Glenda Larke: Stormlord rising

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Glenda Larke Stormlord rising
  • Название:
    Stormlord rising
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    Английский
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Glenda Larke


Stormlord rising

PART ONE

The Bondage of War

CHAPTER ONE

Scarpen Quarter Breccia City Breccia Hall, Level 2

The man lying next to Lord Ryka Feldspar was dead.

His eyes stared upward past her shoulder, sightless, the vividness of their blue already fading. For a while blood had seeped from his wounded chest onto her tunic, but that had slowed, then stopped. She did not know his name, although she had known him by sight. He'd been a guard at Breccia Hall. Younger than she was. Eighteen? Twenty?

Too young to die.

The man on top of her was dead, too. He was a Reduner. His head lay on her chest and the beads threaded onto his red braids pressed uncomfortably into her breast, but she didn't dare move. Not yet. Around her she heard Reduner voices still; men, heaving bodies onto packpedes, talking among themselves. Making crude jokes about the dead. Coping, perhaps, with the idea it could so easily have been them. Death or survival: even for the victors, the outcome was often as unpredictable as the gusting of a desert wind.

Reduners. Red men from a land of red sand dunes, flesh-devouring zigger beetles and meddles of black pedes. Drovers and nomads and warriors who hankered after a past they thought was noble: a time when rain had been random and they ruled most of the Quartern with their tribal savagery. A people who had recently returned to a time of slave raids, living under laws decided by the strength of a man's arm and dispensed with a scimitar or a zigtube.

Ryka had been a scholar once, and she spoke their tongue well. She could understand them now as they chatted. "Those withering bastard rainlords," one was saying, his tone bitter and angry. "They took the water from Genillid's eyes while he was fighting next to me. Left his eyeballs like dried berries in their sockets! Blind as a sandworm."

"What did you do?" another asked, a youngster by the sound of him.

"For Genillid? Killed him. That was Sandmaster Davim's orders. Reckon he was right, too. What's left for a dunesman if he can't see?"

"I heard he went around the men afterward and killed everyone who was like to lose a hand or a leg as well. No place for a cripple on the dunes, he said."

Ryka felt no pity. They had taken her city. Killed her people. Cloudmaster Granthon Almandine, the Quartern's ruler, its bringer of water and its only true stormlord, was dead, she knew that. His son, Highlord Nealrith, the city's ruler, had been taken and tortured. He'd died in a cage swung over one of the city gates. She knew that, too. She'd heard Jasper Bloodstone had killed him to save him the agony of a slow death.

Poor Jasper. She'd seen the respect and affection in his eyes when he spoke to the highlord.

Gentle, kindly Nealrith. She had grown up with him, gone to Breccia Academy with him, attended his wedding to that bitch, Lord Laisa. Oh, Sunlord receive you into his sunfire, Rith. You did not deserve your end.

"Did we get all them bastards?" the same youth asked.

"The rainlords? Reckon so. I hear exhaustion finally sapped their powers, leaving them defenseless. My brother killed one of them rainlord priests. Still, not even a sandmaster can tell one from an ordinary city-grubber. They don't look no different."

"I heard some of them are women."

The first man gave a bark of laughter. "One thing's for sure, we can slaughter any force that has to use women to fight a battle!"

Ryka wanted to grit her teeth, but couldn't risk even that slight movement. Blast Davim's sunblighted eyes. The tribes of the Red Quarter had been leaving their violent past behind until he'd come along to twist their view of history.

Sandmaster Davim, with his vicious hatreds and his brutal desire for power, had taken away her scholarly life. He'd shattered the Quartern's peace, mocked the cultures not his own, destroyed the learning, all in a couple of star cycles. His men had killed her father. Watergiver only knew what had happened to her sister and her mother. And Kaneth?

No, you mustn't think he is dead. You mustn't lose hope.

Strange even to think of the life she'd had; it was all gone now, spun away on the invaders' swords and the shimmering wings of their ziggers, like sand whirled into the desert on a spindevil wind. A wisp of her hair tickled her cheek. She ignored it. She mustn't move. Not even a twitch. She had to live through this, for the baby. For Kaneth.

Sunlord, I know I don't really believe in you, but let him be alive, that wonderful, gentle bladesman-warrior of mine. Father of my child. She longed to raise her head and look for him. Perhaps he lay somewhere beneath her, still alive. Or dead. Her hand longed to move to cover her abdomen where their son stirred. She knew his water and thus his maleness. Oh, Kaneth, we had so little time…

The memory of her last moments with him replayed over and over. The battle in the waterhall. His last conscious act had been to protect her with his body. Could she have done more? Done something differently? She had used the last of her power to stop his bleeding, to dry the horrible wound exposing the bone of his scalp as he floated face down, senseless, in the cistern. She had kept pure the bubble of air around their faces so they could both breathe. But mostly she'd just had to float there, eyes almost closed, hoping the invaders would leave the waterhall so she could pull Kaneth out of the water and take him to safety.

A futile hope, easily splintered. The Reduners had slung them both out of the cistern. They had dumped Kaneth, unconscious-or dead-on the floor; the sound of his body thudding onto the paving echoed in her head still. She'd landed on top of him a moment later. It had taken all her courage to allow herself to fall like a dead body. Not to stretch out a hand to break her landing. Not to open her eyes, not to touch him, not to look to see if his wound was bleeding again.

More waiting then, more futile praying that the Reduners would leave the waterhall, more begging a boon of a Sunlord she didn't believe in. A little joy, too, when she'd felt the baby stir within her.

She'd tried speaking to Kaneth, whispered words of encouragement and love, but he had not replied. She thought she'd felt the movement of his breath faint against her cheek, but she couldn't be sure.

Several runs of the sandglass later, the guards had received fresh orders. She'd heard and understood:

"Take the dead outside. Load them onto a pede and dump them outside the walls."

Her heart had leaped within her. A chance. A chance for both her and Kaneth-if he lived. Please let it be so…

More rough handling when she was thrown over a man's shoulder and carried, her face bumping against his back, only to be dumped once more, onto this heap of the dead. She wasn't outside the city walls; she knew that much. Cracking open an eyelid, she'd recognized one of the Breccia Hall courtyards. Hampered by the confounded short-sightedness that blurred the details of anything more than ten paces away, she saw enough to know the last bastion against the invaders had fallen. They had lost the city to the Reduners.

And so it was that she now lay motionless, cushioned by lifeless bodies, her clothes drying out in the heat of the afternoon sun, as she listened and awaited her time to move.

Sunlord, but she was tired! She needed to eat, and eat well. Without food she had no energy, and without energy she had no water-power, no way of fighting back. Her sword was gone and she doubted she could have lifted it anyway.

Some more desultory conversation, laughter, and then a voice answering an unheard question. "No. It's the dead burning outside the city wall you can smell."

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