Authors: Janny Wurts
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Epic, #Science Fiction, #General, #Fantasy Fiction
Janny Wurts is an author and illustrator of several highly praised novels, including the
Cycle of Fire
trilogy of which
is the first. She is also co-author with Raymond E. Feist of the bestselling
Daughter of the Empire
and its sequels,
Servant of the Empire
Mistress of the Empire.
She lives in Florida, USA.
THE FIRST BOOK OF THE CYCLE OF FIRE
HarperCollins Science Fiction & Fantasy
An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
77-85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB
This paperback edition 1993 35798642
Previously published in paperback by Grafton 1990 Reprinted three times
First published in the USA by Ace Books, The Berkley Publishing Group 1984 200 Madison Ave, New York NY 10016
This edition first published in Great Britain by GraftonBooks 1989
Copyright © Janny Wurts 1984
The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
ISBN 0 586 20483 0
Set in Meridien
Printed in Great Britain by HarperCollinsManufacturing Glasgow
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
For my parents
With special thanks to those painters within the field of fantasy and science fiction illustration whose advice and encouragement contributed to my career as an artist. And for those special friends who provided my 'home away from home' in New York.
Written in the records of the Vaere is the tale of the binding of the Mharg-demons at Elrinfaer by the wizard of wind and wave, Anskiere. He was helped in his task by Ivain, master of fire and earth, for the skills of a single sorcerer were insufficient to subdue so formidable a foe. But at the moment of crisis, when the peril of the Mharg-demons was greatest, legend holds that Ivain betrayed his companion out of jealousy. Yet, Anskiere survived and the Mharg-demons were bound. The major wards are sealed still by Anskiere's powers. And though neither Ivain nor Anskiere ever spoke of the dissent which arose between them on a lonely isle at Northsea, so potent was the magic in the words spoken by Anskiere to his betrayer, sailors who have visited the rocky spread of beach claim the winds there repeat them to this day.
"Your offense against me is pardoned but not forgotten. This geas I lay upon you: should I call, you, Ivain, shall answer, and complete a deed of my choice, even to the end of your days. And should you die, my will shall pass to your eldest son, and to his son's sons after him, until the debt is paid."
On a nearby ledge, battered by tide, lies a stone with an inscription believed to be Ivain's reply.
"Summon me, sorcerer, and know sorrow. Be sure I will leave nothing of value for your use, even should my offspring inherit."
The fisher folk clustered in a tight knot before the cottage door. Wind off the sea tugged their home-woven trousers into untidy wrinkles, making the cloth look awkwardly sewn. One man, tougher, uglier, and more sunburned that the rest, finally knocked loudly and stepped back, frowning.
The door opened. Dull pewter light from a lowering sky touched a figure in shadow beyond.
"Anskiri?" The fisherman's tone was rough, aggressively pitched to cover embarrassment.
"I am Anskiere." A quiet voice restored the name's foreign inflection. "Has there been trouble?" With the dignity associated with great power, the Stormwarden of Imrill Kand stepped over the threshold, a thin, straight man with sculpted features and harsh gray eyes. Sea wind whipped white hair about shoulders clothed simply in wool.
"Ye're wanted, sorcerer, at Adin's Landing."
"Then there has been trouble, yes?" Anskiere's light eyes flicked over the men confronting him. No one answered, and no one met his glance. The breezes fanned the fishermen's weathered cheeks, and their sea boots scuffed over pebbled stone and marsh grass. Their large, twine-callused hands stayed jammed in the pockets of oilskin jackets.
The Stormwarden's gaze dropped. He laid a slim capable hand on the door frame, careful to move slowly, without threat. "I will come. Give me a minute to bank the fire."
Anskiere stepped inside. A low mutter arose at his back, and someone spat. If the sorcerer noticed, he gave no sign. The distant sigh of the breakers filled the interval until his return. A gray cloak banded with black hooded his silver head, and in his hand he carried a knotted satchel of dyed leather. Somehow he had guessed his summons might be permanent. No one from Imrill Kand had seen either satchel or cloak since the sorcerer's arrival five winters past.
A tear in the clouds spilled sunlight like gilt over the shore flats. Anskiere paused. His eyes swept across the rocky spit of land he had chosen as home and fixed on the ocean's horizon. The fishermen stirred uneasily, but a long interval passed before Anskiere recalled his attention from the sea. He barred the cottage door.
"I am ready." He moved among them, his landsman's stride sharply delineated from the rolling gait of the fishermen. Through the long walk over the tor, he did not speak, and never once did he look back.
* * *
Angled like a gull's nest against the cliff overlooking the harbor, Adin's Landing was visible to the Stormwarden and his escort long ahead of arrival. Towering over the familiar jumble of shacks, stacked salt barrels, and drying fish nets was a black crosshatch of rigging; five warships rode at anchor. A sixth was warped to the fishers' wharf. The town streets, normally empty at noon, seethed with activity, clotted here and there by dark masses of men at arms.
Anskiere paused at the tor's crest and pushed his hood back. "King's men?" A gust of wind hissed through the grass at his feet, perhaps summoned by him as warning of his first stir of anger. But his voice remained gentle. "Is this why you called me?"
The ugly man clenched his hands. "Anskiere, don't ask!" He gestured impatiently down the trail.
The sorcerer remained motionless.
"Mordan, he has a right to know." The other's outburst sounded anguished and reluctant. "Five years he has served as Stormwarden, and not a life lost to the sea. He deserves an answer at least."
Mordan's lips tightened and his eyes flinched away from the sorcerer. "We cannot shelter you!"
"I did not ask shelter." Anskiere sought the one who had spoken in his behalf, and found he knew him, though the boy had grown nearly to manhood. "Tell me, Emien."
The young man flinched unhappily at the mention of his name.
"Emien, why do King's ships and King's men trouble with Imrill Kand?"
Emien drew a shaking breath and stared at hands already deeply scarred by hours of hauling twine. "Stormwarden, a Constable waits at the Fisherman's Barrel with a writ sealed by the King."
Anskiere contemplated the sky's edge. "And?"
"Kordane's Blessed Fires!" Emien's blasphemy was laced with tears. "Warden, they call you murderer. They tell of a storm that arose from the sea and tore villages, boats, and cattle from the shore of Tierl Enneth. Your doing, they said." The boy faltered. "Warden, they say you watched, drunk with laughter, as the people screamed and drowned. And they carry with them a staff marked with the device you wore when you first arrived here."
"A falcon ringed with a triple circle," Anskiere said softly. "I know it well. Thank you, Emien."
The boy stepped back, startled into fear at the sorcerer's acceptance. The penalty for malign sorcery was death by fire. "Then it's true?"
"We all have enemies." Anskiere stepped firmly onto the trail, and around him, the wind dwindled to ominous stillness.
* * *
Market square lay under a haze of dust churned up by milling feet. The entire village had gathered to see their Stormwarden accused. Taciturn, a unit of the King's Guard patrolled the streets off Rat's Alley. Foot lancers clogged the lanes between the merchants' stalls, and before the steps of the Fisherman's Barrel Inn a dais constructed of boarding planks and pickling vats held a brocaded row of officials.
"We've brought him!" Mordan shouted above the confusion.
"Be still." Anskiere bestowed a glare dark and troubled as a hurricane. "I'll go willingly, or not at all."
"Just so ye go." Mordan fell back, bristling with unease. Anskiere slipped past. Though his storm-gray cloak stood out stark as a whitecap amid a sea of russets and browns, no one noticed him until he stood before the dais. A gap widened in the crowd, leaving him isolated in a circle of dust as he set his satchel down.
"If you have asked for me, I am Anskiere." His pale, cold eyes rested on the officials.
The villagers murmured and reluctantly quieted as a plump man in scarlet leaned forward, porcine features crinkled with calculation. "I am the Constable of the King's Justice." He paused. "You have been accused of murder, Anshiri." A syrupy western accent mangled the name. "Over four thousand deaths were recorded at Tierl Enneth."
A gasp arose from the villagers, cut off as the Constable sighed and laced ringed fingers under his chin. "Have you anything to say?"
Anskiere lifted hands capable of driving sea and sky into fury. The crowd watched as though mesmerized by a snake. Yet neither wind nor wave stirred in response to the sorcerer's gesture. Gray cloth slipped back, exposing slim veined wrists, and Anskiere's reply fell softly as rain.
"I am guilty, Eminence."
Stunned, the onlookers stood rooted, unable to believe the Stormwarden who had protected their fishing fleet from ruin would meekly surrender his powers. Anskiere stayed motionless, arms outstretched. He did not look like a murderer. All of Imrill Kand had trusted and loved him. Their betrayal was ugly to watch.
The Constable nodded. "Take him."
Men at arms closed at his command, pinioning the accused's shoulders with mailed fists. Three black-robed sorcerers rose from the dais, one to shackle the offered wrists with fetters woven of enchantment. The others fashioned a net of wardspells to bind Anskiere's mastery of wind, wave and weather, and sensing security in his helplessness, the crowd roused sluggishly to anger. As people surged toward the dais, the foot lancers squared off and formed a cordon, jostled by aggressive hands. Anskiere spoke once, mildly. One of the men at arms struck him. His hood fell back, spilling silver hair. When he lifted his face, blood ran from his mouth.
"Kill the murderer!" someone shouted. The mob howled approval. Kicked, cuffed, and shoved until he stumbled, Anskiere was herded across the square. Thick as swarming insects, the King's Guard bundled him away from the crowd, across the fishers' wharf, and onto the decks of their ship. His light head soon vanished into the depths of the hold.
* * *
The crowd screamed and stamped, and dust eddied. Striped with shadow cast by a damp fish net, Emien bent and shook the shoulder of a small girl who lay weeping in the dirt. "Taen, please."
The child tossed back black hair, her cheeks lined with tracks of tears. "Why did they take him? Why?"
"He killed people. Taen, get up. Crying won't help." Emien caught his sister's hand and tugged. "You'll be kicked or stepped on if you stay here."
Taen shook her head. "Stormwarden
lives. He saved me." She curled wet fingers tightly around her brother's wrist and pulled herself awkwardly to her feet. With one ankle twisted beyond all help of a healer's skills, she limped piteously. "The fat man lied."
Emien frowned, sickened by the child's naivete. "Did Anskiere lie also? He
he killed people. Could you count the mackerel in
hold yesterday? That many died, Taen."
The child's mouth puckered. She refused to answer.
Her brother sighed, lifted her into his arms, and pressed through the villagers who jammed the square. Taen was unlikely to accept the sorcerer's act as evil. Anskiere had stilled the worst gale in memory to bring a healer from the mainland when an accident with a loading winch had crushed her leg. Since that hour, the girl had idolized him. The Stormwarden had visited often during her convalescence, a still, tall presence at her bedside. Taen had done little but hold his hand. Uncomfortably Emien recalled his uncle's embarrassed words of gratitude, and the long, tortuous hikes across the island with the fish and the firewood they could not spare. But his mother had insisted, though the Stormwarden had asked for nothing.
A sharp kick caught Emien squarely in the kneecap. The past forgotten, he gasped, bent and yelled through lips whitened with pain. "Taen!"
Despite his reprimand, his sister squirmed free of his hold and darted into the crowd. Emien swore. When Taen wished, she could move like a rabbit. Angrily he pursued, but the closely packed bodies thwarted his effort. A fishwife cursed him. Flushed beneath his tan, Emien sat on a nail keg and rubbed his sore leg. The brat could get herself home for supper.