After a meteor explosion, Rikardon wakes in a new body—and in a strange desert land named Gandalara, where a sacred gem known as the Ra’ira grants its owner the power to rule—or to destroy . . .
Victory is sweet—but for Rikardon and Tarani, it is all too brief. Although they have retrieved the sword of the Kings from the lost city of Kä, a savage battle with the vineh mars their journey back to Raithskar. These ape-like creatures were once controlled through the power of the Ra’ira. Now they pose a threat both to the cat-like sha’um and humanoid Gandalarans.
To restore order, Rikardon and Tarani must travel to Eddarta, where Tarani can use the Ra’ira against the increasingly vicious vineh. First she must face her treacherous brother, Indomel, and convince the Council to name her High Lord in his place. Indomel will not take such betrayal lightly, but another danger is about to reveal itself—a sinister and ambitious traitor who has been hiding in plain sight all along.
Praise for the Gandalara Cycle
“Entertaining and well-paced . . . Full of swordplay and giant cats.” —Theodore Sturgeon, The Twilight Zone Magazine
“A kind of literary comfort food, undemanding escapism to sink into and enjoy.” —SFF Chronicles
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Kä vanished back into the desert with a speed and completeness that amazed me. The ancient city stood in the open air, the stonework of the oldest part of the city little harmed by the passing centuries. Closer to the city's perimeter, the streets were still recognizable as level pathways threading through thousands of shapeless mounds. Each mound represented the remains of a building constructed of salt blocks, a sensible building material for the extensive desert areas in Gandalara.
Even the desert air had to have some tiny percentage of moisture, however indetectable by warm skin seeking relief from the heat. That moisture, combined with the weight of the upper portions of the buildings, had broken down the crystalline structure of the lower blocks; the inexorable process, and the hardly noticeable movement of air, had rounded and smoothed the top layers.
*Stop for a second,* I thought to Keeshah.
*Just started,* his mindvoice grumbled, but he slowed down.
I had been stretched out, clinging to the big cat's back with elbow and knee pressure. Tarani was riding second, seated close to the cat's hips with her lithe body pressed over mine. We sat up as Keeshah slowed — the coolness that swept against my back when Tarani removed her warmth always filled me with a sense of loss — and turned to look back at the apparently empty desert.
"It still amazes me that Kä has never been rediscovered," Tarani said. "It is hidden only to those who do not try to find it."
"So it is safely hidden," I said, "for no one else has tried — probably, since Zanek shared Serkajon's body as a Visitor, and returned to Kä to hide the King's sword."
From the corner of my eye, I saw her hand move to the hilt of the steel sword, which had replaced its bronze cousin in her baldric. The bronze sword hung beside it, its hilt caught by the baldric and the flat of the blade braced against the thigh and calf of her bent leg.
"It remains a mystery to me," Tarani said, shaking her head. "So great a city — would no one have been curious about it?" "That's the Recorder in you talking," I told her. "You've been trained to respect the value of the past, and to learn about it as fact, without emotional involvement. Kä was left behind a long time ago. The people on this side of the Morkadahls have an oral history strongly colored by Serkajon's heroic image and the presence of the Sharith. No one west of Relenor has wanted to find it."
"I see that," she admitted thoughtfully. "Yet the Kingdom is well remembered and still respected — however mistakenly — by the Lords of Eddarta. Why have they not begun a search?"
"We don't know that they haven't," I reminded her. "But again, I strongly doubt it. Think of the distance between here and Eddarta, and the difficulty of the two high crossings near Chizan. And remember that we have the advantage of a sha'um. They would be on foot, unfamiliar with the landmarks west of the Morkadahls, attempting a desert search after the long haul from Eddarta."
"It does seem unlikely that the Lords would willingly undergo so much privation for curiosity's sake," Tarani said. "So — those who could have found Kä have not cared to, and those who might have cared to, could not." She looked in the direction of Kä again. "I cannot wish it forgotten, Rikardon. At its end, it was an evil place. Yet the spirit that founded it was noble, and its purpose well served for many generations."
*Go now?* Keeshah asked, shifting his weight restlessly.
"Keeshah is eager to move on," I said.
"I expect he is looking forward to being with his family again," Tarani said. "Yayshah awaits him eagerly. It is time for us to abandon Kä one final time."
We settled ourselves again into riding position. Tarani needed an extra moment to adjust the positions of the swords, then Keeshah set off at a run northwesterly, toward Raithskar.
Carrying both those swords must be awkward for Tarani, I thought. Yet I wouldn't think of leaving the bronze sword behind, or even offer to carry it for her. Both swords are hers — and her responsibility.
Pressing my face into Keeshah's fur, I slipped into the familiar state of reverie in which non-Gandalaran Ricardo, an objective (more or less) observer, analyzed native Markasset's actions and attitudes. A blending of human mind and Gandalaran memory was occasionally (not always) an advantage. I frequently had been confounded by the fact that Markasset didn't know everything I wanted to know about this world.
I realized that I had found the answer to more than one mystery in the All-Mind. When Somil had guided me to Zanek's lifememory and allowed me to share it, for those few brief moments, I had been exposed to all of Zanek's knowledge, to his society, and to its immediate past history — all of which lay hundreds of generations in the past, from Markasset's perspective. And swords were very much a feature of Zanek's world.
During my first hour or so in this world, weak and disoriented, I had forced myself to take the sword of a dead man and drag it across the desert — until I no longer had the strength to move it. Later, the — call it a talisman — that had sparked the integration of Markasset's memories with Ricardo's personality had been a very special sword. With Markasset's training, the steel sword called Rika had saved my life with unsettling frequency. More than that, its presence had often provided me with an odd sense of comfort.
Surely, the feeling I had for Rika was partly a sense of security in having a superior weapon. The blade carried a memory of that moment of integration, and of the emotion-packed realization that Markasset's father thought me more worthy than his own son to carry the treasured sword. But there was another feeling, deeper than any of these. The closest thing to it in Ricardo's experience was the feeling he often had when watching a fire burn in a fireplace. Far away in time and culture and thought patterns from the crouching near-men who had first discovered the benefits of fire, he had been subject to an atavistic thrill of power — the power to survive.
Up until now, the Ricardo part of me had marked the significance of personal weapons as a remnant of barbaric tradition in the highly cultured Gandalaran society. The sword is designed for fighting, not hunting, and is more connected with aggression than survival. It cannot be thrown as easily as a spear, and it does not have the close-quarters maneuverability of a small, sharp knife. I had been assuming that the Gandalaran sword had developed out of the inter-city warfare that had so appalled Zanek.
In Gandalara, the sword was developed as a survival weapon — for survival against vineh. The apelike beasts were a branch from the same family tree as Gandalaran people. They walked on two legs, lived in colony groups, and carried impressive natural weapons: huge grasping hands with nails tough as claws, mouths built to open wide and clamp hard, and a whole lot of muscle. Vineh were omnivores. They had many of the same environmental needs as Gandalarans, and were inclined to be ungenerous about sharing territory.
Both the vineh and the Gandalarans would have been nomadic hunter-gatherers in the beginning; territorial conflict might have been frequent. Adult male vineh were bigger and stronger than the men of Gandalara, but the men would have had the advantages of intelligence and greater group cooperation. That probably meant, at first, that the men knew when to run, and maintained an orderly retreat — preventing useless losses.
Once the Gandalarans had discovered cultivation, and the need to stay in one place for more than a season, whatever leisure their expanding and specializing culture could offer would have been directed toward more efficient defense: a sharpened stone; tied to the end of a stick to compensate for the vineh's longer reach; tied along the edge of a stick for close-quarters fighting; pieces of hammered metal in place of the stones to make the weapon a bit lighter; a strip of hammered metal; metal alloys that kept an edge longer; the idea to sharpen both edges and the search for an alloy that could be used without a center rod of breakable wood.
The people of Gandalara had one other major advantage over the vineh: the All-Mind. The shared memory would have made technological advances available to everyone, and would have allowed new generations to benefit from the learning of the past ones, without the need to rely on oral history or wait for writing to be developed. Settlements would have grown quickly, forcing the vineh to find other, perhaps less desirable territory that offered natural shelter.
By Zanek's time, all the vineh west of the Morkadahls had moved into the rocky, almost desert terrain in the hills just west of Raithskar, and continued to be a major nuisance. Some visionary before Zanek had designed Raithskar, with its center and radiant squares, and had guided the building of the impressive stone wall that had since been copied by other cities. In Zanek's time, the Sharith had been part of city government and patrolled the perimeter of cultivated land, to keep people in the fields safe from vineh. I found myself wishing Zanek had known the identity of the first man who had brought a sha'um across the Alkhum Pass to share his life in Raithskar; I wanted to thank him.
But even by Zanek's time, the All-Mind had become an accessible but indirect source of information, and the knowledge contained in it (Rikardon might speak of it analogously as a data base) had grown too large for comprehension by any single individual. I suspected it had been too large almost at once, but that the connection between individuals and All-Mind had been stronger when the survival of the race had depended on the ability of one to share the knowledge of the others.
The All-Mind still played a part in Gandalaran life. I felt sure that the "inner awareness" available to every person was an extension of the common experience in the All-Mind. But conscious contact with the phenomenon was limited to those with the proper training, called Recorders. I had worked with two very recently: Somil in Omergol, the capable, quite colorful, "rogue" Recorder who had introduced me to Zanek and found the general location of Kä for me; and the woman whose weight rested pleasantly against my back.
Almost as if she had felt me thinking about her, she stirred. Her hands tightened on my shoulders as she braced her legs higher on Keeshah's hips. Hands and legs remained tensed, holding on. Her mind went to sleep, a fact I could detect clearly by the softness of her body. I made the same kind of preparation, willed my muscles to hold on, and drifted off to sleep myself. We woke when Keeshah's movement altered; he was slowing down.
*Rest,* he told me.
He stopped, and we dismounted gingerly, stretching the muscles of our legs slowly, so that they would not cramp up on us.
"Water, Keeshah?" I said aloud, projecting with my mind, as well.
*Yes,* he said, and lapped up the water Tarani poured into my cupped hands. When the long, pinkish-gray tongue had rasped across my palms, taking the last drop of water, the big cat moved several feet away from us and relieved himself. The power of suggestion, added to natural pressures, was too much for us; Tarani and I separated, seeking the scant cover of the scrubby desert bushes.
The three of us met again where we had stopped — it was a piece of desert indistinguishable from any other. Keeshah came over to me and nuzzled my chest. I braced myself as he turned his head and rubbed his nose and forehead across my torso. He was panting lightly from the exertion of the run.
*Thank you for carrying both of us, Keeshah,* I told him. *Soon we will be home, and you can have a long rest*
*Ask woman,* his mindvoice said. *Female, cubs — well?*
"He's asking about Yayshah and the cubs," I told Tarani, who was scuffing sand about with her booted foot, creating a hollow in which to rest. She smiled and joined us, stroking back the fur at Keeshah's neck.
"Keeshah's family is doing very well," she said, "though I cannot say the same for Thanasset's garden."
I laughed, then passed the information along to Keeshah.
*Thank woman,* he said, and poked his nose gently at Tarani's midriff in his own gesture of gratitude. Then he left us and curled up in the sand, his back against two of the short, grayish bushes. I was sure that, if we had not been so close, the cat's tan-and-gray coloring would have made him very hard to spot.
"Keeshah says thank you," I told Tarani.
A strange look passed over her face.
"What is it?" I asked.
She put her hand on my arm as if to steady herself, though she showed no signs of dizziness. I covered her hand with my own.
"Is something wrong, Tarani?"
"Not wrong," she said uncertainly. "Only ... different. I think — I believe —" She broke off with a small laugh. I was relieved to hear it sound normal and real, not bitter or strained. "I am getting to know Antonia," she said, in a firmer voice. "To be more precise, I am learning what she knew, and seeing things as she saw them."
We had both napped while Keeshah ran, and I wasn't feeling excessively tired. "Let's allow Keeshah his rest, shall we?" I asked, and took her hand. We walked away slowly, in the direction of the blue line against the horizon that marked the Great Wall. The movement was more pleasant than I had expected; I realized we must have had a long run this time, for me to be so stiff.
We were silent for the first few moments. Her darkfurred head was facing the horizon, but her eyes were not seeing it. I couldn't tell if she were in rapport with Yayshah or merely looking into Antonia's world. I reached for words to help or comfort her.
"It must be startling," I said at last, "to begin to question what you have taken for granted all your life."
Her head turned toward me. "Surely you faced this, too?" she asked.
I shook my head. "It wasn't the same for me," I explained. "I am basically a man from a different world; I've always seen the differences first. It took conscious effort to use Markasset's memories for me to be comfortable here."
"And I am essentially Gandalaran, with the memory and viewpoint of an"— she had to search for a word —"a stranger to disrupt my acceptance of the world I have always known."
"Exactly," I agreed. "What was it that disturbed you a moment ago?"
She looked at the ground. The tan leather of our boots was even paler for the coating of sand garnered from three days in the Kapiral Desert.
"I was wondering what lay beyond the Great Wall," she said.
It was simple statement, a simple thought — to a human. A Gandalaran was never out of sight of the boundaries of the "world," and the night sky was almost continually hidden by the thick cloud cover. Gandalarans had never learned the concept of a planet.
She looked up at me. "Do you know?"
"I wish I did," I said, and felt the tremendous relief of being able to discuss the questions that had plagued me since I had arrived in Gandalara. Tarani listened intently while I talked, not even blinking when I couldn't find a Gandalaran word for the concepts and used the Italian. The language felt strange and very musical in the Gandalaran throat.
When I was talked out, Tarani walked away from me and stared at the Great Wall, her hands braced against her hips. "Antonia remembers nothing like the Great Wall in her home world," Tarani said. "But the sight of the Wall from this distance — it stirs something, Rikardon." She stared for a moment, then shrugged and came back to me. "A memory — a thought — it will come in its own time."
"Are you sure it is Antonia who remembers?" I asked. "Your link to the All-Mind is so strong, Tarani — might you not be subconsciously sharing memory with your own ancestors, who might have stood here and wondered about the strip of blue on the horizon?"
She considered. "It may be that, yes," she said, and sighed heavily. "Mysteries within mysteries." She put her hand on my cheek and caressed it. "I see the burden this has been for you, Rikardon. I see, too, that you were right to keep silence about Antonia. Because of her, I know now, I can accept awareness of your strange world. Had you spoken earlier, while I lacked that understanding, my fear of the strangeness would have forced me to deny your truth — possibly even to deny you."
Her fingers glided down my cheek to my neck, played there with a light touch that sent my blood singing. But Tarani wasn't aware of the effect she was creating; she was turned inward, thinking.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Return to Eddarta"
Copyright © 1985 Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
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