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The Paths of the Dead

Steven Brust


  "Your lordships perceive," began the envoy, "that I wear the Phoenix livery."

  "We had even remarked upon it," said Daro.

  "I serve the one called Sethra Lavode, whose name is, I expect, not unknown to you. And Sethra, on her part, serves Zerika."

  "Zerika?" said Khaavren. "I do not believe I know her, but—"

  "She is," said the envoy, "the last being born of the House of the Phoenix. Her mother was the Princess Loudin, the Phoenix Heir at the time of Adron's Disaster. Her father was—"

  "Vernoi," said Khaavren, suddenly remembering a conversation with that worthy gentleman, a scant few days before the fall of the Empire.

  "It seems Lord Vernoi had a premonition of catastrophe, and sent his wife, the Princess Loudin, to a safe place some days before the Disaster, where she was delivered of a child."


  "Exactly. And it is now the last time…" His voice trailed off and he looked expectantly at Khaavren.

  "Yes? It is now time?"

  "Well, Sethra Lavode deems the time is ripe."

  "The time is ripe for what, my dear sir?"

  "As to that, I cannot say…"


  The Dragaeran Novels

  Brokedown Palace

  The Khaavren Romances

  The Phoenix Guards

  Five Hundred Years After

  The Viscount of Adrilankha

  Which comprises

  The Paths of the Dead

  The Lord of Castle Black

  Sethra Lavode

  The Vlad Taltos Novels










  Other 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 Betsy


  Thanks to David S. Cargo, with whom I consulted on the economics of feudal expansion, and Ilona Berry, who helped with geography. Thanks to Beki Oshiro, who did some great research for me. Thanks to Terry McGarry for outstanding copyediting. Without some timely remarks by Jason Jones, the books would have been worse by twelve inches or so.

  As always, thanks to Robert Sloan, a.k.a. Adrian Morgan, who did so much work on Dragaeran history and background.

  Much thanks for heroic Scribblification to Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, and Emma Bull (who also threw in the title).

  It would, in addition, be manifestly unfair if I did not mention the various Dragaeran fan pages, most particularly Mark A. Mandel's Web site, Cracks and Shards, which, at this writing, is at: I continually found myself using this site as a reference to avoid tripping over my own feet, especially with such matters as timing and geography. Thanks to this, most (or at least, many) of the inconsistencies between this book and my other works set on Dragaera were introduced maliciously, rather than by accident.

  The Viscount of Adrilankha


  The Paths of the Dead

  Describing Certain Events Which Occurred

  Between the 156th and the 247th Years

  of the Interregnum

  Submitted to the Imperial Library

  By Springsign Manor

  House of the Hawk

  On this 3rd day the Month of the Athyra

  Of the Year of the Vallista

  Of the Turn of the Jhereg

  Of the Phase of the Phoenix

  Of the Reign of the Dragon

  In the Cycle of the Phoenix

  In the Great Cycle of the Dragon

  Or, in the 179th 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 Marchioness Poorborn

  With Gratitude and Affection

  Cast of Characters

  Blackchapel and Castle Black

  Morrolan—An Apprentice witch

  Erik—A fool

  Miska—A coachman

  Arra—A Priestess

  Teldra—An Issola

  Fentor e'Mondaar—A Dragonlord

  Fineol—A Vallista from Nacine

  Oidwa—A Tsalmoth

  Esteban—An Eastern witch

  The Kanefthali Mountains

  Skinter—A Count, afterward Duke

  Marchioness of Habil—His cousin and strategist

  Betraan e'Lanya—His tactician

  Galstan—His chief of intelligence

  Tsanaali—A lieutenant in Skinter's army

  Izak—A general in Skinter's army

  Brawre—A general in Skinter's army

  Saakrew—An officer in Skinter's army

  Udaar—An adviser and diplomatist

  Hirtrinkneff—His adjutant

  The Society of the Porker Poker

  Piro—The Viscount of Adrilankha

  Lewchin—An Issola

  Shant—A Dzurlord

  Zivra—House unknown

  Whitecrest and Environs

  Daro—The Countess, of Whitecrest

  Khaavren—Her husband

  Lar—A lackey

  Cook—A cook

  Maid—A maid

  Dzur Mountain and Environs

  Kytraan—The son of an old friend

  Sethra Lavode—The Enchantress of Dzur Mountain

  Tukko—Sethra's servant

  Sethra the Younger—Sethra's apprentice

  The Necromancer—A demon

  Tazendra—A Dzurlord wizard

  Mica—Her lackey

  The Sorceress in Green—A sorceress

  Berigner—A general serving Sethra Lavode

  Taasra—A brigadier serving under Berigner

  Karla e'Baritt—A military engineer

  Arylle and Environs

  Aerich Temma—Duke of Arylle

  Fawnd—His servant

  Steward—His other servant

  On the Road

  Orlaan—A sorceress in training

  Wadre—A brigand leader

  Mora—His Lieutenant

  Grassfog—A bandit

  Iatha—A bandit

  Thong—A bandit

  Ritt—A bandit

  Belly—A bandit

  Ryunac e'Terics—A lieutenant in Skinter's army

  Magra e'Lanya—Ryunac's sergeant

  Brimford—An Easterner and Warlock

  Tsani—Grassfog's sister

  Tevna—A pyrologist

  Elde Island

  Corthina Fi Dalcalda—King of Elde

  Tresh—An exile

  Nywak—Her servant

  Gardimma—Imperial Ambassador to Elde

  The Halls of Judgment










  Miscellaneous Others

  Sennya—Dzur Heir

  Ibronka—Her daughter

  Clari—Ibronka's maid

  Röaanac—A Tiassa

  Malypon—His wife

  Röaana—Their daughter

  Haro—Their servant

  Prince Tiawall—Hawk Heir

  Ritsak—Lyorn Heir

  Jami—A Teckla in Mistyvale County

  Marel—Proprietor of a general st

  A Few Words of Welcome and

  Celebration from the Publisher

  In my two hundred years as publisher of Glorious Mountain Press, I have never seen such excitement over the publication of a book as there is in these offices over the novel you hold in your hands, The Viscount of Adrilankha.

  Everyone here read Paarfi of Roundwood's Five Hundred Years After, of course. What novel in the last Cycle has been as wildly popular, as surprisingly successful, as that delectable tale of Lord Khaavren and his loyal friends and their role in the lurid events of Adron's Disaster? In hindsight, it's almost unthinkable that the book would not prove to be a popular fiction bestseller.

  But Five Hundred Years After was meant to be a scholarly work in the form of an historical novel. It was published by the University press, and written in what some reviewers described as a "quaint" style (and what others, who are still being twitted for it by their peers, called "pure egocentric gas-bagging"). Certainly Paarfi's University editors had no notion what they'd midwifed.

  Then, like some talking familiar out of an Eastern folktale, the novel ventured forth into the world and made friends for its scholar-author. It was the topic of conversation in every klava-house in Adrilankha. In salons and silk merchants' shops, on parade grounds and palace balconies, people of every House discussed the sword fights, the scheming… and, of course, the romance. Even literate Teckla sought out the book, identifying with the brave, clownish servant Mica and his sweetheart. Rumor has it that Lord Khaavren's admirers include high-ranking members of the Empress's court. (No names—that would be indiscreet—but a certain celebrated Dragonlord was seen with a copy peeking out from under his cloak!)

  Paarfi of Roundwood was transformed from obscure historian to celebrity almost overnight. And what an elegant, gossip-worthy celebrity he makes! Who will ever forget his stunning appearance at the opening reception of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, where he dressed in white from hat to boots? "Artists," he declared, "are of no House and every House. I prefer to dress to suit the first proposition, as dressing to suit the second would be garish."

  He became—and has remained—the must-have guest at every party. It is his arm that every rising young actress wishes to be seen on of an evening. That august poet, Ahadam of Hoodplain, has said of Paarfi, "He always buys the Wine. And he's a damn fine writer." What a testament to Paarfi's artistic accomplishments and his personal generosity!

  The University press, far from delighting in and capitalizing on Paarfi's new notoriety, was taken aback. Anyone could have predicted that the gist of the University's mean-spirited notes and conversations would leak out. After all, what environment is so much a hotbed of gossip as an academic institution? The details of Paarfi's parting with the University have remained strictly private (as one would expect from such a gentlemanly and professional artist), but the rumors can't be wholly unfounded. An author who brings so much prestige and—let's not discount the material sphere—wealth to his publisher should certainly be rewarded by a few paltry perquisites and a quite humble increase of his royalties.

  But that was not to be. Thus it was that when The Viscount of Adrilankha and its author sought a new publisher, Glorious Mountain was able to acquire them both, and the honor that comes with them, after lively competition with other worthy bookmen of the city. (All of us at Glorious Mountain extend deepest sympathies to Zerran and Bolis over the inexplicable flooding of their warehouse. It could not have come at a worse time for them, and we regretted the appearance of taking advantage of their misfortune.)

  An author as popular as Paarfi of Roundwood has many obligations to his readers and admirers. He has been so much in demand for personal appearances, readings, lectures, and charity events that his writing time has been somewhat curtailed. But I'm sure none of his readers begrudge the extra decade it took him to complete this book, beyond our announced date of publication. Certainly we here in the editorial offices understood completely, and are sure our creditors will, as well.

  Paarfi has begun work on the next volume of this landmark series, so we're sure there will be no similar delay with its appearance. Still, he makes time for other projects that enrich our culture. The Orb Theatre has commissioned him to adapt this very book for the stage, as a starring role for the great Valimer. Paarfi also lectures on writing at academies around the city, and especially provides encouragement to young women, whose voices are so underrepresented in our fiction.

  Before Five Hundred Years After, few publishers would have acquired an historical novel, let alone competed for the privilege. Now historical novels are the rage, and even mediocre efforts are flying off the bookshop tables. What makes them so attractive to the sophisticated modern reader?

  Nostalgia, says the cynical critic—and yes, there is something to what he says. Our world is fast-paced and obsessed with efficiency over grace. Teleportation flicks us from our door to our friends' without a chance for a happy survey of the landscape in between. Psychic communication robs us of the tactile pleasure of pen and paper, and the leisure to select the perfect phrase before we send our message to its intended recipient.

  We face social upheaval that our ancestors were spared. We deal with Easterners, rebellious Teckla, and decidedly unchivalrous behavior in some of our most noble houses. How lovely it is to be transported, if only for a few hours, to a world where there is time for contemplation and elegance, and where the natural order is understood and secure!

  But historical fiction isn't merely an escape from the present. It illuminates the things we have in common with the ancients. They, too, faced what were for them new sciences, new peoples, and new social situations. Their solutions to their problems might suggest solutions to our modern ones.

  And of course, our uncertain times make us that much more fascinated with the cataclysm of Adron's Disaster, and the upheaval of the Interregnum. The great moral questions involved in those events are still alive, though in a different tunic. People who are uncomfortable discussing contemporary issues and personalities can instead examine events that seem safely in the past. By doing so, they come to terms with our sometimes painful present.

  It would be coy not to at least touch on another reason for the success of Five Hundred Years After, specifically: scandal. I can't deny that I was eager to read a book that produced so much outcry from family members of certain historical figures who dispute Paarfi's interpretation of their ancestors' actions.

  It's fitting that Paarfi of Roundwood should be the author to lead the rebirth of the historical novel. Paarfi's charming, slightly old-fashioned treatment of the elements of popular fiction—violence, sex, betrayal, humor—makes them easier to accept as part of history and as the stuff of contemporary life. The historian's well-verified facts don't offer the entertainments of character and language to draw the reader in. The deliberately shocking fiction of the "Truthful Art" school of popular modern novelists appeals only to those readers who already believe that life is shocking. Readers who seek diversion and pleasure in novels reject these novelists' insights along with their plots. Paarfi's approach to history and fiction has been called "dishonest" and "fantastical." But it is that very approach that enables him to make history, philosophy, and politics available and attractive to those who believe they have no interest in them.

  Legions of readers have learned all that already, of course, while delighting in The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After. Now, with The Viscount of Adrilankha, they will rediscover that delight. And, far from quailing at the threatened lawsuits prompted by the publication of this wonderful volume, we at Glorious Mountain look forward to a long and mutually rewarding relationship with Paarfi of Roundwood and his creations.

  —Luchia of North Leatherleaf, Publisher


  Concerning the Fall of the Empire,

  Lord Adron e'Kieron, and the

  "Dragon-Jhereg War"

  This preface is addressed specifically to those who have read our earlier h
istories of The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After; readers to whom this volume is their first introduction to those characters with whom we have concerned ourselves are invited to pass over it with full confidence in having missed nothing of any significance. Indeed, it is our firm hope that such readers will need no introduction other than this volume, and we will confess to having failed in our duty should any reader feel himself bewildered because of unfamiliarity with history in general, or with our history in particular.

  That said, we wish to indulge our right as the author to address certain issues that have arisen from the publication of the works mentioned above.

  Some students of history who have done us the kindness to follow us through our previous volumes have raised questions concerning a supposed unpleasantness within the House of the Dragon, and of a "war" between the Dragon and the Jhereg, and of the influence of these events on the fall of the Empire—questions, no doubt, encouraged by information disseminated by our brother historians. We have been accused of neglecting to pay sufficient attention to these affairs when we treated with the matter of Lord Adron e'Kieron and what is popularly called "Adron's Disaster."

  For those who have not made the assiduous study of history that might lead to these questions, allow us to mention a few facts which might, hereafter, permit us to both clarify the events of this vital yet confusing stage of history, and explain the reasoning which led us to make those choices we made.

  A certain Dragonlord, the Count of Kee-Laiyer Meadows, who was the Dragon Heir for a short time early in Tortaalik's reign, was killed in battle with an army commanded by Sethra Lavode. There were accusations that Lord Adron e'Kieron, who had been the Dragon Heir before and after, had had Kee-Laiyer assassinated in the middle of the battle, and had then protected the assassin. There was bloodshed over the dispute, but the issue was never resolved because the Interregnum intervened. Moreover, several powerful Dragonlords were struck down by Jhereg assassins owing to some complications that many believe stemmed from the affair mentioned above.

  It is perhaps true that the author has been culpable if, as some say, these facts conceal issues important to an understanding of Adron's Disaster, which matter was lightly treated with in our previous history. It is, however, the opinion of the author that neither the squabble within the House of the Dragon nor the dispute between the Dragon and the Jhereg had much bearing on Adron's decision to use elder sorcery against the Orb; and, as the reader is by now aware, the author has diligently avoided any digressions of any sort in unfolding the history of Sir Khaavren and his friends.