Immortalis by R. A. Salvatore


  "You let her go!" Marcalo De'Unnero screamed, every muscle in the strong man's body standing taut. He was past fifty, but appeared much younger, with the suppleness of youth still showing about his hardened muscles and with his black hair still thick upon his head. The excommunicated Abellican monk had been a fighter for all of his life and carried the scars of a hundred battles. But they were only superficial scars, visual reminders, for within the skin of Marcalo De'Unnero resided a body in perfect health.

  For that was one aspect of the magic of the enchanted gemstone - a tiger's paw - that, through the power of the demon dactyl, had merged with the essence of the man.

  At his side, Sadye put her hand on his arm, trying to calm him, for his outburst had raised more than a few eyebrows around the throne room of the new king, Aydrian Wyndon, who called himself Aydrian Boudabras. Many of the dukes of Honce-the-Bear were in attendance this morning, including Kalas, who led the elite Allheart Brigade, and Bretherford, who commanded the great fleet of warships. And none of them were used to any man, particularly not one of the Abellican Church, speaking to the king of Honce-the-Bear in such a manner.

  Seated comfortably on the throne across from De'Unnero, Aydrian seemed hardly bothered, though. He wore a wry grin, which made him look even younger than his nineteen years, especially given his unkempt locks of curly blond hair and his large blue eyes. That too-innocent look had been stamped upon Aydrian's face since the events of a few days previous, when he had wrestled the tormented spirit of Constance Pemblebury from the nether realm and had used the distraction to murder King Danube Brock Ursal.

  "You fear Jilseponie?" the young king replied, his voice steady and calm.

  De'Unnero paused and tilted his head, scrutinizing Aydrian, who seemed to understand the puzzlement and smiled all the wider. Until very recently, Aydrian had been De'Unnero's pawn, and willingly so. As the son of Jilseponie, who had been Danube's queen, Aydrian held some tenuous claim to the throne. Using him, De'Unnero and Abbot Olin had pushed their agenda to the highest levels of the kingdom, to the throne itself. Now the pair intended to use that secular victory to bring them to prominence in the Church they believed had abandoned them. In their eyes, Aydrian had been no more than a means to a personal end. More recently, though, since the joust when Aydrian had defeated all challengers, including the great Duke Kalas, things had begun to shift in the relationship between De'Unnero and Aydrian. Slowly but surely, Aydrian had begun to assert more and more control.

  De'Unnero saw that, and now, for the first time since he had met the young son of Elbryan and Jilseponie in the wild lands to the west, he was beginning to fear it. At first, after the young man's ascension to the throne, De'Unnero had watched him and had marveled, thinking him a most beautiful and cunning creature. But now, given the realization that Aydrian had truly allowed Jilseponie to walk out of Ursal, De'Unnero was growing ever more angry.

  "Do you not understand the danger that Queen Jilseponie poses to us? To you?" the Abellican monk explained.

  "Perhaps we should discuss this in private with Aydrian," Sadye said quietly to the monk, and she pulled him tighter. But De'Unnero didn't even look at her, so fixed was his glare upon Aydrian.

  "My mother is nothing," Aydrian declared, and he looked all around, widening his response to include all in attendance so that he could answer every question raised by his surprising decision to allow Jilseponie simply to ride out of Ursal. "I saw her heart on that day," he explained. "When she learned the truth of me, that the son she had abandoned to die was alive and well, it was the end for her. Jilseponie Wyndon is no threat. She is an empty shell. I could have been merciful and simply killed her that day. But after her abandonment of me, after she left me for dead, I chose not to be so merciful. "

  As he said this, he paused and looked about, and so did De'Unnero, to see a couple of the noblemen nodding and smiling - even proud Duke Kalas, who had once been King Danube's best friend. Indeed, Jilseponie had made more than a few enemies in the court during her tenure in Castle Ursal, and that enmity had allowed the conspirators to drive a wedge through the accepted line of ascension.

  "Let her sit and rot, tormented by the errors of her past," Aydrian went on. "Death is sometimes merciful, and I wish to show no mercy to wretched Jilseponie!"

  De'Unnero thought to respond, but the murmurs about him told him clearly that he had few allies in this room against Aydrian's decision. He still believed that Aydrian had made a tremendous error. He knew Jilseponie well, had battled against her for most of his adult life, and understood that she was a formidable foe, perhaps as formidable as Aydrian could know in all the world. "We will see her again," he did say, and ominously. "On the battlefield. "

  "And when we do, she will watch her friends and allies die, then she will die," Aydrian calmly assured him.

  "You do not understand the power of - "

  "I understand it better than do you," Aydrian interrupted. "I took her measure, fully so, while she stood on that trial stage on the day of my ascent. I saw into her, saw through her, and I know the power of Jilseponie! And I know that power is diminished, and greatly so, by my reappearance in her life. Oh yes, my friend - my friends! - I know my enemy, and I do not fear her in the least. And neither should you. The execution of Jilseponie in a quiet and hidden place within Castle Ursal would have done us no good as we strive to reunite the kingdom. Indeed, if word had gone out of such an act, it might have martyred the witch. No, let our would-be enemies see her impotence in this, and lose all heart to resist us. Or let them witness her devastating demise if she chooses to come against me. They will lose all heart for continuing the fight.

  Jilseponie's role in all of this might not be over, but if she has any impact left in the coming events, then it will be one to benefit us. "

  The young man's words, and the calm and assured way in which he had spoken them, had De'Unnero back on his heels. Who was this young king he had helped to gain the throne? Who was this young man, once his eager student and now acting as if he was the teacher? De'Unnero didn't know, and started to question, but Sadye tightened her grip on his arm, and when he looked at her, her expression begged him to let the subject drop from public discussion.

  She was right, the monk knew. If he persisted here, he might actually be undermining Aydrian with the other noblemen, allies desperately needed if the new kingdom was to hold, if the legitimacy of Aydrian Boudabras was to spread out from Ursal to the north.

  "Perhaps I am too reminded of who Jilseponie once was," the monk quietly admitted.

  "She is not that woman any longer," Aydrian replied. "She is old and she is worn. Her road has been long and difficult, and her decisions have risen from the dead to haunt her every thought. She is nothing to concern us. "

  "She was once mighty with the gemstones and with the sword," interjected Duke Kalas, a warrior much like De'Unnero in spirit - which was probably why the two hated each other. He was a large and dashing man, powerfully built yet graceful in stride, the epitome of the nobleman warrior.

  "Her skills with the sword have diminished with age and lack of practice, no doubt," Aydrian replied. "But even if she was at her peak of strength, and even if Elbryan was alive and fighting beside her, I would easily defeat them. As for the gemstones. . . " He paused and held up the pouch of stones, a magnificent and varied collection that had once belonged to Jilseponie.

  "Well, she has none, and if she acquires some, I will have to defeat her in that realm. It is not a battle that gives me the slightest pause, I assure you. "

  Not a person in that room doubted his confidence. And none who knew him, who truly understood the power that was Aydrian, doubted his claim.

  "And what of Torrence?" asked Monmouth Treshay
, the Duke of Yorkey, referring to the one living son of Constance Pemblebury and King Danube, a bastard child who had been placed third in the line of ascension, behind Danube's brother Prince Midalis, and his own older brother, Merwick. Aydrian had slain Merwick in a duel after the death of Danube.

  As he had with Jilseponie, Aydrian had allowed Torrence to ride out of Ursal.

  Well, not quite like Jilseponie, De'Unnero knew.

  Aydrian turned a curious smile on the man, sizing him up, as did De'Unnero. Aydrian's hold over some of the dukes was tenuous. Kalas, the most powerful of the noblemen, had settled firmly in Aydrian's court, and that brought legitimacy to the new king that few of these southern dukes would dare question. For Kalas controlled the Allheart Knights, and they, in turn, controlled the general army of Ursal, a force that could sweep aside any resistance in the southland. Monmouth Treshay, though, had seemed less enthusiastic from the outset. The older duke was obviously torn. Yorkey County served as the retreat where most of the Ursal nobles spent their leisure time. Constance Pemblebury had lived there for most of the last years of her life, as had her children. The arrival of Constance's ghost exonerating Jilseponie might have brought Aydrian some measure of legitimacy with Duke Monmouth, but the ensuing fight, where Aydrian had defeated and killed Prince Merwick, had obviously not sat well with the man.

  "How many would-be kings or queens will you allow to roam freely about your kingdom?" Duke Monmouth pressed.

  In response, Aydrian grinned and looked over to Duke Kalas, who nodded grimly, his expression telling them all that he wasn't approaching the problem of Torrence with as much enjoyment as was Aydrian.

  The intrigue of the moment was not lost on Marcalo De'Unnero, nor was he pleased to realize that Aydrian had decided to use Kalas in his secret plans for Torrence Pemblebury. Though such plans were prudent, no doubt, the monk did not like it one bit that Aydrian was stepping out from him, was taking control here and without any apparent consideration to him! Gnashing his teeth with boiling anger, De'Unnero turned to Sadye for support, for surely she would see the same problem here as he.

  He stopped short when he regarded the small and beautiful woman, the woman who had stolen his heart with her enchanting music and her wisdom, with her wheat-colored hair, grown to her shoulders now, and those shining gray eyes.

  For though Sadye continued to hold De'Unnero's arm, her gaze was not fixed upon him, but upon another. She stood there, transfixed, a bemused expression on her face as she watched the every movement of. . . Aydrian Boudabras.

  "We will journey to Vanguard and my uncle, the prince," Torrence Pemblebury told the man sitting next to him, one of the five soldiers who had chosen to leave Ursal with the deposed would-be king.

  "Perhaps we would be wise to resettle in Vanguard," said the man, Prynnius by name, and the only Allheart Knight to abandon the court of the new King Aydrian. Prynnius had been one of the primary instructors of Torrence's older brother Merwick in the early stages of his Allheart training. Though a friend of Duke Kalas, Prynnius could not abide the killing of Merwick and could not bring himself to swear allegiance to Honce-the-Bear's new king. "Far from Ursal and the court of Aydrian. Far from the Allhearts and Duke Kalas, and far from the turmoil that is obviously about to befall the Abellican Church. "

  "You say that in the hopes that Aydrian's arms will not be so long. "

  "He will not penetrate Vanguard short of an all-out war," Prynnius said with conviction. "I know Prince Midalis well. He'll not welcome Aydrian - surely not! - for he is the greatest threat to Aydrian's legitimacy. All the kingdom knows that Midalis should have succeeded Danube. "

  "And with Merwick next in line, and myself behind him," said Torrence.

  "And yet this new king allows me free passage out of Ursal. "

  "His personal mercenary army is well paid, and now he has added the bulk of the army of Danube's Honce-the-Bear, the very same army that you would need to call your own to do battle with him," said Prynnius. "Perhaps he sees you now as no threat, and perhaps you - we - would be wise to keep him thinking that way. "

  "The greater our advantage of surprise when we strike back?" Torrence said eagerly.

  "The longer we may both stay alive," Prynnius corrected. "Surrender your claim to the throne, in your heart at least, for the time being, young Prince Torrence. You have not the strength to do battle with King Aydrian. "

  Torrence sat back, crossed his arms over his chest, and assumed a petulant expression. "You think he's won," the young man stated bluntly.

  "He has won," Prynnius agreed, and Torrence shot him an angry glare. "He has Ursal and he has the Allhearts. He has all the land to Entel and the sea, and he has Duke Bretherford and the fleet. Honce-the-Bear is his, I fear, and I see no way. . . " He paused as the coach lurched to a stop. Up in front, they heard the driver yelling at someone to clear the road.

  Prynnius leaned forward and poked his head out the coach's window.

  "Ye get outa the way!" the driver yelled. "Don't ye know who I'm carrying, ye fool highwaymen?"

  "Highwaymen?" Torrence asked, coming forward in his seat. He slowed though, when he noted the grim expression on Prynnius' face, when he noted the man shaking his head slowly, his eyes telling Torrence clearly that he recognized some of the supposed highwaymen who had intercepted their coach.

  "It would seem that our new King Aydrian is not secure in his victory as we presumed," Prynnius remarked, and he looked at Torrence and shrugged, then pushed open the coach door and drew out his sword as he exited the carriage.

  Torrence sat there numbly, trying to register what this was all about even as the sounds of fighting erupted about him. He heard the hum of bowstrings, and heard one man call Prynnius a traitor to the Allhearts. A moment later, the coach shook as someone fell against it, then Prynnius opened the door and slumped in. He looked up at Torrence, his face a mask of resignation and defeat.

  And then he lurched, and Torrence looked past his wincing face to see a man standing behind him, a man dressed as a common thief but wielding a fabulous weapon that no commoner could possibly afford. Prynnius jumped again a bit as the man twisted that sword within him.

  With a growl of rage, Torrence grabbed up his own sword and dove forward, but the killer nimbly moved back out of reach.

  Torrence sprawled across the dying Prynnius, half out of the coach. He started to scramble forward to pursue Prynnius' killer, but then he got hit from the side, and hard, and then got hit again. Dazed, he was only partly aware that his weapon had slipped from his hand. He hardly understood that he was being dragged from the coach, he hardly felt the boots and gauntlets smashing against him, pounding him down into darkness.

  "Does it so bother you that your protege has stepped forward from your shadow?" Sadye asked quietly, the blunt question and her innocent tone throwing a bucket of water onto the fires that burned within Marcalo De'Unnero. "Is that not what you would want from him?"

  "What do you mean?" the monk asked, shaking his head in disbelief. They were back in their room in one of the buildings near to Castle Ursal reserved for visiting lords - which De'Unnero had pretended to be during the usurping of King Danube's throne.

  "Did you and Abbot Olin truly expect Aydrian to remain dependent upon you for his every move?" Sadye asked. "Did you truly wish that? How, my love, are you to get about the business of converting the Abellican Church to your vision if you are needed for King Aydrian's every move? How do you and Abbot Olin expect to truly defeat Father Abbot Fio Bou-raiy and men like Abbot Braumin Herde if you are busy concerning yourself with affairs of the state?"

  "Aydrian may err, and such an error could cost us everything," De'Unnero replied, not convincingly.

  "Only yesterday, you were singing his praises and admiring the beauty that is Aydrian," Sadye pointed out.

  "I was giddy with victory, perhaps. "

  Sadye scoffed and gave a doubting little chuckle. "Aydrian took cont
rol of the situation here in Ursal sometime ago," she reminded. "It was he who facilitated the trial of Jilseponie Wyndon, discrediting both her and King Danube. It was he who tore Constance Pemblebury from the realm of death itself, that she might act on his behalf in ending the reign of Danube. It was he who pulled Duke Kalas back from that same dark realm and thus manipulated the man into subservience. Do not underestimate him! Take great heart and hope that your pupil has risen to become your - "

  "My better?" There was no hiding the bitterness in De'Unnero's tone as he spat those two words.

  "Your peer," Sadye corrected. "And you will need him as such if you are to have any hopes of dominating the Abellican Church. Yes, with Aydrian's armies behind you, you might sweep away Bou-raiy and his followers, but to gain the heart of the Church, you need to do more than that. Be pleased, my love, that young Aydrian has stepped forward to worthily fill the throne. "

  Marcalo De'Unnero slumped back on his bed as those words settled within his thoughts. Sadye was speaking wisely here, he knew, and it was surprising for him to recognize that he and Sadye had almost completely swapped their viewpoints in a period of a few days.

  Aydrian's road to win the entirety of the kingdom would be a difficult one indeed, but De'Unnero's quest to remake the Abellican Church into what it once had been, into something even greater than it had once been, would be no less so.

  For a long time, De'Unnero sat there, considering the events of the last few tumultuous weeks, considering the actions of Aydrian. The turning point, he knew, had come that day on the jousting field, when Aydrian had defeated, and seemingly killed, Duke Kalas, only to reach into his enchanted soul stone and tear Duke Kalas back from the netherworld.

  So much of this amazingly quick rise to the throne had been facilitated by Aydrian, without consulting either De'Unnero or Olin. And now it was continuing.

  It did not sit well with Marcalo De'Unnero that Aydrian was acting so much on his own here, and yet Sadye's reasoning made good sense. The first part in the plan De'Unnero and Olin had concocted called for getting Aydrian on the throne, and now that had come to pass.

  The second part of that plan, the takeover of the Abellican Church, had just begun here, in St. Honce, and would carry them all the way to St. - Mere-Abelle, so they hoped. If the kingdom was to be Aydrian's and the Church the province of Olin and De'Unnero, then, yes indeed, it would bode well for the monks if Aydrian proved capable of handling his end.

  But still. . . Marcalo De'Unnero glanced over at Sadye, to see her standing there, looking off into the distance, a wistful smile on her face.

  He could guess whom she was thinking about.

  * * * When Torrence awoke, he was back in his coach seat, and the coach was rolling through the streets of Ursal in the dead of night. He was gagged and lightly bound, but he didn't even think of pulling free of his bonds, for three others were in the coach with him: burly men, all armed, and all staring at him intently.

  The coach went through the side gates of the castle, and up to a little- used door, where a pair of men waited, chains in hand.

  Torrence was roughly grabbed and pulled from the seat, his arms yanked behind him and chained at the wrists. They ushered him through the servant areas of the castle, through the kitchen and the scrub rooms, then through a door and down a long flight of stairs to the dungeons.

  Panic welled up inside the deposed prince as his entourage silently dragged him along the cellars, to another flight of wooden stairs that took him even deeper beneath the great castle. Down this second flight, they stopped and pulled the gag from Torrence's mouth, roughly turning him about to look back under the stairs.

  There a hole had been dug, one about the right size for a body.

  Torrence instinctively recoiled from the open grave, but firm hands held him in place.

  "That will not be necessary," came a voice the young prince surely knew, one that offered him a glimmer of hope. He turned to see the approach of Duke Targon Bree Kalas, the nobleman who had been his mother's dearest friend for so many years.

  "Leave us," Kalas instructed the others, and the guards moved off without question, back up the stairs.

  "Glory to St. Abelle that you found me," Torrence said, as Kalas walked beside him and unlocked the shackles that bound his wrists. "I know not what those ruffians would have done to me. Why, it seems as if they even prepared a grave. . . "

  Torrence paused as he considered the moment, as he realized that Duke Kalas was in possession of the keys to his shackles. He stared down at the open grave, then slowly began to turn about.

  "Forgive me," Duke Kalas whispered, and Torrence spun about wildly to face him.

  Kalas's sword plunged into his chest, tearing his heart in half. Stunned and shaking in the last moments of his life, Torrence grasped the bloody blade.

  "Forgive me," Duke Kalas whispered, and he held his hand up to silence Torrence's breathless questions. "Forgive me, Constance. "

  Kalas yanked his blade free and Torrence tumbled back, into the open grave.

  "Damn you, King Aydrian, as you have damned me," Duke Kalas muttered under his breath as he stood there and considered his handiwork.

  He could hardly believe that he had just killed Torrence, who had been as his nephew, the son of his dearest friend.

  But Duke Targon Bree Kalas, above all others, had witnessed the true power of Aydrian Boudabras, a power that transcended death itself. In the face of that terrible strength, it was simply not within the man to refuse the young king.

  "Sleep well, poor Prince," Kalas said quietly, and sincerely. "This is not your time. This is not the time of any who hold to the old ways. Be with your mother and father, young sweet Prince. And with your brother.

  There is no place here left for you. "

  With a sigh of profound regret, Duke Kalas dropped the sword to the dirt and slowly walked up the stairs, passing the men who would go down and finish that dark work in that dark place.

  PART O N E AND NOW I AM KING And now I am king, like so many before and so many yet to come. To most people, this accomplishment would be the end of their goal, the achievement they believed would place them in the lists of the immortals.

  But notoriety in one's time, great fame spread to the far corners of the world, is little security against the passage of years. King Danube Brock Ursal may be remembered for a while, since he ruled during a time of great crisis, both with the DemonWar and the plague. But few even now remember his grandfather, and fewer his great-grandfather. His name, too, will fade with the passage of time.

  As will my father's. As will my mother's.

  And now I am king, and this is just a platform, the first rung on a ladder that will climb to include Vanguard, Behren, To-gai, Alpinador, and even the Wilderlands to the west.

  Do you hear that, Lady Dasslerond? I will command the known world and beyond. I will own the Abellican Church, which will become greater under my rule, and which will suffer no rivals. My image will be engraved from southern To-gai to northern Alpinador; my boot print will forever stain the ground of Andur'Blough Inninness and my name will survive the centuries, beyond the memories of the oldest elves.

  Those who brought me to this point, particularly Marcalo De'Unnero, do not yet understand the truth of Aydrian Boudabras. They do not understand that I see two shadows at Oracle, one who would speak to their weaknesses, and one who knows the truth of immortality - one who reveals to me that conscience is the halter the gods have placed upon mortal man.

  De'Unnero and his cohorts do not understand that with this recognition, I am beyond all of them. The monk fears my mother, and is incensed at me for allowing her to walk freely out of Castle Ursal. I doubt that she will come against me again; I doubt that she has the heart now that guilt shows so clearly in her pretty eyes. She wears the halter of the gods, and it is a burden upon her that will allow me to destroy her with a thought, if necessary.

tter for me to allow her to witness it all, for her to watch the rise of her discarded son. She was once the hero of the people of Honce-the- Bear, who saved them from the demon dactyl, who led them to salvation from the plague. With her as my witness, my fame will spread even more quickly. It will gall Jilseponie as she comes truly to understand that she is my legitimacy, that her renown allows me to further my own. Her reputation is my ally even as she may become my enemy.

  In that event, too, there is nothing but gain. A warrior is judged most of all by the enemies he defeats. Fio Bou-raiy, Prince Midalis, Lady Dasslerond, and perhaps Jilseponie Wyndon Ursal.

  It is an impressive list.

  I only hope that I may find more formidable and worthy adversaries.

  I have heard of a dragon flying about the wastelands south of the Belt- and-Buckle.

  The pleasure will be mine; the judgment will be kind.

  And now I am king.

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