The Nomad - By Simon Hawke
Table of Contents
FOR BRIAN THOMSEN
Special acknowledgments to Rob King, Troy Denning, Robert M. Powers, Sandra West, Jennifer Roberson, Deb Lovell, Bruce and Peggy Wiley, Emily Tuzson, Adele Leone, the crew at Arizona Honda, and my students, who keep me on my toes and teach me as much as I teach them.
The heavy, arched wooden door opened by itself with a loud, protracted creaking of its ancient iron hinges. Veela swallowed hard and took a deep breath to steady her nerves. The long climb up the tower steps had winded her, and now the noisome stench that wafted through the doorway made her head spin. Weak-kneed from both exertion and fear, she reached out to lean against the doorjamb, fighting the gorge rising in her throat. The palpable emanations of malevolent power that came from within the room were overwhelming. She had felt them throughout the long climb up the winding stone steps, and it was like swimming against a powerful, oppressive current.
“Enter,” said a sepulchral voice from within.
The templar stood unsteadily in the entrance of the gloomy, circular chamber, staring with apprehension at the grotesque figure that loomed before her. It stood at one of the tower windows, looking out over the city as the dark sun sank slowly on the horizon and the shadows lengthened.
“Come closer, so that I may see you,” said the dragon.
Veela swallowed nervously. “As you wish, my lord.”
Hesitantly, she approached the creature as it turned and fixed her with a chilling gaze from its unblinking, yellow eyes.
“Remind me once more,” the dragon said. “Which one are you?”
“Veela, my lord,” she answered.
“Ah, yes. I remember you now.” The remark was delivered flatly, without emotion. Perhaps he really did remember her. And perhaps he would forget again the moment she left his presence.
It was difficult for Veela to believe the frightening creature that stood before her now was once her husband. He was still her husband, but no trace of the man that she had known back then remained. She recalled how honored she had been to be selected as a wife to the Shadow King of Nibenay. Her parents had been very proud. Their daughter was to be a queen, though strictly speaking, Nibenay’s many wives were templars, not queens. When they entered into the service of the Shadow King, they were trained for their new role in the society of the city named after its king, rigorously prepared to assume their official duties as Nibenay’s factotums and the bearers of his power.
For Veela, it meant leaving the hovel she had shared with her family and moving into the palace, where she would live in unimagined luxury together with the other templars, who were all Nibenay’s wives. It meant she would no longer run barefoot on a hard earth floor, but would have her feet and body washed daily by a retinue of servants and would walk in soft hide sandals on exquisite mosaic floors. She would have her dirty hair shaved and would no longer dress in rags, but in robes of flowing white, embroidered with gold and silver, that she could change daily. She would be taught to read and write, and trained how to administer the city’s laws, but more important still, she would be trained in sorcery, and would wield the power of the Shadow King.
She had never learned how she was chosen. Nibenay had magic, and it was said he could see everywhere. Perhaps he had seen her in a scrying crystal while she was preparing for bed, and she had caught his fancy. Perhaps one of his other wives had caught a glimpse of her while she was on her errands in the city and had chosen her to join the harem. She was never told, and she had soon learned not to ask. The wives were only told what they were meant to know. “You do not yet know enough to ask questions,” she was informed by the senior templars, who had trained her. “And when you know enough, you will have no need to ask.”
She was only twelve years old when she came to live in the palace. The marriage ceremony was performed the day after she arrived. She had her hair shaved, was washed and bathed with fragrant oils, then was dressed in a plain white robe. A small gold circlet was placed around her head. Afterward, she was conducted to a large central chamber in