Wake of the Riddler, the “Author’s Cut of this iconic Sacred Band of Stepsons Tale, is now available not only as part of “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” anthology, but also as a revised and expanded stand-alone short novel for Kindle.
Here’s the beginning of this classic story, first published in Thieves’ World #10 in the 20th century.
WAKE OF THE RIDDLER
Tempus was gone from Sanctuary, taking his Stepsons and the Rankan 3rd Commando with him, leaving only outcasts and dross behind.
In the wake of the Riddler’s departure, the town seemed more changed than it should have been because one man (called variously Tempus, the Riddler, the Black, and more scatological appellations) had gathered his private army of less than a hundred and ridden north. Sanctuary seemed emptied, drained, frightened, and confused.
It cowered like a snow rabbit run to barren ground and surrounded by wolves. It shivered and sniffed the breeze, as if undecided which way to run. It hunkered down in des-perate paralysis, seeming to dream of better days while the cold spring wind blew wet promises of life inland from the sea and the wolves skulked closer, red tongues lolling from slavering jaws.
Among fetid streets on this spring evening in question, militias are keeping order, stamping around corners with deliberate tread. Whores whisper rather than croon in their doorways. Drunks stumble along whitewashed walls, afraid to stagger boldly in gutters where beggars lurk with ready blades. And the wind comes in off the uneasy ocean with a chuckle on its breath: Tempus, his Stepsons, and the 3rd Commando have left the town to its fate, ridden off in disgust to new adventures capable of resolution, wars winnable, and glory attainable. Sanctuary is not only doomed but shunned by its last best hope, the Riddler and his fighters.
The wind thinks nothing of whipping the town vacant, of chilling its nobles to the bone, of locking the neutered sor-cerers in their Mageguild and the impotent soldiers in their barracks. The wind is Sanctuary’s own, wind of chaos, gale of gloom.
Spring has never felt so ominous in the Maze as it does this season, where the first rough gusts blow detritus worse than rotting rinds and discarded rags through the streets. The sea wind rattles against the plate armor of the Rankan army regulars, clustered in fours as they police what can’t be policed. It flaps the dark cloaks of Jubal the slaver’s beggars, his private corps of cold enforcers who sell protection now at stalls and bars where Stepsons used to trade. It keens toward uptown and beats on the barred windows of the Mageguild where necromancers fear the unleashing of their dead now that magic has lost its power, more even than they fear the wrath of whores whose youth-and-beauty spells have worn away.
And the wind sneaks uptown, where what is left in Sanctuary that is noble tries to carry on, have its parties amidst the rubble left by warring factions of the various militias, by witches and warlocks, vampires and zombies, ghosts and demons, worshipers and gods.
This wind is of the sort you may remember, coming out of a gray wet sky which makes an end to boundaries and hides horizons. Sounds seem to come from nowhere, go no-where. There is no distance and no proximity, no future and no past. There is no warmth, even from the one beside you.
When you reach out to take a hand for comfort, that hand is clammy as the grave. On such a day, the stirring of life these gusts portend is only legend, as if the wind itself is here to reconnoiter the very earth and then decide if the world deserves another spring.