Enemies of Fortune
Here’s a sneak preview of the second all-new anthology from TOR books. We’ve just delivered the manuscript and settled on the title (a properly ambiguous one, I think); publication should be later this year...I’d guess somewhere around October or November, but I haven’t heard anything definite yet.
Jean-Pierre Targete is working on what I’m confident will be another wonderful cover. For the record, that’s Aaliyah and Ronin in the center, and Tord’an J’ardin, Steve Brust’s contribution to Sanctuary society, perched on the wall.
There was a shipwreck a few months ago...that’s not on the cover, but it’s had an effect on the city. Seems the ship wasn’t quite what it appeared to be and some of the cargo is, or was, well... unusual. And there are rumors that the Dyareelans are up to their little tricks again, or trying to be. And someone’s loosed a new drug, cheap and potent, on an unsuspecting populace.
All in all, it’s summer in Sanctuary and the living is not at all easy.
Table of Contents
- Deadly Ritual
- by Mickey Zucker Reichert
- Pricks and Afflictions
- Good Neighbors
- Gathering Strength
- Dark of the Moon
- The Ghost in the Phoenix
- by Diana L Paxson and Ian Grey
- The Ballad of Shemhaza
The guards at the Prince’s Gate hassled Cauvin each time he led the stoneyard’s mule cart between them, the same as they’d hassled him from the beginning. They hassled him by name now–
“Hey, Cauvin–what’ve you stolen this time–?”
“Stand aside, Cauvin, and let us take a look inside that cart–”
“Frog all, Cauvin, what’s the point in hauling rocks into Sanctuary–?”
He supposed recognition was an improvement, so long as he remained Cauvin, the sheep-shite stone-smasher from up on Pyrtanis Street with a reputation for brawling and, yes, raiding the old abandoned estates beyond the walls for stone that was a cut above any rock that could be dug out of the city’s ruins. Cauvin wasn’t the most common name in Sanctuary, but he had enough namesakes that someone could–might–wonder which Cauvin was which. His life–the life of a competent mason in a city built from mortared stone–would fall apart if lunk-headed puds from the guard ever got the idea that Cauvin the stone-smasher was the same Cauvin who’d turned up as one of Arizak’s more trusted advisors.
“You know how it is,” Cauvin said as he led the mule off the beaten path for inspection. “Some nabob wants to add a room, he doesn’t want to add it with common Sanctuary stone, he wants it out of matching stone from some dead nabob’s garden.”
The tallest of the guards pulled the canvas back, exposing an assortment of wedges, chisels, two mallets, and about a hundred-weight of fine-grained granite with most of its old mortar chipped away. He shoved a chunk or two, just enough to assure himself that there wasn’t something truly interesting underneath all that rock, then turned back to Cauvin with his hand discreetly cupped for a bribe.
“Can’t expect Wrigglie puds like you to earn an honest living.”
Cauvin shrugged off the insult. Never mind that he and the guard shared the same nasal dialect, same mongrel features–middling-brown hair, hazel eyes, and a thick hide that darkened like old leather in the summer sun–the guard made it clear that he fancied himself as a son of the Rankan Empire with a gods’ given right to lord it over lesser folk, which in Sanctuary meant Wrigglie folk, folk who didn’t always know who their parents had been, much less their grandparents.
Frog all, Ranke had pulled out of town nearly forty years ago and most of its thirty-eight Imperial cities were in worse shape than Sanctuary. The smart money–the nabobs’ money, whether they were swarthy Wrigglies or golden-haired Imperials–had shifted over to the Ilsigi Kingdom which, after a few centuries of inbreeding, had surprised itself and spawned a clever, ambitious king.
On the other hand, when it came to lording it over Sanctuary, nothing compared to a dyed-in-the-wool Ilsigi nobleman slumming in the city his ancestors’ runaway slaves had founded. Bad as “Wrigglie” sounded through an Imperial Rankan accent, it sounded that much worse in Kingdom tones.
“We Wrigglie puds do what we have to,” Cauvin replied, matching the guard’s inflection because he was a decent mimic and he hadn’t changed all that much from the brawler he’d been a scant year ago.
He dribbled four padpols–the going rate for common contraband–into the guard’s palm, then he clicked his tongue and the mule started for the gate. The guard muttered one of Sanctuary’s earthier epithets, but neither he nor his companions got in Cauvin’s way.
Once through the gate, the fastest way to his family’s stoneyard on Pyrtanis Street was through the ‘Tween and up the Stairs. The long way–the mule’s way–was down the Wideway to the Processional. Being a smart mule with a good memory, that was the way Flower intended to go. Cool water, fresh hay, and a patch of shade awaited her in the stoneyard. She had no interest in the ‘Tween and no intention of plopping her hooves down on its tangled streets. When Cauvin signaled his intention to head toward the Stairs, Flower let loose with one of her attention-getting brays and rooted herself to the ground.
A lesser man–lesser in stubbornness and strength–might have given in to his mule’s wisdom, but not Cauvin. He gave Flower a shove in the shoulder that got her and the cart pointed in his chosen direction, then strode into the ‘Tween ahead of her. She brayed a few times in protest before giving herself a mighty shake and following her wayward master.
Cauvin scratched Flower’s long ears when they were again within reach. He bought a melon from a dozing vendor and gave the larger half to his mule, earning her forgiveness. His own portion Cauvin held in his hand until they were deep in the tangle, then he righted a bashed-in barrel, propped it up between a shaded wall and a fence that was more hole than slat. With a nod to the mule, Cauvin settled in to savor his fruit, like any other workman stealing a few moments for himself.
The melon was sweetly delicious; but it could have crawled with maggots for all Cauvin noticed it. His attention was on a storefront squarely visible through the battered fence. The faded signboard above the open door proclaimed that the shop belonged to one Meerash who sold olive oil suitable for cooking and preserving. A pyramid of glass cruets and ceramic bottles filled the open window. From his vantage point behind the fence, Cauvin counted four spider webs connecting the pyramid to the window frame.
A halfway observant man could easily conclude Meerash wasn’t selling much oil this summer. A man with access to the officers of the watch and guard knew that Meerash wasn’t selling any oil because watchmen had fished his body, with a garotte still knotted around his neck, out of the harbor a month ago.
The knot had snagged someone’s curiosity. That someone had cut the cord without damaging it and passed the length to someone else, who’d passed it to someone else again and again until it wound up in Arizak’s hands.
This mean anything to you? the Irrune chieftain had asked, giving Cauvin a good look at the stiff, stained cord.
Arizak hadn’t been asking for Cauvin’s personal opinion. As far as the Irrune chieftain was concerned, Cauvin by himself was still a sheep-shite stone-smasher, but Cauvin had fallen heir to Molin Torchholder and been inexplicably engulfed by the memories of a lifetime not his own when that old pud had finally died. There wasn’t much about Sanctuary that the Torch didn’t have squirreled away in his memories. So, when Arizak turned to a stone-smasher for answers and advice, what he truly wanted was for Cauvin to immerse himself in a dead man’s past.
Cauvin had conquered the disorientation that accompanied an upswelling of another man’s memories. He froggin’ sure didn’t like it, but the process no longer nauseated him. The dead Torch’s memories were no help with the knot, though, which was a bit of a surprise, and a bit not. Molin Torchholder might have cleaned Dyareela’s minions out of Sanctuary, but he’ never known the bloody-hungry Hand of Chaos the way Cauvin, who’d grown up in their orphan pits, did.
Maybe, Cauvin had answered Arizak, hedging his bets. Let me do some checking around. I wouldn’t want to be wrong, he’d said, when the froggin’ simple truth was he was afraid to be right.
Arizak had seen straight through Cauvin’s dodge. The man might be rotting away from the leg down, but his wits were sharp and he knew how to rule a people that didn’t want to be ruled by anything or anyone–which described Arizak’s own Irrune tribe as well as it described Sanctuary. The chief had told Cauvin to take his time, and said it with eyes that were heavy with warning.
Cauvin had backtracked the knot to Meerash’s shop. He’d kept his eye on the place for the last month, and he still wasn’t sure he had all the pieces in all the right places. Or, maybe, he just didn’t want to. When it came to spying, Cauvin was a froggin’ lubber. His inherited memories were no use: The Torch never dirtied his hands collecting scuttlebutt; he had a web of informants, a web that had slipped through Cauvin’s fingers months ago. Soldt, the one person Cauvin trusted with his own questions, had taken off two months ago on a commission to assassinate some Ilsigi wizard. That left Cauvin with only his own wits for the job; and, shite for sure, he was the first to admit that his froggin’ wits weren’t the sharpest.
As best Cauvin could figure, the new owners of Meerash’s shop were selling protection and enforcing it with a gang of thugs, three of whom emerged onto the street as Cauvin watched. The trio were all of a type, the same type as Cauvin himself: brawny young men with big hands and thick skulls. He sized them up reflexively: he could take any one in a fair fight, any two with a stave from the barrel he was sitting on, but if all three took exception, he’d froggin’ have to run.
Cauvin glanced at the cart. Soldt had been giving him sword lessons for almost a year now, but he’d feel most comfortable with a steel-head mallet leaning against his thigh. He thought about retrieving it; that would mean leaving his spyhole. Maybe it was sheep-shite stupid to set himself up in a tight corner the way he was, but there could be no doubt that it would be doubly stupid to call attention to his froggin’ self rattling around in Flower’s cart, so Cauvin stayed put.
He kept his eye on the trio. Two of them bore a jagged tattoo, like sideways lightning or the oncoming profile of a hawk in flight, on their left forearms. The third probably had a similar tattoo, but his shirt was long-sleeved. Cauvin knew the tattoo as the mark of the Kintairs, a old ’Tweener gang he’d tangled with a few times before crossing paths with the Torch.
In those days the Kintairs–the name was a shortening of sikkintair, the dragons of Ils the Thunderer–had answered to Saluzi, a one-time sea captain and full-time troublemaker. Cauvin hadn’t seen Saluzi since he’d started spying on Meerash’s shop. If he’d had to guess, he’d say Saluzi had met the same fate as Meerash because, shite for sure, Saluzi hadn’t taken over Meerash’s little shop. Unlikely as snow in summer, the shop had been taken over by a woman and the Kintairs were taking their orders from her.
Her name was Cassata; at least that was the name she used here in the ’Tween. Her dress was slovenly–draped and hitched around her until it was impossible to decipher the shape of the woman beneath. She wore a foreign sort of headdress with flaps that squared her face and fell across her shoulders like ragged, striped braids. The headdress covered all her hair except for a careless, mud-brown forelock. A bloody wen the size of a froggin’ walnut swelled on her jaw to complete her portrait. Beauty wasn’t everything, but women who looked like Cassata were more apt to beg for a living than give orders to thugs, leaving Cauvin to suspect that Cassata couldn’t possibly be the woman she seemed to be.
And then there was the knot…
Cauvin could have duplicated that knot with his eyes closed– When the Hand taught an orphan a lesson, even a sheep-shite stupid orphan learned it down to his froggin’ toenails and never forgot it, either. The Dyareelan priest who’d had taught Cauvin how to tie that knot was dead; Cauvin had watched the aptly named Strangle die. And all but a very, very few of the other orphans who’d learned that particular lesson were dead, too, but one of them…
Froggin’ gods, one of the surviving orphans had been Leorin and Leorin had been Cauvin’s wife for a few short hours last autumn, for the few hours it took to betray him to what remained of the Hand hiding out in the tunnels beneath Sanctuary.
Cauvin had escaped from the Hand a second time that night and Leorin had escaped the Irrune wrath he’d called down upon his captors. He’d hoped–because, though he couldn’t forgive his erstwhile wife, his heart still ached when he thought about her–that she’d have the sense to live her life far from Sanctuary. Far from him.
His wife had been beautiful–golden, curling hair, honey-hazel eyes, curves and grace–but she was about the same height as Cassata and had the same habit of twisting a bit of string between her fingers as she talked. The wisdom of his inherited memories said habits mattered more than appearances.
Appearances didn’t matter to the Hand–or, rather, appearance didn’t matter unless it was useful. A beautiful Leorin had been useful when no one knew who she worshipped. With that secret unmasked, beauty had become a liability–a beautiful Leorin could never have returned to Sanctuary.
The only questions worth asking were, Who had sent his wife back to Sanctuary? And why?
Cauvin had half a mind to walk right into the froggin’ shop and ask her. He hadn’t given into that half…so far. The trio concluded their business with Cassata and walked away from the shop, two headed off together and one headed toward Cauvin. He scooted silently over to the mule and had her walking when the Kintair thug came abreast of him. The two men gave each other the once-over and kept going.
Cauvin led Flower past Meerash’s shop. The mule was between him and the open door, and he was careful not to look into the shadows, but she’d see him–remember him–if she looked out, if she was Leorin…his wife. Cauvin told himself that he was, in his own way, warning Leorin–warning her that he knew who she was and that she needed to pack up and leave Sanctuary, this time for good.
The problem was, Leorin hadn’t gotten the message the last time Cauvin had led Flower past her shop, or the time before that; and Arizak wanted answers, results. Frog all, Cauvin didn’t want to stand in front of the Irrune chief and admit that he knew who had tied the knot around Meerash’s neck, where she was and what she was to him. He didn’t want to say anything to anyone until he could say that Leorin was gone.
The mule and Cauvin rounded a corner and headed back to the Wideway. With each step Cauvin cursed the luck that had brought Leorin back to Sanctuary while the one man he trusted completely was out hunting wizards. Frog all, he cursed the luck that had left him with a dead man’s memories, but not the wit to use them; and the sheep-shite luck that had brought him to birth in Sanctuary in the first place.
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