The Hunters and the Hunted
The Rise of the Alliance 3
by Sherwood Smith
Everything changes when the alliance is infiltrated by Detlev’s boys . . .
In volume one, A Sword Named Truth, a shaky alliance made among young rulers brought too early to their thrones survived an enchantment, commanded by Siamis, the handsome young Norsundrian. Siamis was defeated, and the world celebrated, believing peace had come!
At the start of volume two, The Blood Mage Texts, the alliance seems to be a thing of the past as two quests reveal long-hidden secrets. Meanwhile Siamis has gone renegade, hunted by both sides.
As the Rise of the Alliance saga continues, Siamis is not the only one being hunted. The sinister and elusive Norsundrian commander Detlev has been seen more often in the past five years than he has in the past five hundred. The young allies to reform the alliance–meeting unexpected difficulties when no one can agree on what form it should take.
That is before a series of murders leads to the shocking news that the alliance has been infiltrated by a mirror alliance of Norsundrian boys.
Trained by Detlev.
Which leads inexorably to the deadliest of stalking games …
What critics are saying about Book 1 of Rise of the Alliance, A Sword Named Truth
“The leisurely pace, sprawling cast, and wide-ranging scope will delight existing fans and those seeking an immersive experience.”
“A new book continuing the complex worldbuilding of the “Inda” series will be a welcome addition for Smith’s fans…. Highly recommended for those who enjoy the multifacted fantasy epics of writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, or Robin Hobb.”
(gyve: to fetter, to shackle, to bind)
I will begin this chronicle with Detlev, who emerged from Norsunder Beyond into the center of a violent struggle for power at Norsunder Base. He stepped over the dead and entered the command center, currently deserted as Dejain and Bostian stalked one another elsewhere in the fortress.
He found out how long he had been gone via the accumulation of messages in the dispatch tray. There was no sign of Siamis, nor any report.
He reached the last, considered the lacunae, then sat down to write a coded note.
Why was I not alerted about the blood mage text? Did any of you try to secure it?
A short time later came the answer:
Jilo of the Chwahir was either given it, or was given the location by Kessler Sonscarna. Senrid Montredaun-An took it away. I wrote a report immediately. I found out through gossip that Kessler took the texts back, and I reported that, too. Since we received no new orders, and information was long after the fact, we stayed tight with standing orders.
Our relay is compromised. Reports to be made in person, through you. Commencing with your conveying these orders, face to face.
At the other end of the world, in a place of mutable time, occasionally—cruelly—some trick of light in a changing sky evoked in Siamis’s memory the cloud ships of Yssel, the last of which he witnessed sinking slowly to a fiery death nearly five thousand years ago: dragon-ribbed keelson, spars of glowing crystal, and vast sails iridescent as wasp wings.
The glimpses into past times were never quick to last. The world had changed so vastly, and he was no longer a terror-stricken, bewildered boy. But echoes of those long ago emotions sometimes lingered: astonishment, harrowing realization, the numbness of betrayal, and finally a long-smoldering anger.
“I will someday destroy the entire world,” he had shrieked when summoned to the Garden of the Twelve early after he was taken, and all the Host had laughed but one.
Ilerian tipped his head, regarding Siamis with mild interest. “How will you go about it?”
Later, Detlev had said, “Existence will be far less painful if you say nothing to catch Ilerian’s interest. But if that cannot be avoided, have an answer. And always have a plan. “
Siamis had scorned his uncle’s too-late advice as he’d scorned everything his uncle said and did, until it was proven—excruciatingly, and lasciviously prolonged—to be true.
So his real training began. In Norsunder-Beyond, where time was nearly meaningless, marked by occasional and brief emergences into the real world for either training or a lesson, he had no age markers to measure by except by guesswork.
He might have been the equivalent of fourteen when he figured out how to combine the two—flout and stealth. Flouting Detlev when he could be perceived by the Host or their minions had amused them, and each time he’d been caught he’d suffered the consequences philosophically. While Norsunder’s lords, who rarely stirred from their timeless citadel, began to regard his errors as a typical for callow youth, he had learned from each.
The lesson he kept closest: the mind gained in strength along with the body only in the physical realm, where time resumed its natural progression, where there was sunlight and the fresh air that renews itself as it sweeps over pure water. But those excursions had to be brief, and always in obedience to someone else’s plan.
When at last he dared venture on his own to explore the immeasurable realm between Norsunder’s ageless, arid center and the world, he knew how to leave no physical trace or magical shadow. Detlev called that the hand through the water.
Finally, the most dangerous of all, he essayed single visits back in time, using the great window in the Garden of the Twelve at Norsunder’s center. It was vital to be unperceived; an error meant far worse than the idle cruelties of those who found entertainment in such pursuits, it meant being forever lost in a fold of time.
And so, it transpired, learning to maneuver in Norsunder had prepared him for dealing with the anomaly the mages of Old Sartor had named the Moonfire.
He moved with practiced stealth, the stages of his plan ranked mentally in meticulous order, but found that this anomaly was far more slippery than Norsunder’s magic-straitened boundaries. He had the where, but not the when . . .
Late summer, 4743 AF
Delfina Valley to the Border of Chwahirsland
Mondros’s beard bristled as his eyes widened with horror.
“When I think,” he said to Tsauderei, as thunder rumbled low in the distance, “how very close we came to knowing nothing whatsoever about this blood mage text, I’m afraid I am going to have nightmares for months. Years.”
Tsauderei shook his head slowly. He, too, felt that unsettling roil in the gut that came with a sense that they had lost control of something important. “This is, in a way, worse than the time the youngsters took themselves off to Geth-deles without consulting any of us. What do you suggest we do?”
“What can we do?” Mondros asked, broad hands extended to either side on the word ‘can’.
Tsauderei said, “Jilo, Senrid, the Mearsiean girls—it’s their alliance again.”
“Which was a benighted idea.”
“But don’t you see, I feel confident in stating that, except for Kessler Sonscarna, whose motivations are impossible to guess beyond an apparent animus against Norsunder, at every stage they thought they were doing their best. Jilo turns to Senrid of Marloven Hess, who turns to young Leander in Vasande Leror, who turns to his friends in Mearsies Heili, all using those young Colendi scribe students as a communications clearing house. The way they’ve been trained to serve.”
“I see ignorant youths acting without due consideration, especially for their guardians.” Mondros’s deep voice rumbled low in his massive chest.
“Oh, and they’re the first generation to do that,” Tsauderei said sardonically.
“Granted.” Mondros uttered an unwilling laugh. “My ire is entirely bound up in my sense of personal failure. I thought I’d established a good enough understanding with young Jilo to enable him to come to me. He faces a monumental task, one might as well say an impossible task. He cannot possibly succeed alone, and he seems to know it, yet there he is, laboring alone in that vile fortress where no one can get in to aid him in dismantling Wan-Edhe’s architecture of evil.”
“Mondros. Don’t you see the problem?” Tsauderei said. “I do. At far too late an age.”
“The very reason we have mage schools, to provide a hierarchy as fallback. A trusted hierarchy. None of these young folk seem to have the luxury of trusted hierarchy, representing cumulative wisdom. Several survived by learning early they could not trust those in authority over them.”
“So they trust each other instead. Yes, I see it.” Mondros glared into space.
Tsauderei opened his hands. “When youth turns to youth for wisdom, it makes good sense to hare off the world to Geth-deles without telling anyone, and to translate and hide a blood mage text that Norsunder is seeking.”
“But you had them living in your valley all last summer. You mean they don’t trust you?”
“Atan does,” Tsauderei said slowly. “Hibern as well, though I suspect she communicates with me on direct orders from Erai-Yanya. As yet, only a few of them know her well enough to trust her opinion. In any case, I think the problem runs back farther than last summer. It runs back before they were born, to when I turned down the offer to head the northern school because I was impatient of negotiation and compromise. My old friend Evend was more patient, but he’s gone. I’m seen for what I am, standing outside the hierarchy, acting on my own, which suffices to justify Senrid and Jilo and the rest in acting on their own.”
“So what do we do? Warn them?” Mondros asked.
“As if they don’t know their dangers? I think they do, at least in part. The part that they don’t understand is the perspective that comes with age, which leads me to suspect that they would take our cautions as more finger wagging. I think we need to convince them that they need us.”
Tsauderei sighed heavily. “And the need is only going to get worse. We must establish good communication with all these youngsters as soon as possible, so that trust will come.”
Mondros eyed him, hands on knees, elbows out. “Speaking of trouble, what do you make of these magical trespasses in Bereth Ferian? Local trouble brewing in the north?”
“Been pondering that.” Tsauderei grunted. “Without further evidence, my instinct is to refrain from thinking politically. Chwahirsland, Bereth Ferian—my Delfina Valley. Look at the connections. Why would any mage venture past Oalthoreh’s wards in Bereth Ferian, after all these centuries of relative quiet? Since nothing has gone missing, Oalthoreh’s fear that the mage is after the Moonfire seems an unsettlingly good guess. At the very same time, why would Kessler Sonscarna dig out a blood mage text obviously secreted in Chwahir archives for at least as long?”
Mondros’s heavy brows shot upward. “You think there might be some connection with the Venn?” His voice was a low rumble in his chest, unsettlingly echoed by the distant thunder; he heard it, and uttered an unwilling laugh. “Sinister, aren’t I?”
“The Venn have always had that effect.” Tsauderei stroked his mustache, which Mondros noted was beautifully groomed. “I would have said it’s far more likely that the connection has to do with the Chwahir, and Wan-Edhe, except Bereth Ferian is way up north, one would think too far for anything of use to the Chwahir.”
“But not far enough away for the Venn,” Mondros said.
Tsauderei pursed his lips, head back, and Mondros observed him as the elder mage stared upward in reverie. Rumor had it the old boy had been handsome and dashing in his day—popular with lovers, though he’d never settled with one. He still wore the long, closed robes of his young manhood, sporting that diamond in his ear, and the long hair of those old fashions. Laughter flared in Mondros at the realization that we are never truly old inside our heads.
“So why now?” Tsauderei finally said, and Mondros’s humor extinguished. “Let’s assume the connection is the Venn. Norsunder has certainly wanted the Venn and their magic for centuries. Maybe it’s become a primary goal now that they’ve been defeated again in trying to establish rifts big enough to bring their armies over from Norsunder-Beyond. But I don’t believe the Venn have rift magic.”
“We don’t know that. We don’t know what they’ve been up to inside their borders for the past six or seven centuries,” Mondros said grimly, chill gripping the back of his neck. “You think it’s a Venn renegade mage? Risking the treaty?”
They both knew that the ancient treaty stated that any Venn mage caught practicing magic outside their border could be executed on sight. That is, if that the Arrow wards didn’t destroy them first.
“It’s possible, after all these centuries. I think we need to find out.”
“But no mage is permitted inside their border any more than their mages are allowed out in the world. Only traders can enter their harbors, and those apparently don’t get into the Venn cities.” Mondros swooped his hand, suggesting a dive into tunnels.
“We couldn’t,” Tsauderei said slowly, “but someone young might. Someone used to travel. Learns languages fast and gets along well. Skilled in the ways the Venn once admired, and probably still do . . .”
Mondros stared back uncomprehending, and then thrust his fingers through his beard. “You mean Rel? You want me to ask him, scarcely a month after he found out who I am? I feel guilty enough leaving him asleep to sneak away for this conversation!”
Tsauderei waved a hand to and fro, hiding how astonishing he’d found his old friend’s confession that Rel was his son. As old as he was, he could still be caught by surprise. But now he comprehended Mondros’s reluctance to talk about his past. “I understand. He’s your boy. But Mondros, I did listen to the youngsters last summer, even if they didn’t turn to me for advice. I believe he’d like to be asked.”
Tsauderei said provocatively, “If I’d known who he was, I might have made an attempt to become better acquainted.”
Mondros, stung, said, “I never told anyone but Raneseh. It seemed safer. You know how deadly Wan-Edhe is.” He shook his head.
“This was not an accusation, merely a reminder of the effects of keeping secrets for what seem to be the best of reasons,” Tsauderei said gently, and seeing that tough, wary, reclusive Mondros was genuinely upset, he went on. “So you didn’t know where Rel was. Or that he was in the midst of the fighting, until after the fact. That was a necessary ill. You were vitally employed in making certain that Norsunder’s war did not become a mage war. And rescuing Roderic Dei. Which no one else could have done.”
Mondros’s angry flush died away, leaving the downward gaze of remorse. “I could not find the queen. I still do not know if she lives.”
“This is the price we mages pay,” Tsauderei reminded him.
They both reflected on the fact that however much governments argued with one another, they were pretty much all agreed: mages must stay out of politics. It was an ancient prejudice, far too ingrained to overcome. Mondros’s efforts on behalf of Everon would never be known by more than a few, and certainly never acknowledged.
“So you think I ought to ask Rel to go to the Land of the Venn?”
“I think he would be complimented by the trust implied, and I believe he would enjoy the challenge. He’s an excellent observer, and travelers are often the best placed people to hear general talk of events inside a country. If there are great changes talked of by ordinary people inside the Venn kingdom, then that might warrant further exploration, including diplomatic pressure.”
“Further, if he tells his allies that you are entrusting him with a crucially important task, perhaps they, in turn, might begin to extend their trust past him to you.”
“All right, then,” Mondros said. “I’m willing to try that, since I have so obviously failed with Jilo, struggling alone in that damned city. And Rel doesn’t know any magic, so there’s no residue around him.” Mondros slapped his knees. “I’ll put it to him when he wakes.”
You would think that father and son reuniting would be an occasion for joy.
In a sense it was, but Rel was aware that he should be happy, that one day he might feel happy. It would be a mistake to say that finding his father was a disappointment, because that was not at all true. It was more that “father” in Rel’s mind took an amorphous, ideal form. Until he found him his father could have been anyone.
But now “father” had a face, a form, and his own goals. His own life. As the days went by, they worked together, and studied Ancient Sartoran together, both preferring quiet. On the surface they got along well, but then Rel got along well with most people, and Mondros strained every nerve to anticipate what Rel might want, from choice of food to subject of study.
There were times as the days turned into a week, then a month, that Rel would catch himself as he sat across from this strange man at his rough table, or watched him poring over his books, or listened to his deep breathing in the other bunk in the loft bedroom—his overwhelming emotion was a sense of unreality. And at times, awkwardness.
Mondros felt the awkwardness when he saw it in Rel, and each hesitation, each down-and-away glance, hurt him. But he strove to hide the hurt, grateful because he sensed no anger or resentment. Perhaps Rel, who might have lain awake thinking he could be anyone from anywhere, was having a rough time adjusting to the fact that he was not only half-Chwahir and a descendent from one of the most infamous families in that kingdom, but his other half a disinherited exile from a kingdom with a sinister reputation.
After the conversation with Tsauderei, Mondros intended to get right to the Venn problem, but he spent a couple of days trying to find a way to bring up the subject without it seeming as if he wanted to rediscover his son in time to use him.
Over breakfast one morning, after a disturbed night, he finally forced himself in what he considered an uncomfortably snaky way to mention Tsauderei wanting to find an experienced traveler for a scouting mission.
Rel’s chin cut upward no more than the width of a grass blade, but the reaction caught Mondros by surprise.
Tsauderei was right, he thought grimly. He didn’t know his own son at all. “I do not want you feeling any obligation,” he said anyway, because that much he’d planned. “But if you want to hear it, I’ll give you a report.”
“Please,” Rel said.
And Mondros did. Rel’s obvious interest caused him to think that Rel was like him after all, liking a defined goal, and the prospect of action.
He was partly right. Rel gazed down at the breadcrumbs on his plate, almost giddy with relief. As soon as he recognized that inward release, he tightened up again with remorse. He shouldn’t be so grateful for a natural exit, but he was.
Mentally he stuttered over the word ‘father,’ and the past night or so he’d been wondering how long he was supposed to stay. Winter would be arriving soon in these high mountains, making travel impossible. He didn’t know if he was expected to call this cottage home, even though he didn’t feel anymore at home here than he did at Raneseh’s holding.
Raneseh had trained him in etiquette, but there was no rule for this situation.
“ . . . there are Destinations in the lands at either side of the Venn border, but I’m told the patrols are formidable, as are the penalties for being caught crossing. I know the Venn trade, but that is limited, and every scrap searched.”
“It sounds interesting,” Rel said. “I’ve never been up that far. Captain Heraford said once that there’s plenty of ship trade. Captains who can deal with the constant storms, and pass Venn inspections, stand to make a lot bringing out those porcelain stoves they make, with the enameled knotwork decoration. And they take in grains and foods they can’t grow underground. I can always get work on a ship, as I can hand, reef, and steer.”
“Shall I send you by magic?”
Rel smiled into Mondros’s dark eyes so much like his own, and guilt harrowed him again at the anxiousness he saw there, almost a plea.
“No need. If they are as wary as you say, I’ll want to learn my way, and I’ll do that better traveling as I usually do. Since there doesn’t seem to be urgency.”
Mondros agreed, understanding what was not said: Rel would be gone before he could be mired in the cottage over winter. “But I’ll still give you a transfer token. For in case.”
Rel thanked him.
Over the following night, Rel was subliminally aware of the whispering drone of Mondros’s voice, rather than the deep breathing of sleep. When he woke, Mondros was still at it, his voice a low, hoarse rumble. As Rel washed up and packed his things, he reflected that if all that magic work was the spells for a transfer, no wonder those things were so costly.
Mondros set out fresh bread, shirred eggs, three kinds of fruit, and a stoneware jug of pear cider. As Rel loaded his plate, Mondros laid a Sartoran coin between them. “You can always trade that for the gold in it. Before you do, be aware that you have a not only a transfer spell on it, it’s warded in every way I could think of. That’s the hard part, the protective wards. To complete the transfer, simply hold it and repeat Tsauderei’s name twice. You don’t even have to keep a Destination in mind—it will safely bring you back here.”
Rel perceived in that tired gaze that any guilt he felt was a candle flame to the guilt of a father who had left his child, safety notwithstanding. Impulse prompted him to stretch his hands over the table and clasp Mondros’s heavy shoulders. The muscles under his fingers were rock hard with tension.
They both stood, and Rel came around to pull Mondros in for a rib cracking hug. He heard in the slight catch of breath from Mondros that this was right, it was better than any words.
Before the sun had lifted a finger off the eastern horizon, he was on the road south.
Mondros watched him until his tiny figure vanished for the last time around a fold in the lower valleys, then trod heavily inside his cottage. He sat down, scowling at a piece of paper, considering. Finally he wrote:
Jilo, what have I done to cause you not to trust me? Why did you not bring the blood mage book to me?
He sent that off, walked back out, and stood on the edge of the cliff, staring down at the empty road.
When Jilo found the note in his golden case, he scowled at it owlishly. He’d utterly forgotten about the blood mage texts, which he was sure Prince Kessler still had. That was probably how he’d broken that spell over CJ’s arm.
Then he remembered that Leander Tlennen-Hess had been planning to translate the books. That meant he might have made a copy.
He brooded for a time, then wrote to Karhin in Colend for the sigil to Leander’s golden notecase. Because he was a Chwahir, who knew little of the rest of the world’s politesse, he wrote in careful Sartoran: Leander, did you translate that text I brought? Jilo.
At the other end, Leander took the note out. It was late at night, and he had been wavering between sleep and a little more study.
He considered how much to tell Jilo—and more importantly why.
He walked to his window and stared sightlessly out into the dark courtyard, as night birds swooped and drifted against the peaceful stars. With those few words he was thrown back to the horror he’d felt as he got further into the translation, and the conviction that had caused him to rise and chuck the entire thing into the fire.
He liked Senrid. He trusted Senrid—no, he wanted to trust Senrid, but he knew what a burden Marloven Hess’s crown was. Even without the threats Detlev had made against Senrid.
Leander could too easily see Senrid, driven to desperation, wanting to use that blood magic for the best of reasons . . . and using it again. And again.
And so he’d stood over the fire until the last vestige of his painstakingly made copy had turned to ash, so that if the day came bringing Senrid to ask about the book, he could tell the truth: it was gone.
What should he say to Jilo? He glanced at Jilo’s blunt note, deciding the simplest truth would do. He sat down and scrawled, It was evil so I burned my half-finished translation. And send the note off.
But there was no satisfaction in so doing, even if he’d kept the thing out of Senrid’s hands. (And Senrid, so far, had never asked about it.)
Because the original book still existed out there somewhere.
Mondros stared in bemusement at the hunch-shouldered, awkward figure in rusty black who sat on the bench where Rel had eaten his last breakfast that morning, lank black hair hanging like claws in his eyes.
“ . . . and so he said he burned it. Wherever it is, I don’t have it,” Jilo was saying. “It wasn’t a matter of trust, but habit.”
““Habit,” Mondros said gently, “develops out of trust. I’m not leveling any accusations at you, Jilo. I admire you for what you’re doing, but at the same time I fear for you.”
Jilo’s head dropped, so all Mondros could see was the tops of his ears, and his thin, knobby hands as he worked them on his knees. He mumbled something that seemed to be some sort of apology.
Mondros did not let him tangle himself up further. “There is also the matter of Wan-Edhe’s infamous enemies book, which I’ve learned third-hand actually exists. And in your possession.”
Jilo’s head came up. “Yes.” He stiffened warily.
Mondros sighed. “I’m not going to attempt to take it. Can you tell me how it functions?”
“It tracks the magic transfers of enemies. It has limits,” Jilo said. “One limit is, it only traces Destinations that Wan-Edhe was able to ward. I think there might be other ways around its spells. Because there are gaps. Like, it will say that Detlev is at Norsunder Base, and then again at Norsunder Base, and then a third time. Without any sign of where he went between those times.”
“Maybe he goes to Norsunder-Beyond. I should think even Wan-Edhe was unsuccessful in laying wards there.” Mondros thumped his fists on his knees once, twice. “May I put a request to you?”
Jilo’s shoulders hunched a notch higher.
“If you see any patterns of movement in the world by Detlev or Siamis, will you let me or Tsauderei know?”
Jilo’s expression cleared. “Yes,” he said. “That’s easy enough. Though Siamis hasn’t shown up at all for a long time.”
“I expect it’s too much to hope he’s dead,” Mondros said on a sigh.