Working gods mischief, p.1
Working God's Mischief, p.1
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For the granddaughter clowder: Elie Belle, Katie Cat, Hannah Beans, Josie, and lonesome Josh, “the Boy”
About the Author
Tor Books by Glen Cook
Arnhand, Castauriga, and Navaya lost their kings. The Grail Empire lost its empress. The Church lost its Patriarch, though he lives on as a fugitive. The Night lost Kharoulke the Windwalker, an emperor amongst the most primal and terrible gods. The Night goes on, in dread. The world goes on, in dread. The ice builds and slides southward.
New kings come. A new empress will rule. Another rump polishes the Patriarchal Throne.
There is no new Windwalker, nor ever will be.
The shock reverberates across the world and the Night. The oldest and fiercest of Instrumentalities has been destroyed—by a mortal!
The world, battered by savage change, limps toward its destiny. And the ice is coming.
1. Antieux: The Stress of Peace
Brother Candle settled at the breakfast table, still sleep-groggy.
“Look at him being smug. All fruit and berries, there.”
A dozen people shared the table, Count Raymone Garete’s intimates. His spouse, the Countess Socia, had made the disparaging remark.
Count Raymone’s cousin Bernardin said, “Don’t mind her, Master. She’s looking for a fight again. Or still. Calm down, girl. Peace has broken out. Enjoy it.”
Brother Candle nodded. He agreed.
* * *
Socia knew it could not last.
The world would pull itself together and get back to the horrors soon.
Following a bite of melon, the old man observed, “The world has rolled over complete when Bernardin Amberchelle is the voice of reason.” To the Countess, so like a daughter after all they had suffered, he said, “Control your emotions. For the sake of the child.”
Socia was gravid in the extreme. That exacerbated her naturally abrasive character. The baby was overdue. It would be her first. She was plagued by all the first-time terrors. She refused to follow the custom of her station and go into seclusion.
Socia Garete was no ornament to her husband. She was a working partner, even a managing partner. She did not want to miss anything.
The Count, the Maysalean Perfect Brother Candle, and everyone else for whom she cared, and who cared for her, had abandoned hope of getting her to behave as a proper noblewoman.
Hell, she spent half her time with an equally injudicious commoner refugee heretic from Khaurene, Kedle Richeut. She idolized Kedle. Kedle Richeut had made a difference. Kedle had killed a king.
Brother Candle had known Socia since she was a bloody-minded teen living with three brothers in a small stronghold on the Connec’s northeast frontier. Never had she shown the least inclination to be a good girl, focused on embroidery and producing children.
As always, Count Raymone showed only amused indulgence. He loved Socia with the passion and depth sung by the Connec’s jongleurs, unusual in a time of negotiated marriages. But Raymone Garete had come into his patrimony young. Those who would have strapped him into a loveless political alliance had passed on before he could be fitted to harness.
Count Raymone had chosen Socia on brief exposure because he had recognized her instantly as a soul perfectly complementary to himself.
Count Raymone said, “At this point, my love, you should listen attentively when the Master speaks.”
Startled, Socia shut her mouth.
Raymone continued, “I understand. I have my own problems adjusting to an absence of enemies. The fact is, we aren’t likely to have any till Anselin gets home or Serenity makes a startling comeback.”
Bernardin said, “Anselin shouldn’t be a problem. He won’t let his mother bully him. I’ll bet a shilling now that he stuffs her into a convent.”
Socia made snarling noises to remind everyone that she was in a foul humor. Still.
Raymone ignored her. “I can’t even fritter time chasing Society brothers. The survivors are hidden so deep they’ve forgotten which way to swim to find the light.”
Brother Candle grumbled, “If they cared about the Light they wouldn’t be in the Society for the Suppression of Sacrilege and Heresy in the first place.”
Bernardin chuckled through a mouthful of salt pork. He professed the Maysalean creed but refused to observe its dietary whims. “Been a few weeks since I’ve nabbed one. But the rest aren’t buried as deep as they hope. The new bishop isn’t as clever as he thinks.”
“LaVelle?” Brother Candle asked.
“The very one. The latest. Dumber than a keg of rocks but the first honest one since way back before Serifs. I’m going to make sure he survives.”
For a decade Episcopal Chaldarean bishops had shown a remarkable inability to stay healthy in a bishopric the Church was determined to scourge and flense for tolerating heresy.
“Honest?” Brother Candle asked.
Bernardin offered a wobbling hand gesture. “Comparatively. He did bring along a clutch of deadbeat relatives. But he’s no holy bandit like Meryl Ponté or Mathe Richenau.”
Count Raymone interjected, “Darling, when was your last visit to Mistress Alecsinac?” Alecsinac was her senior attendant midwife.
Clever, in Brother Candle’s thinking. Stopping Bernardin from admitting he had an agent close to the new bishop, in case LaVelle or the Society had an agent close to the Count.
There was a point to Raymone’s question beyond that.
Socia did not deliver a definitive response.
“I thought so. Master. Once you finish, see my lady Socia to the midwife. Making no side trips and accepting no delays or excuses.”
“As you will.” Brother Candle allowed himself a satisfied smile.
Count Raymone seldom invoked a husband’s prerogative. When he did, he meant it. There was no appeal.
Brother Candle as
Amberchelle replied, “We’re trying to figure that out. Serenity appointed him, but only two days before they ran him off. Serenity didn’t know him. He was put up by one of Anne of Menand’s tame Principatés, Gorman Sleight. Sleight doesn’t know LaVelle, either. He nominated LaVelle on behalf of Valmur Joss, one of the Society chiefs in exile in Salpeno. Joss is Connecten. But even he doesn’t actually know LaVelle, whose name originally got dropped into the process by a cousin, Laci Lindop, another Connecten Society exile. LaVelle has no prior Church connection, except as a worshipper. So nobody knows what we’re getting.”
The Perfect stared. Bernardin Amberchelle was a short, wide, dusky, rumpled man who looked like a dimwit thug. And he played that role on Raymone’s behalf. In private, though, he betrayed surprising depth.
Refusing to be left out, Socia asked, “Do we know where Serenity went when he ran away from the Captain-General?”
“That would be the Commander of the Righteous, dear one. Piper Hecht. He used to be Captain-General, before Serenity. Pinkus Ghort is Captain-General now. Serenity’s man, bought and paid for.”
“Not so much anymore,” Bernardin said. “Ghort gets on fine with the man Hecht installed in Serenity’s place.”
“But where is Serenity?” Socia demanded. “And how big a pain is he likely to be?”
“Right now he’s on Little Pinoché in the Pinoché Islands, off the Firaldian coast two-thirds of the way up between the mouth of the Teragi and the mouth of the Sawn. He’d be a major pain if he could but he can’t communicate very well. Sonsa and Platadura are blockading him. Queen Isabeth intends to keep him fixed till she makes him pay for what happened to Peter.”
He meant Isabeth of Khaurene, sister of Duke Tormond IV, wife and queen of Peter of Navaya. After an outstanding career taming the enemies of the Church, Peter had fallen defending his wife’s home city from Arnhanders who had invaded with the blessing of the Church.
Serenity had an obsessive hatred of the Connec. He had suffered terribly when he was Patriarchal legate in Antieux. Before becoming Patriarch he had participated in several campaigns against Antieux.
“He’ll find ways to communicate,” Socia muttered. “There’ll be a reason he fled to those islands.”
“Yeah.” Bernardin laughed. “There is. That’s where the storm put him down.” He explained. Serenity’s convoy, hugging the coast, had been caught in a squall and driven off shore. Serenity’s vessel had gone aground on rocks off Little Pinoché. The deposed Patriarch was among the few survivors. “He was headed for Arnhand. Anne of Menand would have taken him in.” But ships from Navaya’s allies had set a blockade almost before Serenity had gotten himself dried out.
Brother Candle pushed back from the table. “I’ve begun to suffer an intellectual malaise. I’ve become too comfortable here.”
Bernardin observed, “Here he goes, fishing for compliments.”
Socia snapped, “Bernardin, you’re too cynical. He’s a Perfect. They’re never happy unless they’re barefoot in the snow, starving, and being hunted by people who want to burn them.”
“This one squeals like a pig whenever we ask him to do something where he might get his tootsies wet.”
Pressed, Brother Candle would have admitted as much. But he was sixty-eight years old. That slowed a man. It left him inclined to ease the strain on his bones. “I’ll be back on the road soon enough to beat the first snow.” Snow arrived earlier every winter.
All conversation died. All eyes turned to the Perfect.
“Why on earth would you…?”
“At your age?”
“My age? My age wasn’t a factor when somebody wanted me hustling messages and tokens back and forth between Antieux and Khaurene.”
Socia said, “It’s a factor because you mean so much to us. We don’t want you to leave.”
The Count agreed. “That’s as plain as it can be said, Master.”
Socia added, “You keep up this nonsense, I’ll get Kedle to break your leg.”
“That seems harsh.”
“Tough love, old man. Tough love.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. It is an intimidating journey and these old bones do have too many miles on them already. Meantime, though, I have to deliver you to the mercies of Mistress Alecsinac.”
“I was hoping you’d forget.”
“Get going, Socia,” Raymone snapped.
“An’ it please Your Lordship.” Socia rose, offered a mock bow. It was none too deep. Her stomach got in the way. Leaving the room a step behind the Perfect, she said, “Mistress Alecsinac may know how to convince this beast that it’s time to leave.”
2. Realm of the Gods: Great Sky Fortress
A small world. Just a harbor town with a mountain behind. Suddenly, sharp as a hammer strike, all color vanished.
The small world went on, but in tones of gray.
“The Aelen Kofer are gone. The Realm is closed.”
Nothing and no one could escape.
The spike of a mountain reared into ill-defined clouds of a darker gray. A determined eye might discern a ghost of a rainbow outside the structure that crowned the mountain, the Great Sky Fortress of the Old Ones, the gods who once ruled the northern middle world.
Light leaked from one trio of windows high on the face of the fortress. The Aelen Kofer, the wondrous dwarves who had created the Great Sky Fortress and its rainbow bridge, had abandoned the Realm of the Gods to folk from the middle world, the world of men.
* * *
The room behind those windows was large but crowded by nine people, including sorcerers, soldiers, women, children, and two men deeply tainted by the Night. Of artifacts most notable were four falcons loaded with shot capable of slaying the very gods and four huge bottles dwarf-blown from silver alloyed glass, teardrop shaped, with stems that narrowed to the diameter of a finger after a right-angle turn into the wall opposite the windows. Tables groaned under an abundance of materials and instruments both mundane and magical.
The sorcerers and Night-touched were up amongst the silver glass alembics, preparing. The others waited at the falcons with smoldering slow matches in hand. The woman in the forward group turned. “Everyone ready? Vali? Lila?” Those two girls stood behind the falcons farthest left and right. They nodded nervously. “Piper? Anna?” The man and woman at the center pair of falcons nodded. “Pella? Set to jump in where you’re needed?” The surly boy behind everyone else also nodded.
“All right, then. Let’s conjure some gods.”
She was Heris, elder sister of the soldier, Piper Hecht, playing the role of sorceress here though she had no talent in that area. The men forward with her were Cloven Februaren, Ferris Renfrow, called the Bastard, and Asgrimmur Grimmsson. Februaren might be the great sorcerer of the age. Renfrow was the get of a human hero and minor goddess. Grimmsson carried shards of the souls of that goddess and her divine father within him.
Heris turned slowly, considering the hundred lanterns and scores of mirrors that would make certain there were no shadows in which a supernatural entity could hide.
“Well?” the Bastard demanded, though in a whisper, as he scratched at a bandage on his left wrist.
The woman raised a beaker containing an ounce of his blood. Only the blood of a descendent of the Old Ones had the power to complete the ritual of opening. It had taken a year to gather everything else.
Heris emptied the beaker into a tulip-shaped piece of glass on the end of a long glass stem. The blood was still warm.
A scarlet bar an eighth of an inch in diameter descended the hollow stem.
Heris blurted, “Shit! I think I overlooked…”
The chamber shuddered. Glass rattled. Sputtering slow matches moved nearer the touch holes of falcons.
One of the silver glass alembics rattled. Both the Bastard and the ascendant, Grimmsson,
The Night knew the soldier, Piper Hecht, as the Godslayer. He had found the means. His sister Heris had ruthlessly extinguished Kharoulke the Windwalker, the most wicked of the deities who first plagued the middle world.
The mission here was to release gods of the generation that had overthrown Kharoulke and his kin. Gods who had been tricked into imprisonment by the ascendant.
Some doubted the need for a release effort. Kharoulke was no longer a threat to make himself supreme god of a world buried under ice. Heris had ended that threat with help from the Aelen Kofer.
Heris wanted divine allies. One evil had fallen but Kharoulke had kin who were growing stronger, too.
The Bastard and the ascendant talked fast and loud. The Old Ones had to understand that there had been changes. If they behaved with customary divine arrogance they would be exterminated before they could collect their wits.
Piper Hecht said, “Stay calm, ladies,” from behind his falcon, to his companion, Anna Mozilla, and their adopted daughters. “The jars will hold them long enough for them to grasp their situation.”
Heris said, “As long as we don’t get a really nasty one first.” The rattling alembic filled with sudden smoke.
“Well, shit!” Renfrow swore.
The ascendant rumbled, “You had to say it, woman! That’s Red Hammer.”
“Of course,” Hecht muttered. The ever-impulsive and never-bright god of thunder always handled a situation by smashing things.
The ascendant roared in the tongue of the gods, face inches from the rattling big bottle—avoiding getting into lines of fire.
The other alembics filled, less quickly.
The emotions of the escaping gods were potent. Hecht felt them clearly. They were not pleased.
A second Instrumentality now shared the alembic first filled by Red Hammer. Ghost faces glared through the silver glass. Hecht did not recall the god’s name but did sense his role in the pantheon of the Old Ones.