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Reave the Just and Other Tales

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Reave the Just and Other Tales

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Author: Stephen R. Donaldson
Publisher: Ace Books, 2014
Bantam Spectra, 1999
Voyager, 1998

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Book Type: Collection
Genre: Fantasy
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The New York Times bestselling author of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant presents a collection of stories and novellas spanning fourteen years, including dark fables and lush fairy tales, featuring legendary heroes, lowly beggars, and immortal beings.


I had wealth--an enviable villa graced by servants and soothing grounds, courtesans both imaginative and compliant, and a thriving merchantry, coupled with social standing just below that of the Thal himself. I had friends, well placed and gracious, who might have come to my aid--if they could have done so without inconvenience. I had a substantial, if somewhat overfed, cohort of guards sworn to my service and, presumably, to my protection.

But necromancy and the fatal arts were Sher Abener's province, and at last I fled from them.

The nature of his quarrel with me was at once mystically arcane and stupidly practical. The caravans of my merchantry extended their travels to Sher Abener's distant homeland, from whence his occult passions and powers derived. In hushed whispers, it was often said that there men trafficked openly with the dead, while here such practices are only feared and shunned.

On the day when Sher Abener's enmity toward me was set in motion, he approached me, asking that I command my caravans to obtain various necrotic objects and potencies for him from his homeland. Naturally, I acquiesced. I had never sought conflict with any man. Indeed, during the years since my kind and indulgent father had succumbed to the plague, and I had inherited his villa, his riches, and his merchantry, I had studiously avoided contention of any kind. I saw no purpose in it. I desired no alarms and apprehensions to trouble my satisfied life. The manly skills appropriate to my station--primarily the saber and lance, supported by some few techniques of unarmed combat, and a smattering of theurgy--I had learned without interest as a youth, and forgotten as swiftly as I could. My business dealings were marked more by pleasure and comradeship than by profit. My sport with my courtesans and friends accommodated no discomfort. No doubt Sher Abener had come to me because he could be certain of my acquiescence.

Unfortunately, the man whose duty it was to carry out my assent refused. He was Tep Longeur, the overseer of my merchantry--the man who both commanded and represented the drovers and carters and ware-hawks of my caravans. Two days after Sher Abener's request, he approached me with his unwelcome reply.

"Sher Urmeny," he informed me stiffly, "it won't be done. We won't do it."

"My good man, why ever not?" I responded in protest. Truth to tell, I had at that moment no notion what he meant. My transaction with Sher Abener--ominous though it was--had already vanished from my mind.

"The men won't do it," Tep Longeur explained. "And I won't force them. I wouldn't do it myself in their place. That trek is already dangerous enough. These things--" The neat scrim of his beard lifted in disgust. His eyes flashed a careless anger past the sun-belabored leather of his cheeks. "They're evil, Sher Urmeny."

"'Things,' Tep Longeur?" I made no attempt to conceal my bewilderment. He had served my family longer than I had been alive, and knew me too well to be misled by feigned certainty. "'Evil'? Have you dismissed your senses?"

"No, I haven't, Sher." My overseer brandished before me a parchment marked by Sher Abener's crabbed hand. A thrust of his finger indicated one illegible item. "This is a mechanism used to suck the blood from a man while he still lives. And this"--Tep Longeur pointed again--"keeps a man's member rigid after death, so he can still be used for fornication. For those," he sneered bitterly, "who enjoy that sort of amusement."

I found that I needed to seat myself. I had been cognizant of Sher Abener's reputation, certainly. And a moment's thought might have informed me that the objects and potencies he desired were of unpleasant application. Yet I had not considered that I might become an unwitting participant in some dire rite.

"But I have accepted Sher Abener's request," I informed Tep Longeur. "It must be carried out. That is the nature of merchantries. The alternatives"--I could hardly suppress a shudder--"are disagreeable."

Indeed, my overseer himself had always insisted that a merchant must stand by his word.

Now, however, he jutted his jaw stubbornly. "The men won't do it," he repeated. "They'll leave your service first." Then he added, "I'll leave it myself. We're decent folk, all of us. We'll have nothing to do with necromancy."

Had I been of a less dignified temperament, I would have groaned aloud. Here was a choice for which I had no taste thrust upon me. The prospect of informing Sher Abener that I must decline his requirements appeared unpleasant in the extreme. At the same time, I had no answer for the threat of Tep Longeur's defection. I was entirely dependent on him. I could no more have filled his place myself than survived a contest of necromancy. If he abandoned me, I would be forced to rebuild my entire merchantry. And that burdensome task might prove impossible. If men who had grown fat in my service refused my commands, others would likely do the same.

Wracked by concerns I did not enjoy, I concluded eventually that my need for Tep Longeur's forthright service outweighed other considerations. Sher Abener must take his requirements elsewhere. He was a reasonable man, was he not? Doubtless he would be vexed by my decision--but he would accept it. And I could offer him a number of valuable compensations. I alone controlled the price of my goods, regardless of their cost of procurement, or their exotic origins. Surely he would not disdain to profit at my expense?

This decision contented me in the privacy and comfort of my villa. Unfortunately, I began to doubt it when I ventured forth to announce it to Sher Abener in person. His reputation for darkness, like the memory of his bitter visage, contrasted uncomfortably with the gracious avenues along which I strolled in the direction of his walled manor. Benedic, the seat and chief municipality of our Thal's demesne, was a sun-drenched and soothing town. Locust trees overarched the avenues, shaping the sun's kindness with an artist's hand. Whitewashed villas nearly as attractive as my own gleamed among their grounds and gardens on each side. Ladies and courtesans displayed their gowns and charms in open phaetons drawn by the fine steeds which were the source of the Thal's personal wealth. Prosperous laborers tended the walks and intersections, the gates and carriageways. And above my head a flawless sky held Benedic like the setting for a rare and grace-bedizened gem. I conceived that I had been born for the enjoyment of such days in such a place, and images of Sher Abener's dour countenance disturbed my satisfaction.

His manor was of grim granite, undressed, naked of plaster, and high-walled to foil any unwelcome attention. As it stood, it formed a blot on one of Benedic's most harmonious vistas, and I wondered as I approached why the Thal had permitted it to be built as it was. The light of the sun shunned it, and the locusts leaned askance. Its stone spoke of secrets and practices dangerously protected. Indeed, it appeared strangely ominous, as though it threatened the whole of the town. Nearing it, I became concerned that its owner and architect might not prove as reasonable as I desired.

I had with me no more retinue than one servant and a guard. Considering the nature of my errand, I had no wish for ostentation. Yet I found now that I would have preferred a greater company around me. I would have liked Sher Abener to know that I was not a man to be threatened or harmed, despite my compliant nature.

But these were fancies, I assured myself, suggested by the hard stone and unfamiliar style of the manor. Thoughts of threat and harm had no place in such sunlight, under such a sky. Benedic was not a municipality in which a man of my wealth, charm, and pleasantness need fear the ill will of his fellows. Surely the Thal would not have granted Sher Abener leave to dwell among us if his arts or his intentions were as dread as his abode.

Assuming a good face, I sent my servant to announce me at the manor's portal.

The gates opened before us, though I saw no servants drag them aside. A dreary voice instructed us to proceed to the doors of the manor itself, but I saw no speaker. And when we gained the doors, we found them wide, despite the fact that they had been unmistakably shut, and we had not seen them move.

"Sher," my guard murmured to me, "this is an unwholesome place." A pallor had come over his plump features. Sweat stood on his brow. "Do not enter."

I wished to scoff at his apprehensions, but I found that my own assurance had sunk too low. Turning to bid my servant advance ahead of me, I saw only the miscreant's back and heels as he fled between the portal gates at a run.

"Sher--" my guard quavered piteously.

Devoutly, I desired the man to display more fortitude. He had accepted good coin in my service for years, and had been asked little or nothing in return. I felt entitled to his courage. At the same time, however, I considered it unseemly for a man of my stature to appear more timorous than his underlings. Cursing the honorable intentions which had brought me to this discomfort, I took pity on him and ordered his return to my villa.

Perhaps he would spread the tale of my courage, beneficence, and forbearance, and Benedic's esteem for me would be enhanced by this otherwise distressing adventure.

Escorted by that cold comfort, I entered Sher Abener's disconcerting abode alone.

Copyright © 1998 by Stephen R. Donaldson


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