The Book of JheregSteven Brust
Phoenix sinks into decay
Haughty dragon yearns to slay.
Lyorn growls and lowers horn
Tiassa dreams and plots are born.
Hawk looks down from lofty flight
Dzur stalks and blends with night.
Issola strikes from courtly bow
Tsalmoth maintains though none knows how.
Vallista rends and then rebuilds
Jhereg feeds on others’ kills.
Quiet iorich won’t forget
Sly chreotha weaves his net.
Yendi coils and strikes, unseen
Orca circles, hard and lean.
Frightened teckla hides in grass
Jhegaala shifts as moments pass.
Athyra rules minds’ interplay
Phoenix rises from ashes gray.
The Adventures of Vlad Taltos
THE BOOK OF JHEREG
THE BOOK OF TALTOS
THE BOOK OF ATHYRA
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THE BOOK OF JHEREG
The Book of Jhereg copyright © 1999 by Steven Brust.
Jhereg copyright © 1983 by Steven K. Z. Brust.
Yendi copyright © 1984 by Steven K. Z. Brust.
Teckla copyright © 1987 by Steven K. Zoltán Brust.
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This one’s for Liz.
The author (that’s me) would like to thank Steven Bond, Reen Brust, the late Lee Pelton, John Robey, John Stanley, and, especially, Adrian Morgan, who started it all.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-66573-2
Ace trade paperback edition / August 1999
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Adventures of Vlad Taltos
One of the questions I’m most often asked is: “In what order would you recommend reading these books?” Unfortunately, I’m just exactly the wrong guy to ask. I made every effort to write them so they could be read in any order. I am aware that, in some measure at least, I have failed (I certainly wouldn’t recommend starting with Teckla, for example), but the fact that I was trying makes me incapable of giving an answer.
Many people whose opinion I respect believe publication order is best; this volume reflects that belief. For those who want to read the books in chronological order, it would go like this: Taltos, Yendi, Jhereg, Teckla, Phoenix, Athyra, Orca.
The choice, I daresay, is yours. In any case, I hope you enjoy them.
Let the winds of jungle’s night
Stay the hunter in her flight.
Evening’s breath to witch’s mind;
Let our fates be intertwined.
Jhereg! Do not pass me by.
Show me where thine egg doth lie.
THERE IS A SIMILARITY, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife’s blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck. I can call up memories of both, if I work at it. The chilly breeze is invariably going to be the more pleasant memory. For instance . . .
I was eleven years old, and clearing tables in my father’s restaurant. It was a quiet evening, with only a couple of tables occupied. A group had just left, and I was walking over to the table they’d used.
The table in the corner was a deuce. One male, one female. Both Dragaeran, of course. For some reason, humans rarely came into our place; perhaps because we were human too, and they didn’t want the stigma, or something. My father himself always avoided doing business with other “Easterners.”
There were three at the table along the far wall. All of them were male, and Dragaeran. I noted that there was no tip at the table I was clea
ring, and heard a gasp from behind me.
I turned as one member of the threesome let his head fall into his plate of lyorn leg with red peppers. My father had let me make the sauce for it that time, and, crazily, my first thought was to wonder if I’d built it wrong.
The other two stood up smoothly, seemingly not the least bit worried about their friend. They began moving toward the door, and I realized that they were planning to leave without paying. I looked for my father, but he was in back.
I glanced once more at the table, wondering whether I should try to help the fellow who was choking, or intercept the two who were trying to walk out on their bill.
Then I saw the blood.
The hilt of a dagger was protruding from the throat of the fellow whose face was lying in his plate. It slowly dawned on me what had happened, and I decided that, no, I wasn’t going to ask the two gentlemen who were leaving for money.
They didn’t run, or even hurry. They walked quickly and quietly past me toward the door. I didn’t move. I don’t think I was even breathing. I remember suddenly becoming very much aware of my own heartbeat.
One set of footsteps stopped, directly behind me. I remained frozen, while in my mind, I cried out to Verra, the Demon Goddess.
At that moment, something cold and hard touched the back of my neck. I was too frozen to flinch. I would have closed my eyes if I could have. Instead, I stared straight ahead. I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, but the Dragaeran girl was looking at me, and she started to rise then. I noticed her when her companion reached out a hand to stop her, which she brushed off.
Then I heard a soft, almost silky voice in my ear. “You didn’t see a thing,” it said. “Got that?” If I had had as much experience then as I do now, I would have known that I was in no real danger—if he’d had any intention of killing me he would have done so already. But I didn’t, and so I shook. I felt I should nod, but couldn’t manage. The Dragaeran girl was almost up to us now, and I imagine the guy behind me noticed her, because the blade was gone suddenly and I heard retreating footsteps.
I was shaking uncontrollably. The tall Dragaeran girl gently placed her hand on my shoulder. I saw sympathy on her face. It was a look I had never before been given from a Dragaeran, and it was, in its own way, as frightening as the experience I’d just been through. I had an urge to fall forward into her arms, but I didn’t let myself. I became aware that she was speaking, softly, gently. “It’s all right, they’ve left. Nothing is going to happen. Just take it easy, you’ll be fine . . .”
My father came storming in from the other room.
“Vlad!” he called, “what’s going on around here? Why—”
He stopped. He saw the body. I heard him getting sick and I felt ashamed for him. The hand on my shoulder tightened, then. I felt myself stop trembling, and looked at the girl in front of me.
Girl? I really couldn’t judge her age at all, but, being Dragaeran, she could be anywhere from a hundred to a thousand years old. Her clothing was black and gray, which I knew meant she was of House Jhereg. Her companion, who was now approaching us, was also a Jhereg. The three who had been at the other table were of the same House. Nothing of any significance there; it was mostly Jhereg, or an occasional Teckla, who came into our restaurant.
Her companion stood behind her.
“Your name is Vlad?” she asked me.
“I’m Kiera,” she said. I only nodded again. She smiled once more and turned to her companion. They paid their bill and left. I went back to help clean up after the murdered man—and my father.
“Kiera,” I thought to myself, “I won’t forget you.”
When the Phoenix guards arrived some time later, I was in back, and I heard my father telling them that, no, no one had seen what had happened, we’d all been in back. But I never forgot the feel of a knife blade, as it is laid across the back of the neck.
* * *
And for another instance . . .
I was sixteen, and walking alone through the jungles west of Adrilankha. The city was somewhat more than a hundred miles away, and it was night. I was enjoying the feeling of solitude, and even the slight fear within my middle as I considered the possibility that I might run into a wild dzur, or a lyorn, or even, Verra preserve me, a dragon.
The ground under my boots alternated between “crunch” and “squish.” I didn’t make any effort to move quietly; I hoped that the noise I made would frighten off any beast which would otherwise frighten me off. The logic of that escapes me now.
I looked up, but there was no break in the overcast that blankets the Dragaeran Empire. My grandfather had told me that there was no such orange-red sky above his Eastern homeland. He’d said that one could see stars at night, and I had seen them through his eyes. He could open his mind to me, and did, often. It was part of his method for teaching witchcraft; a method that brought me, at age sixteen, to the jungles.
The sky lit the jungle enough for me to pick my way. I ignored the scratches on my face and arms from the foliage. Slowly, my stomach settled down from the nausea that had hit when I had done the teleport that brought me here.
There was a good touch of irony there, too, I realized—using a Dragaeran sorcery to bring me to where I could take the next step in learning witchcraft. I hitched the pack on my back, and stepped into a clearing.
This one looked like it might do, I decided. There were heavy grasses for perhaps forty feet in what was, very roughly, a circle. I walked around it, slowly and carefully, my eyes straining to pick out details. All I needed now was to stumble into a chreotha’s net.
But it was empty, my clearing. I went to the middle of it and set my pack down. I dug out a small black brazier, a bag of coals, a single black candle, a stick of incense, a dead teckla, and a few dried leaves. The leaves were from the gorynth plant, which is sacred to certain religions back East.
I carefully crumbled the leaves into a coarse powder; then I walked the perimeter of the clearing and sprinkled it before me as I went.
I returned to the middle. I sat there for a time and went through the ritual of relaxing each muscle of my body, until I was almost in a trance. With my body relaxed, my mind had no choice but to follow. When I was ready, I placed the coals in the brazier, slowly, one at a time. I held each one for a moment, feeling its shape and texture, letting the soot rub off on my palms. With witchcraft, everything can be a ritual. Even before the actual enchantment begins, the preparations should be made properly. Of course, one can always just cast one’s mind out, concentrating on the desired result, and hope. The odds of success that way aren’t very good. Somehow, when done the right way, witchcraft is so much more satisfying than sorcery.
When the coals were in the brazier and placed just so, I put the incense among them. Taking the candle, I stared long and hard at the wick, willing it to burn. I could, certainly, have used a flint, or even sorcery, to start it, but doing it this way helped put me into the proper frame of mind.
I guess the mood of the jungle night was conducive to witchcraft; it was only a few minutes before I saw smoke rising from the candle, followed quickly by a small flame. I was also pleased that I felt no trace of the mental exhaustion that accompanies the completion of a major spell. There had been a time, not so long before, when the lighting of a candle would have left me too weak even for psionic communication.
I’m learning, Grandfather.
I used the candle, then, to start the coals burning, and laid my will upon it to get a good fire going. When it was burning well, I planted the candle in the ground. The scent of the incense, pleasantly sweet, reached my nostrils. I closed my eyes. The circle of crushed gorynth leaves would prevent any stray animals from wandering by and disturbing me. I waited.
After a time—I don’t know how long—I opened my eyes again. The coals were glowing softly. The scent of the incense filled the air. The sounds of the jungle did not penetrate past the boundaries of the clearing. I was ready.
/> I stared deep into the coals and, timing my breathing, I spoke the chant—very slowly, as I had been taught. As I said each word, I cast it, sending it out into the jungle as far and as clearly as I could. It was an old spell, my grandfather had said, and had been used in the East for thousands of years, unchanged.
I agonized over each word, each syllable, exploring it, letting my tongue and mouth linger over and taste each of the sounds, and willing my brain to full understanding of each of the thoughts I was sending. As each word left me, it was imprinted on my consciousness and seemed to be a living thing itself.
The last sounds died out very slowly in the jungle night, taking a piece of me with them.
Now, indeed, I felt exhausted. As always when doing a spell of this power, I had to guard myself against falling into a deep trance. I breathed evenly, and deeply. As if sleep-walking, I picked up the dead teckla, and moved it to the edge of the clearing, where I could see it when I was sitting. Then I waited.
I believe it was only a few minutes later that I heard the flapping of wings near me. I opened my eyes and saw a jhereg at the edge of the clearing, near the dead teckla, looking at me.
We watched each other for a while, and then it tentatively moved up and took a small bite from my offering.
It was of average size, if female; a bit large, if male. If my spell had worked, it would be female. Its wing span was about the distance from my shoulder to my wrist, and it was a bit less than that from its snakelike head to the tip of its tail. The forked tongue flicked out over the rodent, tasting each piece before ripping off a small chunk, chewing, and swallowing. It ate very slowly, watching me watching it.
When I saw that it was nearly done, I began to compose my mind for psionic contact, and to hope.
Soon, it came. I felt a small, questing thought within me. I allowed it to grow. It became distinct.
“What is it you want?” I “heard” with surprising clarity.
Now came the real test. If this jhereg had come as a result of my spell, it would be female, with a nest of eggs, and what I was about to suggest wouldn’t send it into an attack rage. If it was just a jhereg who was passing by and saw some carrion lying free for the taking, I could be in trouble. I had with me a few herbs which might prevent me from dying of the jhereg’s poison—but then, again, they might not.