Exiles of Damaria I: Riddles and Dreams
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by Ardath Mayhar
Category: Fantasy/Dark Fantasy
Description: Balrog Winning Fantasy Author. In Ardath Mayhar's most wondrous work yet, Riddle the Poet, cousin of the King of Damaria, barely escapes with his own life from the King's murder. The King has been killed by his own son, manipulated by Dinorm, an ancient being whose evil had once tainted the land. Riddle smuggles out with him the rightful king, his four-year-old nephew Lute. Riddle's goal is to deliver his nephew to the City in the Mist, a harbor town where a powerful branch of their family can protect the boy until he reaches maturity. In the forest, Riddle gains an odd assortment of traveling companions and allies. First is Chark of the burrowing Turnig, now hunted for their fur. Next is Moonlight, partly feline, one of the fabled Dreamers, whose awesome mental powers are legend. Then Riddle encounters Gorghoz the Goremin, last of his kind in Damaria, and Kilelli, half-simian, half man. All have reason to flee and hate Dinorm. Through blizzards and battles with magical beings, the strangely assorted companions struggle toward their goal, impeded at every turn by power of Dinorm, and his henchman The Mover in the North. But when, almost at the very wall of the City in the Mist, Riddle and his companions are finally face to face with Dinorm and the Mover in the North, their only hope against the two evil entities is the dark side of Moonlight's powers. However, if she unleashes it, the act will destroy her Dreamers' abilities forever! The conclusion of this thrilling fantasy adventure will be told in Book II, "Ships and Seekers."
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: May 2005
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [299 KB]
Reading time: 209-293 min.
PROLOGUE "A time has come when even Kings must die." --From The Songs of Riddle the Poet
The King of Damaria braced himself against the back of his chair, feeling the fatal bubbling in his lungs. He knew he was dying; the man who stood across the table from him had thrust him through the back and lungs, and soon he would drown in his own blood.
He was not afraid, for one who has lived for more than two thousand years must be willing to die, when the time comes. Yet now he had regrets. Why had he not gone again into the south to his kin, when his niece-wife died childless? He now left no offspring of the full blood to take his place and to avenge his death.
His brother's offspring, sole heirs to his throne, were not likely, he knew, to survive to inherit it. If he had done as his fathers did, he would have children--one at least--safe with a mother in the homeland. Now the weight of rule in Damaria rested on whichever of those nephews managed to survive.
It was almost incredible that one of his kin had achieved four children, for the Ancient Race was not fecund. Yet now the question was irrelevant. He closed his eyes in grief, knowing they were probably all dead at the hands of this power mad half-cousin.
The man now staring at him with hard, pale eyes was his son, true, but not of the full blood. Armor had outlived dozens of such sons, begotten on the short-lived kind his race had raised to sentience from the lower orders they found when they came north.
He gasped, holding himself upright with effort against the pain and the growing weakness. He should have a son--a true one of the Ancient Race--and that had been denied him.
There seemed a strange balance in nature: the long-lived races had very few young. The short-lived ones regularly produced numbers of offspring, though many of those were not viable. It was ironic, he thought as the wave of pain receded. The breeding program his people had instituted was not completely successful; the numbers of new people had not increased as expected. Now he was all but certain this was a part of the problem that had led to this terrible rebellion and caused the end of his family in Damaria.
Armor closed his eyes, feeling about him his beloved rooms, glowing with subtle shades of rose and gold and blue. Lorbek was astonished, he could tell, at the plainness of his surroundings and at the unpretentious house in which his father the King seemed content to live.
Returning from his long years in the southern lands, the young man had expected to find his father living in state, it was evident. Armor thought of his almost-forgotten mother, who must have told him tales of grandeur, there in her southern exile. He could not even recall her face, but Armor suspected she had spun fantasies for her son as he was educated in the arts and skills of his father's people.
"Do not smile!" The words came almost as a shriek. "Where is the Orb old man? We will have that from you, and then we will let you die!" That was Nikol, who had led the rebellion here in Damaria when Lorbek returned.
The King braced himself against a stab of agony, keeping his gaze resolutely turned from the paneling above the mantel over the low hearth. He would never reveal the hiding place of the Sealed Flame that allowed him to peer into other places, other times, and even the workings of living bodies.
Now he knew, too late. Its use in deliberately breeding sentient creatures for specific traits was in itself a major error. Even though he was dying, his mind seemed clearer than ever before, and he suspected that to be the source of this disaster to his family.
Lorbek bent over the table and stared into his eyes. "Tell us where you keep the Orb. My mother told me it is the source of your power."
Armor tasted blood on his tongue, but he held it back, swallowed, and said, "Your mother did not understand us. How could she? We bred your people up from their lives as primitive savages who roamed the forests, as your cousins the Lirfolk still roam the northern hills." He swallowed again, feeling his strength draining steadily from his sturdy body. "She could not comprehend what she saw here." He coughed, seeing bright spatters of blood stain his snowy beard.
His knowing eyes discerned the gray tint, inherited from his maternal ancestors, still apparent in the fair skin of his son. The pale hair, the gray eyes came from those savages. He recalled with horror that they had eaten their own kind until tamed by the breeding programs and the teachings of his people.
"I wonder why you returned here," he said, his tone soft. "My father and his brothers came because they were called to free this land of a dreadful sickness. They were the only ones among all our kind in those distant lands to dare the perils of the journey."
"I understand all this too well," Lorbek said, a contemptuous set to his narrow lips. "I saw the laziness, the cowardice of those very distant kinsmen of mine who reared me. Not one had the strength of will to seize power in that rich land. Not one even considered crossing the quaking volcanic mountains to the north, although I had come that way with my mother as a child."
And a strong party of attendants accompanied you, the King thought. Armor almost groaned, but he held his control. "Peace and contentment are the attributes of our forebears. My grandfather was one of the last to go away from our own place into another, more dangerous country. Those still there will never leave, now. Only the children of the Damarian Kindred go north from the Old Land. Why did you return, Lorbek?"
"I came because my childhood friend called to me," said Lorbek, glancing aside at Nikol. "I came because I am the heir to the throne if you can call that miserable chair a throne--of my country. When the unrest became unbearable and my kinsmen took action, they sent messengers to me. Of the dozen, only one arrived alive and able to speak, for they were caught when the burning mountains belched molten stone. I took that dangerous path northward to fulfill my destiny, Father." His narrow face was bleached white with his anger, his coloring untouched by any trace of the golden-brown skins and dark hair of his father's people.
Nikol, like all the new people of pure blood, was still a very pale gray, skin, hair, and eyes, but there was a similarity between the two in slender bone structure and narrow skulls. The looked far nearer in blood than did he and his son.
Armor choked back another cough. He felt light in the bone, as if he might drift up from his chair and float free. But his untiring mind still held questions. "Why..." he turned his gaze to Nikol ... "did you rebel? Have we ever mistreated your people? Have we not met your needs?"
The man's gray gaze met his for an instant before he lowered his eyes. His tone gruff, he said, "You met our needs, perhaps, but you bred others to replace us! Do you not know that we see and we think? You took the tree-swingers out of the forest and led them upward, as you had done our own kind. You made the Turnig think! They had farther to go, being animals in the beginning, but we knew you intended for them to supplant us, for they have more young that live.
"You taught them to do things for which we have no skills. They were to become your new people, and we were to be destroyed or left to our own devices."
Armor's mind recoiled, refusing to accept such a wild belief. He ran his hand down the satiny grain of the chair, knowing his life had been as smooth as the polished wood. The lives of those before him, here in the north, had been gentle. Now he saw that he had been blind, and his fathers before him had refused to see.
"We are so few." It was a moment before he realized he had spoken aloud. But what did it matter now? The man searching the room was moving toward the fireplace.
"Three half-brothers came north together, with their wives. Breeding slowly and scantily, as is natural for our kind, we never numbered more than a dozen here in Damaria, once the family of Blade moved north to the City in the Mist, facing upon the sea." He coughed again, the blood coming more freely.
"We need little, and only because this rich land required hands to grow crops, as well as herdsmen and metalworkers and weavers, did we interfere with the development of your young race. Those waning people whose need originally called us here were old, the species depleted, and they died away, as this new kind took their place."
One of the armed men was poking at the walls, probing between panels, nearing the hiding place. Armor kept his gaze on his son and Nikol, willing the searcher to pass the mantel without investigating the wood above it. If he could keep them thinking about his words, rather than their search, he might keep the Orb safe.
"For three thousand years there has been unbroken peace in Damaria. War is a footnote in the history even of those in the south; almost impassable mountains separate our coastal lands from the interior of this continent, whose grasslands are scantily populated. Those whose lands lie beyond the seas do not come here at all. They voyage only as far as the City in the Mist, on the western shore."
The blade with which the man was testing the panels was moving toward the spot behind which the Sealed Flame burned. He must keep their attention. "The Goremin living in those mountains were older and wiser than we, even then, and posed no threat to anyone. How could I have known I might need soldiers, here in the twilight of my life? Against my own son?"
Lorbek was only half listening, his expression grim as he watched his man search the room. Armor sighed, feeling he had lost everything, here at the end of his life. His Companions, chosen and trained individuals of the new people who lived in his house and served his needs, had gone down before an angry mob of their own kin. They had tried to fight with fists and teeth and hastily improvised weapons, but sudden need cannot replace skill. They had all died.
He tried again to gain their full attention, this time directing a question toward Nikol. "Do you truly believe we would nurture you, only to abandon you?" he asked the gray-skinned man.
Nikol did not reply.
"You have done what you intended," the King said. "We are all gone, I take it, from this land. I suspect the simian-descended-men also will not survive. But do you believe you will rest untroubled in Damaria?"
His son curled his lip. "I know the Ancient Race in the south. They will never move from their indolent lives, their philosophies and their dreams. They cannot leave, now. Vengeance is a thing they cannot understand, so they will not come to punish me. We may, indeed, move southward ourselves. We are young and strong enough to survive the perils of the journey, and there are things there well worth the taking. Your kin will not defend them."
Armor braced himself again against the pain and the slow filling of his lungs. Worse than his own plight was the thought that he had sired a son so apt for being manipulated and compelled by the ancient force whose will had tainted these lands in ages long past--Dinorm--he pushed the thought away.
Amid a burst of agony, he longed for the book his kind had made, setting into its pages the secrets of ruling well, of harnessing the natural world, and of controlling those ancient, unpredictable wills that waked, from time to time, beneath the roots of the world. So potent had been the content of the volume that its very presence filled its holder with unexpected abilities.
But the book was lost. He had never dreamed that loss might become so terrible! In the rule of the second King of Damaria it was stolen, and no trace of the thief had ever come to light. The Goremin had a grim tradition of a violation that degraded it for terrible purposes, but even in its polluted condition it had not been traced.
Armor shook away the thought. That was only the lesser of the two powerful things his people possessed. The Orb, which was so close, now, to that searching blade, was the last and most important. He must endure whatever came without revealing its hiding place.
"You will tell me where you keep the Orb," said Lorbek, leaning close enough so Armor saw the mad glint in his eyes. "We must have it to hold the new people together, for already there are factions demanding we spare your life and that of Riddle, your nephew. We must not yield to weaklings."
The pale eyes were close--too close. "I need the power my mother revealed to me. Where is the Orb?"
Armor did not speak, for his breath was all but at an end. He stared up into the eyes of his son, knowing the man was controlled by forces he could not understand. Those would use him without pity and discard him without thought, once their purpose was fulfilled.
Then, to increase his agony, there came the screech of wood against stone as the searcher pried away the paneling above the fireplace. There, glowing with subdued light, was the sphere of colorless crystal set upon a golden pedestal.
At the center of the Orb burned the Sealed Flame, which had been brought from the south three thousand years before. It had helped Armor's grandfather to battle the creators of the evil from the north and to heal the creeping blight that threatened to destroy the land, corrupting all the living beings in Damaria. It had helped with improving the strains as the new people were bred for intelligence and ability.
Despite his resolve, Armor groaned. His son turned to face him, those pale eyes glittering with triumph. The long-fingered hands reached to take the pedestal with its bright burden from the niche in which it rested.
The thing shone through his flesh as if he, too, were made of crystal: his bones showed as shadows when his hands clasped about the Orb, which was the size of two fists, smoothly turned from a single piece of flawless quartz. Its interior flame was a cold, clean blue, motionless and filled with vibrancy.
Lorbek set the Orb before his father, and Armor stared into it. What he saw gave him great pain, but it held also a hint of hope, visible only to his trained gaze. He gulped down a surge of blood and spoke for the last time to his son Lorbek.
"Orm ... Dinorm ... You know ... of them?"
Lorbek shook his head, looking puzzled. "I do not. Save your breath, old man. You have served your purpose. Now it is time for you to die."
"You ... will ... learn." And Armor, King of Damaria, loosed his hold upon his ancient body, letting his spirit go free.