Stone Unturned is the fourteenth Ethshar novel.
I started planning out Ethshar stories around 1982, and came up with premises and plots much faster than I could write the actual stories. I did gradually gain ground, writing up many of the stories I had outlined before I wrote the first one (The Misenchanted Sword), but I also added more ideas to the pile, so there was still a backlog decades after I began the series.
Several of those ideas hadn't been fully developed, though, which made it hard to get really enthusiastic about them.
But then, after I'd written a couple of short Ethshar novels (The Sorcerer's Widow and Relics of War), a couple of readers asked when I was going to write another long one.
I like to keep my readers happy, so I looked through my list of unwritten stories, and thought one called The Wizard's Garden had some possibilities as the Big Fat Ethshar Novel I wanted to write.
And then I realized that by its very nature, The Wizard's Garden could incorporate other stories. I added in The Demon's Master, and A Slave of Wizardry, from my list. I came up with a new storyline with the working title The Petrified Prince and threw that in. I started writing.
As I worked, I realized I could combine Pender the Jeweler with A Slave of Wizardry, knocking another unwritten story off my old list.
So now I had a whole slew of ideas that I had assembled to make up the first half of the story, and I knew that the second half would be about dealing with the menaces unleashed by Morvash's good intentions, but almost none of that part was in the old ideas folder. So it took me awhile to actually write this thing.
It took years, in fact, but I did eventually complete it to my satisfaction, with the final few chapters devoted to tying up assorted loose ends.
And here, at long last, it is -- Morvash of the Shadows in the lead roles from The Wizard's Garden and A Slave of Wizardry, Pender the Jeweler as the title characters from both Pender the Jeweler and A Slave of Wizardry, Hakin of the Hundred-Foot Field as The Demon's Master, Marek of Melitha as The Petrified Prince, and various others, gathered together in a single big fat story.
3rd of Summerheat, YS 5227
Zerra the Ageless was relaxing on her balcony one afternoon, enjoying the warm weather and a glass of fine Shularan wine, when a scrap of paper came tumbling down out of the sky and landed in her lap.
She looked at it, startled, then sighed and set her glass down. She picked up the paper, unfolded it, and read, "Bring your carpet to the home of Erdrik the Grim, on Old East Avenue in the south end of the New City, as soon as possible," she read. The signature, of course, was "Ithinia."
Zerra looked up at a clear blue sky and felt the gentlest of breezes, faintly scented with the spices for which the city was named. A bird called somewhere in the distance. It was, she had to admit, a fine day for flying. She got out of her chair, picked up her glass, and went inside.
A moment later she emerged again, dragging a heavy roll of carpet. She dropped it with a thud, pushed her chair all the way to one end of the balcony to make room, then unrolled the rug.
It filled the entire depth of the balcony, the hem on one side brushing up against the wall and threshold, while the other touched the uprights in the railing. It was about fifteen feet long, its gold and green silk shining in the afternoon sun. Zerra seated herself cross-legged in the center, settled in, took a deep breath, then said a single word, "Soorgeh."
The carpet rose gently, lifting her a yard or so above the planking, and Zerra commanded, "Maweyat ooday mannumeya!"
The fabric rippled.
Zerra raised a hand, and moved it sideways; the carpet moved in the same direction, over the balcony railing, out over the garden behind her house. Satisfied that Varrin's Lesser Propulsion was still working properly - it was due to be renewed soon, so she had not been absolutely sure it would not be getting quirky - she sent the carpet soaring upward, into the warm clear air above the rooftops of the Wizards' Quarter, then westward, across Arena to the centuries-old district still called the New City.
A moment later she let it settle down to just a few feet above the hard-packed dirt of Old East Avenue, where Ithinia of the Isle, senior Guildmaster of Ethshar of the Spices, was waiting, standing very straight in her customary white robes. Other people, some of them more junior wizards, paused to watch the flying carpet, but no one dared approach. Zerra was sure they were more intimidated by Ithinia, the city's senior Guildmaster, than by the carpet.
"What's going on?" Zerra called, still seated in the center of the rug.
"We finally got into Erdrik's house," Ithinia called back, stepping nearer to the carpet's edge. "Using Kandir's Impregnable Sphere." She pointed to the tall black house across the street, where the iron-bound front door stood open.
Zerra tilted her head. "It was that easy?"
"No. It wasn't easy." Ithinia frowned. "We had to strip away about fifteen different wards and protections first, and then we had to use Lirrim's Rectification to repair the hole we made, but the Impregnable Sphere was what finally got us inside."
"Was Erdrik in there?"
"No. He's gone. Not a trace of him. And we can't find any portals or tapestries or Transporting Fissures or anything else that might tell us where he went. The whole house is awash in wizardry, but none of it obviously involves transportation - at least, none that we've found and identified. I don't think he was transported away; I think he probably had a spell go wrong, and it killed him."
"Really? He was a very good wizard."
"He was a powerful wizard, certainly," Ithinia acknowledged, "but I'm not sure I'd call him a good one - he was reckless and arrogant, and he probably got sloppy."
"Maybe," Zerra said, not entirely convinced.
"Well, whatever really happened, we are going to tell the overlord that we think a spell went wrong and killed him," Ithinia said. "And if Erdrik ever does turn up alive, I think we may arrange a little accident of our own. I'm tired of cleaning up his messes and apologizing to the overlord and paying Erdrik's taxes for him. I'd have happily killed him long ago myself if I was sure I could do it without wrecking the entire neighborhood. Two centuries of his abuse was more than enough."
"Fine," Zerra said, raising a hand in surrender. "He's gone and you're glad, and the Guild's reputation here should be better in the future, if a little less terrifying, but what am I doing here? You said you wanted my carpet; what for?"
"Because the next step, my dear Zerra, is cleaning out this nightmare house of his, as best we can. It's full of magic; it makes my own house look like an empty shed. And a lot of it is bloody dangerous magic; we're probably going to be clearing traps for months. He's been accumulating clutter for more than two hundred years, and we can't leave all of it in there. The worst of it needs to go. And I don't want to parade some of it through the streets -- I want to fly it away, safely out of everyone's reach. And that, of course, is what you do."
That was true. Although she had trained in a variety of magic, like every other wizard, Zerra had found out some time ago that she could make a comfortable living renting out her services as the pilot of a flying carpet, and that it was safer than operating the usual wizard's shop. She did keep her hand in with various other spells when the opportunity arose, but did not bother with a proper storefront or workshop or even a signboard -- word of mouth kept her comfortably employed.
There were other wizards with flying carpets, of course, but she was the only one in Ethshar of the Spices who specialized in operating one.
That still left a major question, though. "Fly it where?" she asked.
"Well, some of it is going to my place, and some of it to that Guild warehouse in Eastwark, and some of it I think we may want to just drop into the ocean a hundred miles offshore. Or maybe entirely over the edge of the World."
"I've never flown over the edge," Zerra said. "I'm not sure I can."
"Well, maybe you won't need to. We've only just begun sorting through it all."
"And what are you going to do with the house when it's been cleaned out? It still has all those protective spells, I can feel them; can you shut them all down?"
Ithinia sighed. "Probably not," she said. "I think the Guild is going to have to buy this place from the overlord, after he claims it for unpaid taxes, and keep it closed up. It won't be empty, by any means. You'll be hauling out the worst of the mess, but we won't be trying to move everything; I don't think we could, even if we wanted to. It may never be safe."
"I see." Zerra looked up at the house, a towering stone monstrosity that looked thoroughly out of place among the graceful mansions and walled gardens of the New City. "How much do you think you'll need me and my carpet?"
"Far more than I'd like. And before you ask, yes, the Guild will pay you, at our usual almost-generous rates."
"In gold, or silver?"
Zerra dipped her head in the seated equivalent of a bow. "In that case, Guildmaster, I am at your disposal. Where shall we start?"
- Copyright 2018 by Lawrence Watt Evans.
- Published in ebook and trade paperback January 2018 by Wildside Press
Click here to return to the top of the page.
That's it; here's your list of handy exits:
The World of Ethshar | The Misenchanted Page | E-mail me
An Introduction to Ethshar | Frequently-Asked Questions About Ethshar | The Ethshar Novels