cashel or-Kenset.
"I think things will work out all right," Cashel said aloud. "Things pretty much do if you work at them."
The others looked at him in surprise. Cashel smiled slowly. Garric and Tenoctris were smart people who read all sorts of things in books. Cashel had nothing but the life he lived himself to base his judgments on. Other folks could believe whatever they wanted to, but that didn't change the things Cashel knew in his own heart.
They walked on, passing men who unloaded spices from a square-bowed Serian ship. Slim, brown-skinned sailors brought the sturdy chests up from the vessel's multiple holds, but local men loaded the goods on handcarts to be wheeled to a warehouse. A Sandrakkan factor oversaw the business. The carg's owner, a silk-robed upperclass Serian who was taller and much fleshier than the sailors, stood impassively while at his side a secretary jotted the count onto a tablet of bamboo sheets.
"If the Isles were really united again," Garric said, "there'd be even more trade. Maybe that's just a dream."
It was Cashel's turn to look with curiosity at his friend. Not the sort of dream that came to Haft peasants, he'd have thought.
"The forces turned toward Malkar aren't in league with one another," Tenoctris said. Her train of thought didn't flow directly from what had been said before, but it fit well enough with Cashel's musings. "Evil people hate one another as bitterly as they hate what I suppose we may as well call the good. That's the real advantage good has over evil."
She smiled wryly. "Unfortunately," she went on, "there's very little that's purely anything. Including good."
They were passing a ship of moderate size whose deck cargo, dried fruit in pitch-sealed baskets, had already been unloaded. The crew was using the mast and yard as a crane to bring casks up from the hold one at a time, then swing them onto mule-drawn wagons.
A tin plate nailed onto the vessel's stem showed a gull and a name in cut-out letters. The captain was a red-bearded man as stocky as Cashel but not as big. He directed his sullen crewman from the deck, while the merchant receiving the goods waited with the first in the line of wagons.
Cashel paused. His skin felt prickly as though sunburnt, something that almost never happened to him since he spent most of his time outdoors in all seasons. He stared intently at the ship.
"She's the Bird of the Waves," Garric said, thinking his friend was trying to cipher out the nameplate.
"There's something about it..." Cashel said. He slid his left hand slowly up his quarterstaff.
Garric started to speak but closed his mouth again in stead.
Tenoctris knelt on the brick quay and picked up a piece of straw that had been used to cushion cargo.
"Hey!" a carter shouted angrily. "Get out of the way or I'll drive over you!"
Cashel stepped between Tenoctris and the lead oxen. He set one of his staff's iron ferrules on the ground in front of him and stared at the carter.
"Ah, go back to your farm!" the carter said; but he swung his team to the side. Popping his whip he went around the trio with his load of grain packed in terra-cotta storage jars.
Tenoctris had drawn words in the grime of the street. Now she murmured a spell, touching each syllable in turn with the piece of straw.