Deaths master, p.1
Death's Master, p.1Tanith Lee
Praise for Death’s Master,
the British Fantasy Award-winning second volume of Tales from the Flat Earth!
“Lee is a natural storyteller. This compelling and evocative novel . . . possesses a power only intimated in myth and fairy tales.”
“One of my all-time favorite fantasy novels.”
“This complex tale of Uhlume, Lord Death, and Zhirem and Simmu, magical children of different mothers, is full of strangeness and dark sensuality . . . the product of an amazing imagination.”
“Tanith Lee has got the art of mythmaking down pat; she also has a wonderful sense of the macabre.”
“Unique. . . . The style is complex and fascinating, the plotting and interweaving of characters and action meticulously worked out and invariably entertaining.”
—S. F. Chronicle
“Skillfully written and richly imagined. . . . In this long and intricate epic, a large cast of humans struggle to attain their own ends and to escape their doom. Lee fans, and other admirers of the compelling tale, will be more than satisfied with the result.”
DAW Books presents classic works of imaginative fiction by multiple award-winning author TANITH LEE
THE BIRTHGRAVE TRILOGY
(originally published as Vazkor, Son of Vazkor)
HUNTING THE WHITE WITCH
(originally published as Quest for the White Witch)
TALES FROM THE FLAT EARTH
THE WARS OF VIS
THE STORM LORD
THE WHITE SERPENT
COMPANIONS ON THE ROAD
KILL THE DEAD
DAY BY NIGHT
DARK CASTLE, WHITE HORSE
SUNG IN SHADOW
THE GORGON AND OTHER BEASTLY TALES
DAYS OF GRASS
A HEROINE OF THE WORLD
REDDER THAN BLOOD
DAW is proud to be reissuing these classic books in new editions beginning in 2015.
Copyright © 1979 by Tanith Lee.
Introduction copyright © 2009 by Tanith Lee.
All Rights Reserved.
Cover art by Bastien Lecouffe Deharme.
Cover design by G-Force Design.
DAW Book Collectors No. 324.
Published by DAW Books, Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
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Praise for Death’s Master
Also by Tanith Lee
Introduction by Tanith Lee
PART ONE: Narasen and Death
PART TWO: The Crying Child
PART THREE: The Master Of Night
PART FOUR: She Who Lingers
PART FIVE: Pomegranate
PART ONE: The Garden of the Golden Daughters
PART TWO: Death’s Enemies
PART THREE: Zhirek, the Dark Magician
PART FOUR: In Simmurad
PART FIVE: Burning
EPILOGUE: The Traveling House
by Tanith Lee
FROM THE VERY beginning I knew there were five of them—five Lords of Darkness.
Ultimately the five books that comprise the first Flat Earth opus reveal four of them. Even—perhaps confusingly?—the Fifth Lord is glimpsed during Book Four (Delirium’s Mistress). I did not, till then, know who he was or what he represented. And to date, no one has ever told me that they spotted him. Of course he is not properly in personal focus in that novel. His appearance is a cameo. I hope to rectify his absence and obscuration in the new sixth book.
But to return to the first two Lords.
Azhrarn, Night’s Master, was the very First. He is Wickedness, and Night is his aspect. The Second Lord, however, was obvious to me before I had finished Book One. The Second Lord is Death, and actually a King rather than a Prince—as too is that last Fifth Lord, when we get to him.
Death is—well, he’s death. But death in the Flat Earth environment does not entail total obliteration. Far from it. The state of death is physical only. The soul moves on. Death then rules an idea rather than a concrete fact. His aspect, proprietorially, is Shadow, and Pallor.
I was not able to approach him directly as, even with the fabulous Azhrarn, I had been able to. I had to wait (willingly and with great interest) on human adventurers, and so follow them towards the darkness of his icy light.
This novel, to me in retrospect, is far more about mortal notions of mortality, than about the humanized (somewhat) character of Dying’s Number One Representative. Yet at the time, swirling in the wake of my characters, I took him at face value.
Here, then, is what I found.
Narasen and Death
NARASEN, the leopard queen of Merh, stood at her window and watched Lady Plague walking about in the city. Lady Plague wore her yellow robe, for the sickness was a yellowish fever, yellow as the dust that swirled up from the plains and cloaked the city of Merh and choked it, yellow as the stinking mud to which the wide river of Merh had turned. And Narasen, powerless and angry, said within herself to the Plague: “What must I do to be rid of you?” and the dimly seen yellow woman bared her teeth and grimaced as if she answered: “You know, but cannot do it.” And then the dust storm folded her away and Narasen slammed the window-shutters closed.
The bedchamber of the queen of Merh was this way: Burnished weapons of hunting and war hung upon the walls which were painted with scenes of hunting and war. The floor was carpeted with the spotted and striped skins of beasts Narasen had slain, and in the bed by night there often lay a pretty girl, the current love of Narasen. The king of Merh, Narasen’s father, had trained and raised her as if she were son rather than daughter, preparing her to rule after him, and this had fitted her inclination very well. Yet she had a woman’s beauty.
One noon, a year before this, Naras
“Bring him to me,” said Narasen when they told her, and the young man was not slow in coming. “Now, what is this?” she said. “You are within the limits of Merh yet not a citizen of Merh, I think, and you sit alone in your finery. Has no one warned you, wild beasts come to drink at the river and have a nose for human flesh, and robbers live in this land, as in all lands, and they have a nose for jewels.”
The young man bowed, and he gazed at her in a certain way which she had occasionally seen before, which there was no mistaking, and his eyes darkened. But he spoke politely.
“My name is Issak: I am a magician and the son of magicians. I fear neither beasts nor men, for I know spells to charm them.”
“Then you are fortunate. Or boastful,” said Narasen. “Come, show me proof.”
The young man bowed again. Then he lifted the staff, and it changed to a white snake with green eyes, which looped itself three times round his neck. After that, he whistled, and suddenly the water of the river was cut by a thousand bright blades, all its bright fish leaping. And then again he whistled, differently, and birds fell from the trees like leaves and settled on his shoulders and his hands.
Narasen’s companions were diverted and applauded him. But Narasen said, seeing how he still looked at her, and not liking it:
“Now fetch me a leopard.”
At once the birds flew away and the fish sank like stones. The young man named Issak fastened his gaze to hers, frowning, and he whistled a third time. Through the shadow of the trees, ten golden leopards walked, spattered with the shadow and their own shadowy freckling, and each had the eyes of Narasen. Narasen smiled and called for her spears. But as she drew back her arm to make the cast, the young man pulled the snake from around his neck and threw it from him. At once the snake became a staff, fixed point downward in the soil of the river bank. The ten leopards vanished.
“So it was only an illusion,” said Narasen, “a trick. I do not like to be cheated by trickery.”
Then Issak smiled too. Very gently he said: “Whatever it was, most beautiful queen of Merh, I think you could not do it.”
This Narasen did not take to, being told what she could and could not do. She turned away, and to one of her guard she said, “Give the showman some coins. He has a famished air, and probably his finery is an illusion too.”
Issak refused the money. He said: “No coin will suffice. I desire another reward, for it is another thing I hunger for.”
“And what is that?”
“The queen of Merh.”
Never in her life had any man dared speak to Narasen in this fashion. It angered her, and somewhere at her roots it made her uneasy.
“Well,” she said however, lightly, “since you are clearly of barbarous people, and do not understand our civilized manners, I will not have you beaten.”
“Narasen may beat me,” he said, “but no other.”
One of the hounds of Narasen, sensing her anger, began to snarl at Issak. But Issak the magician stretched out his arm toward the hound, and instead it immediately lay down and fell asleep.
“And now,” said Issak, “Narasen the beautiful must learn this. She also might be charmed as easily as her dog. Despite your words, lady, and what you are, love stirs in me at the sight of you. Tonight we shall lie together, and there is no way you can prevent it.” When he said this, rather than arrogance or lust, the young man’s face took on a look of sadness and pain.
Narasen snapped at her guard, who leapt forward to seize Issak the magician. But somehow, where their hands fell, he was not—he seemed to vanish as the leopards had done, and though the guard of Narasen thrust about along the track a good while, he was not to be found.
• • •
Narasen returned to the city in an unsettled mood. She was not unjust, though she could be cruel; now she hankered to exact payment for the insolence of the stranger. She believed too, he was intent upon his promise to her, and perhaps had some chance of success, seeing he was so skilled in magic. There was no love in her for the bodies of men, yet, had he approached her another way, she might have commiserated with him. Then she recalled the bizarre tragedy which showed on his face, the expression of despair and hurt. . . . Narasen flung open her bronze doors with a crash, and shouted for her own sorcerers.
Night opened its black flowers; the flower-garden windows of lamplit Merh bloomed below. In the palace of Narasen the guard was doubled at the gates, with orders to watch for foreigners. Outside the apartments of the queen two giant men stood with clubs of brass, leering at each other, hoping there would be trouble that they might commit violence. On the inner door there hung the skull of a hyena and other unsavory amulets devised by the palace sorcerers. Within the rooms, obscure aromatics smoked.
But Narasen, as the night progressed, growing deeper and more still, grew also still and began to doubt herself. From the high windows, she watched the flower lamps of Merh go out, now a scarlet flower, now a gold, plucked by the blue fingers of the peaceful dark. She thought of the sorcerers fumbling their spells and chanting in an antechamber. She thought of the dinner she had sent away with a curse, and of the girl with flax-pale hair who this month shared her bed. And then she thought of Issak the magician, and she laughed to herself and at him, his clever illusions, his boasts, his lust. Almost, she pitied him.
So she went out into the antechamber, and through the purple smoke of the braziers, she saw the sorcerers had fallen asleep at their work, and the floor all littered with their instruments, their bits of bone and silver flails and strings of polished beads. Then she crossed to the bronze doors and opened them, and there the two giant men stood, rigid as old trees, and though their eyes were wide, they saw nothing. In the passageway a green bird was flying up and down. A moment after Narasen had opened the doors, the green bird flew by her, and straight into the antechamber. And there it shed its feathers and became a green jewel which fell to the floor, and the jewel cracked open and out of it burst a shining ray. When the ray faded, there stood Issak the magician.
He looked at Narasen and his face was pale. In his hand he carried one rare blue rose, of the kind that was often spoken of but seldom seen, and this he offered to Narasen, and when she did not take it he said, “If you would prefer sapphires, then so be it.”
Narasen was near speechless, but she made speech nevertheless.
“Your magic is truly remarkable. Am I to be ensorcelled next?”
“If you will not yield in love to me.”
Narasen considered him, his white face and his hand which trembled about the stem of the rose.
“I do not lie with men,” said Narasen.
“Tonight you shall.”
“Perhaps and perhaps,” she said. “Drink with me and we will discuss it.” Then, because he made no move to stop her, she went to a cabinet of wines, and poured for him a generous measure, but she filled her own cup with a harmless sherbet of dates. “Now,” said Narasen, watching him as he slowly drank, “tell me one thing. Your sorcery is vast, yet, rather than use it, you cajole me. You speak of desire, but you have the pallor of a man in fear or sorrow. You woo me with gifts, yet mean to force me if you are able. Why not one thing or the other?”
“I will tell you, Narasen the fair,” he said. “I am a magician, as you know very well, and I have had traffic with demon-kind, particularly with the Drin, the ugly dwarf-folk of the Underearth. I wished to increase my powers, and these Drin led me to the house of a special mage, far older and more cunning than I, saying he would teach me. But the Drin liked this wretch the better, for he was more the villain. He made a bargain with me for my tuition, that every night he would lie once with me. Now I was young and stupid and anxious to be powerful and wise, and it seemed to me that the delights and abuses of the flesh were nothing compared to this power and wisdom. So, though he was foul, old and bestial, I agreed. Each night I endured him then. One whole month I was his pupil by day, his doxy after dark. It seemed a high fee enough, but I did not know how high a fee. For each time his weapon sheathed in me, his lechery and his sin went with it, passing with his seed into my vitals and thence into my unrealizing flesh, my body and my soul. And every time that this was done, a year of his evil existence was hung on me and in return he drew from me a year of my life to increase his own. Such was the nature of his spell, and so he told me, when at length I would accept no more. ‘You go from me, Issak,’ said he, ‘a magician gifted now with some portion of my brilliant art. But, though you may appear a wholesome youth and your inclination is to be one, my whims and vices are in you, and you will, from time to time, indulge in the deeds that I have pleasured in, become a forcer of maidens and a plunderer of men. Yet, do not lament, you shall not long be troubled. Thirty years have you added to my span; just three years of life are left to you. Only be sure, they will be merry.’ And thus,” said Issak, letting fall the cup of wine half full, “it is with me as he said. Having seen you, it is the legacy of his hot zeal brings me here. The blue rose alone is my guest-gift at the visit.” Then he leant his head upon his arm like a child, and wept.
Narasen said sternly: “You must resist this bewitchment.”
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