With his bestselling novelThe Phoenix Guards, Steven Brust took readers to a time a thousand years before the events of his popular Vlad Taltos novels. Its sequel, Five Hundred Years After, was hailed by Science Fiction Chronicle as the best fantasy novel of the year.Now Brust has returned to the Khaavren epic, first with last year's The Paths of the Dead, and now with its direct continuation, The Lord of Castle Black...a novel that gives Vlad Taltos and Khaavren fans alike a new look at one of Brust's most popular characters, the Dragonlord Morrolan.Along the way, we'll also encounter swordplay, intrigues, quests, battles, romance, snappy dialogue, and the missing heir to the Imperial Throne. It's an old-fashioned adventure, moving at a twenty-first-century pace. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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April 01, 2004
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Excerpt from The Lord of Castle Black by Steven Brust
Chapter the Thirty-Fifth
How Pel Met Wadre and Engaged Him in Conversation
Two hundred and forty-six years after Adron's Disaster, Zerika succeeded in retrieving the Orb. Zerika, for her part, was never able to tell how long she had spent in the Paths of the Dead and the Halls of Judgment, but, certainly, it was a length of time measured in hours, or, at the most, in days, which calculation is proven by the fact that Zerika is human, and the human being, with his animal shell enclosing a spiritual essence, cannot remain awake, moving, and active for more than a count measured in hours, or, at the most, days.
With this in mind, it may be difficult to comprehend that, in fact, the time between when Zerika leapt from Deathgate Falls and when Sethra Lavode became aware of her (for it is our understanding that the Enchantress of Dzur Mountain was, indeed, the first to become aware of Zerika) must be measured in months. Yet this is inarguably the case.
The explanations for this phenomenon are many and varied, having come from such diverse sources as the Athyra Hangston, who postulates that between the leap from the top of the Falls to landing in the Paths one, in fact, enters a different world than our own, to the Lyorn Pushtagrae, who suggests that the Lords of Judgment assert conscious and deliberate control of every aspect of their realm. For our part, we will make no effort to solve this mystery, but instead will observe that time was never considered an absolute before the invention of the Orb permitted agreement on the intervals of its passing, and so there is no reason to consider time an absolute in a realm where the powers of the Orb have no effect.
Whatever may be the explanation, it is the case: A considerable amount of time passed before Zerika emerged with the Orb. For the historian, this strange, diverging time can present a problem, as history is meaningless without cause and effect, and cause and effect are, in turn, meaningless without sequence. For our purposes, then, we have placed Zerika's re-appearance where it belonged with as much accuracy as possible from her perspective. It remains, then, to explore what had occurred in that time from the perspective of others. And we are obliged to insist that, not only had there been a considerable amount of time passed, but that this time had been filled with activity.
Realizing this, it becomes our duty to lay before the reader an account of this activity, so that when we next see Zerika--that is, when the two "diverging streams of time once more form a river," as the above-mentioned Pushtagrae expressed it so eloquently, the reader is in a position to clearly understand the events as they unfold from that moment on.
We begin, then, with Pel. Whereas we left him in a small village on the southern slopes of Dzur Mountain, we now find him just outside a small village, this one called Trader's Rock, on the western slopes of Hanging Mountain.
We will dispense with a description of Trader's Rock itself for the simple reason that the events upon which we turn our eye are not in the village, but, as we have said, a place near it, within the shadow of the mountain, with its steep slopes, from which so many streams run leading down from its peculiar curved peak. At this time, the day is drawing to a close, and, beneath the slopes of this venerable mountain, there is a small campfire glowing. Pel approached this campfire and said, "Good evening, stranger. May I share your fire? I have some dried fruit, as well as cheese, and, if it should please you, why, I am more than happy to share them."
"You are most welcome, sir," said the other, "and would be even if you had nothing. It is lonely in the mountains, or even at their feet, and company is always welcome."
Pel dismounted, hobbled his horse, and approached the fire, saying, "I am called Galstan; may I inquire as to whom I have the honor of addressing?"
"I am Wadre, a road agent by trade, although you need have no fear on that score, as I do not work alone, and my associates are not, at this time, near at hand."
"Ah, I am reassured. Here, may I offer you these figs? I have made trial of them upon myself and found them excellent."
"You are very courteous. For my part, I have managed to save a little wine, and, by the Gods, you are welcome to the half of it."
"I am deeply in your debt, my friend. Tell me, if you would, how you happen to be out here alone, if, as you say, you ply your trade in a band?"
"I met with misfortune, and became separated from my companions. But you, what brings you to these mountains alone, if you will forgive my curiosity?"
"I am on a mission."
"Yes, exactly, and of the most serious kind."
"Ah! You say, 'serious.'"
"And if I do?"
"That is to say, rewarding?"
"Rewarding? Well, it is not impossible that, at its end, there will be a certain recompense."
"In that case, well, do you have any need of a confederate?"
"How, a confederate?"
"Well, you perceive I have a sword, and I give you my word I am tolerably well acquainted with its use. If this would be useful to you, we could perhaps consider a partnership of some sort. I tell you frankly that I have been unable to decide upon my course of action, after losing my companions; indeed, I have been sitting in this very spot trying to come to some sort of decision, and, as I have sat here, I have watched my few provisions gradually disappear. You have already given me some aid, in that you have brought food just as I was coming to a most unwelcome understanding of hunger. In short, I am, just now, meeting severe circumstances, and I look to you for rescue. You perceive I hold back nothing; I hope that, even if you cannot use my services, you will love me a little for my honesty."
"You interest me exceedingly, young man, and I must say that I am considering your offer in all earnestness."
"I am glad you are considering my offer, because I certainly made it with no question of joking."
"What of your companions?"
"Well, what of them?"
"Do you speak for them as well?"
"Only under a certain condition."
"A condition? Let us hear this famous condition, then."
"Feathers! It is that I find them again!"
"Ah. Well, I understand how this could be necessary."
"And if I find them, are we agreed?"
"Permit me to consider."
"Oh," said Wadre, "please believe that I would never question a gentleman's right to consider. Even when I was with my band, and we would come upon a stranger and I would offer him his life in exchange for whatever he possessed of value, well, even then I would not begrudge him some time to consider."
"And you were right not to. In this case, there are many things to consider, but, above all, I must consider whether my objectives will be aided by having a swordsman, or perhaps, indeed, a few swordsmen, near at hand; or whether these objectives will be hindered. As I consider, perhaps you will tell me what you have been doing in these regions, and how you happened to become separated from your associates."
"Oh, that is easily enough explained."
"Well, I am listening, then."
"We were hired for a mission by a sorceress, which mission proved to be overly difficult for us."
"Well, but you must understand that this answer, laconic as it is, only produces more questions."
"How, does it?"
"I promise you it does."
"Well, I cannot help that."
"But can you answer them?"
"My dear sir," said Wadre, "should you but ask, I will turn my entire attention to doing so."
"Very well, let me begin then."
"You perceive that I am listening."
"You say you were hired by a sorceress?"
"I say so, and I even repeat it."
"Tell me, then, about this sorceress, for it is unusual to meet someone with such skills in these days when the Orb is no longer whirling merrily about the head of an Emperor."
And in this way, Pel very soon had extracted from the bandit the entire history of the recent encounter between Orlaan and Piro in all significant details. And, although Wadre mentioned nothing that might divulge the identity of Zerika or her friends, he did happen to include Tazendra's remark about having known the sorceress by another name.
"Grita?" said Pel. "That was the name of the sorceress? Grita? You are certain?"
"It is as I have had the honor to say, my dear sir."
"And the name of the Dzurlord?"
"This name I never heard pronounced."
"But she was wearing a uniform of sorts, mostly of black, yet with hints of silver as a Dragonlord might wear, similar to the old uniform of the Lavodes?"
"And she was the one who called the sorceress by the name Grita?"
"It was none other; indeed, there is no question in my mind that the Dzurlord and the sorceress knew each other."
"Well, that is more than a little interesting," said Pel, considering the matter deeply.
"You think so?"
"Believe me, my friend, I am captivated by your tale."
Wadre bowed. "I am glad that you are."
"But it does make me wonder one thing, my dear brigand."
"What is that?"
"It concerns loyalty."
"Exactly. Suppose that my mission were to conflict with that of this Grita, or Orlaan, or whatever her name is. Where would your loyalty lie?"
"Why, I am always utterly loyal to whoever pays me, at least for a while."
"For a while?"
"Yes. For example, if we were to fight with Orlaan--"
"Yes, if we were to fight her, what then?"
"Why then, as you had hired me, I should fight for you at least until the end of the battle."
"So then, you are not fanatical in your loyalty."
"Oh, I think I am fanatical in nothing. And, as for loyalty--"
Wadre shrugged. "I am a highwayman. You perceive, loyalty is not of great value in my profession."
"Yes, there is some justice in what you say. But I must know if I can depend upon you to remain loyal for a certain period of time."
"If you have engaged me for it, and I have agreed, you can depend upon me."
Pel nodded. "I will take you at your word," he said.
"You may do so with confidence," said the brigand. "But, what is it you would have me do?"
"In the first place, you must find your confederates, because we may require them."
"That may be difficult."
"The reward will be commensurate with the difficulty."
Wadre bowed. "I will take you at your word."
"You may do so with confidence," said Pel.
The highwayman made a respectful salute and set off. When Wadre had departed to begin looking for his associates, Pel spent some few moments in deep consideration; as he considered, he frowned, then briefly shook his head as if to dispel a stray or distracting thought that had intruded upon his contemplations. Sometime later he permitted himself a brief smile, after which he nodded abruptly, as if he had at last come to a decision. The results of this decision we will see presently.