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Stormed Fortress

Janny Wurts

  Janny Wurts


  The Wars of Light and Shadow




  For three, whose enduring commitment

  to the literature of the fantastic

  has enriched so many. Betty Ballantine Ellen Datlow Terri Windling


  Fifth Book


  Story Time-line

  I. Binding Ties

  II. Recoil

  III. Obligations

  IV. Feint and Assaul

  V. Blood Debt

  VI. Counterstrokes

  VII. Siege

  VIII. First Turning

  IX. Schism

  X. Hammer and Anvil

  XI. Second Turning

  XII. Third Turning

  XIII. Stormed Fortress

  XIV. Sortie

  XV. Athir

  XVI. Scarpdale




  About the Author

  By the Same Author


  About the Publisher

  Story Time-line What Has Gone Before

  Third Age Year

  5637—The half-brothers Arithon s’Ffalenn, Master of Shadow, and Lysaer s’Ilessid, gifted with Light, exiled through West Gate, are met as they arrive on Athera by the Fellowship Sorcerer Asandir and Dakar, the Mad Prophet, whose West Gate Prophecy forecast the defeat of the Mistwraith, Desh-thiere, and return of the sunlight that had been lost to Athera for five hundred years.

  Arithon meets his beloved, Elaira, who is under a life vow of service to the celibate order of the enchantresses of the Koriathain.

  5638—The Mistwraith is contained at Ithamon by Lysaer and Arithon and driven into captivity through their combined powers of Light and Shadow.

  The Fellowship Sorcerers’ effort to crown Arithon as High King, and reinstate Rathain’s monarchy fails when the Mistwraith places the half-brothers under its curse: they will be enemies, bent upon each other’s destruction until one or the other lies dead.

  War follows. Lysaer, whose cardinal virtue is the s’Ilessid gift of justice, leads a war host ten thousand strong from Etarra against Arithon, who is backed by the clansmen in Strakewood Forest. Lysaer and Etarra lose eight thousand men, and the clans suffer the Massacre at Tal Quorin, when Etarran head-hunters destroy their women and children to draw the fighting men into the open. To spare his allies, Arithon is forced to use his mage talent to kill. And in the aftermath of this massive insult to his royal gift of compassion, he loses access to all facets of his trained mastery. Survivors of the debacle made possible by his sacrifice include fourteen young boys, named as Companions, and Earl Jieret, twelve years of age, who becomes Arithon’s ‘shadow behind the throne’ – or caithdein.

  Lysaer returns to Etarra to begin the alliance of town forces against Arithon and court his beloved, Talith.

  Arithon apprentices himself to the Masterbard, Halliron, and takes on the disguised persona of Medlir to deny his half-brother, and the directive of the curse, a fixed target.

  5643—The Fellowship Sorcerers reinstate crown rule in Havish, under High King Eldir. In redress for irresponsible conduct, Dakar the Mad Prophet is assigned to Arithon’s protection.

  5644—Dakar tries to escape his charge and links up with Halliron and ‘Medlir’ on the eastshore, whereupon his scapegrace behaviour with town authorities in Jaelot leads to Halliron’s death and Arithon’s breaking his disguise, then achieving the title of Masterbard of Athera.

  Arithon relocates down the eastshore en route to the southcoast, with Dakar’s escapades earning him the enmity of the powerful clan family of Duke Bransian s’Brydion of Alestron.

  Elaira receives her longevity from the Koriani Order for the purpose of keeping track of Arithon, since the sisterhood considers him a danger.

  Lysaer solidifies his alliance of town interests, rebuilds the ruined citadel at Avenor, marries Talith, and begins his manoeuvres to claim ancestral title to rulership of Tysan.

  Against the climate of building war, Arithon founds a shipyard in the fishing village of Merior, where he constructs blue-water sailing vessels with intent to escape to sea. He meets and befriends two fatherless twin children, Fiark and Feylind. He encounters Elaira, under orders from her Prime to involve herself in Arithon’s affairs. Their affection deepens when a joint attempt to heal an injured fisherman creates an empathic link between them.

  5645—Lysaer leads a war host to Rathain, with intent to sail south and crush Arithon in the fishing village of Merior. But Arithon hears, and uses wiles and Shadow to trigger the Mistwraith’s curse beforetime. Inflamed to insane rage, Lysaer burns the fleet he intended to transport his war host, leaving his campaign stranded and delaying his assault through the winter.

  Arithon’s escape plan suffers a set-back when a rancorous, displaced field-captain from Alestron burns his shipyard at Merior, with only one vessel left fit to be salvaged.

  5646—On the run as war builds, Arithon takes refuge in the strategically difficult terrain in Vastmark. Faced by a war host and impossible odds, he takes Lysaer’s wife Talith as a captive to stall the onset of open war.

  5647—Talith is ransomed by Lysaer, under auspice of the Fellowship Sorcerers and High King Eldir. Although she is safely returned, the experience leaves an irreparable rift in her marriage.

  Lysaer masses his war host, thirty-five thousand strong, and marches on Arithon’s smaller force in Vastmark. Arithon resorts to desperate measures to turn them, including the Massacre at the Havens, in which five hundred of Lysaer’s men are killed outright. The tactic fails, and is followed by the main engagement at Dier Kenton Vale, in which twenty thousand Alliance troops die in one day in a shale slide.

  The campaign collapses at the onset of winter, with Duke Bransian s’Brydion of Alestron changing sides and forging a covert alliance with Arithon.

  Faced with a ruinous defeat, Lysaer decides to create a faith-based following and cast Arithon as evil incarnate.

  Arithon escapes to sea to search for the lost Paravian races, who, as Ath’s gift to redeem the world, offer hope he might break the Mistwraith’s curse. Feylind sails as his navigator, and Fiark is apprenticed with a merchant-factor in the town of Innish.

  The Prime Matriarch of the Koriani Order casts an augury showing that Arithon will cause her downfall. Since she is aging and has only one flawed candidate in line for her succession, and her death will cause an irreparable loss of the sisterhood’s knowledge, she becomes Arithon’s inveterate enemy.

  Still in love with Arithon, Elaira saves the life of an infant during childbirth in the grass-lands of Araethura. Named Fionn Areth, he owes her a life debt, and a prophecy entangles him with Arithon’s fate.

  Back at Avenor to rebuild his following, Lysaer sets the clanborn who refuse to join his alliance to eradicate the Master of Shadow under a decree of slavery. His estrangement with Talith leads to her incarceration.

  5648–9—For endorsing slave labour, Lysaer is cast out of the Fellowship’s compact, which allows Mankind the right to inhabit Athera.

  5649—The Prime Matriarch of the Koriathain confronts the Fellowship Sorcerers to lift restrictions imposed on her sisterhood and the use of their grand focus in their Great Waystone. The petition meets with refusal, sealing her determination to take Arithon captive and use him as leverage to force the Sorcerers to accede to her order’s demands.

  5652—Arithon fails in his search for the Paravians. He returns to the continent and discovers Lysaer is enslaving the clanborn. This leads him to infiltrate Lysaer’s shipyard at Riverton, to steal vessels and assist the clansmen in thei
r effort to escape the persecution of Lysaer’s Alliance by fleeing to sanctuary in Havish.

  5652–3—The Prime Matriarch of the Koriathain sets a trap to take Arithon by suborning his covert colleagues at the Riverton shipworks, only to have her grand plan undone by ambitious meddling on the part of her sole candidate for succession, Lirenda. The trap springs, but Arithon escapes into a grimward, chased by a company of men allied with Lysaer, under the captaincy of Sulfin Evend.

  5653—Lysaer’s wife Talith is murdered by a conspiracy in his own council, with her death made to appear as a suicide. Sulfin Evend survives the grimward and is appointed to the rank of Alliance Commander at Arms.

  The Koriathain fail to forge an alliance with Lysaer against Arithon, and in disgrace for her meddling, Lirenda decides to claim the life debt owed by Fionn Areth to Elaira. The child is shapechanged to mature as Arithon’s double, to be used as bait in a second, more elaborate trap to achieve his capture.

  5654—Of their own accord, the s’Brydion duke’s brothers decide to avenge the mishap at Riverton, against Arithon’s better judgement. When an argument with Parrien leads to injury, Arithon is awarded the service of two trusted s’Brydion retainers, Vhandon and Talvish.

  5654—Lysaer marries Lady Ellaine as a political expedient. On the day of the wedding, the s’Brydion vengeance plan destroys Lysaer’s fleet and his shipyard at Riverton. Sulfin Evend’s uncle, Raiett Raven, joins Alliance service as Lysaer’s advisor and is eventually appointed as High Chancellor of Etarra.

  5655—Lysaer and Ellaine’s child, Prince Kevor, is born.

  5667—Ellaine learns that her predecessor, Princess Talith, died as a victim of murder, arranged by Lysaer’s council at Avenor.

  5669—The Koriani plot to trap Arithon using Fionn Areth sends the boy into the town of Jaelot, where he is taken and condemned, mistaken for the Master of Shadow. Arithon is drawn ashore to prevent the death of an innocent accused in his stead. On winter solstice day, Fionn Areth is snatched from the scaffold. The Koriani conspiracy fails, with Lirenda disgraced and Elaira exonerated.

  Now desperate and dying, with no available successor, the Prime Matriarch seizes her moment and distracts the Fellowship Sorcerers by inciting a sweeping upset of the energetic balance of the world. Although she fails to take Arithon captive, she successfully resolves her predicament by taking over a younger candidate, Selidie, in possession. As ‘Selidie’ assumes the mantle of Prime power, the Sorcerers’ hands are tied. The upset has left the Mistwraith itself on the verge of escaping from containment, and other, equally dangerous predators left by the absent Paravian races pose further perils.

  As the terrifying portents unleashed by Morriel’s meddling cause sweeping panic, young Prince Kevor settles the riot that erupts in Lysaer’s absence at Avenor. The brilliant statesmanship earns the young prince the love of the populace and the undying enmity of Lysaer’s High Priest, Cerebeld.

  5670—Fionn Areth’s idealistic belief that Arithon is a criminal spoils the free escape from Jaelot. Alone, under pursuit by Alliance troops and Koriathain, Arithon is set to flight over the mountains and into Daon Ramon Barrens.

  Young Prince Kevor is entrapped by the machinations of High Priest Cerebeld, and although he survives to become an adept of Ath’s Brotherhood, his presumed death sends his mother Ellaine into flight to escape Lysaer’s corrupt council at Avenor.

  While Dakar and Fionn Areth are diverted to Rockfell Peak to assist the short-handed Fellowship Sorcerers’ recontainment of the Mistwraith, the clans of Rathain, under Jieret, are left to face the combined Alliance war host, under command of Lysaer and Sulfin Evend. With their help, Arithon escapes the troop cordon that has closed to take him, but at cost of seven Companions’ lives and Jieret’s execution by Lysaer.

  To evade capture, Arithon is driven into the dread maze under Kewar cavern, built by the Sorcerer Davien the Betrayer, whose hand originally caused the uprising that unseated the high kings and heated the conflict between town and clanborn. Arithon survives the arduous challenge of the maze, achieves mastery over the Mistwraith’s curse, and recovers his mage talent. He takes sanctuary there, under guest welcome of Davien.

  Defeated, since none dare follow Arithon’s passage through the maze, Lysaer and the disheartened remains of his troop depart for Avenor.

  After the successful reconfiguration of the wards containing the Mistwraith, Dakar and Fionn Areth are foiled in their plan to rendezvous with Feylind’s ship, Evenstar, when the Koriathain attack them in a wayside tavern. To rejoin Arithon’s retainers, Vhandon and Talvish, who await them at Duke Bransian’s citadel at Alestron, they must continue their journey afoot. When they reach the fortress, a prank of Dakar’s runs Fionn Areth afoul of their s’Brydion hosts, resulting in the grass-lander’s imprisonment in the duke’s dungeon.

  5670—Across the continent, the defeated remains of the Alliance war host are en route to Avenor, when Lord Commander Sulfin Evend discovers that Lysaer is trapped under the influence of the Grey Kralovir necromancers, through dark blood rites initiated by the priest scryer used to locate the enemy. To salvage his liege from evil practice, he solicits the learned help of the wise woman Enithen Tuer. She informs him that he is directly related to the s’Gannley lineage, in outbred descent, and, in return for knowledge and a knife with the arcane properties needed to free Lysaer from enslavement, insists that Sulfin Evend swear a caithdein’s oath to the land. Sulfin Evend is forced to compromise his honour by accepting, since he knows no other way to save Lysaer from Kralovir influence, or defend against the cult influence that also has suborned the high council at Avenor.

  Arithon, still in recovery in Kewar with Davien, learns that he has awakened the ancient rogue talent for prophetic far-sight, latent in his mother’s lineage.

  Meantime, the stress introduced to the earth’s lane tides by the Koriani bid to upset the Fellowship Sorcerers resulted in aberrant weather and crop failures in the western kingdoms. Threat of famine sends Feylind’s brig, Evenstar, to Havish, bearing relief supplies. There, to avoid open war, King Eldir asks her to transport Lysaer’s runaway wife, Princess Ellaine, eastward to sanctuary with the s’Brydion. The duke dispatches her to a safer refuge with the master spellbinder, Verrain, at Methisle, who in turn, remands her case to the Fellowship Sorcerers, who arrange for a permanent residence with Ath’s Brotherhood, at Spire. There, she is met by her lost son Kevor, now become an adept. This information, returned to Avenor by spies, gives Lysaer’s cursed nature the opening to move for war against Alestron, on grounds of treason. He bides his time to launch the campaign, preferring to determine the truth in the charges himself.

  At Alestron, Feylind boards Dakar and Fionn Areth upon Evenstar’s departure, only to have her brig targeted by Koriathain, who send a plague of fiends to sink the ship and force Arithon to leave his refuge at Kewar to defend his friends. Arithon defeats the assault by tapping the powers of the Paravian sword, Alithiel, and in the process, learns that his shadows have the power to suppress and even manipulate the fiends to do his bidding. He then turns the tables, with Selidie Prime left with the Great Waystone polluted by an iyat, as his machination turns her own spell in reverse.

  5671—During their winter return, Lysaer and Sulfin Evend successfully curb the Kralovir cult’s incursion at Avenor. The council hall is left a total ruin in the aftermath. While both men know an enclave still infiltrates the Alliance in Etarra, the active influence of Desh-thiere’s curse makes Lysaer too murderously unreasonable for Sulfin Evend to act on the danger.

  Meantime, the Alliance and Lysaer’s religion have won enough towns to their cause to threaten the clan enclaves that protect the free wilds across the continent. Throughout the spring and summer, Arithon uses every talented skill he possesses, including iyats, to engineer embarrassing incidents and humorous attacks on the Light’s followers, knowing the ridicule will eventually draw Lysaer into the south. His tight and intricate plan aims to pin Lysaer down there, then stop the spread of
the false faith, end the persecution, and bring a lasting peace between town and clan to protect the free wilds that the Paravian presence requires for survival. But he fails to win the powerful and cantankerous s’Brydion duke into support. This forces Arithon to sever his relationship with Alestron and refuse them his backing, since his rogue talent forecasts the involvement of Desh-thiere’s curse, and the near certainty of their utter defeat. He will not countenance being a party to war, and the brutal sack of Alestron that will likely follow should the Alliance come to attack.

  On the heels of such set-back, the Fellowship Sorcerers lay a summons on Arithon to help them curb the Kralovir necromancers. The cult’s invasive foothold in Lysaer’s following at Etarra now poses a consummate danger, with Lysaer on the move with determined intent to muster the eastshore to arms to destroy Alestron. The hope of peace Arithon has worked to achieve is brought to a premature end and leaves his clan allies in deeper jeopardy than ever before, as he must abandon his efforts and travel at speed to Etarra.

  His journey takes him by way of Halwythwood, where his effort to console young Jeynsa s’Valerient for her father’s loss also misfires. Further, his one opportunity to consummate his undying love for Elaira is forced to an un requited end by the dreadful discovery that the Prime Matriarch has laid a spell seal on his beloved, with intent to engineer the birth of their talented child for the co-opted use of the order.

  Left emotionally raw, aware that Lysaer is building another armed campaign to ruin every trust built among his vulnerable clan allies, Arithon must move on to Etarra where, at risk of his life and sanity, he uses innovative tactics and successfully annihilates every standing member of the Kralovir cult. In the aftermath, the Sorcerer Davien rescues him and transfers him to the focus circle at Sanpashir to recuperate.

  Now, with the peace plan ruined, and the demise of the Kralovir taking out several of the Light’s highly placed officials, including Etarra’s High Chancellor, fear has galvanized town interests against the Master of Shadow. The curse of Desh-thiere is wakened, driving Lysaer and the Alliance of Light to target the s’Brydion as Arithon’s collaborator. War is building to raze the citadel at Alestron, with a troop muster sweeping the entire eastshore of the continent and Sulfin Evend recruiting on the southcoast. The season is summer, and the year, Third Age 5671.