Together for the first time in one volume—all four novels in the dark science fiction epic, the Morgaine Cycle.
The gates were relics of a lost era, a linked network of portals that the ruthless Qual empire used to span Time and Space. The Science Buereau has come to believe that sometime, somewhere in the unreachable past, someone has done the unthinkable and warped the very fabric of the universe using these gates. Now, it is up to Morgaine, a mysterious woman aided by a single warrior honor-bound to serve her, to travel from world to world sealing the ancient gates whose very existence threatens the integrity of all worlds...
Release date: September 1, 2015
Print pages: 832
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The Complete Morgaine
Gate of Ivrel
To be born Kurshin or Andurin was a circumstance that mattered little in terms of pride. It only marked a man as a man, and not a savage, such as lay to the south of Andur-Kursh in Lun; nor tainted with witchery and qujalin blood, such as the folk of Hjemur and northward. Between Andur of the forests and Kursh of the mountains was little cause of rivalry; it was only to say that one was hunter or herder, but both were true men and godly men, and once—in the days of the High Kings of Koris—one nation.
To be born of a particular canton, like Morija or Baien or Aenor—this was a matter that deserved loyalty, a loyalty held in common with all Morijin or Baienen or Aenorin of whatever rank, and there was fierce love of home in the folk of Andur-Kursh.
But within each separate canton there were the clans, and the clans were the true focus of love and pride and loyalty. In most cantons several ruling clans rose and fell in continual cycles of rivalry and strivings for power; and there were the more numerous lesser clans, which were accustomed to obey. Morija was unique in that it had but one ruling clan and all five others were subject. Originally there had been the Yla and Nhi, but the Yla had perished to the last man at Irien a hundred years past, so now there remained only the Nhi.
Vanye was Nhi. This was to say that he was honorable to the point of obsession; he was a splendid and brilliant warrior, skilled with horses. He was however of a quicksilver disposition and had a recklessness that bordered on the suicidal. He was also stubborn and independent, a trait that kept the Nhi clan in a constant ferment of plottings and betrayals. Vanye did not doubt these truths about himself: this was after all the well-known character of the whole Nhi clan. It was expected of all who carried the blood, as each clan had its attributed personality. A Nhi youth spent all his energies either living up to expectations or living in defiance of his less desirable traits.
His half-brothers possessed these attributes too, as of course did lord Nhi Rijan, who was father to the lot of them. But Vanye was Chya on his Korish mother’s side; and Chya were volatile and artistic, and pride often ruled their good sense. His half-brothers were Myya, which was a Morij warrior-clan, subject, but ambitious, and its folk were secretive and cold and sometimes cruel. It was in Vanye’s nature to be reckless and outspoken as it was in the nature of his two half-brothers to keep their own counsel. It was in his nature to be rash, while it was in that of his brothers to be unforgiving. It was no one’s fault, unless it was that of Nhi Rijan, who had been reckless enough to beget a bastard Chya and two legitimate Nhi-Myya and to house all three sons under one roof.
And upon an autumn day in the twenty-third year of Nhi Rijan in Ra-morij, a son of Rijan died.
Vanye would not go into the presence of Nhi Rijan his father: it needed several of the Myya to force him into that torchlit room, which reeked so strongly of fire and fear. Then he would not look his father in the eyes, but fell on his face on the floor, and touched his brow to the cold stone paving and rested there unmoving while Rijan attended to his surviving heir. Nhi Erij was sorely hurt: the keen longsword had nearly severed the fingers of his right hand, his swordhand, and sweating priests and old San Romen labored with the moaning prince, giving him drafts and poultices to ease his agony while they tried to save the damaged members.
Nhi Kandrys had not been so fortunate. His body, brows bound with the red cord to tie his soul within until the funeral, rested between death-lights upon another bench in the armory.
Erij stifled a scream at the touch and hiss of iron, and Vanye flinched. There was a stench of burned flesh. Eventually Erij’s moans grew softer as the drugged wine had effect. Vanye lifted his head, fearing this brother dead also—some died under the cautery, of the shock, and the drugged wine together. But his half-brother yet breathed.
And Nhi Rijan struck with all the force of his arm, and cast Vanye sprawling and dazed, his head still ringing as he crawled to resume his kneeling posture, head down at his father’s feet.
“Chya murderer,” his father said. “My curse, my curse on you.” And his father wept. This hurt Vanye more than the blow. He looked up and saw a look of utter revulsion. He had never known Nhi Rijan could weep.
“If I had put an hour’s thought into your begetting, bastard son, I would have gotten no sons on a Chya. Chya and Nhi are an unlucky mixing. I wish I had exercised more prudence.”
“I defended myself,” Vanye protested from bruised lips. “Kandrys meant to draw blood—see—” And he showed his side, where the light practice armor was rent, and blood flowed. But his father turned his face from that.
“Kandrys was my eldest,” his father said, “and you were the merest night’s amusement. I have paid dearly for that night. But I took you into the house. I owed your mother that, since she had the ill luck to die bearing you. You were death to her too. I should have realized that you are cursed that way. Kandrys dead, Erij maimed—all for the likes of you, bastard son. Did you hope to be heir to Nhi if they were both dead? Was that it?”
“Father,” Vanye wept, “they meant to kill me.”
“No. To put that arrogance of yours in its place—that, maybe. But not to kill you. No. You are the one who killed. You murdered. You turned edge on your brothers in practice, and Erij not even armed. The fact is that you are alive and my eldest son is not, and I would it were the other way around, Chya bastard. I should never have taken you in. Never.”
“Father,” he cried, and the back of Nhi Rijan’s hand smashed the word from his mouth and left him wiping blood from his lips. Vanye bowed down again and wept.
“What shall I do with you?” asked Rijan at last.
“I do not know,” said Vanye.
“A man carries his own honor. He knows.”
Vanye looked up, sick and shaking. He could not speak in answer to that. To fall upon his own blade and die—this, his father asked of him. Love and hate were so confounded in him that he felt rent in two, and tears blinded him, making him more ashamed.
“Will you use it?” asked Rijan.
It was Nhi honor. But the Chya blood was strong in him too, and the Chya loved life too well.
The silence weighed upon the air.
“Nhi cannot kill Nhi,” said Rijan at last. “You will leave us, then.”
“I had no wish to kill him.”
“You are skilled. It is clear that your hand is more honest than your mouth. You struck to kill. Your brother is dead. You meant to kill both brothers, and Erij was not even armed. You can give me no other answer. You will become ilin. This I set on you.”
“Yes, sir,” said Vanye, touching brow to the floor, and there was the taste of ashes in his mouth. There was only short prospect for a masterless ilin, and such men often became mere bandits, and ended badly.
“You are skilled,” said his father again. “It is most likely that you will find place in Aenor, since a Chya woman is wife to the Ris in Aenor-Pyvvn. But there is lord Gervaine’s land to cross, among the Myya. If Myya Gervaine kills you, your brother will be avenged, and it will be without blood on Nhi hands or Nhi steel.”
“Do you wish that?” asked Vanye.
“You have chosen to live,” said his father. And from Vanye’s own belt he took the Honor blade that was the peculiar distinction of the uyin, and he seized Vanye’s long hair that was the mark of Nhi manhood, and sheared it off roughly in irregular lengths. The hair, Chya and fairer than was thought honest human blood among most clans, fell to the stone floor in its several braids; and when it was done, Nhi Rijan set his heel on the blade and broke it, casting the pieces into Vanye’s lap.
“Mend that,” said Nhi Rijan, “if you can.”
The wind cold upon his shorn neck, Vanye found the strength to rise; and his numb fingers still held the halves of the shortsword. “Shall I have horse and arms?” he asked, by no means sure of that, but without them he would surely die.
“Take all that is yours,” said the Nhi. “Clan Nhi wants to forget you. If you are caught within our borders you will die as a stranger and an enemy.”
Vanye bowed, turned and left.
“Coward,” his father’s voice shouted after him, reminding him of the unsatisfied honor of the Nhi, which demanded his death; and now he wished earnestly to die, but it was no longer help for his personal dishonor. He was marked like a felon for hanging, like the lowest of criminals: exile had not demanded this further punishment—it was lord Nhi Rijan’s own justice, for the Nhi had also a darker nature, which was implacable and excessive in revenge.
He put on his armor, hiding the shame of his head under a leather coif and a peaked helm, and bound about the helm the white scarf of the ilin, wandering warrior, to be claimed by whatever lord chose to grant him hearth-right.
Ilinin were often criminals, or clanless, or unclaimed bastards, and some religious men doing penance for some particular sin, bound in virtual slavery according to the soul-binding law of the ilin codes, to serve for a year at their Claiming.
Not a few turned mercenary, taking pay, losing uyin rank; or, in outright dishonor, became thieves; or, if honest and honorable, starved, or were robbed and murdered, either by outlaws or by hedge-lords that took their service and then laid claim to all that they had.
The Middle Realms were not at peace: they had not been at peace since Irien and the generation before; but neither were there great wars, such as could make an ilin’s life profitable. There was only grinding poverty for midlands villages, and in Koris, the evil of Hjemur’s minions—dark sorceries and outlaw lords much worse than the outlaws of the high mountains.
And there was lord Myya Gervaine’s small land of Morij Erd which barred his way to Aenor and separated him from his only hope of safety.
• • •
It was the second winter, the cold of the high passes of the mountains, and a dead horse that finally drove him to the desperate step of trying to cross the lands of Gervaine.
A black Myya arrow had felled his gelding, poor Mai, that had been his mount since he first reached manhood; and Mai’s gear now was on a bay mare he had of the Myya—the owner being beyond need for her.
They had harried him from Luo to Ethrith-mri, and only once had he turned to fight. Hill by hill they had forced him against the mountains of the south. He ran willingly now, though he was faint with hunger and there was scant grain left for his horse. Aenor was just across the next ridges. The Myya were no friends of the Ris in Aenor-Pyvvn, and would not risk his land.
It was late that he realized the nature of the road he had begun to travel, that it was the old qujalin road and not the one he sought. Occasional paving rang under the bay mare’s hooves. Occasional stones thrust up by the roadside and he began to fear indeed that it led to the dead places, the cursed grounds. Snow fell for a time, whiting everything out-stopping pursuit (he hoped that, at least). And he spent the night in the saddle, daring only to sleep a time in the early morning, after the movings in the brush were silenced and he no longer feared wolves.
Then he rode the long day down from the Aenish side of the pass, weak and sick with hunger.
He found himself entering a valley of standing stones.
There was no longer doubt that qujalin hands had reared such monoliths. It was Morgaine’s vale: he knew it now, of the songs and of evil rumor. It was a place no man of Kursh or Andur would have traveled with a light heart at noontide, and the sun was sinking quickly toward dark, with another bank of cloud rolling in off the ridge of the mountains at his back.
He dared look up between the pillars that crowned the conical hill called Morgaine’s Tomb, and the declining sun shimmered there like a butterfly caught in a web, all torn and fluttering. It was the effect of Witchfires, like the great Witch-fire on Mount Ivrel where the Hjemur-lord ruled, proving qujalin powers were not entirely faded there or here.
Vanye wrapped his tattered cloak about his mailed shoulders and put the exhausted horse to a quicker pace, past the tangle of unhallowed stones at the base of the hill. The fair-haired witch had shaken all Andur-Kursh in war, cast half the Middle Realms into the lap of Thiye Thiye’s-son. Here the air was still uneasy, whether with the power of the Stones or with the memory of Morgaine, it was uncertain.
When Thiye ruled in Hjemur
came strangers riding there,
and three were dark and one was gold,
and one like frost was fair.
The mare’s hooves upon the crusted snow echoed the old verses in his mind, an ill song for the place and the hour. For many years after the world had seen the welcome last of Morgaine Frosthair, demented men claimed to have seen her, while others said that she slept, waiting to draw a new generation of men to their ruin, as she had ruined Andur once at Irien.
Fair was she, and fatal as fair,
and cursed who gave her ear;
now men are few and wolves are more,
and the Winter drawing near.
If in fact the mound did hold Morgaine’s bones, it was fitting burial for one of her old, inhuman blood. Even the trees hereabouts grew crooked: so did they wherever there were Stones of Power, as though even the nature of the patient trees was warped by the near presence of the Stones; like souls twisted and stunted by living in the continual presence of evil. The top of the hill was barren: no trees grew there at all.
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