Book by David Gemmell
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As the huge crowd bayed for blood, Sieben the Poet found himself staring around the vast colosseum, its mighty columns and arches, its tiers and statues. Far below on the golden sand of the arena two men were fighting for the glory of their nations. Fifteen thousand people were shouting now, the noise cacophonous like the roaring of some inchoate beast. Sieben lifted a scented handkerchief to his face, seeking to blot out the smell of sweat that enveloped him from all sides.
The colosseum was a marvelous piece of architecture, its columns shaped into statues of ancient heroes and gods, its seats of finest marble covered by cushions of down-filled green velvet. The cushions irritated Sieben, for the color clashed with his bright blue silken tunic inset with shards of opal on the puffed sleeves. The poet was proud of the garment, which had cost a suitably enormous amount of money and had been bought from the best tailor in Drenan. To have it beggared by a poor choice of seat covering was almost more than he could stand. Still, with everyone seated, the effect was muted. Servants moved endlessly through the crowd, bearing trays of cool drinks or sweetmeats, pies, cakes, and savory delicacies. The tiers of the rich were shaded by silken coverings, also in that dreadful green, while the very rich sat in red-cushioned splendor with slaves fanning them. Sieben had tried to change his seat and sit among the nobility, but no amount of flattery or offers of bribes could purchase him a place.
To his right Sieben could just see the edge of the God-King's balcony and the straight backs of two of the Royal Guards in their silver breastplates and white cloaks. Their helms, thought the poet, were particularly magnificent, embossed with gold and crested with white horsehair plumes. That was the beauty of the simple colors, he thought; black, white, silver, and gold were rarely upstaged by upholstery, no matter what its color.
"Is he winning?" asked Majon, the Drenai ambassador, tugging at Sieben's sleeve. "He's taking a fearful battering. The Lentrian has never been beaten, you know. They say he killed two fighters last spring in a competition in Mashrapur. Damn, I bet ten gold Raq on Druss."
Sieben gently lifted the ambassador's fingers from his sleeve, brushing at the bruised silk, and forced his gaze away from the wonders of the architecture to focus briefly on the combat below. The Lentrian hit Druss with an uppercut, then a right cross. Druss backed away, blood seeping from a cut over his left eye. "What odds did you get?" asked Sieben.
The slender ambassador ran his hand over his close-cropped silver hair. "Six to one. I must have been mad."
"Not at all," said Sieben smoothly. "It was patriotism that drove you. Look, I know ambassadors are not well paid, so I will take your bet. Give me the token."
"I couldn't possibly ... I mean, he's being thrashed out there."
"Of course you must. After all, Druss is my friend, and I should have wagered on him out of loyalty." Sieben saw the glint of avarice in the ambassador's dark eyes.
"Well, if you are sure." The man's slim fingers darted into the pearl-beaded leather pouch at his side, producing a small square of papyrus bearing a wax seal and the amount wagered. Sieben took it, and Majon waited with hand outstretched.
"I didn't bring my purse with me," said Sieben, "but I will hand over the money tonight."
"Yes, of course," said Majon, his disappointment obvious.
"I think I'll take a walk around the colosseum," said Sieben. "There is so much to see. I understand there are art galleries and shops on the levels below."
"You don't show much concern for your friend," said Majon.
Sieben ignored the criticism. "My dear ambassador, Druss fights because he loves to fight. Generally one saves one's concern for the poor unfortunates he faces. I will see you later at the celebrations."
Easing himself from his seat, Sieben climbed the marble steps, making his way to the official gambling booth. A gap-toothed cleric was sitting inside the recess. Behind him stood a soldier, guarding the sacks of money already wagered.
"You wish to place a wager?" asked the cleric.
"No, I am waiting to collect."
"You have bet on the Lentrian?"
"No. I bet on the winner. It's an old habit," he answered, with a smile. "Be so good as to have sixty gold pieces available, plus my original ten."
The cleric chuckled. "You bet on the Drenai? It will be a cold day in hell before you see a return on that investment."
"My, I do think I sense a drop in the temperature," Sieben told him with a smile.
In the heat of the arena the Lentrian champion was tiring. Blood was seeping from his broken nose, and his right eye had swollen shut, but even so his strength was prodigious. Druss moved in, ducking beneath a right cross and thundering a blow to the man's midsection; the muscles of the Lentrian's stomach were like woven steel. A punch smashed down onto Druss' neck, and he felt his legs buckle. With a grunt of pain he sent an uppercut into the taller man's bearded chin, and the Lentrian's head snapped back. Druss hammered an overhand right that missed its mark, cracking against the man's temple. The Lentrian wiped blood from his face, then hit Druss with a thundering straight left followed by a right hook that all but spun Druss from his feet.
The crowd was baying, sensing that the end was close. Druss tried to move in and grapple, only to be stopped by a straight left that jarred him to his heels. Blocking a right, he fired home another uppercut. The Lentrian swayed but did not fall. He countered with a chopping blow that took Druss behind the right ear. Druss shrugged it off. The Lentrian's strength was fading; the punch lacked speed and weight.
This was the moment! Druss waded in, sending a combination of punches to the Lentrian's face: three straight lefts followed by a right hook that exploded against the man's chin. The Lentrian spun off balance, tried to right himself, then fell face first to the sand.
A sound like rolling thunder went up, booming around the packed arena. Druss took a deep breath and stepped back, acknowledging the cheers. The new Drenai flag, a white stallion on a field of blue, was hoisted high, fluttering in the afternoon breeze. Striding forward, Druss halted below the royal balcony and bowed to the God-King he could not see.
Behind him two Lentrians ran out and knelt beside their fallen champion. Stretcher bearers followed, and the unconscious man was carried from the arena. Druss waved to the crowd, then walked slowly to the dark mouth of the tunnel that led through to the bathhouses and rest areas for the athletes.
The spear thrower Pellin stood grinning at the tunnel entrance. "Thought he had you there, mountain man."
"It was close," said Druss, spitting blood from his mouth. His face was swollen, and several teeth had been loosened. "He was strong. I'll say that for him."
The two men walked down the tunnel, emerging into the first bathhouse. The sound from the arena was muted there, and around a dozen athletes were relaxing in the three heated pools of marble. Druss sat down beside the first. Rose petals floated on the steamy surface of the water, their fragrance filling the room.
The runner Pars swam across to him. "You look as if a herd of horses has run across your face," he said.
Leaning forward, Druss placed a hand on top of the man's balding head and propelled him down beneath the surface. Pars swam clear and surfaced several yards away; with a sweep of his hand he drenched Druss. Pellin, stripped now of his leggings and tunic, dived into the pool.
Druss peeled off his leggings and slid into the warm water. The relief to his aching muscles was instant, and for some minutes he swam around the pool; then he hauled himself clear. Pars joined him. "Stretch yourself out and I'll knead the aches away," he said. Druss moved to a massage table and lay facedown, where Pars rubbed oil into his palms and began to work expertly on the muscles of his upper back.
Pellin sat down close by, toweling his dark hair, then draping the white cloth over his shoulders. "Did you watch the other contest?" he asked Druss.
"The Gothir man, Klay, is awesome. Fast. Strong chin. That plus a right hand that comes down like a hammer. It was all over in less than twenty heartbeats. Never seen the like, Druss. The Vagrian didn't know what hit him."
"So I heard," Druss grunted as Pars' fingers dug deeply into the swollen muscles of his neck.
"You'll take him, Druss. What does it matter that he's bigger, stronger, faster, and better-looking?"
"And fitter," put in Pellin. "They say he runs five miles every day on the mountains outside the city."
"Yes, I forgot fitter. Younger, too. How old are you, Druss?" asked Pars.
"Thirty," grunted Druss.
"An old man," said Pellin with a wink at Pars. "Still, I'm sure you'll win. Well ... fairly sure."
Druss sat up. "It is good of you youngsters to be so supportive."
"Well, we are a team," said Pellin. "And since you deprived us of Grawal's delightful company, we've sort of adopted you, Druss." Pars began to work on Druss' swollen knuckles. "More seriously, Druss, my friend," said the runner, "your hands are badly bruised. Back home we'd use ice to bring the swelling down. I should soak them in cold water tonight."
"There's three days before the final. I'll be fine by then. How did you fare in your race?"
"I finished second and so will contest the final at least. But I'll not be in the first three. The Gothir man is far better than I, as are the Vagrian and the Chiatze. I cannot match their finish."
"You might surprise yourself," said Druss.
"We're not all like you, mountain man," observed Pellin. "I still find it hard to believe that you could come to these games unprepared and fight your way to the final. You really are a legend." Suddenly he grinned. "Ugly, old, and slow--but still a legend," he added.
Druss chuckled. "You almost fooled me there, laddie. I thought you might be showing some respect for me." He lay back and closed his eyes.
Pars and Pellin strolled away to where a servant stood holding a pitcher of cold water. Seeing them coming, the man filled two goblets. Pellin drained his and accepted a refill, while Pars sipped his slowly. "You didn't tell him about the prophecy," said Pars.
"Neither did you. He'll find out soon enough."
"What do you think he'll do?" asked the bald runner.
Pellin shrugged. "I have known him only for a month, but somehow I don't think he'll want to follow tradition."
"He'll have to!" insisted Pars.
Pellin shook his head. "He's not like other men, my friend. That Lentrian should have won, but he didn't. Druss is a force of nature, and I don't think politics will affect that one jot."
"I'll wager twenty gold Raq you are wrong."
"I'll not take that bet, Pars. You see, I hope for all our sakes that you are right."
From a private balcony high above the crowd the giant blond fighter Klay watched Druss deliver the knockout blow. The Lentrian carried too much weight on his arms and shoulders, and though it gave him incredible power, the punches were too slow and easy to read. But the Drenai made it worthwhile. Klay smiled.
"You find the man amusing, Lord Klay?" Startled, the fighter swung around. The newcomer's face showed no expression, no flicker of muscle. It is like a mask, thought Klay, a golden Chiatze mask, tight and unlined. Even the jet-black hair, dragged back into the tightest of ponytails, was so heavily waxed and dyed that it seemed false, painted onto the overlarge cranium. Klay took a deep breath, annoyed that he could have been surprised on his own balcony and angry that he had not heard the swish of the curtains or the rustle of the man's heavy ankle-length robe of black velvet.
"You move like an assassin, Garen-Tsen," said Klay.
"Sometimes, my lord, it is necessary to move with stealth," observed the Chiatze, his voice gentle and melodic. Klay looked into the man's odd eyes, as slanted as spear points. One was a curious brown, flecked with shards of gray; the other was as blue as a summer sky.
"Stealth is necessary only when among enemies, surely," ventured Klay.
"Indeed so. But the best of one's enemies masquerade as friends. What is it about the Drenai that amuses you?" Garen-Tsen moved past Klay to the balcony's edge, staring down into the arena below. "I see nothing amusing. He is a barbarian, and he fights like one." He turned back, his fleshless face framed by the high, arched collar of his robe.
Klay found his dislike of the man growing, but masking his feelings, he considered Garen-Tsen's question. "He does not amuse me, Minister. I admire him. With the right training he could be very good indeed. And he is a crowd pleaser. The mob always loves a plucky warrior. And by heaven, this Druss lacks nothing in courage. I wish I had the opportunity to train him. It would make for a better contest."
"It will be over swiftly, you think?"
Klay shook his head. "No. There is a great depth to the man's strength. It is born of his pride and his belief in his invincibility; you can see it in him as he fights. It will be a long and arduous battle."
"Yet you will prevail? As the God-King has prophesied?" For the first time Klay noticed a slight change in the minister's expression.
"I should beat him, Garen-Tsen. I am bigger, stronger, faster, and better trained. But there is always a rogue element in any fight. I could slip just as a punch connects. I could fall ill before the bout and be sluggish, lacking in energy. I could lose concentration and allow an opening." Klay gave a wide smile, for the minister's expression was openly worried.
"This will not happen," he said. "The prophecy will come true."
Klay thought carefully before answering. "The God-King's belief in me is a source of great pride. I shall fight all the better for it."...
The Legend of Deathwalker continues the extraordinary tale of Druss among the Nadir started in Legend
For centuries the tribes of the Nadir have suffered under the despotic tyranny of their Gothir overlords. Disunited and distrustful of one another the tribes await the coming of a Messianic warlord, who will unite them against the oppressors.
Into this swirling, chaotic landscape come three men who will change the fate of the continent: Talisman, the mysterious, enigmatic Nadir warrior, haunted by his past and filled with dreams of finding the Uniter; Sieben the Poet, searching for the mysteries of life and love; and Druss the Axeman, determined to find two mystic gems to heal a mortally wounded friend.
Together they will journey across a war-torn land, and descend beyond the gates of Hell, where a long-dead king holds the key to a secret that will change the world.
The Legend of Deathwalker, this battle-charged tale of Druss among the Nadir, completes the circle begun with Legend and Druss the Legend.
Published in 1984, David A. Gemmell's award-winning first novel, Legend, has become a classic. His most recent Drenai and Rigante books are all published as Bantam Press hardcovers and Corgi paperbacks. Hero in the Shadows, Ravenheart and Stormrider are Sunday Times bestsellers. His most recent novel, The Swords of Night and Day, is now available from Bantam Press.
Widely regarded as the finest writer of heroic fantasy, David Gemmell lived in Sussex until his death in July 2006.
Les informations fournies dans la section « A propos du livre » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.
Description du livre Corgi Books, 1996. Paperback. État : New. N° de réf. du libraire P110552142522