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Authors: Richard Parks

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A Warrior of Dreams

BOOK: A Warrior of Dreams
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A Warrior of Dream

 

 

 

A Novel

 

 

 

By Richard Parks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canemill Publishing, September 2011

 

© 2011 Richard Parks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to the memory of Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft, and Andre Norton, who followed the path before me and showed the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Portions of Chapter 13 first appeared as “Laying the Stones,” in Asimov’s SF Magazine, November 1994

 

Chapter 1

Caught

 

The door to Musa's Night Magic shop rattled from the pounding of an armored fist. Musa eased her bulk from behind the counter and ambled toward the door. Her pace was measured and unhurried, despite the urgency of the pounding, rather like a grazing ox who sees an interesting clump of grass and moves to investigate in her own sweet time.

The visitor was losing patience. "Open in the name of the Emperor

"

The door was open, with Musa smiling serenely into the face of an open
-
mouthed, sweating young soldier. He wore the mailcoat and lion badge of an Imperial Watcher.

"Your pardon, Sir," Musa said. "I don't move as quickly as I used to."

She pretty much filled the narrow doorway, but the man rose on his toes to stare past her shoulder into the dim room. "I'm looking for a thief," he said, shortly. "A young girl, black hair, slim..."

"And fast, I would gather," Musa said, as the man reddened further. "It must be a trial to chase young girls in that iron shirt they make you wear. It's a marvel you catch any at all
.
"

"But have you
seen
her? I'm certain she ran this way."

"I've seen no one, since my door is always shut at noon," Musa pointed out, "Though I do think I heard someone running past, a few moments ago. She'd be far away by now and good riddance. I'm an honest tradeswoman and have no use for thieves."

The Watcher looked into the shop again. "What's your business, Woman?" he asked.

She smiled at him. "Dreams."

He frowned. "Dreams are the Domain of the Temple of Somna," he said, sounding official.

Musa waved that aside. "Not auguries, Sir. Not portents and prophecies for which all us good folk must pay our gold and our worship to the Temple. Just common dreams, the sort we all have." She gave him a sly wink. "Or the sort we'd like to have. Your thief is long gone by now; let me show you."

Musa led the hesitant young man into the room, to the shelves lined with little bottles and crockery jars and miniature barrels and coarse burlap sacks. The names written on the containers were as odd as the containers were varied: DAYBANE. NIGHTMARE WORT

ROOT, LEAF, AND STEM. One little earthen jar simply promised PLEASANT DREAMS.

Musa hardly noticed the chaos of different scents wafting through the air, but the Watcher's nose wrinkled and he seemed a little confused. Musa held up a small bag from the nearest shelf. "Here's Merflower--a tiny leaf under the tongue before bed and the gentle sound of the ocean will rock you all night. Or this...." she lifted the stopper on a little blue bottle and a pleasant, unidentifiable scent drifted out. "Sweet Oblivion. If you burn a little of this herb as incense, you won't dream at all. Just the thing for a guilty conscience. But certainly at your age there could not be so much troubling you. No, there would be other things on your mind now. I was young, once. I remember." Musa giggled, then, moving with surprising agility she plucked a small red phial from a high shelf. "Flowering Succubus. Do you know of this?" she asked.

The Watcher suddenly looked less official, more like the very young man he was. "I've heard of it."

Musa smiled again. "No doubt. It's very precious, you understand, but I think...oh, why not? You've had a disappointment today. You deserve some recompense for wasted effort and all the good you do." Musa walked back to the counter, her weight making the boards creak. She measured out a few flakes of the dried herb onto a square of parchment and carefully folded it into a smaller packet. "Here. A little of this in your wine before sleep... and only a little, mind you," Musa said, wagging her finger at him. "There's more than enough here for three nights."

He started to take it, hesitated. "What... what if I take too much?" he asked.

"Don't worry. You're young." She looked him up and down, winked. "And strong. You could handle it." The young Watcher was actually blushing as she ushered him back out. "And simple," she added, once the door was closed again. Musa turned back into the shop. "He's gone, Joslyn."

A girl of about sixteen who was, indeed, black
-
haired, though not so much slim as ill
-
fed, unfolded herself from a niche under the counter and rubbed the kinks out of her back. "Musa, were you trying to stop my heart?! What were you thinking, inviting him in like that?"

Musa sat down on a stool positioned at just the right height to keep bending to a minimum. "I was thinking that so much as a
hint
that I didn't want him to come inside would prompt him to do just that, enthusiastic lad that he was, and search the place in the bargain. And two hangings would make one too many in my opinion."

Joslyn smiled ruefully. "Sorry, but he was fast for someone wearing armor."

"What did you steal this time?"

Joslyn shrugged. "Just some fruit from one of the stands in the market. I was hungry."

Musa eyed the girl critically. "Isn't that oaf Dyaros feeding you?"

"Times are hard. It's not his fault!"

Musa glared at her. "Not so loud, Child. And not so angry, either. We've been on this road too many times before. All I'm saying is that you should have a little more care for yourself.” Musa sighed. "Well, narrow escapes or no, it's Nooning. Time to eat."

"When is it not time to eat, for you?" Joslyn said, shortly. But she watched with fascination as Musa went behind the counter and pulled out bread and cheese and watered wine from a wooden box on the floor. The old woman laid them out on the counter. "You're welcome to join me. Since you've no flesh to hold it I doubt you could eat much anyway."

"Well…."

Joslyn joined Musa at the counter, and despite her smaller size made a gallant effort. When the last of the wine was gone Joslyn put down her mug. "Why?" she asked.

"Why what?"

"Why do you help me, Musa? Why do you care whether I eat or not?"

"Why do you remain with that pack of thieves?" returned Musa, affably.

"They're my friends."

"If you say so, but it’s a poor reason for doing foolish things. And the only difference between an old fool and a young fool is time and more good luck than you've a right to expect. I'm your friend too."

"I'm an expensive friend," Joslyn offered, finally. "I saw what you gave him."

Musa grunted. "A trifle, compared to hanging.The Watchers do love order."

Joslyn smiled. "I do love pears. But a good thief shares the loot with her accomplices." She reached into her hiding place under the counter, drew out two large yellow-green pears, and gave the larger one to Musa.

The old woman took a bite and chewed, thoughtfully. "Joslyn, do you ever dream?"

"Of course

vast wealth, lovely clothes, grand homes, servants...." She giggled. "What thief doesn't?"

Musa smiled. "You'll never be a good thief, Joslyn. Your heart's not in it."

"For someone like me it's either theft or a brothel, and I promise you my heart wouldn't be anywhere near there, either."

"The one doesn't change the other," Musa said, "but you didn't answer my question. When you're asleep. When you're alone with yourself in the only way one truly can be alone. Do you dream?"

Joslyn frowned. "Yes," she finally said, "I dream. Doesn't everyone?"

"I don't know," Musa said, talking around another bite of apple. They ate in silence for awhile. When Musa finished she dropped the core into a wicker basket. "Joslyn?"

"Hmmm?"

"Be careful."

*

Joslyn let herself out a side door and made her way along the short alley that connected with Dusk Street. There were very few people left now in the merchant's quarter, for all its normal bustle. The Temple drew travelers and traders from all over the Empire and beyond, but now most of the shops were closed, their awnings rolled away and doors locked tight against coming night. The sun seemed to be resting like a beacon on the westernmost tower of the city wall. Joslyn looked carefully for any sign of Watchers, then walked with unhurried steps, passing the many dead
-
end alleys and rear entrance paths until she came to one of the true side
-
streets leading away from the merchant's quarter.

The street followed a curving path. Joslyn hung back in the growing shadows when she came to the end of it, peering out past the first line of marble columns, past the colossal statues in the courtyard, all the way to the vast domed building nestled in the center of Ly Ossia like the palace of a king. Only there were no kings in Ly Ossia now

this was the Temple of Somna the Dreamer.

Dyaros spoke of it, sometimes, when the members of his little band were all gathered for a meal, or to divide loot. A thousand rooms, and no one knew them all. Offerings of the faithful heaped in a treasure room in piles higher than an elephant's shoulder

though Joslyn had never seen an elephant and had only the vaguest idea of how high that was. Tapestries, silks, wealth in all its gilded forms and guises. That interested Joslyn, of course. What one lacks always seems finer than what one has. Still...

"Do they really teach people how to dream there?" she'd asked.

"Didn't I just say so?"

"But everyone knows how to dream!"

Dyaros had smiled at her then, that mocking smile so sharp it could almost draw blood. "But does everyone know how to steal dreams? Or enter another person's dreams and discover their deepest, most vile secrets? Or make them dream whatever they want? Pleasure? Pain?" He'd leaned close. "Nightmare? Why do you think the Emperor taxes everything and its arse
except
the Temple? It's not piety, you silly girl

he's scared to death of the Priests of Somna and their Dreamers."

The notion that the conqueror of the Seven Cities could be afraid of anything was a revelation to Joslyn. For a time after that she'd taken the longer route back to their hiding place after visiting the merchant's quarters, either though the Street of Sighs

once only, Joslyn never tried
that
again

or past the tanneries in the northern part of the city. Weariness soon got the better of fear, and now she made her way through the very hub of the city, past the Temple. But always warily, and always with a sharp eye for what might be happening there.

Something was happening now.

Joslyn ducked behind one of the numerous statues of Somna, shown this time as a gigantic, smiling woman with closed eyes. Joslyn crawled up on the pedestal, peered between the statue's legs at the wide steps leading up to the temple doors.

Acolytes.

Joslyn had taken it upon herself to learn a little of the Temple's organization after Dyaros' stories. The priests were separate from the Dreamers, who were almost never seen in public. Joslyn had asked about that, and wasn't too surprised to discover that the presence

or even mention

of a Dreamer, though Blessed of Somna, tended to make even the most pious of people very uncomfortable, torn between reverence and...well,
fear
was the best word Joslyn could put on it. It was the priests who moved among the people of the city, doing Temple business, leading services at both the Temple and the few separate Shrines.

About a dozen young men in white robes stood on the steps. The rightmost massive double door stood slightly ajar and a few more acolytes slipped out to join the others, looking like white ants coming out of a crack at that distance. Young men in training for the priesthood, the White Robes served as the Temple's arms and legs within the city. Joslyn had seen them often enough before, but they usually traveled in pairs at most and she'd never seen so many at once. After a moment a senior priest in dark blue robes emerged, and now the door was thrown wider to admit a covered litter born on the shoulders of six more acolytes, and that was something Joslyn had never seen at all.

BOOK: A Warrior of Dreams
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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