Thieves’ World® succeeded the first time around in no small part because we had great cover...a cover that proclaimed “You’ve just walked into the wrong bar, sucker.” When it came time to plan the cover for TOR’s first original TW anthology, I said that I wanted a cover that conveyed the same message. TOR agreed and Jean-Pierre Targete delivered! I love the cover so much, I have a 2-foot by 3-foot print of it in my living room--facing the front door, just in case someone tries to drop in uninvited.
The easy part of getting the Thieves’ World® revival up and running was finding a publisher. The hard part was putting together the story invitations. (Thieves’ World® has always been an invitation-only anthology; on the advice of my lawyer and TOR’s lawyers, I don’t read unsolicited submissions). I put together a wish-list of new authors and familiar faces, most of whom responded enthusiastically. They all promised me new characters, but...well, it wouldn’t be Thieves’ World® if they hadn’t hedged their bets here and there.
In the end, I think it’s a pretty good mix of old and new, familiar and very strange. See if you don’t agree...
Table of Contents
- Home is Where the Hate Is
- by Mickey Zucker Reichert
- Role Model
- The Prisoner in the Jewel
- Ritual Evolution
- Ring of Sea and Fire
- Doing the Gods’ Work
- The Red Lucky
- Apocalypse Noun
- One to Go
Cauvin thought he’d made himself froggin’ clear: He was a workingman, a stonemason who liked the feel of a heavy mallet in his hand, not some froggin’ songbird caged-up in the palace.
“He says he’ll beat me, if you don’t come,” the stranger–a youth not out of his teens–insisted flatly, desperately.
That didn’t sound like Arizak perMizhur. Sanctuary’s froggin’ tyrant was a hard man, not a cruel or vindictive one, or so Cauvin remembered. Cauvin had a thousand froggin’ memories of Arizak perMizhur, all of them clamoring for his attention. Problem was, almost none of those memories were his. Five months earlier, on his way to smash some old bricks, he’d gotten his sheep-shite self caught up in the death-wishes of Molin Torchholder, an old man who’d had his froggin’ finger on every worthwhile pulse in Sanctuary for a half-century. Everyone knew the froggin’ Torch was a liar, a schemer, a hero, and the priest of a vanquished god. What they hadn’t known was that the old pud was a witch, too, and before he breathed his froggin’ last, he managed to cast all his lifetime’s worth of memories into Cauvin’s skull.
If he’d had the power, Cauvin would have summoned the Torch’s shade and forced him to take back his froggin’ gift. If he’d had the power, which he didn’t. Cauvin remembered the ways of witchcraft but he couldn’t do anything with them, not yet anyway. Along with his memories, the Torch had managed to bequeath his god to Cauvin. Vashanka now skulked in Cauvin’s dreams.
Cauvin could handle the memories and Vashanka’s bitter prophesy. He’d survived a childhood on the streets of Sanctuary and adolescence in the grasp of the Bloody Hand of Dyareela. He was a froggin’ master at ignoring the unignorable. But he wasn’t the only one who knew about the Torch’s legacy. Arizak perMizhur knew it, too. Sanctuary’s tyrant had relied upon the Torch’s cunning to govern the city his Irrune tribesmen had conquered ten years ago and would never understand. Arizak was getting old himself and crippled by a rotting foot, but his mind remained sharp. He knew exactly how to get Cauvin–and his inherited memories–moving.
“I’m off to the froggin’ palace,” Cauvin called across the stoneyard to his foster father, Grabar.
“Be careful,” Grabar replied nicely, as if Cauvin’s absence wouldn’t wreak havoc on the day’s labor.
Then again, why wouldn’t Grabar bend over backward for him? Tucked away among all the Torch’s memories were the hundred-odd boltholes where the old pud had stashed his considerable wealth and Sanctuary’s treasures, beside. Shite for sure, with a little effort, Cauvin could have bought his foster father out of the stoneyard. He could have bought himself a magnate’s mansion fronting on the Processional or resurrected one of the abandoned estates ringing the town, even the great Land’s End estate of the exiled Serripines. Frog all–Cauvin could have bought Arizak out of the palace–if he’d wanted any part of the life that went with wealth.
Cauvin did have a clean shirt in his quarters over the shed where they stowed their tools and stabled the mule, but pulling on a clean shirt halfway through a workday was just the sort of thing he refused to do. He did pause by the water trough to sluice himself off. The water was breathtakingly frigid, but midway through winter, it was water, not ice.
Sanctuary had had a few bitter days, but nothing like its usual winter. The old folks–older than Grabar–who remembered before the Irrune, before the Bloody Hand of Dyareela, and all the way back to the days when the Rankan Empire had thought to make something of this city stuck on its backside, they whispered that magic must be returning to the city, as though the presence of a few wizards could change the weather. . .
They once had, the Torch’s memories rippled through Cauvin’s mind. They might again. Be careful.
Cauvin shrugged away a dead man’s thoughts and followed the youthful servant onto Pyrtanis street.
* * *
“Just so! Just so! You move now. Quick!”
Cauvin waited alone in the shadows of the audience chamber. The servant had melted into the tangled corridors, first froggin’ chance he got. Arizak sat in his cushioned chair at the center of the chamber–not his usual place which was on the dias at the rear. His bandaged and blanketed foot was propped up on a separate, higher, stool. He’d twisted sideways over his hip–a posture that had to be painful, though not as painful as a slowly rotting limb. A servant stood behind him struggling with the butt end of a long spear from which three lanterns–all lit and smoking–dangled.
The man doing the speaking, the mud-covered man in tattered fur and leather, was the tyrant’s brother, Zarzakhan, the Irrune’s sole shaman. The way his mud shone in the lamp light, Zarzakhan was fresh from a spirit walk with his god, Irrunega, and considering what the shaman mixed into his mud–blood, horse dung, and stinkweed oil–Cauvin was froggin’ glad to be upwind and watching as Zarzakhan seized sixteen-year-old Raith, the most able of Arizak’s sons and potential heirs, and stood him face-to-face with an older Irrune warrior, whose back was to Arizak.
“See? See?” Zarzakhan chirped. “Tentintok blocks the sun. His shadow falls on Raith. The moon is hidden from Tentinok’s eyes.”
From his chair, Arizak grunted and rearranged himself. Zarzakhan immediately grabbed Raith’s by the shoulders again and guided him into a new position between Tentinok and Arizak, with his back to Arizak. The shaman then spun Tentinok around to face both Raith and his father.
“Now, Raith blocks the sun and his shadow fall on Tentinok. For Tentinok, it was day, but becomes night–” Zarzakhan gave Raith a shove that sent him staggering toward Cauvin–“Then the shadow is gone. It is day again.”
Another grunt from Arizak. “If this were true,” the tyrant decreed, “then each month as the moon grew full, it would disappear and later, instead of resting, it would sneak into the heavens to swallow the sun. My own eyes have seen that this is not so. The sun and moon move above us bringing the light of day and the light of night. The makers of light do not hurl shadows at our eyes, brother. This is nonsense.”
Zarzakhan slammed his staff against the stone tiles. The servant started at the noise and nearly lost his grip on the lantern-hung spear.
“It is Irrunega!” the shaman shouted the name of the one god of the Irrune through the swaying light. “The vision of Irrunega shared with me, to warn me– To warn you, my brother, that twice, soon, the shadows are coming! Prepare! Mischief hides in the shadows. Sorcerers–wizards, magicians, priests of lesser gods, and witches. Irrunega has seen them creeping–slouching–toward Sanctuary. Prepare!”
Arizak wasn’t comfortable. He writhed on the cushions, turning away from the shaman and spotting Cauvin, finally.
“Hah! You’re here. Have you heard this nonsense?” Arizak beckoned Cauvin closer and, cautiously, he entered the lamplight. “My brother says that the next time we have a full moon, it will turn red, then disappear, and later the sun will do the same.” His face tightened into a scowl. “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Cauvin flinched. It wasn’t his answer the Irrune wanted, it was the Torch’s. He braced himself for the sensation, a half-breath shy of pain, that came with a dive into a dead man’s memories.
“No,” he croaked, then, “Yes,” as, in his mind’s eye, rippling draperies the color of dried blood fell slowly over a round, silvery moon and–alongside the moon, as it could only be in recollection, never in life–a black disk sliced into the sun. The Torch’s memories held nothing of shadows, but the Rankan priests had known the eclipses–that was the word Cauvin found with the images–were coming and that they would be over quickly, without damaging either the sun or the moon.
Cauvin fought his way back to his own mind. From Arizak to the guard holding the spear, everyone in the audience chamber was staring at him. “It could be,” his tongue told the tyrant while his thoughts cursed the Torch to greater torments. “If– If Irrunega says it could.”
“Wise man,” Zarzakhan crowed, rushing to Cauvin’s side. “Wise man.”
Cauvin held his breath, but that trick failed when the shaman clapped him hard between the shoulder blades. Odor as thick as smoke filled Cauvin’s chest and there was nothing he could do to keep himself from gagging. Zarzakhan clapped Cauvin a second time before retreating a pace. Cauvin couldn’t stop coughing. Arizak couldn’t stop laughing. The tyrant shook so much the stool beneath his rotting foot toppled and his foot dropped to the floor like a stone.
Cauvin froze mid-cough and stayed that way while Tentintok darted to Arizak’s aid. The older man righted the stool and gently–oh-so-froggin’-gently–lifted the tyrant’s foot onto it.
“Better,” Arizak said through clenched teeth. “Leave us.” He dismissed Tentintok with a flick of his hand.
Tentintok dropped to one knee instead. “Sakkim,” he pleaded, giving the tyrant his Irrune-language title. “I ask– I beg– She has done it again–”
Tentintok nodded. “There was much damage. Many complaints. They want money.”
Cauvin was too close. He could hear the conversation he was not meant to hear.
Money was a sore subject between the Irrune warriors and the city they ruled. Bluntly, they froggin’ refused to use it, said it broke their honor and they’d have risen up against Arizak perMizhur, if he’d been fool enough to argue with them. The tyrant was not a fool. He let his warriors keep their honor intact and quietly paid their bills from the palace. Shite for sure, since he could scarcely leave his cushioned chair, paying those bills–especially the bills run up by his own sons–was the joy of Arizak’s life. Tentintok’s problem was that he didn’t have a wild son; he had a wild daughter who drank and fought from one end of Sanctuary to the other and back again.
Cauvin slid one foot back, prepared to get out of earshot–but retreat would only prove that he’d been listening, so he stayed put.
“I said, last time was the last time. You said there’d be a marriage”
Tentintok hung his head like a bullied child. “I have tried, Sakkim.”
Cauvin had seen–not met, merely seen across the common room at the Vulgar Unicorn–the lady in question. She was attractive enough, even had a few dogged admirers–the timid sort of men who needed a froggin’ strong arm to back them in their brawls–none of them Irrune or worth marrying.
Arizak understood. He laid a hand on Tentintok’s arm and promised that he’d have his Wrigglies–Cauvin and his neighbors, the native blood of Sanctuary, had been called Wrigglies so long that they no longer considered it an insult and used it among themselves–settle Tentintok’s debts. . . again.
“Now, go,” the tyrant concluded and pointed toward the chamber doors.
Tentintok mumbled his appreciation and escaped. Cauvin wished he could have followed, but Arizak had already caught his eye and motioned him–or, more properly, his froggin’ memories–into confidence range. Like Tentintok, Cauvin dropped to one knee beside the cushioned chair. Raith joined them–he had the itch for governing a city–and so–the gods all be froggin’ damned–did the reeking Zarzakhan.
“It has gone as you predicted,” Arizak confided once his circle had drawn close around him.
He fished among the cushions and withdrew a parchment coil with a broken seal that he handed to Cauvin who unrolled it. Only a few froggin’ months earlier and Cauvin wouldn’t have known which end of the scroll was top and which was bottom, much less that it was written in the elegant hand of an Ilsigi court scribe. Reading–even reading languages he couldn’t froggin’ speak or understand–was another of the Torch’s froggin’ legacies.
But read Cauvin could and read he did, while Arizak explained to his brother and Raith.
“The Ilsigi king hears his rival, the Rankan emperor, has sent a tournament to Sanctuary–to honor our role in his recent victories. The Ilsigi king suspects his rival has other reasons. He does not say so, of course, but he has sent us the emissary who brought this, a golden statue of a horse my grandmother would not stoop to ride, and eight fighters to–what?–‘uphold our ancestors’ glory’?”
Cauvin nodded: those were the words and the gist of the letter King Sepheris IV had signed and sealed himself.
“So,” Arizak continued, “now we have them both in Sanctuary, suspecting each other while they pry after our secrets. What are our secrets, my friend?” The tyrant scowled down at Cauvin. “Why are they here?”
“War,” Cauvin replied with his own wits. He’d had enough time with the Torch’s memories to learn some things for himself. “The Nis in the north are finished. Caronne is in revolt and devouring itself. There’s nothing to keep Sepheris and Jamasharem–” the Rankan emperor–“from each other’s throats.”
“Of course, war,” Arizak snapped. “They are young and strong and the world is too small. But why here? Why Sanctuary?”
A twinge of almost-pain squeezed Cauvin’s heart. He couldn’t speak until it had passed and, by then, it was all clear in his mind.
“Sorcery–magic, prayer, and witchcraft,” he listed all three branches, of which witchcraft was the most feared, the most reviled. “They know about the eclipses. . . When the moon is swallowed, everyone from Ilsig to Ranke will know, but the disappearance of the sun–” Cauvin swallowed hard: the Torch’s memories were no match for his own dread–“that will happen here. And between the two–” he shook his head, but the images of fire, blood, and things he could not name would not dissolve–“great sorceries will be possible.”
“This tournament is diversion,” Arizak mused. He was a wily, far-sighted man. “An excuse to flood Sanctuary with strangers . . . sorcerous strangers.”
“Irrunega!” Zarzakhan shouted and slammed his staff to the floor.
“What manner of sorcery is possible between the eclipses?” Raith asked.
Cauvin got along well with Raith. He would have answered the young man’s questions without a goad from the Torch’s memories, but memory was no fair guide to the future. “Powerful sorcery, that’s all I know,” he admitted. “The sort of sorcery no one’s seen for forty years or more. Worse than ten years ago, when the Bloody Hand tried to summon Dyareela. Doors could get opened, and left open. We can’t be too careful.”
Arizak stroked his chin and nodded. “We need someone in that tournament, someone who’ll win–”
“And someone who’ll attract trouble,” Raith added and they all turned toward him. “Naimun,” he suggested with a guile-ful smile. “Who better than my brother?”
“Anyone would be better than Naimun!” Cauvin answered. “He can’t be trusted!” Raith’s slow-witted but ambitious elder brother had already been caught treating with the outlawed remnants of the Bloody Hand, not to mention every foreign schemer who washed ashore.
“We don’t need to trust him,” Raith snarled coldly. “We need only follow him.”
* * *
“Raith said that?” the black-clad man asked with the raised eyebrows of surprise and new-found respect.
Cauvin nodded. “Everything went dead quiet–you could hear the froggin’ flies buzzing around Zarzakhan. But that’s not the strangest part–”
“I might have guessed.”
The two men were alone on a hill outside Sanctuary, their conversation lit by the faint light of a sliver moon.
The black-clad man’s name was Soldt and he was a duelistan assassinwho’d come to the city years ago to solve a problem called Lord Molin Torchholder. The Torch–no froggin’ spring chicken then, either–had outwitted him and Soldt had wound up staying on as the old pud’s eyes, ears, and, sometimes, his sword. He was another part of Cauvin’s legacy.
“While I knelt there,” Cauvin went on, “not daring to froggin’ breathe, the light began to shimmer–“
”Zarzakhan catching fire?”
“No–not that froggin’ strange. The guard–the spear man who’d played the part of the sun? I looked up and he was shaking all over–laughing. Shite, I’d forgotten he was even there; we all had–and that’s the way he meant it
Another arch of eyebrows.
“I blinked and the man’s eyes were glowing red.”
“Ah, Yorl again, Enas Yorl. Spying on everyone. How long do you suppose he’s known we were fated for two eclipses in quick succession?”
“I didn’t get a chance to ask. I blinked again, and he was gone.”
“And then Zarzakhan caught fire?”
“No, the guard was still there–looking like he’d just awakened from a nightmare; Yorl was gone.”
“That’s new. He’s finding way to turn that shape-shifting curse to his own advantage. You’ve got to ask yourself–Who would benefit more from a little sky sorcery? Doesn’t want any competition, that’s for sure. Figure he’ll show up in the tournament?”
Cauvin cleared his throat, “All the more reason we’ve got to have someone there. . . and it can’t be one of the Irrune, even though Raith volunteered, of course, and you know the Young Dragon would eat dirt for the chance.”
Soldt recoiled. He stood up, stomped away, then turned on his heel. “I don’t work in Sanctuary, you know that. It’s bad enough, with everything that happened with Lord Torchholder’s death, that my name is known. But a common tournament? I will not.”
“Shite! I understand!” Cauvin couldn’t meet the other man’s eyes. “That’s why I’m putting my name in.”
“You?! It’s a steel tournament, pud. You can’t even draw a sword properly. You’re–” Soldt stopped, mid-rant, then finished in a far more thoughtful tone: “You’re getting more like him every day.”
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