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Robert Silverberg

SORCERERS OF MAJIPOOR
excerpt
(for a reading diary)

 

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Chapter Three

The chambers where the Coronal had his lodgings at those times when it was necessary for him to visit the capital city of the Pontificate were located on the deepest level of the Labyrinth's imperial sector, halfway around the perimeter of the city from the secluded bedroom where Pontifex Prankipin lay dying. As Prince Korsibar advanced along the winding corridor leading to his father's rooms, a tall, angular figure stepped smoothly from the shadows to his left and said, "If you would, prince, a moment's word."

Korsibar recognized the speaker as the aloof and frosty Sanibak-Thastimoon, a man of the Su-Suheris race whom he had taken into his innermost circle of courtiers: his personal magus, his caster of runes and explicator of destinies.

"The Coronal is expecting me," said Korsibar.

"I understand that, sir. A moment, is all I ask."

"Well -- "

"To your possible great advantage."

"A moment, then, Sanibak-Thastimoon. Only a moment. Where?"

The Su-Suheris gestured toward a darkened room within a half-ajar doorway on the other side of the corridor. Korsibar nodded and followed him. It turned out to be a storeroom of some sort, low-ceilinged and cramped and musty, cluttered with tools and cleaning implements.

"In a service closet, Sanibak-Thastimoon?"

"It is a convenient place," the Su-Suheris said. He shut the door. A dim glowlight was the only illumination. Korsibar valued Sanibak-Thastimoon's counsel, but he had never been at such near quarters with the Su-Suheris before, and he felt a quiver of discomfort verging on mistrust. Sanibak-Thastimoon's slender, two-headed figure loomed above him by some seven inches, an uncommon thing for the long-legged prince to experience. A crisp, dry aroma came from the sorcerer, as of fallen leaves burning on a hot autumn day, not an unpleasant odor but one that at this close range was oppressively intense.

The Su-Suheris folk were relative newcomers to Majipoor. Most of them had come as a result of policies established sixty years or so back, early in Prankipin's time as Coronal, that had encouraged a period of renewed migration of nonhuman peoples to the giant world. They were a smooth, hairless race, slim and tapering in form. From their tubular bodies rose foot-long columnar necks that divided in a forking way, each of the two branches culminating in a narrow, spindle-shaped head. Korsibar doubted that he would ever be fully comfortable with the strangeness of their appearance. But in these times it was folly not to have a reliable necromancer or two on one's staff, and it was commonplace knowledge that the Su-Suheris had a full measure of skill in the oracular arts, necromancy and divination, among other things.

"Well?" Korsibar asked.

Usually it was the left-hand head that spoke, except when the Su-Suheris was delivering prophecies. In that case he employed the cold, precise voice that emerged from the right-hand one. But this time both heads spoke at once, smoothly coordinated but in tones separated by half an octave. "Troubling news has been brought to your father's attention concerning you, sir."

"Am I in danger? And if I am, why does the news come to his attention before it reaches mine, Sanibak-Thastimoon?"

"There is no danger to you, excellence. If you take care not to arouse anxieties in your father's breast."

"Anxieties of what sort? Explain yourself," said Korsibar curtly.

"Do you recall that I cast a horoscope for you, sir, some months back, that indicated that greatness awaits you in days to come? 'You will shake the world, Prince Korsibar,' is what I told you then. You remember this?"

"Of course. Who'd forget a prophecy like that?"

"The same prediction now has been made for you by one of your father's oracles. In the very same words, which is a powerful confirmation: 'He will shake the world.' Which has left the Coronal exceedingly troubled. His lordship is contemplating his withdrawal from the active world; he would not look kindly on any shaking of it at this time. This has come to me by trustworthy sources within your father's own circle, sir."

Korsibar sought to meet the sorcerer's gaze; but it was an infuriating business, not knowing which pair of icy emerald-hued eyes to look at. And having to look so far upward, besides. Tautly he said, "I fail to see what there might be to trouble him in a prophecy like that. I mean him no mischief: he knows that. How could I? He is my father; he is my king. And if by my shaking the world it's meant that I'll do great things some day, then he should rejoice. I've done nothing but hunt and ride and eat and drink and gamble all my life, but now, apparently, I'm about to achieve something important, is that what your horoscope says? Well, then, three cheers for me! I'll lead a sailing expedition from one shore of the Great Sea to the other; or I'll go out into the desert and discover the lost buried treasure of the Shapeshifters; or maybe I'll -- Well, who knows? Not I. Something big, whatever it is. Lord Confalume ought to be very pleased."

"What he is afraid of, I suspect, is that you will do something rash and foolish, your excellence, that will bring much harm to the world."

"Does he?"

"So I am assured, yes."

"And does he regard me, then, as such a reckless child?"

"He places much faith in oracles."

"Well, and so do we all. 'He will shake the world.' Fine. What's there in that that needs to be interpreted so darkly? The world can be shaken in good ways as well as bad, you know. I'm no earthquake, Sanibak-Thastimoon, that will bring my father's castle tumbling down the side of the Mount, am I? Or are you hiding something from me of which even I myself am unaware?"

"I want only to warn you, sir, that his lordship is apprehensive concerning you and your intentions, and may ask you bothersome difficult questions, and that when you go before him now it would be best if you took care to give him no occasion whatsoever for suspicion."

"Suspicion of what?" cried Korsibar, in some vexation now. "I have no intentions! I'm a simple honorable man, Sanibak-Thastimoon! My conscience is clear!"

But the Su-Suheris had nothing more to say. He shrugged, which for him was a gesture that amounted to drawing his long forked neck halfway down into his chest and hooking his six-fingered hands inward on his wrists. The four green eyes became implacably opaque; the lipless, harsh-angled mouth-slits offered no further response. So there was no use pursuing the issue.

You will shake the world.

What could that mean? Korsibar had never wanted to shake anything. All his life he had desired only simple straightforward things: to rove the Fifty Cities of Castle Mount in quest of this pleasure or that one, and to go forth along the remote wilderness trails in quest of the fierce beasts he loved to hunt, and to play at quoits and chariot-racing, and to spend the long nights at the Castle itself drinking and carousing with his comrades. What more could there be for him in life? He was a prince of royal blood, yes, but the irony of his lineage was that he could never be more than he already was, for no Coronal's son had ever been permitted to follow him to the Coronal's throne.

By ancient tradition the junior monarchy was an adoptive one; always had been, always would be. Lord Confalume, when he finally became Pontifex a week or three hence, would officially designate Prestimion of Muldemar as his son and heir, and Korsibar, the true flesh-and-blood son, would be relegated to some grand and airy estate high up on the Mount. There he would spend the rest of his years as he had spent the first two decades of them, living a comfortable idle existence among the other pensioned-off princes of the realm. That was his destiny. Everyone knew that. He had been aware of it himself ever since his boyhood, ever since he could understand that his father was a king. Why had Sanibak-Thastimoon chosen to trouble him now with this oracular nonsense about shaking the world? Why, for that matter, had the chilly-spirited, austere sorcerer been urging him so strongly of late to rise above his pleasant life of luxury and idleness and seek some higher fulfillment? Surely Sanibak-Thastimoon understood the impossibility of that.

You will shake the world. Indeed.

Impatiently, Korsibar gestured to Sanibak-Thastimoon to stand aside, and went out into the hall.

 

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