Authors: Julian May
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General
THE BOREAL MOON TALE: BOOK ONE
ACE BOOKS, NEW YORK
An Ace Book
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group A division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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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.
Copyright © 2003 by Starykon, Inc. Text design by Tiffany Estreicher.
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First American edition: January 2004 Previously published in Great Britain in 2003 by Voyager Books.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Conqueror’s moon / Julian May.—1st American ed.
p. cm. — (Boreal moon tale; bk. 1) ISBN 0-441-01132-2 1. Feudalism—Fiction. I. Title.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
THE TWELVE MOONS RHYME SUNG BY CATHRAN CHILDREN
Snow Moon, Storm Moon, winter fast.
Wind Moon, Green Moon, spring at last.
Milk and Blossom follow after,
Then comes Thunder, God’s own laughter.
Corn and Harvest bring their boon,
But Hunters curse the Boreal Moon.
Last of all the Ice Moon drear
Doth bring the end of Blenholme’s year.
Each of my successors may pose to me one Question before singing the Deathsong, and I will answer true.
—Bazekoy, Emperor of the World
The Royal Intelligencer
In obedience to a command from the throne commuting my death sentence, the Lord Chancellor of Blencathra banished me to the continent two years ago, with an adequate stipend that will continue so long as I keep my mouth shut. Left unsaid was what would happen if I did not. Cutting off my pension would doubtless be the least of it; and I fear it’s only a matter of time before my silence is ensured by more economical means.
Well, if I’m caught, so let it be. I value my life, as every man does, but there’s also a great fatigue having nothing to do with bodily weariness that tempts me to release my grip and allow all the burdens to fall away.
But not yet, I think. Not quite yet.
For prudence’s sake, every morning I perform a shortsighted windsearch encompassing a dozen leagues or so round about my dwelling. I’ve not yet found anything or anyone suspicious. The one minor sigil I managed to take away with me from the palace at Cala Blenholme remains under my bed in a locked lizard-wood box. It’s called Night Preserver, one of the non-hurting sort, hardly worthy of the Lights’ notice, primed for defense against assassins dispatching me in my sleep. But a truly competent cut-throat would have little difficulty getting at me during waking hours, so of late I have had to review my situation and decide whether or not I want to retain control of it, or surrender at last.
Surrender is such a seductive option when one is very old.
My years number four score and one, and I’ll certainly die soon of something, whether it be the infirmities of age or foul play. But shall I go unregarded and unsung, in the manner that I lived most of my life… or is there a more amusing option?
The gold of my royal pension has bought me a comfortable house in southern Foraile along the River Daravara, five rooms furnished well, with a peg-legged manservant to cook and keep the place from getting too squalid. This is a pleasant land, warm throughout most of the year and kind to old scars and bone breaks, where the breezes blow soft and musk-fragrant, and folk having arcane talents such as mine are so rare as to be the stuff of peasant legends. But I never before lived a tranquil life, and perhaps my attempt to do so now lies at the root of my present mental unease. Tranquility, to one of my stripe, is boring. No one is so pitiable as a derring-doer put out to pasture, no one so frustrated as a tired old spy without an audience to impress with his cleverness.
When I first arrived in this over-placid exile, I spent some time each day overseeing my old haunts, especially Cala Palace and its ants’ nest of scheming courtiers and retainers. Not for curiosity’s sake or with any hope of learning fresh secrets, but out of a pathetic longing for those hazards and intrigues that once caused my blood to sing even as my stomach wrung itself like a bile-soaked sponge.
The diversion was a dangerous one, for I am no longer the peerless scryer I used to be, and my own unique talent shielding me from other windwatchers is fading fast, like the other arcane abilities I inherited, all unknowing, from my strange ancestor. If Cathran magickers should catch me spying on the palace, my blood would surely be forfeit. I had to ask myself if this rather tepid species of fun was worth the risk. At length, I decided that it was not.
But the pleasures left to me are so few! I am too frail of body to ride or hunt or even explore the tame jungle surrounding my house. My traitor stomach rebels at rich food. Expensive wines and liquors only put me to sleep without gladdening my spirit. And not even the cleverest bawd from the local house of joy seems able to rekindle the sweet fire in my nethers. There’s really only one source of delight left to me now.
The telling of secrets.
The tearing away of masks.
Why provoke trouble in piddling small ways, when one has the potential to bring on a grand firestorm that will rock a kingdom? Why not stir my sluggish passions by reliving the old dangerous life I loved?
Sitting here on my shaded porch above the languid tropical river, with only indifferent birds and my grouchy housecarl Borve to take note of my labors, I shall write it all down. At the end, if God wills that I finish, I’ll return to the island and publish the story myself. It will be supremely gratifying to revel in the ensuing scandal. Why should I care then if my reward is the sharp blade belonging to an agent of the Cathran throne, cutting my scrawny throat?
Highborn or low, the people of High Blenholme would all know who I am at last.
I was born in Chronicle Year 1112, in the Cathran capital city that was called simply Cala in the days preceding the Sovereignty. My name is Deveron Austrey. Although rumor had it in latter days that I was the by-blow of some wizard, the truth is that my father was a harnessmaker in the palace stables, as was his father before him. This would have been my work as well, had not fate decreed otherwise. My mother was a laundress, and my memories of her are scant, for she died in childbirth when I was five, taking her unbreathing babe with her. Apparently, neither of my parents showed any evidence of arcane talent. My own didn’t evidence itself until I began crossing the threshold of manhood, and I was slow to recognize it for what it was.
My father perished of wildfire fever when I was eleven years old, so I became apprenticed to my grandsire, irascible and half-blind, but still one of the most ingenious leather-workers in the royal household. I had not a tenth of his artistic skill, but I labored dutifully at my trade, urged on by the occasional smack on the ear, one more among scores of insignificant crafters in the stables, until an alert head groom took note of an odd thing.
Horses were uncommonly docile when I fitted them out in harness. Even the most fractious destrier gentled when I took him in hand, and before long I was the one called to saddle up the huge, evil-tempered stallions trained to fight in tourneys with hooves and teeth, as well as the mettlesome coursers preferred by Prince Heritor Conrig and his high-spirited young band of Heart Companions. My gift with horses was really a species of wild talent, the first to manifest itself.