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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


Vlad (Volume 11)

Steven Brust

Tor Books


Chapter One

Boraan : A candle! As you love the Gods, a candle!
Nurse : But we have no candles!
Boraan : How, no candles?
Nurse : They were all burned up in the flood.
Dagler : Permit me to sell you this beeswax.
[Boraan strikes Dagler with candlestick]
[Exit Dagler, holding his head]—Miersen, Six Parts Water
Day One, Act IV, Scene 4

The transition from mountain to forest was so gradual, I wasn't entirely sure I was out of the mountains for a while even after I had turned north; and this in spite of them
towering over me to my left. But eventually, I became convinced that I wasn't getting much lower, and soon enough, there was no question that I was in deep woods, with trees I
can't name so close together I sometimes had to squeeze past them and with branches so low I had to duck to avoid getting hit in the face. The combination seemed unfair.

After that I felt more confident as I headed north, giving thanks for the occasional clearing, even though in the clearings I could see the Furnace, and it hurt my eyes.

I don't like forests. I hate the trees, and I hate the bushes, and I'm not even that fond of the paths, because they have a way of either suddenly heading off in directions you
don't want to go, or just stopping without giving you any explanation for their conduct. When I was running my territory for the Jhereg, if any of my people had acted like that
I'd have had their legs broken.

In the Pushta, you can usually see a good distance around you; you just have to keep an eye on what might be moving through the grasses. In the mountain, at least the mountains
I've been on, you can see for miles in at least a couple of directions. In the city, you might not be able to see very far, but you can identify where anyone who might want to
do you harm could be lurking. Forests are thick, and anything can come from anywhere; I never feel safe.

And sleeping is the worst. I spent about three nights in the forest after I came down from the mountains, and I didn't get a good night's sleep the entire time, in spite of the
fact that Loiosh and Rocza were watching for me. I just couldn't relax. When I become ruler of the world, I'm going to have inns put up along every little road and trail in that
place. I would certainly have gotten lost if it weren't for Loiosh and an occasional sight of the mountain.

I waded over several brooks and streams, one of which showed signs of becoming a river soon: it seemed to be in a terrible hurry, and had a lot of force for being only a foot
or so deepand maybe ten feet wide. I didn't much care for that, either.

In spite of the annoyances, I was never in any danger so far as I know (though I'm told Dzur sometimes hunt the forests). I made it through; leave it at that. The trees became
lower, sparser, and the grass taller, with large, jagged boulders intruding on the landscape as if the mountain were encroaching.

"Well, for marching blind, I guess we did all right, Loiosh."

"We sure did, Boss. And only modesty forbids me from saying how we managed."


An hour or so later we found a road. A real road. I could have danced, if I could dance. It was getting on toward evening, and the Furnace was sinking behind the mountains. The
shadows—remarkably sharp, looking almost tangible—were long, and a certain chill was coming into the air on a breeze from behind me.

"That way," said my familiar, indicating down the road to the right. Since the mountains were to the left, I'd have figured that one out on my own, but I didn't say anything. I
set out.

After mountain and forest, it was a positive luxury to walk on a road; even a rutted, gouged, untended road like this. My feet thanked me, as did my left elbow, which was no
longer being cracked by my sword's pommel when I raised my left leg to climb onto a rock.

For an hour or so, I saw no one and nothing save a lone farmhouse far across a field. The shadows lengthened and Loiosh was silent and my mind wandered.

I thought about Cawti, of course. A few weeks ago, I'd been married. A few weeks before that, happily married; or at least I thought so. Anyone can make a mistake.

But what was odd was how little I was feeling it. It was pleasant walking down the road, and I was in good shape from all the climbing, and the evening wasn't too cold. I knew
the whole thing was going to hit me—I mean, I knew it. It was like seeing an out-of-control team barreling down on you, and watching it come closer, and knowing it's going to
flatten you. Here it comes, yep, I'm about to be either killed or messed up. Any second now. How interesting.

I could even be sort of dispassionate about it. I pondered whether I could convince her to take me back, and, if so, how? I ran through the arguments in my head, and they seemed
very persuasive. I suspected they'd be less so when I actually tried them on her. And, even if she was convinced, I'd still have to deal with her politics, which is what had
gotten between us in the first place.

And there was still the big problem, which was that circumstances had conspired to force me to save her. I don't know if I could have forgiven her if she had saved me; I didn't
see how she could forgive me for saving her. It's an ugly burden. Eventually, I was going to have to try to overcome it.

And in the meantime, I was heading in the opposite direction, while somewhere behind there were people who wanted to get rich by putting the shine on me.

No, it didn't look good.

How interesting.

"We getting close to the water, Loiosh?"

"Wind shifted, Boss. I don't know."

"All right."

I should mention that nothing so far was at all familiar from my previous journey to Fenario, but that had been years before, and I wasn't paying all that much attention to my
surroundings then.

With an abruptness that caught me by surprise, it was dark—I mean completely dark. There were small pinpoints of light in the sky, but they provided no illumination. Maybe they
should have; I was told by a human physicker once that I had poor night vision. I could have had it corrected, but the process is painful, and a spell to compensate is absurdly
easy. Except, of course, when you are unable to cast the simplest of spells for fear of removing the protections that keep the bad guys from finding you. So for now, little
points of light or no, I was effectively blind. I wondered if failing to have that fixed when I could would end up being what did me in. Come to think of it, I still wonder.

I stepped a few paces off the road, and, having no better idea, took off my pack, spread out my blanket, and lay down. Loiosh and Rocza, I knew, would take care of any annoying
beasts, and wake me if there were any dangerous ones. It wasn't until I was prone that I became aware of the sound of night insects all around me. I wondered if they were the
sort that bit; then sleep took me.

Evidently they weren't the sort that bit.

I'd been walking about two hours the next day before I passed a young man driving a wagon filled with hay. I hailed him, and he stopped the horse—one of the biggest I'd ever
seen—and greeted me. I had the impression he was a bit disconcerted by the jhereg on my shoulders, but was too polite to say anything. "Which way to Burz?" I asked him.

He pointed the way I was going. "Over the bridge," he said, "in a while the road will fork, and there's a sign. You'll likely smell it after that."

"Good enough," I told him, and gave him a couple of copper pennies. He tapped his forehead, which I took as a gesture of thanks, and continued on his way.

I suddenly felt as if I was too relaxed, not paying enough attention, and resolved to stay a little more on my guard. Then it hit me that I had now made that resolution around a
dozen times since coming down out of the mountains.

"I'm feeling safe, Loiosh. As if I'm out of danger. I can't decide if I should trust that feeling."

"I'm not sure, Boss, but I've been feeling the same way."

"Like we're out of their reach?"


"Well, we probably are, but let's not trust it too much."

I found the bridge—it spanned a stream maybe twenty feet wide—and went "a while," which turned out to be most of the rest of the day. Once over the bridge, the road abruptly
improved, showing signs of regular maintenance. I stopped a couple of times to eat bread, cheese, and sausage I'd gotten in Saestara (the village, not the mountain). The bread
was getting stale, but it was still better than the hardtack. As I walked, I noticed that the forest, which I had thought was left behind me, seemed to be returning on my right;
or maybe it was a different forest. I ought to have tried to find a map, I suppose, but I'm told they are hard to come by and rarely reliable.

Over the next several hours, the forest seemed to come closer, but avoided the road (I know, the road was dug around the forest, but I'm telling you how it looked, all right?).
Eventually, I found the fork, and there was a sign just as there was supposed to be, on a stout wooden pole.

I followed it, and the road bent closer to the forest. It took us over low hills, and in places there were crops I didn't recognize in neat rows. More farmhouses appeared. The
outbuildings were in good shape, and well painted. I tried not to look down on the locals for building everything out of wood; I knew that just came from living among
Dragaerans. From an unbiased viewpoint, this seemed to be a more prosperous area than similar regions near Adrilankha. I wondered what Cawti would sayif I made that observation
to her.

The shadows lengthened, as the Furnace prepared to vanish behind the mountains, still looming up behind me. Presently, I became aware of a low rumble to my right, and I saw that
the road had been joined by a fairly respectable river.

The Furnace plunged below the mountains, and it became significantly darker; still somewhat lit by the glow behind me, but—I was going to have to get used to how much more
quickly it became dark, and how very much darker it was here. It had never occurred to me that the permanent overcast above the Empire might somehow provide a bit of ambient
light, but apparently it does. I went another mile or so, and realized sadly that I was probably going to have to spend another night on the road.

The road curved as I came to the top of a hill, and below, still some distance away, was a very faint light. "Check it out, Loiosh."

It was a long way away; I must have covered half a mile before he returned, and from what I could see it could still be anything from a bonfire to—

"Just what you want, Boss. A nice little inn. And just beyond it, a nice little town. And, to judge from the smell, it is just the nice little town you're looking for."

"You are hereby forgiven for the last nine things that require forgiving."

"Speaking of smells, I think they have real food at the inn there, Boss. Just don't forget who your friends are."

It was full dark by the time I reached the door to the place. The light I'd seen came from two windows of oiled paper, and wasn't enough to let me see the sign. But I didn't
need it by then. There was talking and laughing and the smell of bad beer and good food, stronger than the stench from—I presumed—the paper factory that I'd started to notice
during the last few hundred yards.

I forced myself to ignore the growling of my stomach for a few minutes, while I stood near a window and let my eyes adjust; then I opened the thick door and stepped inside,
moving at once to the side. I got a couple of glances, and Loiosh and Rocza got a couple more as I looked around. It was a two-story building, with doors in the back, but this
room occupied most of the structure. A long, polished bar ran about half the length of the wall to my right, and there were a few score of people—Easterners—humans—sitting at
tables, leaning on the bar, or standing against walls.

I went up to the bar, and eventually a middle-aged human came over to me. He had a pot belly and wore a sleeveless brown tunic; his arm muscles were truly impressive. Before I
could say anything, he gestured toward my familiars with his chin and said, "Get them out of here."

I studied him. He looked strong, but not very fast. His eyes were brown. After a moment, he looked away. I said, "Brandy. I also want some food." He barely nodded, poured, and
said, "See one of the girls about the food." He retreated to the other end of the bar. I left him a couple of coins, then went over to find a blank piece of wall.

"Ignorant prejudice, Boss. It's shameful—"

"Stay alert."

"Yeah, yeah."

Eventually a young lady came by. She was dressed in red and blue and yellow and had nice ankles as well as a tray full of mugs and pitchers. "Food," I said as she passed by.

She stopped, noticed the reptiles on my shoulders, and seemed to consider whether she ought to be upset. Eventually she decided not to be, because she said, "There are some
fowls roasting, lamb stew, and a hunter's stew."

"The hunter's stew."

She nodded, then looked around. "I don't think there's any place to sit."

"I can stand."

She made an effort at smiling, then turned and walked away. I used my finely honed powers of observation to make sure the ankles looked as good from the back. They did.

It was about then I noticed that, full as the room was, there were no women there at all except the three barmaids. I wasn't sure what that meant, but it was interesting.

I picked up bits and pieces of conversation. Not much was interesting, but they were speaking Fenarian, and the purity of the accent made me miss my grandfather although it had
been only days since I'd seen him.

Presently, the ankles returned with a large bowl of hunter's stew, a big spoon, and a loaf of black bread that could have fed a family in South Adrilankha for a week. I set my
drink down on a shelf against the wall—probably made for that purpose—paid her, and collected the food. She inspected the Dragaeran copper carefully, but accepted it without

The stew was pork (no, I don't know why they'd call something made with pork "hunter's stew," unless it was the tenderest wild boar in the history of cooking) and onions, and a
delightful variety of mushroom I'd never had before and three kinds of peppers, peas, carrots, and some other sort of legume. The bread was still warm from the oven and it was
perfect. I got a few looks as I fed bits to the jhereg, but no one seemed inclined to comment—maybe because I was the only one in the place openly carrying a weapon.

I was about halfway through the bowl when a table opened up in front of me and I was able to sit down. That was better. The place was beginning to clear out a bit. By the time
I'd finished eating, there were only about a dozen left, all having quiet conversations. Most of them were elderly. The hard-core drinkers. I knew the type; I'd be willing to
bet thirty hours from now I'd see the same faces in here.

I called a barmaid over. This one also had nice ankles; it seemed to be a requirement of the profession. I said, "Is it possible to get a room for the night?"

She had deep violet eyes, unusual for a Fenarian. She nodded and said, "You'll have to see the host."

"I will then," I said. "In the meantime, another brandy."

She headed off to get it while I relaxed and started realizing how tired I was getting. The thought of a real bed, the second since I'd left Noish-pa's, was enchanting.

I drank the brandy slowly, after it was delivered, enjoying the feeling that I was very tired and would soon rest. Then I went up to the host and asked about a room. He glanced
at the jhereg on my shoulders, then nodded grudgingly, accepted a silver orb, and pointed toward a door in the back of the room.

The door led to a stairway, which ended in a hall, beyond which were doors. I opened the first one on the right, saw the bed, smiled, and stretched out on it. I gave a sigh of
contentment and that's all I remember for a while.

The host was there the next morning when I came downstairs. He glanced at me, then returned to wiping down the bar. I walked out the door and took my first breath, which was no
fun. Verra's tits and toenails, but it stank!


"I know."

"Rocza doesn't like it."

"We'll get used to it."

"I hope not."

I tried to ignore the stench, and took a good look around.

The sign over my head showed a long pointed hat painted with red and white stripes. I didn't want to guess what they called the place. To t he left was not hing. Well, okay,
fields planted with wheat, and the road. To the right was a small town: a few score buildings and houses, and I could see some side streets heading off. Between some houses I
could make out a river, with docks jutting out into it, and boats and barges tied to the docks, and the Furnace, bright enough that I had some trouble seeing the rest. I
headed in that direction.

Not many people were on the streets; one woman in a faded blue dress and absurdly bright yellow shoes carried an infant into a shop; two old men sat on a low stone wall in front
of a narrow house—I think they'd been in the inn last night; a young man wearing a battered silk hat drove a pushcart full of bits of iron, and seemed to be in no hurry to get
where he was going.

As I passed the two old men, they stopped their conversation, and politely stared at me. No, I'm not sure how they did that. I turned right on a winding, narrow road, aiming for
the docks. Two men were strolling in the same direction. One said, "How are things, Janchi?" to which the other replied, "Dreaming small," if I heard him right. Then they heard
my footsteps, glanced back, and stood aside while I passed. I nodded to them.They nodded back, then stared politely.

The breeze was in my face as I approached the docks, and I could now see a large brick structure on the other side of the river, belching smoke. There were docks there too, and
several barges. I stopped and watched for a while. There was an affair upstream of the dock that, after some study, I realized was a log corral; at least, that's all I can think
to call it. It was a sort of slatted fence, complete with gate, and through the slats I could see logs floating.

The river was of respectable girth; I'd say a good quarter of a mile across. I watched it for a while. There is something calming about watching a river. I know some people get
that feeling from watching the ocean, but I prefer a nice river. When I was a kid, I used to stand on the Chain Bridge and watch the Adrilankha River float by under me for hours
at a time. This river didn't have any such pretensions; it didn't even have any river traffic, at least while I was watching just then. But it was soothing. I had never asked
Cawti how she felt about rivers; it had somehow never come up.

I left my dignity there, then walked out to the end of the dock in front of me and sat down. The river was a sort of dingy brown, but if there was any smell to it, it couldn't
penetrate the rotting-vegetation smell of the factory. I watched the river as if I had a reason to, as if I were on a job. But I wasn't. I didn't have anything I really had to
do. I had idle curiosity about my mother's family, and a bit of a clue to follow up on, but it wasn't important. I'd maybe ask a few questions, and see if anyone could tell me
anything, but beyond that, my life was focused around not letting the Jhereg get to me. I was going from, not toward. It was a new experience. I wasn't certain if it would
come to bother me, someday in the future when I would start to feel things again. I wondered where I would be when that happened. Alone, I hoped.

I suddenly wished I had a handful of pebbles to throw into the water one at a time, to listen to them plunk and watch the ripples.

I must have sat there for a couple of hours; then I got up and went back to the inn, where the host was convinced to feed me some of yesterday's bread with a goat's milk cheese,
smoked sausage, and some coffee with warmed cream, chocolate, and beet sugar. It was a little stuffy inside, and for just an instant I was going to ask him to open a window,
when I realized why it was closed.

I finished eating and went back to the host, who was sitting on a tall stool behind the bar, his head back against the wall and his eyes closed. He opened them when my footsteps
approached. I said, "My name is Vlad."

He hesitated, then said, "Inchay."

I nodded, and decided that was enough sociability for the moment; I headed back out into the stench.

You don't need to hear about the next several hours. I walked around, nodding to a few people and getting to know the town. It was big, as such places go, with a couple hundred
identical shacks at the far end, a shoemaker and a dry goods store to support them, and a spot for the market to set up come Endweek. The area around the shacks was a lot
filthier than the farms I'd seen. And I saw other things, nothing worth noting.

As the shadows became long, I returned to the inn and had them feed me on a roasted fowl basted with sweet wine. As I was eating, two of the barmaids appeared wearing simple
peasant gowns. They vanished into a room in the back of the inn, then emerged a few minutes later with their ankles showing and their breasts stretched taut against yellow or
blue fabric. The one with curly, dark hair asked if I needed anything, and I accepted a glass of the local red wine, which was a bit acidic, but drinkable.

As it grew dark outside, the place filled up again. I was seated along the back wall, and this time, I suppose because I wasn't hungry and exhausted, I paid more attention to
the people around me.

I realized that I knew at once those who worked at the paper factory, because they wore simpler clothing than the peasants who had dressed up to spend an evening drinking and
wore bright blues and reds and yellows; those who worked in the mill wore simple clothing of dark green or brown. The young ones had long hair and were clean shaven; the older
ones had mustaches or neatly trimmed beards. There were only a couple of small groups of these; most of the patrons were obviously peasants, some of them too young to shave. And
there were still no women in the place, save the barmaids. The more I sat there, the stranger it seemed that it was so easy to identify which group they were part of, and that
they all held so rigidly to their style. The groups didn't mix with each other, either.

To be sure, there were a few who didn't belong to any group: One fellow with bright, teary eyes who grinned a lot through several missing teeth and wore black pants and a white
shirt with a blue coat and several rings. And another who had high red boots and mustaches that fell well below his chin. And the barrel-chested one in the blue felt vest with
inky black hair that fell behind his shoulder in thick curls.

"What do you think of those three, Loiosh?"

"Dunno, Boss. If we were home, I'd take the toothy one and the mustached one as merchants. Couldn't guess about Curly."

"That's what I was thinking as well. How come there are no women in this place?"

"I couldn't guess, Boss. Ask someone?"

"I think I will."

While I was deciding what to ask, who to ask it of, and how to approach it, the problem was taken out of my hands by the guy in the blue felt vest, who came up to my table,
glanced at the jhereg on my shoulders, and said, "Mind if I join you?"

I nodded at one of the empty chairs.

He sat down smoothly and held up a hand; in a few minutes, a barmaid came over and brought him a tiny porcelain cup, which he lifted in my direction. "Barash Orbahn. Call me

"Merss Vladimir," I lied, lifting my own. "Vlad."

He frowned a little. "Merss? An unusual name."

"Yes," I said.

He downed his drink and winced, shivered, shook his head, and smiled. I sipped from mine. "What are you drinking?"

"Rakia. Plum brandy."

"Ah. I should have guessed. My grandfather used to look like that when he drank it."

He nodded. "It's imported from the South. I don't know why we import it, or why anyone drinks it. A test of manhood, maybe." He grinned. He had all of his teeth, and they were
very white.

I chuckled. "The local palinka is good, and I think safer."

"A wise man," he said. Then, "If you'll forgive me, you have a trace of something foreign in your speech."

I nodded. "I've come here from some distance away."

"And yet, your name is distinctly local."

"Is it?" I said. "I hadn't realized."

He nodded.

"Not surprising," I said after a moment. "I have family from here."

"Family? Or kin?"

In Fenarian, those are different words, with rather more of a difference than in the Northwestern language. "Kin," I said. "Think you might know anyone I might be related to?"

"Hmm. I'll have to think about it. This is a pretty big town, you know."

No, it wasn't. "Yes, it is."

After a moment I said, "No offense to your town, but it stinks."

He smiled. "Yes, I suppose. Believe it or not, after a while you don't notice it at all."

"You can get used to anything, I suppose."


"Maybe you can tell me something else."


"Why aren't there any women in here?"

His eyes widened. "Women go into taverns where you're from?"

"If they want a drink."

"I see. That, ah, doesn't happen here."

"Why not?"

"Well, because . . ." He frowned and seemed to be searching for words. "Because it wouldn't be right," he finally said.

I nodded and didn't push it. "What do you do?"

"Beg pardon? Oh. I import and export liquor."

"So the rakia is your fault?"

He smiled and nodded. "I drink it as a sort of penance."

"A man of high moral character, I see."

"Not that high; I'm a trader." He signaled the barmaid and she brought him another. "So, ask me your next question; it seems I am today the man with the answers."
"All right," I said. "Why are the streets so wide?"

"Eh? Are they?"

"Wider than I'm used to. A lot wider."

"Hmmm. Well, the streets you're used to—why are they so narrow?"

"A fair question," I said, "only you claimed to be the one with the answers."

He smiled his smile—it was the sort that makes you think that by smiling he was losing a round. His drink came. He raised it and said, "Welcome to our city and our country,

I felt my eyebrows climb. "Boyore? Why do you call me that?"

"It's as clear as Doroatya's ankles. You're used to giving orders, and expecting them to be obeyed."
"Am I?" I said. "Interesting."

"Not to mention the rather long piece of steel at your side."

"Yes, I guess that's unusual around here."

"I'll not pass it around, if you don't wish me to; but unless you begin to walk differently, and start looking down a bit more, you can expect the peasants to bow and call you
‘my lord' and stand aside when they meet you on the street. But then," he added, "perhaps they'll not meet you at all, what with the streets being so wide."

He laughed a little as if deucedly pleased with his cleverness. I smiled and nodded and sipped my wine.

"Where are you from that women go into bars, and streets are narrow?"

"Oh. Sorry, I'd thought it was obvious. I live on the other side of the mountain, the Dragaeran Empire."

"Ah. Yes, I sort of suspected that, but I wasn't sure, and I didn't know if you'd want it known."

"Why not? I can't be the first human to come back here."

"Here? Yes, you're the first one I know of. I've seen a few others in my travels, but they don't stop in Burz. And they don't seem as, well, as aristocratic as you. At least,
not until they reach Fenario, or Esania, or Arenthia, and find out they have magic no one else has."

"Mmm. I hadn't thought about that."

"Hadn't you? I assume you have the same sort of magic."

"You seem pretty blasé about magic."

He shrugged. "Not everyone is. You know about the Art we practice; I see signs of it about you. Is it really so different?"

Yes, it was. "No, not really," I said.

He nodded. "I can't tell if you follow the light or the darkness, of course; they, too, aren't as different as many think."

I nodded, wondering what he was talking about. I said, "What generally happens to these people you mention, the ones with the magic no one else has?"

"Usually they set themselves up as minor lordlings until someone, ah, puts them down, if you know what I mean. No one has done that around here, though; at least, not in my
lifetime. Which is good, because the King never turns his attention this far west, and sometimes the King has to be the one to deal with them."

I nodded. "Well, if that's what you're worried about, you don't need to. I'm not especially interested in becoming a minor lordling. Or a major one, for that matter."

He studied me. "No, I don't imagine you are." I wasn't at all sure how to take that, so I just let it go past.

We drank for a few minutes, and then he said, "It's getting late; I should be going."

I said, "Is there any chance you might be able to find out anything about my people?"

"Sure," he said. "I'll ask a few questions, see what I can learn."

"I'd take that as a great kindness," I said. "Where and when shall I meet you?"

"Right here is good. Say, sometime around noon?"

"Lunch is on me," I told him.

He smiled and stood up. "See you then," he said.

As he walked away, I drank more wine and considered.

"What do you suppose he is, Loiosh?"

"Not sure, Boss. I suppose there is always the possibility that he's just what he claims to be."

"No," I said. "There isn't."

Excerpted from JHEGAALA by Steven Brust.
Copyright © 2008 by Steven Brust.
Published in July 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be
secured from the Publisher.