David Drake: Godess of the Ice Realm

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David Drake Godess of the Ice Realm
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    Godess of the Ice Realm
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David Drake

Godess of the Ice Realm


The blue and crimson flickers were as pale as the Northern Lights. They quivered through the ice of the high domed ceiling, along the struts and down the heart of the thick crystalline pillars on which it rested. The creak and groan of the vast structure filled the half-dark like the sound of moonlit surf. The ice was alive, but it was coldly hostile to all other living things.

In the hall below were things that looked like men but were not, and things that could never have existed save here or in nightmare. Lower still, beneath the transparent ice of the floor, monstrous shadows glided through the phosphorescent water.

She sat on a throne of ice in the center of the hall, white and corpulent. In the air before Her, wizardlight twisted and coiled; and as it moved, the whole cosmos began to shift.

The ice groaned…

Chapter 1

"I think the rain's going to hold off after all," said Garric, eyeing the sky to seaward where clouds had been lowering all day as the royal fleet made its way up the western coast of Haft.

If it didn't, well, he wouldn't shrink. For most of his nineteen years he'd been a peasant who herded sheep and worked in the yard of his father's inn, often enough in the rain. But now he was Prince Garric of Haft, making a Royal Progress from Tisamur, through Cordin, and to Carcosa on Haft. He was here to convince the folk living in the West that there was a real Kingdom of the Isles again and that they were part of it. It's hard to impress people in a downpour; all they really care about is getting under cover as soon as the foreign fools let them.

"Ah, you can believe that if you wish, your highness," said Lobon, the sailing master of theShepherd of the Isles. His voice mushed through a mouthful of maca root which oarsmen claimed gave them strength and deadened the pain of their muscles. "WhatI say is that we'll have a squall before we've settled half so many ships into their berths."

He nodded glumly toward the harbor mouth ahead. "That's if Carcosa evenhas berths for a hundred warships. We're at the back of beyond!"

"Carcosa can berth a hundred warships," Garric said, a trifle more sharply than the sailing master's comment deserved. "A thousand years ago when Carus was King of the Isles and Carcosa was his capital, the harbor held as many asfive hundred."

Lobon was a skillful judge of winds, currents, and the way to get the best out of even a clumsy quinquereme like theShepherd, but he'd been born on the island of Ornifal. He was just as much of an Ornifal chauvinist as a landowning noble like Lord Waldron, commander of the royal army.

Garric came from Barca's Hamlet on the east side of Haft. All the time he'd been growing up, Carcosa was the unimaginably great city that held all the wonder in the world. And besides Garric's own background "Aye, lad," said the ghost of King Carus, alive and vibrant in Garric's mind. "Five hundred ships in harbor-but only when I wasn't off on campaign with them, smashing one usurper or another. And that was most times, till the Duke of Yole's wizard smashed me instead and the kingdom with me. But you'll do better, because you know not to solve all your problems with a sword!"

Garric smiled at the image of his ancient ancestor. He and Carus could have passed for son and father: tall and muscular with a dark complexion, brown hair, and a quick smile unless there was trouble to deal with. Carus had never fully mastered his volcanic temper, a flaw that'd proved fatal as he'd said. But If I'm doing better, Garric said in his mind's silence, then in part it's because I have your skill to guide my swordarm when a stroke isrequired.

"I wouldn't know about what went on before my time," muttered Lobon. He spat over the stern railing, threading the gobbet between the helmsman at the starboard steering oar and one of Garric's young aides. The helmsman remained unconcerned, but the aide jumped and smothered a curse.

Generally an aide was somebody's nephew, a second son who could run errands for the prince and either rise to a position of some rank at court or be killed. Either would be a satisfactory outcome, since a family of the minor nobility couldn't afford to support another son in the state his birth demanded.

This youth, Lord Lerdain, was an exception. He was the heir presumptive of Count Lerdoc of Blaise, one of a handful of the most powerful nobles in the kingdom. Lerdain's presence at Garric's side made it more likely that Lerdoc would remain loyal.

Lobon understood Garric's glance toward Lerdain. He scrunched his face into a smile and said to the aide, "Don't worry, boy. I've been chewing maca root since before your father was born. I won't hit you less I mean to."

His face shifting into a mask of frustration, he added, "Not room to swing a cat aboard this pig, there's so many civilians aboard. Ah-begging your pardon, your highness."

"I understand, Master Lobon," Garric said with a faint smile. "We'll be on land shortly… and I fully appreciate your feelings."

TheShepherd of the Isles was as large as any vessel in the royal fleet. She had five rows of oars on either side and a crew of nearly three hundred men. Despite the quinquereme's relative size, she was strictly a warship rather than a yacht intended to carry a prince. Garric's personal bodyguard, twenty-five Blood Eagles, took the place of theShepherd 's normal complement of marines, but he and the dozen members of his personal entourage were simply excess baggage so far as the ship's personnel were concerned.

"Though as for being civilians…," Garric added mildly. "I think you'd find I could give as good an account of myself in battle as most of the marines theShepherd 's shipped over the years."

For his formal arrival in Carcosa, Garric wore a breastplate of silvered bronze and a silvered helmet whose spreading wings had been gilded. If the sun cooperated, Prince Garric would be a dazzling gem in a setting formed by the polished black armor of his bodyguards.

Garric's armor this day was for show, but the sword hanging from his belt had a plain bone hilt and a long blade of watered steel. There was nothing flashy about the weapon; but swung by an arm as strong as Garric's, the edge would take an enemy's head off with a single stroke.

"Yessir, your highness!" Lobon said, looking horrorstruck to realize what he'd said to his prince. To avoid a further blunder, he stepped forward on the walkway and bellowed through the ventilator, "Timekeeper! Raise the stroke a half beat, won't you? This is supposed to be a royal entry, not a funeral procession!"

Obediently the flutist in the far bow of the oar deck quickened the tempo of the simple four-note progression on his right-hand pipe; the other pipe of the pair continued to play a drone. The rate at which the oars dipped, rose, and feathered forward increased by the same amount. In time theShepherd would slide marginally faster through the water, but a quinquereme was too massive to do anything suddenly. Even the much lighter triremes which made up the bulk of the fleet accelerated with a certain majesty.

"The trouble is, lad," said the image of Carus, "you don't act like a noble and they treat you like the folks they grew up with. Then they remember who you really are and they're afraid you'll have them flayed alive for disrespect to Prince Garric of Haft."

I'd never do that! Garric thought in shock.

"No more would I,"Carus agreed,"though I showed a hard enough hand to enemies of the kingdom. But there's some in your court who'd show less hesitation over executing a commoner for disrespect than they would over the choice of a wine with their dinner."

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