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Five Hundred Years After

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Five Hundred Years After

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Author: Steven Brust
Publisher: Tor, 1994
Series: Khaavren Romances: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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In which our heroes are reunited a mere five centuries later… just in time for an uprising that threatens to destroy the Imperial Orb itself!

This is the story of the conspiracy against the Empire that begins in the mean streets of the Underside and flourishes in the courtly politics of the Palace where Khaavren has loyally served in the Guards this past half-millenium. It is the tale of the Dragonlord Adron's overweening schemes, of his brilliant daughter Aliera, and of the eldritch Sethra Lavode. And it is the tale of four boon companions, of love, and of revenge... a tale from the history of Dragaera, of the events that changed the world.



Chapter the First

Which Treats of Matters Relating to the State of the Empire, And Introduces the Reader to The Emperor and Certain of His Court.

UPON THE FIRST DAY OF autumn, that is, the ninth day of the month of the Vallista in the five hundred and thirty-second year of the reign of His Imperial Majesty, Tortaalik I, of the House of the Phoenix, a messenger arrived at the Imperial Wing of the Palace and begged an audience with the Emperor.

Before delving into the source and content of the message, we trust we will be allowed to say two words about the messenger herself, because this will provide an opportunity to set before the reader some of the conditions which prevailed at this time and in this place, and will thus equip him to better understand the history we propose to unfold.

The messenger was a young woman of perhaps four hundred years, whose roundish face, stocky build, and straight, short brown hair without noble's point, all indicated unmistakably the House of the Teckla--a diagnosis easily confirmed by the roughness of her skin and the calluses on her hands. But far more interesting than her fallow state (if we may be permitted such a word to refer to her appearance as provided by nature) is her cultivated state, or the woman as she presented herself to those who guarded the Imperial Wing.

She was dressed in the yellow, green, and brown of her House, but the yellow was the pure, bright color of those flowers that grow in the lower valleys of Tursk, and took the form of a silk blouse embroidered with russet needlework of an exceptionally fine character. Her leather riding pants were also russet, and flared widely around her boots, which were dyed the bright green of new grass and had wide extensions in the form of wings emerging from the heels. She wore, as well, a woolen cloak of a tan color, with a clasp in the form of a dzur, wrought with fine silver wire.

These details now having been placed before the reader, let us make haste to follow her progress, which has not halted for our indulgences; while we have been describing her dress, the Teckla, whose name is Seb, after stating hermission, has been granted admission into the presence of His Majesty the Emperor, and we can, therefore, follow her and hear the delivery of this message ourselves.

Because, being a Teckla, she could not be given a safe-conduct badge, Seb was escorted by one of the guardsmen on duty, a certain Dragonlord called Tummelis e'Terics, who brought her to the officer on duty, who looked the Teckla over briefly but thoroughly before signifying, with an almost imperceptible nod of his head, that she could pass. This was all taking place, be it well understood, in the First Antechamber (or the Last Antechamber, as some have it, but we will hold to the usage of the historians of the period of which we write, and hope that our readers' perspicacity will surmount any confusion this causes), which connected to the First Lower Level Imperial Audience Chamber, to give its official title, or the Throne Room, as some historians have it, or the Portrait Room, as it was actually called.

At the point at which we begin our history, it has just passed the quarter-hour after the third hour after noon, and the Portrait Room doors are, consequently, standing wide open. Seb, notwithstanding her House, walked with full confidence among the nobles and courtiers who milled about the room, who in fact filled the room to the point of straining to the utmost the ingenious cooling spells that the Athyra Marchioness of Blackpool had set upon it.

At length, upon reaching a point directly before His Majesty, where waited Brudik, Lord of the Chimes, Tummelis, her mission accomplished, gave the messenger into Lord Brudik's care. This worthy, who had held his post for some fifteen hundred years, turned to His Majesty and announced, in his droning voice, "A messenger from Her Highness Sennya, Duchess of Blackbirdriver, and Dzur Heir.

"His Majesty was just then amusing himself in a customary way, between bantering conversations with various courtiers: He was attempting to make himself angry, then sad, then happy, in order to make the Orb, which rotated above his head, change color. He was, as usual, achieving only indifferent success, wherefore the Orb glowed with the pale red of annoyance, which changed instantly to a delicate green as, at the Lord Brudik's announcement, he looked up with an expression of mild interest.

"Ah," he said. "From Sennya."

"That is it, Your Majesty," said Brudik.

"Well," said His Majesty, trying to remember if he had ever heard the name Sennya, and, if so, in what context, "then, let the messenger come before me."

As the worthy Seb steps up to address the Emperor Tortaalik, we willpermit ourselves to quickly sketch the changes that have occurred in the outer, and, to some extent, the inner character of His Majesty since we last had occasion to bring him to the attention of our readers, which was at the beginning of his reign, in the history of The Phoenix Guards.

The Emperor, we should note, had changed but little in appearance. He had begun to paint his fingernails, forehead, and ears (all of which on this occasion were a bright red that set off the gold of his costume), and he now wore diamonds on all occasions, in the form of rings, bracelets, earrings, headdress, and necklaces; but neither his face nor his physique had undergone any transformation excepting only the addition of a few lines in the former and a bit of settling in the latter. Our readers will remember his delicate skin, of which he took greater care than ever, bathing every day in scented oils; his pale blue, narrow eyes; and his fine, yellow hair, which was of medium length and curled inward below his ears.

As for those aspects of his character which are not readily visible, we may say, with the perspective that only distance brings, that the fundamental shift in his personality had begun some four hundred years earlier, when he was forced to exile his sister for taking part in an attempt to introduce poisons into his drink through certain specially prepared goblets which were impenetrable to the mysterious powers of the Orb, although not, as it turned out, to the more mundane abilities of Gyorg Lavode. In point of fact, it is certainly the case that Tortaalik's sister had been the chief mover behind the entire affair, which information His Majesty did his best to suppress, although whether out of affection for his sister, a desire to limit the scandal, or for other reasons entirely, we will not speculate. But he had certainly changed since then, becoming gradually, over the course of the next few centuries, at once whimsical and morose, devoting much effort to idle amusements, and much time to doing nothing whatsoever, this pursuit being occasionally interrupted by sudden and short-lived periods of intense interest in the doings of the State of which he stood at the prow.

Of the many changes in the makeup of the court, the two most significant were the retirement of His Discretion, the Duke of Wellborn, and the appointment of Jurabin to the position of Prime Minister, which, in combination, gave His Majesty the inclination and the leisure to pursue his own amusements, such as they were. The reader may rest assured that, if these two changes have more far-reaching effects than we intend to describe at this moment, we will discuss them as occasion warrants.

The messenger, Seb, to whom we now have the honor of returning, performed the proper obeisance before His Majesty and said, "I bring you, Sire, greetings from the holdings of Her Highness, Sennya, and I bear herwishes that Your Majesty will deign to hear the message she has done me the honor to entrust to my care, and which she desires me to impart to Your Majesty."

"The greetings," said His Majesty, "are acknowledged. And we are anxious to hear whatever intelligence you bring us."

"Then, Sire, I will at once relay this message."

"And you will be right to do so. Is it written?"

"No, Sire, it was entrusted to me, by Sennya herself, from mouth to ear."

"Then you may deliver it the same way."

"I shall do so, Sire," said Seb. She cleared her throat and began. "This is it, then: Sire, Her Highness, Sennya, faced with a personal crisis of the most extreme character, begs to be excused from the Meeting of the Principalities. She hopes she has not too much incurred Your Majesty's displeasure by making this request, and hopes, moreover, that Your Majesty will do her the kindness of granting it."His Majesty frowned, and the Orb took on a slight orange cast. He then looked around, and his eyes fell on the barrel-chested form of Jurabin, who was moving, or rather, bulling, his way through the courtiers to reach the throne. His Majesty stirred impatiently; Seb appeared quite at ease, although a few courtiers noticed that a certain amount of perspiration was evident at her temples.

Jurabin arrived at last, and leaned forward to allow His Majesty to whisper to him. His Majesty quickly explained what had transpired, and Jurabin, upon hearing the news, looked at His Majesty with an expression of mild surprise, and accompanied the look by pronouncing these words, "But, Sire, what question does Your Majesty do me the honor to ask?

"His Majesty flushed slightly, and the courtiers, who were unable to hear this conversation, noticed that the Orb darkened. "In the first place, Beespatch," said the Emperor, referring to Jurabin by title, as His Majesty always did when annoyed, "It was my opinion that you, as Prime Minister, ought to be made aware that yet another Delegate--in fact, an Heir--has backed out of the meeting. Other than that, I have not done ...

Copyright © 1994 by Steven Brust


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