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Фантастика. Фэнтези
   Зарубежная фантастика
      Paul B.Thompson, Tonya ъ.Carter. Darkness and Light -
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Paul B.Thompson, Tonya ъ.Carter. Darkness and Light --------------------------------------------------------------- ("DragonLance Preludes I" #1). --------------------------------------------------------------- DragonLance Preludes Volume One Darkness & Light written by Paul B.Thompson and Tonya ъ.Carter * * * Chapter 1 Separate Ways Autumn painted Solace in gay colors. Each porch, each window, was filled with red, orange, and yellow foliage, for the shops and houses of Solace were nestled among the stout branches of a vale of vallenwood trees, well above the mossy ground. Here and there were clearings in the treetown. These were the town's commons, where there might be a market one week and a traveling carnival the next. On this bright afternoon three figures stood in a sunlit clearing -- two men and a woman. Two swords played back and forth, flashing with fire when the sun's rays caught them. Two figures circled warily, feinting with sudden flicks of their naked blades. The third one stood back, watching. The swords scraped together with a kiss of tempered steel. "Well met!" said Caramon Majere, the onlooker. "A very neat parry, Sturm!" The tall young man with the drooping brown mustache grunted a brief acknowledgment. He was rather busy. His opponent sprang forward, lunging at his chest. Sturm Brightblade cut hard at the onrushing point, backpedaling as he swung. It missed him by a scant inch. Sturm's foe wobbled as she came down off balance, her feet too far apart. "Steady, Kit!" Caramon called. His half-sister recovered with the practiced grace of a dancer. She brought her heels together with a smack of boot leather and presented Sturm with only her slim profile as a target. "Now, my friend," she said. "I'll show you the skill that comes from fighting for pay." Kitiara cut tiny circles in the air with her' sword tip. Once, twice, three times -- Sturm watched the deadly motion. Caramon watched, too, open-mouthed. At eighteen, he was the size of a full-grown man, but he was still a boy inside. The wild and worldly Kitiara was his idol. She had more drive and dash than any ten men. From his place, Caramon could see every nick in the edge of Kitiara's blade, mementoes of hard-fought battle. The flat of the blade was shiny from frequent and expert polishing. By contrast, Sturm's sword was so new that the hilt still showed the blue tinge from the smith's annealing fire. "Watch your right," said Caramon. Sturm closed his free hand over the long pommel and awaited Kitiara's attack square on, as a Solamnic Knight would. "Hai!" Kitiara whirled on one leg, cleaving the air with an upward sweep of her sword. Caramon's breath caught as she carried her swing forward. Sturm did not move. Her sword would complete its arc at his neck. Caramon shut his eyes -- and heard a solid ring of steel. Feeling foolish, he opened them again. Sturm had parried straight across, hilt to hilt, with no finesse at all. He and Kitiara stayed locked together with their sword points high. Kitiara's wrists shook. She stepped in and braced her sword arm with her empty hand. Sturm forced her guard down. Her face paled, then flushed red. Caramon knew that look. This friendly bout was not going to her liking, and Kitiara was getting angry. Vexed, she shifted her stance and strained against Sturm's greater size and strength. Still her hilt fell. The knobbed quillon of Sturm's new sword brushed her chin. With an explosive gasp, Kitiara ceased the struggle. Both sword points stabbed into the green sod. "Enough," she said. "I'll buy the ale. I should've known better than to let you bind up my guard like that! Come on, Sturm. Let's have a tankard of Otik's best." "Sounds good to me," he replied. He freed his blade and . stepped back, breathing heavily. As he moved, Kitiara thrust the flat of her weapon between his ankles. Sturm's feet tangled, and he sprawled backward on the grass. His sword flew away, and in the next instant Kitiara stood over him holding thirty-two inches of steel poised at his throat. "Combat is not always a sport," she said. "Keep your eyes open and your sword firmly in hand, my friend, and you'll live longer." Sturm looked up the blade at Kitiara's face. Sweat had stuck dark curls of hair to her forehead, and her naturally dark lips were pressed firmly together. Slowly they spread in a lopsided smile. She sheathed her weapon. "Don't look so downcast! Better a friend knock you down as a lesson than an enemy cut you down for good." She extended a hand. "We'd better go before Flint and Tanis drink all of Otik's brew." Sturm grasped her hand. It was warm and calloused from gauntlets and sword grips. Kitiara pulled him up until they were nose to nose. Although a head taller and fifty pounds heavier, Sturm still felt like a callow youth beside her. But her bright eyes and engaging smile dispelled his anxiety. "I see now how you've managed to prosper as a fighter," he said, stooping to retrieve his sword. He buried the blade in its sheath. "Thank you for the lesson. Next time I will keep my feet out of reach!" "Later, will you teach me some of your moves, Kit?" asked Caramon eagerly. He carried a short sword himself, a gift from his adventurous sister. She'd picked it up on one of her many battlefields. Flint Fireforge, who knew metalwork as few did, said that Caramon's sword had been made in southern Qualinesti. Only by clues such as this did her friends know where Kit's wanderings had taken her. "Why not? I'll tie one hand behind my back to make it fair." Caramon opened his mouth to retort, but Kitiara clapped a hand over his lips. "Now, to the inn. If I don't get a draft of ale soon, I'll perish!" When they reached the base of the great vallenwood tree that supported the Inn of the Last Home, they found their friend Flint sitting at the bottom of the ramp. The dwarf had a split of kindling in his massive, knobby hands and was shaving off hair-thin slices with a single-edged knife. "Well, you came back with your skin whole," said Flint, eyeing Sturm. "I half-expected to see you carrying your head under your arm." "Your confidence in me is enormous," the young man replied sourly. Kitiara halted and draped an arm across Caramon's broad shoulders. "Better watch yourself, old dwarf. Our Master Sturm has an uncommonly strong arm. Once he learns not to hold to outdated knightly codes --" "Honor is never outdated," said Sturm. "Which is how you landed flat on your back with my sword at your neck. If you would --" "Don't start!" groaned Caramon. "If I have to hear another debate on honor, I'll die of boredom!" "I won't argue," Kitiara said, slapping her brother on the rump. "I made my point." "Come with us, Flint. Kit's buying," said Caramon. The elderly dwarf rose on his stumpy legs, sweeping a cascade of white wood slivers off his lap. He straightened his clothing and tucked his knife back in his leggings. "No ale for you," Kitiara said to Caramon with mockmaternal sternness. 'You're not old enough to drink." Caramon ducked under her arm, sprinted up to Sturm, and said, "I'm eighteen, Kit." Kitiara's face showed surprise. "Eighteen? Are you sure?" Her 'little' brother was an inch or so taller than Sturm. Caramon gave her a disgusted look. "Of course I'm sure. You just haven't noticed that I'm a grown man." 'You're a baby!" Kitiara cried, whipping out her sword. "Any more out of you and I'll spank you!" "Ha!" Caramon laughed 'You can't catch me!" So saying, he dashed up the stairs. Kitiara returned her sword and bounded after him. Caramon's long legs covered the steep boards quickly. Laughing, he and his sister disappeared around the tree trunk. Flint and Sturm ascended more slowly. A light breeze rustled through the tree, sending a shower of colored leaves across the steps. Sturm gazed out through the branches at the other tree homes. "In a few weeks, you'll be able to see clear to the other side of the commons," he mused. "Aye," said Flint. "It's strange not to be on the road right now. For more years than you've been alive, boy, I've tramped the roads of Abanasinia from spring to autumn, plying the trade." Sturm nodded. Flint's announced retirement from his itinerant metalworking had surprised them all. "It's all behind me now," Flint said. "Time to put my feet up, maybe grow some roses." Sturm found the image of the bluff old dwarf tending a rose garden so unnatural that he shook his head to dispel the thought. At the level platform midway up to the inn proper, Sturm paused by the railing. Flint went a few steps beyond before halting. He squinted back at Sturm and said, "What is it, boy? You're about to burst to tell me something." Flint didn't miss a thing. "I'm going away," said Sturm. "To Solamnia. I'm going to look for my heritage." "And your father?" "If there is any trace of him to be found, I shall find it." "It could be a long journey and a dangerous search," Flint said. "But I wish I could go with you." "Never mind." Sturm moved away from the rail. "It's my search." Sturm and Flint entered the door of the inn just in time to receive a barrage of apple cores. As they wiped the sticky palp from their eyes, the room rocked with laughter. "Who's the rascal responsible?" roared Flint. A gawky young girl, no more than fourteen, with a head of robust red curls, handed the outraged dwarf a towel. "Otik pressed some new cider, and they had to have the leavings," she said apologetically. Sturm wiped his face. Kitiara and Caramon had collapsed against the bar, giggling like idiots. Behind the bar, Otik, the portly proprietor of the inn, shook his head. "This is a first-class inn," he said. "Take your pranks outside, if you gotta pull'em!" "Nonsense!" said Kitiara. She slapped a coin on the bar. Caramon wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and stared. It was a gold coin, one of the few he'd ever seen. "That will ease your temper, eh, Otik?" Kitiara said. A tall, well-favored man stool up from his table and approached the bar. His motion was oddly graceful, and his high cheekbones and golden eyes eloquently proclaimed his elven heritage. He picked up the coin. "What's the matter, Tanis?" Kitiara asked. "Haven't you ever seen gold before?" "Not as large a coin as this," Tanis Half-Elven replied. He flipped it over. "Where was it struck?" Kitiara lifted her mug from the bar and drank. "I don't know," she said. "It's part of my wages. Why do you ask?" "The inscription is Elvish. I would say it was minted in Silvanesti." Sturm and Flint came over to examine the coin. The deli cate script was definitely Elvish, Flint said. Far-off Silvanesti had practically no contact with the rest of Ansalon, and there was much curiosity as to how an elvish coin managed to drift so far west. "Plunder," said a voice from the corner of the room. "What did you say, ъaist?" asked Caramon. In a corner of the inn's common room a pallid figure could be seen. ъaistlin, Caramon's twin brother. As usual, he was immersed in the study of a dusty scroll. He rose and moved toward the group; the colored light filtering through the inn's stainedglass windows gave his pale skin odd tints. "Plunder," he repeated. "ъobbery, rapine, booty." "We know what the word means," said Flint sharply. "He means the coin was probably stolen in Silvanesti and later turned up in the coffers of Kit's mercenary captain," said Tanis. They passed the coin from hand to hand, turning it around and feeling the heft of it. More than its crude monetary value, the elven coin spoke of far-off places and distant, magical people. "Let me see," said an insistent voice from below the bar. A small, lean arm thrust between Caramon and Sturm. "No!" said Otik, taking the coin from Tanis's hand. "When a kender gets hold of money, you can kiss it a quick good-bye!" "Tas!" cried Caramon. "I didn't see you come in." "He was in the room the whole time," Tanis said. Tasslehoff Burrfoot, like most of his race, was both clever and diminutive. He could hide in the smallest places, and was known to be light-fingered -- "curious," as he said. "Ale all around," said Kitiara, "now that my credit is good." Otik filled a line of tankards from a massive pitcher, and the friends retired to the great round table in the center of the room. ъaistlin took a chair with the others, instead of returning to his scroll. "Since we are all here," Tanis said, "someone ought to make a toast." "Here's to Kit, the founder of the feast!" said Caramon, raising his clay mug of cider. "Here's to the gold that pays for it," his sister responded. "Here's to the elves who coined it," offered Flint. "I'll drink to elves in any form," Kitiara said. She smiled over her mug at Tanis. A question formed on his lips, but before he could speak it, Tasslehoff stood on his stool and waved for attention. "I say we drink to Flint," said Tas. "This is the first year since the Cataclysm that he won't be on the road." A chuckle circled the table, and the old dwarf reddened. "You whelp," he growled. "How old do you think I am?" "He can't count that high," said ъaistlin. "Well, I'm a hundred and forty-three, and I can lick any man, woman, or kender in the place," Flint declared. He thumped a heavy fist on the table. "Care to test me?" He had no takers. Despite his age and short stature, Flint was powerfully muscled and a good wrestler. They toasted and drank from then on with good cheer, as afternoon became evening and evening became night. To stave off tipsiness, one of Otik's large suppers was ordered. Soon the table was groaning under platters of squab and venison, bread, cheese, and Otik's famous fried potatoes. The red-haired girl brought each platter to the diners. At one point, Caramon put his gnawed chicken bones in her apron pocket. The girl responded gamely, dropping a hot potato slice down Caramon's collar. He squirmed out of his chair as the girl skipped back to Otik's kitchen. "Who the blazes is she?" asked Caramon, wiggling the crispy potato slice out his shirttail. "She is in Otik's care," said ъaistlin. "Her name is Tika." The night passed on. Other patrons came and went. It grew late, and Otik had Tika light a fork of candles for the friends' table. The merry banter of the early evening gave way to calmer, more reflective conversation. "I'm going tomorrow," Kitiara announced. By candlelight her tanned face seemed golden. Tanis studied her and felt all the old pangs return. She was a most alluring woman. "Going where?" asked Caramon. "North, I think," she answered. "Why north?" Tanis asked. "ъeasons of my own," she said, but her smile softened the flat answer. "Can I go with you?" Caramon said. "No, you can't, brother." "Why not?" Kitiara, seated between her half-brothers, glanced at ъaistlin. Caramon's gaze went from her to his twin. Of course. ъaistlin needed him. Though twins, they were not much alike. Caramon was a genial young bear, while ъaistlin was a studious wraith. He was frequently ill and had an uncanny habit of antagonizing large belligerent types. After the birth of the twins, their mother had never recovered her strength, so Kitiara had fought for young ъaistlin's health. Now it was Caramon who watched out for his twin. "I'm leaving, too," put in Sturm. "North." He glanced at Kitiara. "Foo," said Tasslehoff. "North is dull. I've been there. Now east, there's the way to go. There's lots to see in the East -- cities, forests, mountains --" "Pockets to pick, horses to 'borrow'," said Flint. The kender stuck out his lower lip. "I can't help it if I'm good at finding things." "Someday you'll find from the wrong person, and they'll hang you for it." "I have to go north," Sturm said. He leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands. "I'm going back to Solamnia." They all stared at him. They knew the story of Sturm's exile from his homeland. Twelve years had passed since the peasants of Solamnia had risen against the knightly lords. Sturm and his mother had escaped with only their lives. The knights were still despised in their own country. "Could you use a good right arm?" offered Kitiara. Her offer caught everyone by surprise. "I wouldn't want you to go out of your way," said Sturm, noncommittally. "North is north. I've been east and south and west." "Very well then. I'd be honored to have you with me." Sturm turned from Kitiara to Tanis. "What about you, Tan?" Tanis pushed a hunk of bread through the remains of his dinner. "I've been thinking of doing some travel myself. Nothing specific, just a trek to see some places I haven't seen. I don't think my journey will take me north." He looked at Kitiara, but her gaze was directed at Sturm. "That's the idea," Tasslehoff said briskly. His right hand dipped into his fur vest and came out with a flat copper disk. He rolled the disk over the back of his knuckles. It was an exercise he sometimes did to keep his fingers nimble. Not that he needed practice. "Let's go east, Tanis, you and me." "No." The flat turn-down froze the copper disk midway across the back of the kender's small hand. "No," said Tanis again, more gently. "This is a trip I must make alone." The table was silent again. Then Caramon let out a single great hiccup, and the laughter returned. "Pardon me!" said Caramon, reaching for Kitiara's tankard. She was not fooled. As his hand closed around the pewter stem, she rapped his wrist with her spoon. Caramon snatched his hand back. "Ouch!" he protested. "You'll get worse if you try it again," said Kitiara. Caramon grinned and made a fist. "Save your energy, brother," ъaistlin said. "You'll need it." "How so, ъaist?" "Since everyone has decided to undertake journeys, this seems like a good time to announce one of my own." Flint snorted. "You wouldn't last two days on the road." "Perhaps not." ъaistlin folded his long, tapering fingers. "Unless my brother goes with me." "Where and when?" asked Caramon, pleased to be going anywhere. "I cannot say where just now," ъaistlin said. His pale blue eyes stared fixedly at his nearly untouched plate of food. "It may be a long and perilous voyage." Caramon jumped up. "I'm ready." "Siddown," Kitiara said, dragging on her brother's vest tail. Caramon plumped down on his stool. Flint sighed a great, gusty sigh. "You're all leaving me," he said. "I'll not go a-tinkering this season, and all my friends are going their own way He sighed again, so heavily that the rack of candles flickered. "You old bear," Kitiara

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