Book: Fortress of Dragons

Previous: CONTENTS



There is magic.
There is wizardry.
There is sorcery.
They are not now, nor were then, the same.
Nine hundred years in the past, in a tower, in a place called Galasien, a prince named Hasufin Heltain had an inordinate fear of death. That fear led him from honest study of wizardry to the darker practice of sorcery.
His teacher in the craft, Mauryl Gestaurien, seeing his student about to outstrip his knowledge in a forbidden direction, brought allies from the fabled northland, allies whose magic was not taught, but innate. These were the five Sihhë-lords.
In the storm of conflict that followed, not only Hasufin perished, but also ancient Galasien and all its works. Of all that city, only the tower in which Mauryl stood survived.
Ynefel, for so later generations named the tower, became a haunted place, isolated within Marna Wood, its walls holding intact the horrified faces of lost Galasien’s people. The old tower was Mauryl’s point of power, and so he remained bound to it through passing centuries, although he sometimes intervened outside the tower in the struggles that followed in the lands the Galasieni had ruled.
The Sihhë took on themselves the task of ruling the southern lands…not the Galasieni, who had become bound to Ynefel, but other newcomers…notably the race of Men, who also had crept down from the north. The Sihhë swept across the land, subduing and building, conquering and changing all that the Galasieni had made, creating new authorities and powers to reward their subordinates and dealing harshly with their enemies.
The five true Sihhë lived long, after the nature of their kind, and they left a thin presence of halfling descendants among Men before their passing. The kingdom of Men rapidly spread and populated the lands nearest Ynefel, with that halfling dynasty ruling from the Sihhë hall at unwalled Althalen.
Unchallenged lord of Ynefel’s haunted tower, Mauryl continued in a life by now drawn thin and long, whether by wizardry or by nature: he had now outlasted even the long-lived Sihhë, and watched changes and ominous shifts of power as the blood and the innate Sihhë magic alike ran thinner and thinner in the line of halfling High Kings.
For, of all the old powers, Shadows lingered, and haunted certain places in the land. One of these was Hasufin Heltain.
One day, in the Sihhë capital, within the tributary kingdom of Amefel, and in the rule of the halfling Elfwyn Sihhë, a queen gave birth to a stillborn babe. The queen was inconsolable—but the babe miraculously drew breath and lived, warmed to life, as she thought, by Sihhë magic and a mother’s love.
To the queen the child was a wonderful gift. But that second life was not the first life, and it was not the mother’s innate Sihhë magic, but a Shadow’s darkest sorcery that had brought breath into the child—for what lived in the babe was a soul neither Sihhë nor Man: it was Hasufin Heltain, in his second bid for life and power.
So now Hasufin nestled in the heart of the Sihhë aristocracy, still a child, at a time when Mauryl, who might have realized what he was, had shut himself away in his tower at Ynefel, rarely venturing as far as Althalen—for Mauryl felt the weakness of the ages Hasufin had not lived.
Other children of the royal house died mysteriously as that fey, ingratiating princeling grew stronger. Now alarmed, warned by his arts and full of fury and advice, Mauryl came to court to confront the danger he recognized. But the queen would not hear a wizard’s warning, far less dispose of a son of the house, her favorite, her dearest and most magical darling—a child who now, by the deaths of all elder princes, was near the throne.
The day that child should attain his majority, and the hour that prince should rule, Mauryl warned them, the house and the dynasty would perish. But even that plain warning failed to persuade the queen; and the King, Elfwyn, took his grieving queen’s side, refusing Mauryl’s unthinkable command to destroy their own son.
Foreseeing ruin, Mauryl turned not to the halfling Sihhë of the court, but to the Men who served them. He conspired with the warlord Selwyn Marhanen, the Sihhë trusted general, and thus encouraged Selwyn and other Men to bring down the halfling dynasty and take the throne for themselves. So Mauryl betrayed the descendants of the very lords he had raised up to prevent Hasufin’s sorcery, and for that reason Men called Mauryl both Kingmaker, and Kingsbane.
Mauryl insinuated both the Marhanen and his men and a band of wizards into the royal palace. Mauryl and the majority of his circle held magic at bay while a younger wizard, Emuin, killed the sleeping prince in his chambers—a terrible and a bloody deed, and only the first act of bloodshed that night.
Hasufin’s death was the limit of Mauryl’s interest in the matter. The fate of the Sihhë in the hands of Selwyn and his men, and even the fate of the wizards who had aided him, was all beyond his capability to govern, and Mauryl again retreated to his tower, weary and sick with age. Young Emuin took holy orders, seeking to forget his terrible deed and to find some salvation for himself as a Man and a cleric in an age of Men.
In those years Selwyn’s own ambition and Men’s religious fear of a magic they did not wield led them to rise in earnest against Sihhë rule: province after province fell to the Marhanen, and their followers destroyed all that lay outside the approval of their priests…demolishing even the work of wizards who had aided their rise.
But the district of Elwynor across the river from Althalen, though populated with Men, attempted to remain loyal to the Sihhë-lords and to maintain wizards in safety. They even raised an army to bring against the Marhanen, but dissent and claims and counterclaims of kingship within Elwynor precluded that army from ever taking the field. The Marhanen thus were able to seize the entire tributary kingdom of Amefel (in which the capital of Althalen had stood) and treat it as a province, right across the river from Elwynor.
But Selwyn Marhanen—rather than rule from Althalen, remote from the heart of his power, and equally claimed by all the lords of Men—instead established a capital in the center of his home territory. He declared himself king, though not High King, and by his own cleverness and ruthlessness set his own allies under his heel. The lords of districts became barons of a new court at Guelemara, in Selwyn’s own district of Guelessar.
From that new capital at Guelemara, Selwyn domi nated all the provinces southward. He as well as his subjects, mostly Guelenfolk and Ryssandish, being true Men with no gift for wizardry, had no love of it either—Selwyn because he feared wizards might challenge him, and his people because they saw magic and wizardry alike as a challenge to the gods…so priests of the Quinalt and Teranthine sects had taught them. For both reasons, Selwyn raised a great shrine next his palace, the Quinaltine, and favored the Quinalt Patriarch, who set a religious seal on all his acts of domination. But Selwyn trusted the Quinalt sect no more than he trusted wizards, and established none other than Emuin, now a Teranthine brother, as his advisor. This he did to balance the power of the Quinaltine.
By now, of all Men loyal to the Sihhë, only the Elwynim had successfully held their border against the Guelenmen…for that border was on the one hand a broad river, the Lenúalim, and on the other, the haunted precincts of Marna Wood, near the old tower of Ynefel, and beyond the always restive district of Amefel.
So, with that border established, the matter settled…save only the troublesome question of Amefel, the province on the Guelen-held side of the Lenúalim River, the population of which was not Guelenish, but close kin to the Elwynim. Selwyn’s hope of holding his lands firm against the Elwynim rested on not allowing an Elwynim presence on that side of the river…within a population virtually the same in accent, religion, and customs.
Now the history of Amefel was this: Amefel had been an independent kingdom of Men when the first Sihhë-lords walked up to the walls of its capital of Hen Amas and demanded entry. The kings of Amefel, the Aswyddim, flung open their gates and helped the Sihhë in their mission to conquer Guelessar, a fact no Guelen and no Guelen king could quite forget. In return for this treachery, the local Aswydd house had always enjoyed a unique status under the Sihhë authority, and, alone of Men, styled themselves as kings, as opposed to High Kings, the title the Sihhë reserved for themselves and their successors.
So now Selwyn had severed Amefel from Elwynor and claimed it…but at least for this approaching fall season, he foresaw that his own uneasily joined kingdom of Ylesuin, with barons at least two of whom had already tried to claim rule over the Guelens, would fall to internal quarrels the moment he looked elsewhere. If he became embroiled in a dispute with the Aswydds over their prerogatives, that would lead to his own barons scheming and plotting while he was distracted, and that situation might encourage Elwynor to break the unofficial truce…leading to war next spring from one end to the other of the lands of Men.
So Selwyn Marhanen quietly accorded the Aswydds guarantees of many of their ancient rights, including their religion, and including their titles. By that agreement, while the Aswydds became vassals of the kings of Ylesuin, and were called dukes, they were also styled aethelings, that was to say, royal—but only within their own province of Amefel. This purposely left aside the question of whether the other earls of Amefel bore rank equivalent to the dukes of Guelen and Ryssandish lands.
Selwyn thus had Amefel…or at least the consent of its aetheling…by the first winter of his rule, and he still had ambitions to go further. But the opposing district of Elwynor formed a region almost as large as Ylesuin was with Amefel attached, and, undeceived by the apparent truce, Elwynor’s lords used that winter to gather forces. By the next spring, with Selwyn in Amefel and Elwynor armed and strong enough to make invasion costly, both sides assessed their chances and declined battle. The river Lenúalim thus became the tacitly unquestioned but still unsettled border.
The Elwynim, meanwhile, declared a Regency in place of the lost High King at Althalen. They chose one of their earls, himself with a glimmering of Sihhë blood, who styled himself Lord Regent, and waited, taking it on stubborn faith that not all the royal house of the Sihhë-lords had perished, that within their lifetimes a new Sihhë-lord, some surviving prince they called the King To Come, would emerge from hiding or come down from the fabled northern ice to overthrow the Marhanen and reestablish the Sihhë kingdom. This time the Sihhë kingdom would have faithful Elwynor at its heart, and all the loyal subjects, foremost the Elwynim, would live in peace and Sihhë-blessed prosperity in a new golden age of wizardry.
The Elwynim, therefore, cherished magic, and prized the wizard-gift where it appeared. But outside the Lord Regent’s line there were far too few Elwynim who could practice wizardry in any appreciable degree. Certainly no one in the land possessed such magic as the Sihhë had used, and there were few enough wizards left who would even speak of the King To Come…for the wizards of this age had had firsthand experience of Hasufin Heltain, and they remained aloof from the various lords of the Elwynim who wished to employ them. Those few Elwynim who had any Sihhë blood whatsoever were likewise reticent, for fear of becoming the center of some rising against the Regency that could only end in disaster.
So the Elwynim, deserted by their wizards and by those who did carry the blood, became too little wary of magic and those who promised it. They failed to ask the essential question: why the wizards remained silent and why Mauryl and Emuin both remained aloof from them, and thus they failed to know the danger that still existed in the shadows and among the Shadows.
So the years passed into decades without a credible claimant to the throne in Elwynor, and without the rise of another great wizard.
Selwyn died. Ylesuin’s rule passed to Selwyn’s son Ináreddrin, who was a middle-aged man with two previous marriages and two grown sons.
Now Ináreddrin was Guelen to the core, which meant devoutly, blindly Quinalt. That was his mother’s influence. As a young prince, he had had no love of his uncivil warlord father, but had a great deal of fear of him. And under this dual influence of his mother’s faith and his father’s disinterest, Ináreddrin grew up with no tolerance for other faiths, despite the exigencies of the Amefin treaty…and with a superstitious fear of wizardry, based on his observation of his father Selwyn’s terrors in his declining years. Ináreddrin fell more and more under the influence of the Quinaltine, and exercised little patience with his wild eldest son, Cefwyn—for Cefwyn took his grandfather’s example and clung to the Teranthine tutor, Emuin (that same Emuin who had aided Mauryl at Althalen), whom Selwyn had appointed royal tutor for both his grandsons.
This was no accident, first because of wizardry, where little was accidental at all; and secondly because Selwyn saw superstition rising in his son and wished to stop it in the next generation. If Selwyn as a reigning king had found priests and the Quinalt a convenient resource, and to that end had supported them, he never forgot what he had faced at Althalen. Selwyn knew he had lost his son to the priests’ influence, but he wanted his grandsons never to dread priests or wizards—rather to understand them, and to keep the best on their side.
This matter of the royal tutor was a source of bitter argument within the royal house: the queen died, Ináreddrin grew more and more alienated from his father, and the very year Selwyn died and Ináreddrin became king, Ináreddrin persuaded his younger son Efanor into the strictest Quinalt faith—lavishing on him all the affection he now angrily denied the elder son.
So did the highest barons—notably the dukes of the provinces of Ryssand and Murandys—lavish attention on the younger prince, Efanor. There was even talk of overturning the succession—for the more religious and proper Efanor became, the more Cefwyn, the crown prince and heir, consoled himself with wild escapades, sorties on the border, and women…very many women.
Still, by Guelen law and custom, even by the tenets of the Quinalt itself, Cefwyn was, incontrovertibly, the heir, and it was no light matter to set Cefwyn aside: in that, even the most conservative of priests hesitated.
So Ináreddrin, either in hopes that administrative responsibility would temper Cefwyn—or, it was whispered, in hopes some assassin or border skirmish would settle the matter and make Efanor his heir—sent Cefwyn to administer the Amefin garrison. To do that, Ináreddrin bestowed on Prince Cefwyn the courtesy title of viceroy, thus keeping a firmer Marhanen hand on that curiously independent province and insinuating a closer Marhanen presence into a very troublesome district.
Now, since ordinarily and by the treaty, there was no such thing as a viceroy in Amefel, the duke of Amefel, Heryn Aswydd, was not at all pleased by this gesture, but Heryn dared not protest and give the Marhanen an excuse to send a larger garrison. So Duke Heryn kept his discontent to himself, even agreeing to report to Ináreddrin regarding the prince’s behavior, and on the worsening situation across the river.
The duties Cefwyn had, however, were not a sham. Ináreddrin had indeed felt a need for a firmer Guelen presence in Amefel, for the Regent in Elwynor had no children but a daughter of his extreme old age, and now the lords of Elwynor, weary of waiting for the appearance of a High King, were now saying the Regent should choose one of them to be king. They saw that the only way for one earl of all the earls to gain any legitimate connection with royalty was by marrying the Lord Regent’s daughter.
The Regent of Elwynor, Uleman Syrillas, refused all offers from his earls, swearing that his only child, his daughter Ninévrisë, would wield the power of Regent herself. It was unprecedented among the Elwynim and by chance unprecedented among the Sihhë Kings themselves that a woman should rule in her own right. Uleman had nevertheless prepared his daughter to rule…and when the day came that a suitor tried to enforce his demands with arms and carry Ninévrisë away, the Regent refused to yield.
But the earls’ guards were the army, the only army, that the Regent could draw on, and now some earls sided with the suitor and some sued for themselves while others sided with the Regent.
Elwynor sank into civil war…and that war insinuated itself across the river into Amefel, where Elwynim families had historical ties and relatives.
So it was into this situation that Ináreddrin sent Prince Cefwyn.
And it was entirely characteristic of Ináreddrin that he told Heryn he was to watch Cefwyn and told Cefwyn to watch Heryn, who was, after all, a heretic Bryaltine and a man with ties to the Elwynim earls.
Unbeknownst to the king, in fact, Duke Heryn was in league with the rebel earl Caswyddian, in Elwynor…and that gave the edge to Caswyddian over his own chief rival, Aséyneddin.
And Hasufin Heltain, once again dead, as Men knew death, was waiting only for such a moment of crisis and a condition in the stars. Through the situation in Elwynor, that ancient spirit found his way closer and closer to life…he saw Aséyneddin as his ally.
Mauryl, however, had foreseen the hour Hasufin would make another bid for life, and had saved his strength for one grand, unprecedented spell, a Summoning and a Shaping. So he brought forth his creation from the fire of his hearth—not a perfect effort, how ever, nor mature nor threatening. To Mauryl’s distress the young man thus Summoned lacked all memory of what or who he had been.
Mauryl gave his Summoning a name—Tristen—and taught him with more patience than Mauryl had accorded any other student, until the day Mauryl lost his struggle with Hasufin once and for all.
So Tristen, a young man with the innocence of the newly born, set forth into the world to do the things Mauryl intended…if only he could guess what those things were.
He came not to a wizard, who would teach him, as Tristen had hoped, but to Prince Cefwyn, on the very night when, despising his host, Heryn Aswydd, Prince Cefwyn was sleeping with Heryn’s twin sisters, Orien and Tarien.
Now Tristen was as innocent a soul as ever Cefwyn had met…a youth seeming incapable of anger, feckless, and utterly outspoken, but wizardous in his origins at the very least, for he confessed he was Mauryl’s.
Cefwyn’s curiosity was immediately snared; and once Cefwyn began to deal with Tristen personally, he found himself snared indeed—for having suffered his grandfather’s angers and his own father’s cold dislike of him, after the northern lords’ wish for Efanor and Efanor’s desertion toward religion, this was the only offer of an utter stranger’s friendship he had ever encountered, and from a kind and innocent heart.
Meanwhile Tristen continued to learn…for he was a blank slate on which Mauryl’s spell was still writing, Unfolding new things in wizardous fashion, at need; and providing him knowledge unpredictable both in its scope and in its deficiency. Tristen wondered at butterflies…and asked questions that shot straight to the prince’s much-scarred heart.
Cefwyn’s affection toward this wizardous stranger made Duke Heryn Aswydd hasten his plans for warfor Cefwyn was growing fey and difficult. Heryn used King Ináreddrin’s suspicion of his son to lure both the king and Prince Efanor to Amefel…hoping then to do away with Cefwyn and the younger prince in the same stroke as King Ináreddrin. Thus he would overthrow the Marhanen dynasty, end Guelen rule as the Guelens fell to fighting each other, aid Caswyddian to become High King in Elwynor, and establish himself as a ruling aetheling, a power in the new Elwynim court.
Prince Efanor, however, had not ridden with the king. Fearing for his father’s life if the accusations were true, yet willing to give his brother a last chance to confess, he had ridden straight to Cefwyn to find out for himself the truth ahead of their father’s arrival, to spring any trap upon himself if one existed. It was a brave act of a religious man, and of a brother Cefwyn had once loved.
And when Cefwyn knew his father had listened to Lord Heryn and was proceeding with Heryn’s full confidence into Amefin territory, he was horrified, and rode at once to prevent the ambush he foresaw, no matter the danger.
He arrived too late, and was almost overwhelmed by the force that had killed the king. Heryn’s plan would have come to fruition but for one thing: the knowledge of warfare Unfolded to Tristen that day, on that battlefield, and in that knowledge and with a sword in his hands, the gentle stranger turned warrior. He rescued both the princes and defeated Heryn’s allies.
When Cefwyn reached Henas’amef not only unexpectedly alive, but king of Ylesuin, Heryn paid with his life for his treason. Tristen, however, wounded by his own self-knowledge and by witnessing Cefwyn’s justice, strayed into the hills, where he fell in with the Lord Regent of Elwynor. Lord Uleman was dying, and in hiding from his rebel earls. The old Regent’s last wish was to bring his daughter Ninévrisë to Cefwyn Marhanen, as his bride…for the only hope for the Regency was peace with Ylesuin. The Regent died, his spirit possessing the ruins of Althalen, and he was buried there.
So Tristen brought Lady Ninévrisë to Cefwyn, and the new king of Ylesuin fell headlong in love with the new Regent of Elwynor.
Tristen, for his services to the Crown, became a lord of Ylesuin, no longer mocked for his simplicity, but rather feared by the Guelenfolk, for no one who had seen him fight could discount him. The townsfolk and countryfolk of Amefel, on the other hand, adored him, and saw in him the fulfillment of the prophecy of the King To Come—a fulfillment Cefwyn himself foresaw, and did not attempt to fight. “Win his friendship,” was Emuin’s sage advice regarding his dealings with Tristen, and so he had; and now Cefwyn saw before him the chance for that friendship to settle the whole world at peace, for he did not see Tristen as a reigning king, but as a king in symbol, a reconciliation with the Sihhë. As he declared to Ninévrisë, nothing would be more cruel than to settle on Tristen’s glad spirit all the daily obligations of a reigning king.
Meanwhile Heryn’s sister Orien became duchess of Amefel, since Cefwyn was not ready to set aside the entire dynasty, and had seen none but the ordinary Aswydd flaws in Orien. He hoped to content the people of Amefel with that appointment and thought that a woman with no martial skills and no command of an army would be a more biddable ruler in the troublesome district.
Orien, however, was bent on revenge, and lied in her oaths. Lacking armies, lacking skill in war, she sought another means to power…and with her earliest attempts at the wizardous legacy of her house, found her answer in sorcerous whispers from the enemy, Hasufin Heltain.
She was not a great wizard, not even a moderately great one, but she deceived herself that she was. Hasufin’s immediate goal was an entry into the fortress of Henas’amef, but because of Tristen and Emuin, he could not breach the wards. It was no difficulty at all to move his pawn Orien to make an attempt on Cefwyn’s life and another pawn to make an attempt on Emuin’s life. Meanwhile he drew the rebel army across the river to all-out war: Aséyneddin invaded Amefel in force.
The first two attempts fell useless: Cefwyn and Emuin both survived.
The third, Aséyneddin’s, was the real one, aimed not at kingship—Aséyneddin’s purpose—but specifically at Tristen, whom Hasufin recognized as Mauryl’s last and most effective weapon, and who must go down if Hasufin was to prevent Tristen’s rise as a Sihhë-lord.
Sorcery, a wizardous art reliant on chaos, was strongest in a moment of chance and upheaval, and there was no moment of upheaval among Men greater than the shifting tides of a battlefield. So Hasufin made his strongest bid to destroy Tristen, who stood between him and the life and substance he could gain through Aséyneddin.
In the world of Men, at a place called Lewenbrook, near Ynefel, the Elwynim rebels, under Lord Aséyneddin, met Cefwyn Marhanen’s opposing army. That was the conflict Men fought.
But when Aséyneddin faltered, Hasufin sent out tides of sorcery in reckless disregard. A wall of Shadow rolled down on the field, and those it touched it took and did not give up. It was Hasufin’s manifestation, and all aimed at Tristen’s destruction.
Tristen, however, took up magic as he took up his weapons, when the challenge came. When Hasufin Heltain loosed his sorcery, Tristen rode into the Shadow, penetrated into Ynefel itself, and drove Hasufin from his Place in the world.
Cefwyn meanwhile had prevailed in the unnatural darkness, and when the sun broke free of the Shadow, he had managed to hold his army together and continue the assault. Aséyneddin’s forces, such as survived, shattered and ran in panic.
It was a long way back to the world, however, from where Tristen had gone to fight. Exhausted, hurt, at the end of his purpose, Tristen all but resigned his wizard-made life, finished with Mauryl’s purpose, too weary to wake to the world of Men.
But he had once given his shieldman Uwen, an ordinary Man with not a shred of magic in him, the power to call his name. This Uwen did, the devotion of a simple man seeking his lost lord on the battlefield, and Tristen came.
There was a moment, then, when Cefwyn stood victorious over the rebels, that he might have launched forward into Elwynor: the southern lords had rallied to the new king, and would have followed him. But Cefwyn saw his army badly battered and in need of regrouping. He knew the enemy was on the run, meaning they would sink invisibly into Elwynor’s forested depths—and he knew, as a new king, that he had left matters uncertain behind him. The majority of his kingdom did not even know they had changed one king for another, and the treaty he had made with Ninévrisë had never reached his people. He stood in the situation his grandfather had faced, at the end of summer, with a winter before him.
Good campaigning weather still remained, but harsh northern winters and the Elwynim woods could make fighting impossible. So for good or for ill, Cefwyn opted not to plunge his exhausted army, lacking maps or any sort of preparation, into the unknown situation inside Elwynor, which had been several years in anarchy and still had rival claimants to the Regency. Instead he chose to regroup, settle his domestic affairs, marry the Lady Regent, ratify the marriage treaty, and rally the rest of his kingdom behind him in a campaign to begin in the spring. It seemed unlikely that any great power could rise in Elwynor during autumn and a winter, given that the rebels were now fighting among themselves and that his army and Tristen had already defeated the two strongest forces Elwynor could field.
So Cefwyn went home, trusting his father’s trusted men, gathering up his brother Efanor, to take up the power of the monarchy as it had been.
So he thought. But when he reached his capital, he discovered his father’s closest friends among the barons meant to wrest the real power into their own hands, for his father had let them do much as they pleased for years—had taken their decisions and put his royal seal on them. The clerics had preferred Efanor: that was a known difficulty. But the barons had for the last decade had a king they could rule. They meant to have another one, and in their minds and by all prior reports, Cefwyn was a wastrel prince who would be a weak king if they simply provided him diversions and women. He could be managed, they had said among themselves.
That was not, however, the nature of the king who came home to them: Cefwyn arrived surrounded by their southern rivals, who were clearly in favor, and allied to Mauryl’s heir, betrothed to the Elwynim Regent, advised by a wizard, and proposing war on the Elwynim rebels. The barons quickly realized they were not facing Ináreddrin’s dissolute son: it was Selwyn’s hard-handed grandson, and the barons, accustomed to dictating to the father, were set down hard.
So the most powerful barons of the north took a new tactic…they were older, cannier, more experienced in court politics: they already had the good will of the most conservative priests. They would use the Quinaltine and the people’s faith, prevent the marriage, treat the Lady Regent as a captive—and seize land in Elwynor.
Cefwyn determined just as resolutely to bring them into line and shake the kingdom into order. He sent the southern barons home to attend their harvests and to prepare for war, all but Lord Cevulirn of Ivanor, whose horsemen had less reliance on such seasons, and who stayed as a shadowy observer for southern interests.
In Elwynor, meanwhile, the wars had come to a swifter conclusion than anyone expected. One rebel lord brought a largely hired army out of the hills, supplied it off the resources of the peasants, besieged his own capital of Ilefínian, and declared the Lady Regent a helpless captive in the hands of the Marhanen king. This brought the situation Cefwyn had left in Elwynor to a state of crisis, and Cefwyn took immediate steps to set elite cavalry at the bridges that faced Elwynor. This both stabilized the border and removed some of the force on which the Crown maintained its authority.
Cefwyn took immediate measures to assure that the Quinalt would approve both the marriage and the treaty that recognized Ninévrisë as Lady Regent of Elwynor, independent of the Crown of Ylesuin, and renounced all claims to each other’s kingdoms.
The barons retaliated with an attempt to limit the monarchy over them, and to reject both the marriage treaty and their king’s associates.
Tristen and Emuin both had kept to themselves since their arrival…for Cefwyn, fighting for his right to wed the woman he loved and trying to wrest back greater sovereignty in his own capital, wished to obscure the presence of wizardry in his court.
Obscurity, however, only increased the mystery surrounding Tristen. The barons saw him and Emuin as an influence on Cefwyn that must be eliminated, and on a night when lightning, whether by chance or wizardry, struck the Quinalt roof, a penny in the offering in the Quinaltine was found to be Sihhë coinage, with forbidden symbols on it.
The charge against Tristen was to be sacrilege, wizardry attacking the Quinalt and the gods.
Cefwyn suspected that His Holiness the Patriarch himself was devious enough to have substituted the damning coin, and Cefwyn moved quickly to compel the Patriarch into his camp. But the rumors were so rife that Cefwyn felt compelled to remove Tristen further from controversy and from the site of rumors. In what he thought a clever and protective stroke, he sent Tristen back to Amefel not as a refugee in disgrace, but as duke of Amefel…a replacement for the viceroy he had left to replace the disgraced Orien Aswydd.
Now this viceroy was Parsynan, a minor noble appointed on the advice of some of these same troublesome barons, notably Murandys and Ryssand…for Cefwyn had exiled Orien Aswydd and her sister to a Teranthine nunnery for their betrayal, and had never appointed another duke, until now.
Hearing that Tristen was going to Amefel, and that Parsynan was recalled, Corswyndam Lord Ryssand panicked, for he feared certain records might fall into Tristen’s hands and thus into Cefwyn’s. He sent a rider to advise Parsynan of his imminent replacement.
Corswyndam’s courier rode hard enough to reach the Amefin capital ahead of Cefwyn’s messenger. Receiving the message, Parsynan quite naively brought his localally Lord Cuthan, an Aswydd by remote kinship, into his confidence, since this man had supported him against his brother earls before.
Cuthan, however, was in on a plot to create war in Amefel, a distraction for Cefwyn. If Amefin earls rebelled and seized the citadel, Elwynim troops would then invade and engage with the king’s forces: this was what was promised, and Cuthan not only failed to warn Parsynan it was coming…but he also said nothing to warn his brother lords that a detachment of king’s forces was about to arrive along with a new duke, one they might approve. One or the other would happen first, and Cuthan meant to stay safe.
So, ignorant of such vital information, certain Amefin, led by Earl Edwyll of Meiden, seized the South Court of the fortress of Amefel and settled in to wait for Elwynim support.
In the same hour, losing courage, Cuthan told the other earls that the king’s forces were coming.
And there were as yet no forces from Elwynor: Tasmôrden’s forces had not arrived.
The other earls consequently sat still…which suited Cuthan well: he and Edwyll were old rivals, and now Edwyll was patently guilty of treason, sitting alone in the fortress with the Marhanen king’s forces approaching. And none of the rest of them were yet guilty of anything, as long as they kept their secret. The one most apt to betray it—was Edwyll himself.
Then in a thunderstroke, before anyone had thought, Tristen arrived and moved swiftly uphill to the fortress to take possession. The commons turned out to cheer. The earls of Amefel rapidly set themselves on the winning side.
Edwyll meanwhile died, having enjoyed a cup of wine—out of Orien Aswydd’s cups, untouched since the place was sealed at her exile. Whether Edwyll’s death was latent wizardry attached to Orien’s property, or simple bad luck, the command of the rebels now devolved to Edwyll’s son, Thane Crissand, who was forced to surrender. Tristen now had the fortress in his hands.
Not satisfied with the death of Earl Edwyll, however, or possibly at the instigation of some party to the guilty secret, Parsynan, in command of the garrison troops, seized the prisoners from Tristen’s officers and began executing them.
Tristen found out in time to save Crissand…and summarily dismissed Lord Parsynan from the town in the middle of the night and without his possessions.
It was scandalous treatment of a noble king’s officer, but if there was anything wanting to make Tristen the hero of Henas’amef, this settled matters. The commons were delighted, wildly cheering their new lord. Crissand, Edwyll’s son, himself of remote Aswydd lineage, swore fealty to Tristen in such absolute terms it scandalized the Guelen clerks who had come with Tristen—for Crissand owned Tristen as his overlord after the Aswydd kind, aetheling, a royal lord.
The oath reopened all the old controversy about the status of Amefel as a sovereign kingdom. Crissand had become Tristen’s friend and most fervent ally among the earls of Amefel…who, given a lord they respected, came rapidly into line, united for the first time in decades, under terms forever influenced by Crissand’s oath.
In the succeeding hours Tristen gained both the burned remnant of Mauryl’s letters, and Lord Ryssand’s letter to Parsynan. The first told him that certain correspondence Mauryl had had with the lords of Amefel might have some modern relevancy…one archivist had murdered the other and run with the letters. The second letter revealed Corswyndam’s connivance with Parsynan.
Tristen sent Lord Ryssand’s letter posthaste to Guelessar, while Cuthan, revealed for a traitor to both sides, and possibly guilty of more than anyone knew, took advantage of Tristen’s leniency to flee to Elwynor.
In the capital, Corswyndam Lord Ryssand knew he had to move quickly to lessen the king’s power or lose his own. It happened that one of his clerks had reported that the office of Regent of Elwynor, which Ninévrisë claimed, included priestly functions. So at Ryssand’s instigation, certain conservatives in the Holy Quinalt rose up in protest of a woman in priestly rites. This objection would break the marriage treaty.
Cefwyn countered with another compromise and a trade of favors with the Holy Father: Ninévrisë agreed to state that she was and had always been of the Bryaltine sect—that recognized, though scantly respectable, Amefin religion. She agreed to accept a priest of that faith as her priest, leaving aside other difficult questions, and on that understanding, the Quinalt would perform the wedding.
The barons now came with the last and worst attack on Ninévrisë charges of infidelity, Ninévrisë’s with Tristen, laughable if one knew them. But Ryssand’s daughter Artisane was prepared to perjure herself to bring Ninévrisë down. So Cefwyn learned when Ryssand’s son Brugan brought the charges to him secretly—along with a document giving much of his power to the barons, which was clearly the alternative this young lordling presented his king.
Therein Ryssand overstepped himself: it gave an excuse for a loyal baron, Cevulirn of Ivanor, to challenge Brugan. By killing Brugan, by popular belief, Cevulirn proved Ninévrisë’s innocence. If Ryssand should make public the attack on Ninévrisë, that fact would come out to counter it: Brugan had died a liar.
But if it should come to public knowledge, someone would surely challenge Cevulirn, and if he won again, another and another would challenge him until they could cast the result in doubt. Cefwyn still hoped to deal with the other barons, and would trade silence for silence, casting the killing as a private quarrel to prevent the destructive chain of challenges and feuds that would tear the court apart.
But that meant Cevulirn had to leave court, avoiding Ryssand’s presence, and Cefwyn girded himself for a confrontation in court with a powerful baron who had just lost his son to a man who had not stayed to face challenges.
Into this situation Ryssand’s incriminating letter arrived secretly into Cefwyn’s hands…and Cefwyn thus had the means to suggest Ryssand also retire to his estates immediately, or have all his actions made public to the other barons.
So the treaty stood firm, Cefwyn and Ninévrisë married, and Tristen settled in to rule in the south as lord of Amefel, lord of the province containing old Althalen and bordering Ynefel and Elwynor across the river.
But on a day that Tristen, with Earl Crissand and Uwen, set out to visit the villages, they came across an old shrine, where the apparition of the Witch of Emwy, Auld Syes, appeared as the precursor to a terrible storm. Lord of Amefel and the aetheling, she hailed them, as if those titles were not one and the same thing. She bade them ride south to find friends, and then to feed her sparrows.
Further, she asked permission to visit Tristen at some time in the future—in effect, asked passage through the magical wards of the Zeide of Henas’ amef. Tristen granted it, to his guards’ great distress.
South they rode, then, in the rising storm, and encountered Cevulirn, who had turned banishment to good use, riding north to inform Tristen of those matters too delicate to be entrusted to couriers.
The two of them took counsel how to use their resources to help Cefwyn in the spring, and agreed to call in all the other lords of the south—which Cefwyn could not dare. Their plan was to set a camp across the river and divert Tasmôrden’s attention southward. Cefwyn had forbidden them to win the war, because the Quinaltine northern barons were already distressed about his reliance on the Teranthine south…but together Tristen and Cevulirn saw what they could do to bolster Cefwyn’s cause without violating the letter of their king’s orders.
Tristen and Cevulirn set out then toward the river to view the situation firsthand. On the way they made a stop in the village of Modeyneth, where Tristen raised the local thane, Drusenan, to the rank of earl in Cuthan’s place, and commanded the raising of an old Sihhë wall to hold the road. In so doing, they found that Drusenan had concealed a number of Elwynim who had fled the war. For want of any other safe place to settle them in his lands, Tristen authorized them to build a refuge within the vacant ruins of Althalen…where no settlement was permitted, under Crown law, but where they were out of the way of traffic coming up and down the vital road to Elwynor.
Having done those things, Tristen and Cevulirn rode on, and were at the river when Tristen realized, through that gray world only wizards could touch, that the Elwynim capital, Ilefínian, had fallen.
So there would not be a winter’s grace to prepare: the situation was immediately more grave.
Meanwhile in Guelemara, and to the discomfiture of Murandys and Ryssand alike, Cefwyn invited his former lover, Luriel, Murandys’ niece, back to court. With considerable inducements of land and favor, he arranged her marriage to the son of Duke Maudyn, lord of Panys, his commander on the riverside.
In this manner and at one stroke he shone a light on his consort’s generosity and his own reformed habits…and undermined the confidence of his opponents in each other. This marriage allied Murandys’ interests with those of the lord of Panys, who firmly supported the Crown.
In Amefel, meanwhile, in a reunion of a far different sort, Tristen rescued from prison a young thief, Paisi. This was a street boy who had once guided him to Cefwyn’s justice: Paisi’s fate, he was convinced, was linked to his own, simply because the whole web of incidents leading him to his present allies was a series of linkages, and those linkages were a likely target of hostile wizardry—simply put, those once connected to him at points of critical decision could connect to him again, at points of critical decision, for good or for ill.
This one looked already to have a taint of ill about it—for in saving Paisi, Tristen had a falling-out with the Guelen Guard, the garrison in Henas’ amef, for it was from them that Paisi had stolen, and Tristen would not see him hanged. Instead, Paisi went to Emuin’s tower to become his assistant…and certain guardsmen and even the patriarch of the local Quinalt left Tristen’s court in anger. Tristen had been right: the boy once involved at a crisis of decision was involved again, and whatever would have happened had Paisi hanged, would not now happen. Some other event was now in progress in which Paisi had some part to play, and he trusted Emuin to keep as much order in that event as anyone could keep.
The disgruntled soldiers and the patriarch went to Guelemara, and their reports when they reached Guelemara created a storm in the Quinalt. They accused Tristen of serious breaches of Crown law, usurpation of royal authority, and the promotion of wizardry in Amefel. Strict northern priests, supported by Ryssand, had already preached doom in the streets, and as this further attack gained momentum, Cefwyn moved secretly to silence the most outspoken of these priests, one Udryn, as one of Ryssand’s men.
Meanwhile, regarding the charges now made public, he could do nothing but declare the laws themselves outdated, since his only other choice was to agree that Tristen was a lawbreaker. This in no wise comforted the orthodoxy, but the open expression of opposition to the king was a little quieter since the disappearance of the priest.
Tristen and Cevulirn parted company, swearing to meet next with all the lords of their former alliance, on Midwinter Eve, in Henas’ amef. And for his part Tristen settled in earnest to the preparation of a winter camp for an army.
That same Midwinter was to mark the marriage of Luriel to Lord Panys’ younger son—in a capital seething with dissenting priests and fears of wizardry.
And in the middle of the ceremony the Quinalt Patriarch was found murdered, with Bryaltine symbols about his person.
The wedding fell apart in riot and religious frenzy, in which Ninévrisë’s unfortunate priest fell afoul of a mob and lost his life.
Cefwyn countered quickly to gain the favor of the mob by diverting suspicion toward Tasmôrden’s agents…though he himself suspected the zealot priests and an act of very local revenge. He took clear command of the capital and of the situation, at least for the day, and moved to counter Ryssand, whom he blamed above all others.
Back in Ynefel, Tristen’s guests had come, every one of them, and they settled to feast on a night Emuin had warned Tristen was the hinge not only of the year, but of a magical age of ages.
At the stroke of midnight Auld Syes entered the hall in queenly guise and danced one dance with Tristen…after which the lights went out and the old haunt in the lower hall broke wide open.
Tristen entered into it, in defense of all the rest, and found himself not in battle against shadows and dead wizards, but walking in Ynefel of old, himself a shadow in the life of the Tristen who had been.
There he met Owl, companion of his early days with Mauryl, his guide through Marna Wood on the road that led him to Cefwyn, and his harbinger of war at the battle of Lewen field.
And Owl came with him when he crossed that bridge again, back to the haunted mews at heart of the Zeide. Owl was on his arm when he returned, to the distress of all around him…who knew now that they dealt with magic and that the war Tristen proposed was not only of iron and edges.
But rather than reject that war and their magicwielding ally, they gave thanks to have Tristen on their side and pledged their support anew.
Owl was not the only venturer out into the world that night.
Orien and Tarien Aswydd fled their exile as armed men descended on the defenseless nuns who sheltered them…Quinalt men, attacking a Teranthine order. Reflection of the riots in the capital, religious conflict had come to the countryside of Guelessar.
And the outlawed Aswydds turned to the only home they knew, to Henas’ amef, hoping for shelter.
Elements once part of wizardry were participant again, rewoven into the design.
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