Tempus (Sacred Band of Stepsons: Sacred Band Tales Book 1) by Janet Morris
Relive the iconic adventures of Tempus, the Riddler, and his Sacred Band through the eyes of Nikodemos, his right-side companion, as Niko seeks his spirit's balance on Bandara's misty isles. Five pivotal Sacred Band stories from the earliest adventures of the Stepsons in a world of thieves. Ride with Tempus and his Band once again, for the first time. PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Parts of this work have been published in substantially similar form in several volumes of the Shared Universe Series, Thieves World®.
Excerpt from Tempus by Janet Morris © 1987, 2013
There was a little mist in the streets by the time Tempus headed his Trôs horse across the east side toward the Mageguild – nothing daunting yet, just a fetlock-high steaminess as if the streets were cobbled with dry ice. He’d had no luck intercepting his sister at Lastel’s estate: a servant shouted through a grate, over the barking of dogs, that the master had already left for the fete. He’d stopped briefly at the mercenaries’ hostel before going there, to burn a rag he had had for centuries in the common room’s hearth: he no longer needed to be reminded not to argue with warlocks; or that love, for him, was always a losing game. With his sister’s scarf, perhaps the problem of her would waft away, changed like the ancient linen to smoke upon the air.
Before the Mageguild’s outer wall, an imprudent crowd had gathered to watch the luminaries arriving in the ersatz-daylight of its ensorcelled grounds. Pink clouds formed a glowing canopy to the wall’s edge – a godly pavilion; elsewhere, it was night. Where dark met light, the Stepson Janni waited (one leg crooked over his saddle horn, rolling a smoke, his best helmet dangling by his knee and his full-length dress-mantle draped over his horse’s croup), while around his hips the ragged crowd thronged and his horse, ears flattened, snapped at Ilsigs who came too near.
Tempus’ gray rumbled a greeting to the bay; the curly-headed mercenary straightened up in his saddle and saluted, grinning through his beard.
He wasn’t smiling when the Mageguild’s ponderous doors enfolded them, and three junior functionaries escorted them to the “changing rooms” within the outer wall. There they were expected to strip and hand over their armaments to the solicitously smirking mages-in-training before donning proffered "fete clothes" (gray silk chitons and summer sandals) the wizards had thought-fully provided. Aškelon wasn’t taking any chances, Tempus thought but did not say, though Janni wondered aloud what use there was in checking their paltry swords and daggers when enchanters could not be made to check their spells.
Inside the Mageguild’s outer walls, it was summer. In its gardens – transformed from their usual dank fetidness by artful conjure into a wonderland of orchids and eucalyptus and willows weeping where before moss-hung swamp-giants had held sway over quagmires – Tempus saw Kadakithis, resolutely imperious in a black robe oversewn with gems into a map of Ranke-caught-in-the-web-of-the-world. The prince-governor’s pregnant wife, a red gift-gown splendid over her child-belly, leaned heavily on his arm. Kittycat’s approving glance was laced with commiseration: yes, he, too, found it hard to smile here, but both of them knew it prudent to observe the forms, especially with wizards….
Tempus nodded and walked on.
Then he saw her, holding Lastel’s hand, to which the prosthetic thumb of his disguise was firmly attached. A signal bade Janni await him; he did not have to look back to know that the Stepson obeyed.
Cime was blond, tonight and golden-eyed, tall in her adept-chosen robe of iridescent green, but he saw through the illusion to her familiar self. And she knew it. “You come here without your beloved armaments or even the god’s amulet? The man I used to know would have pulled rank and held on to his weapons.”
“Nothing’s going to happen here,” he murmured, staring over her head into the crowd, looking for Niko; “unless the message I received was in error and we do have a problem?”
“We have no problem –” glowered Lastel/One-Thumb.
“One-Thumb, disappear, or I’ll have Janni over there teach you how to imitate your bar’s sign.” With a reproachful look that Tempus would utter his alias here, the man who did not like to be called One-Thumb outside the Maze lumbered off.
Then he had to look at her. Under the golden-eyed illusion, her char-and-smoke gaze accused him, as it had chased him across the centuries and made him content to be accursed and constrained from other loves. God, he thought, I will never get through this without error. It was the closest he had come to asking Vashanka to help him for ages. In the back of his skull, a distant whisper exhorted him to take his sister while he could… that bush on his right would be bower enough. But more than advice the god could not give: “I have my own troubles, mortal, for which you are partly responsible.” With the echo of Vashanka’s last word, Tempus knew the god was gone.
“Is Lastel telling the truth, Cime? Are you content to face Aškelon’s wrath, and your peril, alone? Tell me how you came to half kill a personage of that magnitude, and assure me that you can rectify your mistake without my help.”
She reached up and touched his throat, running her finger along his jaw until it found his mouth. "Ssh, ssh. You are a bad liar, who proclaims he does not love me still. Have you not enough at risk, presently? Yes, I erred with Aškelon. He tricked me. I shall solve it, one way or the other. My heart saw him, and I could not then be the one who stood there watching him die. His world beguiled me. His form enthralled me. You know what punishment love could bring me.... He begged me leave him to die alone. And I believed him… because I feared for my life, should I come to love him while he died. We each bear our proper curse, you and I, that is sure.”
“You think this disguise will fool him?”
She shook her head. “I need not. He will want a meeting. This,” she ran her hands down over her illusory youth and beauty, “was for the magelings, those children at the gates. As for you: stay clear of this matter, my brother. There is no time for quailing or philosophical debates, now. You never were competent to simply act, unencumbered by judgment or conscience. Don’t try to change on my account. I will deal with the entelechy, and then I will drink even his name dry of meaning. Like that!” She snapped her fingers, twirled on her heel, and flounced off in a good imitation of a young woman offended by a forward soldier.
While he watched, Aškelon appeared from the crowd to bar her path, a golden coin held out before him like a wand or a warding charm.
That fast did he have her, too fast for Tempus to get between them, simply by the mechanism of invoking her curse: for pay, she must give herself to any comer. He watched them flicker out of being with his stomach rolling and an ache in his throat. It was some little while before he saw anything external, and then he saw Nikodemos showing off his gift-cuirass to Janni.
The two came up to him wondering why it was, when everyone else’s armaments had been taken from them, Niko, who had arrived in shabby duty gear, had been given better than ever he could afford. Tempus drew slowly into his present, noting Molin Torchholder’s gaudy figure nearby, and a kohl-eyed lady (who might easily be an infiltrator from the Mygdonian Alliance) talking to Lastel.
He asked his Stepsons to make her acquaintance:
“She might be smuggling drugs into Sanctuary with Lastel’s help, but don’t arrest her for trifles. If she is a spy, perhaps she will try to recruit a Stepson disaffected enough with his lot. Either of you – a single fighter or half a broken pair – could fit that description.”
“At the least, we must plumb her body’s secrets, Stealth,” Janni rumbled to Niko as the two strutted her way, looking virile and predatory.
With a scowl of concern for the Stepson to whom he was bound by ill-considered words, Tempus sought out Torchholder. As he slid with murmured greetings and apologies through socialites and Hazard-class adepts, Tempus recalled Niko’s blank and steady eyes: the boy knew his danger and trusted his commander, as a Sacred Bander must, to see him through it. No remonstrance or doubt had shown in the fighter called Stealth’s open countenance, that Tempus would come here against Aškelon’s wishes, and risk a Stepson’s life. It was war, the boy’s calm said, what they both did and what they both knew. Later, perhaps there would be explanations – or not. Tempus knew that Niko, should he survive, would never broach the subject.
“Torchholder, I think you ought to go see to the First Consort’s baby,” he said as his hand came down heavily on the palace priest’s bebaubled shoulder.
Torchholder was already pulling on his beard, his mouth curled with anger, when he turned. Assessing Tempus’ demeanor, the priest’s face did a dance which ended in a mien of knowing caution. “Ah, yes, I did mean to look in on Seylalha and her babe. Thank you for reminding me, Hell Hound.”
“Stay with her,” Tempus whispered as Molin sought to brush by him, “or get them both to a safer place –”
“We got your message this afternoon, Hound,” the privy priest hissed, and he was gone.
Tempest was just thinking that it was well Fete Week only came once yearly when, above him in the pink, tented clouds, winter gloom began to spread; and beside him, a hand closed upon his left arm with a numbingly painful grip: Jihan had arrived.
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Presentation at Library of Congress Youtube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EylzKQa4yg