Read Storms of Destiny Online

Authors: A. C. Crispin

Tags: #Eos, #ISBN-13: 9780380782840

Storms of Destiny

Table of Contents
 

 

This book is dedicated to

Kathleen O’Malley,

friend, teacher, editor, and collaborator.

For the past twenty-seven years, she’s taught me
more about writing than anyone else.

Thanks, Kathy.

Jezzil

A gleam of westering sun pierced the dimness of the forest, turning the light from emerald to pale jade tinged with gold.

Jezzil squinted, momentarily dazzled, then straightened in his saddle. Ahead of him lay shorter trees, scraggly underbrush, then the amber gleam of late summer crops. The cli-mate was mild, this far south. The people of Taenareth were justifiably proud of their clement winters. The young Chonao warrior regarded the vista ahead with satisfaction and a touch of relief.
At last! I was beginning to think we’d
have to ride through this forest until the end of time.

His knees tightened fractionally as his hands closed on the reins. Beneath him, Falar halted as smoothly as flowing water. Jezzil raised a hand, and the horsemen behind him drew rein. The young soldier had been raised in the fertile, forested lowlands of Ktavao, and his experience with this kind of terrain had led the captain to appoint the young Chonao the lead scout for this mission—an assignment he’d now completed successfully.

Ahead of them lay a stone fortress at the top of a hill, surrounded by a wide moat. This was their destination … the stronghold of m’Banak. Their orders were to take it before sunrise the next morning, take it by stealth, from within.

They were the Pen Jav Dal, the Silent Ones, the elite of the Chonao forces. Their leader, the Redai of Ktavao, had led his invasionary forces across the Eastern Sea, bent on the conquest of the large, fertile isle called Taenareth. They’d landed a week ago at Fiere, then ridden north, and m’Banak was the last unfallen fortress. If they took it, the Redai’s victory would be complete.

Gardal, Jezzil’s Amato, urged his gelding up beside the younger man, then both Chonao dismounted, leaving their mounts’ reins dangling as a signal to stay. Placing a finger to his lips, Jezzil beckoned, and they picked a soundless path through the underbrush until they were crouched at the edge of the forest, staring up at their destination.

The stone domes of m’Banak and its slender timbered spires stood outlined against the reddening gleams of sunset. The fortress stood straight and proud, like a warrior on guard … and rightly so since m’Banak was the heart of the Taenareth defenses. The Redai, Kerezau, had beaten the island’s forces in every battle since they’d landed, but the island’s ruler had fled to this spot, the most secure in his land. A massive water channel surrounded the hill, a channel cut, some said, by sorcery. Rumor also had it that the dark waters hosted strange creatures swimming in their depths.

“So that’s where Zajares is holed up …” Gardal muttered, half to himself. “A snug den, for an old fox.”

Jezzil pulled off his helm, enjoying the play of breeze across his scalp, and pushed a sweaty lock of dark brown hair off his forehead. His green eyes narrowed. “It won’t be easy, getting inside, much less getting close enough to Zajares to take him out. How many troops does Intelligence say he has in there with him? How many pistols and muskets?”

“A full company is assigned here to guard Zajares,”

Gardal said. “But Intelligence says he’s been sending out raiding parties, preparing for a siege. So there’s no telling how many are actually in there with him. He has firearms, but his powder supply is very low. Enough for a few volleys, perhaps. Not enough for heavy artillery.” Gardal’s eyes narrowed as the grizzled Amato studied the fortress. “And it’s not like he’ll have a chance to use cannon.”

Jezzil nodded. The information about the lack of powder came as no surprise. The Redai had cut Zajares’s supply lines weeks ago. “So he could have a hundred soldiers,” he said. “We’re outnumbered.”

“The Pen Jav Dal often are,” Gardal pointed out, truthfully. “But a surplus of troops can work to our advantage, youngster.”

Jezzil gave him a quizzical glance that he barely kept from being openly skeptical. “How, sir?”

“The more of them there are to be thrown into chaos, the greater that chaos will be,” Gardal replied. “The first thing we must do is make them see what is not there.”

“But, sir …” Jezzil struggled to phrase his question so it would not seem insubordinate. “We have no Caster with us.

How can we create an illusion?”

Gardal sighed, shaking his head reprovingly. “Youngster, what are they teaching you nowadays, eh? The Silent Ones can make enemies see what they want them to see, believe what we want them to believe, whether we do it by magic or by stealth and guile. Haven’t they taught you that yet?”

Jezzil flushed at the reproof. “Of course, sir. I know that.

It just … slipped my mind.”

Gardal gave him a wry glance. “How many missions have you been on, youngster?”

The scout took a deep breath. “This is my second, sir.

Don’t worry, I’m ready for this.” He patted the pommel of his short, slightly curved sword. “By dawn, this place will be the Redai’s for the taking.”

His officer nodded. “That’s the spirit, Risore Jezzil. You and Risore Barus come from the same Company, yes?”

Jezzil nodded. “We do, Amato. Barus and I have known each other since our first days in ranks. He is my best friend.”

Gardal nodded. “You both speak Taenarian? You work well together?”

“We both speak it, sir. And we trust each other as we trust ourselves.”

“Good. You will need that kind of trust, Risore, because I am sending the two of you in first. You will be responsible for scouting a way across that moat and into the fortress. You will locate Zajares’s quarters and determine how many men he has guarding him there. You will make recommendations as to how we can carry out our orders to assassinate Zajares and open the fortress to the Redai’s onslaught. Understood?”

Jezzil squared his shoulders, his green eyes shining at the honor his Amato was bestowing upon him. He threw the officer his best formal salute. “Yes, Amato! I am grateful for the honor, sir!”

Gardal returned the salute. “Ease up. You may not thank me an hour from now—that fortress won’t fall into your lap like an overripe pluma. Now get Risore Barus up here and plan your foray.”

“Yes, sir!”

Quickly, the young man headed back through the trees to where the forty-nine members of the scouting and infiltration party were waiting. He was very conscious of the honor Gardal was giving him in allowing him to plan this raid. If he were successful, it might mean a step up in rank—possibly even a commendation from the Redai himself. The other Chonao were gathered together, having taken the opportunity to water their mounts from a tiny creek that threaded through the forest. Falar had her head turned, obviously scenting the water, but still obedient to her master’s command to stay.

The Chonao felt a surge of pride. The Chonao horses were the best in the world, and his mare was the best of the best.

The young Risore was the fourth son of a nobleman whose vast estates included many acres given over to the raising of some of the finest horses in all of Chonao territory. Falar had been by his best stud, out of his finest brood-mare. She was not as tall and fine-boned as a Pelanese racer, but she was far more delicately built than the sturdy horses from the Chonao steppes that the other party members rode.

With her smoky dapples, dark mane, tail, and points, she was a beauty, from her wide-set dark eyes to her small ears.

She pricked them up upon hearing her master’s step.

“Are you thirsty, lady?” Jezzil murmured in his southern dialect, picking up the reins. Falar whuffled, turning her head deliberately toward the water. Her master led her to the tiny stream, then slipped the bit from her mouth so she might drink freely. As the mare sniffed delicately, then began to gulp the water, her ears moving with each swallow, Jezzil beckoned Barus over. Signaling his own mount to stay, his friend joined him.

Barus was shorter and slighter than Jezzil, with the swarthy skin of a steppes dweller. His slim, wiry build made him look almost inconsequential when at rest, but he was a master at both armed and unarmed combat; he had the quickest reflexes Jezzil had ever seen. Barus’s lank sable hair was longer than his friend’s shoulder-length, and had to be elaborately braided and pinned to fit beneath his close-fitting helm. “What’s up?” he asked quietly.

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