David Drake - Lord Of The Isles 03 - Servant Of The Dragon v1 0

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David Drake - Lord Of The Isles 03 - Servant Of The Dragon v1 0



    of the






New York



    This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. SERVANT OF THE DRAGON Copyright ? 1999 by David Drake All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

    This book is printed on acid-free paper. Edited by David G. Hartwell A Tor Book

    Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

    175 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10010

    Tor? is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. ISBN 0-312-86469-8

    First Edition: August 1999

    Printed in the United States of America




    To Jamuna devi dasi, AKA Melissa Michael,

    who makes the world a better place 4



    Dan Breen, my first reader, describes himself as a scribe. This is valid; but while I value the way he catches grammatical errors, I gain even greater benefit from his more general criticisms. Though I often disagree (though I most often disagree), he forces me to consider why I did the particular things that I did.

    If there's an author photo on this book, it's probably the one John Coker took in 1986 (I'm grayer but I wear the same trouser size). John is not only a fine photographer, he's one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. I really appreciate his permission to use his picture. Things go wrong in publishing, just as they do in every other form of human endeavor. Stephanie Lane at Tor works hard to fix errors. This is no more common in publishing than it is anywhere else, so I feel very fortunate to work with her.

    My mean time between failure with computers is about six months. Losing three of them during the writing of this novel was pretty remarkable, though. My thanks to Mark L. Van Name, Allyn Vogel, Ruben Fernandez, and Rich Creal, whose help made a series of frustrating experiences nonetheless survivable.

    I had a difficult time during the course of writing this book. (See the paragraph immediately above for a lot of the reason.) My friends and especially my wife, Jo, were unfailingly supportive. My sincere thanks to all of them.




    The (common) religion of the Isles is based on Sumerian cult and ritual, but the magic itself comes from the Mediterranean and is mostly Egyptian in its original source. The voces mysticae which I've referred to as words

    of power in the text represent the language of demiurges; that is, they are intended to have meaning to beings which can then translate human desires to the ultimate powers of the cosmos. I have copied them from real spell manuscripts of the classical period.

    I don't personally believe that the voces mysticae have power over events,

    but millions of intelligent, civilized people did believe that. I don't

    pronounce the voces mysticae aloud when I'm writing.

    Rather than invent literary sources for the background of Servant of the

    Dragon, I've used real ones. The actual quotes are from poems by Horace and Ovid; my translations are serviceable, but Horace in particular deserves better than anyone can give him in English.

    In addition there are passing references to Homer, Vergil, Hesiod, Athenaeus, and Plato. The fascinating thing about going to original sources is that it's the best way to learn not only what people distant in time thought but also how they went about thinking.

    And you know, when you've seen the differences between us and the 6


ancestors of our Western culture, it may make you as it certainly has

    made mea little more tolerant of the beliefs of different modern cultures.

    That wouldn't be a bad thing for the world.

    Dave Drake

    Chatham County, N.C.




    The deeps trembled, shaking a belfry which had not moved for a thousand years. Eels with glassy flesh and huge, staring eyes twisted, touched by fear of the power focused on the sunken island. Cold light pulsed across their slender bodies.

    A bell rang, sending its note over the sunken city. It had been cast from the bronze rams of warships captured by the first Duke of Yole. A tripod fish lifted its long pelvic fins from the bottom and swam off with stiff sweeps of its tail.

    Ammonites, the Great Ones of the Deep, swam slowly toward the sound. They had tentacles like cuttlefish and shells coiled like rams' horns. The largest of them were the size of a ship.

    The powers supporting the cosmos shifted, sending shudders through a city which nothing had touched for a millennium. The bell rang a furious tocsin over Yole.

    The island was rising.

    The Great Ones' tentacles waved like forests of serpents in time with 8


    words agitating the sea. In daylight their curled shells would shimmer with all the colon of the sun. Here the only light was the distant shimmer of a viperfish flashing in terror as it fled.

    The dead lay in the streets, sprawled as they had fallen. Over them were scattered roof tiles and the rubble of walls which collapsed as the city sank. Onrushing water had choked their screams, and their outstretched arms clutched for a salvation which had eluded them.

    The bodies had not decayed: these cold depths were as hostile to the minute agents of corruption as they were to humans. Some corpses had been savaged by great-fanged seawolves which had swept into the city on the crest of the engulfing wave; other victims had been pulled into the beaks of the Great Ones and there devoured. For the most part, though, the corpses were whole except where sluggish, long-legged crabs had picked at them.

    Tides of light touched the drowned buildings and gave them color. Faint tinges of blue brightened as the island rose. At last even the roof tiles regained their ruddy hue.

    The Great Ones swam slowly upward, accompanying Yole in its return. The movements of their tentacles twisted the cosmos.

    The belfry of the duke's palace, the highest edifice in Yole, broke surface. Water cascaded from stones darkened by the slime which crawled along the sea's deepest trenches.

    Moments later the Great Ones surfaced, their shells a shimmering iridescence in the dawn light. They swam slowly outward so as not to be trapped by the rising land. The S-shaped pupils of their eyes stared

    unwinking at the circle of wizards who stood in the air above the rising city.

    Three of the wizards wore black robes with high-peaked cowls over their heads. Their faces and bare hands were blackened with a pigment of soot and tallow. Only their teeth showed white as they chanted words of power:



Lemos agrule euros...

    Three wizards were in robes of bleached wool, white in shadow and a mixture of rose-pink and magenta where the low sun colored the fabric. They had smeared their skin with white lead so that their eyes were dark pits in the ghastly pallor of their faces.

    Ptolos xenos gaiea... the wizards chanted.

    The earth rumbled. Torrents thundered from the doorways and windows of Yole, spilling in echoing gouts along the broad streets that led to the harbor. Corpses flopped and twisted in the foaming water. Each syllable could be heard over the chaos, though the words came from human throats. The wizards' leader was black on his left side, white on the right. He chanted the words of power which his fellows echoed, syllable by syllable. From the brazier standing before him, strands of black smoke and white smoke rose, interweaving but remaining discrete.

    Kata pheinra thenai...

    Facing the leader was a mummified figure whose head the wizards had unbandaged. The mummy's sere brown skin bore the pattern of tiny scales, and the dried lips were thin and reptilian. Its tongue, shrunken to a forked string, flickered as the figure chanted. Words of power came from its dead throat.

    The belfry continued to shudder, but the bell's voice was lost in the greater cataclysm. Seabirds wheeled in the air, summoned from afar as the sea thundered away from the newly risen land.

    Kata, cheiro, iqfide... chanted the wizards.

    The ghost of a pierced screen hung in the air beyond the wizards, a filigree of stone that wavered in and out of focus. The screen's reality was that of another time and place, but the incantation had drawn it partway with the wizards.

    The soil of Yole touched the wizards' feet. The island gave a further 10

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