Don’t forget, if you’re in Brisbane tomorrow you can meet Glenda and other Voyager authors at Pulp Fiction Bookshop!
Breccia Hall, Level 2
Ravard handed Ryka over to a Reduner bladesman guarding the double doors of Breccia Hall’s public reception room. The man pushed her roughly inside and closed the doors behind her.
Though the area was large, it was crowded. And noisy with crying. Her heart sank as she looked around and absorbed the significance of what she was seeing. Women. No men. Women, yet no small children. Every head turned her way to see who had entered, eyes fearful. And she was standing in a patch of half-dried blood on the floor.
There was a gasp from a group sitting on the floor, and a figure came flying to grab her in a tight embrace, sobbing, gasping, shuddering, pouring out her woe. Beryll, but not her pretty, carefree tease of a little sister. Not any more.
‘Beryll,’ she whispered, ‘quietly, quietly. I can’t understand what you are saying! Calm down.’
‘Ryka, oh, Ryka! Mother! They killed Mother! They didn’t give her a chance. She — she —’
Ryka had been expecting it, but still the stab of grief pierced deep, then twisted painfully with the bitter rage that followed it.
Her eyes swollen, her chest heaving, Beryll wailed between gulping sobs, ‘I wanted us to escape with the others down the underground passageway, but she said she’d wait until Father came back. He never came. Then we heard he was dead, but she still wouldn’t go. And I couldn’t leave her, could I? Anyway, there was the Lady Ethelva and the ceremony of the taking of the Cloudmaster’s water and Mother thought we ought to be there, so we went to the House of the Dead and we couldn’t come back safely because of the ziggers until Lord Gold brought us with the Lady Ethelva afterwards. Oh, Ryka, it was awful. Lady Ethelva seemed so — so old, all of a sudden. Like she’d all shrivelled up. It was so horrid. And we didn’t know whether you were all right, or if Papa really was dead, and then the Reduners broke through …’ Her face went white just with the remembering.
Ryka led her away from the door to a more private spot near the wall. Her sandals left sticky footprints on the floor.
‘But Mother really is dead? Are you sure?’ She was having trouble absorbing the reality behind the words.
‘They — they slit her throat. Like they were slaughtering an animal.’
Oh, sweet water save us. ‘You saw it?’
Beryll’s frame shuddered in her arms as she nodded. ‘Her and the Lady Ethelva. Oh, Ryka, they killed so many! The guards and the men first, in the fighting when they broke in through the gates. Then they rounded up the women, servants and all. They took the older ones out and — and just killed them. Just like that. They said it was because Stormlord Jasper didn’t surrender himself. There were so many dead. So many of the older ones had thought they’d have a better chance if they didn’t go down the tunnel. There wasn’t room for everyone, anyway …’ Her voice trailed away in misery.
Ryka tried not to change words into images. The words were bad enough. Blindly, she patted her sister on the back; aching, she kissed the top of her head.
When Beryll had calmed, she changed the subject. ‘Listen, you mustn’t call me Ryka. If the Reduners know they have a rainlord, I’m dead. Our only chance of getting out of this alive is to hide who I am. Call me Garnet.’
Beryll lifted her puzzled gaze to look at her sister’s face. ‘What? Garnet? Why?’
‘Just in case they know there is a rainlord called Ryka Feldspar.’
‘Oh. Would they know that?’
‘I doubt it, but I don’t want to take the risk.’ There was also a slight risk a Reduner warrior might see her and recognise her as a woman who’d fought in the waterhall, but she didn’t think there was much of a danger of that, either. Those still alive were under the impression she had died; certainly none of them knew she was a rainlord. To make herself less recognisable, she untied her hair, shaking it loose over her shoulders and around her face.
She looked around short-sightedly, seeking familiar faces, neighbours from her level perhaps, anyone who might give away her identity, but saw no one she knew. ‘Is there anyone here who will recognise me?’
Beryll shook her head. ‘I don’t think so. I don’t know these people. They were from the other levels. They took refuge here when the city was attacked.’
As far as Ryka could tell, no one was looking at her with recognition. Dirty, sweaty, bloodied and dressed as she was, she was not surprised. She hardly looked like an upleveller rainlord. Besides, she was not well known, not like Kaneth or the Cloudmaster’s family, the Almandines. She was a scholar who fulfilled her duties as a rainlord by teaching at Breccia Academy and taking her turn to check on the mother wells and patrol the water tunnel between the city and the Warthago Range.
‘We are going to be slaves, aren’t we?’ Beryll whispered.
‘Beryll, I’m a rainlord, remember? We just have to wait for the right time, for when I am strong again and can get us out of here.’
‘Can’t you do it now? I don’t want to stay here! They — they murdered children, Ryka. Children. All the really young ones.’
And left the older ones and the young women, Ryka thought, but she didn’t give voice to the words. Instead, she said, ‘I don’t have any power left. I haven’t eaten in so long. Or slept. Is there any food here? If I had something to eat …’
‘I don’t think so. After the Reduners herded us in here, they seemed to forget all about us. No one has brought us any food. But then, they killed the servants. Except for the pretty ones. Ethelva sent them down the tunnel before the Reduners came.’ She brushed hair out of her eyes with a trembling hand. ‘I wish — I wish I had gone, too.’
‘Where is everyone from our level? Why aren’t they here?’
‘Most of them went down the tunnel. Level Three and Four people had first choice. Maybe they’re still hidden there. Where’s Kaneth?’
‘He was injured. I don’t know what happened to him.’
‘Oh.’ Beryll started to cry again, in juddering sobs. Helplessly, Ryka patted her on the back. Oh, Beryll, she thought, things could get a lot worse even than this.
Miserably, she looked around. Nealrith had brought as many of the city folk into the protection of the level’s walls as he could, but it had been an illusory safety. The city’s two top levels, where the waterhall and the Cloudmaster’s residence were located, had lasted longer than the stepped levels of the lower city, but in the end it had made little difference. We rainlords failed these people.
The Scarpen’s only hope was that Jasper Bloodstone had escaped with Nealrith’s wife, that spitless bitch Laisa, and their daughter, Senya. Perhaps Jasper and Senya could start a new line of stormlords.
Perhaps the other cities will prevail. Perhaps they will stop this Reduner sandmaster. Perhaps in the end it will be that bastard Taquar Sardonyx who will stop him …
‘Listen, Beryll, you must tell me all you have seen. The Reduners — the leaders. Who are they?’
Slowly, Beryll calmed enough to speak again. ‘Well, there’s Davim. He’s the sandmaster. He’s horrible.’ She was trembling still, and stark fear shone in her eyes.
‘How will I recognise him?’
‘He wears a red robe that’s got all this red embroidery down the front and lots of gemstone beads — no one else has as much. He’s maybe about Kaneth’s age. There’re some others who have some embroidery. Like the man who translates for those who don’t speak the Quartern tongue. His name is Ravard, I think.’
‘Ah. I suspect I’ve met that one.’
‘I — I don’t know about any of the others. Someone said the man in charge of all the killing is older. They call him the Warrior Son, but I don’t know which one he is. They all look alike to me, anyway. And it’s better if you don’t stare at them. They don’t like you to stare.’ She clutched at Ryka’s arm. ‘Be careful, Ry. You can’t argue with them. They don’t like that, either.’
* * *
Time passed so slowly. Ryka circled the room, looking for a way out, but the doors were locked and the openings for light and air were high above their heads. There was a small water-room tucked away at the far end, its facilities too few for so many people. There was always a queue, and the place stank because there was only a trickle of water. No one seemed to have any food, and most had not eaten anything in over a day. The wailing of grieving women and terrified, hungry youngsters — not one of them under nine or ten — was a constant noise, grating on her nerves because no one had the means to comfort them.
In the end, Ryka fell asleep lying on the floor in Beryll’s arms.
It was dark when she woke to the sounds of commotion. Slamming doors in the distance, fear-saturated muttering, renewed weeping. Everyone scrambled to their feet. Beryll clung to Ryka’s arm. The central double doors were flung open and a line of Reduner warriors, some bearing torches, entered behind two of their leaders. One was the man who had brought her there: Ravard.
Staring at the other, Beryll hissed in her ear, ‘That’s him. Sandmaster Davim!’
Her first thought was, But he’s so young! The next: Watergiver damn his eyes. The man has no soul. There was nothing in his gaze that spoke of pity or compassion, and much that rejoiced in the misery he saw before him.
Silence spread to cover the room, as if the sandmaster’s gaze compelled all sound to cease. Even the children were silent. He stood in front of the doors, Ravard at his side, his warriors arrayed behind him. He wasn’t a tall man, but there was no doubt he commanded.
He nodded to Ravard and the younger man stepped forward. He said, ‘I speak for Sandmaster Davim of Dune Watergatherer. The sandmaster rules here now. Kneel before him.’
The room stilled. For a moment no one moved. No one even seemed to breathe. Then, when Davim’s stare bored into the women closest to him, they fell to their knees. Gradually, others around the room followed.
‘I won’t!’ Beryl whispered. ‘He’s the one who ordered Mother killed! And Lady Ethelva.’
Ryka grabbed her by the arm and yanked her down as she herself knelt. ‘Oh, yes, you will,’ she murmured. ‘Your job is to stay alive until I can get you out of here. Pride means nothing. Living is what’s important. And don’t forget — my name is Garnet.’ She glanced around, relieved to see no one remained standing.
Davim spoke then, in his own tongue. His voice snapped into the silence, confirming Ryka’s every fear. She was probably the only person in the room who understood the language, but the others weren’t left wondering for long. Ravard translated all the sandmaster said.
‘Sandmaster Davim wishes t’tell you everyone here will serve his men, or die. You are Reduner women now. He is going t’honour one of you with his personal choice.’
Beryll shuddered and turned her face into Ryka’s shoulder once more. ‘Oh, Sunlord save me,’ she whispered. ‘Ryka, he wants me, I know it. He looked at me in such a way before.’ Her trembling wouldn’t stop.
‘Hide your face,’ Ryka said softly. But even as she spoke she knew it was too late. The sandmaster was threading his way through the kneeling women towards them.
He pointed at Beryll and said, ‘Stand.’
Ryka stood, pulling Beryll up with her. At Davim’s shoulder, Ravard’s dark eyes were fixed on hers, but there was no expression there. The sandmaster reached out and pulled Beryll away from her. He cupped her chin with a hand and forced her face up. ‘Her,’ he said to Ravard in his own tongue.
‘The sandmaster has done you great honour,’ Ravard told Beryll. ‘You’ll share his pallet tonight. If you please him, he’ll spare your life.’
‘Does the sandmaster not want a real woman in his bed,’ Ryka drawled before Beryll could react, ‘instead of a mere child?’
Davim’s sharp eyes snapped from Beryll to her.
He knows what I said, Ryka thought. He may not speak the Quartern tongue well, but he understands.
As if to confirm that thought, Ravard did not translate.
Davim’s arrogant gaze slid up and down her body, assessing. Critical. ‘Ugly she-pedes don’t please the bull when there are prettier pede-heifers to hand,’ he said in his own tongue, his tone mocking. He grinned at Ravard, who grinned back.
Not wanting to let any of the Reduners know she could understand them, Ryka was careful not to react. Beryll, still held by the sandmaster, darted a despairing, frightened look at her.
Ravard translated Davim’s words.
‘Bulls are blind in the dark,’ Ryka replied, looking past Beryll to hold the sandmaster’s gaze with her own. ‘And all she-pedes are black in the depths of night.’ She gave what she hoped was an enticing smile. ‘Touch, on the other hand …’
‘Whore!’ one of the Breccian women spat at her from behind.
Davim, laughing, said to Ravard, ‘The ugly bitch thinks to seduce me! Who wants stringy pede meat if he can have the tender venison of a young desert deer?’ He turned his attention back to Beryll. ‘Come with me, eager to please,’ he said. ‘Or die.’
Ravard translated — and Beryll spat in the sandmaster’s face.
A split second later, she dropped to the floor. For one frozen moment, Ryka didn’t understand. Refused to understand. She saw Davim’s merciless rage as he wiped the spittle from his face with the back of a hand. Only when her gaze dropped to Beryll where she lay spasming on the floor did she see the glistening red of the slash across her neck. With unbelieving eyes she stared at the welling blood, matched by scarlet drips along the sandmaster’s dagger blade. She hadn’t even seen him draw it. Behind her, someone screamed.
With an agonised cry, Ryka fell to her knees to gather Beryll into her arms. In her dying moments, the girl flailed. A horrible sucking sound came from her throat. Her eyes closed as she desperately tried to draw breath. And then she was gone.
For a moment, Ryka remained where she was, stunned, disbelieving. When she looked up again, Davim was already turning away, uninterested. Shock turned to blinding rage. She wanted to rip out his throat. She groped for the power to kill him, but because she was drained and starving, nothing came.
He didn’t see the uncontrolled fury, didn’t see her naked desire to kill. And that saved her. She had the fleeting moment she needed to dampen down her emotion.
In agony, she touched her sister’s face with trembling fingers. Beryll. Oh, Watergiver, why? Oh, Sunlord. Oh, Beryll.
She’d kill him. Then, common sense prevailing: This is not the time to try, Ryka. Not yet. Oh, Watergiver have mercy. Beryll!
‘Find me a pretty young woman, Ravard,’ Davim was saying. ‘Young, the way I like them. And kill the stringy meat. She does not please me.’
Terror ripped through her. I’ve run out of time. She flicked a glance to the row of Reduner warriors. The nearest, one of those bearing a burning brand to light the room, had propped his chala spear against the wall. I’m dead, but maybe I can take Davim with me, she thought, eyeing the spear. If Davim dies, maybe the Scarpen has a chance … She tensed herself for a leap past the sandmaster to the weapon.
Ravard laughed easily. ‘That’s because you have experience and can teach the young to please you. Me, I need the stringy old ones to teach me how to be pleased!’ He stared at Ryka in open appraisal, halting her intention to move. ‘Kill her? Certainly, if that is your wish, but I’d rather sharpen my, er, sword on her experience.’
Davim frowned and stared hard at Ryka. She dropped her gaze submissively, still pretending she did not understand their conversation. He shrugged. ‘As you wish. If she gives you any trouble, hand her over to the chalamen. They can use her for target practice for their spears.’
The Reduner warriors chuckled, leaving Ryka in no doubt that the double meanings were intended.
Ravard nodded, grinning. ‘Take her to my rooms,’ he told one of the warriors, ‘and lock her in.’
Copyright © Glenda Larke 2010
The right of Glenda Larke to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000. This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Stormlord Rising is out in bookshops across Australia on 1 March 2010. Do you want us to post up Chapter Three? If so, post here and say so!