Fresh from the collapse of his marriage, and with the criminal Jhereg organization out to eliminate him, Vlad Taltos decides to hide out among his relatives in faraway Fenario. All he knows about them is that their family name is Merss and that they live in a papermaking industrial town called Burz.
At first Burz isn't such a bad place, though the paper mill reeks to high heaven. But the longer he stays there, the stranger it becomes. No one will tell him where to find his relatives. Even stranger, when he mentions the name Merss, people think he's threatening them. The witches' coven that every Fenarian town and city should have is nowhere in evidence. And the Guild, which should be protecting the city's craftsmen and traders, is an oppressive, all-powerful organization, into which no tradesman would ever be admitted.
Then a terrible thing happens. In its wake, far from Draegara, without his usual organization working for him, Vlad is going to have to do his sleuthing amidst an alien people: his own.
Steven Brust delivers another thrilling entry in his Vlad Taltos fantasy epic.
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Steven Brust is the bestselling author of Dragon, Issola, and the New York Times bestselling Dzur, among many others. A native of Minneapolis, he currently lives in Las Vegas.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter OneBORAAN: A candle! As you love the Gods, a candle! NURSE: But we have no candles! BORAAN: How, no candles? NURSE: They were all burned up in the flood. DAGLER: Permit me to sell you this beeswax. [Boraan strikes Dagler with candlestick] [Exit Dagler, holding his head] —Miersen, Six Parts Water Day One, Act IV, Scene 4 The transition from mountain to forest was so gradual, I wasn’t entirely sure I was out of the mountains for a while even after I had turned north; and this in spite of them towering over me to my left. But eventually, I became convinced that I wasn’t getting much lower, and soon enough, there was no question that I was in deep woods, with trees I can’t name so close together I sometimes had to squeeze past them and with branches so low I had to duck to avoid getting hit in the face. The combination seemed unfair. After that I felt more confident as I headed north, giving thanks for the occasional clearing, even though in the clearings I could see the Furnace, and it hurt my eyes. I don’t like forests. I hate the trees, and I hate the bushes, and I’m not even that fond of the paths, because they have a way of either suddenly heading off in directions you don’t want to go, or just stopping without giving you any explanation for their conduct. When I was running my territory for the Jhereg, if any of my people had acted like that I’d have had their legs broken. In the Pushta, you can usually see a good distance around you; you just have to keep an eye on what might be moving through the grasses. In the mountain, at least the mountains I’ve been on, you can see for miles in at least a couple of directions. In the city, you might not be able to see very far, but you can identify where anyone who might want to do you harm could be lurking. Forests are thick, and anything can come from anywhere; I never feel safe. And sleeping is the worst. I spent about three nights in the forest after I came down from the mountains, and I didn’t get a good night’s sleep the entire time, in spite of the fact that Loiosh and Rocza were watching for me. I just couldn’t relax. When I become ruler of the world, I’m going to have inns put up along every little road and trail in that place. I would certainly have gotten lost if it weren’t for Loiosh and an occasional sight of the mountain. I waded over several brooks and streams, one of which showed signs of becoming a river soon: it seemed to be in a terrible hurry, and had a lot of force for being only a foot or so deep and maybe ten feet wide. I didn’t much care for that, either. In spite of the annoyances, I was never in any danger so far as I know (though I’m told Dzur sometimes hunt the forests). I made it through; leave it at that. The trees became lower, sparser, and the grass taller, with large, jagged boulders intruding on the landscape as if the mountain were encroaching. "Well, for marching blind, I guess we did all right, Loiosh." "We sure did, Boss. And only modesty forbids me from saying how we managed." "Heh." An hour or so later we found a road. A real road. I could have danced, if I could dance. It was getting on toward evening, and the Furnace was sinking behind the mountains. The shadows— remarkably sharp, looking almost tangible—were long, and a certain chill was coming into the air on a breeze from behind me. "That way," said my familiar, indicating down the road to the right. Since the mountains were to the left, I’d have figured that one out on my own, but I didn’t say anything. I set out. After mountain and forest, it was a positive luxury to walk on a road; even a rutted, gouged, untended road like this. My feet thanked me, as did my left elbow, which was no longer being cracked by my sword’s pommel when I raised my left leg to climb onto a rock. For an hour or so, I saw no one and nothing save a lone farmhouse far across a field. The shadows lengthened and Loiosh was silent and my mind wandered. I thought about Cawti, of course. A few weeks ago, I’d been married. A few weeks before that, happily married; or at least I thought so. Anyone can make a mistake. But what was odd was how little I was feeling it. It was pleasant walking down the road, and I was in good shape from all the climbing, and the evening wasn’t too cold. I knew the whole thing was going to hit me—I mean, I knew it. It was like seeing an out-of-control team barreling down on you, and watching it come closer, and knowing it’s going to flatten you. Here it comes, yep, I’m about to be either killed or messed up. Any second now. How interesting. I could even be sort of dispassionate about it. I pondered whether I could convince her to take me back, and, if so, how? I ran through the arguments in my head, and they seemed very persuasive. I suspected they’d be less so when I actually tried them on her. And, even if she was convinced, I’d still have to deal with her politics, which is what had gotten between us in the first place. And there was still the big problem, which was that circumstances had conspired to force me to save her. I don’t know if I could have forgiven her if she had saved me; I didn’t see how she could forgive me for saving her. It’s an ugly burden. Eventually, I was going to have to try to overcome it. And in the meantime, I was heading in the opposite direction, while somewhere behind there were people who wanted to get rich by putting the shine on me. No, it didn’t look good. How interesting. "We getting close to the water, Loiosh?" "Wind shifted, Boss. I don’t know." "All right." I should mention that nothing so far was at all familiar from my previous journey to Fenario, but that had been years before, and I wasn’t paying all that much attention to my surroundings then. With an abruptness that caught me by surprise, it was dark—I mean completely dark. There were small pinpoints of light in the sky, but they provided no illumination. Maybe they should have; I was told by a human physicker once that I had poor night vision. I could have had it corrected, but the process is painful, and a spell to compensate is absurdly easy. Except, of course, when you are unable to cast the simplest of spells for fear of removing the protections that keep the bad guys from finding you. So for now, little points of light or no, I was effectively blind. I wondered if failing to have that fixed when I could would end up being what did me in. Come to think of it, I still wonder. I stepped a few paces off the road, and, having no better idea, took off my pack, spread out my blanket, and lay down. Loiosh and Rocza, I knew, would take care of any annoying beasts, and wake me if there were any dangerous ones. It wasn’t until I was prone that I became aware of the sound of night insects all around me. I wondered if they were the sort that bit; then sleep took me. Evidently they weren’t the sort that bit. I’d been walking about two hours the next day before I passed a young man driving a wagon filled with hay. I hailed him, and he stopped the horse—one of the biggest I’d ever seen—and greeted me. I had the impression he was a bit disconcerted by the jhereg on my shoulders, but was too polite to say anything. "Which way to Burz?" I asked him. He pointed the way I was going. "Over the bridge," he said, "in a while the road will fork, and there’s a sign. You’ll likely smell it after that." "Good enough," I told him, and gave him a couple of copper pennies. He tapped his forehead, which I took as a gesture of thanks, and continued on his way. I suddenly felt as if I was too relaxed, not paying enough attention, and resolved to stay a little more on my guard. Then it hit me that I had now made that resolution around a dozen times since coming down out of the mountains. "I’m feeling safe, Loiosh. As if I’m out of danger. I can’t decide if I should trust that feeling." "I’m not sure, Boss, but I’ve been feeling the same way." "Like we’re out of their reach?" "Yeah." "Well, we probabl...
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