“Fresh, snappy, and terribly likeable…Dzur shows you what heroic fantasy can be.”
--Cory Doctorow, bestselling and award-winning author of Little Brother
“Brust is incapable of writing a dull book.”
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Dry Red Wine
When Mario was gone I was able to concentrate on the wine. I will deny being any sort of wine expert, but I liked it. It was dry, of course, because sweet wines are for dessert, but it had all these hints underneath that made me think of grassy hills with orchards and wind blowing through them and poetical stuff like that. Knowing what was coming later in the meal, the wine was setting me up, trying to tell me my mouth was safe, and that I shouldn’t worry. Nasty, evil wine. I don’t know what Telnan thought about it; he didn’t say anything at that point, and I wasn’t interested in conversation.
I had told Mario that he could find me at Dzur Mountain; now I considered that. Did I have any other options? My grandfather was no longer in the city, and I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there anyway, with the whole Jhereg after me. I’d been right about Castle Black. And the idea of clapping at Cawti’s door and saying, “Mind if I sleep on the couch for a few weeks?” made my skin crawl. No, Dzur Mountain was my only option.
Home of Sethra Lavode, the Enchantress, the Dark Lady. I don’t know, we’d always gotten along pretty well; she likely wouldn’t mind. And Telnan hadn’t responded when I’d suggested it. It would at least give me a safe place to stay while I figured out what to do.
I’d do what I always did: figure out what was going on, come up with a plan, and carry it out. No problem.
Nasty, evil wine.
* * *
Some hours later, I got up from the table feeling pleased. More than that, satiated, the way only an exceptional dinner, where all the pieces come together, and each piece by itself is a work of art, can make you feel. As I remarked to Loiosh, if they got to me now, at least I’d managed to get in one good last meal. A very good last meal. Loiosh suggested that that was just as well, as I was too slow at the moment to save myself from an infant who attacked me with a perambulator. Uphill. I suggested he shut up.
Besides, Telnan was there to protect me, if he wasn’t in the same state.
I sent Loiosh and Rocza out the door ahead of me, to make sure no perambulators were waiting. None were, so, after giving and receiving warm good-byes from several of the staff and after I paid the shot, including Telnan’s, we stepped outside.
Nope, no one tried to kill me.
I looked around. It was late afternoon, and the world was quiet and peaceful. Telnan said, “You’re going to Dzur Mountain?”
I removed the chain from around my neck (long story), slid it into a small box I carry just for that purpose, and nodded to the Dzur. He nodded back, and then there was a slight tingle at the base of my spine, accompanied by the odd sensation you always get when, in the space of a blink, the world looks different around you. I stumbled a bit as the chill hit my skin and the scent of evergreens filled my nose. Dzur Mountain was all about me. A few years earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to have that spell performed on me without undoing everything that I’d just accomplished in Valabar’s. But now—nothing but a bit of a stumble and a twitch. I replaced the chain around my neck, and when the stone lay against my skin pulsing in time to my heartbeat, I relaxed a bit. Safe.
“No one’s around, Boss.”
“Okay. Thanks, Loiosh. I guess Telnan didn’t accompany us.”
“I guess not. Uh, I know we’re safe, Boss, but let’s get inside anyway.”
There was a slight coating of snow on the ground, so I left footprints leading up to the door. My friend Morrolan had doors that opened as you approached them. It was very impressive. I’ve never figured out about Sethra’s doors: sometimes they opened, sometimes you had to clap, sometimes you had to search just to find them. On one occasion, I’d waited outside like an idiot for an hour and a half. I had intended to make some comment to Sethra on the subject, but somehow I never got around to it.
This time, the door didn’t open, but neither was it locked. I walked in. I had been there just often enough to make me think I could find my way in without getting lost, but not often enough to actually do so. Loiosh, fortunately, had a better head for such things, and after a few twists and turns and smart-ass remarks from my guide of the moment, we were in one of Sethra’s sitting rooms; the one where I’d first met her, in fact. It was a dark-painted, narrow room, remarkably bare, with comfortable chairs set at odd angles, as if Sethra preferred her guests not to look directly at each other. As I was coming in, I heard what sounded like bare feet running away, and I almost thought I heard a giggle, but I didn’t give it too much of a thought. This was Dzur Mountain, where anything might happen and you could hurt your brain trying to figure out the little mysteries, let alone the big ones. I picked a chair and settled into it with a sigh.
Sethra’s servant, whose name was Tukko, showed up, glanced at me with an expression that fell somewhere between disdain and disinterest, and said, “Would you like something, Lord Taltos?”
“No,” I said. In the first place, I had the feeling that I would neither eat nor move again as long as I lived. And in the second, I wanted nothing to interfere with what was still lingering on my tongue. “But can you tell me if Sethra is about?”
He grunted. “She’ll be along presently.”
Tukko shuffled off, fingers twitching, without giving any sign that he cared either way. He was slightly bent as he walked, and there was a twitch in his right shoulder as well as his fingers. Every once in a while I wondered if it was all an act; if the old bastard was actually in perfect health. I’d never seen any indications of it, but I wondered from time to time. I closed my eyes and spent a while in happy reverie, recalling all of what Valabar’s had just done for me.
I heard Sethra’s footsteps, but didn’t open my eyes. I knew what she looked like well enough that the only question would be the expression on her face, and if I guessed somewhere between sardonic amusement and mild surprise I’d probably have that down, too.
“Hello, Vlad, I hadn’t expected to see you back so soon.”
“I hope it isn’t a problem,” I said.
“Not in the least. How was Valabar’s?”
“You can’t improve upon perfection.”
“And you made good decisions?”
“Easy decisions, all of them.”
“I take it you decided to honor me with your presence while you recuperated?”
“Not exactly.” I hesitated, not sure quite what I wanted to say. I opened my eyes. Sethra was in front of me, looking like Sethra. I was right about the expression, too. “You sent me protection.”
“Yes. I hope you aren’t offended.”
“You know me better than that.”
She nodded. “I trust he was a good dinner companion.”
“An interesting one, certainly.”
“Dzurlords are more complex than I’d thought they were.”
“Yeah, I know. But still.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Many things. The food, for one. But also … Sethra, you know Dzurlords.”
“I would say so, yes.”
“What I didn’t get is, I don’t know, how much work goes into it all.”
“Yes. Don’t feel bad, though. That confuses almost everyone who isn’t a Dzur. They think the Dzurlord only wishes for the excitement, or for the chance of a glorious death against impossible odds. As you say, it’s more complex.”
“Can you unravel the complexities?”
“Why the interest?”
“I don’t know. Your friend, or rather, student, Telnan—he interested me.”
She pulled one of her inscrutable Sethra smiles out of her pocket and put it on.
“So,” I said, “if it isn’t the excitement, or a chance for a glorious death, what is it?”
“Depends on the person. Some enjoy the righteous feeling of being in a small minority.”
“Yeah. Those are the ones I want to smack.”
“And some just want to do the right thing.”
“Lots of people want to do the right thing, Sethra. I try not to let them bother me too much.”
“Dzurlords won’t bother with the right thing unless everyone else is against it.”
“Hmmm. I’m surprised I didn’t see one or two defending the Easterners during the excitement a few years ago.”
“In fact, it wouldn’t have been impossible. What’s so funny?”
“The idea of the Dzur hero defending the Teckla. The Empire would have hated it, the Guards would have hated it, the House of the Dzur would have hated it, and the Teckla would have hated it.”
“Yes,” said Sethra. “That’s why it could have happened.”
I mulled that over, then, “So,” I said, “how is everyone else handling the aftermath of the excitement?”
“Who in particular?”
“Living, breathing, and returned to Castle Black.”
“How did he take the news?”
“About Lady Teldra? Not well, Vlad.”
I nodded and touched my fingers to the hilt again. And again I felt something—a presence that was at once comforting and distant.
“She left with Morrolan....