Favorite Passages in Literature…

The Phoenix Guard, by Steven Brust

This book is set in a witty, classic science fiction realm of 7-foot tall elves (Dragaerans). 4 young (in other words, being under age 100) Dragaerans, all chance met on the road at the start of a new imperial era ruled by the new Emperor (as dictated by millenia long House Cycles), travel by foot to the capital to join the Imperial Phoenix Guard and join his reign. For fame, adventure, and glory.  

But they are all extremely accomplished fighters, and magic users. So much so that on their first patrol of the city, they each run into seperate misfortunes, as each was assigned a more experience Phoenix Guard to train them. The main character, Khaavren, gets into a scrape, is challenged by his partner, and forced to kill him in a duel. After, each of the 4 friends, returning from their assignments, has an appointment with the Captain, one after the other. Here is how these first day reports start.

(pg. 345)

THEY WALKED BACK to the Dragon Gate, and into the sub-wing of the Imperial Guards, where Khaavren paid each of the four two orbs from the same purse. They left the body in Captain G’aereth’s antechamber, and told the attendant that he wished to see the Captain. This worthy looked at the body and went to give the message. He returned at once, and signed that Khaavren should enter at once.

“Well, my good Tiassa,” said the Captain, motioning Khaavren to a chair. “It seems that something has happened. I am anxious to hear the details.”

“My lord,” said Khaavren, “I will tell you of the entire affair.”

“That is precisely what I wish to hear,” said the Captain.

“That is well. Here it is, then.” And he explained exactly what had occurred, with the precision of detail only a Tiassa is capable of. As he spoke, G’aereth’s eyes became hard. When he had finished, the Captain opened his mouth to speak, but they were interrupted by the attendant, who said that the Cavalier Pel wished to be admitted.

The Captain shrugged, and signed to Khaavren that he should be patient. “Very well,” G’aereth said to the attendant. “Send him in.”

Pel bowed to the pair of them.

“Well?” said the Captain.

“There has been a small misadventure, my lord,” said Pel.

“A misadventure?”

“Precisely.”

“Of what kind?”

“On the part of my partner.”

“Your partner?”

“Yes.”

“She is hurt?”

“Ah! You say, hurt.”

“That is to say, injured.”

“It seems likely.”

“But not badly?” asked G’aereth hopefully.

“On the contrary, my lord.”

“On the contrary?”

“Yes. It is very bad.”

“But, she still lives, does she not?”

“Oh, as to that…”

“Well?”

“I regret to inform your lordship—”

“Lords of Judgement! She is dead, then?”

“It is my sorrowful duty to say it, my Captain.”

“But how did it happen?”

“Oh, it was a strange thing.”

“Well?”

“Well, as we walked along the perimeters of Castlegate, where the revelries of the season were just beginning, my partner and I were discoursing on some subject—”

“On what subject?”

“That is to say… on the subject of…”

“Of dalliance, Cavalier?”

“Oh, certainly not, my Captain!”

As he said this, Khaavren noticed a flush on the pale features of the Yendi, and wondered if the Captain had seen it, too. Pel continued, “It was on the subject of sorcery, my lord.”

“Of sorcery?”

“Yes, She pretended that no one who was not an accomplished sorcerer could have a place in the Imperial Guard.”

“Well, and?”

“I had the honor to inform her that the reign of the Athyra had ended fifteen days ago.”

“Ah.”

“I feel she took my words amiss, for she raised her hands, as if she would cast a spell upon me.”

“Ah! And you?”

“Well, your lordship must understand that I could hardly permit a spell of an unknown sort to take effect on my person. It could have harmful effects. I had no choice but to draw my sword.”

“Oh, but you stopped with drawing it, I hope.”

“Most certainly, my Captain. I recovered myself, and I pleaded with her, as eloquently as I could, not to set out on this hasty course, from which no good could possibly occur.”

“And she? Was she convinced?”

“Entirely.”

“Well?”

“Well, upon seeing the wisdom of my words, she rushed to embrace me, and, in doing so, spitted herself upon my sword.”

“My good Pel!”

“It is as I have the honor to inform you, my Captain.”

“And yet—”

“We were observed by many, my Captain. There should be no difficulty in confirming what I have said.”

“You may assure yourself that I will investigate her death as thoroughly as I investigate the death of Frai.”

“Frai?”

“Khaavren’s partner, whom you doubtless observed in the ante-chamber.”

Pel gave Khaavren a glance full of meaning. “Has your partner also had an accident then?”

“Not at all,” said Khaavren. “We had occasion to fight.”

“Yes,” said G’aereth. “In fact, I was about to say—”

“Hold a moment,” said Pel. “I believe your attendant is calling.”

In fact, at that moment, the door-warden approached to announce the arrival of Aerich.

“Send him in, then,” said the Captain.

Aerich entered, and bowed gracefully to the room at large and to each man present.

“Well,” said G’aereth. “What have you to report?”

“My Lord Captain, it is with sorry that I must report the death of my partner.”

“Her death?”

Aerich bowed.

“But how did she die?”

“I killed her,” said Aerich coolly.

“What?” cried the Captain. “This is infamous!”

Aerich shrugged. Pel and Khaavren exchanged glances.

“How did it happen, then,” said G’aereth. “Did you quarrel?”

“Oh, as to that,” said Aerich. “It took place on the Street of the Cold Fires, at the Circle of the Fountain of the Darr. It was not, you perceive, in a private place, so no doubt you can discover any details that interest you.”

“But I, sir,” said the Captain. “I wish to hear of it from you.”

“Very well,” said the Lyorn, losing none of his coolness. “We did quarrel.”

“Ah! And what did you quarrel about?”

“Diamond mines.”

“Diamond mines?”

Aerich bowed his assent.

Beads of sweat broke out on the Captain’s brow. “How did you quarrel about diamond mines?”

“Your lordship is aware, perhaps, that there have been diamonds discovered in County Sandyhome?”

“I am indeed aware of it, sir, but I am anxious to learn how you became a party to this knowledge.”

“I was told of it.”

“By whom, then, were you told?”

“By my partner.”

“Ah! Well, she told you that diamonds have been discovered. Then what?”

“Your lordship is, no doubt, aware that County Sandyhome, once in the possession of the Empire, is now in the possession of the Easterners.”

“Yes, yes, in fact, it was a Dzur who led the expedition which discovered the diamonds.”

“Furthermore, my lord, you may be aware that there are so many Easterners there that it would be a major campaign for the Imperial army to remove them?”

“I know that indeed, sir.”

“My partner, then, said that the Emperor wished to do exactly that—to mount such a campaign to take this area which has no military value—”

“Oh, as to that…”

“Yes?”

“It has immense economic value.”

Aerich shrugged to signify that he had no opinion of his own on this subject.

“Go on, then,” said the Captain.

“My partner felt that this would be a useless waste of the Imperial armies, when our real project ought to be—you understand, Captain, that these are her words—ought to be the defense of the Pepperfields, which are necessary to the security of the Empire.”

“She is entitled to think whatever she wishes,” said G’aereth.

“That was my opinion, my Lord Captain. I am delighted to find that it coincides with yours.”

“Well, go on, then.”

“It was then, Captain, that my partner made certain statements slandering the character of the Emperor.”

“Ah!”

“We were, as I have had the honor to inform you, in the Circle of the Fountain of the Darr, that is, in a public place, and a place, moreover, filled with Teckla of all sorts. I therefore hastened to inform her, in a quiet voice, that it was the duty of all gentlemen to support and defend the Emperor, and that for those who had the honor to carry a sword in his name, this was twice as true.”

“And she said what to this?” asked the Captain, on whose brow beads of sweat could still be seen.

“She said that her opinion was that of the lady Lytra, the Warlord of the Empire, and that it was not my place to dispute her.”

“And then you said…?”

“I replied that the lady Lytra had not said anything of the kind in my presence, and I doubted that she had said so in a public place, nor would she approve of saying so.”

“And your partner?” asked the Captain, whose breath was now coming in gasps.

“She asked if I pretended to teach her manners.”

“And you?”

“I assured her frankly and sincerely that I was only acting as any gentleman ought to act.”

“By the Orb, sir! She drew her blade, then?”

“Excuse me, Captain, but her blade had been out since I questioned her first statement.”

“Ah! Had you drawn, as well?”

“Not at all,” said Aerich.

“Well, did you then draw it?”

“My partner became adamant on the subject; I felt it rude to refuse.”

“Then she attacked you?”

“Oh, she attacked me, yes.”

“Well?”

“She was very fast, my lord. I was forced to pierce her heart. I called for a healer at once, but, you perceive, it was already too late. I paid a pair of Teckla to keep watch upon her body so it may be brought to Deathgate Falls, should her House deem her worthy of it.”

“But then, among the three of you—”

“Excuse me, Captain,” said Pel, mildly. “The four of us.”

“What is that?”

“I believe I hear the attendant announcing the lady Tazendra.”

G’aereth shook his head. “Send her in, then. I hope she, at least, has a different tale for us.”

Aerich shrugged. Tazendra entered, then, her eyes flashing with the cold anger of a Dzurlord. “My Captain,” she said.

“Yes?”

“It give me great pain, but I must make a complaint.”

“What? A complaint?”

“Yes. Against the individual with whom I was partnered.”

“The Cavalier Fanuial?”

“Yes, that is his name.”

“Well? And your complaint?”

Tazendra drew herself up and flung her long hair over her shoulders, and thrust forward her fine jaw as she said, “He is no gentleman, my lord.”

“How is this?” asked the Captain, astonished.

“My lord, I will tell you the entire history.”

“I ask nothing better.”

“Well, it fell out in this manner. We began our patrol in the hills of the Brambletown district. We arrived, and had hardly set foot upon the Street of Ringing Bells when I saw a young gentleman walking toward us, who seemed to be looking at me quite fixedly.”

“In what way?” asked the Captain.

“Oh, as to that, I am too modest to say.”

The Captain’s eyes traveled from Tazendra’s thick black hair to her finely shaped legs, stopping at all points of interest in between. “Yes, I understand, madam. Go on.”

“I stopped to speak with this young gentleman, who appeared to be a count—” she glanced quickly at the others, cleared her throat and amended, “or perhaps a duke. Yes, undoubtedly a duke, of the House of the Hawk.”

“Well?”

“Well, my partner made remarks about this young noble of—of a particularly rude and personal nature.”

“I see. And what was your response to this?”

“Well, I was tempted to fight, Captain.”

“But you didn’t, I hope?”

“I could not, Captain. You understand, do you not? I am a Dzurlord, he only a Dragon. It would have been dishonorable to attack him.”

“I quite agree,” murmured the Captain. “What did you do, then?”

“Do? Why, naturally I suggested that he find four or five friends, and that, if they would do me the honor to all attack me at once, I would engage to defend this young Hawklord of whom he had spoken so disrespectfully.”

The Captain buried his face in his hands. Out of respect for him, no one spoke.

After a moment, the Captain lifted up his head and said, in a tone noticeably lacking in hope, “He attacked you then?”

“Attacked me? I almost think he did. He drew his sword, which was of tolerably good length, my lord, and rushed me as if it were the Battle of Twelve Pines.”

“And you?”

“Well, not having time to draw my own sword, you understand—”

“Yes, yes, I understand that.”

“Well, I was forced to use a flash-stone.”

“And?”

“I think the charge tore his throat out.”

“Oh,” groaned the Captain.

“And part of his chest.”

“Oh.”

“And penetrated his lungs.”

“Will you have done?”

Tazendra looked mildly startled. “That is all, my lord.”

“I should hope so, for the love of the Emperor.”

Tazendra bowed.

The Captain stood up, and looked at the four of them. “If this is a conspiracy, on the part of Lanmarea or anyone else, I promise you that all of your heads will adorn my wall.”

At the word “conspiracy,” Aerich’s brows contracted. Khaavren managed with some difficulty not to look at the wall to see if there were heads adorning it already.

But the Captain said, “I fear, however, that after interrogating what witnesses I can, I will discover that you have all told the truth. And then, my friends, then what am I to do?”

They didn’t answer. He looked from one to the other. “If that is the case,” he said at last, “it seems plain that, whatever you do, you are so valuable that I must either have you with me or have you dead.”

He chewed his thumb. “It is also plain,” he said, “that I cannot have you on duty with my other Guardsmen—we can’t afford it. In the future you must patrol and team only with each other.”

Pel bowed low at this and looked in the Captain’s eyes. He said in his mild voice,

“Captain my lord G’aereth.”

“Well?”

“We ask nothing better.”

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