Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Daw Books, I have three copies of Kristen Britain's Mirror Sight for you to win! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Karigan G'ladheon is a Green Rider--a seasoned member of the elite messenger corps of King Zachary of Sacoridia. This corps of messengers, each gifted with a brooch of office that imparts a unique magical ability to its wearer, was founded over a thousand years ago during the terrible time of the Long War. During that spell-fueled war, Sacoridia was besieged by the sorcerous armies of the Arcosian Empire, led by Mornhavon the Black. When Sacoridia finally triumphed, Mornhavon resorted to dark magic that rendered his twisted spirit immortal. Determined to keep the realm safe from this terrifying enemy, multitudes of Sacoridian magicians sacrificed their lives to build the immense D'Yer Wall, imprisoning the dangerous spirit of Mornhavon in Blackveil Forest, which uncontrolled magic had mutated into a perilous and unnatural place. For over a thousand years, the magic of the D'Yer Wall protected the people of Sacoridia, but as the centuries passed, memory of how the wall had been built was lost as a traumatized nation turned its back on magic. And when a malicious entity cracked the massive wall, there were none left who knew how to repair it. Desperate to regain the knowledge and repair the ever-expanding breach in the wall, agents of the king scoured the kingdom for magical relics and information. Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to gain time, Karigan, whose Rider brooch enabled her to "fade"--sometimes traversing the layers of time and space--was able to catapult the spirit of Mornhavon into the future. But how far into the future was anyone's guess. Realizing that this might be their only chance to enter Blackveil and examine the tainted peninsula, King Zachary sends Karigan and a contingent of Sacoridians beyond the wall, along with an equal number of Eletians--the immortal race that eons ago lived in what is now Blackveil Forest. But in addition to the unnatural dangers of the forest itself, Karigan and her small delegation have been followed by a secret rebel sect--descendants of the original Arcosian invaders, and during a showdown between these two groups, Mornhavon suddenly reappears. In the magical confrontation that follows, Karigan is jolted out of Blackveil and wakes in a darkness backer than night. She's lying on smooth, cold stone, but as she reaches out, she realizes that the stone is not just beneath her, but above and around her as well. She's landed in a sealed stone sarcophagus, some unknown tomb, and the air is becoming thin. Is this to be her end? If she escapes, where will she find herself? Is she still in the world she remembers, or has the magical explosion transported her somewhere completely different? To find out, she must first win free of her prison--before it becomes her grave. And should she succeed, will she be walking straight into a trap created by Mornhavon himself?
The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "MIRROR." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.
Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.
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Every year when the Hugo awards have been announced, people bitch and moan about how skewed the results always are. A few years back, the last time I actually cared to take part in those heated discussions, some of the Worldcon organizers went on and on about how the Hugo awards were immune to bloc voting, yada yada yada.
Well, this year has demonstrated just how wrong they were. Based on bloc voting, The Wheel of Time in its entirety has been nominated.
Even worse, bigoted author Vox Day, still angry at being kicked out of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, managed to get one of his novellettes nominated for a Hugo award after suggesting on his blog that his fans should vote for his work.
This guys is a real piece of work and you can click on this link if you want to discover just how much of a crazy religious fucktard he truly is.
Somehow, the Hugo awards find a way to lose more credibility every year or so. And 2014 promises to be the worse year yet. . . :/
Can't wait for James S. A. Corey's Cibola Burn? Well, there is a new Expanse novella available to help whet your appetite! You can download The Churn for only 2.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
From New York Times bestselling author James S.A. Corey... Before his trip to the stars, before the Rocinante, Amos Burton was confined to a Baltimore where crime paid you or killed you. Unless the authorities got to you first. Set in the hard-scrabble solar system of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate and the upcoming Cibola Burn, The Churn deepens James S. A. Corey's acclaimed Expanse series.
You can now download Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart for only £0.59 here.
Here's the blurb:
The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good...and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission...and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair...and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear. Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel's Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.
You can also download the second volume, Kushiel's Chosen, for £1.19 here, and the final installment, Kushiel's Avatar, for £1.79 here.
I've always felt that the placement of a man's testicles is an eloquent argument against intelligent design. The fact that a slight young woman can with a well-placed knee reduce the hero of the Aral Pass to a helpless creature too full of agony to do anything but roll on the floor hoping to squeeze the occasional breath past his pain--well that's just poor planning on God's part. Surely?
You can now download David Dalglish's A Dance of Cloaks for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
The Underworld rules the city of Veldaren. Thieves, smugglers, assassins... they fear only one man. In book #1 of the Shadowdance series, Thren Felhorn is the greatest assassin of his time. All the thieves' guilds of the city are under his unflinching control. If he has his way, death will soon spill out from the shadows and into the streets. Aaron is Thren's son, trained to be heir to his father's criminal empire. He's cold, ruthless - everything an assassin should be. But when Aaron risks his life to protect a priest's daughter from his own guild, he glimpses a world beyond piston, daggers, and the iron rule of his father. Assassin or protector; every choice has its consequences. Fantasy author David Dalglish spins a tale of retribution and darkness, and an underworld reaching for ultimate power.
So when the author announced that he would release a collection of his published short fiction, Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten, I was curious to see if I would enjoy it as much as his novel-length material. And while this collection failed to wow me the way his critically acclaimed trilogy did, many short stories show glimpses of the potential that Beaulieu was able to showcase within the pages of The Lays of Anuskaya later on in his writing career.
Here's the blurb:
With The Winds of Khalakovo, Bradley P. Beaulieu established himself as a talented new voice in epic fantasy. With his premiere short story collection, Beaulieu demonstrates his ability to weave tales that explore other worlds in ways that are at once bold, imaginative, and touching. Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten and Other Stories contains 17 stories that range from the epic to the heroic, some in print for the first time.
It is evident that aspiring fantasy authors seldom have the luxury of being picky when it comes to get their stories in print, but right off the bat I must admit that Bradley P. Beaulieu contributed to a number of decidedly weird anthologies early in his career. And yet, the variety of styles, tones, and genres demonstrate just how fertile the author's imagination can be. Still, short stories such as "How Peacefully the Desert Sleeps" and "Flotsam" were quite weird. . .
As a fan of The Lays of Anuskaya, getting a glimpse of the future beyond the trilogy in "Prima" was quite interesting. Even more so was going back in time with "To the Towers of Tulandan." Those fans intrigued by his upcoming YA series can get a feel for things to come in "Unearthed." Highlights of the collection include the excellent "Shadows in the Mirrors," "Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten," "Good Morning Heartache," "Cirque du Lumière" (Why can't anglophones ever get any French right? Just encountered another such mistake in Mark Lawrence's latest today. It's not like those authors cannot get their stuff proofread, right?), and "Foretold."
I often say that in terms of style, Bradley P. Beaulieu's is some sort of hybrid between Steven Erikson and L. E. Modesitt, Jr. From time to time, he also shows a deft human touch that reminds me of Robin Hobb. In addition, the author's darker and brooding narrative can at times be reminescent of Stephen R. Donaldson. In terms of characterization and magical system, don't expect black-and-white protagonists and flashy bells and whistles. No, Beaulieu's approach is very similar to that of Modesitt. His cast of characters may not be the most flamboyant group of men and women, yet they are nevertheless solid, genuine, and three-dimensional protagonists that remain true to themselves. He writes adult fantasy that will probably not appeal that much to teenagers.
The final verdict: 7.5/10
If you want to give Beaulieu a shot but don't want to invest time and money in a big, multilayered trilogy, you can download Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten for only 2.51$ here. It will give you a good idea of what sort of speculative fiction author Bradley P. Beaulieu is and whether or not The Lays of Anuskaya might be for you.
It's been implied for months and now we finally received confirmation that it is the case. Lucasfilm has just issued a statement explaining that the entire Expanded Universe is no longer official canon:
For over 35 years, the Expanded Universe has enriched the Star Wars experience for fans seeking to continue the adventure beyond what is seen on the screen. When he created Star Wars, George Lucas built a universe that sparked the imagination, and inspired others to create. He opened up that universe to be a creative space for other people to tell their own tales. This became the Expanded Universe, or EU, of comics, novels, videogames, and more. While Lucasfilm always strived to keep the stories created for the EU consistent with our film and television content as well as internally consistent, Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU. He set the films he created as the canon. This includes the six Star Wars episodes, and the many hours of content he developed and produced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. These stories are the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align. Now, with an exciting future filled with new cinematic installments of Star Wars, all aspects of Star Wars storytelling moving forward will be connected. Under Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy's direction, the company for the first time ever has formed a story group to oversee and coordinate all Star Wars creative development. "We have an unprecedented slate of new Star Wars entertainment on the horizon," said Kennedy. "We're set to bring Star Wars back to the big screen, and continue the adventure through games, books, comics, and new formats that are just emerging. This future of interconnected storytelling will allow fans to explore this galaxy in deeper ways than ever before." In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe. While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded. Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe. For example, elements of the EU are included in Star Wars Rebels. The Inquisitor, the Imperial Security Bureau, and Sienar Fleet Systems are story elements in the new animated series, and all these ideas find their origins in roleplaying game material published in the 1980s. Demand for past tales of the Expanded Universe will keep them in print, presented under the new Legends banner. On the screen, the first new canon to appear will be Star Wars Rebels. In print, the first new books to come from this creative collaboration include novels from Del Rey Books. First to be announced, John Jackson Miller is writing a novel that precedes the events of Star Wars Rebels and offers insight into a key character's backstory, with input directly from executive producers Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg, and Greg Weisman. And this is just the beginning of a creatively aligned program of Star Wars storytelling created by the collaboration of incredibly talented people united by their love of that galaxy far, far away... StarWars.com. All Star Wars, all the time.
Patrick Rothfuss just unveiled the cover art for his upcoming novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things (Canada, USA, Europe). Follow this link if you want to learn more about the book and how it came to be.
I have three copies of L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s forthcoming Recluce novel, Cyador's Heirs, for you to win, compliments of the folks at Tor Books! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Decades after the fall of Cyador, its survivors have re-established themselves in Cigoerne, a fertile country coveted by hostile neighbors in less hospitable lands. Young Lerial, the second son of Duke Kiedron, lives in the shadow of his older brother Lephi, the heir to their father's realm. Lerial's future seems preordained: He will one day command his brother's forces in defence of Cigoerne, serving at his older sibling's pleasure, and no more. But when Lerial is sent abroad to be fostered by Major Altyrn to learn the skills and wisdom he will need to fulfil his future duties, he begins a journey into a much larger world that brings out his true potential. Lerial has talents that few, as yet, suspect: He is one of those rare beings who can harness both Order and Chaos, the competing natural forces that shape the world and define the magic that exists within it. And as war finally engulfs the fringes of Cigoerne, Lerial's growing mastery of Order and Chaos is tested to its limits, and his own.
The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "CYADOR." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.
Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.
Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.
You can now download James P. Blaylock's Homunculus for only 2.79$ here.
Here's the blurb:
A brand-new edition of the Philip K. Dick award-winning novel. It is the late 19th century and a mysterious airship orbits through the foggy skies. Its terrible secrets are sought by many, including the Royal Society, a fraudulent evangelist, a fiendish vivisectionist, an evil millionaire and an assorted group led by the scientist and explorer Professor Langdon St. Ives. Can St. Ives keep the alien homunculus out of the claws of the villainous Ignacio Narbondo?
In addition, you can download another St. Ives adventure, Lord Kelvin’s Machine, for the same price, as well as the novella The Ebb Tide for 2.99$ here.
The folks at rollingstone.com just posted a very interesting interview with GRRM. Here's a teaser:
A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it's not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren't gone – they're in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles? In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I've tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don't have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn't make you a wise king.
Welcome to the world of the Instrumentalities of the Night, where imps, demons, and dark gods rule in the spaces surrounding upstart humanity. At the edges of the world stand walls of ice which push slowly forward to reclaim the land for the night. And at the world's center, in the Holy Land where two great religions were born, are the Wells of Ihrain, the source of the greatest magics. Over the last century the Patriarchs of the West have demanded crusades to claim the Wells from the Pramans, the followers of the Written. Now an uneasy truce extends between the Pramans and the West, waiting for a spark to start the conflict anew.
Then, on a mission in the Holy Land, the young Praman warrior Else is attacked by a creature of the Dark-in effect, a minor god. Too ignorant to know that he can never prevail over such a thing, he fights it and wins, and in so doing, sets the terrors of the night against him.
As a reward for his success, Else is sent as a spy to the heart of the Patriarchy to direct their attention away from further ventures into the Holy Lands. Dogged by hidden enemies and faithless allies, Else witnesses senseless butchery and surprising acts of faith as he penetrates to the very heart of the Patriarchy and rides alongside their armies in a new crusade against his own people. But the Night rides with him, too, sending two of its once-human agents from the far north to assassinate him.
Submerged in his role, he begins to doubt his faith, his country, even his family. As his mission careens out of control, he faces unanswerable questions about his future. It is said that God will know his own, but can one who has slain gods ever know forgiveness?
The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "TYRANNY." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.
Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.
Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.
I'm giving away my review copy of Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor to one lucky winners! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir. Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment. Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne–or his life. Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor is an exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.
You can now download Frank Herbert's masterpiece, Dune, for only 5.74$ here!
Here's the blurb:
Here is the novel that will be forever considered a triumph of the imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad'Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family--and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream. A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.
You can download Pierce Brown's Red Rising for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class. Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
You can also download Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project for only 1.99$ here.
Here's the blurb:
MEET DON TILLMAN, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you. Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, Graeme Simsion’s distinctive debut will resonate with anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of great challenges. The Rosie Project is a rare find: a book that restores our optimism in the power of human connection.
Melanie Rawn returns to her rich high fantasy world in Thornlost, the sequel to Touchstone and Elsewhens. Cayden is part Elf, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high-society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good, very good. He’s a tregetour—a wizard who is both playwright and magicwielder. It is Cade’s power that creates the magic, but a tregetour is useless without a glisker—an elf who can spin out the magic onto the stage, to enchant the audience. And Cade’s glisker, Mieka, is something special too. So is their fettler, Rafe, who controls the magic and keeps them and the audience safe. And their masker, Jeska, who speaks all the lines, is every young girl’s dream. They are reaching for the highest reaches of society and power, but not the way Cade’s mother thinks they should. They’ll change their world, or die trying.
"Amazing, wasn't it?" Blye remarked the next afternoon. She had returned that rainy morning to Gallantrybanks with her in-laws, though Jed had stayed behind in Hilldrop to supervise the final fittings on Mieka's refurbished barn. "Lady Jaspiela Highcollar, mixing with the common folk at a country party!"
"Did she 'mix'? I never saw her 'mixing'—in fact, she told me flat out that she hadn't even spoken to any of Mieka's neighbors."
Cade handed her another glass plate from the set she was preparing for display. Forbidden by Guild rules to make anything hollow, Blye satisfied the inspectors who came round by having all manner of acceptable things for sale in the shop. Plates and platters, candleflats and window panes, anything that would legally justify her prosperity. Her real money was in making withies for Touchstone and the Shadowshapers—but the glass twigs were hollow, and thus officially prohibited to her. So these she made in secret. Usually Rikka Ashbottle, Blye's not-apprentice—because of course only a master crafter could have an apprentice—would be doing this polishing work, but Rikka was out running errands.
"I imagine Mieka's neighbors were too overawed to talk to Her Ladyship, but she was there, wasn't she?" Blye slanted him a smile, dark eyes gleaming beneath a fringe of white-blond hair. She held the plate over a little device made long ago by her father: a glass beaker with a cork to stopper the place where one poured in the water and a thin spout for steam to escape. She could just as easily have used a teakettle, but the beaker was prettier, all swirled about with orange and yellow. Cade had obliged her by calling up a bit of Wizardfire beneath the beaker where it rested atop a steel ring. The steam fogged the glass plate, which she handed to Cade for polishing. This worked on wine glasses, too, but of course she wasn't allowed to make those. Not officially, anyway.
"It was a real treat," Blye continued, "seeing her amongst farmers, blacksmiths, brewers, and such in their go-to-Chapel best."
"The working class. It's escaped her notice that I'm working class."
She made big, mocking eyes at him. "With all Touchstone's acclaim? Lord Oakapple's patronage? Lord Fairwalk? Talks with the Princess? The Highcollar and Blackswan and Mistbind in your blood?"
"We're all of us just ordinary working-class gits, Touchstone," he stated firmly. "Common everyday Gallybankers. What we have is what we earned, not what we inherited."
Which had made it remarkably painless to share the inheritance from his grandfather. And that was odd, because he'd been looking forward to it, counting on it, ever since he'd found out about it years and years ago. Yet here he was, keeping the bulk of it in the bank to provide for his little brother. That it was for Derien made it easy, but while thinking about it this morning he'd realized that he felt free. This was even odder. Wasn't it supposed to be the other way round? Money was supposed to be liberating. Not having to worry about how to pay for this and that, being able to afford a fine place to live, servants, good food and excellent drink—wasn't that supposed to free up one's time and mind for nobler things? But it also would have set him apart from his partners. And he couldn't really think of that money as his, no matter what his grandfather had intended. No, better to live off what he made through his own work.
He opened his mouth to say something of the sort to Blye—not about transferring the inheritance to Dery, for only he and his mother and Kearney, and possibly his father, would ever know about that—but whatever he'd meant to say vanished when he saw she was scowling at him.
"Ordinary? When have you ever been ordinary?"
Cade had no idea what had prompted the scowl or the sharp tone of voice. "I just meant—"
"I know what you meant. D'you think that what you are and what you can do is ordinary? I just wish to all the Gods that you'd stop wasting your time telling yourself and everybody else that ordinary is what you ought to be or want to be. Pretending you want it is even worse, because you don't." She set down a plate and folded her arms, glaring up at him.
"How would you know?" he flared. "Why can't I—" He broke off as Blye’s cat, Bomstaple, reacting to their raised voices, leaped onto the counter and began pacing between them as if on guard duty, ready to come to Blye's defense if needed. Cade dragged his gaze from the cat's narrowed green eyes and in a calmer tone asked, "Why can't I have a regular kind of life? Rafe does. And Mieka—"
"Oh, yeh, his home is just a dream come true, innit? With that Harpy of a mother-in-law nagging him to give up theater and find a place at Court because the new Princess is so fond of Touchstone and she'd be just the person to get him a cushy living and maybe even some kind of title—"
"You didn't know? Jez overheard her one afternoon while he was out there working on the barn. And very eloquent she was, too!"
Mieka Windthistle, Court flunkey. If it hadn't be so horrifying—and so close to what his mother had always wanted for him—he would have laughed.
Blye was still scowling, but not as fiercely. She stroked Bomstaple, who had settled down in a furry white lump beside her to purr. "Rafe and Crisiant are happy, but that's because she knows. She understands it all because she grew up with him, she knows what's inside him and that if she tried to change it, he'd be less than what he ought to be. You don't think Mieka's wife knows him the way Crisiant knows Rafe, do you? She hasn't the first notion of why or how he does what he does, leave alone that he has to do it or become a splintered shard of himself. She loves him, that's not in question. But she wants to change him, make him into what she thinks he ought to be. She's pulling him in one direction and Touchstone is yanking him in another, and one of these days he's going to come apart and it won't be pretty to watch. He isn't ordinary any more than you are."
It took him a few moments to recover from all that. At length, he said, "Do you know how Jed figures out what needs doing to a building and puts it to rights? Does Mishia Windthistle understand how Hadden makes a lute?" He snorted a bitter laugh. "Does my mother know what my father's work for Prince Ashgar really is? And if she does, does she care?"
"Oh, please!" She rolled her big brown eyes. "That's not what I'm saying and you know it. How do you put your magic inside the withies? I couldn't tell you, and I make the damned things! But I know you, Cayden, how you think and what you're like inside. I know Mieka, too. And it's been obvious from the start that his wife doesn't have the slightest idea who he really is or what he needs."
"They're happy," he observed. Eventually they wouldn't be, but for now…
"Are they?" She gave an irritated shrug of one shoulder and pulled Bomstaple into her lap. "Rafe and Crisiant are a success because she knows him down to his marrow. She understands. It's the same with Jed and me. I don't have to work anymore, did you know that? He and Jez are making enough to keep us very nicely. But I still work."
"Because you want to."
"I need to," she corrected. "And if that makes me a freak, so be it. I married a man who understands that I love what I do. And that I wouldn't be who I am, who he loves, if I didn't have work that I need to do. Mostly we get defined by words like daughter, sister, wife, niece—all of them words that depend on other people. It's how we define ourselves that's the truth of what we are. Mieka is Mishia and Hadden's son, Jindra's father, his wife's husband, and brother to that whole tribe of Windthistles, but what he truly is—that's a glisker, a player. Part of Touchstone."
"Part of something worth being part of," Cade murmured. "He's said that." And hadn't Cade himself realized last summer that Mieka truly needed to be onstage, performing for hundreds of people—and eventually thousands, if his Elsewhen was to be trusted.
"If he wasn't Touchstone's glisker, he'd be with some other group. Just the way you'd be writing plays and priming withies whether it's with Touchstone or somebody else. It's the way you define yourself. Through your work." She smiled a little. "What you earned, not what you inherited."
"I don't know why you think Mieka isn't happy," said Cade, frowning. "The girl is everything a man could want." He heard himself saying it and couldn't believe the words were coming out of his mouth. "Beautiful, sweet, modest—she didn't bring any money to the marriage but who cares when a girl's that lovely?" It was all true, though, wasn't it? "She adores him, a blind man could see that. She's made a perfect home for him, given him a child—"
He broke off as Blye's face went blank as a pane of glass. Oh Gods, was that it? The one word she hadn’t mentioned in her definitions was mother. He knew she and Jedris had been trying, thus far without success. It happened that way sometimes: the mix of races was too complex, and there'd be too much of one thing and not enough of another to make pregnancy possible. Blye was mostly Goblin, though with enough Human so she didn't look it. The Windthistles were mostly Elfen, with dollops of Piksey, Human, Wizard, Sprite, and possibly Fae. Cade had never even considered that conceiving and bearing a child might not be possible for her and Jed.
"You shouldn't worry too much about it," he said on impulse. "You haven't been married all that long, and sometimes it takes a while—"
"I don't have any idea what you're talking about." Her tone warned him that he'd better not have any idea what he was talking about, either. He reached over to her, wanting to comfort. She shook him off and wouldn't look at him. "I think these are done," she said, pointing to the stacked and polished plates. "Rikka can arrange them when she comes in. Beholden for the help."
"Go home, Cayden. Just—go home."
He gazed down at her bent fair head for a moment. Then he went home.
A slow, steady rain had dampened his shoulders and hair before he reached the back door of Number Eight. On the lowest of the three short steps was Mistress Mirdley, sheltered under the awning, arms folded as she waited for the rain to fill an iron cauldron usually kept in her stillroom. Folded atop a stool on the step was the counterpane Mieka had given Cade last night.
She didn't glance up as he approached. "You'll be wondering why it already wants a wash," she said. "You didn't feel it, did you? Not any of it."
"Any of what? I was supposed to feel something?" He brushed rain off his clothes and jumped up to the top step, out of the wet.
"Wizard," she accused cryptically. From a pocket of her apron she tugged a blue glass bottle, then a green one, then a brown one, then a clear one. "Never sense any magic but your own, do you?" she went on as she measured out careful droplets from each bottle into the virgin rainwater. Scents wafted from each: anise, bay, lavender, sage. "You'll not be remembering much from what I taught you of hedge-witchery when you were little—"
"I remember enough," he said brusquely. "I know that's not just washing water, it's for purifying."
She tucked the bottles back in her pocket and took out several more, these of silver stoppered with cork. The contents were trickled by turns into the cauldron. "Your nose reminds you. Good."
"The sense of smell is probably the most evocative," he said, quoting Sagemaster Emmot, taking refuge in rote learning just as earlier, with Blye, he had taken refuge in societal cant. "It goes directly to the brain, bypassing what you use to analyze and define what you see or hear or touch. It calls up memories—" Aware that he was babbling, he compressed his lips for a moment, then asked, "Why the clove?"
She ignored the question. "You recognize some of these from what I put into your satchel when you're off gallivanting about. Ever taken an itch from nasty sheets in those upstairs tavern rooms? Of course not. What's washed into your nightshirts protects you. Now, these others, they're things you've not been needing until now."
"Clove?" he repeated.
"Recall it from toothaches, I'd imagine," she said grimly. After stashing the silver vials, she produced a wooden spoon and crouched to stir the mix. Widdershins, he noted absently. "More to it than that, or so my old granny avowed. What you'll not have recognized is mulberry. Betony. One or two others." She looked up at him and he took an involuntary step back, his spine against the door. "It's purifying that's needed here as well as protection, and banishment, and a reverse of spells to send them back to the one who cast them."
"Here." She gave him the spoon. "Keep stirring that."
Bewildered, and not knowing whether to be scornful or scared, he crouched down and circled the spoon leftwise round and round the cauldron. He knew who had made the counterpane, cut and pieced the material, embroidered all the feathers, stitched every stitch. It was ludicrous to think that there might be something dangerous about it.
A sudden glimpse of a remembered Elsewhen: slender fingers taking tiny, quick stitches in silk the color of irises, and unintelligible words chanted low and fierce as the girl worked on a neckband for the Elf she so deeply desired. And then a memory: he and she in an alleyway, the gloat of triumph in her eyes that told him she was winning and knew that eventually she’d win.
No. She wouldn't dare.
Rain dripped onto his head from a hole in the awning. He cursed under his breath and shifted position, still stirring, his shirtsleeve wet to the shoulder.
But hadn't Jinsie said last year that there was magic about, some sort of spellcasting being used on Mieka—
She wouldn't dare.
And even if she dared, even if there was some unrightness about the counterpane, why hadn't Mistress Mirdley refused to be anywhere near it last night in the carriage?
But then he remembered that she'd gathered it around Derien and Lady Jaspiela, and not a bit of it had touched Cayden at all.
A little shower of sea salt went into the cauldron, startling him. Sprigs of mint, marjoram, rosemary tied together with black silk thread were tossed in. At last the counterpane itself was squashed into the water, the rain still drizzling down.
"Why?" he managed.
"Why did they do it, or why is this necessary?" She took the spoon from his hand and jabbed at the counterpane, shoving all of it underwater. "You don't know what they are, those two," she muttered. "Caitiffer they call themselves, as if no one remembers the word."
Cade was possessed of a vocabulary rather larger than the usual, even for a tregetour, and he'd never heard the term in any context other than this particular surname. He said as much, tentatively.
"And a good reason for it, you'll be thinking once you know!"
"Not here. Not where anyone could walk by and listen."
So it was in silence that he helped her wring out the soaked counterpane, wondering the whole while why she didn't use an Affinity spell to return the water in the material to the water in the cauldron, the way she did with all the other washing. He made as if to tip the cauldron over so the remains could spill down the little slope to the runnel in the middle of Criddow Close and thence to the sewers.
"Leave that be!" snapped Mistress Mirdley. "There's other uses for an unbemoiling! Come inside out of the wet."
In the stillroom, chairs were arranged and the material was draped over it. He was relieved to see that none of the colors had run, but when he saw that the little charm was missing, he finally broke the silence.
"Where's that droplet thing of silver that was at the tip of that feather?"
"That I took care of last night, and melted in Blye's kiln this morning before you were even awake."
"You can't mean—"
"I do mean. Methinks Blye sensed a bit of a something about it, but I had it in the fire before she could be sure. Silver? Naught but polished steel—and all the more powerful because of it."
He knew about steel. His other grandfather, Lord Isshak Highcollar, had worn a steel ring on each thumb. They were not just tokens of his submission to the King or reminders of the King's mercy in not lopping those thumbs off, as had been done to Sagemaster Emmot. Expertly bespelled, the steel rings—or, more accurately, the iron used to make them—prevented a Wizard from using his magic.
Settling herself on a wooden stool at the stillroom workbench, Mistress Mirdley dried her hands on her apron. "Now. Heed me smartly, Cayden. When first I saw those two, I gave them the benefit of kindness. It would be as if people judged you by your grandmother Lady Kiritin. And that wouldn't be fair."
He shrugged. The devastations caused by his grandmother's idea about using withies as exploding spells that maimed or killed had resulted in laws forbidding glasscrafting to all Wizards. He'd broken those laws on several occasions.
"But to keep that name…" Mistress Mirdley shook her head. "Thought it would be taken for a married name, I suppose, come from the male line and not the female.”
Before he could ask why this made a difference, she opened a little jar of salve and began rubbing it into her hands as she talked.
“What it first meant was slave. Generations ago, with the First Escaping—you'll have heard of that in school, I hope?"
He nodded. Magical folk had at various times through the centuries departed the Continent, unwelcome at best and persecuted at worst. They had found welcome in Albeyn because the Royal Family had a few Wizardly bloodlines, and mayhap other things besides.
But what Mistress Mirdley told him that morning was something he'd never heard before. Not in littleschool, not at Sagemaster Emmot's Academy, not in rumors or gossip or even a hint in a very old play. Wizards and Elves, Goblins and Gnomes, and all other magical folk had been allowed to leave the Continent freely—though freed of most of their possessions. But the Caitiffs, Mistress Mirdley told him, had been sold. What they called themselves was unknown. They were given a name that meant slave and sent to the Durkah Isle. On maps it was indicated by a ragged outline, a name, and symbols that designated nothing but mountains of ice.
"Some tried to slip away, but almost all were caught. Or so it was said. All of them women, by the bye, for their magic doesn't pass to their men."
A test was performed on those suspected of being Caitiff. Taken to the nearest Trollbridge, the prisoner was stripped naked and inspected by the presiding Troll for certain signs. If these were present, the woman was cast into the water.
"The testing was always done the day after a good strong rain, so that the water was new. Pure water won't tolerate a Caitiff." She paused. "It's said to be agony beyond any agony for them."
Pure water; new water; rain water—did young Mistress Windthistle and her mother ever go for walks in the rain? If caught outside in a sudden shower, did they bundle up in hooded cloaks and gloves, and hurry indoors as soon as may be? He pushed the thoughts away and asked, "Did you ever—I mean—"
"I'm not that old, boy! My Mam, though, she was brought a few for testing in her time. Told me what to look for in a Caitiff, and how to clean up after one." She nodded to the counterpane spread across chairs. "Mayhap she glossed over a mark now and then, because she knew the woman and knew her not to be what she was accused of being—it's a rare skin without a blotch or blemish someplace. But—"
"The Princess!" he blurted. "Lady Vren—someone told me that her mother came from a distant land to the east, and when she arrived for the wedding they stripped her starkers and inspected her! Was that what they were looking for?"
"It's been so long a while that I doubt they knew the why of it, but by the sound of it…yes."
"How does it show? I mean, is there a specific—"
"That's Troll-lore, boy."
"Umm…all right," he mumbled, chastened. After a moment, he asked, "Was the Caitiff allowed to drown?"
She shook her head. "Fished out, dried off, and sent to the Durkah Isle with the rest of her kin. And before you ask, iron and steel have no effect on them."
"How many of them were here?"
"A few hundreds." Her muscular shoulders twitched. "Best to be rid of them. They look like anyone else, but they bring a taint to a bloodline."
Instantly indignant, thinking of innocent little Jindra in her painted cradle, he said, "There are people who say that about Gnomes and Goblins, too. And Trolls."
She nodded, unoffended. "About everyone, at some time or another." Once more she pointed to the counterpane. "Stitching is their specialty. A harmless, womanly occupation, anyone would say—"
Feeling contrary, and wondering why once again he was defending a woman he loathed, he said, "I trust that you know what you're about, but I've seen no proof."
"If it's your thinking that I ought to've waited and let you come out all over in hives, or lose the use of your fingers, or—"
"Would I?" he challenged. "Is that what was becast into that cloth? I touched it last night, when I unwrapped it. I didn't sense anything."
"Wizard," she repeated.
"You knew it was from them and yet you let Dery sleep all wrapped up in it."
"Gracious Gods, boy, what a thorough-thinking brain you've got between your ears! The thing was made for you. To sleep beneath. Huddled around you for hours at a time. Seeping into your dreams, mayhap. Who could know what was intended?"
"So you don't really know, either."
"Would you rather I'd waited to make sure?" she snarled. "Three more things I'll tell you, and then we'll talk of it no more. Clothwork is their specialty on the Durkah Isle. Trolls inspect everything and the slightest breath of magic means the whole shipment is destroyed."
"Why is it that Trolls have so much to do with keeping watch over Caitiffs?"
Her only answer was a shrug. "The second thing is this. There's one sort of magical folk on the Durkah Isle, and one only. When enough of them had been exiled to the island, they set themselves to ridding the place of all other races except Human. Wizards, Goblins, Elves, Gnomes—though not Pikseys or Sprites. They stick to their forests in Albeyn and have never been seen on the Durkah Isle."
"What of the Fae?"
"I can't see even a White Winterchill Fae liking a life in almost year-round snow, can you?"
He had no way of knowing. His own heritage was, apparently, Green Summer Fae; his many-times-great grandmother had said so.
"Everyone else disappeared." She growled softly. "Illness or accident, that's what they said for years, a climate and a land no one but the toughest Humans and the exiled Caitiffs could tolerate, until no one went there anymore except for the cloth trade. There's but the one port, free of ice only one month a year. And on that island are Caitiff and Human, and during that month the few Trolls who inspect the cloth. And thus it's been for hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of years."
"But wouldn’t their bloodlines have thinned out by now? Look at Albeyn. With every generation the mix of races loses a bit of magic—"
"Who told you that? That 'Sagemaster' of yours? I never did like him."
"You didn't? Why?"
Once more she ignored the questions. "There's no Troll would touch a Caitiff woman. The enmity goes too deep."
Knowing she wouldn't tell him the why of that, either, he said, "Even so, after all that time, with only Human and Caitiff bloodlines—"
She capped the pot of salve and began extracting the bottles and vials from her pockets, replacing them on the shelves. "If this is a bit of Elf, and that's Piksey, and the others are Wizard and Gnome and Goblin and Troll, and mayhap a bit of Fae—you mix them all together in proportions nobody can foresee, and you never know what will happen."
Like with him. What particular combination within him had worked with his Fae heritage to cause his Elsewhens?
"Mayhap you get nothing more powerful than a weathering witch," she went on. "Mayhap a Master Tregetour. Or mayhap nothing at all. But with just the two bloodlines, and mixed together who knows how, with only the women inheriting the magic—the plain fact of it is that even after all this time every stitch coming from the Durkah Isle is inspected by a Troll."
"Fortyer!" he blurted. "Is that where it comes from?"
"Oh, it's a right bright lad after all, isn't it?" She turned from sorting bottles and regarded him with her fierce little eyes. "'Tis not the fear of plague that sets apart each Durkah ship for forty days in every Albeyni port. 'Tis the danger of their weavings and sewings. It's one turn of the moon they last, but the inspectors wait another ten days just to be safe."
"But the spells can be renewed? Of course," he said, answering his own question this time. "Still—why would the Caitiffs bother? If they know about the fortyer, then why—"
"What might happen after a month sleeping under that?" She pointed to the counterpane. She bit her lips together for a moment, then went on in a low, furious tone, "My sister's only son commanded the inspections for thirty years before they killed him with a thread mixed in with the salad greens. Sickened the instant he swallowed, vomited it all up—but the working was done and the yellow thread was there as evidence after he died." She reached over to test the counterpane for moisture, her thick strong fingers squeezing a corner. A few drops of water plunked to the floor. "A single thread! So you'll forgive me, Your Lordship," she finished bitterly, "if I take precautions when it comes to gifts from Caitiffs!"
You can now download Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars for only 4.59$ here!
Here's the blurb:
In his most ambitious project to date, award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson utilizes years of research and cutting-edge science in the first of three novels that will chronicle the colonization of Mars. For eons, sandstorms have swept the barren desolate landscape of the red planet. For centuries, Mars has beckoned to mankind to come and conquer its hostile climate. Now, in the year 2026, a group of one hundred colonists is about to fulfill that destiny. John Boone, Maya Toitavna, Frank Chalmers, and Arkady Bogdanov lead a mission whose ultimate goal is the terraforming of Mars. For some, Mars will become a passion driving them to daring acts of courage and madness; for others it offers and opportunity to strip the planet of its riches. And for the genetic "alchemists, " Mars presents a chance to create a biomedical miracle, a breakthrough that could change all we know about life...and death. The colonists place giant satellite mirrors in Martian orbit to reflect light to the planets surface. Black dust sprinkled on the polar caps will capture warmth and melt the ice. And massive tunnels, kilometers in depth, will be drilled into the Martian mantle to create stupendous vents of hot gases. Against this backdrop of epic upheaval, rivalries, loves, and friendships will form and fall to pieces--for there are those who will fight to the death to prevent Mars from ever being changed. Brilliantly imagined, breathtaking in scope and ingenuity, Red Mars is an epic scientific saga, chronicling the next step in human evolution and creating a world in its entirety. Red Mars shows us a future, with both glory and tarnish, that awes with complexity and inspires with vision.
Just realized that all three Mongoliad volumes are still on sale! You can download the first volume for only 3.99$ here. You can also get your hands on the second installment for the same price here. Finally, you can also download the final volume for 3.99$ here.
Here's the blurb for the first volume:
With bonus material! This Kindle edition features extra content only found in the Collector’s Edition of The Mongoliad: Book One, including an illustrated character glossary, a Foreworld map, and Sinner, a prequel to the Mongoliad series.
The first novel to be released in The Foreworld Saga, The Mongoliad: Book One, is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia. But the saga reaches the modern world via a circuitous route. In the late 19th century, Sir Richard F. Burton, an expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, is approached by a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados about translating a collection of long-lost manuscripts. Burton dies before his work is finished, and his efforts were thought lost until recently rediscovered by a team of amateur archaeologists in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy. From this collection of arcana, the incredible tale of The Mongoliad was recreated. Full of high adventure, unforgettable characters, and unflinching battle scenes, The Mongoliad ignites a dangerous quest where willpower and blades are tested and the scope of world-building is redefined. A note on this edition: The Mongoliad began as a social media experiment, combining serial story-telling with a unique level of interaction between authors and audience during the creative process. Since its original iteration, The Mongoliad has been restructured, edited, and rewritten under the supervision of its authors to create a more cohesive reading experience and will be published as a trilogy of novels. This edition is the definitive edition and is the authors' preferred text.
Thanks to the author, here's an extract from Jeff Salyards' forthcoming Veil of the Deserters! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual. The Syldoonian Emperor, Cynead, has solidified his power in unprecedented ways, and Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be complicated and dangerous. Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and Soffjian are at the heart of his plans. The distance between “favored shadow agent of the emperor” and “exiled traitor” is unsurprisingly small. But it is filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian.
Finally standing before the front entrance to the Grieving Dog, I couldn’t quite make myself take the final steps inside. I thought about circling the building once or twice to build up courage, but that seemed ridiculous. Still, I stood there, berating myself for not moving. It wasn’t simply fear of reprisal—I doubted my mercy (misguided as it was turning out to be) would cause the captain to do more than give me a verbal lashing, and given his peculiar condition, I might even escape that. Temporarily, at least. After all, he’d been the one holding the crossbow in the Green Sea, not me. It was his decision to spare the Hornman, even if I’d been the one who somehow convinced him. He had to recognize some culpability. Well, maybe not. But either way, it wasn’t even imagined wrath that gave me pause. It was the thought that my admission would likely cost me whatever small measure of esteem I’d attained by saving his life at the temple.
The fact that I was overwrought about potentially losing the limited respect of a man who was a scheming manipulator actually irked and emboldened me. I knocked the shit and muck off my boots as best I could, stepped through the front door, and walked up the stairs. I’d made my choice to alert Braylar—however it played out after that was how it played out. There was nothing to be gained by perseverating.
Heading down the hall, I saw Mulldoos and Vendurro standing outside the door to the common quarters. They were close together, foreheads almost touching, and Mulldoos’s huge paw was wrapped around the back of Vendurro’s neck, holding him there as he spoke quietly to the younger man. I couldn’t make out the words, which was all for the best, as the scene was clearly intimate, and a display of affection that I would never have suspected from Mulldoos. I was about to turn around and leave them to it when Vendurro nodded twice, and Mulldoos gave the smaller Syldoon a hard clap on the back, then turned and noticed me there. Whatever tenderness was on display was immediately replaced by a scowl.
Mulldoos looked at Vendurro and said, “Tell Cap I’m on it.” He started down the narrow hall, limping noticeably, clearly expecting me to make way, which I did without a word. He stopped next to me as I pressed up against a wall, and he moved in closer, and I couldn’t help but remember Vendurro doing the same thing when we first met, only he was on horse, and yet Mulldoos on foot was somehow twice as terrifying. “Got a real talent for being where you ought not to, and not being where you should. This a scribbler thing, or is being a burning arrow in the ass just something particular to you?”
The words flew out of my mouth before I had a chance to consider them, “Well, I can’t presume to speak for the entire chronicling profession, so I suppose it’s just me. Or just you who thinks so.” A wrinkle bridged his pale brows as some surprise crossed his face, and then an instant later Mulldoos elbowed me hard just below the sternum. I doubled over, grabbing onto his elbow to hold myself up, which also proved to be a mistake, as be backed up and I fell onto my hands and knees, gasping for breath that was nowhere to be found.
He leaned over and said, “Gless, dead. Lloi, deader. Hew, me, and Cap, injured plenty good. What you got going on right now, that thing filling you with a queer panic, making your eyes water, making you feel like whatever garlicky business you got in your stomach is about to come rushing back up, that ain’t nothing at all.” He patted the pommel of the big falchion on his hip. “Count yourself lucky, scribbler. Real lucky.”
Mulldoos headed down the stairs as I knelt there holding my stomach, hugging myself. Clearly, he knew how to hit a man in just the right spot, because he was right about all of the symptoms, only he neglected to mention the vision going blurry as I nearly passed out before sputtering as I finally felt my lungs start working again.
I coughed a few times, and suddenly saw a hand in front of my face. For a moment, I feared Mulldoos had returned to deliver some more good luck, but I looked up and saw Vendurro there. He offered his hand again, which I gladly accepted, and he helped me to my feet.
“Seen him do that a time or ten. Been on the receiving end more than twice. No man takes you down harder than Mulldoos. Sharp elbows, he’s got. Sharp.”
I tried to straighten, felt my stomach muscles spasm, nearly retched, waited until it passed, then tried again. My ribs were on fire from one tip to the next, but Mulldoos had been right about that, too—no lasting damage. “Why. . . ” I waited for some more breath to come back into my lungs, and Vendurro waited with me until I could breathe without sputtering. “What did I do. . . why is he so angry with me?”
Vendurro had a small smile, not nearly as big and toothy as I’d come to expect, but a smile nonetheless. “Oh, wouldn’t say it’s specific to you none. Well, no more than most things and people. The lieutenant, if he’s not angry at one thing, he’s angrier at something else. But just now, I’d say it wasn’t so much what you done, but what you didn’t do. You had no armor, you got no training, and yet you come out of that scrape in the skinny trees without much of a scratch to speak of. Now, I heard Hewspear say you handled yourself better than you had any right to in there, and stood when most would have pissed themselves and run like rabbits.
“But Mulldoos, all he sees is someone that survived that got no real right surviving when those who maybe should have lived just didn’t. Nothing personal, though.”
“Oh, no,” I was finally able to speak without burning in my belly, “nothing personal. He just wishes it was me dead, instead of Tomner, or Gless—”
Vendurro’s smile disappeared again as I stopped myself, but too late. I tried to think of something that might act as a balm, but only stumbled some more, “I’m sorry, Vendurro. I didn’t, that is, I didn’t mean. . . ”
He ran a hand through his thick head of hair. “It’s alright, bookmaster. But you hit on the thing square. Cap ain’t the only one that takes losses hard. And I ain’t meaning the battles, neither. We either won that or scrapped to a draw, depending on who’s keeping tally. But the men. Losing the men. That rubs them both raw. I had a few men under me, back when we were a big company, full squad. Few of them, two younger, two older. But we weren’t at war with nobody just then, so only got into a couple skirmishes, not much chance of anybody dying on my watch. So I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for them, not real like. But I’ve seen them, and Hew, too, all three, seen them lose men, and it’s a hard, bitter thing, it is.”
Vendurro let out a long slow breath. “So it’s no kind of personal. Just rankles the lieutenant you lived when men he trained, knew for years, didn’t make it back.”
It was difficult to tell if he wanted to say more or wished he’d said nothing at all, so I left him to it, not wanting to interrupt if he truly wanted to go on, not wanting to press him if he didn’t. But he wasn’t done. Though you would have thought he was the one who’d just been punched in the gut by how halting it came. “I shouldn’t tell you to keep your mouth shut with Mulldoos. I mean, it’s sound advice and all, but I know you probably won’t heed it none anyway, and I didn’t much neither. Still don’t know when to clamp shut half the time. I got myself in a ton of trouble over the years with my flapping yap. Thing of it is, Gless, he’d get me out of those scrapes when my mouth got to running faster than my brain. Always had my back, he did. Counted on that, which was half the reason I’d let my mouth go on like I did. Now. . . ”
He trailed off, and there was an awkward pause that I broke by saying, “Mulldoos, was he. . . that is, when I came up on the landing, it looked like he was talking to you about Glesswik.”
Vendurro nodded slowly. “Yup. That he was.”
I waited quietly, figuring if he felt comfortable enough to offer more, he would. Vendurro stared off down the hall, past my shoulder, as if he expected Mulldoos to come back and spare him. Or maybe Glesswik. Finally, just when I was about to excuse myself and proceed to Captain Killcoin’s room, Vendurro said, “The thing of it is, soldiers lose other soldiers. Part and parcel of the deal. No getting around it or prettying it up. And the Syldoon more than most, on account of us being full timers. Always on campaign, or on patrol, or invading, or repulsing, or some action or other. Not much time to watch the moss grow, if you see what I’m saying.
“So sooner or later—and mostly on the sooner—you see a Towermate or three go down. Just the Syldoon way. You lose your brothers. And there’s nothing worse than that, because there’s no tighter unit in the known world than a Syldoon Tower. So, it ain’t never easy when it happens. But Gless and me. . . ” his forehead wrinkled. “You got any brothers?”
I had no siblings that I knew of, though there were likely some out there. But I shook my head.
He smiled again, small and sad. “Shame, that. Man ought to have a brother or two. But us, the Syldoon, the boys in our Tower, we are brothers, no less than those of blood. Maybe more. And Gless and me were the closest. Just never figured on seeing him go down, is all. Never figured on that.” He trailed off, staring down the hallways again.
I felt as if I should put my hand on his shoulder, or offer some condolence or other, but gestures and words both felt hollow, clumsy, even if delivered sincerely. So, hoping to at least lead him away from his grief rather than toward it, I said, “And did whatever Mulldoos say, did it help any?”
Vendurro rubbed the back of his neck, as if remembering Mulldoos’s huge hand there, and his eyes got a touch wetter. “Told me to grieve my grief—weren’t nothing wrong with it—but then put to it in the ground and armor back up, because my other brothers needed me alert. And we were running mighty thin on quality sergeants just now.” He laughed a little, and then, unexpectedly, laughed some more. “Not one for ornate speeches, Mulldoos. But he has the right of it.”
I nearly pointed out it had only been a day, and such a recent wound would need time to close and heal, but I was clearly no soldier, so maybe Mulldoos was correct. With lives in the balance, maybe performing your duties with a grief-stricken heart wasn’t the best idea, or at least the safest. Who was I to suggest he should allow himself a heavy heart?
It made me glad I was no soldier. It seemed a rough, rough world.
I did put my hand on his shoulder then, impulsively, and said, “I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have a brother, let alone lose one.” And then, pulling my hand away, added lamely, “I’m sorry.”
Vendurro smiled again. “Thanks, Arkamondos. Gless was a mean bastard, and always looking for a way out of a job if he could find it. Figures he’d leave me with double duty.”
I nodded. “You can call me Arki. No one did, before the captain that is, but I’m getting used to it now. And it’s far better than quillmonkey, scribbler, or—” we both said the next in unison, “horsecunt.” And then we laughed together as well.
But like sun obscured by clouds, that merriment left almost as fast. And these clouds seemed thicker and slower to move past than the last bank. Again, I didn’t want to intrude, so waited him out.
After staring at his feet for a minute, Vendurro said, “Told you he was a shit husband too, didn’t I? Hardly there at all, especially the last few years with us campaigning all over Anjuria. Even before, when we were stationed in Sunwrack, he only seemed to head home long enough to father two brats of his own.”
Vendurro ran his hands though his hair, shifted his weight from one leg to the next, then leaned against the wall, kicking it with his heel when he did. In that one motion, he seemed to lose ten years, but they came back just as suddenly, and brought friends. “Good lass. Leastwise, not bad. Mervulla. Native Thurvacian. Tower Commanders always telling us to settle down with the locals, make nice. Who can say what she saw in the bastard. Womenfolk are queer as cats.”
He pressed his head back into the wood, closed his eyes. “The Syldoon, they’ll provide something. For her, and her young, on account of the marriage at all. And she got some income. They owned some olive orchards, rented the land out to those that worked them. So, seeing as she’s from the capital herself, can’t see her selling. Still collect the rents, most like. So she won’t need the bread line or to turn prostitute. But still.”
“Bread line? Prostitute?”
“Yep. Plenty of widows got no livelihood to call their own, nor chance to make one after a certain age. Lose their men, lose their coin. Only options are charity or selling what wares the gods gave you. Syldoon widows luckier in that respect. We take care of our own.
“Still, whatever she felt for Gless, can’t see her liking the news she’s a fresh widow none. Can’t see nobody liking that news, less they hated a fellow. And he might have been a bastard, but he wasn’t totally wanting for good qualities. On the whole. So can’t see her liking that news much at all.”
“And you. . . you have to deliver it? You have to be the one to tell her?”
“Have to?” He banged his head and looked up at the ceiling. “Nope. Ain’t no have to. But I knew him better than anybody. And she knew me some, too. So it’s got to come from me. The news and the widowcoin. Got to.”
Before I thought about what I was saying, the words came of their own volition. “Would you like me to go with you?”
Vendurro pulled himself slowly off the wall and looked at me. “You’d do that?”
Now that it was out there, I wished I’d thought it through first. I was sure that would be painfully awkward and. . . just painful. To witness anyway. But there was no recalling it. I nodded and he seemed to think it over before replying. “Can’t ask you to do that. Not to her door. She never met you, she’d know right off something weren’t right.” He suddenly seemed young and small again as he added, “But if you want to head with me most of the way. And wait to down some drinks after. A lot of them. That would be something, that is, if you—”
“Of course. I’ll accompany you as far you like, and I’ll buy the first round or two. Well, provided the captain pays me ahead of time.”
Between the offer and my halfhearted joke, he seemed in slightly better spirits. Before we dwelt on it much longer though, I asked, “Speaking of the captain, is he in his quarters?”
Vendurro replied, “Yup, that he is. Returned a while back. Told me to make sure he was left good and alone. Figure he’s fighting off whatever it is he fights now that Lloi ain’t here to spell him. Plus, he didn’t seem like he was all too pleased about how that parley with the baron played out. Guessing you should give him some time, unless you like dodging pitchers or platters.”
“Well,” I replied, choosing my words carefully, “I can’t say that I do. But there’s something. . . that requires his attention. And I think he’ll thank me for rousing him. Well, after he screams or throws something at my head.”
Vendurro thought about it for a few moments, then fished the key out of his belt pouch. “Better you than me. Hoping you’re right about it being all fire important, though. Getting real thin on company scribes in these parts, too.” He took the last steps toward the door.
I have always been a study of the way people walk. Their posture, stride, the swing of the arms, the tilt of the head, if they are rigid or relaxed, pigeon-toed. Posture and gait can be very telling, saying a lot about what the person has endured, attitude, mood, mobility, quickness. You can usually tell a fresh limp from an old injury that the person has become so accustomed to they hardly notice.
When I met Vendurro, he strode as if each leg was trying to outdo the other in pushing him off the ground, a springy, rambunctious, youthful gait. But now, he walked as if he were twenty years older, hadn’t slept in days, and was wearing lead boots. Which wasn’t surprising, given his loss, but I wondered in time if he would ever fully recover that bounce, or if someone who met him in a year or two would never have the chance to see him that carefree.
Vendurro unlocked the door and I thanked him as we stepped inside. He sat down on a stool near the door after locking it again, and watched as I took a few steps toward the captain’s chamber and then hesitated. Once I told Braylar what I knew, there would be no untelling it. It was tempting to walk to my room instead, or even back out to the Fair, under the pretense that I simply was following Vendurro’s advice not to disturb him, but I knew if I did that I might lose the nerve to go through with it at all. So, with a quick look back at Vendurro, who shook his head and mimed ducking quickly, I knocked quietly on the captain’s door.
I didn’t hear anything. No raspy threats or pejoratives, no stirring at all, really. I rapped on the door again, louder this time, and waited, but still nothing. I looked back at the young sergeant, who only shrugged, and then I tried the door, expecting to find it locked. But it creaked open as I pushed. I poked my head in, ready to pull it back if anything came flying. The interior was dim, heavy curtains mostly blocking out the horn blinds and the last day’s sunlight beyond them, and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust.
I called out the captain’s name, and still hearing nothing, walked inside and pushed the door shut behind me. I saw his form on the bed, lying on his back, and slowly made my way closer. While the room was too dim to make out much, I saw his chest rising and falling slowly. Also that he was holding Bloodsounder with both hands on his stomach, the way a drunk might cradle the empty flask or leather bottle that had done him in.
I called out his name again, and still no response, physical or otherwise. It appeared he had sunk into his depths again, and this time without Lloi to rescue him. I sat down heavily on a bench against the wall, not worried that it scraped loudly when I did. Captain Killcoin didn’t stir at all.
In the Green Sea, he said each time was a little different, that it was impossible to gauge his response to the stolen memories that must have been flooding into him now. Perhaps this condition was temporary. I was reluctant to head back to the common room to tell Vendurro—certainly he’d seen his captain laid low like this before, so it wouldn’t come as a shock, but I doubted it would be welcome news either.
But from my experience in the steppe, it was unlikely I was going to do any good sitting there. I had no skills to assist him, and my presence surely wasn’t any kind of relief, even if he felt it at all. So I sat there, unsure what to do. I waited for a while, my anxiety growing by the moment, especially as I had little enough to distract myself with. Braylar’s room was small enough, and little had changed since we left it earlier in the day. Someone, no doubt a terrified boy or girl, had swept up the mess and removed the remnants of the ale, probably at Vendurro’s behest. Besides some chests and clothes on top of them, and the table and chairs near the bed, the only other object in the room was the long container we’d lugged and stowed away for so many days, the same that the captain appeared determined to protect at all costs.
Looking at it, I still wondered at the whole business. Even given the Anjurians’ superstitious nature and how much stock they put in ceremony and pomp, it still seemed decidedly peculiar the absence of royal vestments would be alarming enough to cause uproar or upheaval of any kind. Obviously the Syldoon had several schemes in play in this region, and the stolen vestments weren’t central to their machinations. Their play on Baron Brune and High Priest Henlester proved that, and for all I knew, other games were being played as well.
But it still struck me as odd that they would go to such lengths to steal and transport something that was peripheral (at best) to their major plans here, especially since I doubted such maneuvering was going to prove all that fruitful, and I’m sure the Syldoon soldiers in their charge must have shared those doubts. The Boy King’s reign was off to a rocky start, given that his regent was hardly loved, and there was such contentious blood between the young monarch and so many of his barons, something inherited from the king so recently buried. Perhaps those inclined to be critical could point to the missing trappings and robes as one more sign that the boy wasn’t fit to rule, or that his reign would only end in calamity. But while I was hardly an expert on court politics, that still seemed somewhat shaky to me. Even with all the importance attached to the rituals of ascension.
Perhaps you simply had to be Anjurian to appreciate the finer points. Perhaps some missing robes were enough to undermine an already rickety transition of power and title. Who could say?
I’d only read about such a transfer, as old King Xefron had reigned for at least forty years, long enough to outlast the war with the Syldoon and negotiate a truce, but not long enough to ensure his heir would inherit a stable kingdom or had the prowess and acuity to manage it. Were the robes and whatnot ancient? Surely they wouldn’t want a new monarch to appear in public with tattered vestments, yellowed and threadbare. Hardly an inspiring image. But then again, maybe that was part of the ceremony, the cloth that so many ancestors had worn, ugly as it might have been, signifying that a legitimate succession was occurring. But just how old were they? Who had been the first to wear them? They must have been in a vastly different style and cut from the current royal fashion.
Before I’d thought it through, I found myself kneeling before the container, casting a quick look back at Braylar’s unmoving form before pulling the canvas back.
A lock. Of course there was a lock. I nearly sat back down on the bench, but my curiosity was fully roused now. While a large part of me knew doing anything else was pure foolishness, I really wanted to see the vestments, just once. I would probably never have another opportunity like this. And I told myself I already knew what was inside, so there was no harm in taking a quick peek at the contents. So I walked over to the clothes, found Braylar’s belts and pouches, and picked out the one that I was sure contained the long key.
I was breathing fast as I fit the key into the lock. The tumblers were well oiled, but still clicked loudly enough I worried Vendurro must have heard. But he was doubtless trying to put his grief in the ground, and surely I’d hear voices if anyone else returned.
With the lock undone, I lifted the lid, which was less well oiled, and creaked loudly. Even in the dim light, it took only a moment to realize that there weren’t clothes inside at all. Not a one, not a stitch. Instead, there were countless scrolls of various sizes, some large and bound by tiny chains, others smaller and secured by leather cords, or a few with silk ribbons, and there were several cracked leather tubes that I assumed contained still more. Some scrolls had thick wooden rollers on each end, and even those had distinct differences, a few being plain and simple, others with elaborate designs carved into wood that seemed stained various colors. Some scrolls appeared to be papyrus, others thicker parchment that looked so old I feared to even breathe too close lest they crumble into dust. There were clay and waxed tablets in the container as well.
I’d been breathing fast before, but now I stopped altogether. These looked to have been gathered from a number of places, and spanned the ages. What was this?
“I hadn’t realized the Fair was canceled today. Pity.”
I dropped the lid and it slammed shut on my fingers. It was all I could do not to howl in pain.
With his voice unused for hours, it was even more coarse and raspy, but there was no mistaking the fact that Captain Killcoin was indeed awake, and not swept under the currents of stolen memories.
I pulled my fingers clear, stood up, and turned to face him. I felt like a child again, caught by my mother stealing a coin from her small purse. The blood rushed to my face, and I heard my heart pounding in my ears, both from hot embarrassment, fear, and also anger from having been deceived again. “There are no royal vestments.”
Braylar was sitting up in bed and it was difficult to read his expression in that light. How he had moved so quietly, especially without rattling the chains of the flail, was a mystery. He set Bloodsounder on the bed and clapped three times, slowly. “Oh, deftly done, Arki. Truly. Caught literally red-handed—I hope it leaves a deep bruise, by the way—and you have the gall to lay an implied accusation at my feet. Very nice redirection. There might be hope for you yet.”
Shame, fear, and anger coiled tighter. With my voice as controlled as I could make it to mask all three, I asked, “Do you ever tell the truth?”
He laughed then, followed immediately by a cough. “As seldom as I can manage, and only when other recourses are exhausted. Or as it suits my purpose. Which is rare enough, but noteworthy.”
“But why? Why the story about stealing robes? Why did you tell me anything at all?”
Braylar rose slowly, and it was obvious now that his stupor was due to ale, as he teetered just slightly. He must have managed to keep some down without vomiting. “I have a question of my own, more pressing as it happens—where are the flagons? I don’t recall sending them away. Is this your doing, because you will have more to answer for that heinous crime than the transgression of opening a locked box. Oh. Yes. I will take the key back now. Just after you snap the lock shut again.”
I did as he bade and walked toward him slowly, feeling unsteady on my feet as well. Fear seemed the only strand left now.
“Come now, I’m not some brutish Grass Dog to cut off half your hand. Frankly, I’m so utterly stunned at your initiative of late—or utterly drunk at last, I’m not entirely certain—that I find myself more amused than enraged. But I can’t promise how long that shall last.” He snapped his finger. “The key.”
I handed it to him, happy he let me take my hand and fingers back whole and unbroken.
Braylar said, “As to your query, I wanted to see if word about stolen vestments started circulating, or if you carried the tale yourself to unwholesome ears.”
“So it was a test? A trap?”
“Oh, yes. A testy trap.”
“You had me followed then?”
“Well, it would not have been much of a test if I couldn’t monitor the outcome, now would it?”
I stood there, stunned, wondering if my tail had seen the young Hornman, or my reaction to him, anyway. “And?” I asked, slowly, quietly.
“Well, if you had run to the good baron, you can be sure this conversation would have a much different tenor. I had hoped you would prove yourself leal, and you have. Well, until you broke into my things, that is.”
I looked back at the chest, barely trusting my voice. “What are these documents then?”
He dropped the key into his pouch and closed it. “My permissive mood is passing. Leave me. Now. And send in more ale. Immediately.”
While I had countless other burning questions, I knew I’d used up as much goodwill as the captain was likely to offer. And while I’d come into the room initially to tell him about the Hornman, that suddenly seemed the worst idea I’d ever come up with.
I turned to go, and Braylar rasped, “Oh, and the next time you filch something from me, young scribe, you can be sure I will batter you to the floor, kick your ribs in, and spit on your wailing face. If I am feeling permissive. And worse if I am not. Are we clear?”
Yes, now was not the time for admissions of any kind. It appeared Mulldoos had been right about this being my lucky day. Without turning around, I nodded and left the captain in his dim chamber as fast as my feet could carry me.