Silver Road (The Shifting Tides Book 2), страница 1
ALSO BY JAMES MAXWELL
THE SHIFTING TIDES
The Hidden Relic
The Path of the Storm
The Lore of the Evermen
Seven Words of Power
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2016 by James Maxwell
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Cover illustration by Alan Lynch
Cover design by Ryan Young
For my wife, Alicia, with all my love
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Palemon crossed the frozen wasteland, every step taking him farther from the city of the dead. He took long strides, boots crunching into the packed snow, not hurrying but walking with purpose, aware that he had distance to cover and there was always the chance a sudden blizzard could take him by surprise. The frigid air made his eyes water and stung his cheeks, but these were sensations he’d experienced his entire life and he was used to them.
In another man this monthly habit would have been called a ritual, even a pilgrimage, but Palemon’s people knew him as a practical ruler, never superstitious. He believed in the things he could see with his own eyes, not the future that some said they could read in the stars or the entrails of birds.
But as he walked, squinting ahead to where the pale sun glared above the white horizon, frowning and tugging on the braids of his gray beard, he still felt unsettled. Palemon was the thirteenth successive king to carry his name. He longed to unshackle himself from the ill-omened number. Despite the fact that the lost nation of Aleuthea was slowly, inexorably dying, he was determined to show his people that his reign would not be the last. Like his ancestor, the first King Palemon, he would save them from their plight.
As he focused on a tiny dark speck that grew larger with every step, he was reminded by the expanse of emptiness around him that both he and the object of his interest didn’t belong in this place. They belonged in the world of men, rather than a domain where the true ruler was nature. Palemon and his people were destined for greater achievements than mere survival. This land was not home.
He wondered what his forebears would have made of their descendants’ present state. Though this was the only life Palemon and his people had ever known, they had information on the old Aleutheans in abundance; the magi could describe their way of life in detail. They’d clothed themselves in togas and tunics, thin clothing worn mainly for modesty and to ward off the worst of the sun’s rays. They had grown crops and herded animals. There had been time to develop culture, metal weapons, and the might to enthrall an empire.
Today, Palemon wore the finest clothing his people and their nusu slaves could make: a thick black cloak with a hem of soft fur, a leather vest the shade of smoke, black woolen trousers fashioned from the fur of the musk ox, and high boots. His head was crowned only by his hair, which was long, thick, and streaked with gray. He looked like a barbarian, and compared to the ancient Aleutheans, he was.
But on his back he carried a broadsword, long enough that the hilt stood higher than his right shoulder. It was a symbol of his kingship as much as any crown. One day, if the gods smiled on him, Palemon could restore his people’s greatness.
Setting his jaw, he fixed his gaze ahead. The ancient relic he now approached contrasted with the monotonous white of the terrain. It was made of weathered timber, black as coal. Though it appeared completely abandoned, half buried in the ice, unloved and ignored, it was valuable beyond belief.
It was a ship.
Palemon’s vision never left it as he drew closer. It was larger than the house he lived in, and he was the king. A long bowsprit jutted from the front where the sweeping lines of the rails met. The black vessel’s sides at the bow were high, rising even higher at the stern, where a mighty wooden castle comprised the ship’s topmost deck. Three masts stood proudly erect, with the central mainmast dwarfing the other two in size. Diagonal crossbeams were at odd angles to the vertical masts.
The weather had erased the footprints from Palemon’s last visit. It had also long eroded any evidence of the other ships that once rested here. The most recent left this place a hundred years ago and never returned. This ship, of a type called a galleon, was the last of its kind.
Approaching the vessel until he stood just a few feet from the hull, Palemon now commenced his monthly routine. He circled the ship slowly, one hand on the smooth, hard timber. Though the hull was preserved by the dryness of the air and the severity of the cold, he checked every plank for signs of wear, reaching high and crouching low. Circling the front and passing under the bowsprit, he didn’t move on until he was completely satisfied that each section of wood was whole and undamaged. He passed to the galleon’s other side, taking his time, meticulous in his attention. Rounding the stern, he was just able to reach up to wipe the accumulation of frost from the letters of the ship’s name, untarnished due to the fact that each letter was solid gold. The vessel’s name was now clear, written proudly across the stern: Solaris.
After completing a full circle, he stood back and appraised the galleon once more. The solid timber keel was buried in the ice, otherwise the Solaris would have been leaning to the side. Though the magi said that this was best for the ship, Palemon insisted that once a year they dig deep and examine what they couldn’t see. Despite the lack of sails and men scurrying on the decks, it looked like it was poised, ready to sail on a sea of ice. He nodded, satisfied with the state of the vessel’s hull. It was time to complete his inspection.
Palemon wasn’t a young man but he was in the peak of physical condition. There were only two castes in the society of exiles that had evolved over the last three hundred
His muscles bunched as he took hold of the rope ladder and began to climb. He was pleased to note that he wasn’t even breathing heavily when he reached the rail and pulled himself over.
Soon he was pacing the main deck, eyes roving over the vessel from one end to the other.
Every surface was bare of ropes and sailcloth; it was all stored in the hold, away from the elements. He strode to the bow and examined the vessel’s timbers, scanning and crouching, touching and scraping, making his way slowly back toward the rear. Just behind the mainmast he opened the central hatch and descended to view the interior.
Skipping the crew’s quarters, less crucial to the vessel’s ability to sail, he made his way to the hold, which at sea would be below the waterline. He checked over every rib of the galleon’s entire length, crouched low in the cramped conditions, muttering to himself and occasionally tugging on his beard. Finally his frown relaxed and he climbed back to the main deck until he was once again in the open air.
He glanced up at the sky but the weather was still fine, with not a cloud in sight. He didn’t have to worry about darkness, for the sun would never set in this place, not in summer. His work nearly complete, nothing requiring attention, he would soon head back to the settlement. There was just one last part of his ritual remaining. If there was one element of his routine that was more ceremonial than practical, this was it.
Walking to the rear of the Solaris and climbing a set of steps, Palemon headed to a wooden door set into the wall of the castle at the stern. As always, the door made a faint creak when he turned the handle and pulled. Leaving it open, he waited for his eyes to adjust and then he was looking into the personal quarters of the man he had been named after. He entered a paneled room filled with unadorned wooden furniture, all fixed to the floor. The bed, clothing chest, recliner, chair, and desk had all once been utilized by King Palemon the First.
He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath through his nose, exhaling slowly. Though it was far too cold for him to smell anything, he imagined the scent of salt and wood. He pretended to hear the creaking of the ship as it leaned against the wind and to feel the rocking from side to side that the stories said was ever present at sea. Opening his eyes, he then walked to the desk, where a book of vellum stood open, the large pages ready to be read. He took a seat at the desk and then looked down. The vellum was perfectly preserved, but the book’s spine had broken long ago. He had to be extremely careful when he turned each page, or it would snap.
When he finished, he wouldn’t return to this place for another month. Even though he knew every word, he leaned over the book and began to read.
Before I leave the Solaris high on the ice, I have decided to write this last entry. Now that it’s clear we are truly lost, that to combat this frozen wasteland we are going to have to build shelters and develop relations with the local tribes, it is plain to me that we will settle here for a time at least. At some point, perhaps when summer comes, we will send out scout ships to navigate a path to the open ocean. But the Solaris will stay here until the end, until all of us are truly heading home.
When that day comes, I hope that I shall be the one to command, but the gods often have their own plans. And so I write this for posterity, that it should never be forgotten.
For my final entry, I will tell the full tale of the fall of Aleuthea. Cast your mind back and remember, or imagine, if so much time has passed that the memories are gone.
Under my rule, the Aleuthean civilization brought almost every chieftain in every barbaric land into our dominion. From our island homeland first the region surrounding the Aleuthean Sea, then the Maltherean Sea, and finally the Ilean Sea came into the fold. We levied our armies from across the known world. We fought with the eldren and won.
After the defeat of my great enemy, King Marrix, peace finally came to the Realm of the Three Seas, but not without a price. The eldren homeland changed. Sindara became a place of swamp and ash. Wildren roamed, cursed to wander restlessly throughout the place they once called home.
Even so, there were no more bitter wars, and I was content. I thought our supremacy would remain unchallenged until the sun set on the last day of existence.
But I was wrong. I was arrogant, and I was complacent.
Marrix fled, but had not, as we presumed, turned wild along with many others of his kind. The eldren king had lost everything. He was plotting his revenge.
We must now assume that he was exploring the watery depths, learning about the seams and plates in the planet’s crust. Eldren have always had a harmony with the world beyond our race. The most powerful of his people, who made the world shake when he changed, would stop at nothing to have his vengeance.
The fall of Aleuthea began at night.
The golden rays of the Lighthouse swept the seas. As I often did, I stood high on an upper balcony of my palace, looking past the glittering city below and out at the dark waters of the Aleuthean Sea.
Then, without warning, the sweep of the Lighthouse caught a great serpent circling the island. Silver scales reflected from an undulating body the width of my palace, as long as the broad avenue that ran the length of the city. At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, and then I assumed it was a wildran, although it was rare for them to come so close to populated areas. It was only when I saw the glaring red eyes that I knew for certain, and the creature’s size confirmed it. For the first time since the destruction of the eldren homeland many years earlier, I was looking at their king.
The copper bell on the summit of the Lighthouse pealed, sounding the alarm. The magi took their iron-tipped staffs and ran out to the balustrade circling the city. They lifted their weapons and balls of fire shot from the metal claws. Archers on the towers fired arrows at Marrix’s body but the range was too great. The great serpent circled the island at a distance, caught with every sweep of the Lighthouse’s rays. He completed a full rotation and then, before the fleet could be assembled, he disappeared under the sea.
The city remained on high alert. Like everyone, I wondered what the purpose of the visit was. The horn that won us the war was safely in the golden ark, under the watch of the magi. Marrix’s ability to summon his wild kin was harnessed in the magical relic; he could never reclaim it. Surely there was nothing to his visit at all. Perhaps he was wild, and his motives were as unknowable as the fish he shared the sea with.
Such speculation was soon given clarity.
The ground began to shake. The upheaval was like nothing I’d ever felt before, and I know I will never be able to describe what it was like to have the ground drop away from under me in a heartbeat.
As buildings started to fall across Aleuthea, I ran back inside the palace, descending the wind tunnel to exit the shuddering structure. I saw the archmagus Nisos standing at the balustrade that girded the city’s edge and staggered to join him. The sorcerer was staring down at the sea.
Even as the shaking grew worse, the waters of the Aleuthean Sea were climbing the stone wall with impossible speed. But, despite what I was seeing, I knew it wasn’t the ocean that was rising; even Marrix couldn’t do such a thing.
Aleuthea was sinking.
Everything ponderously tilted, and the archmagus and I began to run. We swiftly gathered some men to secure the golden ark from the house of the magi. The upper floors of my proud palace slid off those below and crashed into the rising sea as enough soldiers finally arrived to lift the ark on stout poles. We then sped to the docks. We had to flee. The water was rushing through the streets.
We reached the harbor wher
My commanders said we would be vulnerable to Marrix on the water. But we had no other choice. So we loaded up all the people and supplies we could. Finally I climbed aboard the Solaris and saw Archmagus Nisos on the next ship in line, together with the ark and several of his order. The Solaris was the last to push off from the dock. Waves tossed us to and fro, as we began to drift.
Fear was now on every man’s face. The ocean wasn’t our element. We were vulnerable. We needed to flee before Marrix returned from the sea bottom and slaughtered us all.
While dozens of ships tried to find cohesion, I witnessed the death throes of my beloved homeland. The sea boiled like a cauldron as Aleuthea sank beneath the waters forever. Some had been saved, but I knew that even if every ship was full, nine out of every ten Aleutheans had just met their end, and we had perils yet to face.
The rays of the descending Lighthouse continued to sweep the sea, forty feet below the surface, deeper with every passing moment. Then I saw something revealed in its watery glow that made me cry out with rage. A huge reptilian body, silver scaled and monstrous, weaved around the plummeting structure and sped up for the surface. Eyes blazed as red as fiery coals. Marrix had returned, and he would destroy this fleet with ease.
I turned and saw the half-dozen magi aboard the Solaris transfixed with shock. I called on their courage but what could they do? Balls of fire were little use against an enemy underwater. Light would blind us more than him. Sound would be difficult to direct. Wind could not touch this enemy.
Wind. As soon as I thought of it, I knew what we had to do.
I grabbed a sorcerer with a resonance staff in his hand and pointed at Archmagus Nisos. The sorcerer used his talents to convey my words to the archmagus, who relayed them across our drifting fleet.
Moments later – even as Marrix smashed into the first galleon, dissolving it into splinters in an instant – across the fleet, silver cones on the tips of staffs began to glow. Marrix shattered a second ship, and then two more detonated in swift succession, his sweeping tail breaking them into halves. Summoning their magic, the desperate magi cried out as one.