Sartor by Sherwood Smith


  Sherwood Smith

  Book View Café Edition

  August 14, 2012

  ISBN: 978-1-61138-192-4

  Copyright © 2012 Sherwood Smith



  “The problem with being a princess,” Lilah Selenna grumped to Bren, her best friend, “is that it sounds like more fun than it really is.”

  Bren shrugged. As far as he was concerned, royalty and nobility were evil, though he admitted that Lilah’s brother Peitar, the new king, was about as good a king as you could get—if you had to have a king.

  Lilah went on as if Bren was sympathetic. “You would think it’s fun to always be first going in and out of a room, but while you’re walking in front of everybody, you notice how this noble girl is staring at the splotch on your skirt where you accidentally dropped a peach, or those counts and countesses are whispering about the way your hair sticks up because you forgot to brush it after you climbed down from the tree.”

  Lilah flicked her fingers through her short, wiry, rust-colored hair, cut during the revolution a few months past, when Lilah had disguised herself as the palace kitchen’s spit boy.

  Bren had shared those days of disguises and desperate actions, but he wouldn’t be a prince if someone begged him. So he just laughed, thinking that so far, Lilah was the same as she’d been all summer—good company, funny, always ready for a game.

  “It’s all this talk about duty, but I don’t have any duties yet. Not while Peitar is trying to patch up the government, and the city.”

  “And so?” Bren asked.

  “And so it’s time to keep my promise,” Lilah said. “To visit the Unnamed.”

  “Ah-h-h-h-h,” Bren said. “So why aren’t you doing it, O princess? You can’t be afraid that Peitar will rant and storm like an evil king at you.”

  Maybe it would be easier if Peitar did rant and storm. If he ranted and stormed, she could rant right back, and call him unfair, but if he was all kind and reasonable while counting up the reasons why she couldn’t go up to the Delfina Valley to visit the Unnamed, how to answer that?

  Maybe it was time to stop worrying about it, and get it over with.

  She got up. Bren went back to his sketch of the lake below the palace wall as Lilah walked into the palace, ducking around parties of carpenters, joiners, and other people busy repairing the last of summer’s damage. Where would she find Peitar? Not in the public rooms, for he did crown business right after breakfast until his lunch (if he ate one). It was so late in the day, he either had to be in the private interview room or his new study, which was next to the palace library. He never seemed to take time off. If he was not required to entertain someone, he even took his meals in that study so that he could continue working.

  Lilah fumed. Peitar worked all the time.

  The odor of paint made Lilah hold her nose as she dodged around the gilders and artists painting panels.

  Peitar was not in the interview room, which smelled like wet plaster as two artisans fashioned twined leaves up one of the pilasters. She poked her head in the dining room. The room was empty except for the table with its white linen cloth and the gold-edged porcelain plates she’d had to stack during her time as a kitchen boy.

  Lilah ran down the marble hall to the library. She dashed through the quiet room, paused at the closed door to the annex. Uh oh. That had to mean Peitar was inside. Studying. Again.

  Lilah opened the door, looked in, and there he was, only he wasn’t studying. He’d fallen asleep, his head down on his crossed arms, which were cradled around an old book.

  She stared. Sometimes she felt like she was the nineteen-year-old and he was twelve.

  “Peitar,” she exclaimed. “Don’t you ever rest?”

  Peitar’s head jerked up, and they stared at one another, both startled.

  Peitar blinked the sleep out of his eyes and kept his retort behind shut lips. Lilah was a kid. She had never wanted to be part of government, even as decoration. Even if she wanted to, how could he unload half his responsibilities onto her—responsibilities she was unaware of?

  “Lilah,” Peitar began.

  “I need to keep my promise,” she said quickly. “Please don’t tell me all the reasons why I can’t.”

  She watched anxiously for the averted face of refusal, the narrowed gaze that would mean he was doing exactly what she hoped he wouldn’t. Instead, she was amazed when Peitar’s expression went blank. Then color tinged his cheeks.

  “To visit You-Know-Who,” she said, to clarify.

  It was dangerous to even say her nickname, Atan, much less her real name, Princess Yustnesveas Landis, the last of the Landis family who had ruled Sartor since humans had come to the world.

  Not many things could make a revolution seem small, but Sartor and its problems was one of those things. There were spells so powerful that saying certain names could somehow draw the sinister attention of Norsunder. Atan’s name was one of those.

  At the best of times, Peitar could look as if his mind was in another world entirely, especially after being woken up. Lilah had all his attention now.

  She began babbling. “You know how we got to be friends, I mean me and the Unnamed, and I did make this promise to go and report how things turned out. Not that uh, the person of whom we speak, would not know already, because of, um, the other person who teaches the Unnamed. They know more than I do, I’m sure. And it’s not like those promises you have to keep, but I want to, because, you know, the friends...”

  Peitar raised a hand.

  Lilah stopped talking so fast her teeth clicked.

  Peitar’s smile was brief and a little crooked. “We both made a friend,” he said. “But you are fortunate in being able to visit. I am not.”

  Lilah gawked. “But you’re now the king. You can do anything you want.”

  “Not quite. You’ll remember our uncle ended up with a revolting populace because enough people didn’t like what he was doing.” Peitar began to straighten his books, a task that seemed to absorb all his attention. Finally he spoke. “You should probably go very soon, before the snows close the mountains in.” Then he gave her a real smile, more like the brother she knew. “How long was I asleep? I’d better warn you, Aunt Tislah showed up for another visit. She has her neighbor’s great-niece in tow...”

  Lilah jumped up indignantly. “Another would-be queen? She might be very nice, but I am not going to sit by while Aunt Tislah tries to kill us with disgusting matchmaking.”

  “Death by flirtation?” Peitar murmured.

  “Bren and I will make certain there is no threat of romance to ruin dinner.” She made a gag face. “Let me see if I can tear him away from drawing.” She ran out.


  The number of former revolutionaries roaming around looking for trouble had considerably lessened, in part due to Peitar’s new rule that roaming gangs who did not seem to have work would have work found for them, and there was plenty of cleaning and rebuilding to be done.

  Still, he sent an escort with Lilah to Diannah Wood. The forest guardians saw her safely to the southern border. From there, she climbed a grassy ridge until she could see over the treetops of the forest, and then made the magical sign. Her body tingled, she breathed deeply, feeling light as a cloud—and then she took that glorious first jump, straight into the air.

  How she adored flying! As Peitar had warned, many of the familiar sky-touching peaks now wore blue-white mantles gleaming in the sun. Magic kept her warm, though, as she sped up and up over the vast mountain ranges until the ancient spell pulled her down at last into the Valley of Delfina, which long ago had been a secret retreat for mages. It was full of magical protections. There below was the lake, a deep blue, and all a
round it cottages built on the ledges.

  She did not go to her family’s old home, but drifted down to the tree-secluded dwelling tucked against the side of a great mountain, until she landed lightly. The moment the flying-magic relinquished her, the cold wind of impending winter closed in with a sudden chill. She shivered, glad of her sturdy cotton-wool gown.

  It was so strange to be back. There was no sign here of all the drastic changes that had taken place just a few days’ travel to the north.

  Even stranger was the fact that she had a friend like... well, she could think her name, right here, ten paces in front of the cottage where she’d been hidden for fifteen years: Atan.

  Lilah shivered. She, ordinary Lilah, a princess for barely two months, friends with the last descendant of the famous, powerful Landis family, who had ruled Sartor for nearly four thousand years.

  Four thousand years—since the time when Old Sartor had been destroyed and human life nearly eradicated by the mages of Norsunder. Who knows? Maybe the Landis family had even existed before those mysterious days!

  There were no royal parents now. There was no royal Sartoran court, or retainers, or heralds. There was no Sartor, for it had vanished behind that horrible enchantment for nearly a hundred years.

  Lilah’s life had seemed pretty exciting until she thought about that. She laughed at herself, gave her gown a tug, tried to flatten down her thatch of hair, then thought, Why am I fussing? Atan’s princess wardrobe seemed to consist of cast-off clothes belonging to some old hermit mage.

  While Lilah marched up the path toward the Hermit’s Cottage hidden among the tall trees, Atan herself was thinking only of how delightful it was to have a visitor.

  She turned away from one of the little windows to face the elderly mage Tsauderei, her guide and tutor. She exclaimed in delight, “Lilah is here!” Then she laughed. “And of course you knew that.”

  Tsauderei’s mouth twisted. “Of course. Nobody gets into the Valley without my knowing. Or out.” His bristly white brows twitched upward.

  Atan’s cheeks burned. Tsauderei had cautioned her many times against the risk of flying to the border and staring down into the cloud-shrouded, blighted land that lay below.

  But Sartor was hers. There could be no peace for her until Sartor was free—or she died trying to make it so. Her nursemaid-guardian, Gehlei, had flown over to the main village to buy fresh food. Gehlei hated it when Atan talked about Sartor and the enchantment, so the time to bring it up was now, with Gehlei away.

  Though she’d meant to come around to it gradually, Atan blurted, “I think it’s time to make my try.”

  “Yes,” Tsauderei answered.

  Atan gazed in shock at the mage’s lined, sardonic face. Her carefully-thought-out arguments vanished like smoke.

  And that was when Lilah knocked on the door.

  Atan got up to open it, though she wished she could freeze time, the way poor Sartor was frozen, until she could get all her questions answered.

  But she couldn’t, so she pulled open the door with her biggest smile. “Lilah! Enter! Tsauderei is here.”

  Lilah stepped down inside the homely cottage, grinning at the white-haired old sorcerer sitting near the fire. Ruddy light gleamed along the old man’s braided white hair and long beard, and glinted in the diamond drop hanging from one of his ears.

  Lilah turned to Atan, her slanted eyes wide with her anxiety to explain. “I know I promised to come back, and I wanted to, ages ago! Oh, you can’t think how much. But I didn’t want to leave Peitar, and then it seemed he was so busy, and I—”

  Atan sank down onto a hassock, her hands tightly clasped, her long, bony face serious. “Oh, Lilah, Tsauderei told me about Peitar being chased about, and then captured, and then put on trial, before things got resolved. Of course you stayed. It has only been a few weeks! I didn’t think to see you again for a year, but I am very glad you came.”

  “Ugh.” Lilah grimaced. “It was exactly as nasty as you think, but it’s over. And I like to keep my promises. Especially a fun one, like coming back to this valley and seeing you.”

  Lilah stole a doubtful glance at Atan, who was tall for fifteen. The Sartoran princess was a plain girl, except for those round, protuberant dark blue eyes with the droopy lower lid, recognizable as a Landis family characteristic in far too many books and royal portrait galleries. Atan was also a mage, and so well read, and smart. And she understood why Lilah hadn’t come, so why did she look so... so tense?

  Atan studied Lilah at the same moment, glad to see her friend again, but wishing she had come at another time. Any other time.

  Except maybe the two things were related?

  Atan said, “I’m glad you are here. Because another day, and you might have arrived too late.” She spoke the words, but she heard them from far away, as if someone else said them. She was almost giddy, and paused to take a deep breath. I made my decision.

  She turned to Tsauderei. “Did you understand me? I think I must leave as soon as possible.”

  And Tsauderei said again, “Yes.”

  Lilah’s eyes were round as an owl’s. She too had that heady sense that this moment was one of importance, but why should she be surprised? Anything having to do with Sartor seemed to have world importance. Even if Sartor’s only living princess stood there in old, mended clothes, with a dash of bread flour on her cheek.

  Lilah said slowly, “You’re not talking about going visiting. But...” She pointed westward, in the direction of enchanted Sartor. “There?”

  Atan gazed at her sympathetically. Lilah’s foxy face was blanched under her scattering of freckles. She said, “It’s time to go and free my kingdom.” And, in a low voice, “I have to try.”

  Tsauderei sighed. “Yes, the time has come, since you are determined.”

  “Wait.” Lilah hopped from one foot to the other, waving her hands, her palms out. “Wait. Where’s the army? Where are the mages? One thing I learned during that mess of a revolution is that one person can’t just sort of take over a kingdom—not unless you want disaster. And in Sarendan, we didn’t have Norsunder and its dark magic spells holding us, it was only my Uncle Dirty-Hands and his army, and that was bad enough!”

  Tsauderei laughed, a wheezy sound. “Ah, Lilah! I have missed your perspective. You’re right. But what Atan is doing is not in the nature of replacing a monarch. She is determined to disenchant a kingdom without a monarch.”


  Tsauderei sat back. “Tell her why it must be now, Atan.”

  Surprised by this unforeseen turn, Atan spoke to Lilah, but she was watching her tutor. “What do you know about Norsunder, Lilah?”

  Lilah grimaced at the nasty word actually said out loud, aware of her burning cheeks. “Um. It’s a word you don’t say in polite company, first of all. Everybody says that evil people like to go to Norsunder and live forever, but they also take people sometimes, against their will.”

  Atan said, “I don’t think anyone lives forever, but it’s true that Norsunder exists outside time, and that the Old Sartorans who first made it several thousand years ago are apparently still there.”

  Once again she sent a glance Tsauderei’s way. Again he did not speak.

  Atan sighed. So this discussion was yet another lesson, or a test, or—as had been increasingly common—both.

  This test was not for Lilah.

  She said, “We can’t go into Sartor with mages or armies, because anything like that will certainly attract Norsunder’s notice again.”

  Lilah gave a small nod, and as Atan paused to organize her words, Lilah tried to quell the hunger rumbles in her stomach. She’d expected warm food after her long (and wonderful) flight over the mountains—food and fun talk, like summer. But Atan and Tsauderei looked serious, so serious they’d forgotten about meals.

  So she folded her arms across her middle as Atan went on. “Sartor is bound in a sort of dream-existence, the season a kind of eternal verge-of-winter because it
was late autumn when the spells were cast.”

  Atan sent a questioning glance at Tsauderei, who gave a slow nod of approval.

  “The commander currently in charge of Sartor is also in charge of Norsunder’s temporal base down south,” Atan went on.

  Tsauderei spoke at last. “His name is Granon Zydes. He’s in the middle of internal strife, because of a recent defeat he suffered in Bereth Ferian, which was also enchanted, and is now free.”

  “Bereth Ferian?” Lilah shrugged. “Never heard of it.”

  “Old center of magic and learning. Almost as old as Sartor, though its history has changed a lot more. But it’s way, way north, as far north as we are south.”

  Lilah waved a hand in dismissal. “Well, who cares about a place a million years’ journey away?”

  Tsauderei’s lips twitched, and Atan got that bubbly feeling in her middle that could turn into laughter, but she didn’t laugh. Lilah did not have her head stuffed with knowledge, but young as she was, she had experience. Atan had knowledge, and the added advantage of three years, but no experience.

  Tsauderei said, “Zydes seldom ventures out from the base himself. What little we know about the Norsundrian base’s internal affairs has only come recently, when Savar, a very old colleague of mine, emerged suddenly from his fastness in Shendoral—you recognize the name?”

  Lilah had often looked at old maps of Sartor when she was studying the language. She nodded. “Big woodland in the center of the kingdom. There are stories about it being full of magic.”

  “Correct. Norsunder’s enchantment has no effect there. But it is isolated.” Tsauderei gave a brief smile of approval. “So Norsunder laid lethal spells around it in an effort to keep anyone from coming or going. Well, Savar managed to break those wards not long ago, at least long enough to come by magic transfer here, to talk to me. He promised to be back, but we have not seen or heard from him since.”

  Lilah wrung her hands. “So mages are in danger as well as armies?”

  Atan said, “We don’t know. We don’t even know if he’d been caught in some sort of time binding, for we do know that time, and distance, in Shendoral work strangely.”

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