Alone in a deserted castle in the Nevèrÿon countryside, a great warrior and a young barbarian meet at midnight to tell each other tales from their intersecting lives. But are they really alone? And, if they aren’t, what will it mean for Nevèrÿon . . . ?
The three stories in this volume end Samuel R. Delany’s Return to Nevèrÿon saga and cycle. But they are also its beginning—taking us back to the start of Gorgik’s epic—although, from what we’ve learned from the others, even that has become an entirely new story, though not a word in it has been changed . . .
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Samuel R. Delany including rare images from his early career.
About the Author
Samuel R. Delany published his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, at the age of twenty. Throughout his storied career, he has received four Nebula Awards and two Hugo Awards, and in 2008 his novel Dark Reflections won the Stonewall Book Award. He was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2002, named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2014, and in 2016 was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. Delany’s works also extend into memoir, criticism, and essays on sexuality and society. After many years as a professor of English and creative writing and director of the graduate creative writing program at Temple University, he retired from teaching in 2015. He lives in Philadelphia with his partner, Dennis Rickett.
Read an Excerpt
Return to Nevèrÿon
By Samuel R. Delany
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Samuel R. Delany
All rights reserved.
'NO ONE IS IN the castle.' Barefoot, the old woman squatted before her loom. (Someone had told the pig girl the pattern the woman wove was magic—though she didn't remember who or when. Perhaps it was just a tale that went from yard to yard in the afternoon.) 'Never has been. Never will be.'
'I saw him,' repeated the tall woman. With one hand she propped a full water jar on her shoulder. (Swinging by her knee, the jar hooked to her forefinger had to be empty.) 'He was a big man. He rode a wonderfully high-stepping horse with trappings of beaten brass and braided leather. His armor was more elaborate than that of any soldier you've ever seen pass through this part of Nevèrÿon. He was no ordinary Imperial officer. His cloak was embroidered like the richest of lords'. He rode into the overgrown courtyard, dismounted, and went inside. I watched him from the trees.' The jar's shadow moved from the grass to the crumbled earth around the loom's foot to the half-finished fabric and back. 'You can be sure, he's a great personage, who'll stay up there overnight so that he can join Lord Krodar's funeral cortege that passes here tomorrow. Why he's not with a whole retinue, I don't know. Someone who rides such a horse and dresses in such armor and stops at the local castle shouldn't be traveling alone. He should have servants and guards and fine-fringed wagons—don't you think? That's what I'd expect—at least of someone like him, stopping there for the night.'
'There's no one in the castle.' The old woman pulled up swinging shuttles, pushed one down among the threads, hooked another through with her forefinger, completing one line to start in on the next. 'You played among those walls and corridors when you were a girl. It was empty then. I played there when I was a child, too. No one was there. Those rooms, those halls, those stairs, those towers ...' She wrapped two threads around each other and thrust one through the warp, then tamped it with the tamping stick. 'And you say there's someone living in the castle ... Ridiculous!'
'Not living there, just stopping there. For the night, no more. Why do I stand here arguing with you, old lady!' (The pig girl saw the shuttles' shadows dance off on the grass far faster than the swinging jar's.) 'There's a man in the castle this evening—a strong, great, powerful man, who rides a fine horse and sports rich armor and wears a wonderfully worked cloak. Lord Krodar's funeral procession will pass along the north-south highway before midday tomorrow. You just watch. The man will stay in the castle tonight, and in the morning he'll ride down to join the procession and pay his respects to that greatest minister of Nevèrÿon. He'll travel with them all the way to the High Court of Eagles at Kolhari. And when he rides down to meet them, he'll pass along here. If you can look up from your work for a moment, you'll see him!'
'I played in the castle,' the pig girl said. She was eleven, very serious, somewhat gawky, and held a cat in her dirty arms. 'Castles are full of wonderful women in beautiful clothes who dance and dance with wonderful men. You give orders for impossible things to be done; and, in the castle, people run right off to do them. That's what everybody plays in the castle. I bet that's what he'll play. When you play in the castle like that, it doesn't feel empty.' She looked at the old woman, then at the tall one. She wanted them to approve of her, but they seemed unaware she was there.
'The castle's empty.' The old woman shifted her squat. 'There's never been anyone in it. There wasn't anyone before. And there isn't now.'
'This is silly!' The tall woman raised her chin beside the jar on her shoulder. I only came to tell you a bit of gossip—' the one by her knee swung faster—'and here you sit, arguing with me about something you didn't see and I did. I mean it's just too—'
'The castle's not empty!' the pig girl blurted. 'It's full of lords and ladies and wet, dark dungeons where they lock their enemies up in chains and beat them and torture them and kill them horribly and they come back as monsters who run hooting through the upper halls, so that the children who followed you in all turn around and chase each other out, shrieking and scared to death!' She giggled. 'Look down over the banister, watch them run outside, and you can laugh yourself sick—then sneak around and hoot some more! The castle's full of beautiful queens and handsome warriors and monsters and sorcerers—' Here she must have squeezed the cat, for she was a strong, friendly, clumsy girl. It meowed hideously, twisting in her arms, dropped to the grass, ran from the yard and up the slope, stopped to stare back, then fled.
'Of course it's empty! That's not what I mean.' The tall woman frowned at the pig girl. 'Really, you're as bad as she is. I only said there's a man there this evening. And I'm sure he'll stay till the funeral procession passes the village tomorrow.'
'And I say there's no one.' The old woman pushed her shuttles through the strings. 'You know it as well as I do. I think it's always been empty. Who would ever live in those drafty halls? Who would ever stay in those cramped little rooms? Think of the cleaning. Think of the furniture. Think of the work!'
'And I have work to do!' The tall woman shook her head. 'I certainly haven't time to stand here arguing with someone who can't follow two words in a row (how do you keep your weaving straight!) and a dirty creature—' this last was to the pig girl—'who dreams of queens, when she has work to do too!' But there was a smile in with it.
The old woman, however, looked up crossly. 'I'm doing my work!' she declared. Strings quivered. Shuttles swung. 'You're the ones standing about, with your silly lies and your chatter!'
The tall woman shook her head again and, with her full and her empty pitchers, started across the yard.
The pig girl wondered if she should go after the cat, who, for all its meowing and occasional scratches, was better company than grownups. But she lingered by the loom for minutes, watching the pattern, with its greens, its beiges, its blues, extend itself, fixed and stable, line after line, behind quivering strings, aged fingers, shaking shuttles ...CHAPTER 2
His breath locked on what burned in his throat: the air he dragged in through the heat, past whatever scalding constriction, woke him, rasping, choking, roaring. He opened his eyes on blackness, while a clutch in his stomach muscles jerked him to sit—which hurt! He thrust a hand down, grasped wet fur. Astonishingly warm, the air slid so slowly into his loud lungs. Water dribbled his cheek, his back, his forearm.
It was incredibly hot in the dark. At his breath's painful height, he tried to push the air out; it leaked loudly from his gaping mouth, only a little faster than it had come in; only a little quieter.
Seconds later (it seemed minutes), he began to drag in the next chestful, dreading it even as he felt the constriction loosen. In his sleep, he'd urped some little stomach juices that, rolling into the wrong pipe, had stung his throat to spasm.
He tasted the acids at the back of his tongue, felt them burning deep down.
What ran on him was sweat.
And the small stone room in which he'd chosen to sleep (there'd been a bed, for one thing) had grown hugely hot.
He moved one leg over the fur throw he'd spread on the boards: the fur was drenched. Momentarily he wondered whether, in his infernal sleep, he'd spilled his urine. But no. It was only perspiration. As he stood up, bare feet on stone, it trickled his flank, his buttock. He rasped out one more breath, got in another, loud as a dying man's gargle: the air came a little more easily ...
He took a lurching step in darkness toward where he remembered the window. Pushing out, he felt rock. He moved over, pushed again, felt rock again; moved and pushed once more; wood swung—
The sliver of moonlight at the plank's edge became a slab of silver: the shutter banged back.
(When he'd gone to sleep, it had been open, the moon down. Some breeze at moonrise must have blown it to.)
The air—from what was probably the warmest summer night—hit like springwater. It made him cough. For moments, he thought he would choke again. But in another minute his breath, though still labored, made only the normal roar between his lips, the usual whisper in his nasal cave.
Leaning naked on beveled rock, he looked down.
From its greenery (olive under the moon) a tree thrust out a dead branch. Below it lay a pool, rimmed with bricks whose pattern had been obscured here and warped there by grass tufts and roots. Above scummed water, a single owl (or bat) darted down and up and down, so that ripples rilled among the leaves and algae. Sweat on his lashes tickled into his eyes: he blinked. And twigs, ripples, and the lines between bricks seemed a tangled loom, with the mad shuttle of a bat (or owl) swooping through.
He turned to the sweltering room. Either side of his shadow, moonlight dusted the stone. Heat again was against his face. Air from the window chilled his back. How had the room gotten so hot?
In the corner lay his pack (from which he'd taken the fur), open, spilling the funeral gifts. His sword in its sheath lay on the floor. There was his helmet, his gauntlets, his grieves.
On the rumpled fur was a black blotch where his sweat, neck to knee, had soaked it.
Another drop trickled his calf.
Taking one more breath of stifling air, he crossed the chamber, stopping to feel the fur. To lie on that again would be like crawling into wet rags. Besides, though he was a vital man, he was no longer a young one: he was of an age when to interrupt a night's sleep was to end it.
At the door, he lifted the locking plank and leaned it on the wall. The rock was hot—almost too hot to touch! As he pulled one and another doorplank free, again he wondered how the little tower room he'd picked to sleep in could, on a summer night, become such a furnace.
As the third came loose, a cross breeze started. He shivered, naked, leaning the board against the wall; the heat warmed his knuckles. Taking another long breath, he stepped into the hall.
Not cold, he tried to tell his body. Just a summer's night in an abandoned ruin. He rubbed the heel of his hand down his temple: sweat came away oily on his palm. He ran his other hand over his head: his rough hair, thin on top, was usually braided in the club-like military manner at the side of his head. But it had come largely loose. His fingers, catching in it, pulled the rest free.
Starting down the steps, he put his fingers against the rock. Yes, the wall even here was warm, despite the stairwell's cool.
He descended in darkness. Beneath his bare feet the steps were dusty and irregularly spaced. Under his hand the stones were gritty. Once he crossed a landing he vaguely remembered, before doubling around on more stairs. For the third, the fifth, the seventh time he wondered if he should return to the little room for a weapon—just a knife. Then he saw the flicker.
He moved to the arch and looked around the wall.
Across the hall, in the long fireplace, flames lapped the logs. On the floor, ten feet from the hearth, a young man lay, stomach down, head on his bent arm. The hair was yellow. The face was hidden in sleep and shadow.
The big man frowned.
Again he thought of returning for a knife—though this youngster, some barbarian who'd made his way into the castle much as he had, was as naked as he. The man looked around. Why, he wondered, build such a fire in high summer? Could the night outside have grown that chill? Along the balcony the arches were dark caves. Staring as far into the corners as the firelight reached, he could see no pack.
But certainly these summer flames had started some convection in the castle's flues, vents, and conduits that, with the rising heat, had turned the room above into an oven.
No, he decided, he did not need a weapon with this naked barbarian—unless the boy slept with a dagger beneath his belly. But, while desert men sometimes did that, it was not the barbarians' style. As if answering the man's thoughts, the boy snorted and rocked to his side, trying to turn on his back. (No, there was nothing under his stomach but stone.) In his sleep he scrubbed at his sparse beard, then settled on his belly again, one leg drawn up.
Among the fire's crackles, the man heard the boy's breath. If I had my blade, he thought, I'd only frighten him if he woke. Stepping out into the hall, he walked toward the barbarian, dropped to a squat to watch—
The hooting began high in the dark and soared up under the ceiling, to warble out within its own echo.
The man twisted to look, lost balance, and went down on one knee, catching himself on the rock floor with a fist. And the boy came awake, pushing himself up, blinking about, staring at the ceiling, at the man.
Man and boy—for the barbarian, despite his scraggly beard, was no more than sixteen—looked at each other, then at the dark.
The boy said: 'What was that? Who are you? What are you doing here?' and kept looking up and back; when his face came down, the fire lit one blond cheek, one blinking eye, leaving one side of his face near black.
For the length of three of the man's slow breaths (and seven of the boy's quick ones), flames snapped.
'I suppose,' the man said, after a while, 'it was one of the local gods, ghosts, or demons that haunt these old piles.' He regained his squat. 'My name is Gorgik.' (At that the boy looked over sharply.) 'What am I doing here?' Gorgik shrugged in the flicker. 'Much the same as you, I'd guess. I stopped to spend the night because it was more protected than the forest; these villages are not that friendly to strangers. There's a funeral procession due by the town tomorrow. I must ride out and join them, to go with them on to Kolhari. Since you asked, I've been a state minister ten years, now at the Court of Eagles, now abroad in the land. You look like you've heard my name ...? Many have, especially among the barbarians: because many barbarians have been slaves. And I lead the council on the Child Empress Ynelgo (whose reign is just and generous) to end slavery in Nevèrÿon.' Gorgik chuckled. 'Some even consider me a hero for it. In parts of the land, I am known as Gorgik the Liberator.'
'Are you?' The boy frowned even harder.
The big man shrugged. 'It's a clumsy title—not one an evening's companion should use. I thought I'd come in where I could enjoy your fire a bit more than I could back up there.' He reached out, took the boy's chin in his rough hand, and turned the face full to the light.
Both the boy's eyes blinked now, close set, brown, and long-lashed. (On the man's face, the fire lit a scar that wormed down the brown cheek into the rough beard, salted here and there.) Gorgik let the boy's jaw go. His hand dropped back to his knee. 'Now, you tell me who you are.'
'Why do you look at me like that?'
The man shrugged again. 'I was having dreams, I think. That's what woke me. I wanted to see ... But I've told you enough about me. Who are you? What's your name?'
'I'm Udrog,' the boy said. 'Udrog, the barbarian. Why did you build a fire here?' He sat up now. 'The summer night's warm. Did it turn cold outside?'
'I didn't build it' Gorgik said. 'You built it, Udrog—before you went to sleep. Didn't you?'
'No ...' Again the boy looked around the hall, then back at the flames. 'Didn't you light this fire, while I slept ...'
Gorgik shook his head. 'When I came in and settled down to watch you, it was already burning.' He narrowed green eyes.
'I have no flint for making fire,' Udrog said. 'Besides, it's summer.' The boy drew his legs under him. 'What kind of castle is this? It has strange sounds, strange fires ...'
'There're many strange things in the world.' Gorgik shrugged. 'You learn to live with them.'
The boy looked at the dark-skinned man. 'You're not scared?'
'Nothing has hurt us yet. If someone wanted to harm us, it would have been easier when we both slept alone than now, when we're both awake together.'
Excerpted from Return to Nevèrÿon by Samuel R. Delany. Copyright © 1994 Samuel R. Delany. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe Game of Time and Pain,
The Tale of Rumor and Desire,
The Tale of Gorgik,
Appendix: Closures and Openings,
A Biography of Samuel R. Delany,