Authors: J.L. Doty
Tags: #Swords and Sorcery, #Epic Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Coming of Age, #Romance
The Name of the Sword
Book 4 of
The Gods Within
Beware the power of the self-forged blade, for even when flawed, it can undo the mightiest.
J. L. Doty
This book or eBook is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Name of the Sword,
Book 4 of
The Gods Within
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Copyright © 2014–2015 J. L. Doty
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ISBN: 978–1–942899–10–5 (eBook)
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Formatted by Writing Tools 2.1.2, Feb 17 2015, 11:21:14
Copyright © 2013–2015 by J. L. Doty
The Name of the Sword
Book 4 of
The Gods Within
Beware the power of the self-forged blade, for even when flawed, it can undo the mightiest.
Properly blooded, the steel is free, unbound, and whole. And he who forged such a blade should fear it most.
All realms should fear the naming of the Unnamed King, for only then will he find peace. Only the consecration of their vows will allow the god-queen to assume her power.
Valso stood at the window in his workshop looking out at the inner bailey below, waiting for Carsaris to bring news. Behind him the door opened and he heard the wizard’s soft footsteps as he entered the room. Without turning, Valso asked, “Any word from Salula?”
“No, Your Majesty. Nothing since he found the woman in Norlakton. I fear some sort of setback.”
Valso dismissed the sorcerer’s fears with a casual wave of his hand. “At this point we can overcome any impediment.”
His eye caught a bit of motion down below and off to one side. His workshop was on the third floor of the castle, with a commanding view of the city beyond, the inner bailey below, and to one side his family’s burial plot. There, he saw the familiar figure of his mother, the twoname Merriketh Alaella, on her hands and knees tending the flowers at his brother’s graves.
His thoughts slipped back to that night 24 years ago when his youngest brother lay dying, and his sister Haleen suffered in the throes of a difficult childbirth . . .
As the boy Valso walked down a dark corridor in Castle Decouix, a scream muffled by the thick stone walls of the building broke the silence of the night. His sister Haleen had uttered such cries throughout the day and would probably do so until her child was born. Valso had gone to some trouble to confirm that the child was healthy, and without his interference would come into this world strong and hale. But for his purposes, it was imperative that the birth appear to be a long and arduous affair, and the spells he’d crafted to make it seem so were doing the job nicely. When the child that eventually lay in Haleen’s arms proved to be sickly and weak, no one would question its subsequent death.
He did hope that someday he might find an opportunity to kill Tulellcoe for soiling the virtue of a Decouix princess. But this night he must put such thoughts aside; he must concentrate on the child to come, for his master wanted it born whole and healthy.
He stopped outside the door to his youngest brother’s bedroom, his final brother, the last impediment to the consolidation of his power. He lifted the latch quietly, opened the door a crack and slipped into the room. Several healers surrounded his brother’s bed, all standing helplessly, wringing their hands and looking upon the dying boy. Valso’s grief-stricken mother sat in a chair beside the young boy’s bed, her head bowed. None of them took note of Valso’s presence, so he stepped to one side and put his back to a tapestried wall
Valso’s mother didn’t cry or whimper, just sat there with her shoulders slumped, one hand tightly gripping the limp hand of Tarran, her youngest son. The boy’s pale and ashen face appeared almost spectral, his eyes closed, his breathing shallow, his skin covered by a fine sheen of sickly sweat.
At 12 years of age—only just a man by clan law—Valso hadn’t yet fully consolidated his power. Otherwise, he might have been able to allow Tarran an easier death. He’d been cautious when disposing of his other two brothers. Mikal had died in a carefully contrived hunting accident, while GregorDan had fallen from a parapet and broken his neck. Valso had used a considerable amount of cunning and magic to hide his involvement in both incidents, and afterwards he’d cleaned up by killing a couple of his retainers to ensure their silence. But his mother, Merriketh, powerful in her own right, had suspected, and calmly warned him to stay away from Tarran. At the time Valso had been most concerned about his father, but Illalla merely said, “Be more careful next time.”
He’d spent months concocting a poison and administering it slowly in tiny amounts to Tarran. Slight of stature to begin with, the boy appeared to weaken gradually, his illness progressing so slowly that no one noticed anything from day-to-day or month-to-month. But as each season passed his frailty grew, as if his own fragile constitution was the culprit. It was truly a masterwork of murder. Yes, it could have gone easier on the boy, quicker, less painful, but Merriketh watched him too closely, so Valso had had to move with extreme caution, which meant the poor boy had to die ever so slowly. His mother had no one to blame but herself for the boy’s long, slow, painful demise.
It occurred to Valso that Haleen had been silent for some time. Tarran might linger on for several more days, and his mother would certainly hope that some spell of healing might turn the tide toward recovery. But Valso knew his concoctions well, and not even he could save the boy now. He had more pressing business with Haleen, so he turned to the door, quietly lifted the latch and stepped into the corridor. Once he closed the door behind him, his concern that he might already be too late quickened his steps as he hurried to Haleen’s suites.
He could see nothing of his sister as he stepped into her bedchamber, for a wall of handmaidens surrounded her completely, cooing over her and uttering sympathetic little phrases. To one side of the room a midwife—carefully chosen and bribed by Valso—stood over a small bundle working on it carefully. He stopped by the midwife’s side and asked her, “How is the child?”
The child before her lay completely still, with none of the squirming or cries of a newborn. She announced loudly, “A boy child, my lord, but sickly, I fear.” She’d spoken loud enough for all to hear.
She leaned close to Valso and whispered, “He’s good and healthy, my lord, and whole, and I dosed him with the charm you gave me. He’ll not be making any noise.”
One of the young handmaidens turned toward them and asked, “He’s sickly, is he?” She stepped around the midwife and looked down upon the boy. “He’s not moving. Is he alive?”
“He’s alive,” Valso said, and gave her a cold look. “Don’t alarm your mistress with wild rumors. And since I doubt you know anything of midwifery, return to her now.”
She curtsied, turned and returned to the clutch of girls surrounding Haleen. She’d seen the boy; no matter how fleetingly, and might recognize the differences between him and his substitute. Valso decided he’d have to arrange some sort of accident to take her out of the picture.
While Valso kept an eye on Haleen’s handmaidens, the midwife carefully wrapped the new child in a blanket. She had placed a large valise on the table next to the child. She reached into it, pulled out another wrapped bundle, laid it on the table, then quickly stuffed the wrapped newborn into the satchel, closing it carefully. She unwrapped the new bundle to reveal another boy-child.
With the powers his master had granted him, Valso had found it easy to determine the sex of the child in Haleen’s womb. Then, with the midwife’s aid, they’d found a peasant with another boy-child who would come to term a few months after Haleen. For a nice sum of money the peasants were more than willing to give up the child—no questions asked. Valso had provided the midwife with powerful charms so that when Haleen went into labor she could induce the peasant-child’s birth prematurely, and a sickly child was born. It had all been carefully done.
The midwife nodded toward the peasant-child that lay before them and whispered, “I gave the child the potion you provided, my lord. And I cleaned him up good, like you said.”
Yes, she’d carefully washed the filth of peasantry from the boy. “Good,” Valso said. The potion would ensure that the child lived for no more than a day or two. A bit more loudly, he said, “Why don’t you take the child to his mother?”
She bowed her head. “Yes, my lord.”
She picked up the child and turned toward Haleen’s bed. The handmaidens parted to allow her through.
Haleen lay overcome by the deep sleep of exhaustion; an entire day and half a night of labor had taken its toll. She roused groggily as the midwife laid the child in her arms. She looked at it once, smiled, then drifted off again.
While the girls spoke of the handsome features the child bore, and of how he looked just like his mother, Valso turned, picked up the midwife’s valise and left the room. He paused out in the hall, closed his eyes and opened his soul to his master. Their connection remained tenuous, his master a dark presence hovering at the edges of his soul. He could not fully meld with such raw and malevolent power until he had performed the proper rites, so all he could really relate was a sense of satisfaction, of near completion, a mere impression that soon they would be whole.
Gently carrying the valise, he hurried down to the stables where Salula and Illalla awaited him with two saddled horses. They all knew that Valso dare not call down the power of his master anywhere near Haleen; with the child involved, she would sense it and know. And his weakling of a father was not strong enough to participate in this. But Salula—a faithful servant spawned of the same nether reaches as his master—Salula would accompany him gladly.
They rode hard out of the city, with the child clutched in Valso’s arms. The ritual must be completed during the night of the child’s birth, so they only had until the moment when the first ray of sun broke over the horizon.
In anticipation of this night, Valso had brought laborers into the forest southeast of the city, and there had constructed a small, one-room, stone shrine. After its completion he had returned to it regularly to give obeisance to his lord and master, slowly building the tenuous connection between them. Tonight that would change.
As they approached the shrine the spell Valso had provided to the midwife wore off and the infant began to wail. Such spells were dangerous to a newborn, so Valso had been forced to use only a modicum of the power at his command. But none of that mattered now; he and his master both sensed the nearness of their joining, and vast joy washed through his soul. Though oddly enough, the child’s cries made Valso wonder if somehow it sensed its fate.
Salula opened the door of the shrine and held it for Valso, but dare not enter himself. He would wait outside and tend the horses.
Valso had personally created a small altar for the sacrifice. He had carved runnels in the stone to carry the blood to bowls at its base, blood needed for the culmination of the rite. He placed the child on the altar, and using simple spells lit nine candles placed above it, one candle for each of the Nine Hells of the Netherworld. He returned to the open door, where Salula stood on the other side of the threshold holding Valso’s saddlebags. The halfman handed them to him, then closed the door.
Valso retrieved two wooden bowls and an iron knife from the saddlebags; simple, cold iron, a necessary ingredient for this ritual. He placed the bowls on the altar next to the child, then carefully probed the skin of the child’s smooth head. It wailed while he did so, and again he wondered if it sensed its fate. He found small tufts of fuzz and cut away two locks of hair. With the knife he carefully trimmed the child’s finger and toe nails. He divided and placed the tufts of hair and nail trimmings into the two bowls, then cut and put a lock of his own hair in each of the bowls, with trimmings from his own nails. Lastly, he made a small cut in the child’s thumb—it cried balefully as he dripped 13 drops of blood into each bowl. He cut his own thumb and did the same. Then he placed the two bowls at the ends of the runnels he’d carved where they could collect the child’s lifeblood.
He unclothed the child and laid it naked upon the altar, then clutched the iron knife in both hands and held it tightly to his chest, thinking only of his master.
He began a chant that he’d memorized, a psalm of words in a language so old they meant nothing to him. He wasn’t even certain he pronounced them correctly, though he had no choice but to do his best. And as he spoke he felt the power building about him, felt it coalesce within the tight confines of the small shrine. Valso could exercise more power than any other clansman, certainly more than his weak father. But it was nothing compared to the power he would soon command.
He drifted off into a trance, felt disconnected from the child and the shrine, though his lips continued with the long and arduous chant—he had practiced it hundreds of times in preparation for this. Illalla had found the spell in an ancient text, had spent years deciphering it, though neither he nor Valso could be certain they had all the details right. And Valso’s connection to his master remained so tenuous he could not overtly confirm any of their suppositions.
He suddenly realized one of the words meant
in that ancient script, and that another meant
, and another
. There was no mundane reason why he should know the meaning of such lyrics, no texts or translations available to guide him. But one-by-one the ancient words took on meaning, and the buildup of power in the room accelerated frighteningly. It was time for the next phase of the sacrifice.
He carefully cut the child in nine places, one slice in the middle of its forehead, one on each earlobe, one on each shoulder, one on each hip, and one on the back of each knee; small cuts all, just enough for the blood to trickle onto the altar. Still chanting, he watched it flow with agonizing slowness into the runnels, and along them toward the two bowls.
When the first drop hit the contents of the first bowl, it felt as if a massive bell rang within his soul. As each subsequent drop fell into a bowl the bell rang louder, and power flooded through him, power beyond anything he’d ever experienced. It threatened to overwhelm him, to consume him, and for a moment he faltered, almost forgetting the words of the chant. But then his master came to his aid, wrapping him in a cocoon of malevolence. He knew then that with his master’s help, he could control this power in all its magnificent glory, though a demanding erection distracted him a bit.
The drops landing in the two bowls suddenly synchronized. He knew their count without question, and the instant the 13th drops landed into the two bowls, his soul felt as if it would burst.
He reached out, touched his index finger to the nine wounds in the child, collecting a bit of blood from each. Then he touched his fingers to his lips and lost his soul to an infinity of power. Unable to think clearly, moving purely by instinct, by practiced memory, by rote, he raised the knife in both hands high above his head. It was time to stab it into the child’s chest, but not into its heart. To complete the ritual he must cut the still beating heart from the child, and drink the blood from its veins and arteries.