Authors: The Usurper (v1.1)
THE BOOKS OF THE KINGDOMS
the Realm of the Dead
From the sarcophagus there came a
creaking as of ancient armor stirring, and something rose, slowly at first, as
if brought from a long sleep. Kedryn stared at it. Of physical features there
was no sign: It was as though the creature consisted of shadow, blackness where
the flesh should be.
It spoke, and its voice was as
rusted armor, sending a waft of putrescence billowing across the strange
“Living flesh.” It seemed a
condemnation. “What business has living flesh here in the realm of the dead?”
Kedryn felt the power of the
creature as the blank casque faced him. He felt fear, and Wynett’s hand tight
“I have a duty to those still
living, and my time is not yet done. I was blinded by one now dead, and would
ask him for my eyes that I might dispense that duty. Wynett stands with me
because I need her. Let us go by. I ask as hef-Alador.”
Noxious laughter rang through the
chamber and the thing said, “The one you slew is here. And many others. Perhaps
some you would rather not face. I know you, hef-Alador, and I tell you—go
SECOND BOOK OF THE KINGDOMS:
A Bantam Book / published by arrangement with
Sphere Books Ltd.
Sphere edition published 1989
Bantam edition / August 1990
© 1989 by Angus Wells.
art copyright © 1990 by Larry Elmore.
part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publisher.
information address: Bantam Books.
Published simultaneously in the
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OPM 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6
For Nick Webb, who had
The taste of defeat was bitter, the
more so for being both unknown and unexpected. The might of the Horde he had
raised was broken against the stones of the Lozin Gate, the creature he had
lifted up to lead it slain by a near-beardless youth, the creature he had sent
to slay that youth himself destroyed, He could not understand it, for his
master had promised victory and the promise of the god Ashar was as sure as the
fires of his birthing; yet it had come: the Kingdoms stood intact.
In bitterness he retreated into the
forests, leaving the barbarians to their own devices, to sue for peace or flee,
he no longer cared: the promises he had made them in the name of his master
meant nothing, for they had failed him. And yet, even in the chagrin of his
rout, he saw that a purpose still remained—the youth, the one called Kedryn
Caitin, must be destroyed. He did not properly understand the significance of
the young man, knowing only that Kedryn had somehow stood against the
ensorcelled sword of Niloc Yarrum, had somehow escaped the berserk fury of
Borsus, thus confirming the instinctive suspicion that he was, in some
inexplicable way, a greater obstacle than all the armies mustered in defense of
the Kingdoms. While he still lived Ashar’s purpose must stand in threat of
thwarting, and while that menace should exist so must his own existence stand
in danger. He must find a way to bring about his master's design.
He moved steadily deeper into the
woodlands, traversing paths untrod by man, moving with a speed greater than
human form might attain, the beasts of the forest scattering from his way as
they would scatter from the encroaching breath of fire, sensing in him that
which he was able to hide from man. Deeper and ever deeper he moved, until he
came to that place where first he had known this life given him by his master,
where Ashar’s fires had first burned in the Beltrevan.
It was a silent, sere place devoid
of birdsong or animal life. The trees were not grown back where his birthing
fire had scorched the ground, nor any undergrowth. Rather, it was a place that
denied natural life, the earth still hidden beneath a thick layering of ash
undisturbed by spoor or seeding, nubs of flame-scorched timber like rotted
tooth stumps, the rock itself glass-smooth as cooled magma.
Ashar was here. He could feel the
presence of the god, and he felt a chill touch of dread.
He shed the furs that had hid his
frame from human sight and stood in unhuman nakedness, knowing what he must do
yet fearing the wrath of his master, that fear stoking the hate he felt for
Kedryn Caitin and the folk of the Kingdoms and the blue-robed followers of
Ashar’s enemy. He nursed the hate, letting it kindle until it burned fiercer
than the dread, and then his thin lips began to move, forming words impossible
for human tongue to utter. He stretched out his arms, blue flame flickering
about his taloned fingers, sparking and crackling, filling the stifled air with
the sharp tang of ozone. The droning of his chant grew louder, and as it did
the cold fire formed in his mouth, wreathing about his mantis-features as his
cratered eyes blazed red as smoldering coals. Louder and higher he chanted
until the silence of the burned woodland was filled with the sound, his arms
raised high, his head craned back, his frame rigid. Then, abruptly, he dropped
his arms, screaming a single word: “Ashar!”
The blue fire spurted from mouth and
fingertips, converging, striking ground that exploded into flame, a great
column of incandescence blazing red against a darkening sky, tongues of fire
filling the blackened clearing, washing over him so that he shuddered with the
ecstasy of the heat. Up and up rose the column until it seemed to link earth
and heavens, seemed to bum down into the earth, a corridor to the netherworld
from which he summoned his master.
And Ashar came, the knowledge of the
god’s presence sending him to his knees, head bowed lest he gaze upon that
which even he feared to observe directly.
You have failed me.”
The words were thunder and lightning
that blasted the surrounding pines, setting them to swaying, flame dancing over
He groveled, prostrating himself,
his mouth against the ash, his answer—his plea—spoken into the cinders.
“I did my best. I did as you bade
say the fault is mine?"
“No, Master! Never yours; but ...”
Do you plead for your miserable existence? That which I have given, I can take
“I plead to continue your work,
Master! Only that. I know these creatures better now. I know that Kyrie stands
The trees growing about the great blackened patch of forest burst into flame as
the central column gouted outward, fire roaring until it seemed all the
Beltrevan must blaze.
affront me with that cursed name!"
“Her power is great there.” He spoke
quickly, spitting ash and hatred with each word, momentarily aware that the
burning that was his god could so easily reach out to take him. “And one there
is who stands in our way—Kedryn Caitin. He withstood the magic of the sword and
I believe he is favored of her. ”
The thunder rumbled a fraction softer, almost ruminative. “
You killed him?"
“I tried, Master, but I could not.
There is power in him; enough that three times he escaped me. He lives still.”
should not " roared the god, “and as he does, why should 1 not destroy
“I can serve you still, Master.” His
clawed hands dug into the ashy soil, his malformed shape tensing in
anticipation of dreadful anger. “I know them better now and if you send me
amongst them again I believe I may achieve your will—so long as I destroy this
is he?" demanded Ashar, the fulguration of his voice lessened. “A priest?
Does she take men under her skirts now?"
“A warrior. A youth. A princeling of
Tamur, I believe; not a priest—she still calls women to her service. But she
affords him her protection. He it was thwarted our purpose.”
he must be destroyed!" Lightning stalked the ground about the prostrate
figure. “This time you must not fail me"
He drew deep, ashy breath as he
recognized clemency and promised, “No, Master. This time I shall not fail you.”
have thought on this? You have a design?"
“I have. I must go amongst them. Not
the forest folk this time, but the people of the Kingdoms. Where might has
failed us, subtlety may prevail. I shall seek to destroy from within, not
overwhelm with swordmight but seduce.”
Ashar demanded, the question a rolling peal of thunder.
“There are three kingdoms, Master,”
came the answer, “and a lord to each. A king above them in the city they call
Andurel; elected. Men are ambitious and lords lust for kingship. Should their
king die . .
ambitious man might be bent to my will”
“Aye, Master. And were that man made
king the youth Kedryn must obey his commands and thus fall into my hands.”
they know you, you are lost. / cannot protect you where that bitch holds sway.
“I shall guise myself,” he promised,
a little more confident now. “They will not know me until it is too late. I
shall bring down Kedryn Caitin and all the blue-robed whores. I swear it.”
Thunder rumbled and lightning
flashed from the incandescent core of the fire, then Ashar said,
“Go, Taws, and fulfill that promise. Give me
He sensed the departure of the god,
not daring to raise his head until the last rumblings of the thunder had long
died, and then cautiously, his deep-set eyes hooded, furtive as he peered
about. Flame still candled where he had created it, but now only as a fireball,
no longer that column reaching into the nowhere of the otherworld. He rose,
more confident now, and stalked to the center of that flame, basking in it,
renewing his strength and his hope in the aftermath of Ashar’s presence.
Through the final waning of the
light and all the hours of darkness he remained there, until the sun rose
again, shedding brightness over the looming shadows of the deep timber. Then he
gestured and the flame died. He clad himself again in the furs that hid his
frame and went once more from that place, about Ashar’s business.
In time, as he moved steadily
southward toward the Kingdoms, he encountered barbarians, scattered groups
mostly, the first to flee the scene of battle, their bearded features sullen in
defeat. He avoided them, unsure of the reception he might receive and unwilling
to expend energy on defense, knowing that he would need all his strength for
what lay ahead. Only when he had come close to the pass through the Lozins
where the two forts stood did he reveal himself.
There was a solitary Caroc
separated, he presumed, by dint of wounds from his tribesmen. The warrior
limped, leaning heavily on the shaft of his broken spear, stained bandages
about one leg, his beard blood-crusted from a savage cut across his cheek.
Shield and ax were slung on his back and in his eyes was the disillusion of a
belief gone down in ruin. Taws stepped from the shelter of the trees to
confront him and the tribesman mouthed a curse, shaping his left hand in the
three-fingered gesture of warding even as he leveled the broken spear.
“You know me,” Taws said, his voice
soft as a serpent’s hiss.
“Taws the sorcerer!” The Caroc spat
the words like a curse. “Taws the betrayer! Where did you run, mage? Where were
you when the hef-Ulan fell? When Balandir died? Where are your promises now,
“With Ashar my master,” Taws
responded. “Where ever they were.”
“Ashar has deserted us,” said the
warrior bluntly. “Now stand aside or test your magic against my blade.”
Taws’s eyes burned red at this
sally, glowing as might coals set in the pit of a furnace. He made a small
gesture and the Caroc’s spear shaft burst into flame, eliciting a cry of alarm
from the man, who threw the burning wood from him and reached awkwardly for the
ax shaft jutting above his right shoulder.
His hand froze upon the leather
bindings as Taws’s gaze transfixed him, and he stood, rooted in the moment, his
lips slackening as the mage drew closer. Taws set narrow hands upon the brawny
shoulders and stared deep into the warrior’s eyes. “What happened?” he
demanded. “After Niloc Yarrum fell and Ymrath died, what happened then?”
“Balandir led us,” murmured the
Caroc, his voice dreamy, “but the Horde was divided. The Drott and the Yath
resented him and the Vistral went back to the forest with Ymrath’s death.
Tamur, Kesh and Ust-Galich came against us and they were too many, for we
argued too long amongst ourselves. Had you been there to announce Balandir hef-Ulan
we might have prevailed, but you were not and the armies of the Kingdoms rode
out from High Fort to defeat us. Balandir was slain and we were lost. The
Kingdoms offered peace and Vran of the Yath spoke for that. He persuaded the
rest. We were allowed to remove our dead and return to the Beltrevan.”
Taws nodded. “And now?”
“Now the Kingdoms celebrate their
victory and rebuild their fort. I know no more than that.”
“It is enough,” Taws murmured.
And drew the warrior close, bending
to drop his head, ash- white lips descending upon the man’s as the ruby eyes
sparked an unholy fire. Panic flared for an instant in the warrior’s eyes, then
faded as the orbs dulled and the limbs fell slack. Taws released his grip and
the corpse slumped to the ground, drained of more than life. The mage sighed
his satisfaction and commenced his southward journey.
Within a matter of days he came in
sight of High Fort. The walls stood jagged where the catapults of the Horde had
battered the stone and the rumble of the Idre was augmented by the hammers of
stonemasons as they carved fresh blocks from the Lozin walls. The wreckage of
the catapults was gone, though the memory of the Horde remained in the
devastation of the timber and the scorched grass of a myriad cookfires. There
were soldiers present, escorting the civilian masons, Tamurin archers and
Galichian pikemen, patrols of mounted Keshi forcing the mage to hide as he
awaited the opportunity he sought with growing impatience.