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Sethra Lavode

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Sethra Lavode

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Author: Steven Brust
Publisher: Tor, 2004
Series: Khaavren Romances: Book 5
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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She's the oldest person in the Dragaeran Empire, a military genius and master of sorcery whose own story stretches back to before the dawn of history. She's Sethra Lavode, the undead Enchantress of Dzur Mountain. Now, after a long absence, she's returned to take an active role in the Empire's affairs-and the affairs of her friends Khaavren, Pel, Tazendra, Aerich, and all their friends and relations.

Since the day Adron's Disaster reduced Dragaera City to a barren sea of amorphia, the Empire has been in ruins. The Emperor is gone, along with the Orb that was both his badge of office and the source of the magical power that in former times was practically a public utility. Trade has collapsed. Brigands rule the roads. Plagues sweep through the population. And an ambitious Dragonlord, the Duke of Kna, has moved to rebuild the Empire-in his own name, of course. Unknown to him, Sethra Lavode has already helped the Phoenix Zerika, true heir to the throne, retrieve the Orb from the Paths of the Dead. Sethra means to see Zerika on the throne. But making it so will entail a climactic battle of sorcery and arms...


Chapter the Sixty-Ninth

How the Empress, Attempting to

Work on the Design of the Imperial Palace,

Manages Those Who Interrupt Her

On the ground floor of Whitecrest Manor was a wide enclosed terrace, the twin to the open terrace on the other side where the Count and Countess of Whitecrest were accustomed to take their morning klava and watch the ocean. The enclosed terrace, of course, was used during inclement weather and had been the place where the Countess was accustomed to carry on her work--except that now it was the room where the Empress was carrying on her official business. The room was reached by a hallway with two entrances, one leading down to the parlor, and the other to a flight of steps that went up to the second story of the Manor. This second entrance had been sealed off, and a guard was posted at the first, with instructions to admit no one without permission of either Her Majesty or the officer on duty.

The officer on duty, of course, was generally Khaavren, and it happened to be Khaavren on this day who entered the room, bowed to Zerika, and said, "A gentleman to see Your Majesty. It is Prince Tiwall, of the House of the Hawk."

"Ah!" said Zerika, looking up from the papers she had been studying, which papers were, in turn, a single entry in a seemingly endless list of details to be decided upon with regard to the design of the Imperial Palace. Before her were not only lists and diagrams, but several different models of the future structures, or portions there-of, one of which was a full five feet high and more than fifteen feet in length, and occupied most of the room.

This activity had taken up so much of Her Majesty's time and effort that she was often impatient with any interruptions. On hearing who was there, the Orb, which had been circling her head with a beige color of distraction, first turned to a faint red of irritation, then, after she had reflected, to a warm orange of pleasurable excitement. "Send him in at once," she said.

Khaavren bowed and, as he had been trained to do for so long, did as he was told.

"I greet Your Majesty," said Tiwall, a stern, forbidding gentleman of well over two thousand years, whose white hair, worn long and brushed back from his noble's point, made a stark contrast to his dark complexion.

"Come, Your Highness," said Zerika. "That isn't so bad. You greet me as Your Majesty. Does this mean that I have cause to hope the House of the Hawk looks with favor upon my claim?"

Tiwall bowed. "I use the title because of my own belief, madam, that the Orb is the Empire."

"Your own belief--what of your House?"

"Oh, as to my House--"


"They are considering the matter."

"Considering it?"

"Your Majesty must understand that these are difficult times, and no one wishes to be hasty."

"Yet, Your Highness has decided."

"I have, and I beg Your Majesty to believe that I am using all of my influence within the House on your behalf."

"I am glad to hear it. For my part, I shall be glad to use what influence I have on Your Highness's behalf."

"Oh, if Your Majesty means that--"

"Yes?" said Zerika, frowning.

"It could be of immeasurable help in that cause in which we are united."

"I do not understand what Your Highness does me the honor to tell me. Speak more plainly, I beg."

"I only wish to say that should Your Majesty act on my behalf, or, more precisely, on behalf of my House, it would be of great help to me in convincing them."

Zerika looked at him carefully. "Does the House of the Hawk wish to bargain with the Empire?"

"It is their contention--and believe me, I speak of them, not of me--that, not having been recognized by the Council of Princes, it is not yet the Empire."

"I see. So, then, the House of the Hawk wishes to bargain with a certain Phoenix who happens to have the Orb circling her head."

"Your Majesty has stated the situation admirably."

"I see. And what does the House of the Hawk feel this recognition is worth?"

"If Your Majesty will permit me, before I answer the question you have done me the honor to ask."

"Permit you to what, Highness?"

"To explain the situation as I see it. Perhaps there are aspects that I fail to understand."

"I doubt that," murmured Zerika. Then she said, "Very well, Prince. State the situation as you understand it."

Tiwall bowed and said, "Well, let us see. You already have approval of the Lyorn, have you not?"

"The Count of Flowerpot Hill and Environs came to Adrilankha within days of my arrival here, and at once pledged the support of his House."

"And of course, you have the support of the House of the Phoenix."

"As I am the only one in the House, yes, it is true that I gave myself my full support. And I even plan to continue doing so."

"But Your Majesty has not yet heard from the Dragon or the Athyra, which are, I should point out, the two most powerful Houses."

"Again, you are correct."

"It must be said that the indications of allegiance you have received from the Tiassa are important. They have influence."

"I received a letter only yester-day from Count Röaanac in which he informs me of the decision of his House and pledges his personal good-will. Your Highness is singularly well informed."

Tiwall bowed and said, "So then, will Your Majesty permit me to make an observation?"

"Certainly, Highness. Do so, by all means, especially if it brings us to the point of this political survey you have just made for my benefit."

Tiwall, after clearing his throat, said, "My House occupies an unusual middle ground. We have more influence than the Jhereg and the Teckla, but not so much as the Dragon and the Athyra. We have been consulted--informally, I should add--by parties from the Issola and the Iorich, as well as certain of the merchant Houses."

"Very well, go on."

"Should I manage to persuade my House to accept Your Majesty as the Empress that you are, well--"

"Yes, if you should convince them, as I know you are trying to do?"

"I am certain we would bring with us, as a matter of course, the Iorich, the Chreotha, and most probably the Orca as well."

"I see."

"Once that happens, I cannot imagine the Jhereg and the Teckla not falling into line."

"It seems as if Your Highness is doing my planning for me."

"Not in the least, Your Majesty. I'm attempting to explain--"

"Never mind, Highness. Go on."

"Yes, Your Majesty. I wish only to observe that, should my negotiations within my own House be successful, it may have the effect, by itself, of very nearly bringing the entire Council of Princes to Your Majesty's support."

Zerika remained silent, and the Orb, slowing down a trifle in response to this contemplation, took on a dark green shade as she considered, as well as flickering slightly when she consulted it for some detail on Tiwall's history or family. To be sure, this Hawklord was no one's fool, and he was, as Hawks always are, well informed. But how honest was he, within the lies he was telling that were meant to be seen through?

"Very well," said Zerika after a moment. "What might the Empire grant your House that could help you to convince them that I am the true Empress, representing their interests as well as everyone else's within the vast Empire that we once had and, with the Favor, will again?"

"Tolerably little, Majesty."

"We shall see."

"An estate."

"That is easy enough; there are many estates."

"A particular estate, Majesty."

"Then that is different. Who owns it now?"

"No one. That is to say, the Empire."

"So much the better. Is it valuable?"

"I will not deny to Your Majesty that it is."

"What is its value?"

"Nowhere else that I know of are iron ore, oil, and coal all to be found in the same, narrow region of a few small mountains and valleys. There are refining operations near-by where, before the disaster, kerosene was produced, and there is no shortage of waterways."

"And you say, these counties are not owned?"

"Not one of them. A few had a baron or two ruling part of them before the Disaster, but since then not even a younger son of any of them remain."

"How many counties are we speaking of?"


"How much in area?"

"Perhaps twelve hundred square miles."

"That is not so much. Where are these counties, exactly?"

"Just south of the Collier Hills."

"Ah, ah!"

"Your Majesty knows them?"

"Nearly. I have just promised three of them to a certain Dragonlord who gave me some assistance against the Pretender. I had no idea they were so valuable."

"You have promised them? Ah, that is too bad!"

"Is there nothing else that will do?"

"I fear not, Your Majesty," said the Hawk, bowing deeply. "If I may be excused--"

"Your Highness may not," said Zerika coldly.

Tiwall bowed again, and waited in the perfect attitude of the courtier.

The Empress was discovering, as Morrolan had, that to govern others requires one to spend more time in consideration than one is used to--either that, or one must inevitably become a careless administrator, and history says nothing good about careless administrators. Therefore, Zerika considered, and, after considering, she said, "Very well, you may have your five counties."

The Hawklord bowed. "I believe I will be able to bring Your Majesty good news within a month."

"I depend upon it."

"Oh," he said, suddenly looking worried. "I hope Your Majesty did not interpret my words as a guarantee for any House other than my own."

"I hope," replied the Empress, "that Your Highness did not interpret my words as a guarantee of five counties to be given to your House."

"And yet--I understand, Your Majesty."

"That is good, Highness. It is important to understand one another."

Tiwall bowed to acknowledge this observation Her Majesty did him the honor to share, and inquired, "Will there be anything else?"

"No. You may go."

"Your Majesty will hear from me soon."

When he was gone, Zerika returned to her work, comparing certain figures on paper to some of the models and drumming her fingertips o...

Copyright © 2004 by Steven Brust


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