Текст книги

Barbara Hambly
Dragonstar


Polycarp, Jenny thought. Fear sliced her at the thought of the Master of Halnath, who had sent her here to the Deep to tell Miss Mab of Trey’s death. Polycarp knew too much of demons for his own safety. Had he been able to escape from Bel, Jenny wondered, before things came to the pass there that they had all those centuries ago in Ernine?

The High King of Ernine had become the pawn and slave of the demons, she remembered, seeing through Morkeleb’s eyes. His two daughters had killed him, but too late to save the Inland Realm from the terrible cancers of mistrust and blood-feud. Even the destruction of the dragon corps, and the death of the wizards whom the demons had taken, came too late. Working against them with demon magic, further damage was done, though no human magic was found that would prevail.

“How was it ended, in the end?” asked Miss Mab at length. She sat on a corner of Jenny’s sheepskins, and Jenny could smell in her clothing the scents of lamp oil from the Warren of Arawan, and the dried herbs of healing. “How were the demons—and the other demons who helped to defeat those called up by Isychros—finally bound?”

That I know not, returned Morkeleb. It was nothing to me, these squabbles of men. In those days I had the sense not to remain in a place of danger, no matter how much gold there was for the taking. I followed the dragon corps south and east, to gather up the gold of men … And in his thoughts Jenny felt the warm, deep strength of that love for gold that is the heart of every dragon, the intoxication of the magic that dragons can breathe through the refined metal, and drink back again in almost unbearable ecstacies of dreams.

When I saw what the demons did, that dwelled within the dragons, I was disgusted, and came away. I returned to the Skerries of Light, to the islands in the western sea where the dragons dwell. I had no more to do with them, nor with the wars of men.

“Were you not concerned,” asked Mab, “to help your fellows among the dragons, who were enslaved?”

Morkeleb did not reply for a long while. Jenny saw them sitting together, though her eyes were closed in sleep: Miss Mab in her green velvet jacket and bright pink trousers, her curly-toed blue slippers glinting with jewels. The dragon curled near the hothwais of heat, like a great half-visible dog before invisible flames. He had been black as a thing of carven coal when first Jenny had seen him, and huge, forty feet from the tip of his nose to the cruel spiked club of his tail. She had not known then that the great dragons, the mages and loremasters among that kind, were capable of changing their size. Among the dragons Morkeleb was foremost in lore, in the spells and wisdom passed along from mind to mind for centuries and millennia, wisdom and power growing in him until at last he had given up his magic, and passed entirely beyond dragon shape.

Now he had the semblence of a dragon, insofar as he had any semblence at all—or perhaps, thought Jenny, it was only her perception in dreaming that saw him thus. The shape of him that she saw was the thin, snake-like body of a dragon, with its long tail like a muscled whip and great thin-boned silken wings folded along his sides. All his joints and spine bristled with spikes, and great scales like razor-edged fans. In the narrow, beaked head burned crystal eyes, mazes of diamonds that you could fall into forever. Among long horns and tufts of mane, antennae flicked lazily, the points of light at their tips the only thing about him that could be clearly seen.

Not human, she thought. But not a beast, as so many humans considered dragons. The young among dragons were beasts. But they grew, and passed on, with the years, to become other things.

As Morkeleb had.

A man would have gone back for fellow men, replied the dragon slowly. Indeed I have met a man who would go back for them, though they were no kin nor friends of his. It is not a thing of dragons, to concern oneself overmuch with the safety of others. I knew their minds were enslaved, and there was little that I could do. We are creatures who look after ourselves.

Jenny opened her eyes at that. Turning her head, she saw the dragon regarding her with his diamond gaze. “Save a dragon, slave a dragon,” she murmured, and held out her hand. “You saved me in the North, when I was in dragon form, as once I saved you.”

He did not ask her how she was. He knew that—better than she knew herself: she felt the chill scrutiny of his consciousness touch her bones. But she thought the shadowy outlines of his form became more distinct with the passage of thoughts in his mind. To Mab, he said, She must be moved as soon as may be. And yourself also, Gnome-Witch. Sense you not the passage of demons within these mines? Hear you not, in the still of the night, the scratch of their glass shells upon the rocks as they emerge from whatever pool hides their gate? Smell you not the stink of them, like blood poured onto hot iron? They wait and they listen, and they are strong. Soon or late they will find this place, and take you in the darkness.

“They are strong,” agreed Miss Mab, rising. “This was the question a thousand years ago, Dragonshadow, and is the question again. That they are strong. Ward-spells that once defeated them, and held them in check, now leave them untouched. Are these new demons, then, bred somehow from the old who destroyed Ernine?”

Jenny said, “No,” with such conviction that both gnome and dragon turned to look at her in surprise. “No. Amayon remembers the Fall of Ernine. He was there.” It surprised her that she could name the demon who had possessed her without a break in her voice. Without wondering where he was, and what had become of him after John had given him over to the Queen behind the mirror. Without a pang of concern as to whether he was in pain. Perhaps the poison had burned the longing out of her, or the healing had strengthened her heart. She did not know.

“In possessing me,” she said, her voice barely a whisper, “he not only occupied my body, while my mind was imprisoned elsewhere in a green jewel. He occupied my mind itself, the portions of my mind that remained in my body, side by side with his. That—that portion of me shared his thoughts. Some nights I have dreamed his dreams …”

She grimaced at the dirty memories, the hellblaze of passions and power that still could heat her flesh if she let them. Yet she realized that in her poisoned dreams she had not once dreamed of him. Only weeks ago she had been literally incapable of dreaming about anything else.

“He was there.” She struggled for breath to speak. “He was one of Adromelech’s demons, that devoured and defeated those of Aohila of the mirror.” She drew the fleece up close, though the cave was warm now, the warmth kept in it by a straw mat hung over the door. A feather of light was allowed to leak from the wrapped hothwais, just enough that she could see. Farther off, on the flowing draft that everywhere ventilated the Deep and the mines below it, she smelled water and stone, and farther off other fires, where the gnomes dwelled, or their slaves who worked the mines.

Morkeleb tilted his narrow head—he had shrunk himself to little larger than a stag, and sat coiled in the shadows like a gleaming skeleton of diamonds and pitch. Then were I—or another—to search deeply enough in your dreams, it might be that we could understand how the demons were in the end defeated?

Miss Mab raised her brows, turned her golden eyes to Jenny. “Is this so, child?”

“Maybe.” Jenny shivered, not liking the hidden suspicion about what she would see.

“I will search, then,” the old gnome said, and stood, “for spells of dream reading. For spells, too, to guard your mind, child, from too close a sight of the demon’s heart.” When she put her hand on Jenny’s shoulder, Jenny felt how sharp her own bones were under the gnome’s thick palms. Even in the warmth of the cave she felt chilled, as though she had barely any flesh left to her. Her combat with Folcalor beneath the sea, near the gate of the Sea-wights’ hidden realm, had left her scarred, her long black hair burned away and her hands crippled and twisted. As she fumbled weakly to return Mab’s clasp she saw that though her short fingers, her brown square wrinkled palms, were still marked by the blasts of steam and fire, they were no longer drawn together like claws, but able again to spread and flex.

There was a touch of arthritis in the joint of her right thumb, where for years she had ground pestle to mortar in preparing herbs for medicine. That was all.

“Thank you,” she said softly. “When Morkeleb takes me from here, you will come? He’s right, my lady. It isn’t safe for you anywhere in the Deep.”

“And how safe will any be,” asked the gnome. “Did I leave the heart of the Deep, and flee away to a place where I could not hear what passes beneath the earth? I can come and go from my prison if I am careful, enough to send thee word. I am not in a cell. It is true that there are demons here in the Deep, Dragonshadow”—she turned to Morkeleb—“it is true, that I hear them chitter and scrape in the night. And my question is, What do they hear? What seek they in the Deep, that they cannot have in the City of Men?

“This would I learn. King Sevacandrozardus has sent for Goffyer, the greatest of the mages of the gnomes and my own old teacher, from Tralchet Deep, in the North. If any will know how to look into your dreams for the memories of the demons, my child, it will be he.”

Jenny nodded, but shivered again as Miss Mab gathered up her medicines and took her departure. The thought of delving into that part of her consciousness, her memories of Amayon, filled her with a sickened dread. She lay among the sheepskins and tried to sleep, with Morkeleb stretched across the foot of the pallet, chin upon his paws. The last she saw was the lights of his antennae, flicking back and forth in the dark.

THREE (#uf0dedd6a-6ae6-581a-97f5-2a069c2c2e0b)

JOHN WOKE IN panic, thinking, Jenny!

And lay in the warm glow of a small fire, trying to breathe.

The dream had been blazingly clear. Jenny in darkness, bleeding, an arrow through her shoulder and the sweat of death on her face. The Demon Queen’s voice, She has been poisoned …

He hadn’t been there to protect her, to help her. It was his fault.

And he would never see her again.

He tried to sit up, and his head spun. He lay back down, blinked at the stone walls around him in the apricot whisper of the fire. A frieze of what appeared to be human figures marched around the four sides of a room not much bigger than his cell under the King’s prison tower—at least in the gloom they seemed human, though without his spectacles it was difficult to be sure. The background stone was pinkish, and whatever the painted shapes carried in their hands—treasure, presumably—threw back the firelight with gold leaf’s unmistakable dusky brilliance.

He lay on a springy mound of fresh bracken, covered by a red velvet cloak so thickly gemmed and embroidered as to look like a blanket of embers in this ruddy light. A ewer stood by him, silver mountings embracing a red-and-white shell bigger than a man’s head. A beautiful thing, of a species he’d never seen before. There was also a clay cup, and the meat of two or three rabbits, cooked and lying in the cracked curved section of a painted jar.

There was no one else in the room.

Jenny …

In the dream he’d seen her also with the dragon Morkeleb. She wore the dragon form he’d once seen her take, not white but crystalline, as if wrought of crystal lace and bones. They flew low over the ocean, the black dragon and the white, shadows running blue before them on the waves, as alone among humankind he’d seen the dragons fly in the Skerries of Light that lay westward across the sea. The memory of that dream calmed his pounding heart, filled him with a sense of peace.

An old memory? An illusion, sent up by his mind to reassure him?

The vision, perhaps, that both Jenny and Morkeleb had perished in the cave-in, and that in death her soul had become a dragon’s soul at last?

The thought left him desolate.

He had traveled, he realized, for so long since leaving the Winterlands that he had become confused about time. Time in Hell wasn’t the same as time that is ruled by the sun and the stars. On his errantry for the Demon Queen he had crossed from Hell to Hell, the magic of one unworkable in another, and at last from the myriad Hells into that other world where the dragon Corvin had taken refuge in human shape. John felt like he’d been lost for years. Capture, imprisonment, and the specter of an agonizing death had come between him and the longing ache he’d felt, just to see Jenny, to speak to her …

If she’d listen. If she wouldn’t turn away.

When last he’d seen her, at her old house on Frost Fell, it had been the morning after Ian’s try at suicide. He heard his own voice lashing at her, saw her crumpled beside the hearth, beside the nest of blankets they’d made up for their son.

God, I might just as well have gone over and kicked her, he thought, trying to wriggle away from that memory, that shame and pain.

Back then, even with his experience of dealing with the Demon Queen, he hadn’t understood what possession by a demon did to those who survived it.

He wanted to walk back into that room, that time, and knock that man who was himself upside the head and scream at him, She’s hurting, too, you nit! Let her alone!

Don’t let her be dead, he prayed, to the Old God whose name and nature were mostly no longer remembered, save in backwaters like the Winterlands. Don’t let her be dead and not knowing how sorry I am.

He closed his eyes and watched the play of the reddish light on the lids, breathed the fusty sweetness of the bracken and the moldery earth-stink of the covering cloak. His body was covered with bruises like a windfall peach. After a time he rolled gingerly up onto one black-and-blue elbow and devoured rabbit and water, and as he did so saw that broken pieces of wood had been heaped near the chamber’s stone doorway, ready to be fed to the blaze. Boughs thicker than his calf had been snapped into short billets, as if they had been twigs.

Corvin NinetyfiveFifty, he thought, and rubbed a half-healed bullet graze left over from that final firefight in the lab. His shoulder was bruised black from the kick of one of those noisy chattering horrendous guns that could kill a roomful of people in moments.