Now for the first time in e-book, a collection of Tanith Lee’s short stories and novella about the fantastical adventures of Cyrion, a hero larger than life.
Roilant needs a hero—fast. He’s trapped, betrothed to his cousin Eliset in an agreement made to help the destitute branches of their family line. But rumor has it that Eliset is a witch, a villainess behind the deaths of many in his family, and if Roilant weds her, he’ll meet the same fate. Roilant didn’t put much stock in the rumors—until, that is, he tried to call off the betrothal. Since then, he’s been plagued by a series of nightmares demanding he return to Eliset’s side by the end of the month.
If he goes to her, he’ll surely be murdered for his fortune, but if he stays, he fears his cousin will kill him and his beloved, the woman he loves. Convinced only one man alive can help him, Roilant stumbles into the Honey Garden inn looking for a legend—a man named Cyrion.
All anyone seems to have are stories, but everyone’s heard tell of the mighty Cyrion. They say that he looks like an angel, with hair like the sky of earnest sunrise. That he’s an adventurer, a vanquisher of evil and a defender of man. That he’s a fearless swordsman, a master of disguise, and a genius detective. Some say he’s defeated demons and outwitted wizards. That he’s solved impossible mysteries and survived inescapable death. But is he for real? And—more importantly—is he for hire?
Release date: June 7, 2022
Print pages: 364
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The Honey Garden
The plump young man with the bright ginger hair caused something of a sensation as he entered the inn. It was not intentional.
Dazzled by the hard sunlight of the streets, he judged the three steps of the threshold as two. Finding otherwise, and breaking into an involuntary leap to save himself, he sprang upon an unwitting figure just then in the process of crossing the area, bearing with him two flagons of wine. With cries of surprise and discomposure, both toppled into the clutches of the brass Qirri who guarded the entrance. And, inevitably, struck the brazen gong suspended from her hands. A loud clang echoed through the building, followed by the crash first of one wine jar, then of a second wine jar.
A silken curtain was thrown aside to reveal the major chamber of the inn, and two male customers, prepared for combat. One was a burly, black-browed fellow, the other a blond Westerner, clad in mail and obviously a soldier, drawn dagger already in professional evidence. From a passage the innkeeper had also come flying. At their feet, two persons writhed and struck about them feebly.
“Are they killing each other?”
“The scoundrel is attacking my poor slave!”
The dark man, who wore the badge of a master mason, at this point intervened, hauling the ginger young man in one direction, while the stunned slave rolled in another. The innkeeper bent over him, cooing. “Speak to me, Esur. Are you dying? And the price of slaves just doubled in the markets.”
The soldier had already sheathed his dagger. With amusement on his attractive, neatly bearded face, he remarked, “A mistake, I think.” He turned and walked back into the body of the inn.
Ginger-cheeked now, the plump young man began to explain his error, and produced money to pay for the spilled wine and the spilled slave. The mason stood looking on, toying with the gold coin in his ear.
Leaving the slave, the innkeeper had gone to examine the brass Qirri. A copy of some pagan statue of the bee goddess—imported when, centuries before, the Remusans had occupied the city—she was the symbol of this inn known as the Honey Garden. Superstitiously, the innkeeper felt her over, was satisfied, kicked the slave to his feet and, taking the proffered money, decided to forgive and forget.
“You are welcome, sir. The Honey Garden, sweetest inn of Heruzala, lies before you. What may we bring for your delight?”
Wiping his forehead, Ginger-Hair ordered fresh wine.
“And roast spiced kid, glazed with honey—our specialty—”
“Later,” said the plump young man. “Meanwhile. . . .”
“I am looking for a man. A particular man. I was told I might find him here.”
“His name, dear sir?”
The innkeeper wrinkled his face.
“This name I have heard. He is a swordsman, is he not? We do not encourage brawlers.”
“A swordsman, but rich,” said the mason, in an undertone.
“You know him?” Ginger-Hair demanded.
“He is famous in Heruzala?”
“Perhaps. And in a few other places, I believe.”
“They say,” said a new voice, female, a smoky contralto, “that he resembles an angel.”
The mason, the innkeeper and Ginger-Hair stared after a tall and graceful woman who, having imparted her wisp of information, had gone directly by them, and up toward the street. Her midnight hair was heavily pearled, and her heavy scent remained behind her on the air to interest them for some while. (Unlike the latest arrival, she did not misjudge the steps.) A maid hurried after her.
“As you see,” said the innkeeper, “we entertain only the very best clients. But if, as you say, he is rich and couth, this Shirrian, then he may well have stayed here—”
“Cyrion,” the plump young man corrected. He fixed the mason with a determined, if plainly shortsighted eye. “If you will tell me what you know, I will reward you with gold.”
“Will you now? I know very little.”
But Ginger-Hair urged him back into the main chamber, and the mason, with a nod of resignation, led him to the table he had occupied before the interruption.
The table was spread with the complex papers of architectural design, a pen, some ink and a small abacus. It would seem a pleasant enough spot to work. Directly above, a high window pierced the wall, and here a bird in a cage sang melodiously.
The rest of the large room, its plaster washed by a blue-dye of Tynt, and altogether well-appointed, had few occupants this morning. In a corner the soldier had resumed his own seat and returned to his wine. Farther off, tucked in an embrasure, two men in dark robes seemed to be debating the teachings of the prophet Hesuf, somewhat vigorously. They did not glance at the newcomer, nor at their wine when it was brought.
Ginger-Hair sat down.
“My name is Roilant.” Jewels burned on his fingers and collar, and the light from the window described his fine clothes, only slightly sullied by spillage and dusty brass. “The name of my family is, at this point, immaterial. But you can assume I am well able to pay you, if you help me. I trust this will not insult you.”
“No.” The mason moved his writings and the abacus out of the way as the grudging slave, Esur, approached and banged down a flagon and cups. “However, I prefer to earn my wages, and I am uncertain I can. This inn is a fair one, as inns go. But not the best in Heruzala. You might do better to try for your man at the Rose, or the Eagle.”
The slave grunted agreement, adding something about falling upon their slaves, who were notoriously savage, before limping theatrically away.
Roilant did not hear.
“But I was told he came to the Honey Garden.”
“Well. He is not here now. You cannot, it seems, miss him. Young, handsome, blond as ice, and dressed as splendidly as King Malban himself, if with rather better taste.”
The soldier at the nearby table, catching the mason’s comment, grinned. “Poor Malban. Under the Queen Mother’s thumb.”
Ginger Roilant bridled. “I have met the king. My family has loyal connections with the imperial house of Heruzala, and I would ask you—”
His request was drowned by sudden altercation. The more elderly of the two debaters in the embrasure had risen, smiting a fist on his tabletop.
“This line, as any intellectual knows, has been mistranslated from the Remine. Have you no wits, young sir?”
The other, a man in his late fifties, ignored this youthening, and exclaimed: “You are very wrong.”
“I tell you the word ‘meek’ is an error. This has been known for decades—”
Their voices dropped again.
The soldier, having finished his own wine but keeping cup in hand, now wandered over to the mason’s table and sat down companionably by Roilant.
“The old holy man over there,” said the soldier, “has a great many rings. Not uncommon, of course, with such people as the nomads, who must carry their wealth with them. But unusual for a sage, which is what I take the man to be—”
“To return to Cyrion,” said Roilant.
“You see,” said the mason, “this Cyrion of yours is elusive. And rather more than merely a swordsman, it would seem. Now he is reported as outriding with some caravan. Now he is studying in one of the great libraries. Now he is outwitting a demon on a mountain.”
The soldier took up the rhythm. “Now he is in Heruzala. There he is in Andriok. Here he is in the desert Where now? In thin air.”
“I have been trying to locate him for two weeks,” said Roilant. He, the mason and the soldier all drank deep of Roilant’s wine. “I—need to know his qualifications for a particular reason. This is not idle curiosity. Yet all I hear are rumors.”
“All I can offer you is little better,” said the mason gravely. “I got the story on the coast, in the port of Jebba.”
“Jebba!” Roilant cried. “Do you mean he is there?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. But it seems he has been, now and then.”
Roilant sighed. His weak chin sank and his worried eyes dropped.
“If you will tell me what you heard, I suppose I will listen.”
“Well,” said the mason, “I render no guaranty of truth. This concerns, for one thing, a form of sorcery. You may not credit such stuff.”
“Oh.” Roilant shuddered. He collected himself with an obvious effort. “I do.”
The mason and the soldier exchanged involuntary looks.
The mason touched the coin in his ear.
“I want no payment for a tale, then. But I will tell it you, since it describes your Cyrion for you. It begins in an inn at Jebba far superior to this one. . . .”
CYRION IN WAX
“Cyrion, be wary of that man.”
Cyrion raised guileless eyes.
“Why, and whom?”
Mareme, the beautiful courtesan, lowered her own eyes swiftly beneath turquoise lids. She was young, lovely, wealthy and accordingly difficult to obtain. Being only for a few, she had learned something of the habits of those few, both in the bedchamber and out of it. This one she believed she knew well enough to judge that the thing he appeared unaware of was frequently what had gained his utmost attention. Besides, their game of lotus-and-wasp on the painted ivory board was beginning, she thought, to veer too readily in her favor.
In addition, the behavior and appearance of the man in question were difficult to ignore.
Dark of hair and with the silken olive complexion common in the region, his forehead was bound with gold and his scarlet robe, long as that of a scholar or physician, stitched with bizarre golden talismans. Three pale purple amethysts trickled from his left ear. Satanically glamorous as an eagle, he had stalked into the cool garden of the expensive inn, two human jackals coming after, plainly a bodyguard, a pair of leering sadists, scarred and welted from ancient battles, and clearly keen for more as they smashed forward through the tubs of flowers and the unlucky patrons. Their hands rested ready to their Swords and their fingers were coated with spikes. And nobody challenged them. They mounted the steps beside their master, and stood over him as he seated himself. The seat was on the upper terrace nearest the kitchen wing, among the mosaic pillars and under the scented shade of the orange and cinnamon trees, not ten feet from where Cyrion bent his silver sun of a head and Mareme her coal-black one over their intellectual game. Below, from the open court with its flowers and the palm tree which made a necessary umbrella against the noon sky, men and women had broken off their talk uneasily, and rescued it only in whispers. Those who had been pushed flat arose and resumed their seats in silence. And, strange in this great coastal city of Jebba, where to stare was as natural as to breathe, eyes slid narrowly sideways and no more.
Presently, the inn’s proprietor himself came hurrying. You could note, from a deal less than ten paces, the sweat making mirror of his suddenly greenish face. He bowed to the dark man.
“What can I serve you with, Lord Hasmun?”
The dark man smiled.
“Eels fried in butter, some quince-bread. A jug of the black, very cold.”
The innkeeper took a quarter step back, or tried to, on shaking unreliable legs.
“We have no—eels, Lord Hasmun.”
One of the jackals stirred eagerly, but Hasmun checked him with an idle finger.
“Then,” said Hasmun softly, “get some eels in, my host.”
The innkeeper fled as fast as jelly would permit, into the kitchen wing behind the house. A minute later, some boys crept from thence into the garden with quince-bread, black Jebba wine packed in ice, and the news that others scoured the fish-market.
Hasmun sampled the wine. The jackals fidgeted.
Hasmun laughed, mellowly.
“Fine living is not for you, lads, eh? Well, go out and play in the streets for a while, my honeys.”
The bodyguard went, but, in the garden, the conversation grew no louder, and not a head was raised.
Till Cyrion raised his to ask across the board of lotus-and-wasp: “Why, and who?”
“I should have held my tongue, I perceive,” said Mareme, very low, “but I thought you had marked him.”
“The innkeeper? Oh, we are old friends,” murmured Cyrion. He seemed to have remembered the game, and annexed two of Mareme’s pieces neatly before she could fathom the move. When she had fathomed it, she said, “Beautiful as the angels you may be, my soul, but transparent, to a cunning lady of the night. Leave it alone, beloved.”
Cyrion, having won the lotus-and-wasp, decided to let Mareme win the other game they were playing.
“I have already caught a rumor here of Hasmun. But not why I must beware of him.”
“Not only you, my darling. All of us. They call him the dollmaker. Did you know?”
“He makes dolls then. No doubt a charming trade, the toy business.”
“Not those dolls that children play with,” huskily mouthed Mareme, as if her voice were trying to reach the very nadir of her throat. “The kind of doll a magus constructs of one he would slay, and then sticks a needle in its liver.”
“Hasmun is an apothecary, though the rumor says magus. Does the trick work?”
“Trick!” squeaked Mareme, as if her voice, having reached the nadir, had there changed into her own pet dove-rat. “There are three dead already, and others who have crossed him have gone blind, or their limbs pain them and they cannot walk—Ah, God bless me. He is looking at us.”
Cyrion leaned back in his chair, and slowly turned his head. The noon sun, raying through the orange trees, fired his elegant silk clothes, and revealed his hair as pure light. It was a fitting halo for the marvellous face Mareme had compared to an angel’s—though whether of the heavenly variety or one of the descended sort, it was somehow hard to be sure. Hasmun was indeed looking in their direction, openly, and with amusement. Now he met this face full on and next Cyrion’s dazzling smile. Hasmun’s eyes half closed, enjoying it all, just as Cyrion seemed to be doing.
“I heard my name mentioned,” said Hasmun. His words carried throughout the garden, and were meant to. Faces greyed further among the flower tubs. “Can it be my humble person is known to you?”
“Everyone knows Hasmun the dollmaker,” said Cyrion courteously. Kindly, he added, “but take heart, no man can help his smell.”
The sensuous enjoyment snapped off Hasmun’s face. It became perfectly still. Perhaps this too was enjoyment; a different form of enjoyment.
“I think you must be tipsy,” said Hasmun.
“I think I must be entirely sober,” corrected Cyrion, rising, “for what I am about to do requires a steady hand.”
Cyrion crossed the not quite ten paces with a mercurial speed that stunned the eye, and all in the fluid motion of it, as he reached Hasmun’s table, the jug of Black Jebba seemed to soar up of its own accord into Cyrion’s hands, contriving next to up-end itself over the magus’ head.
Bathed in a black-red ichor of the wine, Hasmun yelped once like a trodden-on dog. Then stumbling up, sent the table and its contents flying.
Cyrion was distressed, incredulous.
“How can I have been so clumsy—”
A crash resounded hard on the table’s crashing. Hasmun’s bodyguards were returning through the garden. They had apparently got no farther than the intimidating of a girl in the doorway of the inn, and hearing the row, had come running, with prayers of thanks to the Fiend, no doubt.
Cyrion waited until the two were careering up the steps, then lobbed the wine jar, slippery with wine and ice, casually amid their feet. One bellowed, lost footing and thudded backward among the scented shrubs. The second went down on one knee, righted himself, and, sword dragged bare, leapt for the terrace.
Cyrion’s sword was at his hip. He had seemingly forgotten it. He ducked under the first ham-fist blow, spun negligently and kicked into the base of the bully’s spine. The man screamed and plunged forward to land writhing on the terrace in the spreading pool of liquor.
The other thug had meanwhile extricated himself from the shrubs. As he bounded back up the stair, sword and one spiked fist much in evidence, the innkeeper emerged ingratiatingly from the opposite kitchen end of the terrace, bearing a spluttering dish of fried eels. Cyrion turned on his heel as if bored with the whole matter, skimmed the dish of scalding sea-worms and bubbling butter, and cast it unerringly over his shoulder into the face of the bodyguard. Buttered and blinded, dropping the sword with a clatter, the fellow again left the terrace in a backward manner. In passing, his skull met the rim of one of the stone tubs. He did not now get up.
Cyrion smoothed his finery with ringed left hand and ringless right one. For a man who had been hurling liquor and fried seafood about, he was surprisingly unspotted. As if resenting the fact, the writhing kicked bully on the terrace made a final token grab at Cyrion’s ankle. Cyrion kicked once more, this time into the grab. A bone snapped somewhere followed by a thin howling.
Cyrion glanced at Hasmun.
“A great uproar, master apothecary, over a little spilled wine.”
Hasmun, soaked and perfumed with Black Jebba, had had the space to string his nerves and his wits together. He straightened himself, startlingly the same height and build as Cyrion himself, but otherwise opposed as shadow to light.
“Choose,” Hasmun said to the bodyguard with the broken wrist. “Be quiet or die.” The howling ceased. “You, on the other hand,” Hasmun continued, “will die in any case.”
“As the priests lesson us, life is but the briefest kindling of sweet light doused in the darkness of eternity,” quoted Cyrion philosophically.
“You are wrong,” said Hasmun. As the wine dripped in his eyes, he actually managed a smile. “Your dousing will be rather prolonged and definitely not sweet. It will begin tonight. If you would see for yourself how I can break you, come to my Apothecarium and look. Your whore will tell you where.”
And he nodded to Mareme, who had covered her painted face with her powdered hands.
The white daylight gradually reddened. The sun went bathing in the ocean. Jebba became an amber city at the edge of a sea of golden coins. Then the dusk filtered shoreward from the desert, and blue-dyed the windows of Mareme’s exquisite apartment.
On the silken bed, Cyrion was stretched, the flawless model for a young god, naked, beautiful and mildly drunk. Mareme sat upright beside him, nervously plucking at the silks.
“Are you not afraid?” she suddenly blurted.
“Oh, I thought I had made you, forget Hasmun.”
Certainly, he could generally make her forget anything for a while. Even the touch of his hand on her face had the power to do that. The moment she had seen him, a year before, a casual meeting, by chance, Cyrion had possessed her thoughts, dominated not merely heart but also mind. She was slyly cool-headed enough with others, had had to be. But never with Cyrion. She had refused his money always. Instead, meticulously, he always sent her gifts. His scrupulous fairness disturbed her. She wanted Cyrion to love her, not pay her. Once, stupidly, she had sought to procure a love potion, but this venture had had none of the desired results.
“How could I forget Hasmun?” she said now. “Listen, my lord, I have not told you everything. His Apothecarium is in the Street of the Three Walls. Those who pass by sometimes see a small man-formed doll inside the front of the shop, set out as if to display its craftsmanship. And in the doll are stuck jewelled pins. Presently there is a pin in the heart, someone is buried, and the doll vanishes from the shop.”
“I heard as much,” said Cyrion. “Does no one ever go there, effect entry, appropriate the doll, extract the pins?”
“How could they, when the magus keeps watch? Even when he vacates the premises to sleep, ten of those human beasts of his guard the place.”
Cyrion reached for the cup of blue crystal at his side, while the stars, as apparently impervious as he, evolved in the window.
“Tell me,” said Cyrion, “do you know how the dolls are fashioned?”
“Who in Jebba does not? Hasmun boasts of his art. He requires nothing from the victim, only to have seen him once. He constructs the doll in the image of the one he would harm, then casts a foul spell on it to link doll and man together. While the spell is active, he tortures the doll with his pins. Then removes the spell. Without the spell, the doll is passive, only a doll. The man ceases to feel his hurts, rejoices, thinks Hasmun has forgiven him. Then Hasmun makes the spell again, and hurts him more, till he is crippled or dies screaming. And this, my wise master, you chose to pick a quarrel with. Why did you do it?”
“I am,” said Cyrion humbly, “a masochist.”
The window was now radiant with its stars. From a gilt cage, the little dove-rat cheeped imperiously to be let out. Softly albescent as any dove, round-eared, delicate of feature and with two large golden eyes, the dove-rat was the second love of Mareme. Minute though it was, she would sometimes lead it about the upper thoroughfares of Jebba on a long gilt leash. It had a habit of thieving bright objects, which might have proved embarrassing had not Mareme, versatile in many modes, turned trouble to advantage. Often, in former less-exalted days, she had let the dove-rat steal from the tumbled and discarded clothes of her patrons—earrings, buttons, coins. Next, herself running daintily after the client on the street, to return the items with a charming apology for her pet. Thus, she gained her not entirely founded reputation for honesty.
Mareme arose from the bed and let the dove-rat from its cage. It scampered instantly to her cosmetics table, to sit among the tall onyx pots of powder, colored unguents and black kohl, sometimes staring at itself in the mirror of rare silver-framed glass—Cyrion’s latest gift. The crystal bottles and the tiny shiny paring knife had been shut away from the dove-rat’s greedy gaze. Once, Cyrion had watched the minuscule animal drag an emerald torque twice its size from Mareme’s jewel box to its nest in the cage, then come back for the pearls.
Mareme knelt by Cyrion.
“What will you do, Cyrion?”
The light was going fast, and the lamps not yet lit. At first she did not see the whiteness around his mouth, the fixed unblinking emphasis of his eyes. Then he said, offhandedly:
“Half a minute ago, I should have said I was going to wait, to see if Hasmun could make good his threats. I no longer need to wait, however. He can.”
“What is it?” she hissed. “Do you suffer pain?”
“Somewhat. I assume he has one of his damned pins in my wax ankle.”
He shut his eyes and opened them. His face had paled under its light fair tan, but his features were composed. Suddenly, he drew a deep breath and said, with indifference: “A demonstration. He forgoes the pin. He will give me the briefest respite before demonstrating further. But not too much tonight, I hazard. He means me to—to visit his toyshop tomorrow. He wants me to beg his pardon and his—mercy.”
On this occasion, beyond the slight stumble in his words, he gave no sign.
“How can I help you?” Mareme cried.
“Not in the usual way, I think,” he murmured. “Take your lyre from its peg, and play to me instead. Music soothes all pain, they say. Let us try if it does.”
Over the three white walls for which the street was named, fig, palm and flower trees shook their fragrance and their piecemeal shadows. In the noon heat, the street was empty and innocent, and halfway down it, between the courts of the gold workers and the sellers of silk, gaped the hole of Hasmun’s Apothecarium.
The door was open, and strings of blue ceramic beads hung over the entrance. Inside, incense rose in streamers on a shade that was infernal even by day.
As the bead curtain rattled, and a silhouette brushed by into the shop from the sun-drenched street, two of Hasmun’s bullies surged from the interior to intercept.
“Peace, my cherubs,” said a friendly and musical voice. “I am here to gratify your master’s sweet tooth. Leave the damage to him, or he will make dollies for you, too.”
The guard fell back, grunting, and Cyrion passed on into the depth of the shop.
In the gloom, black flagons on shelves were just discernible, and black caskets, and bottles of leaden green stoppered with parchment and cobwebs. A lusterless cobra, stuffed and placed on a stand in the attitude of striking, barred the way through a curtain of lion-skin. Beyond, a cell, similarly stacked, but picked out in the reddish light of a depending lamp.
Under the lamp’s glow, Hasmun sat in a chair of ebony. On a lacquer table at his elbow lay Cyrion, in miniature, naked, blond, and with two fiery-glinting red-jeweled pins thrust one through the right ankle and the second through the lobe of the left ear.
“Not on display at the shop front, as I was told,” said Cyrion blandly. “I had hoped to be the spectacle of Jebba.”
“That is for later,” said Hasmun, exactly as bland. “Did you enjoy your night?”
“I have had some dealings with the desert nomads. They teach a method of converting pain into delicious pleasure.”
Hasmun, unruffled, called the bluff.
“I am glad that you reckoned it pleasant. Tonight should be more pleasant still. The jawbone—I have a topaz pin for that. The wrist and shin—sapphire. I keep the diamonds for your eyes, my beautiful. But blindness is not yet Nor death. This will be a long game. Revel in it, my dear.”
Cyrion had bent to examine the doll. He seemed to find its cunning likeness appealing, though you could see now it was not a perfect replica. Without the activation of the relevant spell, the pins caused no pain to him, even when he twisted them himself in the lightly pigmented wax flesh.
“Of course,” Cyrion remarked, “I could steal the doll from you. Or kill you, perhaps.”
“Try,” invited Hasmun the magus. “I should like you to. Please.”
Cyrion had already glimpsed four thugs, rippling the lion-skin as they lurked the other side of it. He had seen also the solitary narrow window high up among the shelves of the cell, wide enough to admit a man’s hand, but no more. For Hasmun, psychic sparks played round his fingers.
“Try,” Hasmun said again, winningly. “It will discomfort you a good deal, but not so much as these pretty pins, whose hurt you can turn to ecstasy.”
Cyrion abandoned the doll. His face was unreadable.
“How if I ask for clemency?”
“How if you do.”
Cyrion turned and walked out again through the lion-skin. The thugs, attempting a little idle bruising as they jokingly saw him from the shop, found him somehow too quick for them. One, kicked on the thigh by another who had expected to kick Cyrion, abruptly no longer between them, must console himself that at least, Cyrion could not be quick enough for the magus.
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