After a meteor explosion, Rikardon wakes in a new body and in a strange desert land named Gandalara, where he must uncover his purpose—and survive to outwit his enemies . . .
Tarani is the new High Lord of Eddarta, and she intends to end its tradition of slavery and corruption. But before Tarani’s rule begins in earnest, she and Rikardon have a mission to complete in Raithskar, where a mindgifted Lord known as Ferrathyn is using the Ra’ira’s powers to manipulate the ape-like vineh. The once majestic city is overrun by chaos and fear, and Ferrathyn’s ambition extends far beyond Raithskar.
But another threat is looming, different and more terrifying than any they’ve encountered before. In the wake of a major earthquake, Rikardon finally discovers the origin of his new homeland and the reason he was brought here as Ricardo Carillo many months ago. Every battle and hard-won alliance have been leading to this: a race to save a mighty civilization from destruction, and forge a new future for Gandalara . . .
Praise for the Gandalara Cycle
“Entertaining and well-paced . . . full of swordplay and giant cats.” —Theodore Sturgeon, The Twilight Zone Magazine
“This series as a whole is possibly the best of its kind in many years.” —SF Chronicle
About the Author
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Tarani and I were walking the wide, stone-paved avenue through Lord City, dressed for the desert trail in loose-fitting trousers and tunics. Travel packs — leather pouches laced together in pairs — were slung across our shoulders. We had gathered a small following of children from, the seven extended families of the Lords of Eddarta. They hung back, skittered after us, whispered.
Minutes earlier, Tarani had told only three people that their new High Lord was leaving Eddarta again: Indomel, Tarani's brother and enemy; Zefra, Tarani's mother and uncertain friend; and Hollin, the Lord in whom Tarani had vested her power for the duration of her absence.
I wish I felt better about leaving Indomel and Zefra loose in Lord City, I thought. Still, Tarani seems satisfied that they won't make trouble, and she trusts Hollin. I like him, too, and I think he could handle either Indomel or Zefra alone. Tarani thinks they hate each other too much to cooperate against her, and she may be right.
Zefra, in fact, is still enjoying Indomel's defeat too much to notice that she hasn't collected any power for herself as a result of Tarani's accession as High Lord. But Indomel? As soon as Zefra shows the slightest discontent, he'll try to convince her that Tarani has abandoned her, and that they should work together and use their mindgifts to destroy the government Tarani has set up.
Should I tell Tarani I'm worried? I wondered.
I looked around and noticed that we were approaching the arched stone gateway, the only entrance to Lord City except for the meandering branch of the Tashal River that paralleled the avenue to our left. Two guards, standing inside the gate, straightened into alertness as we approached. They were members of the High Guard, the security force maintained by the family of the High Lord.
Each of the Lord families maintained a Guard of ten to fifty men inside the city and a somewhat larger force at the copper mine run by each family. The city guards served as a symbol of each family's independence inside Lord City, and acted as perimeter guards around each family area. Their real function was watching slaves, preventing theft, and, occasionally, acting as a deterrent to open conflict between the families. The High Guard, the largest in Lord City, also posted watch along the wall around the city itself, and at its gate.
One of the gate guards was a burly, competent-looking man, and he nodded slightly as we came abreast of him. It was Naddam, the man who had been in charge of the Lingis mine just before my own stint in his position. He had shown all the compassion allowed him by the rules toward the slaves placed in his care. I had come to admire and like the man, and I had seen him again only the day before. Seeing him now helped me decide not to voice my fears about Indomel to Tarani.
Naddam promised to send word directly to Raithskar, if anything goes wrong here, I remembered. I nodded and smiled as we passed, and wished for the opportunity to speak a friendly word, but Tarani did not hesitate, and I kept pace with her long stride.
She's the High Lord, I thought. If she's content to leave things this way, then I won't stir up any doubt. Besides, now that she's agreed to go back to Raithskar with me, I think she's as eager as I am to be out of here. We ought to be able to slip away quietly....
We stepped through the thick stone archway, and stopped.
There must have been five hundred people outside the gate. They clumped and milled over most of the grassy slope between the walled city of the Lords and the sprawling, busy streets of Lower Eddarta. When Tarani and I appeared, the crowd focused and shifted toward us, the general murmur coalescing into a louder sound.
I saw Tarani's shoulders twitch, and I believe I knew what she was feeling. It was all I could do to keep my hand from the hilt of Rika, the steel sword that hung from my baldric. The noise of the crowd was unnerving, but as yet it was neither friendly nor angry, and I had no desire to tilt the scales to the negative side.
The mass of people surged up the slope like a strange kind of tide.
The crowd arced around us from the nearer bank of the Tashal to the wall of Lord City, leaving us in an opening that was shaped like a circles quadrant. To our left, people were pressed to the very edge of the riverbank. To our right, the wall of mortared stone met a wall of people.
The leading edge of the crowd swept toward us, then seemed to grow shy about twenty feet away. When Tarani, moving with grace and without any sign of fear, stepped out into the open space, the people in front dug in their heels and struggled to move back against the pressure of the bodies behind them. In spite of their efforts, our space was shrinking, and I felt a touch of claustrophobic panic.
*Keeshah!* I answered the mindvoice. *You're the reason for the crowd, aren't you? As soon as they saw you, the Eddartans knew something was up.*
*You said come,* the sha'um answered, with a note of irritation. *Here since light. Don't want people.*
*I'm not blaming you,* I soothed him, thinking: This crowd has been gathering since dawn, too, but nobody inside Lord City took any notice. Tarani's right — the Lords have been isolated from Eddarta too long.
The crowd was settling down some, but not enough to quell the panic I felt.
*We could use some room, Keeshah,* I said. I sensed restlessness and eagerness from him, and hurriedly added: *Don't hurt anyone, okay? Just bring the family through to us; the people will make room for you.*
Keeshah's rumbling growl sounded behind the outermost ranks pressed against the wall of Lord City. The edge of the mass shrank back from the wall, opening a passage for the sha'um. The big cats walked down the freshly opened pathway and into the pie wedge of open space that Tarani and I occupied. They fairly filled it up: two adult sha'um, nearly man-tall and the length of a man's trunk between shoulder and hip; and two cubs, still only a few months old but already the size of full-grown tigers.
As if by magic, the pie wedge grew to twice the size.
Keeshah came to me, and turned to face the crowd. Yayshah took a similar place beside Tarani. The cubs approached the nearest people curiously, and Yayshah growled a warning to the cubs. I would not have understood the message from the female sha'um on my own, but I heard it loud and clear through my link with the cubs.
Koshah, the young male who was a startling duplicate of his father, roared a complaint and shook his head, fluffing his mane at his mother. At the same time, he spoke to me.
*No fun,* he said, and I crunched down on my impulse to laugh.
Yayshah lunged away from Tarani, and the people in front went into full retreat, banging into and climbing over the people behind them.
"Wait," Tarani called, her vibrant voice sounding clearly above the sudden uproar. The noise subsided slightly. "Please be calm," Tarani urged. "Yayshah will not harm you, but you may injure each other."
The struggling stopped, and some of the folks in back boosted themselves on others' shoulders to watch as Yayshah herded the cubs — Koshah resisting to the last — away from the people and back toward us.
When Yayshah had rejoined us, Tarani put her hand on the female's side. Yayshah crouched; Tarani mounted; Yayshah stood; Tarani sat up straight. From her sitting height, Tarani had a fair view of the crowd, and most of the people could see her.
The movement quieted almost instantly, and all the faces turned toward Tarani.
These people are curious, not angry, I thought, surprised. If six people had just decided who had the final word for thousands of people, and if that person were an absolute stranger to me and my city and my way of life, I think I'd be a little ticked off.
I tried to see Tarani through the eyes of an Eddartan, conscious that it was as difficult for Markasset, the native Gandalaran, as it was for Ricardo, the stranger to all Gandalaran society and custom. Markasset's home city was ruled by a small group of people, but the Supervisors of Raithskar had nothing like the absolute power wielded by the Lords of Eddarta. The Supervisors were administrators who served their city out of dedication and a sense of privilege.
The Lords had decided, for themselves and for the populous city at the foot of the slope, that Tarani was now the High Lord, the leader of Lord City and, by default, the ruler of Lower Eddarta. The appointment had been made not from respect for her leadership skills — though I believe she had won that, after the fact, from the other Lords — but because she happened to have the right parents and seemed a less dangerous choice than her brother.
Yesterday, Lord City had held a Celebration Dance in Tarani's honor. I found myself wondering if the lower city had been celebrating with as much fervor.
Tarani's special, powerful voice rang out again across the quiet. "The sha'um will not harm you," she repeated. She reached down and drew her hand along the jaw of the female she rode, unconsciously slipping into the tradition of the Sharith — another society she had joined smoothly. "This is Yayshah, and the young ones are Koshah and Yoshah. I have asked Yayshah if her cubs may greet you. Please move slowly around them, and touch them only gently."
Tarani glanced at me, and I took the cue.
*Your mother has agreed,* I said, speaking to both the cubs, *to let you say hello to the folks. Koshah, go toward the river and walk back toward the center. Yoshah, you start at the wall. They may want to touch you, but they don't want to hurt you. If someone does hurt you, don't react; just come back over here. Understand?*
*Yes,* said Yoshah, a sense of excitement trembling through the contact.
*Now? Soon? Hurry?* was Koshah's answer. He was shifting his weight back and forth, twisting his neck to look around at me.
*Go slowly,* I emphasized, as the cubs moved out in different directions.
There were times when I could blend with the minds of the sha'um. Those times involved a special, intense sharing of emotions and sensations. It had happened with Keeshah when our survival depended on our united action. It had happened with the cubs unpredictably, at first, and usually as a result of the wild emotional swings common to the young of all species. During the long, tiring trip across Gandalara to Eddarta, I had worked with the cubs to bring that ability to blend under some control.
I reached out to each of them now, only briefly, to get a glimpse of what they were feeling as hand after hand reached out from the wall of bodies to touch them. The crowd had seemed fairly quiet to me, but to the keener hearing of Koshah, each voice was separate and distinct. It was like hearing the individual notes of a symphony. Yoshah was concentrating on the odors — not just the scent of the people, but of their clothes, their work, what they had eaten for breakfast.
At the first touch, Koshah tensed up and Yoshah's mind flinched. But the touch was light and rather pleasant, and it took only a moment for the cubs to relax and enjoy the attention.
The cubs — the first young sha'um ever to be born outside the isolated Valley of the Sha'um — had been a sensation everywhere, but never like this. In Raithskar, they had won the hearts of people mostly because Keeshah was their "resident sha'um" and the cubs were his children. In Thagorn, the Riders had been awed by more than the unique birth. Their feelings had been tied up with recognition of the historical significance of the entire situation: a female sha'um had chosen to leave the Valley; a Rider had formed the unique mind-to-mind bond with a sha'um while both were already adults; and the Rider in this case was a woman.
In both cities, the people had held a daily awareness of sha'um in some form or another. In Eddarta, sha'um were little more than a legend. In addition to being charming young animals, the cubs were almost mythic figures to the people of Eddarta.
When the cubs met in the center of our little clear space, I called them away from the crowd. They came, but only reluctantly.
"We're spoiling them," I said to myself, but Tarani heard and smiled back at me.
"In good cause," she whispered, and turned back toward the waiting people.
The crowd was silent now, everyone watching Tarani expectantly.
"Forgive me, people of Eddarta, for not speaking to you before now. There has been much to do in a very short time. You know I am High Lord, but you do not yet know me. I give you this as a beginning: I shall always give the truth, and I demand it in return."
She looked over the sea of faces.
"I would wish to speak to each of you individually, but that will not be possible. Is there one among you who will speak for all?" The crowd rippled near the river, and a very old woman forced her way out into the clearing. She was nearly bald, and the skin of her face had shrunk up to emphasize the prominence of her supraorbital ridge. She was missing a couple of lower teeth, but the wide tusks — placed in the Gandalaran jaw where canine teeth grew in humans — were white and gleaming against her brownish skin. The old woman walked forward with a slow dignity, her back rounded, one hand lifting the hem of her long yellow tunic to keep it out from underfoot.
She walked to a spot halfway between the crowd and Tarani, and spoke up in a clear voice. "You may speak to me, High Lord," she said, meeting Tarani's gaze boldly. "But be warned that I will test your commitment to the truth. I am Shedo, the baker. The son of my brother is called Volitar, and I ask for news of my kinsman."
A ripple of muscle up Tarani's back was the only sign she gave of her surprise. The people in the crowd were less subtle — the news of who had stepped forward traveled backward in a wave of whispers.
After a moment of tense silence, Tarani said: "Volitar is dead now, Shedo. He died protecting me."
And trying to make sure Tarani never set foot in Eddarta, I thought. That memory must be hard for Tarani right now.
The old woman nodded as if she had expected that answer. The crowd murmured, responding as much to Tarani's obvious grief as to her announcement.
"We have been told," Shedo said, "that you are Pylomel's daughter. Now that I see you, I doubt it less."
"Yet you do have some doubt," Tarani said, "and justly. Physically, I am, indeed, the daughter of Pylomel. Zefra has sworn before the Lords that when she left Eddarta with Volitar, she already carried Pylomels child." Tarani's voice went flat and bitter. "Your former High Lord, my father, was fair in one respect: he would not accept rejection from any woman, Lord or Eddartan. Zefra hated Pylomel and opposed the marriage which he had arranged through the death of her father and uncle. In punishment for her dislike, Pylomel used his mindpower to force Zefra to his bed — before their marriage, and against her will."
The crowd buzzed briefly, caught by the phrase "against her will." In Gandalara, where there were no moral objections or health hazards attached to sex between mutually consenting adults, rape was more rare and even more abhorred than in Ricardo's world. These people must have guessed at the fate of the women occasionally "chosen" from Eddarta as special servants to the High Lord. Tarani had just confirmed that suspicion, and her obvious distress forged a bond of empathy between her and Eddarta.
"In every other way, Shedo, Volitar was my father. He called himself my uncle, but he was the only parent I knew. It was he who taught me what all children must learn: what is right; what is wrong.
"Volitar and I lived quietly in Dyskornis, and I knew nothing of Zefra until less than a year ago. When I first learned her name, I believed as you do, that I had been born of Volitar and Zefra. That belief brought me both comfort — that the man who had raised me with such love and goodness was truly my father — and mystery — why should he have claimed otherwise? It was partially in quest of the answer to that mystery that I first came to Eddarta."
Only partially, I thought, beginning to panic slightly. She's not going to tell them about the Ra'ira, is she? Of course not, I assured myself. I'm just uncomfortable because I'm useless. It's not the first time I've felt this way since we came to Eddarta. I'll have to remember to apologize to Tarani for never understanding, before now, what it's like to follow someone in blind faith, with no idea of what will happen next.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The River Wall"
Copyright © 1986 Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
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