Cover image for Summerblood : a tale of Eron
Summerblood : a tale of Eron
Deitz, Tom.
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Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, [2001]

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323 pages ; 24 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this stirring sequel to the epic dramas ofBloodwinterandSpringwar, a new king must strive to heal a war-torn land, master a world-altering magic, and defeat a fanatical religious sect that will stop at nothing to gain total power. Peace has come to the realm of Eron, and with it a new High King: young, inexperienced Avall, victor in the war against Ixti, sole possessor of the magical gems taken from the mines of the frozen north. But as Eron attempts to heal from the bloody conflict, unrest once again grips this troubled land, stirred up by a secret cabal of powerful priests who call themselves the Ninth Face. Avall struggles to quell the unrest and to control the boundless magic of the mysterious gems. At the same time, Avall's twin sister, Merryn, must make her own arduous journey a step ahead of those who would gladly claim her life. But it is the fanatical leaders of the Ninth Face who pose the greatest danger. They have put in motion a deadly plan to drive Avall from the throne, destroy the power of the noble clans, and take possession of the gems themselves -- all in the name of their unbending god. For Eron the choice is stark indeed: an imperfect and inexperienced king ... or the tyranny of the righteous.

Author Notes

Tom Deitz is the author of 19 novels. His contemporary fantasies drew heavily on the mythic traditions of both the Native Americans and the ancient Celts. Deitz also recently won the Phoenix Award (2007). He died in 2009 and lived in Young Harris, Georgia.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Deitz's well-told tale continues the saga, begun in Bloodwinter (1999) and Springwar [BKL Jl 00], of a war between the kingdoms of Eron and Ixti that occurs simultaneously with internecine conflicts in both realms. The focus here is on Eron, of which Master Goldsmith Avall is now king. He is attempting to master the gems of power found in the mines of the north just before the war with Ixti. He intends to use the gems' power for rebuilding. His enemies have other ideas. Nastiest of those enemies is a clan of renegade priests who want, with the gems, to rule in the name of their equally nasty, unbending god. Although he suffers from writing the same basic story over again, Dietz manages, thanks to a well-developed setting and strong characters facing compelling internal and external dilemmas, to keep things intriguing enough to hold the readers the saga already has and win some more. Which means that most fantasy collections should consider adding anything Dietz does--there aren't enough fantasy writers like him. --Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

Inspired by Native American and Celtic myths, Dietz spins a third engaging tale of his medieval world of Eron and its large cast of credible characters. Familiarity with the two previous novels in the series, Bloodwinter and Springwar, will help the reader appreciate the complex interweaving of king, clan, guild (or craft) and religion. Anyone who has had an unwanted promotion can identify with goldsmith Avall, who as victorious war leader finds himself on the Eron throne. And he doesn't sit easily. Coupled with his own doubts and fears of incompetence are the challenges facing Eron in its recovery from the devastating war against the Ixti, as what follows war in any medieval society is an equally devastating plague. Add to this the distrust of other clans and the machinations of former friends and advisers, who may be working toward their own ends. But most contentious of all is the "bloodstone," a symbiotic, transdimensional gem that men both treasure and fear. It gives its owner unimaginable power and like all such talismans it can corrupt and must be used with knowledge and caution. With the war and the plague behind him, Avall may be faced with his greatest challenge yet, the threat of civil war from the fanatical band of priests known as the Ninth Gate. They have announced their dislike of the gem's power and may be out to use it for themselves. Dietz once again shows himself to be a master of psychological, sociological and political fantasy. (Apr. 10) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Determined not to abuse the inherent power of the magical gems that helped him win the war against the Ixti and ascend to the throne of Eron, Avall finds himself threatened by a renegade faction of priests intent on claiming power for themselves. Continuing his epic tale of rival clans in a land decimated by plague, Dietz (Bloodwinter, Springwar) weaves an intricate tale of war and sorcery that features believable characters and a fresh look at how magic works. A good addition to most fantasy collections. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Tests and Tempering (Eron: Tir-Eron -- High Summer: Day XL -- midday) It was the most beautiful weapon in Eron -- and the most deadly. It was one of the three most beautiful objects in Eron, and had been made, in large part, by Eron's most beautiful woman. Who also happened to be its best bladesmith -- and its third best smith of any kind. Never mind that she was Avall syn Argen-a's wife, and thereby consort to the High King of all Eron. None of which explained Avall's reluctance to touch that weapon now. The Lightning Sword, some had begun to style it, though it wasn't lightning that blade brought from the Overworld, but something less easily defined -- and more potent. Avall's slim, callused hand hovered a finger's length above the gold-leafed ropework casting that comprised the hilt. A ruddy gem gleamed balefully midway along its length -- a gem there was good reason to assume was what most of his countrymen would have called magic. That was why he hesitated, swallowing apprehensively, as he let his gaze slide around the room. It was the topmost chamber of the least-used tower in the lofty, rough-rock pile called the Citadel, which was the seat of Eron's High King -- which title, for a quarter year, and much against his will, was now Avall's. The walls slanted slightly inward and were made of beige sandstone, smoothed to an even grainy finish, but with no ornamentation save a band of interlace relief at waist level. The floor was stone as well, beneath vaults of a different stone, and the sturdy oak table-safe against the wall opposite the single door was likewise hewn from stone. Narrow windows marking three cardinal directions matched the door for height; and the warm light of summer afternoon lanced in through the western one, flooding the chamber with a cheery radiance at odds with Avall's anxious scowl. His shadow brushed a pair of stone benches flanking the oak-barred entrance, the nearer of which was occupied by his two closest friends -- who appeared by turns frustrated, nervous, and impatient, clutching, as they did, the rest of the royal regalia. The younger, his cousin, Lykkon syn Argen-a, would be twenty the upcoming autumn; the elder, Avall's bond-brother, Rann syn Eemon-arr, would be twenty-one at summer's end. Like Avall himself, they were middle-sized young men, tending toward slim, as did most of their countrymen, and with the near-ubiquitous dark blue eyes and handsome, angular faces of High Clan Eronese. At the moment, all three sported short-cropped black hair growing out from the close-clip they'd affected during the recent war with their southern neighbor, but shoulder length was far more typical. They were even dressed alike, in soft indoor slippers, house-hose, and short-tunics that favored their slender bodies. Avall and Lykkon were in Argen's maroon; Rann, in Eemon's midnight-blue, quartered with Stone's black and silver. An incredibly beautiful shield spanned the space between the floor and Lykkon's knees. Kite-shaped, it was, though curved; made of alloys the working of which was denied to Avall's sept of Smithcraft; and ornamented with patterns that, while not quite traditional interlace, nevertheless evoked it. Rann held the helm in his lap. A gem identical to that in the sword gleamed between the gilded-bronze browridges -- a gem Avall had found himself, when the helm had merely been part of a commission for a now-incapacitated King, and he but an ordinary smith, newly raised to manhood. Were it not for the gleaming nasal between the gaping eye sockets, it would strongly resemble a skull; what with its gently domed crown, and the angular cheek guards to either side that mimicked jawbones. Lykkon exhaled pointedly, drumming his fingers on the shield's upper rim. "It won't bite," he chided, when Avall's hand showed no sign of moving. A deep breath, and Avall picked up the sword -- by the scabbard, yet even so it nudged at him, like a pet demanding notice. Or a serpent poised to strike. Turning, he motioned his companions to their feet and unlocked the door one-handed, before following them out and to the left, up a curving stair that spat them out on the roof one level higher. Inward-curving merlons rose around them like stone fingers -- though whether they shielded those within or the world without, Avall wasn't certain. Only two of the Citadel's towers rose higher, visible as shadows against the north face of the gorge in which Tir-Eron lay. Lore's tower was taller, too, but it was farther down the Ri-Eron and blocked from view by the stair turret. Not that height was needed in any case, as much as the privacy it afforded. For, in spite of being utterly exposed, no one else in Tir-Eron could see what transpired there. "I'm trying to test some things," Avall told Rann, who stood nearest. "And while this isn't the best place for what I plan, it's the only one available without traveling for at least a hand." Rann's reply was one of those absent, preoccupied nods that served him as conversation of late. A shadow flickered across Avall's face, but he suppressed the urge to confront its cause. There'd be time for that later: time and more time. "Lyk," he continued pointedly, "I probably don't need to tell you this, but I want you to observe this very closely." Lykkon likewise nodded, and stepped closer to the stone table that Avall had caused to be erected, with great secrecy, in the middle of the tower three days before. Atop the polished granite lay a hand-thick slab of the strongest steel Eronese metalsmiths had yet contrived. That, in turn, was covered by a span-wide strip of white velvet, which shrouded an oblong mass raised another hand above the steel. Avall whisked the fabric away, revealing a series of identically sized ingots of every major metal known in Eron, ranged from soft gold and tin to alloyed iron, all interspersed with lengths of oak, ash, pine, and maple, and four kinds of glass. The whole row was slightly shorter than the sword blade. "'Waiting proves nothing but patience,'" Avall informed Lykkon, to preempt his cousin quoting the ancient proverb. And with that, he retrieved the helm from Rann and set it upon his head, twisting his neck to ensure a proper seat, while Rann moved to buckle it beneath his chin. A metallic rustle to his left was Lykkon fitting the shield to his outstretched arm. Avall fumbled for the grip, careful not to trigger what a onetime rival had set there. And then there was no more cause for delay. Waving his friends back to the relative safety of the turret, he slapped his free hand against the helm in a certain way, even as his other squeezed the shield's grip. Hidden studs triggered hidden barbs in helm and shield alike, and metal bit into his flesh, drawing blood, then feeding it by embedded lengths of rare bloodwire to the thumb-sized red stones gleaming between his eyes and within his fist. A deep breath, and he unsheathed the sword, fingers already seeking one final trigger. Found -- and then that hand, too, fed the gems blood. And with that feeding, Avall was fed in turn. Power ran up his arm from the sword, and met more rushing toward it from the shield, and the two collided in his brain, which was itself being empowered by the gem in the helm. And so he stood there, poised and tense, as his mind sought to wrest those forces into balance. A moment it took, while they warred within him, for the regalia had been made for the previous High King and suited the paths of his mind more precisely than Avall's. Then, abruptly, he was ready. Had he wanted to call down lightning to smash the surrounding stones or reduce his companions to chunks of charred meat, he could have done so with a twitch of a finger. Yet when he closed his eyes and envisioned the Overworld, and the sword ripping a gateway through to that place, and gathering up matter there like jam scooped onto a knife, he tried to make the smallest rent possible and retrieve the merest mite of Overworldly matter he could manage. Even so, the sword tingled in his hand. And when he could wait no longer -- when the sword was like his impassioned manhood desperate for release in the throes of lust -- he slowly lowered it until the blade was a finger above the ingots. And let it fall. Metal rang, and the sky rang, and power flowed out of him like water from a broken jar. The world turned stark white for half a breath, and smelled of hot ores and scorched wood. Rather like a forge smelled, actually. But if this was a forge, Avall was Lord Craft himself -- and it was blasphemy to claim so close an identity with The Eight. He was vaguely aware of Lykkon easing nearer, and of Rann hanging back, before his vision cleared enough to witness what he had wrought. The sword had sheared through the wood like a scythe through new grain, and the path of its passing showed clear down to the underlying steel, which had also begun to part. The other ingots had likewise been sundered. Which he'd expected. What he'd been curious about was how the damage would manifest beyond the point of impact -- to determine whether it was heat or some other energy that accompanied the weapon's use. "What do you think, Lyk?" he asked his kinsman. Lykkon fanned smoke away and squinted closer. "As best I can tell, there's no correlation between melting points of metal and extent of damage. The steel shows signs of damage farther out than the lead, and the tin's just cut straight through, with no sign of melting at all." Avall blinked within his helm. "And the glass?" "Raise the sword." Avall did -- and found that the blade did not come away cleanly. Instead, one glass ingot rose with it, as though the sword were a log that had frozen in ice. Lykkon touched the ingot gingerly, then gave it an experimental tug. It resisted briefly, then came free -- showing a narrow channel where the blade had been. But no sign of melting. "Not the same effect," he mused. "Beyond that, I'll need to do some measuring. But my guess--" He paused and looked at Avall. "My guess is that some substances either go straight to smoke and vapor -- or straight to the Overworld." Avall could wait no longer. Resheathing the sword, he snaked his other arm free of the shield, then reached up to remove the helmet, grateful to taste clear air and see open sky. Setting the regalia aside as though it were any Common Clan soldier's gear, he inspected the ingot more closely. "You're right," he agreed. "Not much melting." "Which means?" A shrug. "You tell me." Lykkon scowled. "I don't know what it means. But if we're right: If that thing draws matter from the Overworld, which manifests here as energy, like the shield sends energy from here to there, where it manifests as -- well, we don't know how it manifests -- I think what we have here is a case where you've sent matter to the Overworld. Otherwise, there'd be some sign of melting along all the relevant junctures, and there isn't." "You said it could've vaporized," Rann reminded him. Lykkon shrugged. "There's no way to tell at present. I'll have to think of some way to test that notion. For now--" "For now," Avall finished for him, "I've had enough experimenting." Without waiting either comment or consent -- he was, after all, King -- he distributed the regalia among his comrades and shooed them back into the tower. A trickle of blood slid into one eye, from where the helm-gem's trigger had pricked him. He rubbed at it absently: the price one paid for knowledge. They paused in the holding chamber only long enough to return the regalia to the table-safe and lock the door, before continuing down another level to a room that was far more opulent than the austere one above. These walls were covered with fine tapestries, the floors with luxurious carpet, and the furniture, though sparse, was comfortable. A small table by the door held a carafe of wine, chilling beside three golden goblets -- which Lykkon filled without asking. Rann found a sofa and flopped down in it, looking listless. Avall settled beside him, closer than the sofa's size required. He stroked Rann's thigh absently, the familiar flesh hard and sleek beneath the thin sylk of summer hose. "So," he began, accepting a goblet from Lykkon with his free hand, "what am I going to do with what's upstairs? I've given myself two days to decide, and two days aren't sufficient." "You've had two eights," Lykkon retorted. "You've also had opinions from everyone from Tyrill and Preedor down to my brother, Bingg. I can't tally the times you and I have hashed this out, or -- I imagine -- you and Strynn and Merryn. And Rann," he finished awkwardly, looking flustered. Avall didn't know if he likewise looked flustered, but he certainly felt that way, given that Rann was paying them no mind at all. Not from spite or rudeness, he knew, but for another reason. Rann's Common Clan lover, Div, had departed Tir-Eron two eights ago as part of an escort for the royal harper, Kylin, who wanted to retrieve his chief-harp from Gem-Hold-Winter. Which was convenient, since Div also needed to secure a few things from the hold she'd appropriated in the Wild, before closing the place for good -- so everyone assumed -- and returning to Tir-Eron, where she had an appointment in the Royal Guard. Rann had been listless and distracted ever since, in spite of Avall's efforts to keep him occupied. Not for the first time did he wonder how Rann comported himself when the two of them were apart. Then again, he and Rann had a formal bond, with the security thereby implied. Rann had no guarantee Div would return, beyond her word. Given the difference between their ages and stations, there was reason to think she might not. Rann patted Avall's hand. "I'm sorry, Vall," he murmured. "I just don't have anything to add." Avall stood abruptly. Suddenly furious, he stomped to the window and leaned against its casement, glowering. "Dammit, dammit, dammit!" he spat. "You lads are no help at all. You're supposed to be my friends. More to the point, you're supposed to be royal advisers, you're supposed to--" "We're not supposed to make decisions for you," Lykkon broke in harshly. "That's part of being King." "Which I never wanted to be," Avall shot back. "Which you know perfectly well." "Because you've told everyone in sight every time you've seen them since it happened," Rann muttered. "And I still say," Lykkon added, "that if you'd try to like it, you might find you actually do. It can't be that bad, Vall. Anything you really can't manage, you can foist off on someone else. If you're clever, you can foist off nearly everything." "Except the wretched regalia," Avall growled. "Which isn't necessarily bad," Rann inserted. "It adds fear to the equation you've already got." "Which would be?" A resigned sigh. "Liking and respect -- which are not the same. Those of us who know you, by and large like you. Those who don't know you -- which includes everyone who was at the Battle of the Storms last spring -- still respect you for what you can do." "Story of my life," Avall snorted. "No one cares who I am, only what I can do, and more to the point these days, what I can do for them. I had no idea there were so many needy people in Eron -- not in need of food or material goods, but for someone to think for them. I had no notion how badly the plague had gutted this country. How many whole clans have no one with passion enough to act quickly and accept change, yet who also have sufficient experience to distinguish between risk and fool- hardiness." Lykkon chuckled. "You sound like you're a thousand years old." "I feel like it, too -- sometimes. But the fact is, we're a nation of old people, who are mostly set in their ways, and those like ourselves, who are barely more than children and who get tired of running into a rule or a rite every time we turn around. We've no folk who are neither tired of making decisions, nor scared to make them. Look at us. None of us has either father or one-father. Lyk, you don't even have a mother." "Which has nothing to do with why you can't decide what to do about the regalia," Lykkon observed quietly. "You also sounded like you had a second point -- before you so conveniently distracted yourself into another whining session." Avall felt another stir of anger, though he wasn't certain if it was his self that felt it, or his uncomfortable royal persona. He fought it down ruthlessly. "What I was going to say," he continued with forced calm, "was that the mere existence of the regalia -- especially the sword, which the lower clans seem to think is the key to everything, which it isn't -- is a temptation to too many people. It represents too much power in too small a place." Rann chuckled grimly. "I'm not sure about everyone else, but I'd be willing to bet Priest-Clan would give one of The Eight to know where you store it." "Which is why I have the entire Citadel between it and the outer gates, and ten levels of well-guarded tower under the supervision of what's left of the Night Guard, and that under Veen, whom I trust as much as anyone who's martially inclined -- besides Merryn, of course." "Forgetting that your wife is also from War," Lykkon noted dryly. "Forgetting." "Speaking of forgetting," Rann took up, "one thing you're forgetting is that one reason you're so popular is that you command that which gave us victory over Ixti. People who've won something are generally happy people, even if it only restores the previous norm. People like heroes, and you've provided one. The fact that you're young doesn't hurt, either; nor the fact that few outside your clan and the Council had heard of you, which gives you an aura of mystery." "Nor does it hurt," Lykkon went on eagerly, "that the new King of Ixti adores you." "Speaking of whom," Rann put in, "what about Kraxxi? Do you think he'll be able to retain power, given that--" "Given what?" Avall snapped. "He's the legitimate heir. He's been trained to be king since birth, which I certainly haven't. He's made the best peace we've ever had between our two countries." "Some would say he's sold Ixti's independence," Lykkon challenged. "There are some -- most of whom are beating a hasty retreat back to Ixti, fortunately -- who would say that he's unable to decide anything without your permission -- or Merryn's, even though we know he had exactly three private audiences with her before he and his army withdrew. But in any case, a big chunk of Ixti's army has now been to Eron. We're no longer rumor and myth to them. And they will have seen -- or heard -- how little resistance we gave them. For generations we relied on War-Hold to police the border, and the rumor of War-Hold's impregnability to forestall attack. The Eight know we've seen how much power rumor and reputation can manifest." "Countering that," Avall replied, "is the fact that the people in Ixti are probably a lot like the people here. They'd rather be comfortable and happy than rich, powerful, and anxious -- at least in their hearts. Most of them probably think that any move against Kraxxi will bring down the wrath of Eron upon them -- in the form of the Lightning Sword. Which brings us back to that." "So," Rann sighed, "has this conversation accomplished anything? Has it changed your thinking? Has it brought you closer to decision?" "It's made me decide that I'm going to get everyone I even halfway trust together for one final meeting on the subject and then decide." "And in the meantime?" Avall shrugged. "Well, you know I'd like to get in some smithing, since that's what I've actually been trained to do." Rann cleared his throat uncomfortably, exchanging glances with Lykkon. "While we're speaking of uncomfortable topics, we might as well bring up the other one." "The gem," Lykkon added. "We've no choice, Vall. It's another wild card in the Kingdom." Avall snorted. "A few more of those, and we can cheat for the rest of our lives." Lykkon's eyes narrowed. "It is getting better -- so you said. The last time--" "I said that to make you leave me alone about it," Avall growled. "Clearly it didn't work." Yet his hand was already fumbling for one of the two fine chains that hung around his neck, one silver, one gold. It was the gold he sought and reeled from the depths of his tunic. A sphere of thick glass depended from the end, within which something gleamed murky red. A metal band also encircled it, with a minute clasp to one side. Holding his breath, Avall touched the clasp. A tiny click, and the sphere parted, releasing its contents into his palm. A gem. Like the three gems that adorned the regalia. Like the gems that Rann and Strynn -- and he himself, on the other chain -- wore around their throats. But this was the master gem. The first-found gem. The gem that had awakened so many things in the last half year, many of which should have remained quiescent. It had been the only gem, too -- for a while -- and Avall felt a unique bond with it. Certainly it was he who had found it in the mines beneath Gem-Hold-Winter. He who'd awakened it with his own blood by purest accident, and who'd discovered -- and was still discovering -- the powers its like could confer on humankind. Unfortunately, those powers were not easily concealed, and first Avall's cousin Eddyn, then the late King of Ixti himself, Barrax min Fortan, had coveted that gem. And when a careless accident on Avall's part had resulted in Eddyn seizing it and promptly disappearing, only to find himself hundreds of shots away -- which had, in turn, resulted in the gem falling into Barrax's hands -- why, then Avall had feared he'd lost it forever. He'd been devastated, too -- at first -- for the link 'twixt gem and wielder was stronger than he'd known. Which hadn't stopped Barrax from trying to master the gem in his own right -- a mistake that had cost him his life. Which was why Avall feared to use the gem now. Rann and Lykkon were watching him, too. And those two most cherished friends would show no mercy. "Maybe it's changed," Rann murmured, barely audible. Avall shot him a disgusted glare. "Maybe." And closed the hand, still oozing blood from where it had held the sword, around the gleaming stone. But where once it would have greeted him with something akin to gladness -- with a rush of power, liking, and well-being, rather like a friendly dog, now he met a dark, shrieking madness like that same dog cursed with the foaming plague. He'd expected as much, however; was even used to it, a little. The problem -- and danger -- came when he ventured deeper into what ravened there. Barrax had been wearing the gem when he'd died, and his death had imprinted itself within it, so that beneath that surface gloss of madness, Barrax's death lay coiled and waiting, ever ready to tell its own tale of his horror and despair. Yet even the shell of madness that enclosed it had sense enough to warn him away, like burning guardsmen around a house engulfed in conflagration. He touched it anyway, in case-- In case, he supposed, the terror within might, even slightly, have abated. Yet no matter how gentle his mental probe, death felt him, grabbed him, and sucked him down. It was like falling ... forever. Worse, it was like that first jolt of fear that falling engenders -- repeated endlessly. And with it came endless regret, and endless anger, and a waxing dread that what waited at the end would be more horrible than the journey there. But worst of all was the fact that he could feel his self dissolving, like the lights of the city winking out one by one. Except that every light was a memory, and he had no choice but to watch them die. And that but for one brief moment. Then it was gone -- because someone had set fire to all of reality, and in that fire, his link to that waiting death was consumed. He blinked, opened his eyes. And, caught up in that characteristic slowing-down of time that accompanied use of the gem, had ample occasion to note Lykkon standing before him, gaze shifting between Avall's face and his open -- and empty -- hand. A hand that was still stinging from where Lykkon had slapped it to knock the gem away. Avall was on his feet at once, and on all fours as quickly, desperate to find the gem. For whatever it did, it was his and he would never abandon it again. "It's here," Rann offered mildly, kneeling to reach under a chair. His voice sounded coarse and stretched -- almost a growl: another residual effect of the gem on Avall's senses. He wore gloves, too, Avall noted. Thick ones he would not have brought by accident. "Are you--?" Lykkon began hesitantly, concern adding years to his young face. "I'm fine," Avall managed, through a series of deep breaths punctuated by the shivers working with the gems provoked. Time had almost shifted back to normal. "If you're sure..." He masked a shiver with a shrug. The others were shivering as well, he noted, with smug satisfaction. Rann rose, pried the gem's locket from Avall's other hand, reinserted the stone, then closed it again and returned it. "Was there any change?" Another shrug. "Maybe it wasn't as bad as the last time -- the same way having one finger immersed in ice water while the rest of you is being burned alive wouldn't be as bad as all of you burning." Lykkon -- true to form -- had filled mugs of hot cider, and thrust one into Avall's free hand. "Can you be more specific?" Recalling the memory was like tearing the scab from a wound. "It was more or less the same," Avall conceded. "But the bad thing, Lyk, is that I know that beneath the madness and the warning and the memories of Barrax's death, the gem I remember still exists. It's like one of those stories where you have to win through all the traps around the enchanted palace to rescue the princess." "Which means?" Rann prompted. "Which means I'll have to try it again. And that I'll put it off as long as I can, and that I'll hate it just as much when I do." "I'm sorry," Rann murmured. "For what it's worth. And I repeat what I've offered before. If you ever want to link with me, I'll go there with you. Strynn probably would as well." "So would I," Lykkon chimed in, "if you'd let me use your other gem -- as would Merryn and Bingg and several other folks. They -- we -- think that maybe sane gems might cure insane ones." "It's not really insane," Avall spat. "It's just full of death. And it's terrible, and I would never, ever inflict that on anyone I cared about. And when I say that, I'm very glad I am King and can forbid it. Which I hereby do." Rann grunted and sat back down, looking glum. Lykkon merely looked thoughtful, and jotted something in the journal he always kept with him. The room lapsed into silence, though troubled looks spoke loudly. Eventually Avall finished his drink and rose. "Well, lads," he said, with forced ebullience, "Kingship waits on no man -- and I have an errand I must attend. If either of you feel like braving a trip to Argen-Hall, I'd be glad of the company." It was just as well Avall sought companions for his journey, and not merely Rann and Lykkon, but an eight of Royal Guard under the command of compact, square-faced Lady Veen, who was one of three new Guard-Chiefs he'd appointed after the war. It was also a mistake to go on foot, even if uncrowned and uncloaked, since they had scarcely traveled half a shot along the wide riverside promenade that began at the Citadel before Avall was recognized by one of those clots of disgruntled Common Clan citizens who'd become much more prevalent since the war. And while the strength of his reputation rested largely with Common Clan, so did one of his greatest threats. He knew who they were the moment the first overripe fruit sailed past his face to land liquidly on the cobblestones a span to his left. More followed -- and worse. He resisted the urge to hasten his step, even as the Guard moved off to quell that disturbance -- with quarterstaves, since Avall had forbidden the use of blades for that purpose, save in self-defense. Nor was it the offal that concerned him, but the words. "The Eight belong to everyone," came the chant, low at first, but swelling in volume, with the odd extra comment thrown in. "The King serves The Eight, not The Eight the King." And "Heed The Eight or breed more wars." The Commoners were backing away, however -- but with challenge in their eyes that did not bode well for future altercations. Avall had already started to recall the Guard when the second heckler from the right suddenly broke ranks with his fellows and charged, brandishing what looked like an Ixtian sword -- probably loot from the war. "Heretic!" he yelled as he pounded across the paving -- so suddenly he pierced the line of Guards before they could recover. War-Hold-trained reflexes set Avall at alert, while Rann and Lykkon moved to flank him on either side. Even so, the man was barely four spans away before Avall finally found the hilt of the sword ritual required he wear. Yet his blade had scarcely cleared the scabbard before the assailant froze in place then bolted -- back to rejoin his fellows, who'd retreated to the wall beside the river. All defiance had vanished from their faces. Indeed, it looked as though they might all jump in if Avall pursued. Veen looked to Avall for direction, reluctant to forsake her greater charge for a lesser. He motioned her to return, sick at heart at what the man's failure of nerve implied. They feared him; that was certain now. Worse, they feared the sword he did not even carry at his side. Their words remained, too: a legacy of doubt. "They think we caused the war," Avall murmured to Lykkon. "They think that because Gynn and I were forced to use powers they assume came from The Eight, we're claiming that power for ourselves." Lykkon shook his head. "They think, cousin, that you risked cutting them off from The Eight to serve your own ends. Priest-Clan makes a dangerous foe." "Eellon risked much when he locked up their Chiefs," Rann added. "Because they threatened to rebel in the middle of a war." "We know that," Lykkon retorted. "Those others--" "Some of them call me hero -- for reasons for which they've no more proof." "Cousin--" "It's a knife edge," Avall sighed, and by then the Guard had closed ranks with him. Still, he didn't relax until he reached the rough trilithon gate that marked the entrance to Argen-Hall-Prime, the stronghold of Avall's birth-clan and -craft. Not that he paid much heed to the ancient splendor of truncated towers and round-arched arcades sprawling off to either side; rather, he made straight for the Clan-Chief's suite on the third level. And almost quelled before the door for fear of what lay inside, whose domain he was suddenly very conscious of invading. Indeed, King or no, he might well have retreated down the hall, had the door warden not been someone he knew: a slight, narrow-faced youth named Myx, who was only a few years older than he. Originally from Stone, and distant kin to Rann, Myx's star had risen with Avall's by virtue of his simply being at the right place at one very crucial time, and swearing an oath so potent it still bound him. And Myx, at least, would be honest with him concerning what he was about to face. "Shall I announce--?" Myx asked carefully, a sad half smile of friendship overlying deeper pain. "I'm not here as the King," Avall gave back. "But -- how is he? Really?" Myx merely shook his head. "Better you see for yourself, Majesty. Expect the worst, and you won't be disappointed." Avall exchanged glances with his companions, squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and motioned for Myx to open the door. The chamber to the right of the entry vestibule was unlit, but someone had left the windows and doors open in the room beyond, so that the sweet air and bright light of summer still entered. The effect was unsettling, too, Avall's own brushes with death having been accompanied by cold. It seemed impossible someone should die on a warm, sunny day. But Eellon syn Argen-a, who was still officially Chief of Clan Argen, which ruled Smithcraft, was dying. Very quickly, it appeared. Avall approached the sickbed with trepidation. In order to accommodate the large number of visitors come to pay their respects to the old Clan-Chief, and to better facilitate what little treatment was attempted anymore, the suite had been stripped almost bare. Eellon's bed lay with its head precisely placed between two archways that led into the sunlit room beyond. Low sofas lined the walls, but they looked uninviting -- and probably were, to discourage lingering visitors. As for the old man himself -- Avall was glad he was swathed to the armpits in a sweep of glimmering golden fabric. Unfortunately, the color made Eellon's already sallow complexion look worse. As it was, his face looked like someone had d raped wrinkled, yellow-white sylk across a skull on which a nose and lips had been hastily wrought from clay. Yet he breathed -- a reedy, raspy, rattle. And, in spite of all efforts to the contrary, he stank: a too-sweet smell of sweat, rot, and pain that no amount of Ixtian incense could abate. Avall wished he'd brought a stick of imphor to chew -- not only because the fumes could overpower most other odors, but for the false strength the drug imparted. Myx was right. Eellon was worse than ever; indeed, he was only technically alive. It was a sad conclusion to ninety years, Avall reflected, most of them spent strong of mind and body, and more of them strong of mind alone. But then, last winter, a cough had become a fever in the lungs. Headaches and accelerated heartbeat followed, and then one day Eellon had grasped his head in Council and collapsed. Something had ruptured in his brain, his healer said. At least the old Chief wasn't like some men thus afflicted, who lolled half-awake, trying desperately to send words along the dead paths between a living brain and a useless tongue. Avall didn't touch him or speak to him. That would provoke nothing but frustration for both of them, though he could hear Lykkon stifle a sob, and sense Rann gone tense as a board, through that odd linkage they sometimes shared. Maybe-- He was jerked from reverie by footsteps approaching from the sunlit room beyond. Steps he recognized instantly, by the slow, deliberate tread. Tyrill. Once Craft-Chief of Smith, now -- though she was not the oldest mentally competent member of Clan Argen in Tir-Eron -- Acting Clan-Chief as well. Her mouth twitched when she saw him, but Avall was unable to read the implications. Traditionally, she had little use for him, beyond a begrudged respect for his facility at metalwork. But traditionally she and Eellon had been bitter rivals, yet she barely left his side now -- proof that the line between love and hate was thinner than supposed. Still, the uneasy truce that she and Avall had contrived in the days after his Acclamation as King was a fragile, desperate thing, and Avall always felt as though he were walking on quick-fire around her. King he might be, but he was also a man of her clan, if not her sept. Never mind that she'd taught him a good chunk of what he knew about smithing. It was hard to break that conditioning and be King, not the little boy Tyrill seemed always to expect. "Avall," she murmured finally, with an absent nod of steel-gray hair, signifying by that a blood-bond of Chief to clansman, not the oath-bond of Chief to Sovereign. "Tyrill," he gave back, motioning her to sit, which she did. "There's only one question," Tyrill volunteered bluntly. "How long will he live? And the answer is barely more debatable. His healers say three days because they think that's what we want to hear. I say two -- if that." Avall exhaled a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "So little? Still, it would be a blessing for all of us. Waiting isn't something I do well, and waiting for this. For the world to change..." "It already has," Tyrill rasped. "The world just doesn't know it yet. And with that in mind, I've taken the liberty of summoning those chiefs not already in Tir-Eron--" "Are there any?" Lykkon broke in, genuinely surprised. "I've been keeping a tally--" Tyrill regarded him keenly, as though torn between praising his foresight and condemning the interruption. "The sept-chiefs from here, South, Half, and Mid Gorges are all present. The -el chief from North is ill and may predecease Eellon, from what I hear. The subchiefs from all those holds less than an eight-day's ride away are also either here or in transit. Not so much out of curiosity -- we know who's older than who -- but because powerful people are drawn to the smell of history in process. And there is the matter of mental competence. It's one thing to claim that, it's another to display it. Some days I'm not even sure I'm competent myself." Avall could think of no reply. Tyrill seemed to need comfort, and he didn't know how to provide it. She'd never needed it before, and he'd never tried. Besides which, she'd always had her own favorite, Eddyn. Eddyn syn Argen-yr, whose bronze likeness, newly cast by Tyrill herself, now stood in Argen-yr's water court. Eddyn, Tyrill's favorite two-son and protege, one of the three best smiths of his generation -- and a rapist, a murderer, an exile, a hero, and -- some said -- a self-deluded fool. Yet Tyrill had lived for him, then through him, and Avall suddenly wondered how much longer she would last, once a successor for Eellon was named. But he wouldn't think about that now. Couldn't think about it. It had been a mistake to come here. "Do what you think best," he heard himself telling Tyrill as he started for the door. "When it finally happens and we sit in conclave, you know I'll do everything in my power to be present." "But who will you support?" Tyrill shot back, with what almost seemed like glee. "The two eldest claimants are exactly of an age, and one is from -yr, and one from -a. Will you do the right thing, or will politics once more prevail?" "I will do what seems right to me," Avall assured her from the door. "As, I'm certain, will you." Excerpted from Summerblood: A Tale of Eron by Tom Deitz All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.