" Heroes and villains charge toward a satisfying climax in the violent, intrigue-filled conclusion to Duncan's two-volume epic fantasy. " - Publishers Weekly
" A solid sequel that carries all the strengths of its predecessor and satisfyingly completes a complex tale that successfully incorporates politics, war, polytheistic religion, and family ties... Combining violent and detailed battle scenes and well-plotted sieges with political and religious intrigue, Duncan has done an excellent job of keeping the novel accessible and riveting. " - Quill and Quire
" As always, Dave Duncan rides his characters hard, but delivers a unique, masterfully built, very colorful fantasy world, with epic - and very gory - action, and an ultimately satisfying ending. " - Bookloons
" A solid addition to any library's fantasy collection; for fans of fantasy adventure. " - Library Journal
" Duncan writes with comic subtlety, an awareness of casual cruelty, and a sure knowledge of just how powerful and changeable human emotion can be. His characters are witty and resourceful, wily and intelligent, which makes for highly entertaining reading. Like the best of his earlier novels, and surpassing most of them for emotional depth, Mother of Lies offers the kind of swashbuckling fantasy fans won't want to miss. " - Edmonton Journal
" Duncan's prose avoids the excessively florid in its description and the archaic in its dialogue, opting instead for simpler narration and contemporary parlance that help to keep the story moving at a brisk pace. This is not paint-by-numbers epic fantasy, but a world as quirky as its impossible shape and as unpredictable as the roll of a twelve-sided die. Mother of Lies...serves as a refreshing reminder that epic fantasy need not always be doorstops filled with manly men speaking in overblown rhetoric and grasping their swords. " - SFF World
"Fans of Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkin, and David Eddings should give Duncan a look, as he writes similar light fantasy adventure . . . but with greater quality and extra care to the background. " - SFRevu.com
" [The multitude of viewpoints] doesn't always make for easy reading, but it does help build up that sense of grit and ambiguity until what might have been a gamer's romp or one of fantasy's familiar morality plays feels almost like grim realism. " - Locus
Saltaja Hragsdor awoke with a snarl. For a moment she was confused by chinks of daylight peering around shutters, by solid masonry walls and paneled ceiling. Then she remembered she was in Tryfors, lying under clean blankets on a level sleeping platform, not some lumpy riverbank. So why the oppressive mood? Ah, yes! She had been dreaming of Benard Celebre.
Benard Celebre? Jarred, she sat up and peered at her arm. Last night she had sought guidance from the Mother, offering blood. She had felt the power flow and the cut was already healed, so what sort of reward was a useless dream of Benard Celebre ambling along a Tryforian street like some amiable half-wit bear? She had not seen him on her way through Kosord in the summer, but she had no doubt that it was he that she had just dreamt, and here in Tryfors, too.
That was ridiculous! She had given Horold leave to kill him. Her brother was a pathetic relic of the fearsome warrior he had once been, but he should be able to dispose of one penniless hostage. And even if Ingeld had somehow smuggled her boy lover out of the city, the satrap‘s Witnesses should have reported where he was and his Werists should have run him down within hours.
Saltaja yelled to waken Guitha, who was sleeping on a mat near the door.
Benard? Was this some doing of his sister? Was this the final proof that Fabia Celebre was indeed a Chosen?
Not for nothing was holy Xaran known as the Mother of Lies. She spoke to all Her children, but not always with a clear voice, lest they betray Her secrets to lesser gods, who were young and foolish. She was usually helpful to Her Chosen, although even they could never count on Her absolutely. If two came into conflict, She might aid both, or aid one and deceive the other. Or deceive both.
As she attended to her toilet, Saltaja continued to puzzle. Her problems never grew any less. Therek had become dangerously irrational. She would have to waste several days here in Tryfors repairing him and might not extend his useful life by more than a year or two. On the way home she would have to stop off in Kosord to mend Horold also. At times she even wondered about Stralg himself. As a natural-born warrior, he had required far less Shaping than any of his brothers, but the steadily worsening news of the war made her wonder if he were decaying also. Then there was yesterday‘s news about Kwirarl, the last of her sons dead, and these "New Dawn" rebel Werists massing at Nuthervale. With winter coming on, they were the most urgent problem. Last night she had dispatched sisterly warnings to both Horold and Eide, telling them to prepare for a spring campaign before the traitors grew any stronger.
Her life‘s work was unraveling in front of her eyes.
"Brainless slut!" Saltaja swung a slap that almost knocked Guitha off her feet. "A clean shift, I said! From that box!"
Wailing, Guitha ran to obey. The girl was useless, incompetent even at helping her mistress dress now. She would have to be replaced soon, before she became incapable of even dressing herself. The Dominance Saltaja had used on her was quick Control but it soon burned out the mind. It was not to be compared with the painstaking Shaping that Saltaja and Hrag together had used on his sons from their conception through to manhood.
She pushed dismal thoughts out of her mind and concentrated on dressing, in spite of Guitha‘s bumbling. Tryfors Palace was surely the most dismal, bleakest royal residence on the entire Face, and in all the years since Stralg terminated the line of local kings and installed his brother as satrap, Therek had done nothing to improve it. No matter; it was a joy to pamper herself, to be rubbed with scented oil, try on fresh clothes specially made since she arrived yesterday, and to admire herself in a reasonably-sized silver mirror while Guitha wielded a hairbrush with the subtlety of a peasant flailing grain.
Saltaja‘s hair was snowy white but had always been so. Her skin was unusually pale, even for a Vigaelian, and her eyes a startling dark blue--Hrag had claimed that he arranged that distinctive touch when she was an infant. Her face was too elongated to be beautiful, but beauty was much less useful than power and she could still pass for less than forty, although she was almost twice that.
"Now my wimple." Living up to her reputation as Queen of Shadows, she always wore black, even to the cloth that concealed her hair and neck, the long cuffs draping her hands. Nothing but her face was ever visible to anyone except the many Guithas who had served her over the years--and certain highly privileged men, in the past. She must find a replacement Guitha here in Tryfors before she left. She always named her current maid Guitha, after the one who had been her first experiment in Dominance.
A new Guitha would have to wait. The first item of business today must be to confirm that the Celebre girl was a Chosen of Xaran. To give her a fair chance, though, she should be moved to some lower dungeon where she could draw power from the Mother. Then send in the brute Werist that Therek had promised. Back in Skjar, Saltaja would have arranged to have the rape done in a cell with a spyhole, so she could watch how it went, but Tryfors had no such convenience.
No matter. If the thug came out satisfied, the girl was innocent and would just have to take her chances with her future husband. If he wandered out obviously Controlled or didn‘t come out at all, then it would be time for Saltaja to sit down with the filly for the confidential chat they had been unable to share on the river. To convince Fabia of the advantages of cooperation, Saltaja would begin by conceding that her nephew, Cutrath Horoldson, was a repulsive choice of husband and then go on to instruct her in means to put him to rights as easily as a skilled seamstress could reshape a gown. More easily, in fact. Grain needed thrashing, grinding, kneading, and baking before it became usable; men were much the same.
A knock on the door disturbed her reverie.
Blazing with fury, she swept along the stark stone corridors. Werists trotted at her heels and hurried ahead of her, their torsos wrapped in striped palls, leaving brawny arms and legs bare. She swept through the outer room, where more Werists pressed back against the walls looking scared. As well they might.
The room beyond was a barren box without even a sleeping platform. The girl‘s baggage and clothes lay scattered everywhere, as if the idiots had ransacked them looking for her. Saltaja strode over to examine the single window with its two bronze bars. Satisfied that they were still solid, corroded in place, ancient as the wall, she laid her hand on the stonework and detected only a frail trace of the Old One‘s power filtering up from the heart of the world. Even she, with sixty years‘ more experience, would never contrive an escape from here. Supposing she could somehow trick the jailers outside into opening the door, she could not Control eight at once. Chosen or not, the girl must have had help.
Outside, a heavy drizzle was sending sheets of water coursing over the paving, making pedestrians hurry. Take away that rain and the daylight, and this was the street in her dream. So Benard Celebre had rescued his sister, had he? That had been the Dark One‘s message.
She turned to face the Werists. Her two Controlled bodyguards, Ern and Brarag, were standing close to her, keeping watch on the rest. Six of the incompetent jailers had packed in after her, another two were outside, peering through the door. She could not remember the name of their leader, but it mattered not at all and soon would matter even less.
"Guarding a slip of a girl is beyond your ability?"
The flankleader bared his teeth at her. "All of us spent the night in the outer room. There were no visitors, no coming and going--"
"Except the prisoner."
"We can‘t fight gods! No mortal let that woman out of here."
"Since when does holy Weru accept excuses? Track her!"
"We tried, my lady." His stubbled hair and beard were wet. "The rain . . . We could not pick up her scent at all."
"And the Ucrist, Wigson? I suppose he‘s gone, too? Did you send someone to look?"
"I expect he bribed his guards," she said. "The Witnesses will get the truth out of them."
"The jail guards have disappeared." The flankleader obviously wished he could.
"The Witnesses will locate them, and him," Saltaja said confidently. Even if they had moved out of range already, the seers should be able to tell Therek which way they had gone.
She should not have expected the public jail to hold the richest man in all Vigaelia. Horth Wigson was important only as surety for Fabia‘s good behavior. He could have bought his way out even if he had to pay his jailers enough to let them flee the satrap‘s anger and make new lives somewhere else. It would have been cheaper to have them permanently silenced, but that was not Wigson‘s style. Clever people don‘t need to break laws, he said--they can bend them. But even he could not bribe Werists.
Saltaja headed for the door. "Lock this bunch of imbeciles in here until I have spoken with the satrap."
Suddenly the air reeked of murder and mutiny. Saltaja Hragsdor might be the satrap‘s sister, the bloodlord‘s sister, a reputed chthonian, but no woman gave orders to Heroes of Weru!
Except she. The six remained inside, the two outside reluctantly joined them, and Ern slid the huge bronze bolts. He looked around, astonished, sweat shining on his forehead.
"How long will it hold them?" she asked.
He shrugged helplessly. "Until they decide to rip out the bars or tear up the floorboards, my lady. Battleformed, some of them could get out between the bars, given time. You can‘t imprison Werists!"
"Then we must bring this scum to justice quickly. They are a disgrace to your cult. Stay here, let no one in, no one out. Brarag, go and find the satrap. Tell him to come to my room. At once!"
Warrior Brarag flinched at the thought of giving orders to the Vulture, but he could not refuse. He saluted and ran off.
Alone, Saltaja stalked back toward her dreary room, thinking furiously. What god was meddling? Anziel? Thanks to the Mother‘s sending she knew that Benard Celebre was here in Tryfors, instead of tidily rotting in a pauper‘s grave in Kosord. The boy was a scatterbrained dreamer, but he was a Hand of Anziel. He was certainly not capable of springing his sister from that cell, but his goddess was, if She chose to answer Her devotee‘s prayers.
What of the other brother, the Hero? No, the only god who would answer a prayer from him would be Weru, and this was certainly not Weru‘s work. Young Orlad was due to die right about now, murdered so that Therek could gloat over a dead Florengian.
Last night‘s dream had not been trivial; it had been a very important warning, perhaps even a hint that Fabia Celebre was now in favor and Saltaja Hragsdor was not. Of course the girl‘s sacrifice of Perag Hrothgatson would have raised her in Mother Xaran‘s esteem, but if the girl thought she could outbid Saltaja Hragsdor in offerings to the Old One, she had another think coming.
At that point in her journey, the Queen of Shadows stopped to open a creaky little door in a cobwebby alcove and peer out at a small enclosure, a neglected jungle surrounded by blank stone walls. This weed patch was known as the herb garden, and no doubt some long-ago queen of Tryfors had nurtured herbs there as a time-out from her royal duty of breeding princes, but the moment Saltaja had first seen it, years ago, she had known it to be accursed ground, dedicated to the Old One. In today‘s gloom and drizzle it seemed more baleful than ever.
Yes, it must be done there.