Forbidden Geometries [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Ardath Mayhar
eBook Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
eBook Description: In The Tradition of Dune! Nebula nominee Ardath Mayhar's science fiction spellbinder is her most imaginative novel yet! The desert world Sherazade was settled long ago by desert peoples from Earth--Kushites, Apaches, Arabs--and then forgotten. Centuries later it is a world of city-states. One, Sathorn, has long been ruled by a weak family and a corrupt Council. The new ruler, Karenya, who possesses the ability to use the forbidden geometries that can predict the future, is determined to change things and reform the Council. When a glimpse of the future shows her being slain by the Council's assassins, Karenya finds she must flee her own realm. Stealing a horse, she crosses the desert until captured by the Shemesh, mountain raiders, who sell her as a slave. In her determined effort to reach her cousin, who might help her regain her city, she escapes and finds allies, Claw of the Eagle, an Apache, Yeber, a peaceful Kushite, and Usep. Each agrees to help Karenya in her quest for justice. Togther they encounter deadly dangers, mysterious beings, and reach terribly strange ends.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, Published: 2005
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2005
9 Reader Ratings:
The city was quiet ... too quiet for a normal festival night. The current moon, tiny and greenish on the horizon as it set after its long transit, shed a sickly light over the balcony and the wall surrounding Karenya's tall house. Beyond that, outside the city, the desert was a shadowy waste, its associated oases invisible in the silent dimness. Even the sentinels, standing at their posts or walking their rounds of the gardens, had no words for each other as they passed.
Karenya listened to the night and found it ominous. She turned from her balcony to enter the study, where a lamp burned on the table on which her work was spread. She wondered if she had neglected any element of her duty. She had been so absorbed in this esoteric effort for months that she might have missed some vital clue to the mood of her people.
She knew that she had paid close attention to every problem brought before her, being as fair as she could manage. She had met with the common folk, deciding their minor squabbles, and had listened to representatives of noble families, as well as envoys from neighboring states, who came to Sathorn on errands of trade or diplomacy.
Now, sitting at her desk with the geometrical-astronomical calculations that troubled her peers so desperately spread before her, Karenya assessed her reign, since the death of her uncle. He had been involved, throughout the years of his rule, in constant problems with traders from the other desert cities.
With satisfaction she bent over her parchments, knowing that during the short year of her reign Sathorn had placated the Omnipotent Satrap in the east, as well as settling all disputes with its neighboring cities. And if some were troubled because she pursued those perverted mathematical analyses of the geometries of planets and stars that her ancestors had invented on the home world and found again on this new one, it was nevertheless true that the glimpses of the future she derived from them often averted problems.
As well, she had learned from her father to invert the geometries of time and the trigonometries of space. By means of the calculations that were hinged to secret keys, she knew, to some extent, what might happen. For a ruler, this was a useful tool, though she used it with caution.
On a world of desert tribes that had not entirely left behind the conflicts generated on Earth, that was a valuable thing. One or another of the city-states dotting the vast plain circled by mountains was perpetually at the throat of some enemy, real or imagined. When warlike intentions were turned toward her own small kingdom, she knew it in time to prepare.
Her recent calculations were not comforting. The unwonted silence of this night was no chance happening; close at hand, someone was standing ready to challenge her rulership. The time was very near.
She recalculated, writing out the figures in her flowing hand. But she knew she had not been wrong. The result would be the same.
She sighed, staring down at the triangles, squares, and rhomboids inked onto the eggshell parchment and shadowed by their dotted inversions. There could be no doubt. When she had been this certain, before now, her prophecies had become realities. This could be no different.
She pulled the bell, turned, and went back onto the balcony. She stared out at the sleeping town, which should have been alive with music and drunken merriment celebrating the setting of the green moon.
At midnight the silver moon would rise, greeted with joy after the nights ruled by the green one. The silver was the moon of good fortune, and for forty-seven nights it would creep slowly across the sky. Its final setting would leave ten black nights, a fitting preliminary to the rising again of its malevolent partner in the skies of Sherazade.
When that evil moon rode above the desert, the people would lie quiet in their beds, dreading calamity. Even in these last few hours of its phase, there might be time for some terrible occurrence.
Would a calamity occur? Her geometries told her it would.
Ashell entered the room, bowing. His round face was expressionless, as usual, as she motioned for him to sit in the chair opposite hers on the balcony. He billowed with bright silks as he sat, and in the flickering light of the wall torches his small bright eyes glittered.
"There is something afoot," she said to her chief advisor. "Everything indicates it. Even the silence of the night tells me that the people are fearful. You know the city and everything that happens there. What is in the wind?"
Ashell stared impassively, his expression questioning her ability to understand what he might say. She knew that ploy of old. Until the ministers learned she was at least as sharp-witted as they, it had been their usual way of trying to put into her place this unwanted female of tender years who had the audacity to try ruling Sathorn.
She felt a bit of the old anger she had thought quelled in the past years. "You know better than most that I did not want this position. Only when my uncle's stepson plotted to seize the throne did I step in, for no more than you did I want to live under the rule of that madman. You cannot deny that the city has prospered and been at peace. You understand the reason why I sit here."
"I know the reason. I knew how I would fare if Zahren came to the throne," Ashell said. His silks rustled faintly as he shifted his bulk in the chair.
"That is why I upheld your legitimate claim. I had no desire to end my life impaled in the sun, screaming my life out to the cringing multitudes while my guts were pierced on the stake."
"Then tell me. Does the threat I feel come from Zahren? He has been suspiciously quiet for the past year. Those I sent to spy can report nothing from outside his house. Those who take positions as servants and go into that house do not come out again."
"No," said Ashell. "Not Zahren." His hand moved with snakelike swiftness, and she avoided his thrusting dagger only because she had been tensed, waiting for something unexpected to happen. Even so, this treachery came as a shock.
Catching his wrist, she jerked him forward, over the table and her chair, and dragged him into the study. The last of the greenish moonlight glinted on his eyeballs, as he rolled them frantically. He jerked, trying to free himself, and another dagger appeared from beneath his robe.
She kicked it away. Then Karenya set her foot on his neck and looked down into his contorted face.
It was gray with fear. "Don't!" he gasped, turning his head frantically, trying to avoid her foot, as well as her glare.
"Who is the principal traitor?" she asked, stepping down harder. The ivory staff that leaned beside the windows, ready for pulling the draperies closed, was an excellent weapon, and she reached for it. She set the point against his left eye.
"Shall I press more heavily? I can burst your eyeballs, and you can be blind for the rest of your life. Or you can tell me what I want to do and die cleanly. Make your choice."
He blinked, trying to nod. She eased the pressures minimally.
"Zahren ... dead. Wife ... poisoned him." He choked, and she eased her foot up a bit more. "If one woman ... can rule ... another can. Salessa ... agreed. Take throne. Let us rule without ... interference."
She stepped down hard, and he grunted. "So, when I refused to let you cheat the Satrap of his due tariffs, that irked you, did it? And my discovery of the plot to invade Karsh, deposing the Premier, rankled. You and the others who deal in money and goods want to make war on those you cannot cheat and to rob those whom you can. Did my uncle rule Sathorn in this way?" She knew, of course, the answer to that.
He nodded again.
"It is no wonder the country was always at war. It's the reason why the treasuries were all but empty, while your pockets and those of your partners were always full. I knew there could be no virtuous reason for that, though I could prove nothing."
She stepped away and pulled a wicked sliver of metal from its sheath on the leg of the table. "Will others come to verify my death before the silver moon rises?"
"Yes," he croaked. "Lethor and Skrene. With their guardsmen." He grinned, the curvature of his mouth echoing that of the scimitar. "Soon! You will not live out the night. We will rule again!"
"Not quite that easily," she said. She took a pouch, kept ready for emergencies, and hooked it onto her belt. The long skirt, sheer blue silk, came away in one rip, leaving her clad in serviceable pantaloons. Her boots were at hand, and her sandals were discarded.
Struggling to sit, Ashell tried to laugh. "Your father was a fool, teaching a woman so. But we will soon right his error."
She sliced the sneer, along with his head, from his paunchy body. He jerked spasmodically, smearing the mosaic floor with dark blood. His silken burnoose took on even gayer hues.
Karenya moved quietly onto the balcony. The garden was dark, for the old moon had gone below the level of the walls and the new one had not yet sent its tentative rim over the horizon. She climbed over the ornate railing and sidled through the vines cloaking the plaster wall of the house.
Reaching the point at which the garden wall joined that of the house, she stretched flat along the dark mud brick as a hubbub rose from the apartment she had just left. She shivered.
If she had not studied those forbidden techniques, she would now lie dead. Salessa would have taken her place, leaving Sathorn to the stewardship of criminals. * * * * Chapter Two
She crept along the wall, avoiding the vines that might have rustled at her passing. Below, sentinels moved briskly, searching the garden. When she arrived at the outer wall, she ran, crouching, for the last few yards and sprang out wide to miss the barrier of broken glass. She landed with a gasp and a thud on the dusty street that circled the rear of the modest house of the rulers of Sathorn.
The coins in her pouch jingled faintly. Karenya ducked into an arched doorway and stood motionless, while a quiet shape, attracted by the sound of money, stole into view and searched the street.
He carried a dark lantern. She could see the round dot of light going back and forth over the spot where she landed, and she knew he would follow her track. She backed against the gate, which led into another garden; at its top, between the metal grillwork and the stone arch above it, there was a gap large enough to admit one slender girl.
In a moment, she was up and over. The garden in which she found herself was fragrant with jasmine, though the paths were overgrown and the shrubbery untended. Good. If the house were empty, that would suit her very well.
There came a faint scrabbling at the gate behind her. The thief, no doubt, seeking how his prey could have escaped. Even as she listened to his efforts, there came a clamor of gongs from the house she had left. They knew now that she had escaped from her rooms.
Karenya wondered how they would rouse the city against her. Was she, even now, a fugitive, with every man's hand turned against her? If that were the case, she needed to go with caution.
She must find a hiding place, change her appearance enough to pass muster on the street. The court painters had caught her look all too well--anyone staring into a shop or visiting a government official must recognize her from one of her many portraits.
There was a door into the house from the garden, locked tightly. The carving about its lintel made an excellent ladder, by which she climbed to the balcony above. Light louvers shut the interior room from the night air, but she forced them, slipping gratefully into the darkness.
There was movement in the street beyond the walls. She was curious as to what the ministers might say; would they claim she had been murdered, and the assassin was a young woman resembling the queen? That seemed very thin, but she could think of no pretext that was not.
She found herself breathless and very tired. She regretted that she had not kept up faithfully the rigorous physical training her father had insisted upon. Yet how much more fortunate she was than any other woman she knew! Most were helpless when faced with physical effort or danger. At least, she was armed with skills, as well as a weapon.
She slid to sit on the floor. It was too dark to see, and she had no intention of blundering about in the house. There might be a tenant or caretaker. When the silver moon rose, giving some light, she would investigate. Until then, she would rest and think.
But, instead, she dozed. When she woke, she heard someone else breathing inside that room. On her arrival, her heart had been pounding hard, and she had been listening intently to any sound from the street. Those breaths she now heard were so light that she could easily have missed them.
A voice came from the darkness. "I am no threat, whoever you are. Merely an old man, tied to his bed by illness and age. Take freely what I have, little though it may be. Do not, I beg you, trouble my family."
Even gasping and in whispers, that was a familiar voice. Karenya felt certain its owner was someone she knew ... someone who had been a friend to her father, perhaps.
"Jeshoph? My father's friend?" That was the merest breath of sound.
There came a long silence. Then, "That is my name. Who is your father? Who are you?"
She thought for a moment. Then she raised her head, straightened her shoulders. She would risk it. "Karenya, ruler of Sathorn. Now fugitive from traitorous ministers. Was the city involved in the plot to murder me?"
Silver moon had slid up enough to make a bright rim in the eastern sky. Its light touched a high layer of cloud, which reflected a faint illumination into the garden and thence, through the louvers, into the room. Karenya moved toward the couch that was a black bulk against a window.
The old man raised himself on an elbow to fumble with a lamp. The scritch of the flintwheel threw sparks, kindling the oil-soaked wick. He set the lamp onto a low table at his side and stared at Karenya.
"You are the daughter of my old friend. A plot against you? Never believe that your people would agree to your overthrow."
"Then why was the city silent on a festival night?"
"Because the Eyes of Sathorn were out. Nobody dares to move through the streets when that is true. We lock our shutters and cower in our houses when those beasts roam the city."
"But I disbanded the Eyes a year ago! I reprimanded those who organized them, and I pensioned off or sent away to distant outposts those who had been members of the group. I had Elspher beheaded because of his evil uses of that secret force."
"Indeed. We all knew that, but of late they have been reorganized. When we protested, Ashell insisted that you ordered it yourself, because there was a danger from conspirators."
She laughed bitterly. "There was, indeed, danger from those. And now, even though I killed Ashell only hours ago, there is danger of Salessa taking the crown and allowing the other ministers a free hand with the lives and property of the citizens of Sathorn."
Jeshoph lay back with a groan. "It will be as it was in the days of your uncle, who disgraced the family that spawned him. War and avarice, thievery, trade disrupted. "If you could reach our neighbors, the Hereditary Potentate in particular, I am certain one might help you regain your throne. It would be to the advantage of all. They will see that at once. And if he hesitates, the Satrap himself would see the profit in controlling Sathorn."
"I thought of that," said Karenya. "But I hate to leave my city to a mindless creature like Salessa. Better a squabble over the succession than a smooth transition into something strong and evil."
"True. It will take time to mount a campaign against the ministers. And if they--" he seemed suddenly to understand what she intended. "You intend to kill Salessa?" He stared at her in the lamplight, his old eyes filmed and pale.
"Tonight. Before the ministers can take thought for her and put a guard about her house."
"The house of Zahren is strong and well guarded, already," the old man mused. "And how did you know that he was dead? Few did, and they kept it to themselves under threat from the ministers. I have maintained ... ears ... in the secret councils, or I would not know, myself. But the house of Zahren is secure. News does not leave it easily, and nothing gets inside without a great deal of trouble."
"Had you forgotten--of did you ever know?--that my grandfather built that house? He was the first in our family to use both the true and the inverted geometries. He was a master builder, when he was not turning time inside-out."
Jeshoph smiled, stretching out a hand toward Karenya. "So you will go and come as secretly as a breeze in the night. I wish you good fortune and a safe return to your true place. When you come back to Sathorn, I will be dead, but I have taught my granddaughter as your father taught you. We agreed on many matters."
"Except in the matter of the Forbidden Geometries," she said.
"That is true. But I am older now. I know that evil comes in many guises and from many sources, and I suspect you are going to need every art you know before you rule in your own house again."
She gripped his hand. "Jeshoph, when I return, you will be one of my ministers, if you live. And if not, your granddaughter will become one. Now I must go, before the ministers move. Pray, old man. And hope!"
She slid from the window again, but she did not go down the wall. Instead, she climbed, gaining the rooftop from which she could cross the city without ever setting foot into the streets. A series of easy leaps carried her across the narrow alleys she must cross, and before the moon was halfway up the sky she stood on the roof of Salessa's house.
The garden enclosed within its walls was swarming with armed men. So the ministers had already taken thought to their successor--it might not be as easy as she had thought, getting into and out of Salessa's chamber.
Karenya lay flat on her belly to crawl across the expanse of roof to one of the rotating airscoops that her grandfather had invented. A series of angled plates caught the breeze, turning a shaft extending through a tiled opening in the roof. Deep inside the house, other scoops moved the warm air out of the rooms, up the shaft, and into the night, pulling cool breezes into the vents below.
There was space between the shaft and the curving tile, and Karenya squeezed herself into it. A current of warm air rushed past as she wriggled downward, checking her progress against the plans she had committed to memory as soon as Zahren became a threat to her country. Counting carefully, she found the lateral passages leading from the shaft to all the scoops on the floor occupied by Salessa and her late husband.
The tile was cool beneath her elbows as she pulled herself through the space. Again counting, she found the pierced marble grill hiding the correct scoop. Its faint grinding covered any sound she made as she settled to watch the interior of the brightly lighted room, which was empty of her quarry. After what seemed a long while, a maidservant ran into the room to set wine and coffee onto a tabouret. She stepped back, bowing, as Salessa entered.
"But how did she manage to kill him?" the querulous voice was asking someone behind her. "He was a man!" The stupidity of the question was just like Salessa.
Lethor's calm reply amused the listener. "With a scimitar." He understood just what had happened, Karenya knew. "But you are safe here, with all the guards below. Tomorrow you will go to the house of the ruler, with much ceremony. You will consent to rule here, in order to avoid the chaos that would follow a dispute as to the succession. Do you understand?"
"Of course. We agreed long ago." Salessa sounded impatient. "But I do wish you had killed her. It makes me nervous to have her loose in the city."
Lethor gestured for the girl to take away the offered cup of herbal tea. "I, too, wish it. But nothing can be altered now. Be ready tomorrow." He turned on his heel and left the room.
Salessa allowed the maid to remove her outer robe. Standing in a thin silken shift, she poured wine into a cup and tossed it down. Then she turned to the couch, which the girl had remade carefully. The servant lowered the lampwick until the room was dim and then crept fearfully from the chamber.
Karenya felt along the edges of the decorative marble, finding on each corner the peg she expected. They turned to release the grill for cleaning, and soon she had the thing loose and pulled into the crawlspace. The fan turned steadily, making its faint noise, and she blessed its cover as she dropped into the room.
Salessa was already asleep. It was a pity to kill someone as she slept, but would it be more merciful to wake her to a moment of terror? No. She was sure it would not be.
One quick motion of the blade was enough. Equally quick work with the sheets caught the blood before it could make a mess large enough to show to a casual glance. She covered the body, hiding the blood, making Salessa look as if she slept deeply.
Karenya returned to the ventilator again, placed the grill in its slots and turned the pegs. She did not intend to return to the roof. The kitchens, at this time of night, would be the best place to go.
Everything was dark as she came out into the lowest level of the house. Steps paced along the graveled path outside the room in which she found herself. She thought of the plans in her grandfather's files: that door led, in time, to the stableyard.
Replacing the second grill, she moved cautiously through the room, touching tabletops, bags of grain, baskets of fruit and vegetables. She caught up an empty bag atop a pile waiting for use and filled it with random selections, for she would need supplies before she was done. It was a good thing she came out into a pantry.
At last she crouched before the door, waiting for the approaching steps to pass. When the guard had gone by, she opened the door a crack, slipped through, and closed it swiftly. But there must have been some sound, for the man turned, quick as a cat, and came back toward her at a run. Her blade was ready to meet him when a pebble turned under her heel. She went down hard.
Sharpness slashed into her upper arm. She rolled over, grateful for the shadow of the stables that shaded this area from the torchlight of the courtyard. The attacker was a black shape against the dim gray of the wall behind him.
Her scimitar was in her left hand as she rose, crouching, leaped forward, and sliced deeply into the man's neck. He had no time to cry out, but she stood listening, her heart thumping loudly enough to give the alarm. Nothing stirred, however, except the distant footfalls of sentries pacing along on the other side of the wall of the stableyard.
Drawing a long breath, she set out for the stone building housing the mounts of the household. She was dripping blood all the way, she knew, but if she could get a horse and escape from the city walls without an outcry being raised, that would not matter.
Silver moon gave just enough light to allow her to unfasten the latch on the stable gate. She crept inside, closing it behind her, for she would not return in that direction.
A grunt from the darkness greeted her. "Shosh? That you?"
She grunted a wordless reply.
Heavy feet moved toward her over stone paving. "Time for bed. I don't envy you your watch!" The man yawned as he passed and went out into the yard, without suspecting that this dark blot in the deeper darkness of the stable was not his replacement.
There were twenty horses in the stalls. She picked one by instinct, for it nickered softly and reached an inquiring nose to her hand. The animal was quiet as she found its padded saddle, hung on the divider between stalls, and tightened it onto its back.
She did not lead the animal toward the accustomed gate opening onto the street; it hesitated for a moment as she urged it toward a corner that was completely black. But there she fumbled with a section of divider, which opened out to reveal a gap in the stonework behind it, leading into the thickness of the outer wall.
Her grandfather, its designer, had made this bolt-hole, which left no trace of its existence for anyone who didn't know its secret. The cousin for whom he had built the house was famous for keeping secret concubines, as well as for having a suspicious wife, and this had been designed to cover his escapades. It was likely that Zahren had never known of its existence. Only her father's long study of family papers and records had brought it to light for his own family.
Fifteen paces along, there was an abrupt bend to the right. Fifteen more brought one to the left, and then there was a lattice, through which the thin moonlight shone. That opened to let her out into another street. Softly she crept out, grateful that the horse was a quiet one, even his hooves making only a muffled clatter on the stones.
The moon was moving up the sky with its usual almost imperceptible motion; dawn would touch the east in another hour. This had been the longest night of her entire life. * * * *
The streets were still empty. The city was not walled, having a deep ditch about its perimeter, and her horse was out into the grasslands before dawnlight touched the sky. It would take the ministers weeks to bring her only living relative from his home in the satrapy of Kush, where he was the representative for Sathorn. By the time that was done, she might well be back with an army.
She knew the Hereditary Potentate, much nearer Sathorn, had not liked her uncle or his policies, and she felt he might lend her enough men to secure her throne again. Since her ascendancy, there had been unbroken peace between the cities and his traders had not been cheated of their profits.
Behind her she left a place that would, with the morning, become an ant-bed of activity. There was no present heir. There was no ruler, living or dead. The ministers would be walking on eggs, trying to keep the people from suspecting what they had done.
She laughed, even though loss of blood was making her light-headed. When she returned there would be new ministers. She hoped Jeshoph would still be alive, but if not his granddaughter would be of great help to her. Sathorn would become a new city, in time. But now she rode away from it, and her bright blood marked the saddle and the horse and shone scarlet on the dust as the sun rose.