Fred Saberhagen – Empire of the East Trilogy

Gray, too, seemed pleased. After exchanging with Rolf opinions that all was going well, he resumed giving orders to the djinn, for the attachment of rigging to the mast, and the readying of sails.

The wizard called out jovially: “Rolf, have you ever steered a sailing ship?”

“No. Though I have lived my whole life near enough to the sea.”

“It matters not, I have experience. Once we get up a sail, I’ll show you how to tack against the wind.

We’d best not fly by daylight, there may be reptiles scouting.”

Things did not immediately go right with the rigging. Rolf was called upon to hold lines, tie knots, and pull. A sail soon rose upon the mast, but then hung in utter limpness. Gray, scowling again, hauled this way and that on lines and cloth, but the sail would not so much as flutter. He hoisted a pennant, but it too drooped like chain mail. Clenching his fists, Gray muttered: “Is this some countering magic? I sense none. Yet there was a breeze before we lifted from the ground.”

“There is one yet,” said Rolf, nodding to the ever-shrinking pattern of the camp’s cookfires, dimming now with the approach of dawn. “Or what is carrying us northward?” But he could not feel a breath of moving air upon his face.

Gray took one look back at the camp, and called the djinn to question. “Why does the wind not belly out my sail?”

“Name a reason, and I will say if it be true.” The clatter of the djinn’s voice became something like a cackle.

Gray sputtered.

Rolf asked: “Djinn. Are we becalmed because our whole craft is already moving with the wind, like part of it? Instead of the wind pushing past us?”

“It is so.”

Angrily Gray flared up. “There were sails drawn in the Old World pictures – ” Then a thought struck him silent; after a moment he grumbled: “Of course, those drawings may have been sheer fancy; they did that sometimes. But they did have real airships. How then did they steer them? Rolf, question it some more. And I will think, meanwhile.”

Rolf tried not to think of how fast they might be drifting, and how high. “Djinn, tell me. Did the ancients ever use sails?”

Clatter, cackle. “Not to fly.”

“Did they use paddles to propel their airships?”


“Rudders to steer them?”

There was a reluctant-seeming pause. “Yes.”

“Yes?” Rolf pounced without a second thought. “Then fetch us such a rudder, here, at once!”

The air around them seemed to sigh, as with a giant’s effort, or perhaps the satisfaction of a djinn. Then arrived the rudder, here and at once indeed; it was a wall of metal, curving, monstrous, overgrown, wedged between balloon and basket so that it bent the mast and stretched the ropes and all but crushed the occupants. Shaped roughly like a door for some great archway, the rudder was a good twelve meters long. Its longest, straightest edge, turned downward now, was nearly a meter thick; coming out of the flatness of this edge were festoons of cabling and the ends of metal pipes.

The balloon sank horrendously under the huge load. Gray, bent double under the slab whose main weight was fortunately carried by the basket’s rim, cried out an order. In an instant the great mass was gone. The airship leaped up again, Gray stood, and Rolf recovered himself from the position into which he had been forced, almost entirely out of the basket.

There was silence for a little while, except for gasps and wheezings. When Gray spoke at last, his voice was icily detached. “In magic, hasty words are ill-advised. So I learned long ago.”

“I will not utter any more of them. Believe me.”

“Well. I have blundered too, this night. Let us learn from our mistakes and then forget them, if we can.”

“Gray, may I ask the djinn a cautious question?”

“Ask him what you will. Our troubles seem to stem from giving him orders.”

Turning to the unperturbed scroll of smoke, Rolf asked: “Did the Old Worlders ever use such a rudder as you brought to us to steer a flying craft like this one, lighter than the air and with no means of making headway through the air?” He was imagining himself in a boat, drifting with a current; and he saw clearly in his mind that the rudder in the boat was useless, for there was no streaming of water around it.

“No.” The monosyllabic answer seemed all innocence.

Gray asked: “Did they ever steer craft like this at all?”


The two humans exchanged a weary look. Gray said: “I had better give orders for the gradual deflation of the bags, so that we drift no farther. It will take our men a while to reach us as it is.”

“I see no danger in that order,” Rolf approved cautiously. As gas began to hiss from the bags again, he turned to the east, where now the sun lanced at him from above the distant range of black. There was one peak that seemed to tower above the rest, its head lost in a wreath of cloud that looked much higher still than the balloon.

Gray seemed to know where he was looking. “There lies the citadel of Som the Dead. On those cliffs -can you see them?-that rise up halfway on the highest mount. There’s where we must somehow land part of our army.”

And somewhere there, thought Rolf, my sister maybe still alive. “We will find away,” he said. With his hand he struck the basket rim. “We will make this work.”

“Here comes the ground,” said Gray.

The landing was a tumble, but it broke no bones.


Som’s Hoard

Chup stood frozen in the doorway, watching as the man whom he had killed stood up, fresh and healthy as when their duel had started. Tarlenot, starlted by Chup’s entrance, turned and got up quickly. But when he saw Chup’s paralysis of astonishment, he relaxed enough to offer him a slight bow and a mocking smile.

Charmian, who had looked up as if expecting Chup, said calmly: “Leave us now, good Tarlenot.”

Tarlenot, with the air of one who had completed his visit anyway, bowed once more, this time to her. “I shall. As you know, I must soon give up this happy collar for a while, and take to the road again. Of course I mean to see you again before I set out – ”

She waved him off. “If not, you shall when you return. Go now.”

He frowned briefly at her, decided not to argue, and gave Chup one more look of amusement. Then Tarlenot withdrew, going out through a doorway at the long chamber’s other end.

Charmian now turned herself completely toward Chup, and at the sight of him began to giggle. In a moment she was rolling over on her couch, quite gracefully, in her mirth. And she laughed with a loud clear peal, like some innocent teasing girl.

Chup moved unsteadily toward her. Still looking after Tarlenot, he said: “My blade went this far down in him. This far. I saw him die.”

She still laughed merrily. “My hero, Chup! But you are so astonished. It is worth all the vexation, just to see you so.”

For his part, Chup was very far from laughter. “What powers of sorcery do you have here? What do battles mean, and warriors’ lives, when dead men jump up grinning?”

Her mirth quieted. She began to eye Chup as if with sympathy. “It was not sorcery, dear Chup, but his Guardsman’s collar that saved him.”

“No collar stopped my blade, I cut down to his heart. I know death when I see it.”

“Dear fool! I did not mean that at all. Of course you cut him down. He died. You beat and killed him, as I knew you would. But then he was restored by the Lord Draffut.”

“There is no way of restoring…” Chup’s voice trailed off.

She nodded, following his thought. “Yes my Lord. As it was doneforyou, by the fluid of the Lake of Life. Since you do not wear the collar of Som’s Guard, I had to risk the Beast-Lord’s great displeasure by having the fluid stolen for you-by one of the demons he so hates. But I would face greaterrisks than that, to have you with me.” Her face and voice were innocent and proud. “Come, sit beside me here. Have you the little trinket with you, that was woven of my hair?”

He walked to the soft couch, and sat down beside his unclaimed bride. From his pocket he brought out the golden charm, clenched in his hand.

“No, keep it for me, my good Lord, until I tell you how it must be used. Keep it and guard it well. With no one else will it be so safe.” Charmian took his hand, but only to press his fingers tighter around the knot of yellow hair.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred