Sindri's Daughter [Irda's Children Book II]
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by J. D. Crayne
Description: Five years ago Geir Simonson won control of the Jurnburg, the great citadel built atop a stone pinnacle in another land. Now the wheel of fortune has turned and the tide of fate is against him. Betrayed from within, the Jurnburg has fallen to the enemy. Geir and his loyal followers flee for their lives. Their dismay at the loss of the Jurnburg is made even more bitter when they discover that the caravan of women and children, which they sent to safety several weeks previous, was attacked by the brutal Eishaus men and the survivors have been taken captive. Bent on rescue of the missing women and children, Geir and his cohorts set out on a grim trek through the wilderness. Meanwhile, Geir's enigmatic and powerful relative Irda, member of an elder race, has received word of the disaster at her home on the American west coast. Irda, who has taught Geir's sister Jory the secrets of shape control, decides to return to the other land and offer Geir what help she can. Together with Jory, and her shape-changing messenger, they head for the stone bridge which marks the boundary between this world and the other. When they reach the boundary, Jory steps through a time portal and finds herself in the past, at the building of the Jurnburg. She realizes that she must be there to learn something which will help her brother. What is that vital piece of information? Even Irda, who meets here there, does not know. And if Jory does discover anything of value, how can she return to her own time with the information? As this drama unfolds, Geir's wife, Jasith, organizes the escape of the missing women and leads them toward safety, but the enemy is close and time is running out.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: March 2007
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [247 KB]
Reading time: 153-215 min.
"It will be a siege," Geirrond Simonson, Lord of the Jurnburg, said, sitting in his great carved chair at the head of the council chamber. "Luk's armies are within twelve day's travel of us, and he must know that they don't have any hope of battering the Jurnburg into submission. We have fought back and forth across the plains for half a decade and neither of us has gained the advantage. Now Luk has gathered his men for a final siege. They will try to starve us out."
Geir looked around the table at his ten councilors. He had grown into a trim, muscular, young man in the five years since he had taken the throne. His features were lean and angular, almost austere, topped by a head of wavy, jet black, hair and thick inky brows that curved over strangely soft blue eyes.
One of his councilors, a gray-haired man with a sparse beard, said, "I agree. They will starve us out."
"How long would that take?" one of the younger councilors asked.
"That depends on how many people are here," Geir said. "Holan Zanver," he nodded toward a balding blond man dressed in blue, "has suggested that we send our non-fighting population away, for their own safety. We could hold out much longer that way."
"What good would that do?" the man with the sparse beard asked. "It merely puts off starvation a little longer."
"It would give us more time to prepare a defense," Geir said. "I've sent men to cut logs and drag them into the citadel, so that we can build ballistas and catapults. We are also strengthening the gates."
"What about water?" the man with the sparse beard asked.
"The springs are deep down below the citadel," Geir said. "I asked the archivist about that, and he said that they have never failed, even in the driest weather."
The councilors digested that information for a few moments.
"Where could our people go?" one of them finally asked.
"To the high plateau," Holan Zanver replied smoothly. "The old city on the plain has been mostly deserted for many years. There is only the one pass in and out through the mountains, and the temperature is mild year-round. It would be easy to defend, if need be."
"It's good crop land up there," another of the councilors mused, stroking a long dark beard that was shot with silver, "and I remember my grandfather talking about the grapes and plums from the orchards that grew by the hot springs. That was when the city people still sent their produce to the markets."
Geir frowned slightly, tapping the fingers of his right hand on the smooth polished wood of the council table. "No one has explained to me why that city was deserted. Was it disease, or anything else that would affect our own people?"
"No, no," Holan Zanver said dismissively. "It was a war over the succession. The winners suffered as much as the losers, and the city never came back to its full strength. I doubt that one in ten of the population still remains."
A smooth-shaven councilor of middle age stirred restlessly in his chair. "Won't they object to having a throng of foreigners come into their land?"
The balding man shrugged. "I don't think so, and what if they do? There aren't enough of them to matter, and if we send an armed escort along with the women and children, the few that are left will give in with good grace. After all, we will be sending people to buy food and clothing from them, to spend money on repairs to the buildings, and to build the city up again."
The smooth-shaven councilor pursed his lips and then said, "What if the Ice Lord's people seize the plateau? They could hold our people for ransom, and demand our surrender."
"The Jungburg stands between the Ice Lord's armies and the high plateau. They would have to pass us first," Holan Zanver said, and turned to Geir. "Lord, time is essential. We must send our vulnerable population to safety while there is still time to do so."
"Let me think about it," Geir said, getting to his feet. "I will give you my decision tomorrow."
The councilors rose to their own feet and bent their heads in respect as he strode out of the room.
Geir walked rapidly toward the great stairs, with several pages and a quartet of guardsmen following along behind him. He mounted to the fourth floor and walked through an arched doorway to his personal chambers. The pages followed, but the guards took up positions by the sides of the arch.
There was a young woman waiting for Geir in the salon; seated on a sea-green couch with her pale cream robes spread around her. She was a lithe blonde girl with slender hands that were clasped lightly in her lap. She looked up at the sound of his footsteps, soft hazel eyes fixed on his face.
Geir sent the pages away and sat down next to Jasith Gann. He captured one of her hands in his, rubbing his fingers absently over her smoothly contoured knuckles. "We are agreed that it's going to come down to a siege." He lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed the back of it. "The only real question is whether to send the non-combatants away or not."
"Are you so anxious to get rid of me?" Jasith asked, her tone light.
He half smiled. "I'd keep you beside here me forever, if I could, but I will not risk your life for my selfish dreams."
"And what about my own dreams? My place is here, with you."
"No," Geir said softly, "Your place is in my heart, and always will be, but I will not risk your life."
"Let us be wed before I have to go away, then. Give me that, at least."
"And if the war turns out badly? If I am blinded, maimed, killed?"
She opened her lips to protest, and he laid a finger across them to still her speech.
"I want you to be free. I don't want to feel that you are tied to some promise that you made when you were too young to understand the consequences."
Jasith seized his hand and drew it down to her lap. "Don't be absurd. You're talking like you're some old man like my grandfather! You're the same age that I am, and I'm certainly old enough to know my own mind."
"You're too stubborn for your own good," Geir said. "Will you go to please me? I have a responsibility to stay here as long as I can and to hold the land. I want to know that you are safe while I am doing that."
"Does my safety mean that much to you?" she asked, eyes fixed on his face.
"It means all of the world to me. But more than that, I need you to lead the women on their journey."
She looked at him questioningly.
"You are the last member of one of the oldest houses in th Jurnburg. The women look up to you, and they will follow you more willingly than anyone else. It is your duty to lead them."
Jasith nodded slowly. "I will make a bargain with you then. I will go if we can be married first."
Geir took a deep breath and let it out slowly, turning his hand over beneath hers and rubbing his thumb along her slender fingers. "Very well. If you are determined on it, we will be married. I can only hope that I have not doomed you to sorrow."
"I chose joy now," Jasith said softly. "Sorrow may come if it must, but at least I will have this happiness today."
They were wed with scant ceremony, and only a few witnesses. They had a week together as man and wife before they had to part.
The band of those who were chosen to leave gathered at the base of the Jurnburg. There were nearly five hundred of them. The children ran around, laughing and playing games of tag; tumbling onto the the thick coarse grass of the plain and shouting with the novelty of it all. Their elders were quieter, speaking softly in hushed voices and lifting their eyes back to the towering dark mass of the Jurnburg, as if fixing its image in their minds.
They cinched their belongings onto the backs of the haughty-faced beasts of burden that were the only pack animals in this land. Geir, who watching with his guards and a group of councilors from the base of the winding path that led up to the citadel, thought that the animals looked a bit like the New World camels of South America.. They had split hooves like a deer rather than a camel's toes, though. Some of the animals were hitched to stretcher-like travois, to carry the very young and very old. The husbands, fathers, and sons, who would stay behind to defend their home, mingled with those who were leaving, stealing a few last words; sharing kisses and embraces. No one could say when any of them would meet again.
Geir signaled to a trumpeter, who sounded an order to advance, and the members of the throng in front of him made their last embraces, and murmured their farewells. Geir turned to his wife, who was standing next to him with a woven bag hanging from her shoulder--a bag that held maps and charts which Geir insisted she take along-and a tall staff held in one hand. "It is time," he said.
Jasith Gann av Simonson, Lady of the Jurnburg nodded. She reached into the string bag that was slung across her shoulder, and brought out a small flat package, wrapped in tattered gray satin and tied with a tarnished silver cord. She handed it to him.
"This is an heirloom of my house. My parents are dead, and my grandfather is in retreat at our family home, far from here. I am the last heir of the Gann line and your house is my house now. Take it and guard it well, as a token of our union and of our reunion that is to come. I will send word to you when I can do so."
Eyes brimming, she raised one hand to lightly touch his cheek, then dropped it again, turned, and walked away from him. Accepting her place as Lady of the land, it was her duty to lead.
Geir watched his young wife with somber eyes as she strode forward, a slim figure in white wool. With a woven silver belt around her slender waist and a blue shawl tied around her shoulders, she looked hardly out of her teens and too vulnerable to send so far away from home. Still, she had a calm resolution that he often found surprising, and he had no doubt that it would carry her through whatever lay ahead.
The band of soon-to-be refugees parted before her, and when she reached the far side of the throng, she lifted her staff and called out to them. They fell into place behind her, the young, the old, the women, the children, and their guard of fifty armed men. The column snaked away at an easy walking pace.
Behind them, Geir clutched Jasith's small, heavy, packet tightly and mounted slowly back up the trail to the citadel and to his own chambers. He went out onto the small balcony, and from there down a few steps to the terrace, where he stood at the balustrade and watched the long file of walkers, until no individual forms could be made out and there was only a smear of color on the flat yellow-green picture of the plain to mark their progress.
Two weeks later, with the enemy camped at the gates, Geir woke from an uneasy rest to the pounding of feet, the slam of a door, and someone's voice calling his name loudly. Slanting beams of moonlight spilled across the hardwood floor and from somewhere unseen came the acrid smell of smoke.
"Geir! Geir! Wake up; we are betrayed!"
It was his closest friend, the minstrel Theron Zafir. With Theron was grizzled old Brok, a shaggy shape in his rough furs and leather.
"Quickly!" Theron said. "Dress in whatever you have to hand. You must get out of here before they come for you!"
Geir scrambled out of bed, ran to the wardrobe and pulled out a leather satchel of the type used to carry official documents, a jerkin, trousers, and a coat. He tugged his boots onto his feet, stamping hard in them when he straightened up, and snatched up a black circlet and the slender gray laser tube that always rested on the low table at his bedside.
From somewhere high above, on the Jurnburg battlements, he could hear the guard's horn sounding its ancient call of warning
"What happened?" Geir demanded.
"Someone opened a lower door to the enemy," Brok said grimly.
Geir swore loudly, jammed the black circlet on his head, and started for the door of his bedchamber with his thumb on the firing stud of the laser rod.
Not that way!" Theron said, grabbing him by the arm. The minstrel's free hand was clenched around the neck of his lute. "There are armed men in the citadel, and I don't know how long our people can hold them off!"
Geir jerked away from him. "Do you expect me to hide under a couch or something, while my men are dying in the halls?" he demanded.
"Lord Geir, if you are lost, then the Jurnburg is truly lost!" Brok said.
For a long moment they stood there, Geir searching the faces of the other two men for some spark of hope.
"We cannot wait any longer, Lord," Brok said calmly.
"The terrace stairs, quickly!" Theron said. "We can go down to the foot of the peak, and across the plain to the forest if we are quick." He hung his lute over his back by its sling, to free both hands.
"No," Geir said. "Not that way. Help me move this wardrobe. Irda once told me that there is a secret stair behind it that leads down to a garden on the second level. We can take the gardener's steps from there."
Between them they wrenched the ancient piece of furniture away from the wall. As an afterthought, Geir jerked open a drawer and grabbed up the small packet Jasith had given him, slipped it into the leather satchel, and slung the satchel over his shoulder. That done, he sped out through the uncovered doorway and down the narrow crumbling steps, which were lit only by feeble gleams of moonlight coming through the lancet windows. The other two men hurried along close behind him. Far above them, the horn sounded a wailing cry of retreat. * * * * CHAPTER 2
A world away, in the rural hills of America's west coast, Jory Simonson came down to breakfast dressed in a light-weight blue dressing gown. She was feeling slightly woozy with the summer heat, and was vaguely aware that there were voices coming from the ground floor of the old house. When she stepped off of the stairs and turned the corner into the kitchen, she found Irda, the relative whose home she shared, talking to dark, taciturn, Cory, Irda's companion and messenger.
Irda was wearing her customary gray wool gown, and her white hair was plaited into a long braid that hung down her back. The tip of one embroidered leather slipper peeked out from under the hem of her dress. The morning sunlight shone in through the small kitchen window, slanting across the polished kitchen table, and glittered off of the two golden rings, set with black stones, that Irda always wore, one on each hand.
Cory was dressed in black, as he always was; black trousers, long-sleeved black tunic, and black boots, without any speck of adornment. Jory had not seen the rangy dark-haired man for some weeks, but nothing about him seemed to have changed. He stood negligently in the middle of the room with his arms folded over his chest, and wore a typically impassive look on his lean face.
Jory had never decided just what the relationship was between Irda and her black-clad minion; whether they were friends, autocrat and dependent, or perhaps lovers. She had never been bold enough to ask. Cory was completely devoted to Irda and that was really all that mattered.
Irda and Cory stopped their discussion when Jory padded into the stone-floored kitchen in her leather moccasins, and both of them turned to look at her.
"Hi, Cory." she said, smothering a a yawn with one hand, as she gathered her blue gown around her and slid into a chair at the kitchen table. "What's up?" she asked Irda.
"The Jurnburg has fallen," Irda replied. "The Ice Lord's army overran it three days ago. Your brother fled. Those members of his court who were not killed, and such forces as remain to him, are abroad somewhere in the mountain forest, northwest of the citadel."
"You don't believe in breaking the news gently, do you?" Jory said, and took a deep breath. She was an athletic young woman of nearly twenty, with softly waving brown hair and brown eyes. Her squarish face was attractive rather than pretty, and might someday be distinguished.
"What is the point in candy-coating it?" Irda said, turning her cold ice-blue eyes on the younger woman. Her strangely unlined face reflected no emotion. "What happened, happened."
Jory nodded, her lips compressed into a thin line. She got up to get a stoneware mug from the cupboard, poured it full from the teapot sitting on the table, and spooned some sugar into it. She sipped slowly, looking from Irda to Cory.
"What did happen, exactly?"
"The Ice Lord's army came up to the Jurnburg gates and there it camped," Irda said. "The citadel was ready for a siege, and could have held out for many months, but it was betrayed from within. One of your brother's councilors was a man named Holan Zanver. It seems now that he was a member of the conspiracy that was behind the murder of Lord Ullnar, your brother's uncle. After your brother killed Ullnar's assassin five years ago, most of the men who were part of the plot were executed or imprisoned. Unfortunately, no one suspected Zanver. He was a trusted member of the Council. He waited until his chance came, killed four watchmen, and opened the lower gates to the invaders. The guards could not hold them off. Many were killed, and your brother retreated to the mountains. Most of his guards and some members of his court managed to escape as well."
"What became of the all the other people who lived on the Jurnburg?" Jory asked, trying to keep her voice as calm and dispassionate as she could.
"Your brother sent the women and children and the aged away two weeks earlier, before the Ice Lord's army arrived. They were headed for the deserted city of Thrimstad, on the high plateau. I do not know where they are now, or what has become of them. Some others are probably still in the citadel. The Jurnburg is a warren of forgotten rooms and corridors. A clever person might stay hidden there for years."
Jory looked down at the cup in her hands, twisting it slowly around and around. "Betrayed from inside. That's what always happens to an impregnable fortress, isn't it? How could Geir not have expected that!"
"He is young yet, and he still trusts people more than he should. Zanver was a man who would grovel and bow and flatter whenever opportunity beckoned. He undoubtedly hoped to gain favor and advancement from the Ice Lord."
"And did he?" Jory asked, frowning as she stared down at the swirling tea in her mug.
"He was executed for treason," Cory said softly, his rich baritone voice filling the small kitchen. "Luk told him that a man who betrays one master will betray another, and that he had no use for those he could not trust."
"Luk has an interesting sense of justice," Irda said.
"Or perhaps humor," Jory observed wryly, looking up at them.
Irda motioned slightly with one hand. Cory inclined his head in a brief nod and then strode past Jory and through the doorway to the hall. After a moment she heard the click of his boot heels on the stairs as he mounted to his loft bedroom. His aerie, she thought, as she seated herself at the table again, refilled her mug with tea.
"Where do you think Geir has gone?"
"Sturmgyrd, for a guess. It is an old fortress in the mountains. Your mother was born there, and her father before her. He would be safe enough there, and could gather his people in with him. Sturmgyrd could hold off an army."
"Which will probably be looking for him," Jory said.
"Perhaps, perhaps not. Luk may be content with driving him out and taking control of the Jurnburg."
"Will you go to him? Geir, I mean."
"I have not decided," Irda said, sitting down across the kitchen table from Jory and adjusting the folds of her gray gown over her knees. "It depends on what I believe I can accomplish."
"I'd go, if I could," Jory said. She shook her head miserably, and rubbed one finger across the surface of a small engraved ring that she always wore on the little finger of her left hand. "Last time I went across the bridge to the other land, I fell into the river and nearly drowned. I was lucky. The next time it might be more than nearly. Irda, could I fly across the bridge?"
"No. Cory and I tread the bridge like everyone else. The winds of the chasm are unpredictable. They would dash you down to your death. I do not care to chance it, and my strength is much greater than yours."
"But it's my brother we're talking about! How can I just sit here and not try to help him!" She hit the table hard with the flat of her hand, making the mugs and spoons dance on the dark polished wood.
"Patience, child." Irda refilled her own mug with hot tea. She was silent for a while and then said, "Tell me what you remember, about falling from the bridge."
"I fell over the side and hit the water. After that I was just trying to keep afloat..."
"No, before that. Take your memory back to the bridge, before you fell. You are walking onto the bridge. The wind whips tendrils of fog around your face. Feel the wind; feel the stones under your feet."
"Yes," Jory said softly, closing her eyes. "I remember. It was an adventure. Geir started off first, and Mom was telling him to be careful, that the stones were sometimes slick from the damp. I was laughing and dancing after him. The wind was strong there, I could feel it pull at me, and the stones under my feet..." She took a deep breath and her eyes opened. "Old Brok told me later, after he found me on the river bank, that it was an illusion caused by optics, that they warp what people see-the people who aren't of the right bloodline--and that makes them miss their footing."
"He was right, as far as that goes. What did you see? Did you think that you were still walking in the middle of the bridge when you fell?"
"Oh no! I could feel the wind pushing me sideways. I remember that it made my nylon jacket puff out like a parachute. My feet slipped on the wet stones, and the next thing I knew I was staggering off to the side. I fell; that's all."
I think that is all," Irda said. "I believe you fell by accident, not through any design of the bridge makers. It has puzzled me somewhat that you did fall. Your brother crossed the bridge safely."
"Geir is my half-brother," Jory said softly. "He has the blood on both sides. I don't."
"I wonder ... Would you try the bridge again?"
Jory lifted her eyes to look into Irda's cold blue gaze. "If you ask me to, and if it means going to help Geir. Yes."
"Very well. There are numerous things to consider. I will tell you this evening what I have decided."