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 . . .
Hidden somewhere in the ancient city of Kä lies the sword of the Kings—a precious artifact that will help Tarani and Rikardon wrest control away from the malevolent High Lord Indomel. Problem is, not only is the sword lost, but so is Kä itself.
Rikardon and Tarani gather their strength in the Valley of the Sha’um, home to war cats like Rikardon’s companion, Keeshah. Tarani forms her own mindlink with Keeshah’s pregnant mate, Yayshah. Soon they’ll journey into the unforgiving desert to search for Kä, guided by memories Rikardon retrieves from the mystic All-Mind. But as Rikardon knows, while the sword can prove Tarani’s claim to the throne, it will also reveal a deception that she may never be able to forgive . . .
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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"You were right," Tarani conceded, when we had ridden well out of the Valley of the Sha'um. "It appears that Worfit has not chosen to wait for us."
"More accurately," I said, "his men gave up — I doubt that Worfit has quit his hunt for me, or that he ever will."
Tarani stretched forward to stroke the fur along Yayshah's lower jaw. The gray-and-brown brindled sha'um slowed, and pressed her cheek into Tarani's hand.
I watched the cat's eye shut and the girl's expression change as they slipped into mindlink communication. For Keeshah and me, who had formed our link when the huge tan cat had been a year-cub and the Gandalaran body I was wearing had been twelve years old, the flow of conscious thought between our minds was nearly second nature. Tarani and Yayshah, both fully adult, had formed their link only recently. For them, communicating took special, conscious effort — but I could see that it was becoming easier.
Tarani's face lost that distracted look, and she smiled at me with some embarrassment. "Forgive me," she said. "It is only that Yayshah — when we speak —"
The sha'um were walking, taking it easy by inclination and on my orders, so that Tarani and I were riding in a position more upright than usual, one much closer to a conventional sitting pose. I reached across the distance between the cats and took Tarani's hand in mine.
"When you talk to Yayshah, what is it like?" I asked.
"It is very different from the way Lonna and I communicated," she said.
A shadow passed over her face at the mention of Lonna. The big white bird had helped us through some tight spots, and had seemed to be genuinely fond of me. But I only missed Lonna; Tarani had lost her. The bird had been her friend and companion for years, the inspiration of Tarani's dream to have her own entertainment troupe, and one of its stars. Not even the magic of a sha'um's friendship could replace what Tarani and Lonna had shared.
"Lonna gave me images," Tarani continued. "Yayshah speaks in impressions — do you understand what I mean?"
"I think so," I answered. "Not just a picture, but what she feels about it — fear or contentment, or whatever?"
"Exactly," Tarani agreed. "And she is trying to use — well, not words ..."
"Conversation," I supplied, "is a deliberate attempt to convey or solicit ideas — the most sophisticated use of language. Language is only a code; you can think of a word as a unit of information. The direct contact with the sha'um makes the code unnecessary. Keeshah and Y use units of meaning."
Tarani was staring at me, the dark eyes looking extraordinarily large in the pale and delicate contours of her face, made more angular by the loss of every unnecessary ounce of weight. I wondered, fleetingly, if the past few weeks of protracted physical effort showed so clearly in my body.
"You continue to surprise me, Rikardon," Tarani said. "The way you speak of contact with the sha'um —"
"Is it different for you and Yayshah?"
"Not at all," she said. "Your description is precise — but not, I feel sure, the product of a sudden insight. You have thought much about the nature of communication, have you not? To what purpose?"
What have I done? I wondered, mentally trying to shake myself alert. She asked Rikardon a question and Ricardo, the language professor, answered her. I slipped right into my old "lecture mode" — a mannerism totally foreign to Markasset and, until now, to Rikardon.
"Talking with a sha'um is fairly new to me, too," I said, "even though Markasset had been doing it for years before I arrived. I've never been able to take it for granted — I've thought about it a lot, that's all," I finished lamely.
"I do forget that you are a Visitor," Tarani said, referring to a situation in which a surviving personality returned from the Gandalaran All-Mind to the body of a living person. Apparently this had been a rare but documented occurrence in Gandalaran history, and I had allowed my friends to believe I was such a case. "You have told me little of your earlier life — do you remember it clearly?"
"Yes," I answered, then groaned inwardly.
Wrong answer, I thought. Now she'll be curious, and I'll have to dodge around the truth — that I come from a completely different world. I might be able to hide it without actually lying, but she'll pick up on the fact that I was "covering up," the way she detected the "professor" in me. And if I had to lie outright, then I'd have to remember which lies I'd told — I can't let that get started.
I must have been wearing my discomfort on my sleeve because Tarani said: "I will not ask of the past now. One day, perhaps?"
I nodded. She smiled, and squeezed my hand lightly before she let it go and lay forward across Yayshah's back, slipping into mental contact with the sha'um.
I felt awful, as though I had broken my mother's favorite vase, then hidden the pieces in the trash, hoping she wouldn't notice.
I wish I could just tell her who and what I really am, I thought. But I just don't know how it would affect her. I'm reminded of a scene from Anna and the King, in which a fracas starts because an educated teacher shows the royal children a map with Siam represented in its true proportion to the rest of the world. Tarani doesn't even know there is more to her world, much less that other worlds exist. The Gandalaran cloud cover has blocked the speculation of the nature of the universe that started in Ricardo's world the first time a man saw a star.
She found it difficult to understand why someone would want to study language — because hers is nearly homogeneous, as unquestioned a fixture of her life as the impassable mountains she calls "Walls." How much harder will it be for her to accept the idea that Gandalara — which seems to me to be two humongous valleys which, placed end to end, are no more than sixteen hundred miles long — has to be only a fraction of the land area on this planet?
But "culture shock" isn't the only reason I'm reluctant, I admitted to myself.
Tarani lay with her cheek pressed against Yayshah's back, just behind the cat's shoulder. Her eyes were closed, and the look of distraction was fading, the muscles of her face relaxing as she dozed off. Awake, Tarani was a formidable woman, strong and competent. Asleep, she looked even younger than her twenty years, thin rather than slim, touchingly vulnerable.
Our relationship exists on many levels, I thought. We have fought the same enemies and lain together, sharing battle and passion and what we have come to believe is our destiny. The one thing we haven't shared equally is the truth about our pasts.
Tarani told me about her "arrangement" with Molik under duress, before she really knew me, but the fact remains that I do know how she earned the money to put together that show. She thought that her dancing was all she ever wanted, and worth using her illusion power to help satisfy the roguelord's lust. But that earlier relationship was still affecting her when I met her. It wasn't until we faced Molik, and she admitted the shame was more in her perception than in her actions that she was able to forgive him and herself, and be free.
Free of the shame, I corrected myself, but not of the memory.
She was occupied at that time with worry over Volitar, the man she had known as her uncle, and whom Molik had kidnapped — to coerce Tarani into helping a pair of assassins he was sending after the Lieutenant of the Sharith. When Molik (thanks to Thymas), Volitar (thanks to Gharlas) and Tarani's show (her own choice) were all dead, the girl's past was still with her.
I think that some of Tarani's feeling of "destiny" can be attributed to her need to have some new direction in her life. She came with me, partly, in order to leave behind her past.
That's why I can't bring myself to tell her the truth about Ricardo and Markasset, I realized. It's not only that she has trusted me, and that I've been lying by evasion whenever we've discussed my "dual" nature. If I tell her about Ricardo, I can't see any way not to tell her about Antonia, too — and that troubled period that centered around Molik will come sharply into focus again, with a slightly different perspective.
Antonia Alderuccio had been with Ricardo Carillo on the deck of that cruise ship when the meteor — or whatever it was — had hit us. She had been a recent acquaintance, and I had been so occupied in Gandalara that I had given her little thought, except to regret that someone so lovely and charming had been lost. It hadn't occurred to me that she might have come to Gandalara, too — until I had heard Tarani, in a moment of distracted passion, pronounce my name "Ricardo." A man's name without a consonant ending is totally alien to Tarani's culture. I had realized, then, that Antonia had come into this world four years earlier, objective time, and in a different way.
I had occupied a body whose Gandalaran personality had recently died; Antonia had been forced to share her "host" with a live, native personality.
I'm absolutely convinced that it was Antonia who taught a sweet and sheltered sixteen-year-old girl the power of her body, and showed her how to use it. I'm also sure that Antonia has only meant to help the Gandalaran girl. Except for intensifying the conflict between control and helplessness that all adolescents suffer, Antonia's worldliness and maturity have generally been assets to Tarani. The human presence gave Tarani the same protection from Gandalara's mindpower that I have — a dualness that isn't subject to a uniquely Gandalaran force. But Antonia's undetected influence has brought a great deal of confusion and distress into Tarani's life.
Tarani and I have talked about the fact that two people such as we are needed, right here and right now, to keep anyone — least of all her cruel brother Indomel — from using the Ra'ira's power as a telepathic channel to tyrannize and, ultimately, destroy Gandalara. Ricardo and Antonia, it seems, are equally part of that destiny. I can't help being afraid that, once Tarani knows the truth, I'll be linked with that past she's trying to avoid, and — I shuddered — and she'll run from me, just as she runs from her past now.
I'd lose her, I thought. Them. Tarani and Antonia. I love them both, with passion, respect, protectiveness, tenderness, humility — with a magnitude neither Ricardo nor Markasset ever experienced.
When we find the sword — please, God, let that sword be the agent of their union.
I realized that I was actually and sincerely praying — the first time in a long while. And I was a trifle embarrassed to realize that what I was really praying for was what Ricardo would have called a "cop-out."
I want the union between Tarani and Antonia to do my explaining for me, I realized. I want Tarani to understand and forgive, all in one blinding flash of comprehension.
It would be nice to be able to talk to Tarani without having to hide anything. Right now, no one knows the truth —
I jumped when Keeshah's thought touched my mind. The feel of his fur under my hands and his body between my legs brought me vividly back to reality.
*How is it, Keeshah,* I asked, when I had recovered from my shock, *that you can follow my thoughts without my knowing it, but I have to ask what you're thinking?*
I was referring to our conscious conversation, not the rare moments in which he and I merged so completely that we could share one another's sensory perception.
*You think more,* he said.
I laughed aloud, remembering at the last second to muffle the noise so that I wouldn't wake Tarani. Yayshah looked around at me, her eyes slitted and her ears cocked back warily, then returned her attention to the route we were taking.
We had left behind the thick, tangled greenery that characterized the Valley of the Sha'um — although, strictly speaking, the area was less a valley than the verdant foothills at the junction of two mountain ranges. The Morkadahls ran roughly north and south, and another range of high mountains, which formed part of what the Gandalarans called the Great Wall, ran roughly east and west. I guessed there must have been a network of small streams trickling down from the higher ground, and probably a sort of underground delta effect, to support the lushness of the Valley.
We were traveling south, following the eastern edge of the Morkadahls. The countryside here was much like what I had seen on the western side of the range — twisted and curling dakathrenil trees mixed with lots of species of bushes. Unlike the towering forest that marked the home of the sha'um, few of these plants grew more than six feet high, preferring to cling to and shade the water-giving ground and, in the process, provide homes for the variety of small animals, insects and birds that shared their space.
Moving across the overgrown ground should have been little problem for the sha'um, who were accustomed to the much taller, more complicated, and occasionally barbed undergrowth of the Valley. But I could see that Yayshah was moving with exaggerated caution, placing her feet carefully.
*She's having a harder time than you are, Keeshah,* I said. *Is it because of her cubs? Is it hurting her to travel?*
*Don't know,* the cat replied.
There was an overtone of worry in Keeshah's mind, and something more. I felt a sudden sense of alarm.
*What's bothering you?* I asked him.
*Female here because of me. Cubs. Afraid. Don't want hurt.*
*Don't take all that blame on yourself,* I said gently.
*Yayshah came along because of Tarani, too — because she can talk to Tarani the same way you can talk to me.*
I felt a sense of agreement from him. *Woman knows what female needs. I don't.*
There was sadness and guilt in the thought, guilt I was forced to share. Keeshah had been deeply enthralled in a period of his life which excluded me, a time when he had been totally preoccupied with the biological need to mate and reproduce. In order to achieve perfect communion with those needs, he had instinctively cut off the conscious functioning of our mindlink. He had been mate and father only, totally devoted to Yayshah.
Tarani and I had been cornered near the poison-filled volcanic crater the Gandalarans called the Well of Darkness. In desperation, I had called to Keeshah. Nothing short of imminent physical danger to me could have penetrated that instinctive blockage, I was sure — but Keeshah's devotion to me had let him re-establish our conscious link, and he had come to us. His presence had saved our lives.
Once he had broken it, Keeshah had not been able to achieve again the natural communion he had forsaken. Yet his loyalty to his family was still in operation, making him feel selfish and concerned that his preference for me would interfere with their welfare.
*I know it troubles you that you can't take care of Yayshah the way you think you should,* I told Keeshah.
*But look at it this way — there are three of us now who love her. We won't let her or the cubs come to any harm.*CHAPTER 2
When Tarani awoke, I asked her about Yayshah's caution.
"She moves easily," Tarani said, after slipping into and out of a quick linkage with the female sha'um. "And I sense only a little discomfort because of the cubs. But her eyes seem to be hurting — I think the light hurts her eyes."
"Of course," I said. "The Valley is shady and relatively cool — she must be suffering from all this light and heat." I looked up at the sky which was, as usual, smoky gray with the cloud cover. I didn't have to gauge the position of the brighter spot that marked the sun to tell that it was mid- afternoon; my Gandalaran inner awareness operated like a perpetual clock.
"Let's stop here and rest," I suggested. "We can move on after dark, if we feel like it — it will be easier traveling for Yayshah."
We found a spot between two tall boulders that was relatively shady. Yayshah snuggled down until she was both on and in the bushy growth at their feet, and went promptly to sleep.
*Hunt,* Keeshah told me, and bounded away, headed for the higher hills.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Search for Kä"
Copyright © 1984 Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
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