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Valentine Pontifex

Book Three of the Majipoor Cycle

Robert K. Silverberg - Author

ePub eBook | $12.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101598245 | 368 pages | 31 Dec 2012 | Roc | 18 - AND UP
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The Classic Bestselling Saga by Science Fiction Grand Master Robert Silverberg

Plagued by nightmares of Majipoor besieged by blizzards and earthquakes, Lord Valentine believes these omens signal an encroaching war between his people and the Shapeshifters who once ruled the planet. For centuries they have conspired to regain their stolen world and recently, they were discovered impersonating members of the kingdom’s inner circle.

Since coming to power, Valentine has made peaceful overtures to the Shapeshifters, actions that have many in the royal court questioning his motives and loyalties—and led them to consider removing him from his governing duties so that he may ascend to the higher ceremonial office of Pontifex.

But if Valentine accepts the mantle of Pontifex and surrenders his position to his successor-in-waiting, he may be remembered as a leader who evaded his responsibilities—and shattered the peace that has reigned for eight thousand years...


Valentine swayed, braced himself with his free hand against the table, struggled to keep himself from spilling his wine.

This is very odd, he thought, this dizziness, this confusion. Too much wine—the stale air—maybe gravity pulls harder, this far down below the surface—

“Propose the toast, lordship,” Deliamber murmured. “First to the Pontifex, and then to his aides, and then—”

“Yes. Yes, I know.”

Valentine peered uncertainly from side to side, like a steetmoy at bay, ringed round by the spears of hunters.

“Friends—” he began.

“To the Pontifex Tyeveras!” Deliamber whispered sharply.

Friends. Yes. Those who were most dear to him, seated close at hand. Almost everyone but Carabella and Elidath: she was on her way to meet him in the west, was she not, and Elidath was handling the chores of government on Castle Mount in Valentine’s absence. But the others were here, Sleet, Deliamber, Tunigorn, Shanamir, Lisamon and Ermanar, Tisana, the Skandar Zalzan Kavol, Asenhart the Hjort—yes, all his dear ones, all the pillars of his life and reign—

“Friends,” he said, “lift your wine–bowls, join me in one more toast. You know that it has not been granted me by the Divine to enjoy an easy time upon the throne. You all know the hardships that have been thrust upon me, the challenges that had to be faced, the tasks required of me, the weighty problems still unresolved.”

“This is not the right speech, I think,” he heard someone behind him say.

Deliamber muttered again, “His majesty the Pontifex! You must offer a toast to his majesty the Pontifex!”

Valentine ignored them. These words that came from him now seemed to come of their own accord.

“If I have borne these unparalleled difficulties with some grace,” he went on, “it is only because I have had the support, the counsel, the love, of such a band of comrades and precious friends as few rulers can ever have claimed. It is with your indispensable help, good friends, that we will come at last to a resolution of the troubles that afflict Majipoor and enter into the era of true amity that we all desire. And so, as we make ready to set forth tomorrow into this realm of ours, eagerly, joyously, to undertake the grand processional, I offer this last toast of the evening, my friends, to you, to those who have sustained me and nurtured me throughout all these years, and who—”

“How strange he looks,” Ermanar murmured. “Is he ill?”

A spasm of astonishing pain swept through him. There was a terrible droning buzz in his ears, and his breath was as hot as flame. He felt himself descending into night, a night so terrible that it obliterated all light and swept across his soul like a tide of black blood. The wine–bowl fell from his hand and shattered; and it was as if the entire world had shattered, flying apart into thousands of crumbling fragments that went tumbling crazily toward every corner of the universe. The dizziness was overwhelming now. And the darkness—that utter and total night, that complete eclipse—

“Lordship!” someone bellowed. Could that have been Hissune?

“He’s having a sending!” another voice cried.

“A sending? How, while he is awake?”

“My lord! My lord! My lord!”

Valentine looked downward. Everything was black, a pool of night rising from the floor. That blackness seemed to be beckoning to him. Come, a quiet voice was saying, here is your path, here is your destiny: night, darkness, doom. Yield. Yield, Lord Valentine, Coronal that was, Pontifex that will never be. Yield. And Valentine yielded, for in that moment of bewilderment and paralysis of spirit there was nothing else he could do. He stared into the black pool rising about him, and he allowed himself to fall toward it. Unquestioningly, uncomprehendingly, he plunged into that all–engulfing darkness.

I am dead, he thought. I float now on the breast of the black river that returns me to the Source, and soon I must rise and go ashore and find the road that leads to the Bridge of Farewells; and then will I go across into that place where all life has its beginning and its end.

A strange kind of peace pervaded his soul then, a feeling of wondrous ease and contentment, a powerful sense that all the universe was joined in happy harmony. He felt as though he had come to rest in a cradle, where now he lay warmly swaddled, free at last of the torments of kingship. Ah, how good that was! To lie quietly, and let all turbulence sweep by him! Was this death? Why, then, death was joy!

—You are deceived, my lord. Death is the end of joy.

—Who speaks to me here?

—You know me, my lord.

—Deliamber? Are you dead also? Ah, what a safe kind

place death is, old friend!

—You are safe, yes. But not dead.

—It feels much like death to me.

—And have you such thorough experience of death, my lord, that you can speak of it so knowingly?

—What is this, if it is not death?

—Merely a spell, said Deliamber.

—One of yours, wizard?

—No, not mine. But I can bring you from it, if you will permit. Come: awaken. Awaken.

—No, Deliamber! Let me be.

—You must, my lord.

—Must, Valentine said bitterly. Must! Always must! Am I never to rest? Let me stay where I am. This is a place of peace. I have no stomach for war, Deliamber.

—Come, my lord.

—Tell me next that it is my duty to awaken.

—I need not tell you what you know so well. Come.

He opened his eyes, and found himself in midair, lying limply in Lisamon Hultin’s arms. The Amazon carried him as though he were a doll, nestling against the vastness of her breasts. Small wonder he had imagined himself in a cradle, he thought, or floating down the black river! Beside him was Autifon Deliamber, perched on Lisamon’s left shoulder. Valentine perceived the wizardry that had called him back from his swoon: the tips of three of the Vroon’s tentacles were touching him, one to his forehead, one to his cheek, one to his chest.

He said, feeling immensely foolish, “You can put me down now.”

“You are very weak, lordship,” Lisamon rumbled.

“Not quite that weak, I think. Put me down.”

Carefully, as though Valentine were nine hundred years old, Lisamon lowered him to the ground. At once, sweeping waves of dizziness rocked him, and he reached out to lean against the giant woman, who still hovered protectively close by. His teeth were chattering. His heavy robes clung to his damp, clammy skin like shrouds. He feared that if he closed his eyes only for an instant, that pool of darkness would rise up again and engulf him. But he forced himself toward a sort of steadiness, even if it were only a pretense. Old training asserted itself: he could not allow himself to be seen looking dazed and weak, no matter what sort of irrational terrors were roaring through his head.

He felt himself growing calmer after a moment, and looked around. They had taken him from the great hall. He was in some brightly lit corridor inlaid with a thousand intertwined and overlapping Pontifical emblems, the eye–baffling Labyrinth symbol repeated over and over. A mob of people clustered about him, looking anxious and dismayed: Tunigorn, Sleet, Hissune, and Shanamir of his own court, and some of the Pontifex’s staff as well, Homkast and old Dilifon and behind them half a dozen other bobbing yellow–masked heads.

“Where am I?” Valentine asked.

“Another moment and we’ll be at your chambers, lordship,” Sleet said.

“Have I been unconscious long?”

“Two or three minutes, only. You began to fall, while making your speech. But Hissune caught you, and Lisamon.”

“It was the wine,” Valentine said. “I suppose I had too much, a bowl of this and a bowl of that—”

“You are quite sober now,” Deliamber pointed out. “And it is only a few minutes later.”

“Let me believe it was the wine,” said Valentine, “for a little while longer.” The corridor swung leftward and there appeared before him the great carved door of his suite, chased with gold inlays of the starburst emblem over which his own LVC monogram had been engraved. “Where is Tisana?” he called.

“Here, my lord,” said the dream–speaker, from some distance.

“Good. I want you inside with me. Also Deliamber and Sleet. No one else. Is that clear?”

“May I enter also?” said a voice out of the group of Pontifical officials.

It belonged to a thin–lipped gaunt man with strangely ashen skin, whom Valentine recognized after a moment as Sepulthrove, physician to the Pontifex Tyeveras. He shook his head. “I am grateful for your concern. But I think you are not needed.”

“Such a sudden collapse, my lord—it calls for diagnosis—”

“There’s some wisdom in that,” Tunigorn observed quietly.

Valentine shrugged. “Afterward, then. First let me speak with my advisers, good Sepulthrove. And then you can tap my kneecaps a bit, if you think that it’s necessary. Come—Tisana, Deliamber—”

He swept into his suite with the last counterfeit of regal poise he could muster, feeling a vast relief as the heavy door swung shut on the bustling throng in the corridor. He let out his breath in a long slow gust and dropped down, trembling in the release of tension, on the brocaded couch.

“Lordship?” Sleet said softly.

“Wait. Wait. Just let me be.”

He rubbed his throbbing forehead and his aching eyes. The strain of feigning, out there, that he had made a swift and complete recovery from whatever had happened to him in the banquet hall had been expensive to his spirit. But gradually some of his true strength returned. He looked toward the dream–speaker. The robust old woman, thick–bodied and strong, seemed to him just then to be the fount of all comfort.

“Come, Tisana, sit next to me,” Valentine said.

She settled down beside him and slipped her arm around his shoulders. Yes, he thought. Oh, yes, good! Warmth flowed back into his chilled soul, and the darkness receded. From him rushed a great torrent of love for Tisana, sturdy and reliable and wise, who in the days of his exile had been the first openly to hail him as Lord Valentine, when he had been still content to think of himself as Valentine the juggler. How many times in the years of his restored reign had she shared the mind–opening dream–wine with him, and had taken him in her arms to draw from him the secrets of the turbulent images that came to him in sleep! How often had she given him ease from the weight of kingship!

She said, “I was frightened greatly to see you fall, Lord Valentine, and you know I am not one who frightens easily. You say it was the wine?”

“So I said, out there.”

“But it was not the wine, I think.”

“No. Deliamber thinks it was a spell.”

“Of whose making?” Tisana asked.

Valentine looked to the Vroon. “Well?”

Deliamber displayed a tension that Valentine had only rarely seen the little creature reveal; a troubled coiling and weaving of his innumerable tentacles, a strange glitter in his great yellow eyes, grinding motions of his birdlike beak. “I am at a loss for an answer,” said Deliamber finally. “Just as not all dreams are sendings, so too is it the case that not all spells have makers.”

“Some spells cast themselves, is that it?” Valentine asked.

“Not precisely. But there are spells that arise spontaneously—from within, my lord, within oneself, generated out of the empty places of the soul.”

“What are you saying? That I put an enchantment on myself, Deliamber?”

Tisana said gently, “Dreams—spells—it is all the same thing, Lord Valentine. Certain auguries are making themselves known through you. Omens are forcing themselves into view. Storms are gathering, and these are the early harbingers.”

“You see all that so soon? I had a troubled dream, you know, just before the banquet, and most certainly it was full of stormy omens and auguries and harbingers. But unless I’ve been talking of it in my sleep, I’ve told you nothing of it yet, have I?”

“I think you dreamed of chaos, my lord.”

Valentine stared at her. “How could you know that?”

Shrugging, Tisana said, “Because chaos must come. We all recognize the truth of that. There is unfinished business in the world, and it cries out for finishing.”

“The shapeshifters, you mean,” Valentine muttered.

“I would not presume,” the old woman said, “to advise you on matters of state—”

“Spare me such tact. From my advisers I expect advice, not tact.”

“My realm is only the realm of dreams,” said Tisana.

“I dreamed snow on Castle Mount, and a great earthquake that split the world apart.”

“Shall I speak that dream for you, my lord?”

“How can you speak it, when we haven’t yet had the dream–wine? ”

“A speaking’s not a good idea just now,” said Deliamber firmly, “The Coronal’s had visions enough for one night. He’d not be well served by drinking dream–wine now. I think this can easily wait until—”

“That dream needs no wine,” said Tisana. “A child could speak it. Earthquakes? The shattering of the world? Why, you must prepare yourself for hard hours, my lord.”

“What are you saying?”

It was Sleet who replied: “These are omens of war, lordship.”

Valentine swung about and glared at the little man. “War?” he cried. “War? Must I do battle again? I was the first Coronal in eight thousand years to lead an army into the field; must I do it twice?”

“Surely you know, my lord,” said Sleet, “that the war of the restoration was merely the first skirmish of the true war that must be fought, a war that has been in the making for many centuries, a war that I think you know cannot now be avoided.”

“There are no unavoidable wars,” Valentine said.

“Do you think so, my lord?”

The Coronal glowered bleakly at Sleet, but made no response. They were telling him what he had already concluded without their help, but did not wish to hear; and, hearing it anyway, he felt a terrible restlessness invading his soul. After a moment he rose and began to wander silently around the room. At the far end of the chamber was an enormous eerie sculpture, a great thing made of the curved bones of sea–dragons, interwoven to meet in the form of the fingers of a pair of clasped upturned hands, or perhaps the interlocking fangs of some colossal demonic mouth. For a long while Valentine stood before it, idly stroking the gleaming polished bone. Unfinished business, Tisana had said. Yes. Yes. The Shapeshifters. Shapeshifters, Metamorphs, Piurivars, call them by whatever name you chose: the true natives of Majipoor, those from whom this wondrous world had been stolen by the settlers from the stars, fourteen thousand years before. For eight years, Valentine thought, I’ve struggled to understand the needs of those people. And I still know nothing at all.

He turned and said, “When I rose to speak, my mind was on what Hornkast the high spokesman just had said: the Coronal is the world, and the world is the Coronal. And suddenly I became Majipoor. Everything that was happening everywhere in the world was sweeping through my soul.”

“You have experienced that before,” Tisana said. “In dreams that I have spoken for you: when you said you saw twenty billion golden threads sprouting from the soil, and you held them all in your right hand. And another dream, when you spread your arms wide, and embraced the world, and—”

“This was different,” Valentine said. “This time the world was falling apart.”

“How so?”

“Literally. Crumbling into fragments. There was nothing left but a sea of darkness—into which I fell—”

“Hornkast spoke the truth,” said Tisana quietly. “You are the world, lordship. Dark knowledge is finding its way to you, and it comes through the air from all the world about you. It is a sending, my lord: not of the Lady, nor of the King of Dreams, but of the world entire.”

Valentine glanced toward the Vroon. “What do you say to that, Deliamber? ”

“I have known Tisana fifty years, I think, and I have never yet heard foolishness from her lips.”

“Then there is to be war?”

“I believe the war has already begun,” said Deliamber.


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