Five Hundred Years AfterSteven Brust
A Tor Book
Cover art by Sam Rakeland
Copyright © 1994 by Steven Brust
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Number: 93-45291
First mass market edition: March 1995
First edition: April 1994
"There is no doubt," said Aliera, as if in answer to a question, "that there was a spell laid upon this fellow before his death; the traces of it remain. I suspect what it was, yet I cannot—"
"Lady Aliera," said Khaavren, "if you would be good enough to tell me what you are doing here, well, I should be entirely in your debt."
"Why, I am investigating this body, in order to learn how he came to die."
"Or," said Sethra, "perhaps to remove all traces of the spell, so that nothing can be learned."
Aliera looked at Sethra for a long moment before saying, "I don't know you, Madame."
The Enchantress bowed. "I am called Sethra Lavode."
Aliera bowed in her turn. "Very well, Sethra Lavode. I am called Aliera e'Kieron."
Sethra bowed once more, and if she was surprised that Aliera displayed no reaction upon learning her identity, she gave no sign of it.
"Now," said Aliera, "that introductions are made, there remains the matter of your last remark, which sounded to my ears very like an accusation. I must, therefore, beg you to make it either more explicit, so that I may respond appropriately, or to recast it in such a way that no response is called for."
"Perhaps you are unaware," said Khaavren, "that to find you down here, engaged in I know not what activities with respect to the bodies, puts appearances against you."
"Appearances, My Lord?" said Aliera, in a tone of voice, and with a simultaneous look, expressing the greatest disdain. "I have often heard that phrase, Appearances are against you, uttered by those who wish to conceal an accusation. Who are these people who believe appearances, My Lord? Would you care to name them?"
"I am one," said Sethra, putting her hand on the dagger at her side.
Books by Steven Brust
The Dragaeran Novels
The Khaavren Romances
The Phoenix Guards
Five Hundred Years After
The Viscount of Adrilankha,
The Paths of the Dead
The Lord of Castle Black
The Vlad Taltos Novels
To Reign in Hell
The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars
Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille
The Gypsy (with Megan Lindholm)
Freedom and Necessity (with Emma Bull)
For The Fabulous Lorraine
Thanks are due Terri Windling for helping me beat this one into shape, to Teresa Nielsen Hayden who did Many Fine Things for the manuscript, to Sam Rakeland for the nifty cover, and to Valerie Smith, for this 'n' that.
Thanks are also due Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who provided support, encouragement, and arguments.
I'd also like to thank Emma Bull, Kara Dalkey, Pamela Dean, and Will Shetterly, my co-conspirators.
Special thanks to Ed Raschke, who supplied the leather. Don't ask.
Five Hundred Years After
Being in the Nature of a Sequel to
The Phoenix Guards
Describing Certain Events Which Occurred
In the Year of the Hawk
In the Turn of the Orca
In the Phase of the Dragon
In the Reign of the Phoenix
In the Cycle of the Phoenix
In the Great Cycle of the Dragon
The 532nd Year of the Reign of Tortaalik the First
Submitted to the Imperial Library
From Springsign Manor
Via House of the Hawk
On this 3rd day of the Month of the Lyorn
Of the Year of the Iorich
In the Eleventh Year
Of the Glorious Reign
Of the Empress Norathar the Second
By Sir Paarfi of Roundwood
House of the Hawk
(His Arms, Seal, Lineage Block)
Presented, as Always
To the Countess of Gamier
With Gratitude and Hope
Cast of Characters
Of the Court
Tortaalik I—His Majesty The Emperor
Noima—Her Majesty the Consort
Countess Bellor—Superintendent of Finance
Khaavren—Ensign of the Imperial Guard
Brudik—Lord of the Chimes
Lady Ingera—Lord of the Keys
Navier—His Majesty's physicker
Dimma—His Majesty's Chief Servant
Daro—A Maid of Honor to Her Majesty
Dinb—Master of the First Gate
Of the Phoenix Guard
Tummelis e'Terics—A guardsman
Of the Imperial Palace
Duke of Galstan (Pel)—An Initiate into Discretion
Lady Glass—Chief of the Sorett Regiment
Erna—Master of the Order of Discretion
Klorynderata—A servant at the palace
Of Lord Adron's Company
Adron e'Kieron—Dragon Heir
Aliera e'Kieron—Adron's daughter
Molric e'Drien—Adron's chainman
Of the Lavodes
Sethra—Captain of the Lavodes
Of the City
Raf—A pastry vendor
Leen—A would-be assassin
Greycat—A ruffian and a conspirator
Baroness of Clover—A Dragonlord
Baroness of Newhouse—A Dragonlord
Count of Tree-by-the-Sea—A Dzurlord
Cariss—A Jhereg Sorceress
Aerich—Duke of Arylle
Tazendra—Baroness of Daavya
Sir Vintner—A Lyorn delegate
Chapter The First
Chapter The Second
Chapter The Third
Chapter The Fourth
> Chapter The Fifth
Chapter The Sixth
Chapter The Seventh
Chapter The Eighth
Chapter The Ninth
Chapter The Tenth
Chapter The Eleventh
Chapter The Twelfth
Chapter The Thirteenth
Chapter The Fourteenth
Chapter The Fifteenth
Chapter The Sixteenth
Chapter The Seventeenth
Chapter The Eighteenth
Chapter The Nineteenth
Chapter The Twentieth
Chapter The Twenty-First
Chapter The Twenty-Second
Chapter The Twenty-Third
Chapter The Twenty-Fourth
Chapter The Twenty-Fifth
Chapter The Twenty-Sixth
Chapter The Twenty-Seventh
Chapter The Twenty-Eighth
Chapter The Twenty-Ninth
Chapter The Thirtieth
Chapter The Thirty-First
Chapter The Thirty-Second
Chapter The Thirty-Third
Chapter The Thirty-Fourth
About The Author
In Which It is Demonstrated that the Works of Paarfi of Roundwood Display Both the Rigors of History and the Raptures of Fiction; With Examples Taken from Each of His Historical-Romantic Works.
"Fiction, therefore, is more philosophical and more significant than history, for fiction is more concerned with the universal, and history with the individual."
—Ekrasan of Sibletown
"Truth is stranger than fiction."
With the founders of our entire critical tradition expressing such opinions, it is no wonder that historical fiction, such as the volume you hold in your hand, occupies an uneasy position between scholarship and romance, and is pelted with opprobrium from both camps. When Paarfi of Roundwood published Three Broken Strings, those to whom he was responsible at this university's press asked him to use another name than his own, under which the press had occasionally published his historical monographs. He refused to do so, with the result that those who read his romance were in a position to purchase and read his historical monographs as well, and to put sorely needed money into the coffers of this institution.
This happy outcome did not prevent the repetition of that same request when The Phoenix Guards was about to go to press; but since by then Paarfi had already become engaged in various disagreements with the university press concerning the presentation of footnotes and maps for his latest monograph, he once more refused it; and once more, his ardent readers purchased his monographs as well. Some of them have written to the university expressing their disappointment in the monographs, but it may be assumed that those who were satisfied did not bother to write.
Writers of romance protest that there is no invention in historical fiction, no art, and no craft; writers of history protest that there is no scholarship in historical fiction, and furthermore that it is all, if not invention, at least that distortion which can be even more pernicious. Writers of historical fiction have so far kept quiet and gone about their exacting business.
Let us examine the works of this author with these protests in mind. It is well to note that while these romances do not purport to be history, they are read by historians, as well as by those who will learn their history in no other way. The first have always been concerned about the second.
Three Broken Strings was liberally accused of invention by several respected scholars, notably by the author of Bedra of Ynn and Lotro: An Historical and Poetical Comparison, and by the editor of Mountain Ballads. There is in fact no invention in Three Broken Strings, insofar as each of the episodes it details is attested to in at least three sources. Not all of these are reliable, as Paarfi clearly states in his preface; but none of them is his own invention. Where thoughts are attributed to the hero, they are taken from his own published words; dialogue is taken from the earlier sources, notably Tales of Beed'n, Mountain Ballads, Wise Sayings of Five Bards, Vaari's A Brief Consideration of Adverb Placement in the Colloquial Tongue, and the unpublished letters catalogued as Yellowthorn MSS 1-14 and lodged in the library of this institution.
As for art and craft, Three Broken Strings was derided for possessing neither, notably by the honored author of the Short Life of Lotro and the three noble souls who kindly contributed their opinions, without giving themselves the credit of affixing their names, to Literary Considerations. But all of these protesters, historian and critics alike, are in fact deriding the book for not being a novel. It exhibits, if anything, an excess of both art and craft. The episodes of Beed'n's life are divided not chronologically, but by type: love affairs, political entanglements, artistic wrangles, travel, poetic composition, musical performances, and so on. The means whereby episodes are associated are often ingenious; the structure is not entirely successful from a narrative point of view, but one cannot deny that art and craft were expended upon it. It is true that no consistent portrait of the minstrel emerges. But as a collection of the available information, the book is valuable to the student; and as a collection of lively and affecting stories divided into types, it is, as its sales amply attest, of value to the lay reader as well.
Historians had nothing to complain of in this first effort, although complain they did. Lay readers did not, in fact, complain, but there is something to complain of on their behalf: the arrangement and unity of the book are scholarly rather than artistic. The subject chosen is so lively and so popular a figure that these defects are less serious; this perhaps accounts for the absence of complaint not only on the part of the readers, but on the part of the usual critics as well.
These defects are in any case remedied in The Phoenix Guards, which is a coherent narrative of the sort ordinarily associated with the romance. This circumstance has caused historians to complain even more vigorously that, the shape of the story being what it is, some liberty must have been taken with the actual events it depicts.
And yet when one considers the available sources, this alleged liberty has not much scope to exercise itself. In any scene involving more than one person, it will be found by the assiduous researcher that at least one of them wrote a letter or a memoir, or talked to someone who did. The activities of the villains in the case were throughly explored at their trials. The Teckla lackey Mica, whose overhearing of several interesting conversations was so important to history, told his own personal history at great length to his companion Srahi, who wrote all of it down, if in a less than organized fashion, and preserved it with her household accounts. Hence even the asides concerning Mica's state of mind cannot be called invention.
If one considers even the meals the companions are said to have eaten on their travels, one finds that the records of the inns they stayed at—and indeed made a considerable impression on—have been preserved. There is, admittedly, no actual record of what Khaavren's party ate on their journey from Adron e'Kieron's residence to the Pepperfields, but the food Paarfi puts into their mouths was in fact ordered by Adron's cook and steward and was therefore present in his kitchen at the time necessary, and was the sort of food generally carried by travelers.
In the interests of accuracy it must be admitted that one aspect of our author's depiction of these events is not, in fact, strictly in accordance with the actual practice of the times. The mode of speech employed by those at court, and by Khaavren and his friends as well, in casual discussion or when leading up to speeches actually recorded in history, does not represent, so far as can be determined, any actual mode of speech, past or present. It is taken from a popular anonymous play of the period, Redwreath and Goldstar Have Traveled to Deathsgate, where it is found in a game played by the principals to ward off unwanted inquiries. The proof of this is the exclamation of one of their executioners at the end of the play, "The Dog! I think I have been asking for nothing else for an hour!" This, or simi
lar exclamations, are used several times in The Phoenix Guards, and more often in the book you now hold, to indicate that the time for empty courtesy is over.
But in the subtleties of its employment, the gradations of consciousness with which it is used, the precise timing of its termination, this mode of speech does in fact give very much the flavor of the old court talk without that speech's tediousness or outmoded expressions: it is a successful translation that does not distort anything of significance to anybody except a linguist.
So we answer the historians. But if they are silenced, the romancers rise up in their stead. Where are the art, the craft, and the invention, if every event, thought, and even meal is attested to in the records? Our three self-effacing critics all asked these questions, as did Vaari himself. They are readily answered. The art, craft, and invention reside in two places.
The first is in the structure of the story, in what Ekrasan called the arrangement of the incidents. Note that, while The Phoenix Guards might have begun by detailing the intrigues brewing in the imperial palace, and sprung wildly from person to person and room to room, garnering evidence as the historian must, it does not. It enters the city and the palace with Khaavren of Castlerock, and it stays with him while he finds and befriends the main actors in this history.
It may be objected that the main actors are rather Seodra, Adron e'Kieron, Lord Garland, Kathana e'Marish'Chala, and various other important figures, many of whom do not make their appearance until late in the book. But this is precisely where the genius of our author shows itself. Here is the second place in which art and invention may be demonstrated: in the choice of viewpoint. When Khaavren enters the city, he is nobody: he must meet people, discover things, have matters explained to him. The lay reader, whose knowledge of history is imprecise, if not actually erroneous, is in just Khaavren's position. And the author does not carry this technique to extremes, but heightens suspense at the right moment by showing us those who plot against Khaavren and the empire, while Khaavren proceeds in blissful ignorance succeeded by bewilderment—a state, it should be remarked, in which readers, should they find themselves there for too long a time, are apt to become impatient. The events are historical, but the order in which they are presented to us, and the vantage from which we view them, are determined by the author.