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Fortress in the eye of t.., p.1
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       Fortress in the Eye of Time, p.1

           C. J. Cherryh
 
Fortress in the Eye of Time


  FORTRESS IN THE

  EYE OF TIME

  C. J. Cherryh

  For Lynn and Jane for a lot of hours…

  through the lightning strikes

  and the rest of it

  Contents

  Map

  viii

  Chapter 1

  Its name had been Galasien once, a city of

  broad…

  1

  Chapter 2

  Spatters of rain on the dust.

  14

  Chapter 3

  Once a thought began it might go anywhere and everywhere.

  33

  Chapter 4

  After a dry spell, the rain built in the north…

  45

  Chapter 5

  He could see Mauryl in the silver reflection, standing behind…

  58

  Chapter 6

  Tristen’s ears still rang. His flesh still was chilled by…

  69

  Chapter 7

  The water was brownish green and fast-running beneath him, as…

  92

  Chapter 8

  Morning came as the frogs predicted, with a

  sprinkling of…

  100

  Chapter 9

  The assizes were done, the evening headache,

  promoted by a…

  118

  Chapter 10

  Idrys occupied the chair opposite him when he waked—Idrys sat…

  157

  Chapter 11

  He heard a clatter in the yard in the morning,… 183

  Chapter 12

  Words trembled in air, writings black and red, Names, that…

  205

  Chapter 13

  One of the men said he knew the way, and…

  226

  Chapter 14

  “I done what I knew,” Uwen said. The veteran’s voice…

  240

  Chapter 15

  Guards snapped to attention at the doors, and another pair…

  266

  Chapter 16

  Fawn-colored velvet stitched with silver thread, blue hose, a silver…

  289

  Chapter 17

  The bell at the lower town gates tolled arrivals. 307

  Chapter 18

  The sun was far declined and red when the

  remaining…

  316

  Chapter 19

  There was formal display in the grand hall, which was…

  322

  Chapter 20

  The sun flooded through the panes of a room

  grown…

  343

  Chapter 21

  Curse his father’s damnable suspicion, Cefwyn thought: and jerked back…

  357

  Chapter 22

  There were dreams.

  385

  Chapter 23

  The rain was a misery, pouring off the tent,

  finding…

  425

  Chapter 24

  The leg ached, a constant pain that preyed on temper,…

  433

  Chapter 25

  Petelly had tired, long since—had run as far as he…

  451

  Chapter 26

  Sullen, dejected men rose from their seats near the one…

  472

  Chapter 27

  Emuin had hangover, abundantly, the natural

  and just result of…

  532

  Chapter 28

  Gossip had run the halls all evening and it had… 562

  Chapter 29

  In the press of time, as regarded what the King… 601

  Chapter 30

  The next was one of those silken satin mornings, the…

  637

  Chapter 31

  In two days a Frost had come, and rimed the… 670

  Chapter 32

  It was a night impossible to sleep, the courtyard rumbling…

  686

  Chapter 33

  All about them now were meadows and

  forest-crowned hills, low…

  710

  Chapter 34

  He held out his arms patiently as Uwen assisted him…

  748

  Lexicon

  About the Author

  Other Books by C. J. Cherryh

  Credits

  Cover

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Map

  C H A P T E R 1

  I ts name had been Galasien once, a city of broad streets and thriving markets, of docks crowded with bright-sailed river craft. The shrines of its gods and heroes, their altars asmoke with incense offerings, had watched over commerce and state-craft, lords and ladies, workmen and peasant farmers alike, in long and pleasant prosperity.

  Its name under the Sihhë lords had been Ynefel. For nine centuries four towers reigned here under that name as the forest crept closer. The one-time citadel of the Galasieni in those years stood no longer as the heart of a city, but as a ruin-girt keep, stronghold of the foreign Sihhë kings, under whom the river Lenúalim’s shores had known a rule of unprecedented and far-reaching power, a darker reign from its beginning, and darker still in its calamity.

  Now forest thrust up the stones of old streets. Whin and blackberry choked the standing walls of the old Galasieni ruins, blackberry that fed the birds that haunted the high towers. Old forest, dark forest, of oaks long grown and sapped by mistletoe and vines, ringed the last standing towers of Ynefel on every side but riverward.

  Through that forest now came only the memory of a road, which crossed a broken-down, often-patched ghost of a bridge.

  The Lenúalim, which ran murkily about the mossy, eroded stonework of the one-time wharves, carried only flotsam from its occasional floods. Kingdoms of a third and younger age thrived on the northern and southern reaches of the Lenúalim, but rarely did the men of those young lands find cause to venture into this haunted place. South of those lands lay the sea, while northward at the source of the Lenúalim, lay the oldest lands of all, lands of legendary origin for the vanished Galasieni as well as for the Sihhë: the

  1

  Shadow Hills, the brooding peaks of the Hafsandyr, the lands of the legendary Arachim and the wide wastes where ice never gave up its hold.

  Such places still existed, perhaps. But no black-sailed ships from the north came in this third age, and the docks of Ynefel had long since gone to tumbled stone, stones slick with moss, buried in mud, overgrown with trees, indistinguishable at last from the forest.

  Call it Galasien, or Ynefel, it had become a shadow-place from a shadow-age, its crumbling, weathered towers poised on the rock that had once been the base of a great citadel. The seat of power for two ages of wizardry had become, in the present reign of men, a place of curious, disturbing fancies. Ynefel, tree-drowned in its sea of forest, was the last or the first outpost of the Old Lands…first, as one stood with his face to the West, where the sea lords of old had fallen and new kings ruled, so soon forgetful that they had been servants of the Sihhë; or the last edge of an older world, as one might look out north and east toward Elwynor and Amefel, which lay across the Lenúalim’s windings and beyond Marna Wood.

  In those two districts alone of the East the crumbling hills re-tained their old Galasieni names. In those lands of upstart men, there remained, however few and remote in the hills, country shrines to the Nineteen gods Galasien had known—while in Elwynor the rulers still called themselves Regents, remembering the Sihhë kings.

  Nowadays in Ynefel birds stole blackberries, and built their nests haphazardly in the eaves and in the loft. A colony of swifts lodged in one great chimney and another in the vaulted hall of Sihhë kings. Rain and years eroded th
e strange faces that looked out of the remaining walls. Gargoyle faces—faces of heroes, faces of the common and the mighty of lost Galasien—they adorned its crazily joined towers, its ramshackle gates, fragments of statues seeming by curious whimsy to gaze out of the walls of the present fortress: some that smiled, some that seemed to smirk in malice, and some, the faces of Galasien’s vanished kings, serene and blind.

  2

  This was the view as one looked up from the walls of Ynefel.

  This was the view over which an old man gazed: this was the state of affairs in which he lived, bearded and bent, and solitary.

  And, judging the portent of the season and the clouds, leaden-gray at twilight, the old man frowned and took his way in some haste down the rickety steps, well aware of danger in the later hours, in the creeping of Shadows across the many gables and roofs. He did not further tempt them. Age was on him. His power, which had held the years and the Shadows at bay, was fading, and would fade more swiftly still when this night’s work was done: such strength as he had, he held close within himself, and guarded, and hoarded with a miser’s single purpose.

  Until now.

  He reached the door and shut it with a Word, a tap of his staff, a touch of his gnarled hand. Thus secure, he caught a calmer breath, and descended the steeply winding stairs with a limp and a tapping that echoed through the creaking maze of stairs and balconies, down and down into the wooden hollowness of Ynefel.

  He lived alone here. He had lived alone for—he ceased to count the years, except tonight, when death seemed so close, so…seductive in the face of his preparations.

  Better, he had long thought, to fade quietly.

  Better, he had determined unto himself, to deal no more with the Shadows and to stay to the sunlight. Better to listen no more to the sifting of time through the wood and stone of this old ruin. He owed nothing to the future. He owed far less to the past.

  We deserved our fate, he thought bitterly. We were too self-confident. And not virtuous, no, none of us virtuous. So it was fit that, in the end of everything, we killed each other.

  Fit, as well, that we were neither thorough nor resolute, even in that extreme moment. To every truth we found exception; to every answer, another question. We doubted everything. We abhorred the demon in ourselves and doubted our own abhorrence.

  3

  And, inappropriate to the end, we linger. We cannot believe even in our own calamity.

  Tapping of a knobbed and crooked staff, creaking of age-hol-lowed wooden steps—brought echoes, down and down to the foot of those steps, to the cluttered study in the heart of the fortress. There was sound in Ynefel, until he stopped, in the heart of his preparations.

  There was living breath in this room, until he held his.

  Always the gnawing doubt. Never peace. Never certainty.

  There was even yet a chance for him to fare northward on the Road, to evade Elwynor and seek the Old Kingdoms that might, remotely might, remain alive in Hafsandyr. To walk so long and so far his aging strength might still suffice, or if it failed, in what innocence remained to an old wizard, he might lie down by that Road in the rains and the wind and sleep until life faded.

  It would be a way to his own peace, perhaps, the ending his kind had never found the courage to make.

  But he was Galasieni. He had not the resolve to believe even in his own death—and this was both the bane and the source of his power. He was of the Old Magic, and had no use for nowadays’ healers and wisewomen and petty warlocks with their small, illusory magics, least of all for the diviners and the searchers into old lore who wanted to lay hold of magics they could not imagine. Oh, illusions he could make. Illusions and glamors he could cast. But no illusions, now, would he work, as he squatted by the fire. He needed no books, no grammaries, nothing but the essence of his power.

  He needed no fire. The air would have done as well.

  But his hands reached into the substance of the heat, tugged at the very fabric of the flame and drew out strands that spun and rose in the remaining light. The strands drew upon the air, and drew on the stone of the walls and the age of the trees that made the dusty timbers of Ynefel: they built themselves, and wove themselves, and became…a possibility.

  Only one man had reached this skill, only one, in the age of the Old Kingdoms.

  4

  A second had reached for it, at the dawn of the Sihhë.

  A third attempted it, this night. His name was Mauryl Gestaurien. And the magic he wrought was not a way to peace.

  That, too, was characteristic of his kind.

  He spoke a Word. He stared into a point in the charged insubstance of the air, tinier than a mote of dust. He was at that moment aware of the whole mass of stone around the room, aware of the Shadows among the gables, that insinuated threads into cracks and crevices of shutters, that crept among the rafters, seeking toward his study. He drew the light in Ynefel inward, until it was only in this room.

  In that moment, Shadows edged under the doors and ran along the masonry joints of the walls. Shadows found their way down the chimney hole, and the fire shrank.

  In that moment a wind began to blow, and Shadows jumped and capered about the rafters above the study, and seeped down the chimney like soot.

  Came a mote of dust, catching the light, just that small, just that substantial, and no more.

  Came a sparkle in that mote, that became a light like the uncertain moon, like the reflection of a star.

  Came a creaking of all the ill-set timbers of the keep at once, and a fast fluttering of shadows that made the faces set into the walls seem to shift expression and open their mouths in dread.

  Came a sifting of dust of the walls and dust from the wooden ceiling and the stone vault; and the dust fell on that point of light, and sparkled.

  A gust of wind blasted down the chimney throat, blew fire and cinders into the room. Shadows clawed at the stones and reached for the spark in the whirl of dust.

  But the spark became a sudden crack of lightning, whitening the gray stone of the walls, drinking the feeble glow of the fire into shocked remembrance of bright threads weaving, turning and knotting and coming apart again.

  Mauryl groaned as the scattered elements resisted. He 5

  doubted. At the last moment—he attempted exception, equivocation, revision of what he reached for.

  On the brink of failure—snatched, desperately, instead, after simple life.

  A shadow grew in the heart of the twisting threads, the shadow of a man, as the light faded…shadow that grew substantial and became living flesh and bone, the form of a young man naked and beautiful in the ordinary grayness of an untidy room.

  The young man’s nostrils drew in a breath. His eyes opened.

  They were gray as the stone, serene as the silence.

  Mauryl shook with his effort, with the triumph of his magic…

  Trembled, in doubt of all his work, all his skill, all his wisdom…now that done was done and it stood before him.

  The light was gone, except the fire tamely burning in the hearth, amid a blasted scatter of chimney ash across the stones.

  Mauryl stretched out his hand, leaning on his staff with the other, the room gone close and breathless to him, light leaping in ordinary shadow about the clutter of parchments and birds’

  wings, alembics and herb-bundles.

  Mauryl beckoned, crooked a finger, the one hand trembling violently, the other clenched on his staff. He beckoned a second time, impatiently, angrily, fearing catastrophe, commanding obedience.

  Slowly the youth moved, a tentative step, a second, a third.

  Alarmed, Mauryl raised the knobbed staff like a barrier, and the advance ceased. He stared into gray, quiet eyes and judged carefully, conservatively, before he lowered that ward and leaned on his staff with both arthritic hands, out of strength, out of resources.

  The Shadows lurked still in the corners of the study, moving quietly in the gusting of wind down the chimney. Thunder muttered f
rom an outraged and ominous heaven.

  The young man stood still and, absent the focus offered him by the lifted staff, gazed about his surroundings: the hall, the cobwebby labyrinth of beams and wooden stairs and 6

  balconies above balconies above balconies…the cabinets and tables and disarray of parchments and oddments of dead animals and leaves. Nothing in particular seemed to stay his eye or beg his attention: all things perhaps were inconsequential to him, or all things were equally important and amazing; his expression gave no hint which. He put a hand to his own heart and looked down at his naked body, which still seemed to glow with light like candleflame through wax. He flexed the fingers of that hand and watched, seemingly entranced, the movement of the tendons under his flesh, as if that was the greatest, the most inexplicable magic of all.

  Dazed, Mauryl said to himself, and took courage then, though shakily, to proceed on his judgment. He came close enough to touch, to meet the gray, wonder-filled stare of a fearsome innocence. “Come,” he said to the Shaping, offering his hand. “Come,”

  he ordered the second time, and prepared to say again, sternly, in the case, as with some things dreadful and unruly, three callings might prove the charm.

  But the youth moved another step, and, feeling increasingly the weakness in his own knees, Mauryl led the Shaping over to sit on the bench by the fireside, sweeping aside with his staff a stack of dusty parchments, some of which slid into the fire.

  The Shaping reached after the calamity of parchments. Mauryl caught the reaching arm short of the fire. Parchment burned, with smoke and a stench and a scattering of pieces on an upward waft of wind, and the Shaping watched that rise of sparks, rapt in that brightness, but in no wise resisting or showing other, deeper thought.

  Mauryl braced his staff between himself and an irregularity of the hearthstones, whisked off his own cloak and settled it about the boy, who at that instant had leaned forward on the bench, the firelight a-dance on his eyes, his hand…

  “No!” Mauryl cried, and struck at his outreaching fingers. The youth looked at him in astonished hurt as the cloak slipped unnoticed to the floor.

  A dread settled on Mauryl, then…in denial of which he set the cloak again about the youth’s shoulders, tucked its 7

 
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