Seventh Decimate by Stephen Donaldson

Seventh Decimate by Stephen Donaldson

Author:Stephen Donaldson [Donaldson, Stephen]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Published: 2017-10-25T23:00:00+00:00

On the blanket where he had left them, the Prince found the guardsmen. The plates of food had been taken away: the flagons of wine remained. To Prince Bifalt’s bitter eye, it was plain both Klamath and Elgart had drunk too much to remember his implied command. If he had not returned, they might not have thought to look for him for hours.

Although they greeted him with blurred voices, they had not lost interest in the activities around them. The reflections of flames were keen with excitement in Klamath’s eyes, and he watched the dancers as if nothing else existed. Elgart’s attention was more divided. The bonfire’s flames gleamed on his scar as he, too, studied the maidens dancing. He and Klamath had been away from women too long. But he also kept his head cocked to the music, and his hands tapped his knees, repeating the complex rhythms of the dance.

Prince Bifalt swallowed an impulse to reprimand his companions. He had instructed them to act like guests. And not many years ago, he would have done as they did. He understood their fascination. Clad in garments as graceful and enticing as silk, and seen by firelight under the black sky, the young women seemed almost mystically alluring. They whirled and scampered and sprang high as if they were carried along by ecstasy. And their partners, mostly young men bare-chested, moved with the fluid suddenness and strength of deer. They spun the maidens, tossed and received and exchanged them, followed them as avidly as courtship. As for the music: tambourines, cymbals, and hand-thumped drums drove the melodies of strange stringed instruments and shrill flutes, their harmonies both unexpected and urgent, inspiring abandon.

Many of the caravan’s travelers shared Klamath’s and Elgart’s appreciation. Beyond the ring of blankets—most still occupied—a throng of onlookers had gathered, scores or perhaps hundreds of teamsters, drovers, laborers, performers, tradesmen, merchants, families: folk from six or eight or ten distinct lands, some simply pleased to watch, others plainly yearning to join the dance if they could learn the steps or match the rhythms.

Among so many people, the Prince was alone, isolated by the darkness on his spirit. He had failed to learn where he was, or where he was going, or where the library might be. He had failed to win any aid for himself, or for Belleger. Amid the clamor and frenzy, his fear and disgust felt universal. They included the whole caravan and all the doings of the travelers. He did not speak to his comrades as he resumed his seat between them. Finding his flagon full, he drank deeply. Then he propped his elbows on his knees, held his head in his hands, and tried to think.

His plight was impossible. It had been impossible from the start. At every stage along the way, he had misjudged his choices. And here, where he had expected to find hope, Belleger’s needs—for help, for knowledge, for sorcery—had been flatly denied. Remain or depart? As he chose? All well and good.


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