The Daylight War Page 1

Author: Peter V. Brett

Series: The Demon Cycle #3

Genres: Fantasy


Inevera 300 AR

Inevera and her brother Soli sat in the sunlight. Each held the frame of a basket between their bare feet, nimbly turning it as their fingers worked the weave. This late in the day, there was only a tiny sliver of shade in their small kiosk. Their mother, Manvah, sat there, working her own basket. The pile of tough date palm fronds at the centre of the ring they formed shrank steadily as they worked.

Inevera was nine years old. Soli was almost twice that, but still young to be wearing the robes of a full dal’Sharum, the black cloth still deep with fresh dye. He had earned them barely a week ago, and sat on a mat to ensure the ever-present dust of the Great Bazaar did not cling to them. His robe was cinched loosely on top, revealing a smooth, muscular chest glistening with sweat.

He fanned himself with a frond. ‘Everam’s balls, these robes are hot. I wish I could still go out in just a bido.’

‘You may have the shade if you wish it, Sharum,’ Manvah said.

Soli tsked and shook his head. ‘Is that what you expected? That I would come back in black and start ordering you around like …’

Manvah chuckled. ‘Just making certain you remain my sweet boy.’

‘Only to you and my dear little sister,’ Soli clarified, reaching out to tousle Inevera’s hair. She slapped his arm away, but she was smiling as she did it. There was always smiling when Soli was about. ‘With everyone else, I am mean as a sand demon.’

‘Bah,’ Manvah said, waving the thought away, but Inevera wondered. She’d seen what he did to the two Majah boys who teased her in the bazaar when they were younger, and the weak did not survive in the night.

Inevera finished her basket, adding it to one of the many stacks. She counted quickly. ‘Three more, and we’ll have Dama Baden’s order complete.’

‘Maybe Cashiv will invite me to the Waxing Party when he picks them up,’ Soli said. Cashiv was Dama Baden’s kai’Sharum and Soli’s ajin’pal, the warrior who had been tethered to him and fought by his side on his first night in the Maze. It was said there was no greater bond two men could share.

Manvah snorted. ‘If he does, Dama Baden will have you carrying one oiled and naked, celebrating the Waxing by offering a full moon of your own to his lecherous old hangers-on.’

Soli laughed. ‘I hear it’s not the old ones you need to worry about. Most of them just look. It’s the younger ones that carry vials of oil in their belts.’

He sighed. ‘Still, Gerraz served at Dama Baden’s last spear party and said the dama gave him two hundred draki. That’s worth a sore backside.’

‘Don’t let your father hear you say that,’ Manvah warned. Soli’s eyes flicked to the curtained chamber at the back of the kiosk where their father slept.

‘He’s going to find out his son is push’ting sooner or later,’ Soli said. ‘I won’t marry some poor girl just to keep him from finding out.’

‘Why not?’ Manvah asked. ‘She could weave with us, and would it be so terrible to seed her a few times and give me grandchildren?’

Soli made a face. ‘You’ll need to wait on Inevera for that.’ He looked at her. ‘Hannu Pash tomorrow, dear sister. Perhaps the dama’ting will find you a husband!’

‘Don’t change the subject!’ Manvah slapped at him with a palm frond. ‘You’ll face what’s between the Maze walls, but not what’s between a woman’s thighs?’

Soli grimaced. ‘At least in the Maze I am surrounded by strong, sweating men. And who knows? Perhaps one of the push’ting dama will fancy me. The powerful ones like Baden make their favourite Sharum into personal guards who only have to fight on Waning! Imagine, only three nights a month in the Maze!’

‘Still three nights too many,’ Manvah muttered.

Inevera was confused. ‘Is the Maze not a holy place? An honour?’

Manvah grunted and went back to her weaving. Soli looked at her a long time, his eyes distant. The easy smile melted from his face.

‘The Maze is holy death,’ her brother said at last. ‘A man who dies there is guaranteed Heaven, but I am not so eager to meet Everam just yet.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Inevera said.

Soli shook himself, and the smile returned in an instant. ‘Best not concern yourself with such things, little sister. The Maze is not a burden for you to bear.’

‘Every woman in Krasia bears that burden, my son,’ Manvah said, ‘whether we fight beside you or not.’

Just then there was a groan and a rustling behind the curtain in the back of the kiosk. A moment later Kasaad emerged. Inevera’s father didn’t even look at Manvah as he nudged her out of the shade with his boot to take the coveted spot for himself. He threw a pair of pillows to the ground and lounged upon them, already tipping back a tiny cup of couzi. Immediately he poured another, squinting in the light. As always, his eyes passed over Inevera as if she didn’t exist, settling quickly on her brother.

‘Soli! Put that basket down! You are Sharum now, and should not be working your hands like a khaffit!’

‘Father, we have an order due shortly,’ Soli said. ‘Cashiv …’

‘Pfagh!’ Kasaad said, waving his hand dismissively. ‘I don’t care what that oiled and scented push’ting wants! Put that basket down and get up before someone sees you sullying your new blacks. Bad enough we must waste our day in the filthy bazaar.’

‘It’s like he has no idea where money comes from,’ Soli grumbled, too low for Kasaad to hear. He didn’t stop weaving.

‘Or the food on his table.’ Manvah rolled her eyes. She sighed. ‘Best do as he says.’

‘If I am Sharum now, I can do what I want. Who is he to tell me I cannot weave palm, if that gives me peace?’ As Soli spoke, his hands moved even faster, fingers a blur as he wove the fronds. He was close to the end of a basket, and he meant to finish it. Inevera looked on in wonder. Soli could weave almost as fast as Manvah.

‘He is your father,’ Manvah said, ‘and if you don’t do as he says, we’ll all regret it.’

She turned to Kasaad, her voice sweetening. ‘You and Soli need only stay till the dama call the gloaming, husband.’

Kasaad’s face soured, and he threw back another cup. ‘How did I so offend Everam, that I, the great Kasaad asu Kasaad am’Damaj am’Kaji, who has sent alagai beyond count to the abyss, should be lowered to guarding a pile of baskets?’ He swept a hand towards the stacks of their work with a look of disgust. ‘I should be mustering for alagai’sharak and the night’s glory!’

‘Drinking with the other Sharum, he means,’ Soli murmured to Inevera. ‘The units that muster early go to the centre of the Maze, where the fighting is fierce. The longer he lounges, the less his chance of actually having to face an alagai while he’s drunk as camel piss on couzi.’

Couzi. Inevera hated the drink. Fermented grain flavoured with cinnamon, it was sold in tiny clay bottles and sipped from even tinier cups. Just sniffing an emptied bottle burned Inevera’s nostrils and left her dizzy. There was no hint of cinnamon in the scent. It was said the taste only became clear after three cups, but after three cups of couzi, whose word could be trusted? It was known to lend itself to exaggeration and delusions of grandeur.