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The Phoenix Guards

Steven Brust

  Table of Contents

  Title Page



  BOOK One

  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

  BOOK Two

  Chapter the Eighteenth

  Chapter the Ninteenth

  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



  Cast of Characters



  About the Author

  About the Author


  Copyright Page

  For Maria, CB


  My thanks to Dawn Kieninger for some translations, and to Betsy Pucci who helped with medical information. To David Dyer-Bennet for keeping the machine running, and to Dan Goodman who let me steal a line or two. Thanks also to Valerie Smith who keeps me eating and allows me not to think about the more depressing aspects of being a writer. My sincerest appreciation to copy editor V. Fleming for excellent work. Apologies and thanks are due Rich Adamski and David S. Cargo who tried to help me with palace architecture.

  As always, I am deeply indebted to the Scribblies: Emma Bull, Pamela Dean, Kara Dalkey, and Will Shetterly; to my editor, Terri Windling; and to Fred A. Levy Haskell. I cannot describe just how helpful and patient these people have been, nor how much fun it is to work with them.

  Thanks, all of you.

  Steven Brust, P. J. F.


  In Which Discussion is made of the Sources Which Led to the Document that Follows

  IT HAS NOW BEEN A mere two score of years since we had the honor to have our work, Toward Beginning a Survey of Some Events Contributing To the Fall of the Empire, rejected by Lord Tri’ari and Master Vrei of the Institute. We may say that we are in complete sympathy with their desire to have our work expanded by an additional eight or nine volumes prior to its appearance in the Imperial Library in order to ensure that certain details are sufficiently clear and that our annotation is complete.

  But should he who holds the present sketchpad of words in his hands wonder how it came to occupy such a place, we should explain that it was one of our notebooks while we were preparing for the longer work mentioned above. Yet Master Vrei, who happened to see the notebook one day while we discussed the volumes in question, and read it on the spot, announced that, by itself, it would, if not provide an accurate look at certain aspects of court life before the Interregnum, at least be a possible source of, in his words, “enlightened entertainment.” It was with this in mind that, for the past twenty-one years, we have had the honor of refining, or, if we are permitted, “honing” the notebook, and preparing it for the publication we humbly hope it merits.

  We pray, therefore, that we may strain our readers’ patience long enough to give a brief explanation of how this particular notebook, or, if you will, sketchbook, came to exist.

  It may be hoped that the reader has had the pleasure of perusing Master Kesselroi’s Survivors of the Fall. If not, we wish to express the earnest wish that he1 will make for himself a note to do so. In any case, it was our pleasure and honor to read this manuscript some decades prior to its publication, when its author was kind enough to send us, via our common patron, Parachai, Countess of Sliptower, a handwritten copy, which we eagerly devoured, being familiar with the author’s earlier works in history and poetics.

  One thing that caught our eye occurred in the sixty-third or sixty-fourth chapter, where mention was made of a certain Tiassa who “declined to discuss the events” leading up to the tragedy. While the notion of a reticent Tiassa is startling enough, it also brought to mind at once a passage in the ninety-third stanza of Mistress Fornei’s poem, “Return to Me, My City,” where we find the lines, “Yet you survived, for far away/ Walking out upon the silent road/ Where quiet Tiassa for you waits/ With Yendi and gallant Lavode.”

  This intrigued us so much that, when Master Kesselroi refused, quite properly, to directly identify the Tiassa in question, we could hardly fail to find and study the entire poem. And, while noting no other references to a Tiassa, we did find reference, in the eighty-eighth stanza, to one Aerich, which name stuck in our mind as having to do with certain events transpiring nearly five hundred years before the Disaster and the Interregnum.

  Unable to stop here, we searched for references to Aerich where we could, and discovered that he was, in fact, a Lyorn, and associated with a Yendi, with a Dzurlord who, some time later, became a Lavode, and with a Tiassa. A little more work told us the name of the Tiassa, and yet more work, some of which is of a nature we are not prepared to discuss, procured for us copies of certain letters to and from him, mostly written early in his career, which provide much of the basis for the work you now hold in your hands.

  We must beg our readers’ indulgence, of course, if we have used other sources as well. Many of the events herein described are matters of public record, and we can hardly claim to be the only historian who has chosen to discuss them. Furthermore, the Yendi who was mentioned in the poem has left many records and missives behind, some of which, no doubt, are accurate, at least in part. In addition, we have more accounts than we can make use of for such matters as the geography of the Imperial Palace and Dragaera City; and many of the events were witnessed by such chroniclers as the Marquis of Windhome, and, in some cases, by Sethra Lavode herself. We also took the trouble to conduct interviews with the Duke of Y______ and the Baroness of D______, whose memories were graciously placed at our disposal. Yet, for the most part, it was the occasional journal entry by the Lyorn, Aerich, and letters (home and abroad) by the Tiassa himself that have given us this look at Imperial life before the Interregnum.

  As a last note, we would like to say that we have every intention, for our own enlightenment if for no other reason, of continuing our researches into the lives of these personages. We have, even now, reason to believe that some of them may have had an influence on the events at Court beyond the account contained herein, perhaps even exerting their influence as far as the Interregnum itself.

  With this in mind, we hope our reader will take some degree of pleasure in our relation, or, if you will, collation of these events, and, perhaps, even to such a degree that we may feel justified in continuing our researches.


  309 (2/1/2/3)

  BOOK One

  Chapter the First

  In Which We Introduce Several Persons

  With Whom, In the Hopes of the Author,

  The Reader Will Wish to Become Better Acquainted

  IT HAPPENED THAT ON THE sixth day of spring, in the first year of the reign of
His Imperial Majesty Tortaalik I of the House of the Phoenix, a young gentleman entered a small hostelry, in the village of Newmarket, some sixty leagues from Dragaera City. The inn was called The Three Forts, and its sign depicted three tall fortresses with doors flung wide open. The name was taken from those fortresses built during the War of the Barons, in which the district had been much involved, that could be seen from the west end of town.

  The village (and, consequently, the inn) was located in the wide valley between the Yendi and the Shallow Rivers, a region renowned for its wheat and maize fields and for the unique odor of its kethna farms. If we go on to say that Newmarket was in that portion of this valley which was located within the County of Sorannah, and that within the Duchy of Luatha, we hope we shall have identified the place well enough to satisfy all but the most exacting of our readers.

  As for the village itself, it should be said that there was little to distinguish it from other villages in the area. That is, it had its inn, it had its leather-worker, it had its mill and bins. It had no sorcerer, but did have an augur and a healer. It had no steelbender, but did have a smith and wheelwright. It had no packing-house, but did have a smokehouse. It had no mayor, but did have its Speaker, with a low Speaker’s House that was the only building of stone in the town. It had one street, that for half the year was mud and for the rest was the good, black soil of the district. It was near enough to the Imperial Highway that a coach came by the inn every morning and evening, but far enough away that it was a good refuge for the few bandits and highwaymen who dared to brave the wizards of the Athyra Guard, just lately retired with the turning of the Cycle from the Athyra to the Phoenix and with the ascension of the Emperor Tortaalik.

  This day was the thirteenth of Tortaalik’s reign, and this reign the eighteenth of the House of the Phoenix. The inaugural festivities still had four days to run their course. So it was that the young gentleman found Newmarket in a state of quiet and serene celebration.

  This gentleman, to whom we now have the honor of returning, was, we should say, dusty. In those days, before the Interregnum, a gentleman who had been traveling on foot was easily seen to be poor. And yet he was surely of gentle birth. He had long, curly black hair, parted at his noble’s point; soft brown eyes; and a rather long, pleasant face, distinguished by the creases in the forehead that show high intellect and by the strong chin that indicates determination and will. To these features, add high cheekbones, a proud nose, and a fair complexion, and it will be seen at once that he was not only a gentleman, but clearly of the House of the Tiassa—which was proved by the color of his garments, where they could be discerned beneath the dust he wore as his outer, and, no doubt, inner, layer of clothing.

  His tunic was of white cotton, with puffed sleeves, and was drawn tight around the waist. He had a light woolen overtunic of pale blue with wide lapels. The tunic ended in a short flared skirt without fringe or tassel. Beneath, he wore hose of the same shade of blue, and lyornskin boots, undyed, with low heels and rounded toes. A chain of flat links around his waist held a light sword of good length. The chain also held a thong which ran from scabbard to belt, preventing the sword from scraping the ground when he walked, as well as a sheathed dagger next to the sword, and a purse on the opposite hip. The purse, upon close inspection, looked rather anemic.

  He was of medium height, but well built and athletic-looking. He wore neither jewelry nor hat—this last because it had been lost in a gust of wind two days before. To round off our description, with which we hope our readers have not lost patience, we will say that he had a clear, friendly eye, an open countenance, and a frank, pleasant smile. With these things and a sword of good length, much can be done, as we will, by and by, endeavor to show.

  The Tiassa, whose name was Khaavren, entered the inn, and stood for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. On one side was a table where sat the host, waiting for travelers. On the other was a single large room, lit by kerosene lamps and containing four long tables. At first glance, every chair seemed to be occupied, but a closer look revealed a few empty places in the farthest corner. Khaavren made his way there, smiling his apologies to a Jhegaala and a Chreotha, into whom he could not help bumping. Since the inaugural festivities continued, and since the Tiassa’s countenance was one of friendliness, neither one was inclined to take offense, so he soon found himself seated on a plain, hard-backed wooden chair.

  At length, he identified a servant who seemed to be keeping the patrons supplied with cheer. This servant, however, was on the other side of the room, so Khaavren relaxed, making up his mind to wait patiently. To pass the time, he looked around, his gaze slipping by the numerous Teckla to dwell on persons of more interest. To his right a wizard of the House of the Athyra sat drinking alone, staring into his cup, and, we must assume, thinking deep and subtle thoughts. Next to this wizard was a Vallista with her head on the table, snoring loudly. To Khaavren’s left was an attractive young lady of the House of the Dzur, who was engaged in a game of three-copper-mud with a Lyorn and two Hawks. As Khaavren’s eye was about to pass over them, the Dzurlord suddenly stood, a hand on the greatsword she carried over her shoulder. Several pairs of eyes turned to her as she frowned at one of the Hawklords. The Hawk at whom she stared seemed suddenly pale.

  “My lady,” he said in a raspy voice. “What troubles you?”

  The Dzur, as Dzur will when in the presence of someone showing fear, allowed a smile to play about her lips. “It is very simple, my lord,” said she, in a strong voice. “I have an amulet, given me by my uncle, Lord Tuaral.” She paused here, evidently to see if the name produced an effect. When it didn’t, she continued. “This amulet emits a small sound, which only I can hear, whenever sorcery occurs near it.”

  “I fail to see,” said the Hawk, “how I am concerned with an amulet given you by your uncle.”

  “Ah, but you soon will.”

  “How so?”

  “Well, this way: four times now, you have made very difficult throws. Twice, you managed three Thrones over my split high; once, you achieved three Orbs over my three Thrones; and now, just lately, you threw three Orbs followed by a split high after my three Orbs.”

  “That is true,” said the Hawk. “But how does this concern your amulet?”

  Khaavren, who saw things faster than the Hawklord pretended to, drew in his breath and leaned forward.

  “It concerns the amulet,” replied the Dzur, “in that at each of the throws I have just had the honor to describe, I have heard that sound. Had it been only once, I should have thought nothing of it. Even hearing it twice, no action would have been called for. But four times—come now, my lord. Four times is excessive, I think.”

  The Hawklord seemed to understand at last. His brows came together. “I almost think you accuse me,” he said.

  “Well, yes,” said she.

  He glanced around, then said to the other Hawklord, “Will you stand for me, my lord?”

  “Gladly,” said the other. Then the latter turned to the Dzur and said, “Have you a second?”

  “I have no need,” she said, “If this gentleman”—here she indicated the Lyorn next to her—“will be so kind as to judge for us.”

  The second Hawklord turned to the Lyorn. “My lord?”

  Now, all this time there had been more and more interest in the proceedings from those nearby, until nearly everyone in the room was watching the interplay. But the Lyorn, who had been one of the players, had shown no sign of interest save for a slight, sad smile which flitted across his face, rather like the small, red daythief across an afternoon sky. When spoken to, however, he shrugged. Then he said to the Dzurlord, in a quiet, melodious voice, “Do you accuse?”

  “I do,” she answered, with a toss of her head that sent her dark hair from one side of her neck to the other.

  He turned to the second Hawklord while pointing to the first. “Do you deny?” he asked.

  They looked at each other, and the principal nodded. “He does,” sa
id the second.

  “Well, then,” said the Lyorn, and drained his glass in one motion, his throat bobbing smoothly. He set the glass down gently and stood up. “Perhaps the street,” he suggested. He looked around, his eye coming to rest on Khaavren. “Would you care to draw the circle?”

  Now, we would not be faithful to our role of historian if we did not say that Khaavren was young, and, moreover, had come from a noble family, albeit one that had fallen on hard times. He had been as well-educated as his poverty would permit, but the Fallen Nobility, as they were beginning to be called in that day, usually had little experience with the ways of Court, or even the ways of the more prosperous of the aristocracy; yet they invariably craved such knowledge and experience. A young gentleman, such as Khaavren, could hardly be made such a request without being delighted. He nodded.

  Remembering what was involved as best he could, he walked out into the street, which was, fortunately, rather wide. He noted the size of the Dzurlord’s blade, estimated the distance between the hostel on the one side and the livery stables on the other, and decided that it would do. He took more pains with his task because, in addition to other factors, he had been living far out in the country, and, in his ninety-five years, he had never been this close to a duel. To be sure, he had once, as a child, peeking over the stone wall that surrounded his home, had occasion to see his father beat a neighbor with the flat of his sword over some insult, but that was hardly the same as a duel, with all of the formalities that, like war, make legal and proper injury or death inflicted on one’s fellow man.

  As he was making his observations, the Dzurlord emerged, speaking to the Hawklord’s second, apparently deciding on the terms of the engagement. The Lyorn came after them. Khaavren looked at the latter briefly, noticing the short, straight brown hair brushed back off a high forehead, the thin face, the small chin, small mouth, and hooked nose. These, along with the dark complexion, identify the Lyorn even without his costume. This Lyorn, who was very tall for one of his House, seemed to be a warrior, as he was wearing soft leather boots, a plain red blouse, and a brown skirt that came to his ankles. He had no visible weapon, but wore a pair of copper or bronze vambraces.