9780765356956

Dark Vengeance A Novel of Niflheim

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780765356956

  • ISBN10:

    0765356953

  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 9/1/2009
  • Publisher: Tor Fantasy

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Summary

Orivon Firefist was captured as a six-year-old child by the Nilfgharthe dark elveswho attacked his village by night on one of their surface raids. Fifteen years later, he was a moon-pale, scarred, muscular giant of a man, who spent his days at forgework for a dark elf family. He had been trained (and flogged and ordered about) by the beautiful Tsarnarra, a lash-wielding matron who is icily cruel, but proud of the slaves that she has trained. Through all of this, Orivon's spirit had never been broken and he rose up and opposed his underworld tyrants. He has successfully returned to the surface world home that he thought only existed in his most distant dreams. But the score is far from settled. Years of oppression and new revelations of the dark deeds of his former captors only fuel his forge of rage. And the fact that their evil still permeates the underworld only intensifies his desire for a dark vengeance.

Author Biography

ED GREENWOOD is the creator of the bestselling world of the Forgotten Realms as well the Band of Four series. He lives in Ontario, Canada.

Table of Contents

1

A Face in the Fire

Nightskins come and nightskins creep Keep your sword right sharp Nightskins catch and nightskins keep So may your sword drink deep

—Orlkettle firesong

Good hinges," Harmund the weaver said happily, moving them in his hands.

Not so long ago he’d have said that grudgingly, if he’d have admitted it at all. Yet with the passing days upon days, Orlkettle had warmed to the terse giant who worked tirelessly at the village forge.

Old Bryard the Smith might have been more than grudging, for the giant who called himself Firefist did better work than Orlkettle had ever seen—hinges and door-strapping and handles, not just picks and axes and war-blades. Instead, Bryard trusted this Orivon Firefist.

By night and by day the muscled giant stood at the anvil or the forge, saying little but nodding and smiling often as he worked. More and more, Bryard sat on his own guests’ benches and talked with the men of Orlkettle, as they all watched the man of lost Ashenuld—the man who had been taken as a boy by the nightskins and enslaved in the Dark Below, only to escape alive all these years later—craft better work than Bryard had ever managed.

And that was saying something.

Orlkettle had been proud of Bryard, and peddlers came often to buy his forge-wares. Yet this Orivon was two clear strides ahead of the old smith in skill, and more, doing work of such strength and finish and sweeping-curves beauty that word of it had spread far.

There had come a day when a long-bearded priest of Thorar had climbed down stiff and sore from six days on a mule to bring Firefist an old, crumbling Holy Helm in need of mending . . . and gone home beaming after his tears of joy were done. And he could bring himself to stop constantly running marveling hands over the gleaming thing of beauty that Orivon had gently set before him.

Gently, that was the way of Orivon.

Not thrusting aside old Bryard or anyone else, not loudly declaiming his views or his will to all Orlkettle. He chased no lasses, and calmly stepped aside from fights and provocations as though they had never been offered, answering them only with a calm, reproachful look. He dwelt at the forge, and ate with Bryard’s family or at the board of the Tranneths, who made the best kegs and barrels this side of Orlpur and rejoiced at the iron bands he made for them (and who had lost their own daughter Aumril to raiding nightskins just as Orivon had been lost, a season before he’d first stalked into Orlkettle with fearsome sword in hand and a bundle of other fine swords, all of his own making, under his other arm).

Orivon paid for all that went into his mouth with field-work and repairs, like any village man.

The village of Orlkettle had slowly lost its fear of him, and men now nodded to him in the street, and no longer tugged their children back from his reach.

For his part, Orivon Firefist was flourishing. Arms and shoulders of corded muscle, a torso that should have been white but that was browned all down the front by forge flames and the mottled scars of many small burns, he was usually to be found stripped to the waist, poking his beak of a nose and scowling brows close to the forge to peer at red-hot metal without regard for its fierce heat.

His height, obvious rugged strength, and oft-bare torso proclaimed who he was from afar. Closer eyes saw flowing brown hair, beard, and mustache, and a gaze that could pierce when it wanted to, and held no fear. His wardrobe seemed to consist of scorched-in-many-places leather breeches, broad belts, leather boots, a weather-cloak, and little else.

Harmund the weaver looked across the forge now, in the time of long shadows ere sunset. Orivon was patiently raking coals together to receive more wood, to make the fire hotter. When he was done, Harmund knew, he’d look up, and could then be asked the price of six hinges like the one in his hand, and how soon they could be ready.

Then they both heard the bells, and that unasked question was forgotten in an instant.

Many fine bells all jingling in rhythm meant a peddler signaling his arrival in Orlkettle, bringing wares and news.

An excited murmur arose all over the village as Orl-folk came out of their houses; Harmund the weaver was at the forge-door staring out in an instant.

" ’Tis Ringil!" he called back over his shoulder, forgetting that Orivon hadn’t been in Orlkettle for many seasons. "Years, it’s been—and no wonder. He goes to Orlpur, and ports on the sea beyond, too!"

Orivon nodded, unhooked a chain above his head to let the great lid down on the coals to smother them, and stalked to the door.

In the long golden light of the dying day, the village square was crowded. Many Orl-folk were converging on it from all directions, calling greetings and questions as they came to a small, hunched man who was busy with his mules at the water-trough. As they watched, he swept off his feather-adorned cap and set it on the signal-fire dome with a flourish. When he straightened up again, Orivon got a good look at him. The peddler had a weathered, wise-eyed face and a pepper-and-salt beard. He wore a smart black jerkin with scarlet piping; it looked like the uniform of a courtier or a ceremonial guard—which is just what it was, though Ringil had never actually been a member of that court guard. Not that either guard nor court existed anymore.

So much Harmund told Orivon ere they joined the crowd. Ringil had hung his strip of bells and was now hobbling his train of a dozen mules. He’d already reached down a folding table from among their bulging saddlebags, and set a lantern on it to be lit when dusk drew down. "People of Orlkettle, I bring you treasures from afar! Fine things," he said jovially. "Wondrous things!"

"Flashy dross," Dorran the miller called out, just as pleasantly.

Ringil reeled in mock horror, clutching at his heart and flinging his arms up wildly. "Strike me deep!" he gasped. "Wound me sore!"

Then he winked and added, "Fine flashy dross."

The rasping voice of Old Authra cut through the ripple of chuckles that followed. "What news?"

The peddler nodded. "Plenty to tell, plenty to tell. There’s a new king in Rond . . . the Silent Stone split apart and the witch Harresse stepped up out of the grave she’s lain in underneath it these seven-score years; she’s none too pleased, and most folk are fleeing Duncrown right now . . . and the nightskins are raiding again: they hit Tlustal and then Ormyn not so many nights back."

"Then they’ll come here, as sure as the sun rises," Authra snapped, glaring all around as if nightskin raids were the fault of all her neighbors.

There were many murmurings of dismayed agreement—that stopped in an instant when Orivon Firefist’s deep, level voice floated across the crowd.

"How many nightskins? Did they use any magic? Swords, or spells?"

Ringil blinked at the source of those questions. "Ho, you’re a big one, aren’t you? Thinking of fighting them?"

"Yes," Orivon said firmly.

Orl-folk stared at him in the darkening square as if he’d turned to a nightskin himself, right before their eyes.

The peddler shook his head doubtfully. "Not sure as anyone knows how many ran through Tlustal, but in Ormyn they were ten-and-seven strong, and waved swords. They had those capture-hoods that make the poor hooded ones obey them instead of running off, but that’s all the magic I heard about." He peered thoughtfully at Orivon’s burn-scarred torso and leather breeches. "You really thinking of fighting them?"

Orivon nodded.

Their eyes met for a long, silent moment ere the peddler said, "You’re not from Orlkettle. Where, then?"

"Ashenuld," was the flat reply.

Ringil’s eyes narrowed. "Ashenuld’s lost, a ruin—because of the nightskins. How is it Ashenuld fell, but you stand here alive?"

"I was taken by nightskins," Orivon replied, "and spent years in the Dark Below. A slave."

Frowning, Ringil took a step closer to the half-naked giant, and the crowd parted silently to let him. "I knew Ashenuld well," he said quietly. "Who are you?"

"Orivon. Orivon Ralla’s son."

Ringil’s face changed, and everyone who saw it knew that he had known Ralla well, too.

"Well, now," he said roughly. "Well, now . . ."

"If the nightskins come," Orivon said firmly, "I will take up my sword and fight them." He looked around at the Orl-folk silently staring at him, and added, "If you’ll let me, I will make swords and spears and daggers for every last one of you, and we will string chime-strings, and practice gathering to fight in the dark; where to stand, which doors to guard, where to watch from. No one should ever be taken by any nightskin, ever again."

"You had a sister," Ringil said softly. "She was born after you were . . . snatched. Kalamae."

Orivon took a step forward of his own. "You knew her?"

"I sired her," the peddler whispered. "I . . . your mother and I . . ." He shook his head. "She was never the same, after they took our little Kala."

He held up his hand for silence, but the Orl-folk were already giving it, hardly breathing as they watched the peddler and the forge-giant standing, silently regarding each other.

"I knew your father," Ringil said slowly. "He was a good man."

He turned abruptly and strode through their mutely parting ranks to the stone dome beside the village water-trough. Plucking it and his cap up to lay bare the signal-fire laid ready beneath it, he struck steel from his wrist-bracer and blew the dry tinder into a little blaze. Then he beckoned Orivon with a wave of his hand.

As Firefist walked closer, he heard the peddler chanting something that made the nearest Orl-folk draw back in awe. A charm, a tiny magic that made the flames rise up like a swiftly sprouting plant.

Ringil’s chant changed; he was now repeating "Kala-mae" often and insistently . . . and as Orivon came to a stop beside the peddler, a face formed in the fire.

"Kalamae," Ringil whispered one last time, bringing his chant to an end. He looked at Orivon and murmured, "This is how I remember her. She’ll be older now . . . if she lives still."

Orivon stared. Dark-eyed and long-tressed, it might have been his mother. A younger Ralla, without scars and lines of pain and worry . . .

The beautiful face swam away, lost back into rushing flames, and those flames started to die. The exhausted peddler wiped sudden sweat from his nose, and abruptly became aware that the villagers were backing away, some of them shivering, and staring at the forge-giant beside him.

He turned, looked, and saw why.

Orivon Firefist’s calm face might have been carved from stone, but his eyes were blazing brighter than the flames of the Orl signal-fire had ever been.

The elder Watcher of Ouvahlor shrugged. "Something happened in that cavern that none of us saw. We cannot watch everything, everywhere, and who would think to search so close to the Blindingbright? Probably he killed them; certainly there is no trace of them in Talon-norn now."

"I am not concerned with your past failings," the Daughter of the Ever-Ice said curtly. "What matters is that Blessed of the Ice Lolonmae desires to know—know, beyond doubt or speculation on anyone’s part—the fates of the Ravager leader who calls himself Old Bloodblade, and the Lady Taerune Evendoom."

"And your own spells have told you nothing, Semmeira? Or is it easier, rather than casting them, to just trot down here and seek to lord it over the Ever-Ice-anointed Watchers of Ouvahlor? To try to bully us into doing your work?"

Old Luelldar’s voice had deepened, and his eyes were glowing blue-white with the chill of the Ever-Ice.

Standing on the far side of the glowing watch-whorl, the junior Watcher, Aloun, fought to keep a smile off his face as he saw the priestess flinch back from his superior, awed by the holy power manifest in the elder Watcher despite her fury.

"You dare to defy—"

"I dare nothing. I expect a polite request for assistance, which I will of course render. Semmeira, your hunger for power and delight in misusing it—like a whip, or bludgeon, to batter those around you—is an affront to the Sacred Ice around us. Cease in this behavior, for the sake of Coldheart—and of Ouvahlor."

"You presume to lecture me on what affronts the Holy Ever-Ice?"

"I ‘presume’ nothing. I lecture you because someone must. Your holy sisters of Coldheart are far too tolerant; your ambitions have time and again weakened our victories and soured our diplomatic successes. Hear me now, if you listen to nothing else I say at all: we have no need for tyrants among us; we have the fools of Talonnorn for that."

Her eyes blazing with rage, the tall priestess sprang forward in a swirling of black robes, both hands clawing at Luelldar.

Who stood like a stone statue and endured one ringing slap, then moved with the speed of a striking tomb-snake to snare both of Semmeira’s wrists.

She shrieked—in fury, not fear—and struggled, spitting full in his face and jerking and arching her body wildly to try to tug free. To no avail.

"Let—me—go!" she hissed into the Watcher’s face. He stared silently into her eyes, the blue glow in his own seeming to grow brighter.

She screamed at him, but still he stood unmoving, eyes boring into hers. His eyes were brighter.

Abruptly she looked away, snarled—and turned her head sharply away, twisting it back and down, to bite him.

Her teeth sank deep and drew blood, but his grip held. After more thrashings, she spat Luelldar’s own blood into his face and snapped, "Set me free, Watcher of Ouvahlor. Please."

A long breath later, she tried more gently to pull free, found herself still in a stony grip, and sighed.

"Luelldar, please. I . . . Consider me tamed. I . . . I hear your words. I will heed them."

"Truly? Or only for as long as it takes for you to convince me to let go of you?"

Bosom heaving, the Exalted Daughter of the Ice stared into the now-bright blue glow of the elder Nifl’s eyes for what seemed to Aloun to be a very long time. Slowly, as Semmeira stared at the risen power of the Ice, her face changed.

Then Aloun heard her whisper, "Truly. If I again seem . . . overly ambitious, send word to me, and I shall return here. For more taming."

Despite himself, Aloun’s jaw dropped open; he couldn’t help but stare in amazement.

Mustn’t! This could mean my death!

He fought to look away, but saw . . .

The elder Watcher let go of her slowly and carefully, as if he were handling a sculpture of fine and delicate glass. Nodding once, Luelldar murmured, "Exalted Daughter of the Ice, we are always honored by your presence."

That "we" made Semmeira’s eyes dart to Aloun, but by then he had wisely—just—bent his head, and busied himself with shaping the watch-whorl to hunt another place the Watchers had been ordered to observe.

Nodding to Luelldar, she turned in silence, sleek and shapely in her robes, and departed. She looked back, just for a moment, at the door.

The elder Watcher was still standing as still as any statue, watching her, the risen power of the Ever-Ice glowing deep blue and awful in his eyes.

It was some time before Aloun dared to ask, "Luell? Am I to peer at other caverns near the one that leads to the Blindingbright for the bones of the Talonar noble and the Ravager? Or go on to Dlanathur’s reques—"

"Seek the Lady Evendoom and Bloodblade, and so shall I. Blessed Lolonmae shall have every assistance we can give."

"And Semmeira?" Aloun knew he was being too daring, but it was a teasing he just couldn’t resist.

The elder Watcher turned slowly to face him, his eyes still blue with dimming Ever-Ice power, and his face like cold stone.

He took a menacing step closer, and Aloun felt the first cold stirrings of fear.

Then, very suddenly, the elder Watcher of Ouvahlor grinned. "Well, now," he asked the watch-whorl between them, "who would have thought Exalted Daughter of the Ice Semmeira so hungrily craves punishment?"

Then his glee fell off his face as quickly as it had come, and he looked up warningly at Aloun and said, "You, junior Watcher of Ouvahlor, had best be very careful. Go nowhere alone, and tell no one at all anything of what you just saw. That particular priestess will murder you in an instant if she thinks anyone will learn what she just revealed. Go and lock yon door. Now. Before we gaze again into any whorls, I think it’s time I taught you the spell that lets you plunge through one, and be taken away. Your neck may soon thank you for it."

"The Araed is quiet," the Nifl spore-trader Taerel commented, turning from the doors of the Waiting Warm Dark to stroll back to his seat. He was one of only three patrons in the place just now.

The dancer to whom he’d thrown a thumb-gem, to dance just for him, broke her provocative pose on his table in a fluid rippling of her body that made him stare and smile in admiration.

Yaressa was worth it.

Yaressa was always worth it.

"The Araed is ever quiet, these days," she replied, shifting into a slow, eye-catchingly supple dance, "since Ouvahlor attacked us, and priestesses slaughtered each other at the temple, and House-lords fell. And no wonder; so much of it lies in ruin, with cave-rats and longfang-vipers gnawing the buried bones of the unclaimed dead! Not even counting all the fled or dead slaves, I doubt the Araed now holds a tenth the Nifl it used to. Truly, Olone has turned her face from us."

Excerpted from Dark Vengeance by Ed Greenwood.
Copyright 2008 by Ed Greenwood.
Published in August 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Excerpts

1

A Face in the Fire

Nightskins come and nightskins creep Keep your sword right sharp Nightskins catch and nightskins keep So may your sword drink deep

—Orlkettle firesong

Good hinges," Harmund the weaver said happily, moving them in his hands.

Not so long ago he’d have said that grudgingly, if he’d have admitted it at all. Yet with the passing days upon days, Orlkettle had warmed to the terse giant who worked tirelessly at the village forge.

Old Bryard the Smith might have been more than grudging, for the giant who called himself Firefist did better work than Orlkettle had ever seen—hinges and door-strapping and handles, not just picks and axes and war-blades. Instead, Bryard trusted this Orivon Firefist.

By night and by day the muscled giant stood at the anvil or the forge, saying little but nodding and smiling often as he worked. More and more, Bryard sat on his own guests’ benches and talked with the men of Orlkettle, as they all watched the man of lost Ashenuld—the man who had been taken as a boy by the nightskins and enslaved in the Dark Below, only to escape alive all these years later—craft better work than Bryard had ever managed.

And that was saying something.

Orlkettle had been proud of Bryard, and peddlers came often to buy his forge-wares. Yet this Orivon was two clear strides ahead of the old smith in skill, and more, doing work of such strength and finish and sweeping-curves beauty that word of it had spread far.

There had come a day when a long-bearded priest of Thorar had climbed down stiff and sore from six days on a mule to bring Firefist an old, crumbling Holy Helm in need of mending . . . and gone home beaming after his tears of joy were done. And he could bring himself to stop constantly running marveling hands over the gleaming thing of beauty that Orivon had gently set before him.

Gently, that was the way of Orivon.

Not thrusting aside old Bryard or anyone else, not loudly declaiming his views or his will to all Orlkettle. He chased no lasses, and calmly stepped aside from fights and provocations as though they had never been offered, answering them only with a calm, reproachful look. He dwelt at the forge, and ate with Bryard’s family or at the board of the Tranneths, who made the best kegs and barrels this side of Orlpur and rejoiced at the iron bands he made for them (and who had lost their own daughter Aumril to raiding nightskins just as Orivon had been lost, a season before he’d first stalked into Orlkettle with fearsome sword in hand and a bundle of other fine swords, all of his own making, under his other arm).

Orivon paid for all that went into his mouth with field-work and repairs, like any village man.

The village of Orlkettle had slowly lost its fear of him, and men now nodded to him in the street, and no longer tugged their children back from his reach.

For his part, Orivon Firefist was flourishing. Arms and shoulders of corded muscle, a torso that should have been white but that was browned all down the front by forge flames and the mottled scars of many small burns, he was usually to be found stripped to the waist, poking his beak of a nose and scowling brows close to the forge to peer at red-hot metal without regard for its fierce heat.

His height, obvious rugged strength, and oft-bare torso proclaimed who he was from afar. Closer eyes saw flowing brown hair, beard, and mustache, and a gaze that could pierce when it wanted to, and held no fear. His wardrobe seemed to consist of scorched-in-many-places leather breeches, broad belts, leather boots, a weather-cloak, and little else.

Harmund the weaver looked across the forge now, in the time of long shadows ere sunset. Orivon was patiently raking coals together to receive more wood, to make the fire hotter. When he was done, Harmund knew, he’d look up, and could then be asked the price of six hinges like the one in his hand, and how soon they could be ready.

Then they both heard the bells, and that unasked question was forgotten in an instant.

Many fine bells all jingling in rhythm meant a peddler signaling his arrival in Orlkettle, bringing wares and news.

An excited murmur arose all over the village as Orl-folk came out of their houses; Harmund the weaver was at the forge-door staring out in an instant.

" ’Tis Ringil!" he called back over his shoulder, forgetting that Orivon hadn’t been in Orlkettle for many seasons. "Years, it’s been—and no wonder. He goes to Orlpur, and ports on the sea beyond, too!"

Orivon nodded, unhooked a chain above his head to let the great lid down on the coals to smother them, and stalked to the door.

In the long golden light of the dying day, the village square was crowded. Many Orl-folk were converging on it from all directions, calling greetings and questions as they came to a small, hunched man who was busy with his mules at the water-trough. As they watched, he swept off his feather-adorned cap and set it on the signal-fire dome with a flourish. When he straightened up again, Orivon got a good look at him. The peddler had a weathered, wise-eyed face and a pepper-and-salt beard. He wore a smart black jerkin with scarlet piping; it looked like the uniform of a courtier or a ceremonial guard—which is just what it was, though Ringil had never actually been a member of that court guard. Not that either guard nor court existed anymore.

So much Harmund told Orivon ere they joined the crowd. Ringil had hung his strip of bells and was now hobbling his train of a dozen mules. He’d already reached down a folding table from among their bulging saddlebags, and set a lantern on it to be lit when dusk drew down. "People of Orlkettle, I bring you treasures from afar! Fine things," he said jovially. "Wondrous things!"

"Flashy dross," Dorran the miller called out, just as pleasantly.

Ringil reeled in mock horror, clutching at his heart and flinging his arms up wildly. "Strike me deep!" he gasped. "Wound me sore!"

Then he winked and added, "Fine flashy dross."

The rasping voice of Old Authra cut through the ripple of chuckles that followed. "What news?"

The peddler nodded. "Plenty to tell, plenty to tell. There’s a new king in Rond . . . the Silent Stone split apart and the witch Harresse stepped up out of the grave she’s lain in underneath it these seven-score years; she’s none too pleased, and most folk are fleeing Duncrown right now . . . and the nightskins are raiding again: they hit Tlustal and then Ormyn not so many nights back."

"Then they’ll come here, as sure as the sun rises," Authra snapped, glaring all around as if nightskin raids were the fault of all her neighbors.

There were many murmurings of dismayed agreement—that stopped in an instant when Orivon Firefist’s deep, level voice floated across the crowd.

"How many nightskins? Did they use any magic? Swords, or spells?"

Ringil blinked at the source of those questions. "Ho, you’re a big one, aren’t you? Thinking of fighting them?"

"Yes," Orivon said firmly.

Orl-folk stared at him in the darkening square as if he’d turned to a nightskin himself, right before their eyes.

The peddler shook his head doubtfully. "Not sure as anyone knows how many ran through Tlustal, but in Ormyn they were ten-and-seven strong, and waved swords. They had those capture-hoods that make the poor hooded ones obey them instead of running off, but that’s all the magic I heard about." He peered thoughtfully at Orivon’s burn-scarred torso and leather breeches. "You really thinking of fighting them?"

Orivon nodded.

Their eyes met for a long, silent moment ere the peddler said, "You’re not from Orlkettle. Where, then?"

"Ashenuld," was the flat reply.

Ringil’s eyes narrowed. "Ashenuld’s lost, a ruin—because of the nightskins. How is it Ashenuld fell, but you stand here alive?"

"I was taken by nightskins," Orivon replied, "and spent years in the Dark Below. A slave."

Frowning, Ringil took a step closer to the half-naked giant, and the crowd parted silently to let him. "I knew Ashenuld well," he said quietly. "Who are you?"

"Orivon. Orivon Ralla’s son."

Ringil’s face changed, and everyone who saw it knew that he had known Ralla well, too.

"Well, now," he said roughly. "Well, now . . ."

"If the nightskins come," Orivon said firmly, "I will take up my sword and fight them." He looked around at the Orl-folk silently staring at him, and added, "If you’ll let me, I will make swords and spears and daggers for every last one of you, and we will string chime-strings, and practice gathering to fight in the dark; where to stand, which doors to guard, where to watch from. No one should ever be taken by any nightskin, ever again."

"You had a sister," Ringil said softly. "She was born after you were . . . snatched. Kalamae."

Orivon took a step forward of his own. "You knew her?"

"I sired her," the peddler whispered. "I . . . your mother and I . . ." He shook his head. "She was never the same, after they took our little Kala."

He held up his hand for silence, but the Orl-folk were already giving it, hardly breathing as they watched the peddler and the forge-giant standing, silently regarding each other.

"I knew your father," Ringil said slowly. "He was a good man."

He turned abruptly and strode through their mutely parting ranks to the stone dome beside the village water-trough. Plucking it and his cap up to lay bare the signal-fire laid ready beneath it, he struck steel from his wrist-bracer and blew the dry tinder into a little blaze. Then he beckoned Orivon with a wave of his hand.

As Firefist walked closer, he heard the peddler chanting something that made the nearest Orl-folk draw back in awe. A charm, a tiny magic that made the flames rise up like a swiftly sprouting plant.

Ringil’s chant changed; he was now repeating "Kala-mae" often and insistently . . . and as Orivon came to a stop beside the peddler, a face formed in the fire.

"Kalamae," Ringil whispered one last time, bringing his chant to an end. He looked at Orivon and murmured, "This is how I remember her. She’ll be older now . . . if she lives still."

Orivon stared. Dark-eyed and long-tressed, it might have been his mother. A younger Ralla, without scars and lines of pain and worry . . .

The beautiful face swam away, lost back into rushing flames, and those flames started to die. The exhausted peddler wiped sudden sweat from his nose, and abruptly became aware that the villagers were backing away, some of them shivering, and staring at the forge-giant beside him.

He turned, looked, and saw why.

Orivon Firefist’s calm face might have been carved from stone, but his eyes were blazing brighter than the flames of the Orl signal-fire had ever been.

The elder Watcher of Ouvahlor shrugged. "Something happened in that cavern that none of us saw. We cannot watch everything, everywhere, and who would think to search so close to the Blindingbright? Probably he killed them; certainly there is no trace of them in Talon-norn now."

"I am not concerned with your past failings," the Daughter of the Ever-Ice said curtly. "What matters is that Blessed of the Ice Lolonmae desires to know—know, beyond doubt or speculation on anyone’s part—the fates of the Ravager leader who calls himself Old Bloodblade, and the Lady Taerune Evendoom."

"And your own spells have told you nothing, Semmeira? Or is it easier, rather than casting them, to just trot down here and seek to lord it over the Ever-Ice-anointed Watchers of Ouvahlor? To try to bully us into doing your work?"

Old Luelldar’s voice had deepened, and his eyes were glowing blue-white with the chill of the Ever-Ice.

Standing on the far side of the glowing watch-whorl, the junior Watcher, Aloun, fought to keep a smile off his face as he saw the priestess flinch back from his superior, awed by the holy power manifest in the elder Watcher despite her fury.

"You dare to defy—"

"I dare nothing. I expect a polite request for assistance, which I will of course render. Semmeira, your hunger for power and delight in misusing it—like a whip, or bludgeon, to batter those around you—is an affront to the Sacred Ice around us. Cease in this behavior, for the sake of Coldheart—and of Ouvahlor."

"You presume to lecture me on what affronts the Holy Ever-Ice?"

"I ‘presume’ nothing. I lecture you because someone must. Your holy sisters of Coldheart are far too tolerant; your ambitions have time and again weakened our victories and soured our diplomatic successes. Hear me now, if you listen to nothing else I say at all: we have no need for tyrants among us; we have the fools of Talonnorn for that."

Her eyes blazing with rage, the tall priestess sprang forward in a swirling of black robes, both hands clawing at Luelldar.

Who stood like a stone statue and endured one ringing slap, then moved with the speed of a striking tomb-snake to snare both of Semmeira’s wrists.

She shrieked—in fury, not fear—and struggled, spitting full in his face and jerking and arching her body wildly to try to tug free. To no avail.

"Let—me—go!" she hissed into the Watcher’s face. He stared silently into her eyes, the blue glow in his own seeming to grow brighter.

She screamed at him, but still he stood unmoving, eyes boring into hers. His eyes were brighter.

Abruptly she looked away, snarled—and turned her head sharply away, twisting it back and down, to bite him.

Her teeth sank deep and drew blood, but his grip held. After more thrashings, she spat Luelldar’s own blood into his face and snapped, "Set me free, Watcher of Ouvahlor. Please."

A long breath later, she tried more gently to pull free, found herself still in a stony grip, and sighed.

"Luelldar, please. I . . . Consider me tamed. I . . . I hear your words. I will heed them."

"Truly? Or only for as long as it takes for you to convince me to let go of you?"

Bosom heaving, the Exalted Daughter of the Ice stared into the now-bright blue glow of the elder Nifl’s eyes for what seemed to Aloun to be a very long time. Slowly, as Semmeira stared at the risen power of the Ice, her face changed.

Then Aloun heard her whisper, "Truly. If I again seem . . . overly ambitious, send word to me, and I shall return here. For more taming."

Despite himself, Aloun’s jaw dropped open; he couldn’t help but stare in amazement.

Mustn’t! This could mean my death!

He fought to look away, but saw . . .

The elder Watcher let go of her slowly and carefully, as if he were handling a sculpture of fine and delicate glass. Nodding once, Luelldar murmured, "Exalted Daughter of the Ice, we are always honored by your presence."

That "we" made Semmeira’s eyes dart to Aloun, but by then he had wisely—just—bent his head, and busied himself with shaping the watch-whorl to hunt another place the Watchers had been ordered to observe.

Nodding to Luelldar, she turned in silence, sleek and shapely in her robes, and departed. She looked back, just for a moment, at the door.

The elder Watcher was still standing as still as any statue, watching her, the risen power of the Ever-Ice glowing deep blue and awful in his eyes.

It was some time before Aloun dared to ask, "Luell? Am I to peer at other caverns near the one that leads to the Blindingbright for the bones of the Talonar noble and the Ravager? Or go on to Dlanathur’s reques—"

"Seek the Lady Evendoom and Bloodblade, and so shall I. Blessed Lolonmae shall have every assistance we can give."

"And Semmeira?" Aloun knew he was being too daring, but it was a teasing he just couldn’t resist.

The elder Watcher turned slowly to face him, his eyes still blue with dimming Ever-Ice power, and his face like cold stone.

He took a menacing step closer, and Aloun felt the first cold stirrings of fear.

Then, very suddenly, the elder Watcher of Ouvahlor grinned. "Well, now," he asked the watch-whorl between them, "who would have thought Exalted Daughter of the Ice Semmeira so hungrily craves punishment?"

Then his glee fell off his face as quickly as it had come, and he looked up warningly at Aloun and said, "You, junior Watcher of Ouvahlor, had best be very careful. Go nowhere alone, and tell no one at all anything of what you just saw. That particular priestess will murder you in an instant if she thinks anyone will learn what she just revealed. Go and lock yon door. Now. Before we gaze again into any whorls, I think it’s time I taught you the spell that lets you plunge through one, and be taken away. Your neck may soon thank you for it."

"The Araed is quiet," the Nifl spore-trader Taerel commented, turning from the doors of the Waiting Warm Dark to stroll back to his seat. He was one of only three patrons in the place just now.

The dancer to whom he’d thrown a thumb-gem, to dance just for him, broke her provocative pose on his table in a fluid rippling of her body that made him stare and smile in admiration.

Yaressa was worth it.

Yaressa was always worth it.

"The Araed is ever quiet, these days," she replied, shifting into a slow, eye-catchingly supple dance, "since Ouvahlor attacked us, and priestesses slaughtered each other at the temple, and House-lords fell. And no wonder; so much of it lies in ruin, with cave-rats and longfang-vipers gnawing the buried bones of the unclaimed dead! Not even counting all the fled or dead slaves, I doubt the Araed now holds a tenth the Nifl it used to. Truly, Olone has turned her face from us."

Excerpted from Dark Vengeance by Ed Greenwood.
Copyright 2008 by Ed Greenwood.
Published in August 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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