Julian May is the author of
The Saga of the Pliocene Exile (The Many-Coloured Land, The Golden Torc, The Nonborn King
The Adversary), The Galactic Milieu Trilogy, Black Trillium
(with Marion Zimmer Bradley and Andre Norton),
and most recently
The Rampart Worlds.
The author lives in the state of Washington.
By Julian May
THE SAGA OF THE PLIOCENE EXILE
The Many-Coloured Land
The Golden Torc
The Nonborn King
A Pliocene Companion
THE GALACTIC MILIEU TRILOGY
Jack the Bodiless
Black Trillium (with M. Zimmer Bradley & A. Norton)
THE RAMPART WORLDS
THE BOREAL MOON TALE
The Boreal Moon Tale Book Three
Table of Contents
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
77-85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB
This paperback edition 2007 1
First published in Great Britain by
Copyright © 2006 by Starykon Productions, Inc
The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
Maps by Richard Geiger
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 0 00 712326 1
Typeset in Meridien by Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Grangemouth, Stirlingshire
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Limited, St Ives pic
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted,
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
As our valiant warriors proceed inland in the conquest of High Blenholme Island, I command that all inactive moonstone amulets discovered on the dead bodies of our Salka foe be smashed into dust and scattered to the Boreal Winds, for the sorcery they conjure is an abomination and a mortal danger to all thinking creatures - be they human or nonhuman.
- BAZEKOY, Emperor of the World
The Royal Intelligencer
With evening, the incessant warm rain that had plagued us for three days stopped, the sky cleared at last, and I caught a glimpse of the rising moon. Its position confirmed the fear that had haunted me since morning. We were traveling in the wrong direction, going north instead of south. We were lost.
Even worse, I was now positive that something was stalking us. It was very large, clever enough to stay hidden in the thick brush along the shore, and it betrayed itself only rarely by unnatural movements of the greenery or a slight sound -
Like that! The faint crack of a broken stick.
I stopped paddling and the skiff drifted to a halt. I peered into shadowy undergrowth a dozen ells away and cupped a hand about my ear, straining to listen. There was no wind. The waters of the lake were flat calm. Save for the faraway wailing cry of a black-throated diver bird, the silence was absolute. My normal senses perceived nothing. Once again, I tried without success to summon my talent, but my uncanny abilities were still too weak even to scry through the flimsy barrier of reeds and shrubs into the boreal forest beyond.
Yet instinct assured me that the stalker was there, watching us.
The sky overhead had turned to deepest blue, with a few scattered stars beginning to appear. On my right hand the full Harvest Moon rose, brilliantly white, through the raggedy ranks of spruce trees that topped the ridge alongside the narrow lake. I looked toward the opposite shore and beheld a wonderful thing in the sky above it - a great arc of pearly light spread across the retreating bank of rainclouds in the west.
I must have exclaimed at the sight of it, waking her. Induna stirred in the bottom of the boat, uncovered her head, which had been shielded from the rain by blankets and an oilskin cloak, and lifted herself painfully on one elbow.
'Deveron?' Her voice was low and anxious. 'Is something wrong?'
For the moment, I dodged the question. 'Look over there. It's a moon bow.'
'How beautiful. I've heard of them but never seen one before. They're supposed to portend great good luck.'
I thought: We have sore need of that, beyond doubt!
Even as we watched, the marvel began to fade. It was gone almost as soon as it had appeared. I took up the water-flask and bent over the woman who should have been my wife sixteen years ago, who had already given up so much for my sake and who now might be rewarded only with gruesome death. Induna lay with her head pillowed on a pack. She had been asleep for hours, still recovering from the sacrifice made shortly after our arrival in this forsaken wilderness three days earlier.
I said,. 'Take some water, love. I'll help you to sit up.'
The boat rocked as we shifted position. It was a flat-bottomed skiff of the unique Andradhian style, made of tough sheets of thin bark, pointed at both ends. The Boatwright I'd bought it from had intended it for the jungle streams of the distant Southern Continent; but being lightweight and easy to portage, it was also the perfect craft for voyaging among
the bewildering maze of bogs, rivers and chains of lakes that comprised the forbidding Green Morass of northern Didion.
Induna drank only a little before sinking back onto her improvised cushion with a sigh. 'I feel stronger. The sleep did me good. I think I'll be able to eat something tonight. Will we be going ashore soon? My poor bladder is nigh bursting.'
I pointed to a small wooded island that lay off the bow. 'We'll camp there, rather than on the mainland. I. . . think something might be following the boat along the shore, keeping out of sight.'
Her eyes widened. 'Is it an animal?'
'Perhaps not. It tracks us very slyly. It's best that we not take chances.'
'So you can't oversee what it might be?'
I began to paddle again, digging briskly. 'My wind-sensibilities are still useless, even though my physical strength now seems completely restored, thanks to you.'
'How long has this creature been trailing us?'
'God only knows. I became aware of it this morning, shortly after we embarked from the last campsite, but it might have been pursuing us for longer, hidden by the mist and rain. It's a sizable thing, probably much larger than a human being. I pray it's only a curious brown bear or wandering tundra-lion. I can fend a beast off easily with a few firebolts from my crossbow.'
She spoke hesitantly. 'Could it possibly be a Salka? You recall that I told you that the forces of the Sovereignty believed that the monsters' main force was massed many leagues to the north of here, around Beacon Lake. But they might have sent out scouts.'
'I think not. The amphibians move clumsily on land, as this thing does not. And Salka would be more likely to follow a small boat by swimming underwater. Our pursuer is something else.'
Indiana and I both suspected what it might be. But neither of us wanted to name the dire possibility aloud, nor did we voice the uncomfortable thought that we might have been under observation by the supposedly extinct Morass Worms almost from the first disastrous moment of our arrival.
Like most citizens of Cathra, I'd known almost nothing of the giant horrors until I came to live in Tarn. Induna's mother had told legends of them as we shared the folklore of our disparate homelands during long winter nights in the Deep Creek Cove manorhouse. No Tarnian had laid eyes on a Morass Worm for at least three hundred years, but their memory lived on through grisly tales relished by the simpler people of the northlands. The storytellers could not even agree upon the fabled creatures' appearance, describing them variously as huge fanged eels, scaly serpents, slime-covered salamanders, or even colossal centipedes with writhing multiple limbs. Like the Salka, the Green Men, and the Small Lights, they were said to be prehistoric inhabitants of the island who were driven into the waste lands by invading humankind. The worms were intelligent, not mere animals. Supposedly they were able to appear out of nowhere and kill their prey by breathing fire. The hardheaded Didionite foresters who dwelt in the far northern parts of High Blenholme mostly scoffed at the old tales and were certain that the worms no longer existed - if they ever had. But then, humans almost never ventured into the trackless depths of the Green Morass ...
After an interval of tense silence, during which I paddled as strongly as I could, I said to Induna,
the tales your mother told back at our manorhouse, she said that the Morass Worms and the Salka were deadly enemies in ancient times. Would the amphibians dare to invade Blenholme from the north coast if their old antagonists still lived in the region?’
‘Perhaps the Salka leaders also believed the worms to be
extinct,' Induna said. 'After all, their Eminent Four are natives of the Dawntide Isles, unfamiliar with Blenholme's remote interior.'
It was something worth pondering, but we spoke no more about it, for we had finally reached the lake island. As the hull of the skiff grounded on the muddy bottom, I hopped into the shallow water and lifted Induna's slight form in my arms, carrying her ashore. She insisted she was now able to walk. After she made a discreet detour into the bushes, we traveled a short distance inland until we reached a clearing among the trees that I deemed safer for a campsite than the beach. I planned to surround it with numbers of the magical turquoise warning-pebbles that I carried and make several large fires as well.
While she sat resting on a rock, still wrapped in the oilskin cloak, I snapped off deadwood from the lower trunks of the spruces until there was a sizable heap a few feet away from her, then set this reasonably dry small stuff ablaze with several tarnsticks from my waterproof belt-pouch. I was still incapable of summoning fire with magic.
Induna gave a sigh of satisfaction and held out her hands to the warmth. The flames emphasized her pallid skin and dark green eyes. Her hair, normally a lustrous red-gold aureole, had turned to dark tendrils from the prevailing dampness. She still suffered the effects of her soul's diminishing, but her ability to walk and sit upright now without assistance seemed hopeful signs.
'I'll bring larger pieces of driftwood from the shore and build a better fire as soon as I get the boat out of the water and unload the packs,' I said. 'Will you be all right here alone for a few minutes?'
'Don't worry, Deveron. I'm really feeling much stronger.' She smiled at me. 'And I'm still very glad that I came with you.'
Her words sent a pang of guilt through my heart. 'You should not have taken hold of me as I conjured the sigil.’
I muttered. 'Who knows what will become of us now? The unknown thing that follows is only one of the dangers besetting us. We're lost, Induna! The overcast skies and tangled waterways, combined with the quenching of my talent caused by moonstone sorcery, have muddled my wits completely. I have no notion where the castle might be. All we can do is reverse direction and travel southward in the morning, and pray that my abilities recover enough for me to scry the place out and conjure effective magical defenses that will get us there in safety. My Andradhian pebble-charms and other weapons can't protect us for long against thinking adversaries - whatever their shape.'