Exiles of Damaria II: Ships and Seekers
Click on image to enlarge.
by Ardath Mayhar
Category: Fantasy/Dark Fantasy
Description: Enthralling Conclusion of Ardath Mayhar's Best Fantasy! The poet Riddle and his four-year old nephew, Lute, rightful heir of Damaria, along with their companions escape Lute's uncle who has seized the throne and seeks their lives. Safe in the City in the Mist, Riddle, Lute, Moonlight, Kilelli, and Gorghoz are soon rested from their harrowing journey. But, Moonlight's magical powers as a Dreamer have been weakened by the encounter with the malignant entity known as Dinorm, and she cannot go west with her companions. Riddle, Lute, and Oakbeam pay an obligatory visit to the palace of Girnig, ruler of the city, finding him hostile to all of them but bound to protect them openly by ancient treaty. There the companions meet Riddle and Lute's kinspeople, Blade, brother to King Armor, and Tulip, his daughter, who welcome them with open arms. But, Riddle also discovers that Tulip intends to marry him, whether he wants her or not. If Lute were dead, Riddle will be the King of Damaria, and she a queen. When Tulip conspires with Arken, Girnig's seneschal, to kidnap Lute and delay Riddle from leaving the city so that she can have time to seduce him, she faces execution by her own father. Without Moonlight, the companions set sail together. But a monster storm, stirred up by the evil Dinorm, wrecks them on an island where his demonic powers hold full sway. Only after death, suffering and hardship will the exiles of Damaria, find their different fates.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: May 2005
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [216 KB]
Reading time: 150-210 min.
"Those calloused hands that work the wood..."
-Riddle * * * *
Oakbeam sat at his drawing table, studying the plans spread before him. Absently, he stroked the polished wood while his gaze followed the lines of the blueprint. The builder loved his crafts. A house was as dear to him as the swiftest ship that ever came from his busy workshops. A new warehouse must be built to hold timber and tar, ropes and caulking tow for his shipbuilding. While that was not the challenge a dwelling might be, it must be strong to resist the winds that dashed across the headland from the ocean. In winter the city was beset by the storms as if by an armed enemy.
The City in the Mist had stood for centuries, because there were builders of the caliber of this one, anchoring their foundations into the bedrock of the granite arm of land on which the city stood. Sheltered by the cape, nourished by the trade flowing through the harbor whose seaward arm formed another bulwark, the city must withstand assaults more violent than any armed men could mount. Even now, Oakbeam felt in the approach of another storm, following earlier ones that had pounded the coast and sent blizzards raging inland ahead of their proper season. This would be a bitter winter. He drew forward a pad of rag paper and sketched onto it baffles of stone angled against the prevailing wind, with another line acting as bulwarks on the opposite side of the proposed building.
Even as he did so he shivered. Something more than weather was afoot in this strange autumn. While he had no potencies like members of the Ancient Race, no life measured in millennia, Oakbeam understood his own experience. He had noticed, in his dealings with them, that the four members of the Ancient Race of the Kings of Damaria, who now lived in the city, were uneasy. Their usually acute minds were focused elsewhere, and Oakbeam found himself wondering what was taking place far to the south and east in Damaria.
Tulip and Silk, Blade and Wonder had not concerned themselves with the construction of their new garden wall. Before this, they had noticed everything he did about their house, which was encompassed by the wall of the city and cornered by the stream. Yet their attention was distracted, and even Blade seemed not to know the reason. Though Oakbeam sent his best masons, he realized they were not concerned with the quality of the stonework.
He returned his attention to the warehouse, but it was not easy to stay focused. Something was in the air; even in the stout walls of the city and the stouter ones of his own house he could feel it. The stories told by those who had come earlier in the autumn were disturbing. Even if Girnig Wind-Tamer, Lord of the City in the Mist, discounted those tales there had been something in them that set Oakbeam's teeth on edge. There was a core of truth there, a cold sense of impending disaster that made the builder shiver.
Girnig had been the heir to the greatest of the Sealords, plying the ocean to bring back goods from the western islands and the continent beyond its troubled waters. That, Oakbeam had found too late, was not the best qualification for one who must pull together the conglomeration of peoples forming the population of the City in the Mist.
Girnig regarded any question from a citizen as potential mutiny. Only the efforts of Oakbeam and other Councilors had saved the heads of several small tradesmen who protested taxes or ordinances that made their lives difficult. He had a great antipathy for the nonhuman members of his citizenry. Simian-descended people and others with the capacities of men were often oppressed for no reason. Oakbeam found himself often at loggerheads with the Lord over such matters.
With a sigh, the builder closed the folder of blueprints. It was better to go out and let the wind blow the cobwebs out of his head amid the tall stone canyons of the city. There came a thump at the door, and he turned to find his plump wife there, her face scarlet and her eyes wide blue pools of excitement. "A runner came, this moment. You are wanted at the East Gate!"
He stared at her, his chest tightening. Was this the thing he had felt approaching for months now?
"Here, you put on your cloak. The wind is bitter," said Nilda, reaching for his cloak and wrapping it about his square shoulders. He put his arms about her warm shape and squeezed her hard. "Did the runner say anything about the problem?" he asked her.
She chuckled against his chest. "Not he. But seldom does Girnig send for you, nowadays. Go quickly. I am dying of curiosity."
He released her and pulled the cloak close about him. At the rack beside the heavy front door, he took down his fur hood and tugged it over his wild red curls before venturing out into the wind.
The snow that had lashed the coast had dwindled, but the damp in the sea-wind searched out his bones, no matter how thick the clothing. As he strode up the street, he felt chill about his ears and down his collar. In the distance he could hear shouts. His increasing weight was a problem, but he picked up his pace, his heart pounding, the breath singing in his throat, to the inner portal.
The officer on duty waited. When their eyes met, Oakbeam understood this to be a situation into which the soldier did not want Girnig intruding. A member of the Council must give consent for unusual actions, and Martig had been his friend since he was a sprout.
Something strange was in the wind, indeed.
"What is happening?" asked the builder, trying to ease the stitch in his side.
Martig gestured toward the first offset chamber in the complex that was the gateway itself. Once there he turned and put his lips close to Oakbeam's ear. "There are refugees at the gate. I sent a party to their relief, for the Lirfolk attacked them beneath the wall itself. I need your consent, though it is late for that." The wide gray eyes were steady, but the gloved fists were clenched.
"You have it. Who stands outside? And why have they not been admitted?"
"The King of Damaria." Martig's lips tightened. "An order came down from the Lord this week past that no one is to be admitted without his direct consent or that of one of the Council. If he could decently have excluded your name from the list, he would have done, but he could not."
Oakbeam relaxed a bit. "Armor stands in the cold wind, left out by this upstart Sealord?"
"No. The King of Damaria now is a tiny child, and his uncle, Rhadalph, holds the regency. He is accompanied by a woman of the Dreamers, a ragtag group of Turnig, a hairy man, and even a Goremin. They are in bad shape. Shall I admit them to the City in the Mist?"
"You shall, at once," said Oakbeam. "And I will stand above the gate and welcome them."
Together they climbed to reach the parapet along the inside of the battlements. There, holding a drooping woman on his arm, stood Riddle, the Poet, whom he recalled meeting when he was a child and Riddle younger, though with the Ancient Race the years left little mark. Once they had been bidden to enter, Oakbeam hurried down the steps and through the maze of passages that led through the wall defenses to the gate. Anyone forcing that heavy portal would find himself lost, trying to find a path through the labyrinth. From either side or above, defenders could fall upon invaders in the darkness.
Before he was more than part-way into the maze, he heard low voices, and asked Martig to kindle a torch. By its wavering light, he saw the face of Riddle the Poet, who counted his years in centuries and yet was a youth, though prematurely aged by loss and hardship. He was bloody and exhausted, but the true flame of his kind still flickered in his brown eyes.
"Greetings to you, quondam King of Damaria," Oakbeam said. He reached for the young man, both arms outstretched.
When he hugged Riddle, something that had been holding the poet upright crumpled, and he sagged against the builder. "Well met, old friend," he said, his voice ragged. "Care for my people, I beg you. They have come through dreadful trials. And Moonlight the Dreamer--see to her. She has paid a terrible price for our lives." He turned his head, his tattered scarf twisting to reveal a runnel of blood down his cheek. "Gorghoz! Are you all right?" he called to the towering shape of the Goremin.
When that being came forward into the light of the torch, the soldiers behind Martig gasped, their breaths audible, at his incredible ugliness. Oakbeam had known his kind before, though not those in the family of the mountains of Damaria. He ignored the lumpy face, the shark teeth revealed in the square of the creature's cautious smile. Oakbeam reached for the gray-furred hand. A great relief filled him at having in his own city one of that old race, which understood more of the world than the younger kinds had ever thought to question. He would make the odds far better, if a time came when the people of the City must face the powers that had disrupted Damaria's ancient peace.
When he glanced down at the woman beside the poet, he found she had her face swathed in her veil. She stared at the stones beneath their feet until he put his finger beneath her chin and lifted her face to his. Then he almost flinched backward. This had been a Dreamer. The eyes, their slitted pupils like those of a cat, said as much. Where in other Dreamers he had seen only wisdom and calm control, in this one he saw raw pain and a hint of something terrible.
What had she done, this Dreamer, to buy the lives of her companions? She looked old and withered, her skin tight to her skull, her limbs fragile as sticks. The ruddy braid peeping from beneath her veil was streaked with silver strands.
Oakbeam looked into Riddle's eyes, and there he saw pain almost to match the woman's, but there was no time to learn their story. They were all but dropping in their tracks. Some of the Turnig had sat on the corridor floor, dropping their round heads into their arms or onto their knees. This was a battered and dispirited group, needing every bit of kindness they could find.
He turned to Martig. "Find quarters for the Turnig, my friend. There should be others of their kind in the Quarter who will be happy to take them in. I will take these five with me." He gestured toward Riddle, the Dreamer, the Goremin, the fine-drawn furry man, who held the child in his arms.
They went out into the windy street, finding that now a light sleet was tickling the stones. Oakbeam put one brawny arm about Riddle and the other about Moonlight, while Gorghoz lifted Kilelli and the child together and carried them against his warm chest. Together, they went toward the long-sought haven of Oakbeam's stout walls.