NOTE: the following preview from Song of the Mysteries is draft copy, © Janny Wurts, please do not copy for any reason, if you wish to share, you are encouraged to link directly to this site. Thank you for your respect.
Rain spat through the north casement in Sethvir’s personal quarters, chased in by rank gusts that rattled and slammed the latched back planks of the siege shutters. The Sorcerer’s step squelched over the soaked red carpet beneath, adding the wet dog smell of fur buskins to the miasma of old horse trappings, raspberry leaf tea grounds, and oak galls lately powdered for ink. Daft inattention and packrat housekeeping overlooked the odd squall that did not threaten the books. Yet this inundation did not stem from neglect. Windows stayed cracked open at Althain Tower with Ciladis in residence to allow for the birds that flew in to roost.
A hawk currently snoozed atop Sethvir’s branched clothes rack. Two fluffed sparrows, a finch and a drenched crow perched the vacant hooks underneath. Hospitality for avian guests had left seed grain and diced suet in a chipped saucer, with a frayed mat of cerecloth to catch spattered guano.
The welcome winged visitors did not include bats, whose desire to nestle a colony in the eaves above Ciladis’s rooftop balcony stuffed up the ventilation of the top floor library. To thwart the creatures’ domestic instincts, Althain’s Warden sat with pen in hand. Written in runes that streamed volatile light, his precise runes scripted a letter addressed the gravid females to keep the tower off limits. Sincere concern detailed alternative sites on the fells outside. Suitable caves with dry crannies fit for a maternity roost threaded through the ongoing stream of Sorcerer’s expansive Sight, spiked by the restive thoughts of live dragons and the dreaming, mad rage of their unrequite dead.
Sethvir tracked the magma flows roiling the ocean’s deeps, and the slowed heartbeats within the encapsulate stone of a dragon’s cold hibernation. He traced the corked fury, as dangerous, that seethed behind Lysaer s’Ilessid’s unclouded, blue eye as an officious tailor took his measure for jeweled vestments ordered by the priests. Beyond the crippled captive held on puppet strings by Erdane’s high temple, Althain’s Warden ached for the birthborn emotion reft from the mute husks of the Koriathain’s condemned peeresses, who perused the dusty archives at Whitehold, scroll upon scroll, and shelves of musty tomes catalogued by exhaustive enslavement under their prime’s directive.
Sethvir’s observation mapped Arithon Teir’s’Ffalenn in eastbound pursuit of a mission held viciously guarded. While the flux stream re-echoed last night’s provocation that earned the fresh bruise on his royal face, Laithen s’Idir and Iyat‑thos Tarens maintained their determined escort through the guarded cover of Strakewood. The Plain of Araithe unrolled before them, taupe folds of rustling tall grass and sheltered thickets of hazel and willow: as fair a vista as once clothed Daon Ramon, when the mighty Severnir’s waters ran free. Wild oats, sweetgrass and lace aster had gilded those southern hillsides in mythic beauty before the rank invasion of thorn had choked the meandering streamlets.
Sethvir’s extended recall encompassed the imprint of bygone Paravian presence, overlaid like a faded dream: when the untrammeled flux had sparked summer’s storms and purpled the sky with anvilhead squalls, and gusts razed keen by the bite of ozone crackled with speared lightning, striking the natural fires that suppressed the scrub, as swiftly quenched by torrential downpours. A cycle of renewal that might rekindle, if Arithon successfully cleared the obstructions that dimmed the fifth lane…
The Warden of Althain flourished a signature on his appeal to the bats. He rolled the sealed parchment, when, without warning, a disturbance shredded his wistful reverie. The resonant patterns that sequenced the probable future shifted momentum, jostled into kaleidoscopic change…
…while his snagged awareness shifted course, in lock‑step, he viewed the squalid shacks tucked into the ruin at Avenor, where Dakar the Mad Prophet shuddered, roused by the tingle forerunning an onslaught of prescience…
Sethvir snatched the instant to lay down his quill. Thrust erect by nascent alarm, he faced the open casement as the owl glided into his quarters. The arc of her flight momentarily dimmed the wan gleam of daylight. Suspended on black and silver barred wings, her arrival was silent to human perception, a suggestion of movement melted into the downfalling spatter of rain. Except the cold surge of her etheric presence shocked through the flux with a bang like a thunderclap. Ranging shadows spun off the moment of contact when she alighted.
Light and darkness shimmered, then shifted. No avian being perched on the soaked carpet. Come to confront the Warden of Althain, the visitation took the shape of a crone mantled in tatterdemalion black. No frail granddam born of a flesh and blood mother, this wizened creature was beyond ancient, spindled full length by an aura that glittered like moonlit ice under moonlight.
Sethvir checked, gut hollowed out by a qualm. At first glance, the creased, walnut features before him might appear mortal. Not her gaze, which reflected the wisdom of ages, infused a perilous, mighty tradition wielded by forebears whose steps marked the soil of other worlds than Athera.
This entity came and went as she pleased, an elder power without regard for locked doors or polite invitation. Shehane Althain’s watchful oversight granted her entry no challenge. Whether the tower’s dedicate Paravian shade owned the main strength to check her was a point no Fellowship Sorcerer dared broach. Sethvir therefore extended the wary respect that suggested her business was genuine.
In place of the transient name given to Glendien’s daughter, the Warden’s formal greeting acknowledged Teylia’s greater identity by her aspected title, wrists crossed at his heart in grave salute for her recent incarnate sacrifice. “Mother Dark’s Shadow, Ancestral Grandmother of the Biedar people.”
The crone’s nod acknowledged his courtesy. Yet the ripple raised by her silence pealed outward, shivering the tapestried web of the flux across shimmering threads of alignment:
…bound on horseback across the west verge of the Plain of Araithe, Laithen pursued Arithon’s resolute back, disturbed by the stiffened discomfort that marred his poise in the saddle.
“He’s not recovered from last summer’s ordeal,” she lamented, reined in beside Tarens to resume the morning’s impassive stand off.
Through the drifted milkweed down thrashed up by their passage, she attacked the fair liegeman’s complacency. “His Grace is vulnerable. Seize on the opening. Mark my word, you’ll rue what occurs if you defer the smart intervention.”
Tarens stared, his earnest nature offended. “You want a sneak’s ambush to take your prince down…?”
Pinned as ruthlessly by the unflinching candor of the crone’s uncanny black eyes, Sethvir winced to the lash of Tarens’s rebuttal as, remorseless, relentless, the breadth of his vision revealed the conviction behind Laithen’s loyal appeal…
“Whose hand will stay the cascade to disaster? Rathain’s caithdein is a callow young man, underaged, where you hold the direct referent of Earl Jieret’s mature commitment. Would the realm’s past high earl have let Arithon break the sterling grace of his integrity? Stand aside, and you will enable his Grace to destroy the redemption achieved at such harrowing cost in the maze under Kewar!”
Tarens glowered back at her, beyond aggrieved, his wheaten hair whipped against his sunburned cheek as he spurred the horse underneath him. The problem laid on him outmatched the kindly man he had been as a crofter. “Could we stop him, in fact?”
“Better to have tried!” Laithen slapped her mare’s flank to keep pace. “Whether the effort comes to naught, curse the day we refused to take action. I know this! Jieret’s experience never bore witness to the terrible means Sidir once required to keep your liege sane, nor did he endure the hideous morass of remorse in the aftermath of the Vastmark campaign…”
Yet the crux come to roost at Sethvir’s lonely post made a pittance of Laithen’s anxious case to override Arithon’s autonomy. Enigmatically still, the ancient before him broached the purpose that brought her to Althain Tower.
“Sorcerer! Do you acknowledge our signal claim on the spirit you name Arithon Teir’s’Ffalenn?” A shade limned in white fire against rain clouded gloom, the crone spoke in words that struck air like a bell. “Will your Fellowship honor the line of our Biedar heritage and accept the price of our sacrifice?”
Sethvir bowed his head, without grounds to refute the cruel obligation. He must bear her demand. The terrible burden of Teylia’s gift had sprung from the blood kinship of matrilineal descent: when Requiar’s issue had fatefully crossed in descent through s’Dieneval. Blessing and rue marked the hour when young Meiglin’s commitment to thwart the Mistwraith’s conquest had invoked the starborne destiny that birthed Dari s’Ahelas to salvage the royal lineage of Shand.
The crone seized her due for the outstanding debt. “By our rightful charge, Arithon must stand or fall upon his own merits.”
“Only by his sacrosanct claim to free will!” Sethvir dared to insist.
“Our terms rely upon clean cut intent!” The crone’s rebuke was the scrape of dry leaves. “My people are not barbaric, or unlearned, or ignorant of your Fellowship’s origins.”
The backwaters of history ran too murky and deep. Sethvir skirted that quagmire and kept his own counsel. Whether the wrath of Mother Dark’s Aspect might rival a dragon’s, the prospect had never been pushed to the test. Her moral prerogative was not his to debate. The force of nature before him grasped all of the perilous ciphers in play, as past human transgressions strung between worlds and the oldest conflict spanning Athera’s bygone Eras collided.
“You must, at all costs, regardless of risk, and no matter the price, leave his Grace’s fate in our hands.” Eyes the starless black of eternity swallowed the light without blinking. “If your prince cannot resolve the consequence placed on his destiny, another of Requiar’s bloodline must rise to shoulder the burden.”
“Will we retain the viable lineage?” Sethvir asked, moved to plead. Whether or not the Teir’s’Ffalenn won the restitution imposed by Jessian’s ill‑starred legacy, Rathain’s royal succession must not fail, nor the last prospect to wrest the Mistwraith’s defeat to full closure.
The ancient spirit cocked her head, her farsighted vision perhaps keen enough to pierce the bleak mist of the future. “Maybe.” A pause gripped the storm‑freighted air, between gusts. Compassion and sorrow gentled the grief of a shared understanding. “If, in the coming hour of trial, you allow the Affi’enia, Elaira, her unfettered freedom of will. Else the bloodstock for our purpose, and yours for s’Ahelas, must derive from Lysaer’s issue, or better, the viable family branch still alive on Dascen Elur through Westgate.”
“Elaira’s part keys the fulcrum in fact?” That implication sparked the foreboding gravity to wring Sethvir to his knees. “At what cost to s’Ffalenn integrity?” While the query struck, hammer to anvil, against the sensitive web of unbirthed probability, the crone opened her empty palms. “All beings shape their own path through the Dark.”
Her strength of purpose was not unassailable. Despite thankless ages of history, her heart still bled. Love muted her cry beyond bearing. Sethvir beheld hands just as savagely shackled as his by the warp thread of oncoming conflict. The shockwave rippled beyond Althain Tower. Earth‑sense tracked the Mad Prophet’s stumble in the stews of distant Avenor, not caused by drink, but reeled under the broad‑scale repercussions spun off by the crone’s visitation.
Sethvir steadied frayed nerves, fused his scattered perception, and tested with surgical delicacy, “You place our Fellowship under a painful conflict of interest. For while Elaira holds Rathain’s signet ring as Prince Arithon’s betrothed, she’s entitled to our protection. More, Ciladis gave his personal bond to his Grace that he would keep her safe from all harm.”
“Then choose,” the crone declared unequivocal.
“To break our guarantee of crown covenant and forsake Arithon?” Sethvir fought not to weep as the shadows of possibility darkened, sucked towards the grim narrows of an irreversible nexus.
The crone extended no shred of false comfort as she brought the audience to firm closure. “ Affie’enia’s mate embodies the very flame of our people’s hope, the promise of a long awaited reprieve from the unconscionable theft and perversion of our ancestral knowledge. Also, flesh and blood, he is the embodiment of compassionate empathy your Fellowship nurtured to master the reckoning.” Tears sparkled and spilled down her seamed cheeks. “Love does not breathe or survive without risk. Freedom’s nature is wild, else it withers, extinguished. Your prince cannot be smothered in shielded protection. He must grapple his doom without interference. Triumph or tragedy, no safeguard exists. Only the bitter wisdom of courage, brandished like a torch in the night.”
A gust spattered rain across the stone sill. Draft whipped the crone’s tattered form like a bird’s, huddled to ward off the chill. “You Seven shall be granted due warning. When the hour draws nigh for the reckoning, our seeress will speak through the mouth of your prophet.”
But Sethvir’s did not ache for Dakar’s muddled woes, or denounce the bound usage that channelled his involuntary fits of blackout prescience.
Instead, he staked his appeal on behalf of Rathain’s sanctioned crown prince. “The man you have placed at the crossroads can endure only so much before he snaps!”
But the owl had flown, leaving a cryptic silence laced with the storm scent of rain. The Sorcerer’s outcry dwindled to echoes, received by naught but three flesh and blood birds in a desolate room.
Sethvir shuttered his anguish behind ink stained fingers. “If we come to this, then by every known measure of care, we Seven will have failed our Teir’s’Ffalenn.”
- Preview 1
- Preview 2 (this one)