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Five Hundred Years After (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 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


  Cast of Characters

  Five Hundred Years After


  About the Author

  Copyright Page

  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.


  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.”

  —variously attributed

  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 o
f 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 similar 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, gathering 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.

  The Phoenix Guards is a tale of adventure and intrigue, and has been so structured. The volume you hold in your hands is of another sort entirely. This is a tale of inevitable tragedy, and of the shifts and strange chances whereby some saved themselves, and other perished. It also tells of events that will be familiar to the most oblivious of readers. It is possible to be ignorant of what happened when Crionofenarr met Adron e’Kieron on the Pepperfields at the beginning of the reign of Tortaalik. But no one can be ignorant of Adron’s Disaster.

  The structure of the book you are about to read reflects this difference. It is not the role of the scholar to ruin a first reading of a fine book by tediously expounding on its scenes. But let us just glance at the very opening, in which a messenger arrives to speak to the Emperor. Our author stops to describe the messenger and her accoutrements, but when he has finished, he informs us that her progress has not been impeded by his own halt, and that while he has told us about her she has moved through the halls of the palace and stated her mission, and is about to be received by the Emperor. The author seems helpless before a moving sequence of events that cannot be halted or slowed, but proceeds to its fatal conclusion with the force of some catastrophe, a flood or thunderstorm, being presently experienced.

  This is not, of course, the case, as an examination of the balance of scenes and viewpoints, the moments at which personages old and new to Paarfi’s readers are presented, the arrangement, in fact, of the incidents, will amply demonstrate. But his work conveys a far different sensation than the earlier one, more complex and lasting, heavier of heart though not devoid of laughter. We leave the precise explication of these effects as an exercise for any reader so ungrateful as to continue in the mistaken belief that the writing of history demonstrates no art. Those who have been persuaded otherwise, or were too perspicacious ever to have fallen into such error, may merely enter into the stream of events and be borne along to its terrifying conclusion, while the scholar slips away unnoticed.


  Dean of Pamlar University


  BOOK One

  Chapter the First

  Which Treats of Matters

  Relating to the State of the Empire,

  And Introduces the Reader to

  The Emperor and Certain of His Court.

  UPON THE FIRST DAY OF autumn, that is, the ninth day of the month of the Vallista in the five hundred and thirty-second year of the reign of His Imperial Majesty, Tortaalik I, of the House of the Phoenix, a messenger arrived at the Imperial Wing of the Palace and begged an audience with the Emperor.

  Before delving into the source and content of the message, we trust we will be allowed to say two words about the messenger herself, because this will provide an opportunity to set before the reader some of the conditions which prevailed at this time and in this place, and will thus equip him to better understand the history we propose to unfold.

  The messenger was a young woman of perhaps four hundred years, whose roundish face, stocky build, and straight, short brown hair without noble’s point, all indicated unmistakably the House of the Teckla—a diagnosis easily confirmed by the roughness of her skin and the calluses on her hands. But far more interesting than her fallow state (if we may be permitted such a word to refer to her appearance as provided by nature) is her cultivated state, or the woman as she presented herself to those who guarded the Imperial Wing.

  She was dressed in the yellow, green, and brown of her House, but the yellow was the pure, bright color of those flowers that grow in the lower valleys of Tursk, and took the form of a silk blouse embroidered with russet needlework of an exceptionally fine character. Her leather riding pants were also russet, and flared widely around her boots, which were dyed the bright green of new grass and had wide extensions in the form of wings emerging from the heels. She wore, as well, a woolen cloak of a tan color, with a clasp in the form of a dzur, wrought with fine silver wire.

  These details now having been placed before the reader, let us make haste to follow her progress, which has not halted for our indulgences; while we have been describing her dress, the Teckla, whose name is Seb, after stating her mission, has been granted admission into the presence of His Majesty the Emperor, and we can, ther
efore, follow her and hear the delivery of this message ourselves.

  Because, being a Teckla, she could not be given a safe-conduct badge, Seb was escorted by one of the guardsmen on duty, a certain Dragonlord called Tummelis e’Terics, who brought her to the officer on duty, who looked the Teckla over briefly but thoroughly before signifying, with an almost imperceptible nod of his head, that she could pass. This was all taking place, be it well understood, in the First Antechamber (or the Last Antechamber, as some have it, but we will hold to the usage of the historians of the period of which we write, and hope that our readers’ perspicacity will surmount any confusion this causes), which connected to the First Lower Level Imperial Audience Chamber, to give its official title, or the Throne Room, as some historians have it, or the Portrait Room, as it was actually called.

  At the point at which we begin our history, it has just passed the quarter-hour after the third hour after noon, and the Portrait Room doors are, consequently, standing wide open. Seb, notwithstanding her House, walked with full confidence among the nobles and courtiers who milled about the room, who in fact filled the room to the point of straining to the utmost the ingenious cooling spells that the Athyra Marchioness of Blackpool had set upon it.

  At length, upon reaching a point directly before His Majesty, where waited Brudik, Lord of the Chimes, Tummelis, her mission accomplished, gave the messenger into Lord Brudik’s care. This worthy, who had held his post for some fifteen hundred years, turned to His Majesty and announced, in his droning voice, “A messenger from Her Highness Sennya, Duchess of Blackbirdriver, and Dzur Heir.”

  His Majesty was just then amusing himself in a customary way, between bantering conversations with various courtiers: He was attempting to make himself angry, then sad, then happy, in order to make the Orb, which rotated above his head, change color. He was, as usual, achieving only indifferent success, wherefore the Orb glowed with the pale red of annoyance, which changed instantly to a delicate green as, at the Lord Brudik’s announcement, he looked up with an expression of mild interest.