Dreams of Steel

Dreams of Steel by Glen Cook Read Free Book Online

Book: Dreams of Steel by Glen Cook Read Free Book Online
Authors: Glen Cook
Mostly of playing with the runt." Swan raised an eyebrow. Cordy was the calm one, the patient guy, the one who poured oil on the waters. Smoke must have provoked him good. "She ready?" "Whenever."
    "Let's do it. I got a river full of fish waiting." "Better figure on them getting grey hair before you get back." Mather knocked, pushed the wizard ahead of him.
    The Radisha entered the room from the side as Swan closed the door. Here, in private, with men not from her own culture, she didn't pretend to a traditional sex role. "Did you tell them, Cordy?"
    Willow exchanged glances with Blade. Their old buddy on a nickname basis with the Woman? Interesting. What did he call her? She didn't look like a Cuddles. "Not yet." "What's up?" Swan asked.
    The Radisha said, "I've had my men mixing with the soldiers. They've heard rumors that the woman who was the Lieutenant of the Black Company survived. She's trying to pull the survivors together south of here."
    "Best news I've heard in a while," Swan said. He winked at Blade.
    "Is it?"
    "I thought it was a crying shame to lose such a resource."
    "I'll bet. You have a low mind, Swan."
    "Guilty. Hard not to once you've had a gander at her. So she made it. Great. Gets us three off the hook. Gives you a professional to carry on."
    "That remains to be seen. There'll be difficulties. Cordy. Tell them."
    "Twenty-some men from the Second just came in. They'd stayed off the road to avoid the Shadowmasters' patrols. About seventy miles south of here they took a couple prisoners. The night before our guys grabbed them Kina and a ghost army supposedly attacked their camp and killed most of them."
    Swan looked at Blade, at the Radisha, at Cordy again. "I missed something. Who's Kina? And what's got into Smoke?" The wizard was shaking like somebody had dunked him in icewater. Mather and Blade shrugged. They didn't know. The Radisha sat down. "Get comfortable." She chewed her lip. "This will be difficult to tell." "Then just go straight at it," Swan said. "Yes. I suppose." The Radisha collected herself. "Kina is the fourth side of the Taglian religious triangle. She belongs to none of the pantheons but terrifies everybody. She isn't named lest naming invoke her. She's very unpleasant. Fortunately, her cult is small. And proscribed. Membership is punishable by death. The penalty is deserved. The cult's rites always involve torture and murder. Even so, it persists, its members awaiting someone called the Foretold and the Year of the Skulls. It's an old, dark religion that knows no national or ethnic bounds. Its members hide behind masks of respectability. They sometimes call themselves the Deceivers. They live normal lives among the rest of the community. Anyone could belong. Few of the common people know they exist anymore."
    Swan didn't get it and said so. "Don't sound much different from the Shadar Hada or Khadi avatars."
    The Radisha smiled grimly. "Those are ghosts of the reality." Hada and Khadi were two aspects of the Shadar death god. "Jah could show you a thousand ways Khadi is a kitten compared to Kina." Jahamaraj Jah was a devotee of Khadi.
    Swan shrugged, doubting he could tell the difference if they drew pictures. He'd given up trying to understand the welter of Taglian gods, each with his or her ten or twenty different aspects and avatars. He indicated Smoke. "What's with him? He shakes any more we'll have to change his diaper."
    "Smoke predicted a Year of Skulls-a time of chaos and bloodshed-if we employed the Black Company. He didn't believe it would come. He just wanted to scare my brother out of doing something that scared him. But he's on record as having predicted it. Now there's a chance it might come."
    "Sure. Come on." Swan frowned, still lost. "Let me get this straight. There's a death cult around that makes Jah and his Khadi freaks look like a bunch of nancy boys? That scares the guano out of anybody who knows who they are?"
    "Yes."
    "And they worship a goddess named Kina?"
    "That

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