Tor books is proud to present, the classic Fred Saberhagen Trilogy. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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December 31, 1978
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Excerpt from Empire of the East by Fred Saberhagen
The Satrap Ekuman's difficulties with his aged prisoner had only begun when he got the fellow down into the dungeon under the Castle and tried to begin a serious interrogation. The problem was not, as you might have thought from a first look at the old man, that the prisoner was too fragile and feeble, liable to die at the first good twinge of pain. Not at all. It was almost incredible, but actually the exact opposite was true. The old man was actually too tough, his powers still protected him. All through the long night he not only defended himself, but kept trying to hit back.
Ekuman's two wizards, Elslood and Zarf, were adepts as able as any that the Satrap had ever encountered west of the Black Mountains, far too strong for any lone prisoner to overcome, especially here on their own ground. Yet the old man fought -- in pride and stubbornness, perhaps, and doubtless with the realization that his fighting could cause powers so enormous to be arrayed against him, could create a tension so great, that his inevitable collapse would bring him sudden and relatively painless death.
The intensity of the silent struggle mounted all through the darkest morning hours, when human powers are known to wane, and others may reach their peak. Ekuman and his wizards could not identify the particular forces of the West that the old man called upon, but certainly they were not trivial. Long before the end, the air within the buried dungeon seemed to Ekuman to be ringing audibly with powers, and his human eyesight misinformed him that the ancient vaults of the stone ceiling had elongated and receded into some mysterious distance. Zarf's toad-familiar, wont to jump with glee during the interrogation of stubborn prisoners, had taken refuge in a puddle of torchlight near the foot of the ascending stair, for once wanting nothing to do with the dark corners of the chamber. It crouched there solemnly, goggle eyes following its master as he moved about.
Elslood and Zarf took turns standing on the rim of the pit, three meters deep, at whose bottom the old man had been chained. They had with them talismans of their choice, and had drawn signs on floor and wall. They of course could gesture freely -- though on the level of physical action the struggle was very quiet, as was to be expected when it involved wizards of this rank.
While one of Ekuman's magicians took his turn at maintaining the pressure, the other stood back before the Satrap's elevated chair, conferring with him. They were all sure that the old man was a leader, perhaps the very chief, of those who called themselves the Free Folk. These were bands of the native populace, reinforced by some stiff-necked refugees from other lands, who hid themselves in hills and coastal swamps and carried on an unremitting guerrilla warfare against Ekuman.
It was only through a stroke of fortune that a routine search operation in the swamps had netted the old man. Zarf and a troop of forty soldiers had come upon him sleeping in a hut. Ekuman was beginning to believe that if the old man had chanced to be awake, they might not have taken him at all. Even with the prisoner at his present disadvantage, Elslood and Zarf together had not even managed to learn his name.