Thunderlord - Marion Zimmer Bradley

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Thunderlord takes place about a generation after the events of Stormqueen. Each book can be read on its own, without any knowledge of the other.

1

Beyond the jagged western peaks of the Hellers, the most massive of Darkover’s mountain ranges, a storm was gathering. As yet, only a few clouds marred the skies and the winds had not quickened. Sunlight filled the meadow under its blanket of snow, warming the air with the promise of approaching spring, but the stands of conifers cast shadows as deep and chill as Zandru’s Hells.

Kyria Rockraven pushed back the fur-lined hood of her jacket and tilted her face to the sky. Even at this distance, she could feel the storm on her skin and taste the lightning to come. She did not know how she knew that a day as mild as this would quickly turn to killing cold, but she could not remember a time when she could not do so. She had never spoken of it, not even to her father or her younger sister, never sure if it were a good thing or a sign of the Rockraven curse.

Behind her, the aged chervine jerked on its lead line and snorted as if it, too, sensed the shift in the weather. It had come to a halt when Kyria paused and now it pawed determinedly at the ice-crusted snow. It uncovered a patch of grass, still bearing occasional seed-heads, which it nipped off neatly.

Kyria patted the pony-sized animal affectionately. It had carried her through many a childhood adventure, although it was too small for her to ride now. “At least one of us has something to eat.”

Her gaze flickered upward again as she judged how long she’d have before the storm swept down from the heights. If she hurried, she could finish her circuit, checking the traps that had supplied a significant portion of the cook pots this winter. With luck, there would be another rabbit-horn or two, enough for a stew when eked out with the dwindling store of root vegetables. She wondered what it would be like to pass a winter without being hungry. When she’d tagged along when her younger brother Rakhal was first taught trapping, an enterprise suitable for boys too young to hunt, her father had scowled at her but had not forbidden it. He might have suspected how many family dinners her traps would supply once Rakhal had joined the army of the Hastur king, but he’d refrained from comment. That way, he didn’t need to insist she behave in a more womanly way, she wouldn’t have to openly defy him. So the fact that for two years now, she’d gone out in all weather, dressed in Rakhal’s much-patched castoff jackets and breeches, had never become an occasion for a public quarrel.

Kyria tightened her hold on the chervine’s halter rope. “Come on, then. The sooner we finish, the sooner we’ll get home.”

She picked up her pace, angling across the meadow toward the edge of the conifers. Here at the edge of the stand, weedy bushes formed a thicket. Kyria led the chervine through a gap. The light dimmed, cut off by the masses of blue-black needles, and the temperature fell. She shivered, as if the storm were already upon her, then forced herself to concentrate on finishing her task.

She continued checking the traps but had not gone far when, with a familiar, wordless intuition, she sensed the distant rumble of thunder. The sky was no longer clear, but scudded over with clouds. Wind whipped over her skin, so cold it burned. As she watched, the clouds darkened. The first flurries of snow whirled around her, thickening with every passing moment.

Moving briskly, she started back across the meadow. The snow made speed difficult, but she pushed forward with each stride. As best she could, she placed each foot in the impressions she’d left on the way out. The chervine came along without protest, as if it too sensed how close the storm was.

Within a quarter of an hour, snow fell so heavily, Kyria could see only a few feet in front of her. The gusting winds blew every which way. She paused, wiping away the snow that clung to her eyebrows and lashes. Already her cheeks and the tip of her nose were going numb. With one hand, she loosened her knitted scarf and pulled the edge over the lower part of her face.

In that brief moment, the newly fallen snow had almost obliterated her footsteps. The nearest