Sacred Band Series Book 9
After the Battle of Meridian . . . New blood and old warriors face unforeseen challenges as one war ends in triumph and another conflict looms. Stories you'll love to hear again and stories you've been hoping to hear for the first time in a brand-new Sacred Band anthology that takes the Stepsons where they've never been before... Tales of risk and glory, past, present and future, among the Sacred Band of Stepsons cavalry in The Fish the Fighter and the Song-girl, the latest Sacred Band novelized anthology, including the new title novella, 'The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl.' Tempus and his Sacred Band won the battle of their dreams, but now the time has come to count the cost and face the consequences in fifteen tales, old and new, of the iconic Sacred Band of Stepsons, including the last six classic Sacred Band stories from the million-copy bestselling shared universe of Thieves' World® and nine new adventures available nowhere else.
[excerpt from The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl]
Down beyond the White Foal Bridge later that evening, Straton tied his ghost horse outside the odd little house where his love, the necromant, made her home.
Ischade was waiting for him.
“Straton, what is it, what is it? Never fear… nothing can touch us here, no curses made for men, or by those once men, or those who would someday be men,” Ischade soothed, a dark pool of deepest night among her silks and her spells and her madness, which brought the two of them back together time after delirious time.
Eyes so black, hair like spiders’ webs but inky, skin softer than silk and a perfume he could never resist if his life depended on it. She let him put his big arms around her. So tiny was she, he never ceased wondering that such danger and such power could be contained in a package so delicate.
“What is it, Ischade? I’ll tell you…” His voice echoes in that little space where time forgets itself, where everything is other than it seems; in this house, larger within than without and sometimes full of creatures who live a different sort of life than his. But tonight is his night, their night, and long planned. So he can say what he wants and ask her what he wants:
“…Critias called for a healer today. You know what he’s like. He wouldn’t, unless he’s in dire need. And the Stepsons’ healer brought a fish to cure him. I fear for Crit as I’ve not before, not in all our battles. Something’s wrong… and not just with him. Sanctuary feels strange. Unfamiliar. You know how we fought, what we fought – what we won. You were with us. There on the battlefield. You saw the Theban goddess. She says the balance was restored. So what is this? Deserters wandering off the battleplain at the overlook, out of Meridian and into Sanctuary? Some not quite dead, but not really alive? Men, and women too – sleepers and dreamers? Ischade, my dreams are so unsettled…”
“Restless dead, my love, just released. Revenants. And dreamers, some of them caught for eons in Aškelon’s domain.” This ancient necromant has lived through millennia of men and gods and demons and worse. “On a trail blazed by the fated dead, all those Thebans whom the Riddler brought from Chaeronea. That path leads here, to Sanctuary. You know how high your commander reaches now. Vies with gods, he does. As for the balance, ask your Nikodemos: no balance stays restored forever. He and all his brothers of the misty isles, adepts of maat, dedicate their lives to restoring balance. Over and over again.”
“So she lied, this Theban goddess? This Harmony, who has Niko’s soul wrapped up?”
“She said the truth. You have heard the truth so little that when you do, you cannot believe your ears. The balance where the goddess lives, which matters to gods and demigods, has been restored. For how long? Only the Fates can say. Or powers greater than I. Other powers have other goals, other conflicts, and other needs. Powers such as the dream lord can and will upset celestial order. But Aškelon is gone now, and you and all your fighters paid the price. And pay it still. Some day another power may come to take his place. But not today. And your commander knows all this. So rest easy, Straton, here with me. Let fools kill fools and we will be the better for it. Dreams are unfettered? Well and good. Whose dreams will come true in Sanctuary? Do you care? Do I? If what the Riddler wants, and what you want, and even what your Critias wants, can be fulfilled, is that not enough for such as we? Here, now, with you and me, all is as it should be.”
He pulled back from an embrace so heady he couldn’t have said whether he was standing on his feet or lying in her bed or floating down the White Foal River, lost and dead. Her eyes in that white face seemed to swoop toward him, so close to his; he could feel her breath upon his cheek. “But, Ischade…”
“Straton, go you not against that goddess, Nikodemos’ immortal lover. She’ll protect her boy. She saved you once. Be careful. These imported troubles that the Riddler brought must play out. And catch yourself not up in warlords’ schemes and mortal plans for glory, and all will be well for thee and me.”
“And Critias? And the commander? And Niko?”
“And Critias,” sighed Ischade, as if granting a wish or casting a spell. “And perhaps your Riddler. But Nikodemos… he is on another path than mortal men do tread. Be you cautious, Straton. And ride the horse I gave thee, back to me and forth to them, and back again. And all can still be well with us, if we do not seek to reach beyond our grasp.”
“Ischade, you’re wiser than even Tempus.” Older, for certain. “What should I tell the commander?” When she ‘thee’d’ him this way, danger always lay in wait.
“Hope he asks you nothing. If he does, say you will ask of me any favor he so wishes. And leave it so. And let the fires burn low, for mortal striving. Your commander reaches for yonder stars and gods do eye him. And there are more Fates in the wide worlds of men than those whom he has aided. So confusion will reign once more in Sanctuary. What, dear Straton, is the difference, to you and me?”
Since he couldn’t answer that, he lay back down atop her silks and velvets. There she clasped her hands behind his head and whispered of all they could do and all they could be together. She would protect him, as she could, and if she could, and even succor Critias, as he asked her.
More than that, this necromant, so wary, could not – or would not – promise.