Three against an Empire! Ason: Prince of an ancient house, intent on restoring the keystone of his father's power, braves the limits of the land-rimmed sea to sail North, through the cold fog, to the icy island where, with heroic effort, the key to victory may be found. Inteb: Former envoy of the Pharoah, reluctant voyager to the forbidden island of Yerni, armed only with his arcane knowledge and his loyalty to Ason. Naikeri: Pround daughter of the Albi, she has never known a warrior like Ason, nor a world like the one she helps him build-a world that will center on one of the greatest monuments of all time... STONEHENGE The exciting saga of the creation of a legend! At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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July 14, 1992
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Excerpt from Stonehenge by Harry Harrison
Britain, 1480 B.C.
The wind swooped out of the wooded hills to the north, driving a scud of fine snow before it. It rushed through the tall, dark trees of the forest, rattling the bare twigs and bending the tops of the evergreens. Here and there in the endless forest it crossed clearings, man made, with short stubble in the frozen furrows and squat buildings leaking feathers of smoke to be snatched away by the wind. Over a ridge it moved and down into an open-ended valley well cleared of trees. Here the wind pressed close to the ground and moaned about the squat sod buildings and tore fragments of reeds from their roofs.
Lycos of Mycenae walked with his chin bent into his chest to keep the stinging snow from his face, wrapping his white wool cloak more tightly about him. His conical helmet of rows of boats' tusks offered protection from sword blows but not from the weather. He stopped under a low lintel and pushed open the door of the last building. The air inside was as cold and damp as that outside, and it stank.
"What happened?" Lycos asked.
"We don't know," Koza said. A gray-haired and scarred warrior, his bronze half armor bore the traces of much hard use as did his sharp-pointed bronze helmet. He squinted in the dim light as he looked down at the man who lay bubbling and moaning on the dirt floor of the hut. "One of the boys saw him at the edge of the forest and told me. He was unconscious, just like this. I dragged him in here." A short, compact man in stained, brown garments. Dying.
"Do any of them know who he is?" Lycos asked from the doorway, not interested in entering the foul-smelling hut.
"He's not one of them, he's an Albi," Koza said. "That's all they can say. They're frightened. One of them thinks he may have seen him before, but he doesn't know his name. They're all stupid." The small boys crouched together in the boxlike bunk, among the matted furs, looking on fearfully, their eyes round white splotches in their dirty faces. They shrank even further when Koza talked about them.
Koza did not like this. He poked his toe into the man's ribs with no effect. The man's eyes stayed closed and a pink froth dribbled from his lips. Fresh moss had been pressed into the great wound in his chest, but it could not stop the flow of blood that oozed out and snaked in thick streams down his ribs. Koza had fought in a great number of battles and had seen many men die, so it was not the familiar presence of death that troubled him now.
"Leave him," Lycos ordered and turned to go. He halted and pointed at the boys, who shied away at the gesture. "Why aren't they working?"
"One of the tin streams has been flooded," Koza fell into step to the left and slightly behind Lycos. "We can't dig in it until the water goes down."
"Then put them to work on the charcoal kilns or to pounding ore; there's plenty for them to do."
Koza nodded agreement, uncaring. They were justDonbaksho boys sold into bondage by their parents in exchange for a few gifts. The wind whirled the snowflakes about them; spring was coming late this year. The sun was a glowing cold eye close to the horizon. They strode through the half-frozen mud and long drifts of white ashes to the welcome heat that surrounded one of the furnaces. Under the lean-to a pile of burning charcoal, mixed with the ore, had been heaped into a cupped depression in the ground. It needed a forced draft, and when Lycos appeared the two boys, who had been half-heartedly leaning on the pair of bellows, began to apply themselves with great energy; sparks glowed and scattered wide. The bellows, each made from a length of wood fastened to an entire pigskin with its legs kicking in the air, squealed with restored life.
"This one will be finished soon," Lycos said, squinting into the pile of red coals with a professional eye.
"I don't like that Albi coming here like this, wounded. None of them live that close. Why ... ."
"They fight with each other and die. Has nothing to do with us."
This was dismissal enough. Koza reluctantly left the heat and went to his own quarters to get his bronze-studded shield and sword. A dagger and half armor were safe to wear in the security of the settlement--but nowhere else. A foot beyond the protective embankment a man had to be armed and walk with caution. There were bears out there that would attack if they were disturbed, and wolves, often in packs, that considered men just another welcome source of meat after the long winter. Boars, savage killers in the thick brush. And men, the most dangerous killers of all. A stranger was an enemy. Once you left the home circle all men were strangers.
Mirisati was sitting on his heels just below the top of the embankment that had been thrown up to seal off the end of the valley, his heavy shield at his side while he traced circles in the dirt with the tip of his sword.
"I could have killed you," Koza growled. "Squatting down like you're enjoying a good bowel movement."
"No, you couldn't," Mirisati said with the indifference of the young for the concerns of the old. He sat and stretched, then climbed to his feet. "I heard you coming one hundred paces off with your knee joints squeaking and your armor rattling."
"What have you seen?"
Koza squinted through the thin curtain of falling snow. The land before him was bare the full width of the narrow valley that held the settlement, tufted with grass now brown and dead. Beyond this were heather bushes backed by the dark curtain of the forest that covered the Island of the Yerni from east to west, from the sea-washed beaches of the south to the fogs and swamps of the far north. The valley was wrapped in silence. The only movement was a flock of crows that rose up and swept away out of sight.
"I've seen just what you are seeing now. Nothing. No one is coming here. I wish they would. Butchering a few of these savages would be a change."
"Nothing? What about the one with the hole in his chest the boy found?" The dying man's presence still troubled Koza.
"Who knows? Better, who cares? They just like to kill each other. And I can understand that. What else is there to do in this cold land?"
"The Albi don't fight."
"Tell that to the dying one. If you want to talk to me, tell me about the sun-warmed stones of Mycenae. What a distance we have traveled from that happy place! My arms ache just thinking about it, but I would start rowing tomorrow if it meant we could return. Fifteen days across the green water of that cold ocean to the Pillars of Herakles. Thirty days more on the blue waters to the Argolid. The first olives will be ready for the pressing by then."
"We'll leave when we're ordered to leave," Koza grumbled.He had no more love than the other for this Island of the Yerni. The wind drew the falling traceries of snow aside for a moment and he saw the dark silhouettes of the birds settling down into the forest. They were roosting for the night--but why had they moved? Had something disturbed them?
"You better go back and start the boys in the hut working again. Orders from Lycos. And when you see him, tell him that the underbrush is growing up here again. We'll have to clear it back."
"Always looking for new labors, Koza?" Mirisati was in no hurry to return to the camp.
"We've had attacks here before. The Yerni stay away now because we killed all of the ones that tried. And they'll try again someday. That brush is protection for them. Men could lie out there, get close."
"You have bad dreams, old man. My dreams are of a superior sort, of warm sun and olive groves and cool wine. Fine Epidaurian wine, so rich you must thin it twenty times with water. And then a girl, not one of these Donbaksho sluts whose wrappings you have to cut away to be sure it isn't a boy or an old man, but a honey-skinned girl who smells of frankincense."