The Temple of the LORD at Orvma
Horns blared as the King of Orvma made his way to the Temple of the LORD. They were rams horns, and the horn men were followed by rank and file of the royal guard, resplendent in stone lamellar armor and wood helms wreathed in copper plates. The King was borne in a sedan chair, so that his royal feet might not trod the dust of his city. The company following the royal Person was masculine. The High Queen did not accompany her king, as she never appeared in the Temple of the LORD.
Orvma was a dusky oval of brick between two hills. The city was made of eight rings, with the gates offset so no invader could drive straight through. It was a city designed for war, and was therefore was a tedious place to cross town.
Around and around the city wall the procession wound, horns blaring, and the people scattered. This was not a parade with showers of coin or bread. The King was on his business, and meant for a swift journey to the Temple. His people obeyed the horns. There was no need for the use of the whips to clear the crowds.
Finally the soldiers made their way to the steps of the Temple. The Temple was of sandstone faced with carved alabaster plaques, and topped with a beehive dome of marble blocks. The King waited impatiently as a carpet of stained ram's wool was hurled down the steps. The wool had been carefully dyed porphyry with snails' blood. It was a color reserved for the King. His chair was lowered, and the King rose and strode up the steps, carefully planting each foot firmly on the slippery wool. King Jason was used to the impractical symbolisms of royalty, but here was one that could actually break your neck.
The King rose to the level of the uppermost platform of the Temple, and frowned at the priests waiting for him. "Where is the High Priest? Have you not heard my entry? Did not my heralds proceed me?"
The twenty-four priests and acolytes, gathered on the platform with their oil lamps and lyres and censers and palm fronds, were noticeably agitated. A senior priest said, "O King, he awaits you in the Holiest Sanctum of the Temple."
"Oh." The king eased his frown slightly, then bore himself more regally, straightened his robes of office under the weighty chain of beaten gold swastikas about his shoulders. "Then I will await him here."
"O King," said the senior priest with some quavering, for one did not dispute easily with a King, "he asks that you join him within."
"Surely that is not what he said to you to say," said the King.
"He said...he begged the favor of your condescension, O King," stammered the priest.
"Good. Then I shall accommodate him. And remember the formalities when talking to royalty in future. I am inclined to forgive a priest of the LORD, but my--the...nevermind." The King strode through the clouds of incense towards the inner chambers of the Temple.
High Priest Mikhail was twenty five years older than the King and looked to be twice that old. His beard brushed his knees and he walked with a stoop from long years of reading. The King pushed through several layers of tapestry to stand in the Holiest Sanctum, which was an empty chamber with one bronze lamp.
“Bless me, Father,” said the King, and knelt to kiss the ring of the priest.
“Be blessed, O King,” said the priest, and made the sign of the cross over the penitent King.
“Now, what must be said for no one else to hear, Mikhail?” asked the King, rising to his feet.
Mikhail looked at him with eyebrows raised. “The LORD has given Orvma to the Xee. We must evacuate.”
The King stood in wonder. Then he said, “Evacuate my city?”
“Evacuate the valley. We must flee into Gepeth and Konon. Or perhaps the Northlands—“
He was stopped by the King’s harsh laughter.
“Do you think I’d do anything that insane?”
Mikhail pointed with a trembling finger. “Here it may be said what must not be said. This planet is given to the Xee. We were ordered not to come by an angel of the LORD—“
“You dare dispute the History? In the Temple of the LORD?”
“It ain’t Scripture, as your Church is the first to admit. It’s just a traditional story, and obviously a fraud—“
King Jason swallowed, then raised his fist in anger. The priest did not flinch. The king controlled himself.
“Do not order me, priest.”
“Kingdoms come and kingdoms go,” said the priest with a tremble. “The LORD sits in judgment of kings, and His justice is mightier—“
’I won’t hear the lectures again,” said the King. “Orvma has stood nigh on two thousand years. My family has ruled it for three hundred years. We won’t just walk off to be poor farmers in Gepeth or Konon…or slaves, or worse, just to make way for some damned bees.”
“The LORD has said, Orvma is given to the Xee, and next year they shall suck the nectar of the flowers of the valley. The LORD--"
"Cease to pretend to speak with the voice of an invisible god, priest. Kingdoms are real. The Xee are real. The people's faith in the Temple is real. Now, be a loyal subject and lead my people in prayers for victory over the Xee."
“You blaspheme! You blaspheme the LORD in his own Temple! God forgive you! God—“
The King left him, strode back to the steps, shoved his way through the twenty four priests and acolytes, and ran down the stairs without using the wool carpet. He stopped at the foot of the steps. Bad, bad form in running anywhere. Kings don’t run.
He wouldn’t run from the Xee.
“The palace,” he ordered the bearers, and closed the curtains of his chair. He hated horns.
King Jason's palace was of ornate sandstone, with royal lions above the gates. Inside the floors were a checkerboard of jasper and onyx, and the ceiling was carved fragrant cedar. High Queen Pelena paced the floor nervously. She was a tall, formidable woman with a commanding frown. She took after her father, who had been a Northland chieftain. She wandered alone, by order, and her maids scurried to follow out of sight but close enough to obey a summons. She enjoyed that most terrible prerogative of aristocracy: the attention of sentient beings.
She heard the horns announcing the return of her husband. That doddering fool of a priest! He had too much sway over her man, and this kingdom. It was no use being High Queen to a servant of the LORD. Her people taught a better, more ancient way.
King Jason entered the room, his face black with anger. His Queen bowed to him. “My lord, my master, my life, what would you?”
“None dare, my lord.”
“Yes? But you have spies everywhere. Don’t you deceive me too!”
“My spies…are special. But, none listen. What did that old fool say?”
“The LORD has given Orvma to the Xee.”
’He said we’re to evacuate.”
She blanched. “He dares?”
“Oh he dares alright. I assumed…it would be more diatribe against you, an unbeliever.”
“But to dare speak against our rule of Orvma itself,” she breathed.
He stopped pacing. “Our rule, woman?”
“Your rule, my lord. I only place myself with you as a wife ought—“
“Forget it, forget it.” He sighed and slumped. “My father warned me, against the power of the Temple. He warned me, and said someday I might have to promote a schism in the Temple.”
“A schism?” she asked.
“My own man for high priest. I just don’t have a candidate ready. All those priests under Mikhail are impolitic fools. I do believe he planned it that way, to thwart me. I could believe it…but to prophesy against the city itself!”
“You still plan on having the Temple then?”
“What? What are you saying?”
“My father’s people have no Temple. My father’s people—“
“—Wander aimlessly in the North! The Temple of Orvma predates the founding of the city itself! What nonsense has entered your head?”
“Hear me, O King. There are powers on Eden that answer to no Temple. They are real and forbidden to servants of the LORD—“
“Sorcery?” he roared. “You dare suggest I believe in that mumbo-jumbo of your pagan shepherds? By the—by my father’s line, I will have you—“
“Argomath, reveal yourself,” she said.
A great leathery demon, nine feet high, supported by ridiculously small wings, apported itself at her side. For a second time, Jason stopped himself in mid-strike.
“My special ear in the palace,” said Queen Pelena. “And there are others more powerful. Listen to me…”
Enter the Sorcerer
The Burnt Rocks mark the southern boundary of the Northlands. The pass of Almira is open to travelers during the warmer months of the year, but in winter and for most of the spring it is snowbound to a depth of three fathoms or more. It was nigh on summer when Danan told the boy to break camp and took his farewell of the nomadic Henren.
He did this very carefully, inviting the chieftain and his family to a great feast of roasted mutton and rice, borrowing the chieftain’s hospitality platter from his steward. For his part the chieftain was careful not to notice whose tray he was served upon. Manners were very important among the Henren.
“We go now to the south, to Orvma. Great stones buildings have they there, and I would see them with my own eyes,” said Danan after tea had been served.
“My daughter Pelena is High Queen in Orvma,” said Golmak, the Henren chieftain. “Tell her…no, I will give my message in private.”
The boy Clee bowed under Golmak’s glare and hastened to leave the tent. Danan spoke then, “ Clee is my apprentice now. Tell us your message and it will surely cross the pass.”
“Tell my daughter that the Xee are swarming this year,” said Golmak. “They bring new queens to the surface to air their wings. This means war. Warn her to return to me here. No kingdom can withstand the swarm.”
“Orvma will mean to try,” said Danan.
“Then Orvma will fall. Fifteen queens were seen to air their wings. Fifteen! And a thousand Xee for every queen. We ourselves fall back to the far North. We cannot trust the Burnt Rocks to shield us from such a swarm. “
“I will give your message as you gave it, Golmak.” Danan drained his bowl of tea, held it out for Clee to refill.
Clee did not mind doing the menial chores of the camp. He had become used to the life of a camp follower since he was orphaned at the age of three. It is hard to be without family among the Henren. It was his fortune that the sorcerer Danan had chosen him for apprentice, whatever that would mean.
Golmak belched, three times as politeness required. “Before you go, Danan, I would have you summon the demon Gathrak. I would have rich grasses for our herds this spring.”
“I will summon him,” said Danan, “but whether he will answer I cannot say. Even Gathrak cannot be in more than one place at once.”
“Before you leave, you will summon Gathrak,” said the chieftain, wiping his beard on the doorflap of the tent. “Or you will not leave us, sorcerer.”
“There you have the life of a sorcerer, boy,” said Danan sadly. “Half my wealth on a feast and a threat at the end of it! But I suppose I should be glad to be alive at all.”
“Will you summon Gathrak?” asked Clee.
“No. You try summoning him. Gathrak has a sense of humor.”
“What’s the joke?”
“Never mind. We’ll try it tomorrow. Now help with the washing up and be very careful with that tray. It’s the only one in five hundred miles.”
The next day Clee tried his first summoning.
Danan led him a half mile out of camp, around a rise in the steppe, and saw to it they were not followed.
“Build a fire,” commanded Danan. Clee went through the usual motions, but Danan stopped him. “You can use a burning coal from the kitchen, boy. Don’t wait to start tinder.”
Clee ran back to the cooking tent, ran back with a fiery coal in tongs, and set it to the kindling.
“What do we burn?”
“We don’t. Stare at the fire. Clear your mind of all thoughts and images. See the fire as it burns. Watch it dance. Concentrate your whole mind on the flames.”
Clee tried hard for a minute, then said, “Now what?”
“Oh shut up, boy! Shut up and just watch me do it then. But that’s what I’m doing, hey? Watching the fire, and thinking of nothing.”
The old man stared at the flame, then said in a low growl, “Gathrak, I summon thee, I Danan, conjurer of Eden, son of Adam, bid thee, come! And coming, obey!”
The old man murmured the incantation again.
Danan sighed, and began drawing a circle in the dust. He then drew a six-pointed star in the dust, and then drew five-pointed stars around the six-pointed star. Then he stood in the circle and repeated his incantation.
A deep bass voice behind Clee said, “That’s better. But next time let the boy try.”
“It’s childish to make me use the symbols, Gathrak,” said Danan.
Clee whirled to see a giant nine-foot leathery demon floating behind him. He yelped and ran to stand with Danan in the circle.
“Get away,” said Danan, shoving him back.
“I want the protection of the circle!”
“Oh, there is no protection. Gathrak wants to make this as complicated as possible for his own amusement. I told you he had a sense of humor. It’s childish, Gathrak.”
“From our point of view the whole proceeding is childish,” said Gathrak. “Summoning us out of our plane to do favors for mortals is downright silly. What is it you wish of me this time?”
“I, Danan, son of Adam—“
“Yes yes. Take it as read. What would you of Gathrak the demon?”
“Golmak the chieftain of the Henren asks for rich grasses this season.”
“Huh. Golmak the chieftain? Father of Pelena the High Queen of Orvma?”
“The same,” said Danan.
“Well, that is a connection worth savoring. Why is your boy cowering? Doesn’t he know it’s safe?”
“He doesn’t really know anything yet,” said Danan.
“Ahh…an apprentice? I love to educate apprentices.”
Danan frowned. “Do you? Now what about the grasses?”
“See here boy,” said the demon, “I am Gathrak, a demon, one of 32 demons, and one of three to focus on the aspect of Life.”
"Who are the other two?" asked Clee.
The demon glared at Danan. "He doesn't know," said Danan mildly.
“A demon’s name is a powerful secret, boy,” said the demon. “Now you know my name, and that means you can summon me as you choose. But I answer as I choose. And I don’t always obey even if I answer.
“Now if this were Danan asking for himself, why, I’d probably say no. But it is a favor to a chieftain of the Henren, and one whose daughter is High Queen of Orvma. That’s a powerful ally among humankind. So I will use the aspect of Life to make the grass grow for him, on condition that Danan doesn’t tell how I do it.
“And Danan meets that condition, to keep the business of sorcery mysterious and rare. That’s the tricks of the trade, boy. Always keep your secrets. And choose the right clientele.”
“Why are you helping me?” asked Clee.
“A bright question! Because it amuses me, and being the demon of the aspect of Life, my amusements are fairly harmless.”
“Entirely harmless,” said Danan.
“You’d better go without sleep for two days to teach you otherwise,” said Gathrak. “And for the boy’s sake. Demons are difficult playmates.” And with that he was gone.
“He left without making the grass grow!” yelled Clee.
“Not so loud, idiot! He didn’t. It’s done as he said. But for the sake of sorcery, for our own reputation, we’re going to sit out here for two days and nights without eating or drinking anything. It has to look like we struggled with the demon.”
“Who’s to know?”
“Gathrak might be watching,” said Danan sourly. “And I’m not getting any sleep the next two days anyhow. But it’s mainly the Henren watching us. A sorcerer has to preserve his reputation, Clee. It’s the only thing keeps us from getting our throats slit while we sleep. And even then, it doesn’t always work.”
It was three days later that Clee and Danan set out for the Almira Pass. The Henren gave them a pair of goats to take into town, and filled their packs with biltong and bricks of tea and salt.
“Generous people, when they decide to let you live,” said Danan.
“Why didn’t you make the grass grow yourself, Danan?” asked Clee. “You’re a sorceror.”
“I know the aspect of magic. It lets me summon demons, mostly. I don’t know the aspect of life itself. There’s other aspects, like death, destruction, creation, health, the four elements, mind, and we think, time. I’ve got to summon the right demon for the job to get things done.”
“What demons do you know?”
“Well now. I think that’s something you’ll learn in time. After all, you don’t know the first thing about behaving like a sorcerer. When you can hold down a real job, then, we’ll see.”
“There’s thirty-two demons, that’s something we all know. I don’t know anybody knows all their names. And above the demons are the djinn, and there’s sixteen of them. And above them, are the dragons, and there’s eight of them. Now above them are the titans, and can you guess how many there are?”
“Well it’s half as many, see, it’s four. And two devils. And one archangel, Lilith.”
“Can you summon any of the others?”
“No human can. At least, that I know of.”
“And how many sorcerers do you know?”
“That’s a secret.”
“Oh come on!”
“When you learn how to behave I’ll start teaching you secrets. You can start by learning to shut up for a while. Act like you know too much to tell.”
“I thought it was wind!”
That night in the Palace of Orvma the King held a council of war.
His captains sat in a circle on a bear rug on the floor and listened to him pace back and forth, saying nothing.
Finally King Jason said, “Men, are you loyal to me?”
“To the death, sire,” said his top captain, a man named Mark.
“The priests are not with us,” said the king.
“How do you mean, sire?”
Jason told them the lie worked out in advance. “The priests say we must lose half the valley before they will show themselves. They say we must march without the Church, that the Church must appear to rescue the army.”
“Surely, that is treason,” said a captain named Lucas.
“Ay, I consider it so,” said the King. “But what penalty this treason?”
“Sire,” said Mark, “the men will not march without the Church.”
“Is that your opinion of your men, Mark? What of the rest of you?” All the others nodded. The army of Orvma prided itself on being a holy army.
“Then, the Church must be made to march. Leave that to the Royal Guard. But muster your men and keep them in camp. I want no word of this spilled, on your lives. This matter must be handled properly.”
“Hail, King!” they shouted, and left.
Jason brooded for a time, looked up as Pelena joined him. “Well, are they loyal?”
“The army will not fight the Temple,” he said.
“And your Guard will stand with the army,” she said.
“Send for your kinsfolk,” he said. “Send for a gang of Henren. They’ll fight for you. Let the Henren take the Temple.”
“Too blatant. I’ve got something more subtle in mind for the Temple,” she said. “Someone important has been summoned.”
Danan and Clee made their way through the barren pass of Almira in two days. On the third day they entered a village of shepherd, and Danan sold their two goats.
“We need coin for the city of Orvma,” he said. “We’re in the valley of Orvma now, soon as we came down the pass. We’ll be at the city by sundown tomorrow.”
“Why did you buy eggs for?”
“Careful! Careful! I’ll cook them for a bit, show you how I like them. Eggs are tricky. First you boil a pot of water…”
Eggs were beyond Clee, but he recognized black bread and fresh roast kid and milk, and enjoyed his breakfast.
“Done eating, good. Now practice yelling,” said Danan.
“Not nothing, fool! Practice yelling, ‘Danan approaches!’”
“Use your belly. Push from, here. ‘Danan approaches’!
They walked down the seemingly endless slope, forested with pine and cedar. The sun moved through the azure sky. Danan talked of cities and great courts and how Clee must shut up and observe and listen and learn every second, for the apprentice would reflect on the dignity of his master.
“For its in the cities, boy, that a sorcerer can make his fortune. A season with the Henren is steady eating, but to be a court sorcerer! Ah, the wines, and the cheese, and the women, and the gold, gold every day! We won’t have that in Orvma, sorry to say. Orvma serves the LORD.”
“What’s the LORD?”
“Oh dear me. Don’t they teach you anything…no, I guess they don’t. Well, mark this carefully boy: don’t admit not knowing what the LORD is in Orvma. They’d likely take you away from me and put you in a monastery. When anybody mentions the LORD, suck your teeth and nod. Like this.”
“It’s not funny! Better get a fire going, and I’ll tell you what I think you ought to know about the LORD.”
Clee worked for an hour on the fire and the pot of water and their meat, and Danan made scrambled eggs again.
“They believe in Orvma,” began Danan, “ that all this, the whole world, and everything in it, was made by the LORD, to His purposes. And the LORD gave Holy Scripture for men to follow His teachings and live accordingly. And the priests of the LORD keep the faith going year after year, and in Orvma they have great power.”
“Like the shaman of the Henren.”
“In Orvma the shaman of the Henren are pathetic frauds, and the priests are the voice of the true God. Never compare a priest with a shaman in Orvma.”
“Which one is right?”
“All you need think on, as a sorcerer, is who you’re with, and what they think.”
“What if you say the wrong thing?”
“Speak last, and say little, you fool.”
“Do the priests summon demons?”
“’Do the—’ No, boy! They don’t practice sorcery at all! It’s against the LORD!”
“So why are we going there?”
“Well. Because…because the nobles of Orvma don’t always follow the LORD so strictly as the priests would like.”
“So the priests won’t want us in Orvma? Isn’t that dangerous then?”
“That’s the life of a sorcerer. It’s dangerous to try and find shelter with the Henren, too. We’ve been compared to lice in a pelt.”
“Oh, you mean, a nuisance to be crushed?”
Clee watched the fire, trying to focus on the fire, seeing nothing but the fire. Danan watched him.
“Some sorcerers use a crystal,” he said after a time. “A rare few can focus without anything, they’re usually half-blind in my experience. I always like to get away by myself and stare at a fire. I enjoy watching fires.”
“Is there a demon who can help me concentrate?”
Danan sat up with a jerk. “Yes! Nun! I never thought of that.”
He sat closer to the fire, reached into his pack and pulled out a strand of blue-green cord. He wrapped it around his turban and tied the ends in an ornate knot.
“What’s that for?” asked Clee.
“Blue-green is the color of magic,” said Danan. “Nun is a stickler.”
“Shall we draw the circle too?”
“Oh, might as well. Here, you do it. A big circle, yes. A triangle, with the points touching the circle. Another triangle, upside down, that makes a six-pointed star, see? Now watch me draw a five-pointed star and you try it.”
They soon had the hexagram drawn as before, and both stood inside it.
“I, Danan, conjurer of Eden, son of Adam, summon Nun, demon of magic, to come, and coming, obey!”
A flame shot twenty feet high into the night, died slowly down to reveal a leathery nine-foot demon.
Danan clamped a hand over Clee’s mouth as a warning. “I, Danan, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, invoke thee, Nun, demon of magic.”
The demon said, “Must be quite a favor to sacrifice a boy.”
Clee nearly yelped but remembered the hand in time, remained silent. Danan said, “The boy is my apprentice and the subject of my favor, O Nun.”
The demon said petulantly, “Aw nuts. Very well, what is thy sacrifice?”
Danan took out his belt knife, pricked a finger. “Blood of the son of Adam, O Nun.”
“You always were a cheapskate, Danan. Very well, I accept and hear you, O son of Adam.”
“My apprentice wishes to learn the aspect of magic. He seeks your expert aid in conjuring.”
“No powers? No great spells? No superhuman abilities?”
“No, Nun. He wants help concentrating.”
“Well. Impertinent though you are, you have the benefit of being unique. Even though you don’t really know what you’re asking, do you? Still. The boy must learn himself, old man. You there, boy! Name yourself.”
“And your lineage?”
“Son of Adam. Conjurer of Eden. I invoke thee, O Nun!” said Clee, in a rush.
“Very good. Offer me a sacrifice.”
Clee winced, and slit a finger with the knife Danan offered him.
“Very good, Clee, son of Adam.” With a rush, Nun came forward and slapped Clee on the forehead, knocking him flat. “Henceforth, concentrate with my assistance behind you.”
Clee breathed raggedly. Danan yanked at him, knelt beside him. “He’s unconscious!”
“Yes. Well a boon of that power shouldn’t be forgotten, should it, old man? I see you don’t agree with me. Well, I could tell you didn’t know what you were asking for. Take care of that boy. He’s potentially more powerful than you are, fellow enemy of the LORD.” Nun vanished in a rush of fire.
Danan stood, blinded by the flames, stunned by his imagination.
Clee woke to find the sky well into mid-morning. He tried to leap up, fell back dizzily.
“You were out for a day and a half,” said Danan.
“I’ve been putting cold cloths on your head. The swelling has mostly gone down now.”
“Thank you Danan. Ow, my head.”
Danan stared at him queerly. “Feel anything else different?”
“No. Why? What did that demon do to me?”
“I’m not sure. But go bathe in the creek and we’ll break camp. I want to get into Orvma today anyhow.”
Clee went to bathe in the creek. The water splashed down a small fall near a rushing eddy. Clee stared at the eddy, concentrating.
Danan shook him roughly. “I came to see why you didn’t answer. You were just staring at the water, boy. What were you thinking?”
“Nothing. I was thinking of nothing.”
“Well. It’s good practice, in its place. Now come on.”
They set off down the sloping forest for the hazy hills on the horizon.
By afternoon they reached a serai, a great encampment three miles from the main gate of Orvma. Here there were two different caravans parked in offset corners of the serai, a great square mile compound with packed earth walls twenty feet high. Clee wanted to mingle with the caravans, which reminded him of bazaar week back home, but Danan wanted to press on to the city gate.
“Oh oh,” said Danan a few minutes later. “The army’s out in force.”
They had come to the great Field before the gate of Orvma. Here were four thousand tents arrayed in rank and file, orderly, with guards set, and the horses of the cavalry quartered beyond. A platoon guarded the only road to the gate, and Danan and Clee walked steadily towards them.
“Halt!” cried a sergeant of the patrol, his axe of office at rest before him.
Danan and Clee halted before him. “State yer name and purpose,” said the soldier. “What would ye in Orvma?”
“I am Danan the sorcerer! And this is Clee, my apprentice,” began Danan.
“Say no more, sorcerer. None of your kind is welcome in Orvma! Especially now that the Xee are massing.”
“Perhaps I can help.”
“Orvma needs none of your profane sorcery! Begone, sorcerer.”
“I bear also a message. For High Queen Pelena. From her father, Galmok, chief of the Henren.”
The sergeant frowned. “What token bear ye that I may know you truly come from the Henren?”
“Me,” shouted Clee. “I’m a Henren, that’s plain enough.”
The soldier looked over the furred shepherd boy. “Ye tell truth. Well, sorcerer, I don’t have any orders to let you through. Stay at the serai for the night. If the Queen will see you, she’ll send for you.”
“It would be better if you let me through now,” said Danan.
“I’ve given you my answer, Danan. Word will be sent. Best be off before the sun sets,” said the soldier more kindly.
“Thank you, sergeant,” said Danan, and bowed. Clee copied the bow. The sergeant saluted with his axe, and turned away.
“Well, Clee,” said Danan, “it looks like we’ll be making friends with a merchant company. And on short notice! I might actually have to pay.”
“Why not summon a demon and whisk us over the wall, like in stories?” asked Clee.
“Hmmm. I’d have thought you’d had enough of demons for a while.”
“Let’s try it. I’ll get a fire from one of the merchants.”
They entered the serai, and walked past camels of both kinds, giant lizards, horses and ponies, all manner of pack beasts, and carpets, tea, salt, leather, furs, bronze, ink, timber, and worked materials, carved tables and chairs, swords, spears, arrows, bows, and Clee heard the jabber of a dozen languages and saw men of all kinds. He darted between a group of sitting men and lit a taper, then wandered off to a corner where Danan waited.
“Light the wood, and concentrate,” said Danan. “You try the summoning. The name of the demon is Argomath, demon of Air.”
Clee stared at the fire. It seemed to fill the night as he stared at it, become more real than anything around it.
“I, Clee, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, summon Argomath, demon of Air, to come, and coming, obey!
A rush of air spun into a dust devil, roiled the fire, and ended with a great leathery demon nine feet high floating above the camp. The watching men gasped and shouted.
“A boy?” roared Argomath. “A boy summons me with such power?”
“Argomath, I, Clee, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, invoke thee,” said Clee, nervously, since it was his first time dealing with a demon. Danan remained silent beside him.
“I’m incredibly busy!” shouted the demon, and vanished.
The watching men roared with laughter, turned back to their fire.
“I embarrassed us in front of the others. I’m sorry, Danan,” said Clee.
Danan said nothing. Then he sighed, and said, “Never mind, Clee. Perhaps it’s better this way. Let’s wait for the summons.”
The next day a courier in the uniform of the Royal Guard made his way to the serai. As befitted a courier of the Royal Guard, he was accompanied by four spearman and a trumpeter.
“The High Queen commands Danan! Sorcerer! To attend her at once! Danan step forward!” bellowed the courier.
Danan elbowed Clee in the ribs, said, “Go on, shout it.”
“Danan approaches!” shouted Clee. Danan stood and waited.
The courier and his companions strode forward. The merchants buzzed. “Are you Danan?” asked the courier.
“I am,” said the sorcerer solemnly.
“I bring greetings from the High Queen! Greetings! And she bids you attend at once,” said the courier.
“We will go, my apprentice and I,” said Danan.
The courier looked over the shepherd boy, glanced at Danan. Danan met his gaze serenely. “Very well,” said the courier. “Let us depart.”
They marched past the great gate of Orvma, with its roaring lions ready to pounce on the evil. They marched up the flagged streets of Orvma, and Clee thought something was horribly wrong, because of the filth and stench of the city. He had never been in a city before and was used to the relatively clean life of the nomadic Henren.
Everywhere was people, and noise, and jabber, and smoke, and stench…
They made their way through the winding main street of Orvma to the Palace, with its striped awnings and marble lions, and through the courtyards and atriums with great pools full of lilies, and koi, and bathing pools, and on into a shady room with three walls and a great ivory screen. The courier made obeisance to the screen. “One of these,” muttered Danan, as he bowed low. He elbowed Clee to do the same.
A bald major domo struck the checkered floor with his staff. “The courier returns,” he bellowed.
“Oh High Queen, here is the sorceror Danan and his apprentice," called the courier.
Danan held his bow. So did Clee, watching him out the corner of his eye.
A woman’s voice cried sharply, “Who is that boy?”
Danan raised, bowed, raised and said, “O High Queen,” waited, continued, “O High Queen, it is my apprentice, Clee.”
“Where did you find him?” asked the female voice beyond the screen.
’Among the Henren, O High Queen. Where I stayed for the winter, and from whence I come, bearing a message from Golmak to his daughter.”
A silence, then “What is his message, sorcerer?”
“Golmak sends his warmest greetings to his beloved daughter! And bids her know that fifteen new queens of the Xee are airing their wings in the plains. He bids her prepare for unstoppable onslaught from the Xee!”
A gasp went round the audience chamber. The major domo banged his staff angrily for silence. “We thank you for this news,” said the Queen, sourly. “You must be fatigued after your journey. Rest a while. Let food and drink be brought our guest!”
“Many thanks, noble Queen,” said Danan, and bowed, and backed away, motioning Clee to follow.
“Leave the boy!”
Danan hesitated, then continued to walk backwards. There was nothing else he could do.
Clee stood nervously in the chamber, wanting to run after Danan. A panel of the ivory screen parted and slid back. A tall, formidable woman in the richest robes Clee had ever seen walked forward to meet him. All the others in the room bowed low. Clee copied them.
“Argomath says you are no apprentice,” said Queen Pelena quietly. “You must tell me why you impressed him.”
Danan sucked down wine and water and helped himself to more roast suckling pig. He was eating in the third dining room, just off the kitchen, with other tradesmen and travelers come to the palace. It was one step above eating with the servants, but Danan didn’t mind. He was glad to be out of the bunkroom.
Danan had been bathed, given a new robe and turban of clean undyed cotton, and had his beard trimmed by a barber. His own clothes were being washed by servants. There were no slaves in Orvma, he reminded himself. All servants of the rich were indentures, and must be treated with greater respect.
Where was Clee?
He grabbed a bunch of grapes and ate them nervously. His position was never certain, that was the life he’d chosen, but at least in the old days his position rested on his own words and actions. Now his fortune, his life! was in the hands of a shepherd boy he had met two months ago.
What had that demon done to Clee?
That was really the main worry. Apparently the boy had some strange power now that Danan could only imagine. He was unprepared for it, and unprepared to be alone with royalty. Every second increased the odds of danger.
Danan weighed the chances of requesting an audience, but decided to stay where he was left. He would be summoned in turn, or not. But though it was not the first time he had been at the beck and call of royalty, he felt none of the thrill of the old days?
Where was Clee?
Horns sounded outside the Palace. “What’s that racket?” asked Danan.
“The King returns,” said a caravan master. “He is always proceeded by horns.”
The King! And he was stuck here eating his pork, with no chance for a performance. Danan hoped he would meet him before Clee did. Where was Clee?
Clee was eating roast suckling pork and tasting the best wine in a week’s march, and his head was spinning. The Queen herself condescended to feed him grapes. What the servants thought of such frivolity they very carefully kept to themselves.
“Have you ever summoned Argomath before?” Queen Pelena asked him, laughing.
“No, he was the first one I have summoned,” said Clee. He stumbled on his bench, shook his head.
“Take some pure cold water,” said the Queen laughingly. “Little brother, you are not used to a royal feast!”
“Why do you call me brother?” asked the boy.
“Because we are both Henren!” laughed the Queen.
“Yes, but you are a Queen,” said Clee.
“Yes, I am a Queen. But I still remember the old days,” said Pelena. “ I remember the traveling sorcerers who summoned Gathrak for my father.”
“The names of demons are secrets,” said Clee again.
“Yes but Gathrak is no secret among the Henren,” said Pelena. “I know your friend Danan must have summoned him, or my father would never have let him go!”
Pelena laughed as if this was really funny. Clee was confused. Wasn’t that not funny at all? His stomach was not happy with all the food he’d eaten.
’A cold cloth for my little brother,” called Pelena sharply. She rested Clee’s head against her own lap while servants bathed his face and throat with a cool cloth. Clee felt his stomach steady.
“You were green there for a second,” said Pelena. “It never does to vomit at table, weren’t you taught that back home?”
“I’m sorry,” mumbled Clee.
“But not so sick that you can’t remember for your big sister. What did Gathrak do for you that impresses Argomath?”
“Not Gathrak. It was Nun,” said Clee, forgetting himself.
“Take away this food immediately,” shouted Queen Pelena. Servants grabbed the long tables and lifted them out of the room, careful not to spill a drop or a crumb of food.
“Get up,” said the Queen harshly. “Bring my crystal ball! What did Nun do for you, scamp?”
“He slapped me unconscious and said I can concentrate better with his help,” stammered Clee. “Please let me lie down again.”
“Shortly you’ll have all the rest you could want, and more,” said the Queen. “Very well, lie down quietly then. Where’s my crystal ball? Ah.”
A servant brought in a small crystal ball, about the size of a ripe grapefruit. The Queen took it in both hands and stared into it. Light glittered off it. Clee watched, trying to concentrate.
And suddenly found he was completely sober.
“I, Pelena, daughter of Eve, conjurer of Eden, summon Nun to come! And coming, obey!”
The servants hid around corners, the torches flickered in their sconces. Nothing happened.
“Summon Nun for me then,” said the Queen furiously. “And be quick about it.”
“We need something blue-green, the color of magic,” said Clee.
“Nun is demon of magic? An important addition,” said the Queen. “Bring us garments of blue-green!”
The steward of the Palace deserves credit for having robes in all twelve arcane colors at hand. Clee and Pelena were brought robes within minutes.
“And a knife,” said Clee. “He wants blood.”
“Blood he shall have,” said Pelena. “Begin!”
“I, Clee, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, summon Nun, demon of magic, to come to me! And coming, obey!”
The flames of a dozen torches flared, streamed into the center of the room, swirled into a cone, and vanished, leaving a nine-foot leathery demon floating in mid-air.
“Greetings, Clee, son of Adam,” said Nun.
“The summons was mine,” said Pelena. “I, Pelena, daughter of Eve, invoke thee, Nun, demon of magic!”
“Most irregular. But perhaps, to be expected,” said Nun. “Very well, daughter of Eve, what would you?”
“I want the same powers you gave this shepherd boy!” bellowed Pelena.
“No? You dare refuse me?”
“You are but a mortal. I dare nothing with you,” said Nun.
“I offer you a blood sacrifice, the boy himself!” She dragged Clee forwards. Clee yelped and knocked her hand aside.
“You dare strike royalty?” shrieked the Queen. “Seize him!”
“Do not harm the boy,” said Nun. And he did not yell it, but his words seemed louder and more real than the shrieks of the Queen. The guards wavered as they moved forwards.
“Why not?” asked the Queen. “What will you do to prevent me?”
“Very well,” said Nun. “Spare the boy any harm, and you will have the same powers.”
“Truly?” asked the Queen.
“Keep a respectful tongue in your mouth, daughter of Eve,” said Nun. “Know that I am the demon of magic. I can summon any demon and they will come to serve me. I can summon a djinn even, and ask her to judge between us. You are a wicked woman and
would be punished.”
“None doubt your word, Nun,” said the Queen, much calmer now. “Let there be a bargain between us.”
’So be it,” said Nun. And he struck the Queen unconscious.
“Not entirely necessary,” said Nun. “But most satisfying.” And he was gone.
Horrified servants ran forward to raise the Queen off the floor. None looked at Clee.
Outside the palace, horns blew at the return of the King.
Danan nibbled his custard pie and slurped tea. The talk of the merchants and travelers died suddenly. A rush of guards entered the dining hall.
“Where is Danan the sorcerer?” asked their sergeant.
Danan gobbled his pie and drained his tea. “Here!” he mumbled, his mouth full. He didn’t know when he’d get another meal again.
They dragged Danan up three stairs and into the upper dining chamber. A furious King Jason stood in the center of the room, his Queen resting on stuffed pillows on the flags. A circle of fawning maids was waiting on her. She seemed asleep, but her face appeared red. Clee was in irons, off to one side.
“Sorcerer!” bellowed the King. “What have you done in my house?”
Danan knew the form. He fell headlong on the floor, spoke without looking at more than Jason’s feet. “O King, I have enjoyed the King’s bread and meat.”
The mention of accepted hospitality cooled the King’s wrath, as Danan knew it must. One did not simply slay a dinner guest.
’What has happened to my Queen?” asked Jason.
“I was separated from my apprentice. He had better explain what he has done,” said Danan, not daring to look at Clee. He knew Jason was watching the two of them.
“I didn’t do anything,” said Clee. “O King. I helped the Queen summon…a demon.”
“Sorcery!” shouted the King. “What else?”
“The Queen asked the demon for powers, and he struck her.”
“You dare accuse the High Queen of Orvma of sorcery?”
“She’s a good one,” said Clee quickly. “She’s got a crystal ball and everything. She’ll be a better one when she wakes up. That’s what she asked for.”
King Jason heard this with frustration, then resignation. “She would practice it publicly.”
“Nothing is public, O King,” said Danan quickly. “Only we know of it.”
“Socerers,” sneered the King.
“Perhaps the King would like to hear the message of Golmak, the chieftain of the Henren, to his daughter, Pelena,” said Danan.
“Yes, yes I would. What message? You came from there then?” said Jason.
“The Xee queens air their wings. Fifteen of them. The chieftain Golmak predicts an unbeatable attack upon Orvma.”
“And you still came hence? To dally at my table?” snarled Jason. “You must be mad.”
“We are prepared to serve the great King,” said Danan, gambling.
“You’ve served me well enough! Guest you may be, but nothing of what you say or have seen will be discussed beyond this Palace. You’re going to stay in the tower prison for a spell.”
“Thank you, O King,” said Danan, and meant it. Imprisonment was not death.
“Take these two and lock them within the tower prison,” said the King. “Treat them correctly but firmly. They have eaten my meat and bread. And take the Queen to her chamber! Give out that she is ill.”
Clee and Danan were marched through the Palace. “Say nothing,” hissed Danan, and Clee bit off his question. They marched side by side silently, through the kitchens, past the stables to a squat brick building with very narrow windows. They were taken inside and brought before a cell. They marched onto the straw floor, and the iron door was locked behind them. It was totally dark.
“Now we can relax,” said Danan.
Sacred and Arcane
Clee had been a child of wandering nomad tribesmen. He had known the confines of a snowbound yurt in winter, but never the stifling darkness of a cell. He woke crying out, to have Danan holler, “Oh, shut up!” The sorcerer went back to snoring.
Clee could not return to sleep, and given his nightmare, did not want to try. “Danan,” he whispered.
“You might as well talk normally,” said the sorcerer irritably. “Nobody is going to open that door because we make noise in here.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Perform. A sorcerer’s life is all one big performance. I just have to stage this one properly. I have to two things…my memory, and you.”
“I bet you can summon in the dark, without a fire or a crystal.”
“I’ve never tried—“
“Don’t. Yet. I have to remember a riddle first. Now be quiet.”
Clee sat in the dark, realizing there was just a hint of starlight from one of the windows…or maybe he imagined it. He wished for a light to see by. Gradually he realized he could make out the outline of the narrow window, and its bars. Beyond the night was a queer dark blue, with a pale and frosty star visible beyond the window.
“Danan, is it getting near dawn?”
“Mmph? I very much doubt it. It isn’t chill enough. Now be quiet.”
“Where? In here? You’re seeing things.”
“Well, I can see that window. I can even see a smudge of you now.”
“Shut up please.”
Clee shut up. Danan breathed heavily, muttered “Ah!” and then rustled over to sit next to Clee. “You there boy?”
“Can’t you see me?”
“Not a thing. Hmm. No, now, I need you to summon and invoke Ahren, the demon of earth. Can you do that for me?”
“I think so. Let me concentrate.”
Taking his mind off seeing the cell, Clee found it dimming to darkness. He forgot about that, thinking on nothing. Concentrating on the darkness, he said aloud, “I, Clee, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, summon thee, Ahren, demon of earth, to come to me, and coming, obey!”
A rumble came through the earth. A mound of dirt rose through the straw. The mound exploded in a spray of dust, and in the midst of the spray was the form of a demon.
“Is he here?” asked Danan. “I can’t see a thing.”
“I Clee, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, invoke thee, Ahren,” intoned Clee.
“Is that Danan?” boomed the demon. “You like it dark in here for some reason?”
“Welcome, Ahren,” said Danan. “I have twenty four coins. One of them is a fake. How many weighings on a scale would it take you to find the false coin?”
“It wouldn’t,” said the demon. “As a demon of earth, I know the weight of coins by looking at them. But a human…four.”
“Three,” said Danan. “Eight against eight, and three against three, and one against one.”
“Hmmm….if you knew there was a false coin, yes. If you didn’t know the answer, then no.”
“True enough, O Ahren,” said Danan. “Does it still count for a favor?”
“I’ll allow it,” said the demon. “That is, if you’re both in this favor together. It was the boy who summoned me, after all."
“What shall I ask?” whispered Clee.
“Oh don’t be all formal,” said Ahren. “I’ll do you a favor. Do you want a tunnel out of this cell?”
“Not tonight, Ahren,” said Danan. “I just want the door opened.”
“And you escape that way?”
“No. I want to be found here with the door opened.”
“Ah,” said the demon. “Theatrics.”
“That’s right,” said Danan.
“Well, open says a me,” chortled the demon, and creaked the door open. “Sure you won’t escape now, Danan?”
“I’ll manage from here, thanks.”
“I feel I should tell you. There are mutterings on our side of the cosmos. Higher Authorities are taking an interest in Orvma.”
“And why should you want to tell me this, Ahren?”
“To warn you. And perhaps to remind you that it’s easy to guess the puzzle when you already know the coin is false, but impossible otherwise.”
“Well. Thank him, Clee.”
“Thanks to you, Ahren. Go in peace,” said Clee.
They were again alone in the cell. “Do we really sit here waiting for them to come back?” asked Clee.
“I would like it that way, that we appear unconcerned about the prison tower. Then the King will send for us. Try to let me do all the talking then.”
“What did he mean about Higher Authorities?”
“I hope I don’t know. It probably means we can’t summon Ahren for favors again…Do let’s go to sleep.”
They were awakened by the guard with their morning gruel. “Ah! They’ve escaped! Alarm! Escape!”
“We’re still here,” shouted Danan, “don’t spill our breakfast!”
“How came you to open this door?” demanded the head guard when he ran up to their cell.
“I ought to chain you to the floor,” muttered the head guard.
“Did the King order it?”
“All right, you can stay loosed,” said the head guard. “But no more tricks!”
“It’s a risky proposition locking up a sorcerer. Tell the King we offer our services freely at his command.”
“Hmmph. Think I run messages to the Throne? I’m lucky they remember I’m alive,” muttered the head guard, locking the iron door.
“Well now what?”
“Enjoy the gruel. Then, we wait.”
“You’re not such a brilliant planner, Danan.”
“If we’d been free we’d be waiting all day in the market for a patron. Here we’re guaranteed a roof and eats. I’ll settle for that, for now.”
Clee threw himself impatiently on the straw.
“The life of a sorcerer is largely waiting to see what comes,” said Danan. “Except, you might be one of the more powerful ones, Clee. You might aspire to be a court magician someday.”
“Not in Orvma, it would seem.”
“War’s coming, boy. War breaks many rules.”
“Talk to me more about being a sorcerer. It will pass the time. Tell me some secrets.”
“I’d rather tell you not to drink in the company of clients. You already know what can happen then.”
“It’s strange, Danan. For a minute there I was sick with drink, and then, I wasn’t.”
“You tried to concentrate, I think. You have greater powers of concentration. You were concentrating on seeing further last night, weren’t you?”
“And you saw in the dark. We should test your abilities a bit in this private place we’re given.”
King Jason was told that his wife had woken, and he rushed with unregal speed to her room. She was the focus of a crowd of handmaids and servants, who he sent scurrying away. He waited until he was sure they were alone, then spoke in a hushed but urgent voice.
“I’ve had the Temple sealed off as you’ve said. It’s beginning to draw discontent in the City. With the Guard around the Temple, and the Army in camp, we’re not deployed to prevent a riot storming the Palace.”
“Go wait with your Guard then,” she said. “No. Wait with the Army, they’ll need reassuring. Keep the Guard around the Temple but forbid them to enter the grounds. Are you sure that you’ve got every priest in the Temple?”
“Idiot! None can be left outside the Temple! You’ll have to have the city searched.”
“That can’t be done quietly.”
“Do it openly! No, don’t. I’ll do it with my sources.”
“More sorcery! This last stunt left you dazed for a day.”
“It was worth it if I get powers to impress demons. Fetch my crystal ball and leave me for a time.”
“I have the other two sorcerers in the tower prison. I had thought to have them whipped from the city.”
“No, leave them there. I have use for the boy and the old man will be hostage to his good will. Now go, I have a headache from thinking too much.”
The King left the room. He asked a servant to bring the Queen her crystal ball, and cursed the man when he turned white. The other servants tried not to be noticed. No. One was running towards him. The King turned.
“Sire,” huffed the runner,” there is a lone priest in the Market preaching. He says – he says the King has turned against the LORD and must be defied!”
“Fetch him into the tower prison!” shouted the King. “And any who resist my Guard in arresting him!” Curse his wife for this muddle! No, curse those crazed priests. It was lucky the man had not given out that they were to evacuate from the Xee. At all costs, that story must be kept out of the city.
“Summon my squires,” said the King. “I go to the Army today. The Queen is awake and is to be obeyed in my absence.”
Clee was lying with his ear to the flagstones, concentrating on hearing, so he heard the flurry of steps, the tread of a squad of guardsmen, and doors being slammed open and shut, long before the priest was thrust into their midst.
“Ah! Fellow prisoners, the LORD be with you,” said the priest.
They did not give the proper response, so the priest said, “I see you are strangers to Orvma. The blessings of the LORD be with you, as we endure the misrule of unbelievers.”
“We are unbelievers,” said Danan. “But welcome to our cell. Food will be along in a few hours.”
“I shall not be here to enjoy it,” said the priest. “I’m sure I’ll be confined with my brothers in the Temple. Cursed are those who have heard but do not believe! Forgive me, I forgot myself.”
“I’ve never heard,” said Clee.
“He’s an Henren,” said Danan.
“Then this may be a happy day for you, young man. You have the opportunity to hear of the LORD.”
“I have heard,” said Danan,” that the LORD is creator of all things, and master of all magics.”
“You should not believe in magics,” said the priest. “The occult is a trick of the devils to lead you astray from the path of the LORD. You must acquaint yourself with Scripture. Can you read?”
“No,” said Clee.
“You must have it read to you. The Scriptures are the presence of the LORD Himself, miraculously passed down to us through space and time.”
“And the High Mysteries?” asked Danan suddenly.
The priest paused. “They are worthy records. But they are not Scripture. The Church is there partly to preserve the distinction. Who are you, educated sir?”
“I am Danan, the sorcerer. This is Clee, my apprentice.”
“A sorcerer! It is an ill vocation, sir. I am Ignatius, a servant of the LORD.”
“I had heard that priests were held in respect in Orvma. How come you to be in a cell?” asked Clee.
“Our King has been seduced by the infidel Queen! He has turned on the Temple itself!”
“You don’t say. I mean, tell us, reverend sir,” said Danan.
“It is the talk of the City. The King sought a march against the Xee, and the High Priest refused him. So the priests are confined to the Temple by the Royal Guard. It is a hideous scandal! It can only go one way.”
“What’s that?” asked Clee.
’The downfall of the King and Queen, of course,” said Ignatius calmly. “Orvma has had its temple a thousand years before it had any king. The people will hold faith.”
“You must be impressed by the LORD very much,” said Clee.
“Sir, will you permit me to discourse with your servant? Without dispute?” asked Ignatius.
“I’ll try to withhold comment,” said Danan.
“Thank you. I have some training in dispute with learned men, but it goes ill before a new convert.”
’Go ahead,” said Danan. “He ought to know something of the LORD, even as a sorcerer.”
“You are indeed wise,” said Ignatius. He began to recite,
I believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his Only Son, Our Lord,
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell, and rose again on the third day,
He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
From whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
That is what we believe of the LORD, in essence. If you have Scripture in front of you it is all explained in detail by witnesses.”
“How can a man be born of a virgin? Magic?” asked Clee.
“Magic has nothing to do with the LORD. His power is above magic,” said Ignatius.
“So how can Clee summon the Others?” asked Danan sharply.
“Do you traffic with demons, boy? Avoid them. Never summon them again. They will warp your flesh into something inhuman,” said Ignatius sternly.
Danan laughed, but Clee did not.
“That’s a strange instruction to give to a sorcerer’s apprentice,” said Danan scornfully.
“It’s the best advice I can give. Stay away from demons, and study the Scriptures.”
The door banged, was opened. “Worthy reverend sir?” asked the head guard respectfully.
“Yes, my son?”
“Worthy reverend father, we are ordered to convey you to join your brethren on the Temple mount,” said the guard. “Before you go, bless us, so that we know you bear no anger against humble men.”
“The LORD bless you and keep you,” said the priest.
“Amen,” said the guards, and slammed the door behind them.
“So what are the High Mysteries?” asked Clee, after a silence.
“Hmm, the sacred mysteries, well why not now,” said Danan. “It is said, very long ago…”
The starship Venture spun and fired its drives to brake itself. The crew got out of their g-tanks and resumed patrol stations.
“Let’s have a look,” said Captain DeWitt.
“Drones out,” said Science Officer Orchard. “We’ll have some telemetry in a day.”
“Let’s have a direct shot,” said the captain. “I’m human enough to want a look at the thing.”
“Camera 6 is on,” said Computer Chief Wren.
“That’s damn peculiar,” said DeWitt. “That blob of light in front…what is that?”
“Drones alert, captain. The object is outside the orbit of Regulus Terce. It’s visible to radar and infrared.”
The captain frowned. “I thought Regulus Terce had no satellites. Damn way to run a –“
“Drones alert, captain. The object is closing towards Venture.”
“Shields up,” snapped the captain. “Full power to lasers.”
“Captain,” said Wren. “It’s…visibly closer now.”
The glowing object was indeed larger in the camera screen.
“That’s impossible. At this distance…how big is that thing?”
“Drones alert. The object is a thousand klicks by two hundred klicks…moving a million klicks a minute…”
“Get radar going!”
“Captain, if we go active, Venture can be tracked—“
“I’m aware of the risks. Activate radar.”
“Yes maam. Radar active.”
“Is it slowing?”
The navigator, Heck, swiveled. “We won’t collide, it seems.”
The voice seemed to come from inside DeWitt’s head. She looked around, and everyone on the bridge had the same puzzled look. Had they heard it too?
HUMAN CREW OF THE VENTURE. BEWARE.
“Captain, I hear a voice--”
“I hear it too.”
THE PLANET EDEN IS GIVEN BY THE LORD TO THE XEE. TURN BACK.
’We’re under some kind of psychic attack,” said the Captain. “Prepare to fire the lasers.”
“Maam, we don’t know what it is,” stuttered Wren.
“We know it can read and project thoughts,” said DeWitt. “That’s danger enough for me.”
YOUR LASERS AVAIL YOU NOT.
Wren bit his lips, stabbed the controls. Beams of invisible, coherent xray radiation shot into the heart of the glowing object, and…had no effect.
DeWitt said shakily, “Prepare the missiles.”
I AM THE ARCHANGEL LILITH. YOUR WEAPONS AVAIL YOU NOT. TURN BACK.
“Captain,” said Orchard, “we must not kill this creature.”
“Orchard, we have been contaminated! It has us seeing the impossible, hearing the impossible! We can’t afford—I was specifically ordered, in the event of a dangerous alien contact, to destroy Venture rather than risk the Earth!”
“It has done nothing but warn us off Regulus Terce.”
Wren said shakily, “Captain, if we launch a nuclear missile and that thing still is out there, what do you want us to do?”
DeWitt said, “We’d have to self-destruct,”
“No,” said Heck.
“Those are my orders, Heck, and this is a Navy ship.”
“We haven’t tried directly defying it,” said Heck. “Use the lander.”
“Huh,” said DeWitt. “You’re right. How many days to Regulus Terce at 1 gee?”
“Three days, Captain.”
“Think you can stand that thing for three days, Heck?”
Heck said, “Beats self-destructing.”
“Then get us in orbit, Mr. Heck. And, thanks.”
“All hands, prepare for acceleration.”
“Engage the drive.”
The Venture fired its main drive and thrusters, swinging into a gentle arc that bore it around the object and towards a rendezvous with the planet.
“We’ll find out what that thing’s so eager to hide,” said DeWitt.
An alarm flashed. “Engineering to Bridge,” shouted Chief Voss over the intercom. “The drive! It’s gone!”
Or something like that,” said Danan.
“And that’s where the Moon comes from? A ship?”
“Oh, stuff and nonsense, boy! Logic says a thing so complicated ain’t so! Anybody trained to reason knows you can’t believe everything the priests tell you! I tell you now so you understand them, by what they believe, not so you believe it too!
“Logic tells us that man is here because he began here, that’s all there is to it. Any fanciful theories about “earth” and “moon” and you get bogged down in all sorts of complexities! Priests love complexities, Clee. They’ll invent some where none exist. Seen it a thousand times, boy. You have a planet with human life, why then, it must come from some other planet by way of the moon! Why not a dozen moons? Why not imagine a million planets? You see how silly it gets? But 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 remains 1, boy.”
“But the Xee are here, and they’re nothing like humans. Perhaps--”
“Ah well, just because I can’t explain everything doesn’t prove anything! Listen, the best sign that the Sacred Mysteries are garbage comes from the Church itself! You know what that is?”
“The difference between Holy Scripture and the Mysteries?”
“Exactly! Clearly the Mysteries came into being sometime –after- the Scriptures, that’s why they’re not venerated as holy writ! Doesn’t that show that the story’s a fabrication?”
“But, what if the Mysteries started when the moon got here, and they had brought the Scripture with them—“
“Nonsense! Is that the simplest explanation? I ask you, are you being deliberately stubborn?”
“Not I, master!”
“Good. And let me deliver the final proof to you, since you seem to need it. The Sacred Mysteries make no mention of magic.”
“None. It’s as if the Others didn’t exist at all. There’s no record, by the Sacred Mysteries, of any contacts between humans and the Others, except for the Archangel Lilith. So that proves they can’t be true. No rational mind ignores the Others.”
“But what Clee?”
“What if the Mysteries were a record of human exploration of Eden from the arrival to the time before contact with the Others…”
Clee trailed off, seeing the anger in Danan’s face. “Sorry, sir,” he said.
“That’s better. You’d do better to memorize the names of the 32 demons than muddle your head with the Mysteries, anyhow. I can see you’re not the type to know a thing because it isn’t true.”
“Ha!” the old man ruffled Clee’s hair affectionately. “You’ll understand someday…or you won’t. Come, let’s get dinner.”
As they ate their porridge, Clee asked, “Sir? I know there are 32 demons, and 16 djinn, and 8 dragons, and 4 titans, and 2 devils, and 1 archangel, but why do we only summon demons?”
“Demons are all I know, Clee. If you want to get beyond summoning demons, you have to find another master. Maybe you will, someday. And its not just a matter of summoning anything you like.
“The Others are divided, you see. The archangel Lilith has the loyalty of the titans and the djinni, but not the devils and dragons. Demons are free to serve whomever they please. So even if I were to summon a djinn, it wouldn’t serve me, because I’m a profane summoner. I don’t follow the Church.”
“But I thought no Churchman summoned the Others.”
“They don’t. It’s against the will of the LORD, so they say. Complexities, I told you! There’s powerful magic the Church might do, except its drummed into their heads that humanity has no future on Eden and is predestined to be expelled into space. –Back- into space, if you believe the Mysteries.”
Clee pondered this. “Then why not summon a dragon?”
“Dragons are powerful creatures, more powerful than djinn or demons. A demon, you see, controls one aspect of Nature. A djinn controls two. A dragon, three. And all dragons serve one of the two devils. Devils control five aspects.
“There are two devils, Clee. One is Baal, and the other is Omto. Don’t ever serve them. Don’t mingle with those who serve them. They’re bad news.”
“Worse than the Church?”
“Decidedly. The Church is predictable and human. Devils are, well, inhuman.”
Queen Pelena said, “You’re sure then?”
“Sure I’m sure,” boomed Argomath. “I flew through the city and there’s no other priests. They’re all in the Temple.”
“They are now that we’ve thrown that last one up there. You’re sure it happens today?”
“Your plan has been approved by Higher Authorities. They’ll implement it before sundown.”
“I must meet these so-called Authorities.”
“You’ll meet the ones appointed to meet you.”
Pelena frowned. “I don’t see why you won’t tell me their names in advance so I can summon them, if they’re coming anyhow.”
“Daughter of Eve,” said the demon, “you will have your questions answered by Higher Authority directly. Or you won’t. It’s my experience, I tell you freely and in a friendly way, that those mortals who learn of Higher Authority generally wish they were innocent again.”
Screams filled the rooms outside. A servant dashed into the room, did not even notice the demon, fell screaming at Pelena’s feet.
“Save us, save us, send for the King! Two dragons just flew onto the Temple mount! Save us!”
Pelena frowned. “Did you say, TWO dragons?"
Orvma was on the brink of panic. Never before had the supernatural dared to attack their beloved Temple. The news of the preacher’s sermon in the market, against the King, spread through the city. No word came from the Temple mount. A pillar of black smoke rose from the center of the Temple. What it meant no one could say.
A caravan captain left the palace with a donkey load of goods. He was joined by three others on camels. A dozen other merchants followed him to the serai outside town. The great caravans began to prepare to move early.
A courier brought news of this to the King. He muttered under his breath, realizing the onslaught by dragons was exactly what the Queen had planned. There was nothing he could do about it. Now he had to hold his city together. What Ignatius had told Danan and Clee was perfectly true: the Temple stood, but kings came and went.
He summoned his captains to him: Mark, Lucas, Bartolo, John, Jebed. “Mark, take your company to the serai and seize the caravans. Do not attack but meet force with force. The rest of you, form up, and take the city gates. Lucas, you take the North. Bartolo, take the East. John, take the South. Jebed, take the West. Seal Ormva. Let none exit the town.”
“What about the Temple mount, sire?” asked Mark.
“Secure the city first. I will deal with the Temple mount after the city is secured.” King Jason knew this was a dangerous course, but keeping the Army separated and containing the populace was probably his best course, he reckoned. Damn that infidel Queen and her meddling!
“Ho! Riders!” Two couriers with naked blades raced frothing horses into the camp. The naked swords were a signal that their news was urgent and secret. Men grabbed their horses and the couriers dismounted, sheathed their swords, and moved towards the King.
“Stand aside there!” called Jason, and his bodyguard parted to let the couriers through. The elder of the pair came up to the King, knelt, and put his lips to the King’s ear: “The Xee are moving on the city from the East. They will be here in two day’s time.”
Queen Pelena could not summon any demon. She was effectively blind and powerless in the Palace, and vulnerable.
Mobs had begun to assemble in the city. So far they were just talking, but no mob ever gave up without a show of force. The Army was occupying the Gates. Presumably the King would enter the City again with some troops, but the time might come when that would trigger the riot instead of quell it.
And the demons Nun and Argomath did not answer her. Supposedly her powers were equal to that lout who had impressed Argomath so much. And where was he? Still in the prison tower? That at least was something she could adjust in her favor.
“Summon the sorcerer and his apprentice from the prison tower,” she ordered a weeping handmaid. The woman ran on her errand. Pelena stood staring across the City at the Temple mount, its top wreathed in smoke and flame. How long before the rest of the City started to burn?
Danan and Clee saw the door open and the head guard approach them. “You’re summoned to see the Queen,” said the guard. “Get up!”
They were hustled back up the stairs and through the Palace. Danan fell on his face, slapped Clee on the ankle to signal him to copy the prostration. Clee fell forward.
’Get up,” said Pelena. “You, boy, why can I not summon demons? I have your powers.”
“I don’t know,” said Clee.
Danan said, “A demon can only be in one place at a time. Perhaps they are busy.”
“Too busy to answer a Queen?” asked Pelena. “I have summoned Nun and Argomath four times. Now you try. On the life of your friend here, summon me a demon.”
Clee looked at Danan. “Do it, as she commands,” said the sorcerer.
“Give me some flour,” said Clee.
A sack of powdery cornmeal was quickly brought. Clee had one corner pricked. He drew a circle on the floor, then two triangles making a six-pointed star, then five pointed stars around it. “I, Clee, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, summon Gathrak, demon of Life, to come to me, and coming, obey!”
A great leathery demon apported above the circle. “Greetings, Clee.”
“Gathrak! Where are all the other demons? We need their aid!”
The demon faced Clee but spoke to the queen behind him, without turning. “O foolish mortal, you seek for dragons and expect to command the situation?”
“I, Pelena, daughter of Eve, conjurer of Eden, invoke thee, Gathrak,” said Pelena formally.
“It was well that you left the Henren, Pelena,” said the demon. “Your antics would not be appreciated. I knew you were a hellion, but I had no idea you’d go so far as seek a dragon’s help.”
“O Gathrak, seek into the City and bring back reports. What is said in the streets of the City? Where is the King and the Army?”
The demon half turned, shook its head. “Such an errand Argomath is pleased to run, but not I.”
’Then tell me who to command! I, a Henren noble, invoke thee!”
Gathrak faced her. “You invoked a Higher Authority than any demon. They are prepared to be quite unpleasant to any challenge. The most I’ll do for you is let them know you’re impatient, if you like.”
“Let them know that Pelena, Queen of Orvma, begs them condescend to appear,” said Pelena.
“Very well, said the demon, and vanished.
There was a silence in the room, and then Danan said, “You summoned a dragon? How?”
’Be quiet, old man,” said the Queen. “You are alive because that boy is fond of you. I promised not to harm the boy, but nothing was said about you. Your life hangs by a thread. If you dare question me again in that tone of voice, I will have you flogged to death in the market square!” she spat. “Sorcerer! The mob would like your blood!”
’I won’t help you if you harm Danan,” yelled Clee.
“Quiet Clee,’ said Danan kindly. “Her majesty is quite right about mobs and sorcerers. We’d be torn apart. Let’s see what help we can be to her.”
The sound of rams horns came faintly from the west gate. “The King marches on the city,” said Pelena. “He may be in time to quell a riot.”
A scream drew their attention to the north. From the smoke of the Temple mount, a humanoid form flew southwards towards the Palace. As it neared, Clee saw it was a demon.
“Argomath! You have returned to me!” called Pelena.
Argomath stopped outside the Palace, floating easily in midair. “You are summoned, daughter of Eve. Come out.”
A storm of wind swept through the Palace, knocking over everything weighing less than three hundred pounds. Clee and Danan were thrown to the floor. Pelena screamed as she was wafted aloft and out the window to join Argomath. The storm abated. Argomath and Pelena flew towards the Temple mount.
Danan and Clee watched from the wrecked Palace. “What now?” asked Clee.
Danan had nothing to say.
Pelena entered through a roiling coil of black smoke. Instantly she was bathed in a cool breeze and the odor of lavender.
The interior of the Temple was pleasantly clean, shining as if waxed. The odors of honeysuckle and lavender mingled pleasantly. She was wafted along to a meeting room before the Inner Sanctum. There, she saw two golden humanoids seated on the bench reserved for priests.
“Greetings, daughter of Eve,” said one of the figures in a melodious contralto. “I am
Skol, servant of Baal.”
“And I am Corir, servant of Omto,” said the other figure. “Be seated, daughter.”
Pelena sat, glanced around, saw Argomath was gone. “I, Pelena, daughter of Eve, conjurer of Eden—“
And as she concentrated, suddenly the room was a smoldering ruin, strewn with corpses of priests, and reeking of death and smoke. Before her reclined two winged lizards, twenty feet long, one red, and other green.
“Well done,” growled the red dragon. “For a mortal, very well done.”
“Too well done,” growled the green dragon. He sniffed at the choking Queen. “Hmmm…interference.”
“Who did this for you?” said the red dragon.
“Who did what? I mean – Nun, the demon, granted me the boy’s powers. I mean, the boy impressed Argomath, and I wanted to have the same power, so I summoned—“
“Nun,” roared the green dragon. Nun appeared in midair, and made obeisance.
“Yes, O Corir?”
“How dare you augment the power of a human? This is unheard of impertinence.”
“To assist the cause of Chaos, O Corir,” said Nun, unabashed.
“And the boy she speaks of? You aided a boy?” asked the red dragon.
“A sorcerer’s apprentice, O Skol. To enhance his powers among the humans.”
“Impertinence,” growled Corir.
“May I explain, my lords?” asked Nun.
“Stand there receptive, said Corir, and closed his eyes. Nun stared back at him, unafraid.
“Ahhh,” said Corir, opening his eyes.
“Share,” demanded Skol.
The dragons faced each other, closed their eyes, and paused.
Skol opened his eyes. “Dangerous,”
Corir opened his eyes. “But ingenious.”
“Yes, O Skol?”
“Fetch us the boy and his master.”
King Jason marched around the city, horns blaring, whips crashing, arrested commoners streaming in his wake. Round and round he marched, until the press of the mob was broken, and the danger of riot quelled. For now.
“Mark, O captain, keep the men formed up in the market. Detach a guard to bear our prisoners to the prison tower. Handle them correctly but firmly. Do not allow any assembly larger than three persons until further notice. I and my bodyguard ride to the Palace.’ He turned and spurred his horse, his three best men following.
As he neared the entrance to the palace, shouts drew his attention to the north. A storm of wind startled his horse. As he reined in, Jason saw three figures fly northwards to the burning Temple.
“Sorcery!” He leapt off his horse and ran, stumbling, forgetting himself in his rush to stop Pelena from further madness. He dashed down the halls of the Palace, calling for her, and stopped at last in the wind-strewn wreck of a durbar. Beyond the Temple smoldered.
“Where is my wife? Where is the Queen?” he roared, and no one dared answer. Finally a handmaid pointed north to the Temple.
Clee saw through the illusion without starting an invocation. He stood horrified in the midst of carnage, facing two ferocious dragons, while Danan serenly contemplated two golden humanoids with dignity. Pelena knelt and retched off to one side of the room.
“So,” said Corir. “You cannot be deceived.”
“Impressive,” said Skol.
“What…what do you want of me?” stammered Clee.
“Don’t address them, boy,” said Danan. “My lords, if you have questions of my apprentice, have the courtesy to address his master, myself.”
Choking laughter stopped him. “He doesn’t know,” laughed Pelena. “He cannot see—“
“Silence,” said Skol. “Boy, do you know of the Xee?”
“The Xee are coming…my lord. They cannot be halted.”
“Perhaps,” said Corir. “Would you like to save the city?”
“What can this boy do to save the city?” asked Danan.
“I should have said, help, save the city,” said Corir. “Will you enlist with us?”
Clee hesitated, remembering Danan’s warning about helping dragons. “What must I do?”
Skol chuckled like an amused twenty-foot carnivorous lizard. “Very good.”
Corir said, “You accepted the help of Nun to cast magic. Will you accept both our help to do more?”
“What must I do?”
Skol said, “We will make you a Necromancer. You will summon the dead to assist you.”
Corir said, “It is a power my friend and I find quite useful. The dead are a powerful ally.”
“And just think how many people you know will die someday.”
“All that power, right at your fingertips.”
“You’re saying someday I could help,” said Clee. “But I’m an orphan shepherd boy. I don’t know any dead.”
“You know this sorcerer and the queen.”
Flame engulfed them all.
The Second Miracle of Orvma
They came from out of the West, in droves, first by horse, then by donkey and mule, and finally by ox and on foot. The farmers, merchants, courtesans, some pitiful few soldiers, the rich and the poor, of all ages, came on. Behind this human flotsam was a cloud of dust, and beyond that in the sky, a darkness that was not dust or cloud.
Xee. A bogeyman terror come to life. And they fled before it to the only refuge known to them: the city of Orvma.
Orvma stood. The guards at the gates were not assailed from within. Only from without, to all the gates, came the flood of refugees demanding shelter. Orvma packed them into the streets without protest. There was no where to run.
King Jason brooded in his throne room as the repairs went on around him. He too, had nowhere to run. He had been abandoned by the Temple, and had thrown over that allegiance for the sake of his wife’s sorcery. Now she was gone into the Temple, and no word of her for over a day. He had neither the LORD nor sorcery to stave off a foe no human had ever beaten in the living memory of man.
No one beat the Xee, except once long ago at the city of Orvma. The Miracle of Orvma, many said. Now he needed a miracle, and he could not pray for one.
He walked to the durbar and looked north. The smoking ruins of the Temple gave no sign of life.
What a time to die!
His top captain, Mark, saluted him. “Come in, Mark. What news bring you?’
Mark gestured to the men behind him. They brought in a rolled carpet, placed it on the floor, unrolled it. Inside was a giant fat insect, green-black, with a two foot body and stubby legs that each ended in a fist. It was pierced with five arrows.
“Xee are beginning to land outside the city,” said Mark.
Jason stretched full upright. “Muster the Army on the walls. Issue all spears and arrows in the armory. Have the citizens form militia of twenty, with an ensign elected among them, marked by a cloth about the upper arm, here. Have them get whatever stabbing and blunt weapons they can handle. When that’s done, you and your best lieutenants patrol among them and douse all fires. Fires will be as bad as the Xee in these conditions.
“Order my stables to turn loose all the horses. They can’t be any good and we might save most of them. Order the granaries to distribute all corn and meal, a handful to a family. Might as well save it by feeding our people.
“Order the reservoirs capped, so the Xee don’t drown in them. Order…Hellfire, I’ll come see to it myself. Where’s my bodyguard? And stop that decorating, get yourselves pitchforks and muster in the atrium. Answer to the head guard of the prison tower, he’ll dispose of you properly. Come on, Mark!”
King Jason strode off, a different man again.
The civil alarm gongs woke Clee from his slumber.
He stretched out his arms and legs. They felt curiously taut. He was in darkness…
He had been on fire!
He jumped to his feet, realized he was naked, felt his hair and felt only a frizzle of singed hair.
He concentrated on seeing in darkness. It took a while, but the vague outlines of his limbs became visible.
“You’re welcome,” growled the green dragon.
Clee about jumped out of his skin. He hadn’t seen the dragons before. Now they stretched themselves out in the darkness, sleek and lethal.
“It would have been easier to use illusion on you, but you’re immune, Necromancer,” said the green dragon. “I can however still use the aspect of Health. Somewhat.”
“Thank you” stammered Clee. “What about Danan and Pelena?”
“Right next to you on the floor,” said the green dragon. Clee winced. He couldn’t tell which was which.
“My name is Corir,” said the green dragon. “And my friend here is Skol.”
“Well met…my lords. I am Clee.”
“You are the Necromancer,” said Skol. “What you were is dead to the world.”
“Identity is very much a relative thing,” said Corir. “You will find that no one who knew Clee will have much to do with you. And you’ll find that as time goes on, you’ll have less to do with what interested Clee.”
“Why did you spare me?” asked Clee.
“Ahh, to work. We have need of sorcery to repel the imminent attack of the Xee. You’ve got about twenty-four hours to get acquainted with your powers. I suggest you start, by having Gathrak keep you awake for that time,” said Skol.
“What powers did you give me?”
“The aspect of Death,” said Corir. “You can raise and communicate with the dead. I would start with your friends.”
“You don’t have to be here with us to do that, though,” said Skol. “You can raise and talk to them in the next room.”
“We’ll be very busy ourselves,” said Corir.
“One more thing, Necromancer,” said Skol. “A minor point, in the long view. Please take the long view.”
“You have been badly burnt. I can heal third degree burns, but not perfectly,” said Corir.
“You’ll manage just fine, Necromancer,” said Skol. “Be productive.”
Clee shuffled out, his knees unwilling to flex fully. He also had nowhere to go.
In the next room he had some light to see his mottled flesh. He cried a little, for how long he couldn't say.
In the end, though, he was still Clee, and the Xee were still coming for Orvma.
“I, Clee, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, summon thee, Gathrak, demon of life, to come to me, and coming, obey!”
Nothing happened. Clee drew the hexagram in the ashes and repeated the invocation. Nothing happened.
He repeated the invocation, naming himself Necromancer. Gathrak appeared immediately.
“Thanks, boss,” said Gathrak. “It don’t pay to buck the Higher Authorities.”
Xee were falling in the city now like the petals of a cherry tree in a mild breeze. The militia were chasing them down, cheering as they accounted for each insect. The Army held its fire. “Save it for the massed formations,” King Jason had ordered.
The Xee came down like scouting bees, with no seeming purpose or objective, grasping at the blades of scythes and tines of pitchforks, meeting death like stupid insects. A Xee wasn’t really hard to kill. It was killing thousands of them at once that was the problem.
The cloud of Xee was much higher on the horizon now, and King Jason imagined he heard a faint buzzing. “Let them come,” he laughed. He really was better suited to commanding the Army than courtly life anyhow. And Pelena was probably all right, just immersed in some damn sorcery of some sort.
A crowd slew a Xee below his rampart, and he joined in their cheers. Perhaps it would all work itself out. Orvma had survived before. Something would turn up.
“I, Necromancer, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, summon thee, Danan, to come to me! And coming to me, obey!”
“None of that boy,” said Danan in his head. “Just ask for me.”
“Danan!” cried Clee happily. “You’re alive!”
“No I am not. I died back there in the fireball. Not your fault, but let’s stick to being accurate henceforth.”
“I was saved by Corir—that’s the green dragon—and—“
“I heard. Now. I also heard you’re awake for twenty-four hours. Good. I can use every second. We can assume Argomath will be occupied, but as a sorcerer, I know the name of one other air demon. We’ll need to invoke a demon of fire, for sure, and Arden you know—“
“Pelena?” asked Clee.
“Refer to me as Your Majesty, if you please. And you ought to have called on me first, out of deference to rank,” said Pelena. “I’m probably as good a sorcerer as that dirty old man.”
“Doubtful. I’ve shook more dust off my feet than you’ve trod across—“
“Have the decency to let royalty finish her remarks—“
“Enough!” cried Clee aloud. “I’m the Necromancer. Speak when you’re spoken to.”
“How—how dare you--“
“Boy, you don’t know—“
“I said enough or I’ll stop listening to you at all. This talking out loud to myself isn’t going to work, either,” Clee said. “Can you hear me if I talk silently?” he thought.
“Yes, if you concentrate.”
“Then we’ll try it this way. It’s bad enough having to concentrate on what I’m thinking instead of paying attention to the outside world.
“Now, if I understand it right, I’ve got no powers myself beyond concentrating and talking to the dead, is that right? I want to do anything else, I have to ask a demon?”
“Then we’ll call up some demons. But I also want to know, if the Temple doesn’t summon demons, how’d they beat the Xee so many years ago?”
“Don’t know, boy.”
“It was a Miracle by the offices of the Temple priests. Ask one of them.”
“You fried them all, and I never –Ignatius!”
“Leave me alone, boy,” thought Ignatius. “This sorcery is an abomination to the LORD.”
“No, you’re in the defense of Orvma,” thought Clee. “We’ve got a day to explore our powers. How did the Temple defeat the Xee?”
“We prayed to the LORD. He granted a miracle,” thought Ignatius.
“Well, the whole city fasted and repented. And the LORD was merciful to his people.”
“All right, if that’s how the magic works, we’ll try it,” said Clee.
“Please don’t call it magic, boy, you blaspheme the name of the LORD—“
“Ignatius, please shut up,” thought Danan.
“Priest, be still with your preaching!” thought Pelena.
“Be nice to each other,” thought Clee. “I’ll summon Argomath – no, you said he’s busy. Who’s the other air demon?”
“Vaan,” thought Danan, “ and he likes poetry. Love poems, mostly.”
“Well I didn’t use him that often. I don’t go in for love poetry,” thought Danan.
“Summon your demon,” thought Pelena. “I heard about a billion love poems as High Queen of Orvma.”
’Can do,” thought Clee, and then he thought, this might work!
“LORD willing,” thought Ignatius.
They were out of spears now, and arrows flew like hail. Soon those would be exhausted, and it would be sword work. And then what?
No cheering now from the militia, hard at work hewing the steady fall of Xee onto every surface, every street, every wall, every roof. Arms ached with the effort of flailing into the soft mass of insects and no end in sight.
Suddenly a gout of flame seared the air, and burning Xee fell in droves. A whooshing noise rose overhead, and two dragons soared from the Temple mount, slaying Xee with every breath.
“Dragons! Dragons fight for Orvma!” shouted the people, amazed. Weren’t dragons the enemy?
And then a great wind came, and scattered the Xee as they came in to land. It nearly toppled the men on the wall. It scattered tiles and dead Xee husks in the streets. It had a voice too.
“Turn and Repent! Turn and Repent says the LORD!” shouted the wind.
The people began to cheer again. This was the old time religion! They hewed and hacked with renewed hearts.
Demons appeared, throwing typhoon winds, fire, hailstones, lightning, rocks, debris, fallen weapons.
The dragons soared back and forth, burning and bursting as they swooped.
And the wind sang ’A time to fight, and a time to win!”
“Keep giving me verses, Ignatius,” thought Clee as he glided over the rooftops.
“I don’t think this is appropriate,” thought Ignatius.
“What else would you be doing now if you were alive?”
Vaan swung him onto the rampart next to the King. The king was drenched in Xee ichor and had a notched sword.
“Who are you!” he shouted at the flying naked boy.
’I’m Clee the apprentice, remember me?”
“No. Why are you naked? Why are you flying? Why are you burned?”
“Never mind. I’m the Necromancer now, and I need to know how many Xee are left.”
“See that horizon? It’s about twenty miles off,” shouted the King. “They’re from right here, to there! Got anything that can handle that?
“Find Argomath. He had a trick he said he could never show me,” thought Pelena.
“I, Necromancer, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, summon thee, Argomath, to come to me, and coming, obey!” shouted Clee.
Argomath appeared before him. “Congratulations on your promotion,” he boomed. “I’m sorry to have to rain on the parade, but I have an assignment from Higher Authority.”
“What's the trick you could never show Queen Pelena?” asked Clee.
“Oh. Wow. Yeah that would do it,” said Argomath. “One megaton airburst, coming up!”
“What!” shouted Clee, but the demon was gone.
“He said wanmega tonairburst” thought Danan.
Argomath came back. “Oh yeah. EVERYBODY DUCK,” he boomed over the noise of battle.
After the Battle
A blinding flash, a tearing roar, and physical blow of the shockwave raced across Orvma. Thousands of Xee were slammed together in the blast, blown for miles beyond the town. A great mushroom cloud of dust rose on the plain south of the city. The fireball did not enter the city itself, but Clee felt a searing wave of heat pass over him.
He had forgotten to ground himself, and he slammed into a wall across the street from the rampart. “Oof”, said Clee, and fell to the ground.
Above him the dragons tumbled in a sky packed with dead and burning Xee.
“Was that what I thought it was?” asked Corir.
“Hmmm. Nope,” said Skol. “No radiation. Just a massive kinetic displacement.”
“Is that possible for an air demon?”
“Apparently so. Thought only the aspect of Destruction gave a blast like that, but a non-nuclear explosion is apparently within their powers.”
“Nice trick,” said Corir.
“No it is not,” said Skol. “I begin to think this experiment has gone out of control.”
“They’re praising the LORD down there too.”
“Ah well, we’re not the Enemy. Can’t undo a mistake.”
“It’s a short term experiment anyhow,” said Corir.
“Time to end this one?” said Skol.
“Let’s try a pep talk,” said Corir.
“Vaan!” roared Skol.
The air demon apported. “Yes, my lord?”
“Fetch us the Necromancer!”
Beyond the blast radius, the Xee queens turned south. The blast had been big enough of a hazard to trigger their instincts. They no longer sought the city of Orvma.
Their thousands of colonist Xee turned with them.
And the millions of escorting drones moved too.
“They’re turning away!”
The people turned to look, not believing at first. Then they began to cheer.
King Jason, his ears still ringing, heard them. “Another miracle!” he breathed.
“Trumpeters!” he shouted. “Blow the royal salute!”
Above him the dragons soared back to the Temple. “Thanks friends,” King Jason said quietly. ’Runners! Tell all my captains to assemble the militia ensigns. We’re to have a conference and get this city cleaned of Xee. Create pyres by the serai. Attend to our wounded.
“And where’s that burned lad?” he asked, looking around the ramparts.
A soldier pointed behind them, at two figures rising through the air towards the Temple.
“He does get around,” muttered the King. Around him, the rams horns blew the royal salute, and the people below him cheered mightily.
Clee was borne by winds back to the Temple room.
“I know you don’t want my advice,” thought Ignatius.
“That’s for sure,” thought Pelena.
“But I remind you not to be manipulated,” thought Ignatius. “They are controlling creatures and servants of evil.”
“That’s for sure,” thought Danan.
“I’ll bear it in mind,” said Clee aloud.
“Necromancer,” growled Skol.
“A fine mess you’ve made of things,” said Corir.
’We saved the city,” said Clee. “That’s got to be good.”
“But you did it in the name of the LORD,” said Corir. “And that’s not what we wanted.”
“Why did you think to praise the LORD?” asked Skol.
“Orvma beat off the attacks of the Xee once before, and not with magic,” said Clee. “So I asked a priest for help.”
“Well, you have the power to put him aside forever,” said Skol. “Do so.”
“No,” said Clee.
“You defy us?” roared Corir.
“What more can you do to me?” wailed Clee. “You disfigured me, you killed all my friends. You gonna kill me now too? Again?”
The dragons said nothing.
Clee said, “You had some reason for giving me powers. You didn’t need me to save the city. I don’t know what your game is, but, if it’s not over, then get off my back.”
“Easy,” thought Danan.
Clee said, “I don’t know what your game is, but I’m saving humanity from the Xee. If you’re in agreement, we can work together. I don’t work for you though.”
“Insolent human,” said Skol.
“Yah,” said Clee. “But we can get along.”
Pelena thought, “Good for you! Take no commands from anybody.”
“Remind them how you can help,” thought Danan.
“Ask them why they oppose the LORD,” thought Ignatius.
Corir said, “You are an insolent worm. The most severe punishment I can think of, is to let you try to straighten your life out without our help.”
Skol said, “We can take off an arm.”
“Let the master handle this. You’re dismissed, Necromancer.”
“I haven’t finished,” said Clee.
“Argomath!” roared Corir.
The demon apported. “Yes, my lord?”
“Blow him back to the King. Let him explain where the Queen is,” said Corir.
Skol said, “Just because you have the aspect of Mind does not make you Master.”
“Don’t bicker in front of the lesser beings.”
The dragons began to hiss at each other as Clee was lifted off his feet and blown backwards.
“That went well,” thought Danan.
“We survived,” thought Pelena.
“They argue with each other. Interesting. I haven’t made a study of the hierarchy of the Others—“
“Good. Then shut up about it,” thought Danan. “Pelena? Do you have a message for the King that Clee should deliver?”
“He’s your husband!”
“Not anymore. ‘Til death do you part’. I’m a free spirit.”
“She’s technically right,” said Ignatius. “The very point once came up—“
“All right, but bend your heads around the fact that Clee’s got to deliver the bad news without getting executed,” said Danan.
“What’s that?” gasped Clee.
He looked to the east. A towering figure of light stood silently over the city of Orvma. It was a winged figure and held a blazing sword.
“Oh oh,” said Argomath. “That’s not evil at all.”
The figure stood as tall as the noonday sun, and just as hard to look at. Everybody was shielding their eyes trying to look at it, just the same. It stood there silently for ten minutes, then vanished.
“What’s it mean?” asked the King. But there were none to tell him.
“Here comes the Burned Lad!” shouted a soldier.
Clee and Argomath came sailing over the rooftops. Clee dropped a short way to the floor of the rampart, and Argomath disappeared.
’Put a cloak on or something, boy,” said the King.
A soldier offered Clee a stained cloak. Clee draped it around himself, said, “There is something I must tell you in private, your majesty.”
“You have saved our city! I proclaim you an earl of Orvma!” shouted the King, to cheers.
“Thank him and insist,” thought Pelena.
’Your majesty does me honor. But I must speak with you privately,” said Clee aloud.
“A week of feasting! Starting tonight!” shouted the King.
“Bow,” said Danan.
Clee bowed. “Your majesty…”
The King gripped his shoulder, waved to the cheering crowd below the rampart, murmured, “Wave, boy. And get yourself bathed and clothed properly.” He released Clee, turned to leave.
“Tell him he smells and weighs a ton!” thought Pelena.
“What?” said Clee aloud.
“What what?” said the King.
“Say it!” thought Pelena.
“You smell and erm, you weigh a ton,” said Clee.
The King goggled at him. “What did you say? Who told you to say that?”
The King paced the rampart and wept.
“Keep quiet,” thought Ignatius.
“I warned her about sorcery. I warned her it was no good,” said the King, staring at the Temple. Wrath contorted his face. “I’ll have those dragons roasted on a spit. I’ll take that Temple if it costs me every man in the Army. I swear by the—“
“Majesty!” said Clee sharply.
“That’s the spirit, lunkhead!” thought Pelena. “Avenge me Henren style!”
“Keep quiet, Pelena,” thought Danan.
“What?” said the King.
“We’re not out of trouble yet,” said Clee.
“Did she say that? Is that her opinion?”
“Err..no. She wants you to kill the dragons, in fact. I don’t know that’s such a good idea,” said Clee.
“You don’t? You’re a boy and she’s a queen!”
“Tell him, lunkhead!” thought Pelena.
“Tell him I vote not to kill the dragons yet,” said Danan.
“Remind him about the archangel hovering over the city,” said Ignatius.
“It’s two to one we don’t do anything against the dragons yet. There’s that archangel over the city.”
“Look boy, er, Necromancer. It’s been a long day. I need some rest, and I want you to get some too. Then, advise me. But only after consideration, you hear? I don’t want boyish foolishness,” said the King.
“I could, I’ve been up twenty-four hours,” said Clee.
“Well that’s right then. Come back to the Palace. We’ll walk,” said the King quickly. “Er, is she happy, where she’s at?”
“Fat lot he really cares,” thought Pelena.
“Don’t confuse the boy,” said Danan.
“Don’t tell lies just to make people feel better,” said Ignatius.
“Well, yes, she’s happy where she’s at. I mean she misses you.”
“So she’s not happy without me?”
“Warned you,” said Ignatius.
“Um, well, actually she’s kind of bitchy,” said Clee.
“Brat!” thought Pelena.
The King grunted. “Stay by me lad, in the years to come. We’ll hold this city.” He brightened. “And there’s the feasting to look forwards to!”
“I’d rather have a long sleep,” said Clee, and yawned.
So it happened that “the Burned Lad” wasn’t at the first night’s party. And his legend grew.
Dreams and Dramas
That night Clee slept, and dreamt.
He dreamt he was in a forested glade, with a busy brook bubbling over rocks with a happy sound. He was enveloped by a sense of peace and contentment.
“I often come here in my mind, when I want to think,” said Ignatius.
Clee turned and saw the priest reclining under the roots of a tree.
“How do you come to be here?” asked Clee.
“We’re always with you,” said the priest. “It just happens that while you’re asleep we have a little more influence on what goes on. Don’t begrudge us some simple pleasures, please. It’s little enough we can enjoy, being dead.”
“Yeah, don’t wreck it for us, boy,” called Danan. Clee turned and saw the sorcerer leading what looked like a small safari to a shady nook. The servants unpacked a seventeen course picnic lunch.
“Not bad, Danan,” said Pelena, walking over swinging her arms. “Ah, to feel again! You must sleep in every day, Clee.”
“Yes, do,” said Danan.
Naked men walked into the brook. They were athletic and oiled, and they began to wrestle.
“Whose dream is that?” asked Clee.
“Mine,” said Pelena dreamily.
“You’ll confuse the boy,” said Danan with his mouth full.
“There’s no reason you two can’t enjoy yourselves here,” said the priest, standing up. “I’d like to talk to Clee, if you don’t mind.”
“Go ahead,” said Danan. “There will be other nights for teaching. I’m getting in touch with my self again.”
“Yes, run along little boy,” said Pelena, as two wrestlers came over and began to massage her. “You and the priest go for walkies.”
“Let’s go for a stroll,” said Ignatius.
“Do dragons sleep?” asked Clee.
“Hadn’t thought. Never heard anything about it,” said Ignatius. “Why?”
“I can learn while I’m sleeping. I wonder if they do it,” said Clee. They turned into a pleasant little forest, with ferns under great trees.
“You dream vividly,” said the priest.
“I don’t remember my dreams,” said the priest sadly. “I suppose they were normal. A person doesn’t really control their dreams, do they?”
“I guess I don’t at all,” said Clee.
“We hadn’t really been acquainted before you ensorcelled me,” said Ignatius. “I’ve been thinking hard on it, and I think the only good I could do here is through you, if that makes sense to you.”
“You mean convert me,” said Clee.
“That might be a bit much to hope for,” said Ignatius. “At the very least I can help stop others from corrupting you. Like those dragons.”
“I stood up to them,” said Clee.
“Good for you,” said Ignatius. “You know that business about identity being relative is balderdash. I was very glad when you hesitated to use the name, Necromancer. You’re Clee.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Clee.
“It’s something the best of us work on very hard,” said the priest. “But to say you’re free from all influences, to say your identity has no tie to the past, to make up a false name and say, ‘I am free to do what I will’, well that’s almost always the start of great evil. I think that is why those dragons were so keen for you to do it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well in life, we do start new things, we do take on new roles,” said Ignatius. “But we must always remember that our eternal soul remains constant. We must always keep a sense of shame.”
“To me, it means walking upright in the sight of God. But even if you don’t believe God is watching you, you could at least refrain from bringing disgust and hatred of the name “Clee”,” said the priest.
“You believe God is always watching you?” asked Clee.
“Is that so hard to believe? After what’s happened to you these last few days?”
“What’s your God want with Orvma?” asked Clee.
“I’ve been thinking on that. I think he wanted Orvma to make way for the Xee,” said Ignatius.
“So we defeated the will of God?” asked Clee.
“Not possible,” said Ignatius. “And that makes me wonder what happens next.”
“You won’t get me to stop helping humans fight the Xee,” said Clee. “It’s what I’m meant to do.”
“You may be meant to try, as confusing as that is to me,” said Ignatius. “On that subject, I think you can use the help of the others.”
“This whole muddle must be against your God,” said Clee.
“It’s not what I’d have chosen,” said Ignatius. “So we must make the best of it while it lasts.”
They found Danan and Pelena both reclining under a great oak tree, with a sated look on their faces.
“All right, you’re just pretending to be overwhelmed with pleasure,” said Ignatius. “And that’s overdoing it. The least you can do is give the boy a lesson in courtly table manners. He’s going to need it.”
“Don’t lecture me, priest,” snapped Pelena.
“What else is there?”
“He’s got a point. Let’s get the dishes set up correctly,” said Danan. “Now, we start with small dishes, such as nuts—“
“Don’t skip the entrance. An earl must make an entrance,” said Pelena.
Clee sighed (without actually breathing) and sat to listen.
Clee was awakened by a crowd of servants.
“I am Stannak, the royal butler, my lord,” said a fat man with a greasy smile.”His majesty is out for his morning ride. He begs you to join him for breakfast.”
“I’d be glad to,” said Clee.
“His majesty asked me to offer my suggestions to you, being new to the nobility. The usual form is to ask the butler to convey your compliments to his majesty, and your gratification at being asked.”
“You’re an earl now,” thought Pelena. “Don’t forget it.”
“Thank you, Stannak,” said Clee.
“His majesty asked me to provide you with suitable clothes for your breakfast, and to have the royal tailor assist you in choosing a wardrobe.”
“Violet,” though Danan, “The arcane color of death, and blue-green for the color of magic.”
“Something in violet and blue-green, I think,” said Clee.
“Indeed my lord?” said Stannak with brows raised. He paused, then said, “Very well my lord.”
“I’ll want a veil too,” said Clee quickly. “Always a veil.”
“Indeed my lord? That is hardly fashionable.”
“A good choice,” thought Danan. “Appear mysterious and menacing.”
“It’s for my face,” thought Clee.
“Nobody is going to mock an earl,” thought Pelena. “Well unless they’re starting something.”
“A veil, Stannak,” said Clee aloud. “And gloves.”
“Very well my lord.”
Soon he was viewing himself in a full-length mirror held by two servants. He was wearing a black turban with an ostrich feather, a violet robe with a blue-green sash, and red leather slippers. He had black gloves and a black veil.
“Excellent,” said Stannak.
“It will do for today,” said Clee, remembering what Pelena had taught him. “Let us attend his Majesty.”
They walked down the halls of the Palace, to a great chamber. Clee remembered to stand outside while “The Earl of Manach” was announced to the company, then strode in and bowed to those assembled without making eye contact, as was proper for an earl.
“You get the coffee,” hissed a Duke in his ear. Clee nodded.
The King strode in, servants hustling along to towel off his sweat. “Morning all,” he said to those bowing around him, and sat on his favorite pillow. “Eggs! Just the way I like them. Thanks, your grace.”
“Majesty,” said the duke unctously.
“Coffee ain’t hot enough,” growled the King. “Never is.”
“I, Necromancer, son of Adam, conjurer of Eden, summon Sepet, demon of water, to come to me, and coming, obey!” shouted Clee.
A demon appeared before them, to the murmur of the nobles.
“Boil this water,” said Clee, remembering the proper way to reheat coffee at a royal table. “Majesty, it will just be a minute.”
“Nice service,” laughed the King.
“Spoiled oaf,” thought Pelena.
“Oh shut up, you’ll get him in trouble,” thought Danan.
“You’re the earl of Manach, Clee,” said the King. “It’s occupied territory, I’m afraid.”
“The Xee didn’t retreat. They just flew south a bit. They’re in Manach, between this city and Gepeth,” said the King.
“I see. Er, Majesty,” said Clee.
“We’ll have to rout them before they get their hives going,” said King Jason. “I won’t cede this valley to the Xee!”
“Hurrah!” shouted all the nobles but Clee.
“You don’t approve, Manach?” said the King to Clee.
“Do I?” thought Clee.
“We’ve got the sorcery for it,” thought Danan.
“Not sure it’s appropriate,” thought Ignatius.
“What’s Gepeth and Konon doing for us? Why haven’t we heard from them?” thought Pelena. “Damned hothead wants to rip up Orvma on his own.”
“What news of Konon and Gepeth?” asked Clee aloud.
“Hmm,” said the King. “I haven’t heard any news. Better have all the help I can.” He slurped his coffee, accepted another cup.
“What of the dragons on the Temple mount, Sire,” asked a noble.
“Yes. I’ll want us all to think on that,” said the King, looking hard at Clee. “In fact, Manach, I’ll want you to meditate on that one particularly hard all day.”
“Majesty? I mean, Yes, Your Majesty,” said Clee.
“What of the funeral for the Queen?” asked a noble hesitantly.
“That can wait,” said the King. “I’ll have to consult with my father in law the chieftain of the Henren on that one. And we’ll need a prelate from Konon or Gepeth to officiate.
While we’re waiting, let’s think about suitable candidates for a replacement Queen. I want all your advice, do you think I should go foreign or domestic? I admit to liking the exotic flavor now and again,” he laughed, and the whole company laughed with him, except for Clee.
“Why that gobstuttering oafbrained ingrate of a pestilence,” thought Pelena. “After all I did for him!”
“You ought have expected it,” said Ignatius.
“Shh, there’s trouble coming,” thought Danan.
“Our new companion, the Earl of Manach, does not share his Majesty’s pleasure,” said a fancy parrot of a noble, arching his brows.
“None of that,” said the King sharply. “Manach has my orders to think first and speak last. I don’t want anybody mocking him for his lack of courtly flair. Especially you, Banas, your wit’s too sharp for a Necromancer,” he said lightly, trying to take the sting out of the rebuke.
Banas bowed low, held it, said, “ I but seek to serve your Majesty.”
“Remove your veil,” thought Ignatius.
“Yes,” thought Danan. “And say “I also serve His Majesty.”
Clee did so, and caused a murmur of sympathy from the nobles.
“Necromancer, you are dismissed,” said the King. “Think on our troubles and give us your –considered-- wisdom this evening.” Clee bowed low, dismissed the demon Sepet, and backed out of the room.
“That Banas is an oily bastard,” thought Pelena. “He was always making trouble for me. I think he has it in for Henren. He’ll be a vote for a domestic choice, probably a relative.”
“Don’t embroil the boy in court politics,” said Danan. “It’s safer to stay out.”
“No it is not,” said Pelena. “He’s under fire and better fire back.”
“Isn’t our best safety in being indispensable?” asked Ignatius.
“Yes,” thought Danan emphatically. “So what does that mean?”
“Dealing with the dragons,” said Pelena.
“Yes,’ thought Danan. “If we can find a way to get rid of them,”
“I think the dragons are likely to have plans of their own,” said Ignatius. “Perhaps its our role to hear what they are.”
“We’re under royal command to sit in our rooms and meditate,” thought Clee.
“That just means you answer to that pig,” thought Pelena. “Leave him to me.”
“He can’t,” thought Danan.
’You know what I mean.”
“Actually, I don’t,” thought Clee.
A breeze stirred the curtains of his room. A persistant breeze. Clee rose to shut the window, saw Argomath loitering outside.
“They want you,” said Argomath.
Corir and Skol were waiting in the same chamber.
“What are you doing in those clothes?” asked Skol.
“I’m Earl of Manach,” said Clee. “Why can’t you clean up the bodies at least?”
“This is quite fitting for a dragon’s audience chamber,” said Corir. “We can imagine them away, if you like.”
“I’m fine with reality,” said Clee. “What are your plans for Orvma?”
“How are you getting along with the others?” said Skol.
“We’re very interested in seeing you ripen,” said Corir.
“We’re all getting along just fine,” said Clee.
“Then you’re not trying hard enough,” said Corir. “You ought to be putting tension on them, like a team of horses.”
“Is that what you do?” asked Clee.
The dragons looked at each other. “No help here,” said Corir. “Remember?”
“So what do you want of me?” asked Clee.
“What’s King Jason going to do next?” asked Skol.
“They want you for a palace spy,” said Danan. “Don’t help them!”
“He’s wondering what you’re going to do next,” said Clee aloud. “And he’s wondering what Gepeth and Konon are going to do about the Xee.”
“And?” said Corir.
“He sent me to my room to think about it, and discuss it tonight,” said Clee. “And then Argomath came for me.”
“You’re not very inquisitive,” said Skol.
“Well I’m not a spy,” said Clee. “What I was thinking was, I could be a courier between you and the King.”
“One reason I gave you Pelena to play with was to get into palace intrigues,” said Corir. “Get onto that, for your own sake.”
“An earl can do no less,” said Skol.
“I’ll try,” said Clee.
“You’ll do better than try, or you’ll get your throat cut,” said Corir. “Who’s in the top running for replacement Queen of Orvma?”
“I was sent away when they started talking about it,” said Clee. “I think you’re being overly mysterious and also assuming I’m going to help you.”
“Well it’s because you don’t obey orders, we don’t tell you too much,” said Skol.
“And also, we want you to develop your own capabilities,” said Corir.
“You could help me right now by telling the King what you have planned for Orvma,” said Clee. “That way I bring something to the table.”
’We had planned to begin worship of Baal,” said Skol.
“And Omto,” said Corir. “But you’ve made that very difficult.”
“The Xee are in Manach. Will you fight them if the King marches?” asked Clee.
’Yes. Tell the King yes,” said Skol.
“And tell him to come collect the bodies of his priests and his Queen,” said Corir. “We won’t interfere in that.”
“Do you sleep?” asked Clee.
The dragons looked at each other. “Next you’ll ask about our body armor,” said Skol.
“Just assume we’re always alert and we’ll get on fine,” said Corir. “That’s all, my lord of Manach.”
“My lords,” said Clee, bowing, as he was wafted backwards through the air.
“That went well,” thought Danan.
“You did well standing up for yourself,” thought Ignatius.
“Summon Stannak and speak to him alone when we get back,” thought Pelena. “It’s time you started to intrigue.”
“That’s all right, Argomath,” said Clee aloud. “I prefer to walk home.”
“Sorry my lord,” said Argomath, “ I have my orders as well. Got to make an impression on the populace.”
“Oh very well,” said Clee, and rode the rest of the way home silently.
He jumped through the open window, and nearly shouted when he saw Banas lying on the bed.
“Well look who’s out of his room without permission,” said Banas.
“What are you doing in my room?”
“What are you doing out of it?”
“I was talking to the dragons,” said Clee. There was no point pretending to keep that a secret.
“Show off” said Banas. He leapt to his feet. “I don’t like you Henren sorcerers. For two bits I’d have you packed off to the Northlands. Don’t think I couldn’t manage it!” he snarled. “But as it happens, I tend to think you actually do want to serve his Majesty. And that’s why I’m bothering with you, imp.”
“What’s that?” asked Clee.
“My sister, the Countess Amalda, is going to be the next Queen of Orvma,” said Banas. “Does that shock you, sorcerer?”
“That bitch!” thought Pelena.
“Not particularly,” said Clee aloud.
“Well she is. We’ve been working on it for years. Since before Amalda was born. In a way, it’s just as well Pelena got herself roasted when she did,” said Banas. “But what I was thinking, I was thinking you want to serve His Majesty. You want to do the right thing by him. You want to be the one to suggest he marry Amalda.”
“Stall,” thought Danan.
“I’ll think it over,” said Clee.
That enraged Banas. “What’s to think over?”
“I think everything over,” said Clee. “I tell you honestly, part of me doesn’t care if Amalda becomes Queen. Part of me wants to stay out of it. And part of me hates your guts.”
“Just stay out of my family’s way, Clee,” said Banas, jerking the door open.
“Two things, Banas,” said Clee.
“The dragons asked me who was the likely next Queen of Orvma,” said Clee. “Should I tell them?”
“And the other thing?” said Banas.
“Does Amalda love the King?”
“Oh no,” said Banas. “Oh no you don’t. Don’t try to make me think you a fool, Clee.” And he left.
“Send for Stannak,” thought Pelena. “Right now.”
“Page!” yelled Clee down the hall. And he asked to see the royal butler.
“Ask him if the King’s meat goes for half price on the black market,” thought Pelena.
“Just do it. And then ask for the same information Banas is getting. You don’t have to get it first. In fact, he can tell Banas you asked for it.”
“It’s sad, the web spun by sin,” thought Ignatius.
“Oh, shut up.”
Stannak came down the hall with a retinue. “You called, my lord?”
“I’ll see you alone, Stannak,” said Clee.
The butler’s red face turned a greasy pallor when Clee asked about the black market.
“That’s an ignoble accusation, my lord,” he stammered.
“None of my concern,” said Clee. “Just see that whatever you tell Banas, you tell me. For instance, what’s tonight’s report?”
“The Lady Hannah stopped by and found you out of your room. She hasn’t told the King yet. The Dukes of Nonad and Repal have their own relatives in mind for the throne, but could be persuaded to support Amalda. Amalda, that’s the sister—“
“Yes, I know. What else?”
“Nothing of substance, my lord…”
“Then share with me a trifle. I’ll find it out from my demons anyhow.”
The butler turned green. “Demons?”
“How do you think I found out about the meat?”
The butler seemed to collapse. “The priests of the hinterland are ready to rise up if the King abandons the LORD. Amalda’s engagement will appease their worries. If she’s rejected, then…”
“Alright Stannak. You may go.” Clee opened the door and the butler oozed out like jelly. “Oh, and it’s very sad Stannak.”
“The web woven by sin.” He closed the door and went to the bed, threw himself on it.
A knock came from the door. He went and opened it. A woman in a fine dress stood stooping in the hall. “Quickly, quickly,” she said, and rushed past him into his room.
“Hello?” said Clee.
She giggled. “Royal command.” She held out a hand. “I’m the Lady Hannah.”
“Oh,” said Clee, shaking her hand. “I’m Clee—the Earl of Manach.”
“Skip that silly,” said Hannah. “I don’t go around calling myself Princess.”
“Princess?” said Clee.
“Of course. I’m the King’s third cousin. Cousin Jason sent me.”
“Oh. What’s the message?” asked Clee.
Hannah giggled, undid her shoulder brooch, let her dress fall off.
Clee had seen naked women before, living among the Henren. He did not see anything significant in Hannah disrobing before him.
“Why that no good, low down, stinking, bilge rat of a whores son bastard,” thought Pelena.
“Disgraceful!” thought Ignatius.
“Uh, Clee,” thought Danan. “What you’re being offered, that is, what you must do here…”
“He mustn’t!” thought Ignatius.
“He must,” thought Danan. “He’s the king’s favored.”
“King’s favored!” hissed Pelena, which was impressive for thinking. “COUSIN!”
“What are you talking about,” thought Clee.
“It’s what you’re not thinking, that’s the concern,” sighed Danan.
“He mustn’t!” thought Ignatius.
“Oh, didn’t you hear confessions,” thought Danan.
“Um,” said Clee. “I need time to think.”
“Oh really?” sniffed Hannah, hands on her bare hips.
“Oh here,” thought Pelena. “Do what I say, without thinking twice about it…”
“Disgraceful!” thought Ignatius. “All the worse because you don’t regret it!”
“Mmmmm” said Hannah, nuzzling Clee. “You’re very good.”
“Better than the slut deserves,” thought Pelena.
’That uh,” thought Danan, “that, uh, was really, uh…”
“We’re supposed to be a Christian people,” thought Ignatius.
“Hannah? You don’t mind that I’m…burnt?”
“No silly. Not when you can love me like that.” She curled into a ball. “Yay.”
Clee sat up. “Thanks.”
“Clee? You weren’t in your room when I came earlier. I had to tell the King. See, he sent me.”
“That’s all right. I’d better go see him now. It’s evening and I want to report to him.” Clee got up, put on his veil and gloves, robe and sash, and turban. Hannah watched him dress.
“What do you think about Amalda as Queen of Orvma? You’re for it, aren’t you?”
Clee gawked at her, then left the room.
Hannah called “CLEE! You’re barefoot!”
He came back, put on his boots, left without saying anything.
King Jason was preparing for his evening tour of the city. “Ah, Manach, just the man. Well rested?” laughed the King, elbowing Clee hard in the ribs.
“Clee,” thought Pelena, “if you dare brag, I will never speak to you again.”
“Hardly, your Majesty,” said Clee.
“Haw haw,” laughed the King. “Ride out with me.”
The trumpeters blared the royal salute, and they began to march. Clee felt sore in his lower body, and wished he could beg off the long ride.
“You disobeyed me, Clee,” said Jason mildly.
“I was summoned by the dragons,” said Clee. “They asked me who was in the lead for new Queen of Orvma.”
“Did they! And perhaps they are the only ones not pushing for Amalda!”
Clee choked. “I was asked to put it to your Majesty.”
“And will you?” Jason looked at him hard.
“The priests of the hinterland will stay loyal if you marry Amalda.”
The King gaped.
“For myself, I note the lady doesn’t love you,” said Clee.
“I should say not! She’s a spoiled brat!”
“Your Majesty should know better than I,” said Clee.
“What else have you heard?” asked the King.
“The dragons will fly against the Xee if you ride. They wished to start worship of Baal and Omto in the city, but are confounded in that we fought the Xee in the name of the LORD. They asked me to involve myself in palace intrigue,” said Clee.
“You’re uncommon straightforward,” said the King. “It makes me glad.”
“I’m for you,” said Clee. “And honesty comes naturally to me.”
’Yes, and I’m for you, Clee. You’re an honest man, and well, how did you enjoy Hannah?”
“That pig!” thought Pelena.
“Shhhh…” thought Ignatius. “I think I know what’s coming. The boy will need our counsel.”
“Quiet”, thought Danan.
“…hasn’t told me,” said the King, “but , well, you are a man’s man, aren’t you?”
“I guess I am,” said Clee. “If I get your meaning.”
“And discreet. That’s good. That’s very good.
“I got word from Konon and Gepeth today,” continued the King. “Gepeth wants to remain idle. They berate me for allowing the Temple to be isolated. Konon now…has all but declared war.”
“Read this,” the King said.
“I can’t—oh wait, let me try,” said Clee. He looked at the letters, and Ignatius read for him:
YOU HAVE BETRAYED THE LORD AND HE HAS GIVEN YOUR KINGDOM TO THE ARMY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
“Foolishness,” said the King. “Konon is beyond the great desert, and no army can pass across it, righteous or not.”
“So what is the problem? Majesty.”
“I need Gepeth to remain neutral. I’d marry a daughter of Gepeth, but, they aren’t that close to us, and frankly, it looks like you’re right about Amalda. I need the hinterland more than ever now.
“So I’m building contacts with Gepeth. I’m giving gifts of arms, and I’ve agreed one of their prelates can be Patriarch of the Temple here. I’m not hiring any of the sorcerers coming here seeking my patronage. And well, there’s one other thing I can do for Gepeth. And you.
“I’m sending you south to marry.”
“Hoo boy, thought so,” thought Ignatius. “That’s what comes of dropping your pants around royalty.”
’Agree,” thought Pelena.
“You’re stuck, boy,” thought Danan.
“I’m not really asking you, Manach. You’re ordered to Gepeth to marry. You’ll meet your bride on the border and marry there. You’ll come north with her and leave her in the City.
“You’re too open to be caught between me and the dragons. You’re loyal so I trust you in Gepeth. You’ve offended Banas, but you’ve done him the favor he asked you, so he won’t be set against you. –Think— about things as you go, and come back better prepared.
“You need this breathing space, and I need whatever aid you can bring north with your bride. You’ll leave me tomorrow.”
“But I thought I’d be at your side for years,” said Clee. “You’re the only live friend I’ve got.”
“You wound me, Clee. But what Jason would do for Clee, well, it’s not what the King can do for the Earl.”
“No buts, Manach. Obey me in this. For both our sakes.”
“But—what’s her name?”