Authors: Steven Brust
Tags: #Fantasy - Epic, #Fantasy - General, #Epic, #Taltos; Vlad (Fictitious character) - Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy fiction, #Fiction - Fantasy, #General, #Fantasy, #Taltos; Vlad (Fictitious character), #Historical, #Fiction, #Fantasy fiction - lcsh
"And Surill, whom I believe you have not met."
"Correct. Who is he?"
"She. She currently leads Morrolan's circle of witches."
I had heard that Morrolan had such a circle, though he rarely spoke of them and I never asked.
"They were unable to help, though Surill said she had tried to reach Morrolan through her own means as well. So I sent a messenger to Dzur Mountain, to Sethra Lavode."
"A messenger? Why?"
"To get her a message."
"I don't know her well enough for direct contact, Vlad. Not everyone does, you know."
"Oh," I said, feeling sheepish.
"She sent a message back asking me to visit her at Dzur Mountain, so I did."
"Oh, yeah? How's the old place holding up?"
Teldra gave me a look. "We had a long talk. Sethra explained to me about Phoenix Stone, gold and black, and the blocking of psychic contact. She also, in my opinion, seemed worried."
"To paraphrase Seapur," I put in, "if Sethra's scared, then I'm scared."
"Yes," said Teldra. "Your name came up."
"How did that happen?"
"In connection with gold and black Phoenix Stone."
I fingered the cords I wore around my neck, which had a sample
of each. "Yes," I said. Then, "What if they're already dead?"
"Who told you that?"
"Ah. Yes. Well. She'd know, wouldn't she?"
"Sethra believes you can help find them."
"Did she say how?"
"Not exactly. She mentioned something about Aliera's Great Weapon, Pathfinder, and some sort of link between it and some
artifact you carry."
"Spellbreaker," I said.
"She didn't give it a name."
"That's the name," I said. "What does she want me to do?"
"Return with me to Dzur Mountain." I drank some coffee.
"Boss, it isn't
the same as returning to Adrilankha."
"I know that, Loiosh."
"If you'll be safe anywhere
"I know, Loiosh."
"And if there's anyone you owe — "
"I know, Loiosh."
"Sethra thinks I can help?"
"And she thinks Morrolan and Aliera might be in trouble?"
"She thinks it probable."
I considered a little longer. Teldra was courteously silent. Exactly why I had to consider, I don't know; certainly the idea of returning to any of my old haunts, when the Jhereg had a large price on my head, was scary; but there was never any doubt about how I would decide. I guess I just needed a few minutes to work it through my viscera. I had just about decided when Teldra said, "Vlad, it would be wrong of me to put unfair pressure on you, but—"
"Oh, go ahead, Teldra. What is it?"'
"Do you remember Sethra's servant?"
"He knows how to brew klava."
"He does? Verra! What are we hanging around here for?"
"I'll pay the shot," she offered politely.
This is, I suppose, as good a time as any to tell you a little bit about myself. I was born human in a world of Dragaerans, an outcast in their Empire, so I learned how to get paid for killing them. Small, weak, and short-lived by their standards, I learned how to seem larger, stronger, and to stay alive. I became a part of a vast criminal domain within the Empire; got married, had my marriage fall apart, and so angered the Organization that, as I said earlier, they were now avidly hunting for me.
That's enough for now; it's too depressing to dwell on. Besides, I didn't have much time to think about it, because soon we had walked beyond the edge of Appertown, and Teldra said, "If you would remove the Phoenix Stone, can you be teleported? That is, if it is still on your person?"
"Yes," I said. "I keep a small box with me that I can put them in. It's made of—never mind. As long as the stones are in the box, they have no effect."
"Then, if you please, do so."
I swallowed. I had no reason not to trust Teldra - I
trust Teldra. But it still wasn't easy to bring myself to remove the artifacts that had protected and hidden me for the last few years. While I was hesitating, she was standing, motionless, with the air of one who expected to be waiting for a long time and had no trouble doing so. I removed the cord from around my neck and secreted it away. The instant I closed the box, I felt horribly vulnerable. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I kept slipping into Loiosh's mind to see, through him, if I smelled anything suspicious in the area.
"Relax, Boss. Even if they detect you instantly, they can't-—"
"I apologize," said Teldra, "for the discomfort of the teleport." I didn't say anything. In fact, thanks to an amulet I had of my grandfather, there would be no discomfort; were I an Issola, I'd have told her. But then, were I an Issola, I wouldn't be in this situation. Teldra closed her eyes. Her lips began to move soundlessly, which is something some people do when in psychic contact; presumably she was in touch with Sethra, but I couldn't ask without interrupting her, and that, of course, would be rude. Presently her eyes opened. She nodded to me, accompanying the nod with a gracious smile, and beckoned. I took a step closer to her; there was a moment of disorientation, and I stood in a place I had thought never to see again: the Grand Hall of Sethra's Keep high in. Dzur Mountain.
I've heard it said, "By his home shall you know him," and we all know that we must pay attention to anyone who reverses the subject and the auxiliary verb in his sentence, so let me tell you a bit about the home of Sethra Lavode. A bit is all I can tell you, because I don't know Dzur Mountain all that well. For example, I can't tell you how far down into the mountain her dwelling extends. I've been told that the mountain is riddled with natural caves, caverns, and tunnels, and that some of these connect to the areas she has carved out for herself. One of these was where I had first appeared, long ago, in the company of Morrolan. It had seemed then that I was deep in the heart of the mountain and had to climb a long stone stairway to its peak; I have since learned that I was close to the top, and that when I emerged in Sethra's living area we were hardly closer: Dzur Mountain is very, very big.
She had a library, but somehow I had never gotten around to inspecting it, so I can't tell you what she reads. On one side of the library are a few well if plainly furnished guest rooms, some of which I have used from time to time; on the other is a wide spiral stairway that leads up to the kitchen, or down to a hallway from which one can reach one of three dining rooms of various sizes, two of which I'd eaten in, and the third of which, the Grand Hall, I stood in now; a sitting room where I'd once insulted Sethra (an insult stopping just smoke's weight short of mortal); and two doors that go I know not where. At the end of the corridor is another spiral stairway: I don't know where this one leads to going down, or how it goes up, because it seems to me that it should lead directly up into the middle of the library, but there isn't a stairway there.
There is little decoration. It is as if, over the millennia, she had lost patience for anything that attempted to brighten what was naturally dark, ornament what was naturally plain, enliven what was naturally severe. There were no bright colors in Dzur Mountain, yet nothing was rough; rather everything was subdued but smooth, as if her home were a monument to the effects of time. Her furnishings were all simple and comfortable, with cushions on hard stone chairs and light provided mostly by simple oil lamps or candles. There was little to show her history; or, indeed, that she had a history - that is, her home was noticeably lacking in those oddities one picks up over the years as gifts from friends, or objects acquired from traveling, or trophies won from enemies. The one thing of that kind was in the library, where there was a device covered in glass, with spinning metal inside. I had asked her about it, but Sethra denied knowing what it actually was and refused to say how she had acquired it or why she valued it. Other than that, as I say, there was nothing to which one could point and say, "Sethra Lavode has this object because it means something to her."
I admit that I have, from time to time, speculated on why she had arranged her home like that, but I kept coming up against the same question: Were I somehow to achieve her age, how would I want to surround myself? And to this question I could not know the answer, which would always end the speculation, leaving me only observations. And that about concludes what I know about the home of Sethra Lavode - not much, considering how often I've been there. I've heard a great deal more, of course, running from the probable to the preposterous: labyrinths deep within the mountain where she conducts monstrous experiments; high towers in the very peak where she communes with the dead; hidden passageways to the Halls of Judgment; concealed rooms full of treasure; and so on. But I don't know anything about these (except I can pretty well deny the passageway to the Halls of Judgment: if that really exists, she owes me an apology for sending me the hard way). Little is known, more is suspected, and much is guessed at.
And there you have Sethra Lavode as well, which ought to prove the point about reversing the subject and the auxiliary verb.
I didn't see Sethra at once, so I turned around, and there she was: tall, pale, undead; she had forgotten more of sorcery, even the forbidden sorcery of the ancient world, than anyone else would ever learn. She was a vampire, but it didn't seem to bother her much; and to those who told stories of her it was almost superfluous, like hearing that the guy who is going to cut your heart out plans to kick you in the shin when he's done. Her origin was in prehistory, and some had come to believe that she was the living personification of the world itself, that it would end when she ended. I doubted this myself: I mislike the idea of a living personification being undead. Her features were those of a Dragonlord, except that, if one looked for it (as I did), one could see hints of the Dzurlord in the shape of her ears and her eyes. She dressed in black, black, black - the only hints of color upon her today were a red stone about her neck, a yellow stone on a ring on her right hand, and the blue hilt of Iceflame at her hip. She wore enigma as if it had been created for her alone.
Teldra bowed to her very deeply - more deeply than I had ever seen her bow before. Sethra acknowledged it as if it were her due. I nodded, Sethra nodded back.
"Sethra Lavode," I said. "It has been some time." Now, there was an ambiguous remark for her to play with if she cared to.
didn't. She held out her arm, and Loiosh flew to her, allowed his chin to be scratched, and then, just to show his high regard
for her, he bent his head to allow her to scratch the scales that
concealed his ears: a special mark of honor, because jhereg are
very protective of their ears. I don't know if Sethra appreciated the honor. While she paid attention to Loiosh, I pulled the
box from my pouch, opened it, and put the cord back around my
neck. I felt better right away.
"Welcome to my home," said the Dark Lady of Dzur Mountain. "Please come with me."
"Always a pleasure," I said, and we followed her up to the sitting room, where she asked if we cared for wine.
"Klava," I said. "I was promised klava."
Sethra smiled. "And you?" she asked Teldra. "The same?"
"If you please."
Tukko emerged, shuffling, blinking, and twitching.
"Klava," said Sethra Lavode.
Tukko did an imitation of a snake testing the air, gave a twitch that might have been a nod, and shuffled out again. I watched him leave by a far door. "Just how old is he?" I asked.
"Younger than I am," said Sethra.
I nodded. "I just asked to give you another chance to be enigmatic."
"I know." She studied me. "You are looking well, Vlad."
"The outdoor life agrees with me," I said.
She went through the motions of smiling, and said, "And you, Lady Teldra. It is good of you to come, and I thank you for bringing our wandering Easterner with you."
"It was only my duty, Lady," said Teldra. "I must, in turn, thank you for your help, and your hospitality." The mention of hospitality was Tukko's cue to emerge with a tray bearing two mugs of klava, a jar of honey, and a pot of thick cream. Teldra received hers with a smile of thanks; she took her klava as it came. I fiddled with mine until it looked right. It tasted right, too. I had missed it even more than I thought I had.
"The simple pleasures of civilization," I said. "I haven't tasted klava since Northport." Sethra didn't bat an eye at the mention of Northport, even though - never mind. She said, "Perhaps we should turn our attention to business. Or would you rather wait until you've finished your drinks?"
"No, no," I said. "Drinking klava while talking business brings back all sorts of pleasant memories of happier days when I could sit around with like-minded fellows, contemplate my various affairs, and decide whose leg should be broken that morning."
Neither of them gave me the satisfaction of reacting, but Loiosh said,
"You're so sentimental, Boss, that I almost can't
and flew back to my shoulder, evening up the weight. Rocza, by the way, had not moved the entire time. Presently, Tukko returned, this time with a tray full of some kind of raw dead thing, and set it down on the stone table in front of me. Loiosh and Rocza flew down and began nibbling. Neither Sethra nor Teldra jumped when they flew down. This is significant because pretty much anyone will be startled by a winged thing suddenly flying right in front of him.
I noticed for the first time that Tukko's hands always seemed to shake, but when he was carrying a tray, the tray never shook. I wondered if his various ills were an act, and, if so, why?
"I thank you on behalf of my familiar," I said.
"You and they are most welcome," said Sethra.
I sipped more klava. Damn, but I had missed that stuff.
"Morrolan and Aliera are both alive," said Sethra abruptly. "Or, at least, they were alive yesterday. They have, therefore, achieved a state where we cannot communicate with them. That means they are either surrounded by gold Phoenix Stone, or they have left the confines of our world. And, until we know otherwise, we must assume they are being held against their will, and that must involve someone with a great deal of power - perhaps even a god, though I consider that unlikely. No, I fear what we are facing is rather more powerful than a god."