Legions Of Fire – Snippet 44

This book should be out now so this is the last snippet.

Legions Of Fire – Snippet 44

“Your lordship,” he said in a clear voice to the bearded man. He didn’t bow. “I am Publius Corylus. What is it that you can tell me about the danger facing the Republic?”

“A wise youth,” the fellow rumbled. He smiled, but the expression was one that might have better fitted a wolf met on a forest trail. “How wise are you really, though? Will you take my advice?”

“Your lordship,” said Corylus. “I will do whatever I believe most benefits the Republic.”

The man laughed again, but with even less humor than before. “I thought I had summoned a warrior,” he said, his voice growing louder. “But here it seems I have a lawyer instead. Is that true, boy? Are you warrior or lawyer?”

“Your lordship,” said Corylus, swallowing, “I’m both. Or — trained as both. I will not take a stranger’s judgment over my own and the judgment of those whom I have learned to trust.”

“If he weren’t a warrior, One-Eye,” said Wisdom, “he would not have dared be a lawyer to your face.”

“Offer him the mead,” said Memory. “Men sometimes find fellowship in drink.”

“And sometimes drink brings death,” said Wisdom. The ravens laughed together.

The bearded man shrugged with a grim smile. He reached to his side with his left hand; a drinking horn, gold-banded and studded with smoothly polished jewels, suddenly rested on it. He drank from the horn, then held it out.

“Take it, warrior,” he said to Corylus. “Drink your fill. Drink it all, if you can.”

The horn was twisted and heavy in Corylus’ hands. If it came from a ram, it had been bigger than any sheep he’d ever seen.

He sipped. The liquor was dry and very strong, carrying the aroma of the herbs it had been brewed with. It and the word which the raven had called it by, mead, were unfamiliar.

Corylus found it difficult to handle the drinking horn without spilling. He’d seen such forms before — and had also seen human skulls mounted as cups by German chieftains — but he’d never tried to use one before.

“A sip for fellowship,” he said as he handed the liquor back. Being drunk wouldn’t help him in this situation, whatever the situation was. “Your lordship, why are these things happening to me? I’m no magician or priest either one.”

The bearded man lifted the horn and turned his hand, sending the mead out of the present. He bent forward slightly and said, “Twelve wizards of Hyperborea plan to loose the Sons of Muspelheim on Midworld, smothering you and all men in fire.”

“Nemastes!” Corylus blurted.

“When the Band was thirteen, Nemastes was among them,” said the bearded man. “Now they are the Twelve and Nemastes fights to block their plans.”

Corylus rocked back in his heels. “Sir,” he said, “then Nemastes isn’t our enemy? He wants to save us?”

The bearded man grinned. “Save you for cattle,” said Wisdom.

“Oh, he’s your enemy, Publius Corylus,” said Memory. “He believes that you’re the agent the Twelve have sent to stop him, as their bodies cannot leave the Horn.”

“But why would he think that?” said Corylus in puzzlement. “Why would any man want to stop him? That would mean to spread Vulcan’s fires across the Earth?”

“Why indeed, Corylus,” said Wisdom. “And yet your friend Varus is the tool of the Twelve.”

“You are active and resourceful,” said Memory. “So long as Nemastes thinks that the wizards whom he deserted are working through you, he will not pay attention to your friend. Until too late, while your world burns.”

There was no transition. As the words rang in his ears, Corylus stood over a sea of bubbling lava, orange and red and licked with the blue flames of sulfur. In every direction, fire lapped the horizon. The rock roared deafeningly, and the sky was a pall of black destruction.

Corylus was back in the cave again, staggered by the vision. Was this what Varus saw in the temple?

“The Midworld will burn,” said the bearded man, leaning back on his throne. “All who worship me in all times will burn. So, lawyer who is a warrior, you must act now: you must kill this Varus, for your own sake and your world’s.”

“I won’t kill my friend!” Corylus said. “I won’t kill anybody because you say to!”

“Then you’ll watch Midworld die!” the bearded man said. “You’ll watch your world die. And your friend will burn with you, you fool!”

The walls of frozen light shivered to his booming voice, their color changing from bluish through green and yellow to red. When he fell silent, they trembled back to their cool resting state.

Fear made Corylus want to run or to strike, but it was his duty to learn how to save his world. Not by killing his friend, though.

“Your lordship,” he said. “I’ll talk to Varus. He must not realize what he’s doing. When he does he, well, he won’t.”

“Will he believe you?” Wisdom asked. the ravens laughed.

The bearded man didn’t speak for a moment, but thunder boomed within the great cavern. The eye Corylus could see beneath the hat’s broad brim glittered like a light-struck sapphire.

“The Twelve have caught your friend, boy!” the bearded man said. “He won’t listen to you, he can’t.”

“If Gaius Varus dies now, the Twelve will not have time to find another cat’s paw . . . ,” said Wisdom. The bird’s tone was musing, not imperative. “Nemastes will shift the fire onto them instead.”

“Many men have died,” said Memory. “Throughout all time, every man born on Midworld has died –”

“– or will die,” Wisdom concluded.

“This Varus will destroy Nemastes,” the bearded man said, “and the Twelve will destroy Midworld. Unless you act, warrior!”

“Your lordship,” said Corylus. He swallowed; his mouth was very dry. “I will not.”

“Fool!” said the bearded man.

“And yet,” said Memory, “you have not always acted on the knowledge that you yourself bought at such a price, One-Eye.”

“The regret of a friend’s murder would be a terrible thing,” said Wisdom. “Better perhaps that Midworld should die; in fire this time.”

“As before it died in ice,” agreed Memory. “Better by far.”

“Fool!” repeated the bearded man, rising from the throne. He was greater than the cavern; its ceiling split in thunder, and the starry universe above burst more loudly still.

Corylus was falling. He would have shouted, but he had no breath in his lungs. He flailed in nothingness —

And shot upright. He was in the servant’s alcove of Varus’ suite. Moonlight streamed through the clerestory windows in the outside wall.

Corylus’ legs were cold. When he rubbed them, he found that his bare feet were wet with crystals of melting ice. He took a deep breath.

He’d thrown the coverlet off in the night; he hadn’t needed it in this weather. Smiling grimly, he tugged it up to cover his legs, then lay back on the couch and twitched shut the curtain.

He didn’t remember when he’d been so tired. He was asleep in moments, and he didn’t dream.

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