Table of Contents
DAW Books Presents
the Finest in Fantasy by
THE RUINS OF AMBRAI
THE MAGEBORN TRAITOR
THE STAR SCROLL
THE DRAGON TOKEN
The Golden Key Universe
THE GOLDEN KEY
(with Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott)
Copyright Â© 2011 by Melanie Rawn.
All Rights Reserved.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1555.
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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ISBN : 978-1-101-54866-0
First Printing, August 2011
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
HECHO EN U.S.A.
(and her evil twin, Alis Rasmussen)
This novel is a prequel to
The Golden Key
. Although it helps to have read that one before reading this one, it's not necessary; I hope that I wrote
in such a way that it makes sense all by itself. If it doesn't, I have every confidence that you'll let me know.
In the barbarian land to the north, the Grijalvas believe that the
smearing of paint on canvas is more powerful than the writing of words.
In Tza'ab Rih, we of the Shagara know that this is not so.
Commentaries on the Al-Fansihirro,
Let me tell you of him.
Those of you who know of him only from the words of others, you may not believe what I will write. But I heard it from his own lips, and if you think disrespectful some of the things I reveal, be assured that when he spoke to me of his life, he enjoined me to honesty equal to his own whenever I should repeat his tale. Thus I shall spare him as little as he spared himself, and this shall be a faithful telling.
By Acuyib, the Wonderful and Strange, that which follows is the truth.
Deeds of Il-Kadiri,
he city of Dayira Azreyq breathed softly that night. No one wished to be caught inhaling a particle of the Sheyqa's air more than was strictly required for survival. Within the shops and houses served by the great reservoir that gave the city its nameâCircle of Blueâlovers muffled their sighs, fretful babies were swiftly hushed by nervous fathers, murmurs became whispers as shadows deepened. Those few persons out on the streets walked furtively and said nothing. Those brave enough to speak aloud did so only in their own homes, with faces lowered and eyes downcast.
Do not notice me, I am of no importance, I do not exist
âand one more night of reprieve was begun.
But the city was not entirely quiet, at least not in the precincts of the palace. The Sheyqa was in a mood for celebrating, and her guests acceded to the royal requirement for music and laughter and merriment of all kinds.
Preparations had begun early that morning. In the banqueting hall, with its splendid domed-and-tiled ceiling, white draperies were taken from red silken couches, and massive trays of beaten gold were set on tripods. In the east wing, with its floor-to-ceiling windows shuttered against the scorching sun, musicians tuned their instruments, and dancers were instructed regarding the Sheyqa's preferences for the evening. In the kitchen, with its vast hearths and staggering array of copper pots, cooks sweated and swore, cajoling the roasts to cook and the breads to rise. In the cellar, with its low stone archways and maze of shelves and cabinets, stewards selected the wines, and servants polished the priceless blue glassware seized more than a century ago from barbarian invaders by the armies of Rimmal Madar. If anyone remembered that those armies had been under the personal command not of Sheyqa Ammara Izzad, the present ruler's great-grandmother, but of an alMa'aliq, no one mentioned it. Ever.
By sundown the guests had arrived, and the palace echoed with laughter and music. For all that the city breathed softly, carefully, the Sheyqa was in an excellent mood. Her guestsâevery adult male of the al-Ma'aliq lineâwere enjoying themselves. She was enjoying their delusions. She smiled when yet another toast was proclaimed to the power of her eldest son's loins. Today Acuyib had shown him to be doubly blessed: his sixth wife, Ammineh, and his seventeenth concubine (whose name the Sheyqa could never quite remember) had each given birth, bringing the total number of her children and grandchildren to fifty, her own exact age.
Her smile didn't waver as one of the al-Ma'aliq raised his wine cup high in salute to his own daughter, Ammineh, mother of the fiftieth. Sheyqa Nizzira joined in the toast and beamed at the girl's father as if genuinely celebrating the triumph. After a swallow of sharp dry wineâshe loathed this too-strong varietal, but serving it was necessary tonightâshe soothed the bitterness from her mouth with a confection of chopped dates, honey, and candied rose petals. She sucked stickiness from her fingers, delicately dipping them in a bowl of scented water before reaching again for the sweets.
Manners. Elegance. Refinement. These her father had drilled into her from babyhood.
“Make as much war as you wish, Nizzira my daughterâyou will be Sheyqa, and it is your right and your duty. But recall that the warrior who is also cultivated and civilized gains not only the respect but the regard of her people.”
He'd been a wise man, her father, never doubting that his only child would emerge victorious in the exquisitely brutal struggle for the Moonrise Throne. Sheyqa Nizzira missed him terribly, and in his memory took every opportunity to show that she was not only a mighty ruler but polished in her person.
But her father had been wrong about one thing. The objective of a warrior was to gain not respect but fear. This she had done and would continue to do so long as the northern borders of Rimmal Madar were beset by barbarian tribesâwith whom the al-Ma'aliq were conspiring. They would deny it if confronted, but Nizzira knew their protestations would be lies. Had she been in their positionâformerly powerful, loathing her, and taxed so heavily that they had not the wherewithal to make war unless allied to othersâshe would have collaborated with the Dread and Mighty Chaydann Il-Mamnoua'a Himself.
As Nizzira rinsed her fingers yet again, from the corner of her eye she caught an al-Ma'aliq curling his lip. This was one of Ammineh's brothers, who doubtless had heard her incessant complaints in excruciating detail. The whole family maddened the Sheyqa beyond endurance. Even their name was an arrogance, as if the head of their familyâa doddering old imbecile currently lolling on plump cushions and using a dancer's transparent silk scarf as a bibâcould still call himself “king.” The al-Ma'aliq had anciently held a large portion of Rimmal Madar. Ammineh, Nizzira's eldest son's sixth wife, not a mere concubineâand she cursed the boy for agreeing to a wedding when a bedding was all he was afterâprated endlessly about her ancestry, constantly reminding everyone that her forefathers had been kings back in the days when the title had meant something, when the natural order of women owning and ruling land had been for a shameful time overset by the influence of the western barbarians. To Acuyib's Glory, that situation had been righted. Men worked, soldiered, farmed, sailed the ships, commanded the caravans, and crafted the goods for which Rimmal Madar was justly famousâbut women's wisdom and women's logic determined the manner in which such things were done. Women controlled the wealth of the family. And one woman presided over all.
In a way, the Sheyqa reflected, it was a pity that one or two of the abandoned customs did not still obtain. It would be a lovely thing to relegate the wives and concubinesâand even those of her daughters and granddaughters she didn't much likeâto the strictures of the arrareem as it used to be in the old, uncivilized days. Locked away, Ammineh and her ceaseless carping could no longer offend the Sheyqa's eyes and ears.