Excerpt from Steven Erikson's BAUCHELAIN AND KORBAL BROACH


It took some effort, but Steven Erikson's publicist at Tor Books managed to sort out the rights issue so we could post this extract from Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (USA, Europe) This omnibus will be released on September 15th in the US and the book will contain three novellas:

- Blood Follows (Canada, USA, Europe)
- The Lees of Laughter's End (Canada, USA, Europe)
- The Healthy Dead (Canada, USA, Europe)

The excerpt is from Blood Follows. . .

Enjoy!
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The Bells pealed across the lamentable city of Moll, clamoring along the crooked, narrow alleys, buffeting the dawn-risers hurriedly laying out their wares in the market rounds. The bells pealed, tumbling over the grimy cobblestones, down to the wharfs and out over the bay’s choppy, gray waves. Shrill iron, the bells pealed with the voice of hysteria.

The terrible, endless sound echoed deep inside the slate-covered barrows that humped the streets, tilted the houses and cramped the alleyways in every quarter of Moll. Barrows older than the Lamentable City itself, each long ago riven through and tunnelled in fruitless search for plunder, each now remaining like a pock, the scarring of some ancient plague. The bells reached through to the scattered, broken bones bedded down in hollowed-out logs, amidst rotted furs and stone tools and weapons, bone and shell beads and jewellery, the huddled forms of hunting dogs, the occasional horse with its head removed and placed at its master’s feet, the skull with the spike-hole gaping between the left eye and ear. Echoing among the dead, bestirring the shades in their centuries-long slumber.

A few of these dread shades rose in answer to that call, and in the darkness moments before dawn they’d lifted themselves clear of the slate and earth and potsherds, scenting the presence of ...someone, something. They’d then returned to their dark abodes-and for those who saw them, for those who knew something of shades, their departure seemed more like flight.

In Temple Round, as the sun edged higher over the hills inland, the saving wells, fountains and bowl-stones overflowed with coin: silver and gold glinting among the beds of copper. Already crowds gathered outside the high-walled sanctuaries of Burn-relieved and safe under the steamy morning light-there to appease the passing over of sudden death, and to thank the Sleeping Goddess, who slept still. And many a manservant was seen exiting the side-postern of Hood’s Temple, for the rich were ever wont to bribe away the Lord of Death, so that they might awaken to yet another day, gentled of spirit in their soft beds.

It was the monks of the Queen of Dreams for whom the night just past was cause for mourning, with clanging dirge of iron, civilisation’s scarred, midnight face. For that face had a name, and it was Murder. And so the bells rang on, a shroud of fell sound descending upon the port of Moll, a sound cold and harsh that none could escape ....

...while in an alley behind a small estate on Low Merchant Way, a diviner of the Deck of Dragons noisily emptied his breakfast of pomegranites, bread, prunes and watered wine, surrounded by a ring of dogs patiently awaiting theirs.

* * *

The door slammed behind Emancipor Reese, rattling the flimsy drop-latch a moment before sagging back down on its worn leather hinges. He stared at the narrow, musty hallway in front of him. The niche set waist-high on the wall to his right was lit with a lone tallow candle, revealing water-stains and cracked plaster and the tiny stone altar of Sister Soliel, heaped with wilted flower-heads. On the back wall at the far end, six paces from where he stood, where the passage opened on both sides, hung a black-iron broadsword-cross-hilted and bronze-pommeled, most likely rusted into its verdigrised scabbard. Emancipor’s lined, sun-scoured face fell, becoming heavy around his eyes as he gazed on the weapon of his youth. He felt every one of his six, maybe seven decades.

His wife had gone silent in the kitchen, halfway through heating the wet sand, the morning’s porridge pot and the plates on the wood counter at her side still awaiting cleansing; and he could see her in his mind, motionless and massive and breathing her short, shallow, increasingly nervous breaths.

"Is that you, ’Mancy?"

He hesitated. He could do it, right now-back outside, out into the streets-he knew how to sound depths, he knew knots-all kinds of knots. He could stand a pitching deck. He could leave this damned wart of a city, leave her and the squalling, simpering brats they’d begetted. He could . . . escape. Emancipor sighed. "Yes, dear."

Her voice pitched higher. "Why aren’t you at work?"

He drew a deep breath. "I am now. . . " he paused, then finished with loud, distinct articulation: "unemployed."

"What did you say?"

"Unemployed."

"Fired? You’ve been fired? You incompetent, stupid-"

"The bells!" he screamed. "The bells! Can’t you hear the bells?"

Silence in the kitchen, then: "The Sisters have mercy! You idiot! Why aren’t you finding work? Get a new job-if you think you can laze around here, seeing our children tossed from their schooling-"

Emancipor sighed. Dear Subly, ever so practical. "I’m on my way, dear."

"Just come back with a job. A good job. The future of our children-"

He slammed the door behind him, and stared out on the street. The bells kept ringing. The air was growing hot, smelling of raw sewage, rotting shellfish, and human and animal sweat. Subly had come close to selling her soul for the tired old house behind him. For the neighbourhood, rather. As far as he could tell, it stank no different from all the other neighbourhoods they’d lived in. Saving perhaps that there was a greater variety among the vegetables rotting in the gutters. ‘Positioning, ’Mancy. It’s all in positioning.’

Across the way Sturge Weaver waddled about the front of his shop, unlocking and folding back the shutters, casting nosy, knowing glances his way over the humped barrow mound that bulged the street between their houses. The lingering fart heard it all. Don’t matter. Subly’ll be finished with the pot and plates in record time, now. Then she’ll be out, gums flapping and her eyes wide as she fished shallow waters for sympathy, and whatnot.

It was true enough that he’d need a new job before the day’s end, or all the respect he’d earned over the last six months would disappear faster than a candle-flame in a hurricane; and that grim label-‘Mancy the Luckless’-would return, the ghost of old in step with his shadow, and neighbours like Sturge Weaver making warding signs whenever their paths crossed.

A new job. It was all that mattered, now. Never mind that some madman stalked the city every night since the season’s turning, never mind that horribly mutilated bodies were turning up every morning-citizens of Lamentable Moll, their eyes blank (when there were eyes) and their faces twisted in a rictus of terror-and their bodies-all those missing parts-Emancipor shivered. Never mind that Master Baltro wouldn’t need a coachman ever again, except for the grave-digger’s bent, white-faced crew and that one last journey to the pit of his ancestors, closing forever the line of his blood.

Emancipor shook himself. If not for the grisly in-between, he almost envied the merchant’s final trip. At least it’d bring silence-not Subly, of course, but the bells. The damned, endless, shrill, nagging bells ....

* * *

Go find the monk on the end of that rope and wring his neck."

The corporal blinked at his sergeant, shifted uneasily under the death-detail’s attire of blue-stained bronze ringed hauberk, lobster-tailed bowl helm, and the heavy leather-padded shoulder-guards. Damn, the lad’s bloody well swimming in all that armour. Not quite succeeding at impressing the onlookers-the short sword at his belt’s still wax-sealed in the scabbard, for Hood’s sake. Guld turned away. "Now, son."

He listened to the lad’s footsteps recede behind him, and glumly watched his detachment enforcing the cordon around the body and the old barrow pit it laid in, keeping at a distance the gawkers and stray dogs, kicking at pigeons and seagulls and otherwise letting what was left of the dead man lie in peace under the fragment of roof-thatch some merciful passerby had thrown over it.

He saw the diviner stumble ash-faced from the other alley. The king’s court magus wasn’t a man of the streets, but the cloth at the knees of his white pantaloons now showed intimate familiarity with the grimy, greasy cobblestones.

Guld had little respect for coddled mages. Too remote from human affairs, bookish and naive and slow to grow up. Ophan was nearing sixty, but he had the face of a toddler. Alchemy at work, of course. In vanity’s name, no less.

"Stul Ophan," Guld called, catching the man’s watery eyes. "You finished your reading, then?" An insensitive question, but they were the kind Guld most liked to ask.

The rotund magus approached. "I did," he said thickly, licking his bluish lips.

A cold art, divining the Deck in the wake of murder. "And?"

"Not a demon, not a Sekull, not a Jhorligg. A man."

Sergeant Guld scowled, adjusting his helmet where the woollen inside trim had rubbed raw his forehead. "We know that. The last street diviner told us that. For this the King grants you a tower in his keep?"

Stul Ophan’s face darkened. "Was the King’s command that brought me here," he snapped. "I’m a court mage. My divinations are of a more . . . " he faltered momentarily, "of a more bureaucratic nature. This raw and bloody murder business isn’t my specialty, is it?"

Guld’s scowl deepened. "You divine by the Deck to tally numbers? That’s a new one on me, Magus."

"Don’t be a fool. What I meant was, my sorceries are in an administrative theme. Affairs of the realm, and such." Stul Ophan looked about, his round shoulders hunching and a shudder taking him as his gaze found the covered body. "This . . . this is foulest sorcery, the workings of a madman-"

"Wait," Guld interjected. "The killer’s a sorceror?"

Stul nodded, his lips twitching. "Powerful in the necromantic arts, skilled in cloaking his trail. Even the rats saw nothing-nothing that stayed in their brains, anyway-"

The rats. Reading their minds has become an art in Moll, with loot hungry warlocks training the damn things and sending them under the streets, into the old barrows, down among the bones of a people so far dead as to be nameless in the city’s memory. The thought soothed him somewhat. There was truth in the world after all, when mages and rats saw so closely eye to eye. And thank Hood for the rat-hunters, the fearless bastards will spit at a warlock’s feet if that spit was the last water on earth.

"The pigeons?" he asked innocently.

"Sleep at night," Stul said, throwing Guld a disgusted look. "I only go so far. Rats, fine. Pigeons . . . ." He shook his head, cleared his throat and looked for a spitoon. Finding none-naturally-he turned and spat on the cobbles. "Anyway, the killer’s found a taste for nobility-"

Guld snorted. "That’s a long stretch, Magus. A distant cousin of a distant cousin. A middling cloth merchant with no heirs-"

"Close enough. The King wants results." Stul Ophan observed the sergeant with an expression trying for contempt. "Your reputation’s at stake, Guld."

"Reputation?" Guld’s laugh was bitter. He turned away, dismissing the mage for the moment. Reputation? My head’s on the pinch-block, and the grey man’s stacking his stones. The noble families are scared. They’re gnawing the King’s wrinkled feet in between the sycophantic kissing. Eleven nights, eleven victims. No witnesses. The whole city’s terrified-things could get out of hand. I need to find the bastard-I need him writhing on the spikes at Palace Gate .... A sorceror, that’s new-I’ve got my clue, finally. He looked down at the merchant’s covered body. These dead don’t talk. That should’ve told me something. And the street diviners, so strangely terse and nervous. A mage, powerful enough to scare the average practitioner into silence. And worse yet, a necromancer-someone who knows how to silence souls, or send them off to Hood before the steam leaves the blood.

Stul Ophan cleared his throat a second time. "Well," he said, "I’ll see you tomorrow morning, then."

Guld winced, then shook himself. "He’ll make a mistake-you’re certain the killer’s a man?"

"Reasonably."

Guld’s eyes fixed on the mage, making Stul Ophan take a step back. "Reasonably? What does that mean?"

"Well, uh, it has the feel of a man, though there’s something odd about it. I simply assumed he made some effort to disguise that-some simple cantrips and the like-"

"Poorly done? Does that fit with a mage who can silence souls and wipe clean the brains of rats?"

Stul Ophan frowned. "Well, uh, no, that doesn’t make much sense-"

"Think some more on it, Magus," Guld ordered, and though only a sergeant of the City Watch, the command was answered with a swift nod.

Then the magus asked, "What do I tell the King?"

Guld hitched his thumbs into his sword-belt. It’d been years since he’d last drawn the weapon, but he’d dearly welcome the chance to do so now. He studied the crowd, the tide of faces pushing the ring of guards into an ever tighter circle. Could be any one of them. That wheezing beggar with the hanging mouth. Those two rat-hunters. That old woman with all the dolls at her belt-some kind of witch, seen her before, at every scene of these murders, and now she’s eager to start on the next doll, the eleventh-questioned her six mornings back. Then again, she’s got enough hair on her chin to be mistaken for a man. Or maybe that dark-faced stranger-armour under his fine cloak, well-made weapon at his belt-a foreigner for certain, since nobody around here uses single-edged scimitars. So, could be any one of them, come to study his handiwork by day’s light, come to gloat over the city’s most experienced guardsman in these sort of crimes. "Tell His Majesty that I now have a list of suspects."

Stul Ophan made a sound in his throat that might have been disbelief.

Guld continued drily, "And inform King Seljure that I found his court mage passably helpful, although I have many more questions for him, for which I anticipate the mage’s fullest devotion of energies in answering my inquiries."

"Of course," Stul Ophan rasped. "At your behest, Sergeant, by the King’s command." He wheeled and walked off to his awaiting carriage.

The sergeant sighed. A list of suspects. How many mages in Lamentable Moll? A hundred? Two hundred? How many real Talents among them? How many coming and going from the trader ships? Is the killer a foreigner, or has someone local turned bad? There are delvings in high sorcery that can twist even the calmest mind. Or has a shade broken free, climbed out nasty and miserable from some battered barrow-any recent deep construction lately? Better check with the Flatteners. Shades? Not their style, though-

The bells clanged wildly, then fell silent. Guld frowned, then recalled his order to the young corporal. Oh damn, did that lad take me literally?

4 commentaires:

Colin said...

I dig it. Hope I win the book.

Anonymous said...

Between which novels in the series should one read each of these? I've read the first three.

Charlie said...

re: anonymous

I'm not entirely sure, but I can't see any harm in reading these books after you've met them in the main storyline. In fact I'd be pretty sure that they're safe to read without having read the main series at all, unless you have a weak bladder...

These books contain some pant-wetting hilarity, of a slightly gruesome nature...

Enjoy!

Pizza said...

Hmmm... I like the look and sounds of this one.