A Sample from Chapter 3
He stood on a flat rock, above a rolling grassland that stretched away toward low hills and a forested slope in the distance. Closer, where he stood with the cloak flapping in the warm wind, rocks were piled high as though a giant hand had flung them together in a playful mood.
The sky was yellow here, and the wind seemed to whisper as with many soft voices. Almost, it seemed he could understand those voices. They warned him, they counseled him, but he could not understand their words, only the mood they wrote across his mind with their faint suspirations. A shadow moved along the ground. Looking up, he saw a giant eagle soaring along on the wind currents, with widespread wings.
Kothar shook himself.
There was a black tower in the distance, and a narrow roadway leading to it, past the rock pile where the barbarian stood. He moved down, walked along to the road. There would be someone in the tower, he hoped, who could tell him where he was and how to get back into the room with the helix.
It seemed he had walked for only a little while, then the tower loomed before him, squat and low, with the mark of ineffable age on its dark stones. There were no windows in the tower, none that he could see, at least.
Only a great oaken door, hung with an iron knocker, showed that there was any way in or out of that tower.
Kothar gripped the knocker, banged it hard. The door opened soundlessly. A woman in a tight black kirtle stood there, her face white as chalk, her lips the color of fresh red blood, her eyes behind long black lashes and thin brows like burning black coals. She did not seemed surprised to see him, her lips curled into a faint smile.
“Whom seek you, stranger?”
“The emperor of Avalonia, Kyros. He has my sword Frostfire. I would win it back from him.”
The woman stood back, nodding. “Enter, then. I am Leithe, of this land Nirvalla. I know of Kyros and his golden galley, where he keeps the helix.”
Kothar moved into the hall, his bare feet touching the curious stones that formed the tower floor. Though they appeared cold, the flaggings, each one marked with a magical sign, were quite warm and comfortable. The walls were draped in thick brocades of scarlet and black, with the signs of the Seven Sisters of Salathus worked into their materials. An iron torchere on the wall held a length of glowing wood that gave off a surprising amount of bluish light.
The woman walked ahead of him, her round haunches swaying with catlike grace as she led the way into a room beyond the hall. Here was set a long banqueting table, with crystal goblets and platters of earthenware.
“Eat, stranger. While you dine, I will tell you a little tale,” Leithe murmured, moving to the table, lifting the cover from a platter and revealing steaming meat, gesturing at a salver piled with bread, removing the top of a plate that held several cheeses.
She poured red wine into a crystal goblet for him as Kothar seated himself on a bench. Her black eyes studied his great body, nodding from time to time as she mentally assayed the strength in his rolling muscles. “You may be the one,” she told him as he reached for meat and bread. “Long have I waited for you to come walking down that road.”
“The one for what?” the Cumberian asked, between bites.
“The man to break the spell of Thaladomis.” Kothar blinked, head lifting with surprise. “The emperor’s magician? What’s he got to do with Nirvilla?”
The woman seated herself at the table, reached for a crystal goblet and sipped at the red wine it contained; Her eyes brooded as she looked back into the past.
“This world of Nirvalla was created by the archmage Phronalom.
“Phronalom was the greatest wizard of his time. Only the almost mythical Afgorkon was his better, it is said. Phromalom lived in the kingdom of Althasia, long and long ago, perhaps forty thousand of your years.”
The barbarian nodded, wiping his wine-wet lips with the back of his hairy forearm. “I’ve heard of Althasia and of Phronalom. They tell fairy tales about them in Vandacia.”
The woman began to talk. Althasia in those days was a world of tyrants and warlords, of armies marching to conquest, of soldiers in little bands breaking into the homes of citizens, carrying them off with their wives and children to serve the desires, of King Drongol. To King Drongol, his people existed only to pleasure his royal whims and fulfill the needs of his kingdom.
He established breeding farms where his most valiant warriors acted as studs to the healthiest and loveliest women of the kingdom. Children and more children, demanded the king. Male children, to train as warriors, female children to bear more future warriors.