The Drawing of the Dark
Del Rey, 1999
Ballantine Books, 1979
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|Sub-Genre Tags:||Mythic Fiction (Fantasy)|
Alternate History (Fantasy)
Mythic Fiction (SF)
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What does the famous Herzwesten beer have to do with saving the entire western world from the invading Turkish armies? Brian Duffy, aging soldier of fortune, is the only man who can rescue the world from evil--if only he can figure out why the beer was so important to a mysterious old man called the Fisher King, and why his dreams are plagued with images of a sword and an arm rising from a lake . . .
"All right, all right," Aurelianus said finally, flapping his hands at the woman. "Your personal speculations don't interest me. Here ... here's some money. Now get out. But first put that dagger back."
Bella sighed sadly and took a jewelled dagger out of the prodigious bosom of her dress. "I was only thinking a woman needs to be able to protect herself."
"Hah!" The old man chuckled mirthlessly. "It's the Turk sailors that need protection, you old vampire. Out!"
She left, slamming the door, and Aurelianus immediately lit several incense sticks in the candle flame and set them in little brass trays around the room. "I'd open a window," he said, "but in very old towns you never know what might be flying past in the darkness."
Duffy nodded uncertainly, and then held up the book he'd been leafing through.
"I see you're a student of swordplay."
"What have you got there? Oh yes, Pietro Moncio's book. Have you read it?"
"Yes. As a matter of fact, it was Moncio and Achille Marozzo I was dining with this evening."
The old man blinked. "Oh. Well, I haven't used a sword myself for a number of years, but I do try to keep up with developments in the art. That copy of della Torre there, in the dark vellum, is very rare."
"It is?" remarked the Irishman, walking back to the table and refilling his glass. "I'll have to sell my copy, then. Might make some money. I wasn't real impressed with the text."
Long cobwebs of aromatic smoke were strung across the room, and Duffy fanned the air with a little portfolio of prints. "It's getting murky in here," he complained.
"You're right," the old man said. "I'm a damnable host. Perhaps if I open it a crack ..." He walked to the window, stared out of it for a moment, and then turned back to Duffy with an apologetic smile. "No, I won't open it. Let me explain quickly why I called you in, and then you can be on your way before the fumes begin seriously to annoy you. I've mentioned the Zimmermann Inn, of which I am the owner; it's a popular establishment, but I travel constantly and, to be frank, there is often trouble with the customers that I can't control even when I'm there. You know - a wandering friar will get into an argument with some follower of this Luther, a bundschuh leftover from the Peasants-War will knife the Lutheran, and in no time at all the dining room's a shambles and the serving girls are in tears. And these things cut into the profits in a big way'damages, nice customers scared off, tapsters harder to hire. I need a man who can be there all the time, who can speak to most customers in their native languages, and who can break up a deadly fight without killing anybody - as you did just now, with the Gritti boys by the canal."
Duffy smiled. "You want me to be your bouncer."
"Exactly," agreed Aurelianus, rubbing his hands together.
"Hm." Duffy drummed his fingers on the table top. "You know, if you'd asked me two days ago, I'd have told you to forget it. But ... just in the last couple of days Venice has grown a little tiresome. I admit I've even found myself missing old Vienna. Just last night I had a dream -"
Aurelianus raised his eyebrows innocently. "Oh?"
"Yes, about a girl I used to know there. I wouldn't really mind seeing her'seeing what she's doing now. And if I hang around here those three Gritti lads will be challenging me to a real combat in the official champ clos, and I'm too old for that kind of thing."
"They probably would," Aurelianus agreed. "They're hot-headed young men."
"You know them?"
"No. I know about them." Aurelianus picked up his half-consumed snake and re-lit it. "I know about quite a number of people," he added, almost to himself, "without actually knowing them. I prefer it that way. You'll take the job, then?"
Oh, what the hell, Duffy thought. I would never have fit in back in Dingle anyway, realistically speaking. He shrugged. "Yes. Why not?"
"Ah. I was hoping you would. You're more suited for it than anyone I've met."
He knotted his hands behind his back and paced about the cluttered room. "I've got business in the south, but I'd appreciate it if you could start for Vienna tout de suite. I'll give you some travelling money and a letter of introduction to the Zimmermann brewmaster, an old fellow named Gambrinus. I'll instruct him to give you another lump sum when you arrive there. How soon do you think that can be?"
Duffy scratched his gray head. "Oh, I don't know. What's today?"
"The twenty-fourth of February. Ash Wednesday."
"That's right. Moncio had a gray cross on his forehead. Let's see - I'd take a boat to Trieste, buy a horse and cross the tail end of the Alps just east of there. Then maybe I'd hitch a ride north with some Hungarian lumber merchant; there's usually no lack of them in those parts. Cross the Sava and the Drava, and then follow the old Danube west to Vienna. Say roughly a month."
"Before Easter, without a doubt?" Aurelianus asked anxiously.
"Good. That's when we open the casks of bock, and I don't want a riot in the place."
"Yes, I'll have been there a good two weeks by then."
"I'm glad to hear it." Aurelianus poured himself a cup of the sauternes and refilled Duffy's. "You seem familiar with western Hungary," he observed cautiously.
The Irishman frowned into his wine for a moment, then relaxed and nodded. "I am," he said quietly. "I fought with King Louis and Archbishop Tomori at Mohács in August of 'twenty-six. I shouldn't have been there; as an Austrian at the time, Hungary was nothing to me. I guess I figured Vienna was next on the Turk's list." No sense telling him about Epiphany, Duffy thought.
The wine was unlocking Duffy's memories. The sky had been overcast, he recalled, and both sides had simply milled about on opposite sides of the Mohács plain until well after noon. Then the Hungarian cavalry had charged; the Turkish center gave way, and Duffy's troop of German infantry had followed the Hungarians into the trap. That was as hellish a maelstrom as I ever hope to find myself in, he thought now, sipping his wine - when those damned Turks suddenly stopped retreating, and turned on the pursuing troops.
His mouth curled down at the corners as he remembered the sharp thudding of the Turkish guns and the hiss of grapeshot whipping across the plain to rip into the Christian ranks, the whirling scimitars of the weirdly wailing Janissaries blocking any advance, and the despairing cry that went up from the defenders of the west when it became evident that the Turks had outflanked them.
"You obviously have luck," Aurelianus said, after a pause. "Not many men got clear of that."
"That's true," Duffy said. "I hid among the riverside thickets afterward, until John Zapolya and his troops arrived, the day after the battle. I had to explain to him that the idiot Tomori had attacked without waiting for him and Frangipani and the other reinforcements; that nearly everyone on the Hungarian side - Louis, Tomori, thousands more - was dead, and that Suleiman and his Turks had won. Zapolya cleared out then, ran west. I ran south."
The old man stubbed his smoking snake out in an incense bowl and reluctantly exhaled the last of the smoke. "You've heard, I suppose, that Zapolya has gone over to the Turkish side now?"
Duffy frowned. "Yes. He just wants to be governor of Hungary, I guess, and will kiss the hand of whoever seems to own it. I can still hardly believe it, though; I've known him since 1515, and he was making raids against the Turks even then. Of all the things I would have sworn were impossible ..."
Aurelianus nodded sympathetically. "If we could rely on impossibilities we'd all be better off." He crossed the room and sat down at a cluttered desk. "But excuse me - I did not mean to stir up your past. Here," he said, lifting a cloth bag from an opened drawer, "is five hundred ducats." Duffy caught the toss and slid the bag into a pocket. "And here," Aurelianus went on, flourishing a sheet of paper, "I will write a letter of introduction." He dipped a pen in an inkpot and began scribbling.
Duffy had long ago found it handy to be able to read upside down, and casually glanced across the writing table at Aurelianus - precise script.
"My dear Gambrinus," Duffy read, "the bearer of this note, Brian Duffy," (here Aurelianus paused to draw deftly a quick, accurate sketch of the Irishman), "is the man we've been looking for'the guardian of the house of Herzwesten. See that he is paid five hundred ducats when he arrives, and subsequently whatever monthly salary you and he shall agree upon. I will be joining you soon; mid-April, probably, certainly by Easter. I trust the beer is behaving properly, and that there is no acidity this season. "Kindest regards, AURELIANUS."
The black-robed old man folded the letter, poured a glob of thick red wax onto it from a little candle-heated pot, and pressed a seal into it. "There you go," he said, lifting away the seal and waving the letter in the air to cool the wax. "Just hand this to the brewmaster."
Duffy took the letter. The seal, he noticed, was a representation of two dragons locked in combat. "What are my duties to be?" he asked. "Tell me again."
Aurelianus smiled. "Just as you said yourself: the bouncer. Keep the riffraff out. Keep the peace."
The big Irishman nodded dubiously. "Seems odd that you'd have to come to Venice to find somebody to work in an Austrian tavern."
"Well I didn't come here to do that. I'm here for entirely different reasons. Entirely. But when I saw the way you dealt with those boys out front I knew you were the man this job called for."
"Ah. Well, all right. It's your money." The wind must be up, Duffy thought. Listen to that window rattle!
Aurelianus stood up. "Thank you for helping me out in this matter," he said quickly, shaking Duffy's hand and practically pulling him to the door. "I'll see you in a month or so."
"Right," agreed Duffy, and found himself a moment later standing on the dark landing while the door clicked shut behind him. Now there's an odd fellow, he thought as he groped his way down the stairs. I'll be very curious to see if there actually are five hundred ducats in this bag.
A stale liquor scent lingered at the foot of the stairs, and Bella sidled out of the shadows when he reached the bottom. "The little eunuch gave you some money, didn't he?"
"I beg your pardon, lady," Duffy said. "Nothing of the sort."
"Why don't you and me go drink some wine somewhere?" she suggested. "There's lots I could tell you about him."
"I'm not interested in him. Excuse me." Duffy slid past her to the pavement outside.
"Maybe you'd be interested in a little feminine companionship."
"Why would that concern you?" he asked over his shoulder as he strode away. She shouted something after him in a rude tone of voice, though he missed the words. Poor old woman, he reflected. Gone mad from cheap Italian liquor. Shouting harsh words at strangers and harrying poor weird old men.
He glanced at the sky - an hour or so after midnight. No sense now, he thought, in going back to San Giorgio; the only thing worth mentioning that waits for me there is a landlord, justly angry about my failure to pay rent. I'd better find some kind of rooming house to spend the night in, and then get an early start tomorrow. A few hours? sleep in a moderately clean bed is what I need right now. It's been a tiring night.
"Stand aside, grandfather, we're trying to unload cargo here."
Duffy glared fiercely at the lean young dockworker, but moved obediently away. The morning sunlight was glittering like a handful of new-minted gold coins on the water, and Duffy was squinting and knuckling his eyes. He'd been told to look for a Cyprian galley called the Morphou, which was scheduled to make a stop at Trieste on its way home; "Look for a triangular sail with three sad eyes on it," a helpful little Egyptian had said. "That'll be the Morphou."
Well, he thought irritably, I don't see any damned three eyes. Half these ships have their sails reefed anyway.
He sat down on a bale of cotton and watched disapprovingly the activity of all these loud, wide-awake people around him. Dark-skinned children, screaming to each other in a tangle of Mediterranean languages, ran past, flinging bits of cabbage at an indignant, bearded merchant; tanned sailors swaggered up from the docks, looking forward to impressing the Venetian girls with their foreign coins and fine silk doublets; and old, granite-faced women stood vigilantly over their racks of smoked fish, ready to smile at a customer or deliver a fist in the ear to a shoplifter.
Duffy had awakened at dawn in a malodorous hostel, feeling poisoned by the liquor he'd drunk the night before but cheered by his memory of opening the cloth bag beneath a flickering street lamp to discover that it did indeed contain five hundred ducats. And there are five hundred more waiting for me in Vienna, he thought, if I can just find this filthy Cyprian Morphou.
The gray-haired Irishman struggled to his feet - and a man on a porticoed balcony a hundred feet behind him crouched and squinted along the barrel of a wheellock harquebus; he pulled the trigger, the wheel spun and sprayed sparks into the pan and a moment later the gun kicked against the man's shoulder as its charge went off. A ceramic jar beside Duffy's ear exploded, stinging his face with harsh wine and bits of pottery. He leaped back in astonishment and pitched over the bale of cotton, cursing sulphurously and wrenching at his entangled rapier.
The gunman leaned out over the balcony rail and shrugged. On the pavement below, two men frowned impatiently, loosened the daggers in their sheaths, and began elbowing their way through the crowd.
On his feet now, Duffy clutched his bared sword and glared about fiercely. It's probably one of those furioso Grittis, he thought. Or all three. And after I was so patient with them last night! Well I won't be this morning.
A tall, feather-hatted man, whose moustache appeared to be oiled, strode up to the Irishman and smiled. "The one who fired at you is escaping in that boat," he said, pointing. Duffy turned, and the man leaped on him, driving a dagger with vicious force at the Irishman's chest. The hauberk under his much-abused doublet saved Duffy from the first stab; he caught the assassin's wrist with his right hand before another blow could be delivered, and then, stepping back to get the proper distance, ran his rapier through the man's thigh. Feather-hat sank to his knees, pale with shock.
I'm leaving Venice none too soon, Duffy reflected dazedly. He noticed with annoyance that his hands were trembling.
The frightened merchants and dockworkers were hurrying away, so he noticed immediately the two figures that were sprinting toward him - one was a stranger, one was young Giacomo Gritti, and both carried drawn knives.
"Fetch the guardia, for God's sake!" Duffy yelled shrilly at the crowd, but he knew it was too late for that. Sick with tension, he drew his own dagger and crouched behind his crossed weapons.
The stranger leaped ahead of Gritti, his arm drawn in for a solid stab - and then his eyes widened in pained astonishment, and he pitched heavily forward on his face, Gritti's dagger-hilt standing up between his shoulder blades.
Copyright © 1979 by Tim Powers
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