Table of Contents
Novels by C. S. FRIEDMAN available from DAW Books
IN CONQUEST BORN
THE MADNESS SEASON
BLACK SUN RISING
Copyright ©1991 by C. S. Friedman.
All rights reserved.
DAW Books Collectors No. 864
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
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First Trade Printing, September 2005
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. OFF AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
HECHO EN U.S.A.
eISBN : 978-1-101-46432-8
This book is for several very special readers:
Rick Umbaugh, who started it all;
Kellie Owens, Linda Gilbert, Lori Cook, David
McDonald, and Joe and Regina Harley, who keep it
and Betsy Wollheim, whose criticism is, as always,
worth its weight in gold.
The author would like to thank the following people for their insight, inspiration, and/or vital emotional support during this novel’s formative period: Jeanne Boyle, Adam Breslaw, Christian Cameron, Tom Deitz, Nancy Friedman, Bob Green, John Happ, Delos Wheeler, Karen Martakos, Robin Mitchell, Steve Rappaport, Vicki Sharp, Mike Stevens, Sarah Strickland, Mark Sunderlin, and Glenn Zienowicz.
She wondered why she was afraid to go home.
She was within sight of the castle now, and its proximity should have calmed her. She loved the traditional building which her husband had designed, and all the men and women who lived inside it. The seat of the Neocounty of Merentha was a gleaming, ivory-colored monument to the Revivalist dream: all the elements of Gothic perpendicular architecture that seemed so oppressive elsewhere—at the royal seat, for instance—were here combined by that unerring aesthetic sense that was her husband’s strongest attribute, to create a building that was at once a soaring display of stone arches and finials, and a very real, very comfortable home.
For a moment she reigned up her unhorse, commanding it to stillness, and tried to focus on the source of her anxiety. As ever, the effort was doomed to failure. She wished she had her husband’s skill to name and analyze such feelings. He would have taken one look at the building and said
there, you see? The demonlings are out early tonight, it’s their presence you sense.
the currents are unsteady tonight, of course you’re nervous.
Or some other explanation, equally dependent upon his special vision, that would render up the source of her discomfort in small, comprehensible packets of knowledge, so that it might be dealt with and then discarded.
The sun had set. Maybe that was it. The piercing white sun which bathed the land in sanity was gone, and the Core had followed it into its westerly grave. Only a few stars remained, and soon they too would be swallowed up by darkness. Things were abroad now that hid from the light of day, maverick human fears that had taken on a life of their own and coursed the night in search of a bodily home. She looked up at the sky and shivered. Even Ema’s moons were missing now, two having already set and one, the smallest, yet to rise. Soon there would be as much darkness as the Earthlike world could ever know. A
her husband would have called it. A very rare, very special occurrence, for a world near the heart of the galaxy.
A night of power.
She kneed her unhorse gently into motion again and tried to lose herself in memories of her family, as a means of combatting the uneasiness that had been growing in her since she left the Bellamy household nearly an hour earlier. Her daughter Alix, barely five, had already mastered the rudiments of riding, and delighted in bare-backing the castle’s miniature unhorses whenever her parents would let her. Tory, nine, had clearly inherited his father’s insatiable curiosity, and could be found at any given moment in the place he least belonged, doing something that was only marginally allowable. Eric, the oldest, proud master of eleven years of lifely experience, was already practicing his charm on all the household staff. He alone had inherited his father’s manner, which would serve him well when he received his lands and title; the Neocount had charmed many an enemy into martial impotence with the force of his presence alone.
As for her husband, the Neocount himself ... she loved him with a passion that was sometimes near to pain, and adored him no less than did the people he ruled. He was an idealist who had swept her off her feet, caught her up in his dreams of Revival and then set her by his side while king and church jockeyed to do him the greatest honor. A young genius, he had turned Gannon’s wars into triumphs, thus abetting the unification of all the human lands. He had bred unhorses from local stock that were almost indistinguishable from the true equines of Earth, imposing his will on their very evolution with a force and efficiency that others could only wonder at. Likewise his uncats chased the local rodents with appropriate mock-feline fervor, ignoring the less harmful insects which were their grandsires’ preferred prey; in two more generations he would have the fur looking right—so he promised—and even the behavioral patterns that accompanied their hunting.
In truth, she believed there was nothing he couldn’t do, once he set his mind to it ... and perhaps that was what frightened her.
The castle courtyard was empty when she entered, which was far from reassuring. She was accustomed to returning home at dusk, and her children were accustomed to meeting her. Pouring forth from the house like a litter of overexcited unkittens, plying her with a thousand questions and needs and “look-sees” before she could even dismount. Today they were absent—a disconcerting change—and as she gave her reins over to the groom she asked him, with feigned nonchalance, where they were.
“With their father, Excellency.” He held the unhorse steady while she dismounted. “Belowground, I believe.”
Belowground. She tried not to let him see how much that word chilled her, as she walked through the evening shadows to the main door of the keep. Belowground ... there was only his library there, she told herself, and his collection of Earth artifacts, and the workroom in which he studied the contents of both. Nothing more. And if the children were with him ... that was odd, but not unreasonable. Eventually they would inherit the castle and all that was in it. Shouldn’t they be familiar with its workings?
Nevertheless she was chilled to the bone as she entered the cold stone keep, and only her knowledge that the chill was rooted deep inside, in the heart of her fear, caused her to give over her cloak and surcoat to the servant who waited within.
“Here’s a message for you,” the old woman said. She handed her an envelope of thick vellum, addressed in the Neocount’s neat and elegant hand. “His Excellency said to see you got it, as soon as you arrived.”
With a hand that was trembling only slightly she took it from her, and thanked her.
I won’t read it here
, she told herself. There was an antechamber nearby that would give her more privacy. Not until she was well inside it, with the heavy alteroak door firmly shut behind her, did she remove the folded sheet from its vellum envelope and read the words her husband had written.
Please come to me
, it said,
at your earliest convenience. The workshop below
. There was little more than that—his family crest imprinted above, the swirl of his initials below—but she knew as she read it that there was a volume of meaning between the lines ... and that she lacked the resources to read what they said, and thus must descend to him uninformed.
She glanced into the huge glass mirror that dominated the low-ceilinged room, and briefly wondered if she should change her clothes before joining him. Her gown, true to Revivalist style, had dragged in the dust all day; its warm cream color was nearly rust about the hem, stained dark by the red clay of the region. But elsewhere it was clean, its soft woolen nap protected by the heavy surcoat she had worn. She pulled the few pins out of her hair, and let red-gold curls pour down about her shoulder and back. He loved her hair, and this style of gown; he loved
she told herself, and would never let her come to harm. She settled for fluffing the curls to more volume and using a dampened cloth to wipe the dust from her eyes and off her face. That would be enough. That had to be enough, if he wanted her to come to him quickly.