Roger Taylor: Ibryen

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Roger Taylor Ibryen
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Ibryen: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Roger Taylor


Chapter 1

The wind that brought the messenger was full of strangeness. For several days it had blown, no different from the wind that always blew at this time of year, loaded with subtle perfumes from the spring-awakening grasses and flowers that coloured the lower slopes of the mountains, and woven through with the whispering sounds of high, tumbling streams and the home-building clamour of the birds and animals that dwelt amid the towering peaks.

Yet, for Ibryen, the wind was different. It carried at its heart a faint and elusive song that possessed a cloak-tugging urgency during the day and reached into his sleep during the night, bringing him to sudden wakefulness. Thus roused, he would lie, still, silent, and expectant, with anxious magic hovering, black-winged, about him in the darkness that spanned between his sleeping world and his solitary room. But nothing came to explain this mysterious unquiet – no sudden illumination to show a way through the uncertain future before him, no new tactics to outwit the growing power of the Gevethen, no new words with which to encourage his followers. Nothing.

You expect too much, he thought irritably, on the third night of such an awakening. Or was he perhaps just tormenting himself with imaginary hopes? Was this disturbance no more than his clinging to some childish fancy that all would be well in the end? Was he deluding himself that somewhere, something was preparing to come to his aid, rather than face the dark knowledge within him that he and his cause, and his men, were probably lost?

No. Surely it couldn’t be that! Doubt was an inevitable part of leadership, he knew. It underscored his every action and he deemed himself sufficiently aware of his own nature not to have such a foe lurking in the darker recesses of the mind waiting to spring out in ambush.


He growled angrily to end the questioning. Then, though it was some three hours until dawn, he swung aside his rough blankets and, draping them about his shoulders, went to the door. As the night cold struck him, he took a deep breath and pulled the blankets tight about him. There was no moon, and the stars shone brightly through the clear air, as familiar and unchanging in their patterns as the mountains themselves.

And as ancient and indifferent, Ibryen mused, shivering despite the lingering bed-warmth in the sheets.

All about him, the camp, or, more correctly, the village, which is what the camp had developed into over the years, was quiet. Yet it would not be asleep. Around the perimeter and on the nearby peaks, eyes would be staring into the darkness, ears would be listening, waiting for that movement, that sound which would indicate the approach of some spy, or even the Gevethen’s army. Briefly, his old concerns surfaced again. Practical and tactical this time. How long could such vigilance be maintained? How long could he keep up the spirits of his own followers? How long before the Gevethen discovered this place and launched a full attack? How long…

Frowning, he dashed the thoughts aside and turned his mind back to whatever it was that had wakened him in the middle of the night and had been disturbing him during the day whenever he found himself in quietness between tasks. Maybe it’s just Spring coming, he thought, smiling to himself, but the whimsy did little to allay the peculiar unease that was troubling him. For it was still here – permeating the soft breeze that was drifting along the valley. Calling to him – a haunting…

What? He closed his eyes and leaned back against the door frame.

Urgency and appeal was all around him, faint and shifting, but distinct for all that. Yet it was not the urgency and appeal of his present predicament, nor those of his people whom he had abandoned. He curled his lip at the bitterness in the word. For a moment, memories threatened to flood in upon him, but he let the word go. That too was a well-worn debate, and that he had had no choice gave him no comfort.

The breeze returned its unsettling burden to him again. There was an almost alien quality in what he could feel – or was it, hear? It was as though he were listening to a creature from an ancient fable, articulate and intelligent, yet wholly different from him in every way. Images formed and re-formed in his mind, but none clearly, each dissolving as he turned his thoughts towards it like shapes within a swirling mist.

‘Are you all right, Count?’

The voice thundered into his inner silence, rasping, uncouth and distorted, making him start violently. Only years of silent and stealthy warfare kept him from crying out. His questioner however was as shaken as he by the response.

‘I’m sorry, Count,’ he gasped. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you. I…’

Ibryen raised a hand to silence him. The man’s voice was becoming normal in his ears – a tone scarcely much above a whisper – the tone he would have expected anyone to be using in the sleeping camp. He identified the speaker. It was unthinkable that he above all should have spoken as Ibryen had heard. It had been like the shattering of night vision by a sudden brilliant light. What had he been listening to with such intensity? He made no attempt to answer the question.

‘It’s all right, Marris,’ he said to the dark shape in front of him. ‘I was a little restless. I just came out to look at the stars.’

Marris cleared his throat softly. ‘Fortunate that I wasn’t one of the Gevethen’s assassins,’ he said sternly.

‘I stand rebuked,’ Ibryen replied good-naturedly. ‘Though I doubt they’ll take the trouble to send assassins if they find us.’

Whenthey find us,’ Marris emphasized.

Ibryen reached out and laid his hands on the man’s shoulders. ‘I yield the field, old friend,’ he said with a soft laugh. ‘I’m retreating – returning to my bed to regroup my scattered wits. Wake me at dawn if I show any signs of licking my wounds too long.’

Marris bowed slightly. ‘Sleep well, Count. The camp and all about is quiet.’

As Marris turned to move away, Ibryen said hesitantly, ‘Have you felt anything… strange… in the wind, these last few days?’

Marris paused, his head bent to one side as he searched for the Count’s face in the darkness while he considered this odd question. Then he shrugged. ‘Only Spring, Count,’ he replied. ‘Good and bad, as ever.’

Ibryen nodded. ‘Sun on our skins again, blood moving in our veins, but the passes clearing of snow and the need for renewed vigilance. Winter’s not without its advantages.’

Marris gave a low grunt by way of confirmation. ‘Twenty years since they came, five years since their treachery forced us to flee, and every year they come searching, stronger each time, and nearer finding us. Soon they’ll come in the winter also.’

Ibryen frowned. Such comments from any other would have brought a crushing response, but Marris was too close a friend for him to invoke such defences. Five years ago it had been Marris who rescued him from the mayhem when the Gevethen’s followers had stormed their country home and murdered his family. He was Ibryen’s most loyal and trusted adviser, as he had been to his father. Blunt and fearless in his opinions, he was nevertheless enough of a realist to speak such words to his Count only when no others could hear. And Ibryen too, was enough of a realist not to bluster in the face of them.

‘It’s constantly on my mind, old friend,’ he replied simply.

Marris bowed again and let the matter lie. ‘Catch what sleep you can for the rest of the night, Count,’ he said. ‘And take care, the air’s deceptively chilly.’

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