The Seven Towers (Firebird Fantasy)

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9780142411209: The Seven Towers (Firebird Fantasy)

They are seven players in a game of deadly magic? Eltiron, Prince of Sevarin; Crystalorn, Princess of Barinash; Ranlyn, the desert rider; Jermain, the outlaw; Vandaris, the soldier; Carachel, the Wizard-King; and Amberglas, the sorceress. Each of them has a secret, and each fights his or her part in the thrilling battle that has put seven kingdoms on the very edge of destruction. Filled with wit, swordplay, humor, and intrigue, this early novel is one of Patricia C. Wrede?s best.

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About the Author:

Patricia C. Wrede lives in Edina, Minnesota.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

 

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

The Matholych

By the time Amberglas finished, both of her listeners were thoroughly alarmed. The Matholych was something very old and powerful, which destroyed people and animals wherever it moved. Only sorcery could fight it, though unfortunately no one seemed to know exactly what kind of sorcery. There were a great many different theories, but since the Matholych ate magic, testing them was apt to be rather awkward.

“I thought you said the Matholych ate people,” Crystalorn objected.

“Not at all,” Amberglas replied. “It eats magic, and there is quite a large amount of magical power in killing people and animals. Of course, getting power that way is a bit unpleasant, which may explain why it is generally regarded as Black Sorcery by everyone who doesn’t use it.”

Eltiron shuddered. Somehow, killing animals to get magic from their deaths seemed much worse than killing them for food. “And this thing is coming north?”

“Quite soon.”

FIREBIRD

WHERE FANTASY TAKES FLIGHT™

FIREBIRD
Published by the Penguin Group
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Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in the United States of America by Ace Fantasy Books,
The Berkley Publishing Group, 1984
Published by Firebird, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2008

Copyright © Patricia C. Wrede, 1984

All rights reserved

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA IS AVAILABLE

 

eISBN : 978-1-101-01990-0

For Joel and Beth, who listened with great patience to many improbable ideas, and for Nate, Pam, Steve, Kara, Will, and Emma, who wouldn’t let me get away with any of them.

CHAPTER 1

Jermain crouched low on his horse’s neck as he urged the animal to greater speed. Small branches stung his face as they whipped past, but he barely felt them. He could hear the sounds of his pursuers crashing through the brush behind him. Too close, they were much too close; he didn’t know this forest well enough to lose them. He shut the thought out of his mind and concentrated on escape.

The trees were becoming larger; good. He might be able to gain some ground once his horse was clear of this little bushy stuff. He dug his heels into Blackflame’s sides. The horse responded at once. Jermain felt the lengthening stride and knew a moment’s hope. No one in the Border Guard had a horse to match Blackflame. Perhaps he could get away from them before blood loss forced him to stop.

Expertly he guided his mount through the trees. He could feel himself weakening, but he could not spare a hand to staunch the blood. Desperately he spurred the horse once more. His eyes searched the forest for a shelf of rock, a stream, something he could use to hide his trail. He found nothing.

His vision blurred, but he did not dare to stop. He clamped his right arm against his side, clenching his teeth against the pain. The pressure might slow down the bleeding, or it might not, but the pain would keep him conscious a little longer. He could make it yet. The shouts and horns were fainter; he had gained a little ground.

The forest seemed to be thinning ahead; perhaps he could gain a little more time. He guided Blackflame toward the place where the trees grew farthest apart. A moment later, they broke into a large clearing. Jermain had just time to see the slight, startled figure standing in Blackflame’s path; then the horse planted its forefeet and stopped, so abruptly that it was forced back almost on its haunches. Jermain was flung forward out of the saddle and fell heavily to the ground.

Darkness and pain surged over him. Jermain forced them back. He couldn’t pass out now; he would lose too much time. “Dear me,” a voice said somewhere above him. “That was a rough stop. Are you hurt?”

Jermain opened his eyes and blinked in disbelief. A woman stood a few feet away, her back toward him. A heavy mass of steel-colored hair fell to the waist of her pale blue gown. Blackflame stood in front of her, trembling from exertion. The woman had one hand out, stroking Blackflame’s nose. She was talking to the horse.

To the horse? Jermain blinked again. He tried to roll onto his side so he could see more clearly, and a fresh wave of pain made him gasp. Apparently he had broken a rib or two in that fall. The noise attracted the woman’s attention; she turned and looked at Jermain. She was young; not a damsel of sixteen, certainly, but no more than thirty, and obviously a lady.

“It’s quite all right,” she said vaguely. “I will be there in a minute. Of course, you’re here, so it really doesn’t matter, but most people seem to feel better if I explain about these things.” She turned back to the horse, and her head tilted to one side in critical examination.

For a moment, Jermain lay motionless. He would have cursed, but he had no energy for it. He tried again to get to his feet; he made it to his knees. The woman turned around again.

“You really shouldn’t do that, especially if you’re not feeling well, which I can see you aren’t, what with that hole in your side and so on. I assume you realize that, though one can never tell. People can be so very odd. There was a man I used to know, who always wore his boots on the wrong feet for one day out of every month. So I thought I’d mention it, in case you didn’t.”

“I have to get out of here,” Jermain croaked, ignoring her jumbled speech. She had to help him or he was finished for certain.

“No, you’ll be much better off staying here,” the woman said. “Well, not here precisely, at least not for very long. No, certainly not long; you would be very uncomfortable, I am sure, and the damp would get into your wound, which would probably give you a fever, though sometimes it doesn’t.”

Jermain ignored her completely this time. He was having trouble balancing on his knees, and he knew that if he fell over now he wouldn’t be able to get up again. He thought about it for a minute and decided to crawl. That, he could manage. He dropped to his hands and knees, and began working his way slowly toward Blackflame, trying not to think about the pain in his chest. The woman made no move to help or hinder him. “Really, you are being very silly,” she said kindly.

The sound of shouts and hoofbeats came clearly to Jermain, growing quickly louder. With the last of his strength, Jermain lunged for Blackflame’s stirrup. He missed and sprawled painfully on the ground, fighting to remain conscious. The woman walked over and knelt beside him; he felt gentle fingers on his injured side. “If you stop jumping about like that, you probably won’t bleed to death,” the woman said, and six horsemen broke into the clearing.

For a brief, nightmarish moment, Jermain was certain he would be trampled. He did not even have enough strength left to try to roll aside; somehow the horses missed him anyway. The Border Guards pulled their mounts to a halt, forming a circle around Jermain and the woman who knelt at his side. The woman blinked at them.

“Dear me,” she murmured. “Such a lot of people.”

The leader of the group, a burly man with a captain’s braid on the front of his faded jacket, looked at the woman in surprise. Evidently he came to the same conclusion Jermain had, for he bowed respectfully before he said briskly, “Lady, I am Captain Morenar of the King’s Border Guard. This man is a dangerous criminal. You will, of course, oblige us by retiring at once. I would not wish to distress you by executing him in your presence, and we can’t risk letting him escape.”

The woman looked critically down at Jermain, then back at the Captain. “Not at all,” she said firmly. “He does not look in the least dangerous. I’m quite willing to believe he is extremely foolish, but a great many people are, and I have never heard of anyone being executed for it, though I couldn’t say for sure that it’s never happened. Of course, if he continues to run about with that wound bleeding all over everything and making such a mess, you won’t have to.”

Morenar frowned and tried again. “Lady, we have been chasing this man for four hours; I assure you there is no mistake.”

“Well, it is certainly rude of you to contradict me, and I don’t believe you at all,” the woman said flatly. “At least, I believe you have been chasing him, but not for four hours, and certainly he’s not a criminal. Though I can understand why you say so; it would probably be very awkward for you to explain. So many things are; awkward, I mean. Large kettles, for instance, and carrying three brooms at once, and those fat brown birds with the red wings whose name I can’t remember just at present. They waddle.”

“Lady,” Morenar said, “we have not made a mistake.”

“I didn’t say you had. You obviously weren’t paying attention. Why are you chasing him?” the woman said.

“We are under orders direct from Leshiya,” Morenar replied, obviously relieved that the woman seemed to be making sense at last.

“But Leshiya is the capital of Sevairn,” the woman said gently. “And, of course, you’re not in Sevairn just now, and neither am I; but then, there are a great many places that aren’t—in Sevairn, I mean—so perhaps you hadn’t noticed. The border is back that way.” She pointed.

The Captain stared at her for a moment. “We have wasted enough time,” he said abruptly. “Alver, Rusalk, escort the lady elsewhere, at once.”

Two of the soldiers swung down from their horses and started forward. Jermain tensed, wondering whether he was strong enough to get away while they were attending to the woman. He didn’t think so; he seriously doubted whether he could even get himself upright again, much less stay there. Beside him, the woman rose to her feet. She looked at the two soldiers, then at Morenar. “This is not wise of you,” she said softly. “Not wise at all.”

“Take her,” Morenar said, and the men reached out.

“Well, if you won’t listen,” the woman said, and made a swift throwing motion with both hands.

The two soldiers went stumbling backward into a brownish gray fog that Jermain was certain had not been there a moment ago. One of them screamed; then the brown cloud billowed upward, hiding them, and the rest of the Border Guards, from Jermain. Only a small area around Jermain was free of the fog; Blackflame and the woman and a little grass were the only things he could see. Even they were whirling; Jermain felt a stab of fear. A face bent over him, framed in steel-colored hair.

“Don’t worry,” the woman said as he slipped into unconsciousness. “I will see to things.”

That, thought Jermain with the last of his awareness, is what I am afraid of.

 

Eltiron leaned outward. The stone of the tower battlements was cool and smooth beneath his hands; nearly all of Leshiya was visible below him in living miniature. This must be the way birds see us when they fly, he thought. I wish I were a bird. He leaned farther, as if the motion would bring him closer to the sky. Somewhere below him a bell chimed.

Startled, Eltiron straightened. A brief wind ruffled his brown hair as he stood concentrating. Three, no, four chimes; he was late again. His shoulders slumped. No matter how much he hurried now, Terrel would still be certain to point out his irresponsibility to everyone when he finally arrived at the King’s Council. There was no point in rushing. Eltiron took a last look upward, then turned and started back into the castle.

Inside the tower Eltiron paused. It wasn’t as if anything important was ever discussed at the Councils anymore; Eltiron’s father and Terrel made most of the decisions in advance. Reluctantly, Eltiron started down the stairs. No, he couldn’t justify missing the meeting completely, even if it only gave Terrel another chance to sneer at him. Eltiron reached the bottom of the stairs and turned down the corridor that led to the Council chambers. His steps slowed as he neared the door. With a sigh he straightened his shoulders and went in.

The two men at the far end of the Council table looked up as Eltiron entered. “It’s about time,” said the large man wearing the gold crown.

Eltiron bowed with deep respect. “Father.” He nodded briefly to the second figure, a handsome blond man in red. “My Lord Terrel.”

“Your Highness.” Terrel’s bow was a hair too shallow and a fraction too brief; no one but Eltiron would have noticed. He looks more like a prince than I do, Eltiron thought resentfully as Terrel resumed his seat. Though Eltiron was tall, Terrel was nearly two fingers’ width taller, and, in addition to his striking good looks, he moved with a practiced grace Eltiron could not seem to imitate, however hard he tried.

“Sit down, sit down,” the King said, waving at an empty chair. “There’s no reason for you to stand around keeping us waiting.”

Eltiron looked around and realized suddenly that there was no one else in the chamber. “I was not told of any change in the time of the Council,” he said as he took a chair. Inwardly, he winced. Practically the first thing he said, and already he sounded apologetic.

“Of course you weren’t,” his father said. “Half the time no one can find you, and the other half you aren’t interested anyway. What I’ve done to deserve a son like you I don’t know.”

Eltiron felt his face grow hot. The King glared at him for a moment, then went on in a milder tone. “The truth is, this time it wasn’t your fault. I’d forgotten until Terrel mentioned it, but you couldn’t very well be present while we discussed your marriage. So I changed the time of the meeting.”

Another one of Terrel’s bright ideas for undermining me, Eltiron thought. Then the rest of the sentence penetrated. “Marriage?”

“Of course, marriage,” his father said irritably. “Didn’t I just say that? We settled it all this morning. You’re going to ...

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