Exclusive excerpt from Tad Williams' SHADOWRISE


Thanks to Tad Williams, his lovely wife Deborah, and his editor Betsy Wollheim at Daw Books, here's an exclusive extract from the forthcoming Shadowrise. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Enjoy!
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Barrick Eddon. What a strange, strange name. For a moment Qinnitan could not understand why it ran through her head as she lay in the dark, over and over like the words to one of the prayers her father had taught her when she was a child. Barrick. Barrick Eddon. Barrick

Then the dream came flooding back. She tried to sit up, but little Pigeon was sprawled against her, tangled with her, and it would be too difficult to pry herself loose without waking him.
What did it mean, that vision? She had seen the flame-haired boy several times in dreams, but this last time it had been different: although she could not remember everything they had said to each other, they had shared what she remembered as a true conversation. But why had such a gift been given to her, if it truly was a gift? What did the gods intend? If the vision came from the sacred bees that she had served, the Golden Hive of Nushash, shouldn’t one of her friends from those days, like Duny, have come to her in dream instead? Why some northern boy she had never met or even seen in waking life?

Still, she could not put Barrick Eddon out of her mind, and not only because she finally knew his name. She had felt his despair as if it were her own -- not as she sensed Pigeon’s unhappiness, but as if she could truly feel the stranger’s heart, as if the same blood somehow flowed through both of them. But that was impossible, of course…

Qinnitan felt Pigeon shift again and looked up into the blackness. She didn’t even know what time it was, night or morning, since their cabin had no windows and the noises of the crew outside did not give much away: she hadn’t yet learned the shipboard routine well enough to know the different watches by their voices and calls.

How she longed for some light! The sailors wouldn’t let her have a lamp for fear she would burn herself up, which was foolish. Qinnitan did not care much about her own life -- certainly she would give it up gladly if that was the only thing that would keep her out of the hands of Sulepis -- but she would not sacrifice the boy while there was even a thin hope of saving him.

Still, a candle or lamp would make the long hours of the night go faster. She could only sleep so much – although Pigeon, it seemed, could sleep anytime and as much as he wished. But Qinnitan would have preferred to have something to look at when she could not sleep. Even better would be a book – Baz’u Jev or some other poetry, anything to take her mind away from her situation.

But that would not happen, at least not as long as their captor was in charge. He was cruel and clever and seemed to have no heart whatsoever. She had tried everything -- innocence, flirtation, childish terror; all had left him unmoved. How could she hope to trick a man like that, a man of cold stone? But neither could she give up.

Light. The smallest things suddenly loomed so large when they could not be obtained. Light. Something to read. Freedom to walk where she wanted. Freedom from the terror of torment and death at the hands of a mad king. Gifts that most people scarcely knew they had, but which Qinnitan would value more than all the gold in the world.

But at the moment, she just wished she had a lamp…

An idea came to her then – horrifying, but impossible to dislodge once it had arrived. Pigeon moaned in his sleep and squeezed her arm as though he could sense what she was thinking, but Qinnitan scarcely noticed him. The ship rose and fell at anchor, its timbers creaking softly as she lay in the lightless cabin with the boy clutched to her, scheming how they would either escape or die.

* * *

Daikonas Vo had been up before the dawn, as was his wont. He had never needed much sleep, which was a good thing: the house of his childhood, with its constant coming and going of male visitors and its drunken parties, had never provided much.

He had spoken with the ship’s captain as well as the optimarch, the leader of the soldiers on the ship, waking them both in their cabins before the first light of dawn had touched the clouds overhead and impressing on them that it would be hard to say which would be worse for them if anything happened to the girl while he was gone – the wrath of the autarch or the anger of Vo himself. Neither man liked him, but then what man did? What was important was that he had the autarch’s commission. Even better, he had seen the glimmer of fear in both men, better hidden in the captain’s angry stare than in the optimarch’s (who only outranked Vo himself by a few measures) but still there, still visible. He trusted that fear even more than he trusted their fear of the autarch. Sulepis was indeed fearsome, but he was far away. Vo was right here and he wanted them to remember that he would be coming back by nightfall.

He clambered up from the boat onto the dock and walked away without looking back, leaving the rowers to shake their heads and make the sign of pass-evil. Vo reveled in his unpopularity. It was one thing back in his own troop, when he had to live with the same men for years. He had not wished to provoke such enmity that they might all decide to band together and stab him in his sleep. But on shipboard, where he was outranked by several and had only his commission from the autarch to command respect, he wanted to keep them all at arm’s distance. The greatest threat, after all, came not from obvious enemies but from purported allies. That was how people could be caught off-guard. That was how kings and autarchs were assassinated.

Agamid rose up before him in three points, the trio of hills that were its fame, which looked down on the port city nestled in the foothills below the highest hill and sprawled all the way down to the edge of the broad bay. Even at dawn the place was bustling already, its roads full of wagons coming up from the docks toward the bazaar with the morning’s catch of fish and the first goods from the trading vessels that had docked during the night. Oxen lowing, men calling to each other, children screeching and laughing as they were chased out of the way -- it was exactly the kind of lively scene that made Vo wish some kind of massive ice storm would descend from the north and freeze everything, cover all the lands in a blanket of cold silence. That would be worth seeing! All these yammering, pop-eyed faces struck motionless like fish in an icy pond, and nothing to hear but the sweet, inhuman song of the wind.

Vo made his way from market stall to market stall, asking the owners where he might find an apothecary called Kimir, whose name one of the sailors had remembered from an earlier voyage and a bad case of the pox. Some of them were angry to be interrupted in their preparations for the day by someone who did not even mean to spend money, but a look into Vo’s cold eyes quickly made them respectful and eager to help. At last he found the shop in a row of dark, vine-tangled houses a few hundreds steps up the first hill, on the back edge of the bazaar.

The shop itself was exactly what he had expected, ceiling cobwebbed with strings of hanging leaves, flowers, fruits, branches, and roots, floor covered with baskets, boxes, and clay pots, some of them stopped with wax or even lead. Beside the table against one wall stood a chest that was taller than a man and had dozens of tiny drawers, by far the most expensive piece of furniture in the room. Perched beside it on a stool was a lanky, bearded older man in a dirty robe who wore the black conical hat common in this part of the world. He looked up briefly from the contents of the drawer he was examining when Vo walked in, but did not otherwise greet his new customer.

“You are Malamenas Kimir?” Vo asked.

The old man nodded slowly, as if he had only just realized it himself. “So they say – but then, they say much that is untrue as well. How can I help you, stranger?”

Vo pushed the door closed firmly behind him. The old man looked up again, this time with mild interest. “Is there anyone else in the store?” Vo asked.

“Nobody else ever works with me except my sister,” said Kimir, smiling slightly. “And she is older than I am, so if you mean to rob me or murder me I don’t think you have much to fear.”

“Is she here now?”

The older man shook his head. “No. Home with a bit of a pain in her back. I gave her a mild tincture of cowbane for it. Excellent stuff, but it promotes belly cramps and flatulence so I told her not to bother coming in.” He tilted his head, stared at Vo like a bird viewing something shiny. “So. I repeat my earlier question, sir -- how can I help you?”

Vo moved closer. Most people could not help shying back from Daikonas Vo when he approached them, but the apothecary seemed unmoved. “I need help. There is…something in me. It is meant to kill me if I do not do what my master wants. I am doing my best to serve him, but I fear that even if I do, he may not cure me.”

Kimir nodded. He looked interested. “Ah. Yes, the kind of employer who might do such a thing to guarantee results from his underlings is not necessarily the sort you trust to be suitably grateful afterward. Is it by any chance the Red Serpent Root he forced you to eat? Did he say you had two or three days before the poison would kill you?”

“No. I have had this in me for months.”

“Could it be Aelian’s Fluxative? Did he warn you under no circumstances to eat fish?”

“I have eaten fish many times. There was no such warning.”

“Hmmm. Fascinating. Then you must tell me exactly what happened...”

Daikonas Vo described what happened in the autarch’s throne room, although he did not mention the identity of his master. As he described the death-agonies of the autarch’s cousin, Kimir’s eyes widened and the old man began to grin a wide, yellow grin.

“…And then he told me that it was in my wine as well,” Vo finished. “That if I did not do as he wished, the same thing would happen to me.”

“And no doubt it will,” said Kimir, rubbing his hands together. “Well, well. This is quite wonderful. This gives every sign of being the true basiphae – something I had never thought to see in my lifetime.”

“I want it out,” Vo said. “I do not care what it means to you. If you help me I will reward you. If you try to trick me or betray me I will kill you very painfully.”

Kimir laughed shortly. “Oh, yes, I am certain you would, Master…?” When there was no reply the old man stood. “No one would waste such an…encouragement as that on an unimportant servant with an unimportant task, and no one who could find, afford, and employ the basiphae would hire a clumsy servant for such a task. Oh, I am quite convinced you are a very good killer indeed. Sit here and let me inspect you.”

As he seated himself on the stool, Vo lifted his hand.

“Truly, you need not say it,” the old man told him. “I am quite certain something terrible will happen to me if I make you unhappy in any way.” He touched the side of his nose. “Trust me – I have a long experience of secretive and dangerous customers.”

Malamenas Kimir’s hands moved quickly over Vo’s belly, pushing and squeezing. The old man moved on to his face, pulling back his eyelids, smelling his breath, examining the color of his tongue. By the time he had finished asking Vo a series of questions about the quality of his stools, urine, and phlegm, an hour had passed and Vo could hear the temple bells ringing the end of morning prayers. His prisoners must be awake by now, which meant the little Hive bitch would be thinking of ways to make trouble.

“I cannot wait forever,” he said, rising to his feet. “Give me something to kill this thing inside me.”

The old man looked at him with shrewd eyes. “It cannot be done.”

“What?” Vo’s fingers stretched toward the knife in his waistband.

“There are limitations to violence, you know,” Kimir said calmly. “But I do not aim to waste my last breath explaining them if you are going to kill me.”

“Speak.”

“Make up your mind.”

Vo let go of the knife-hilt. “Speak.”

“Limitations to violence. Here are two. The only thing you could do to poison the basiphae creature inside you, although it is as tiny as a fern seed, would poison you, too. That is a limitation, is it not?”

“You said two. Speak. I do not like games.”

The old man grinned sourly. “Here is the second. If you killed me, you would never have learned what I can do for you.” He got up and walked to the tall chest, then began to search through its many drawers. “Somewhere in here,” he said. “Fox’s clote, no, herb of Perikal, no, Zakkas’ wort, squill – ah! I had wondered where that squill got to.” He turned. “Do you know, the last fellow in here who kept touching his knife the way you do wound up buying enough monkshood from me to kill an entire family, including grandparents, uncles, cousins, and servants. I’ve often wondered what happened to it…” Kimir stopped rummaging and pulled out a fat black bottle the length of Vo’s index finger. “Here we are. Tigersbane out of far Yanedan. The farmers there use it to poison their spears when a tiger -- a creature even larger and more dangerous than a lion -- is stalking their village. It is made from a mountain flower called the Ice Lily. It will kill a man in moments.”

Now the knife came out, although Vo did not yet leave his seat. “What nonsense is this. I don’t want to die -- do you, old man?”

Kimir shook his head. “The Yanedani dip their spears in the paste like eating chickpea butter with pieces of bread. For a man, even a mighty man like yourself, only the smallest, smallest amount is necessary.”

“Necessary for what? You said this thing inside me could not be killed.”

“No, but it can be…lulled. It is a living thing, not pure magic, and so it is susceptible to the apothecary’s art. A very, very tiny taste of tigersbane every day will help to keep the creature… asleep. As a toad sleeps in the dried mud, waiting for the spring rains.”

“Huh. And how do I know it will not poison me?” Vo waved the long, broad blade of his knife at the old man. “You will show me how much to take. You will take it first.”

Malamenas Kimir shrugged. “Gladly. But I have not taken it in a while. I fear I will not get much work done this afternoon.” He grinned again. “But I am sure in your gratitude you will pay me enough to make it worthwhile closing the shop for the day.” He worried the stopper out of the black glass bottle, then began searching around the store for something.

“And how do you know I won’t kill you when I have what I want, old man?”

The old man returned with a silver needle held between his fingertips. “Because this poison is very rare. You could go to a hundred places and not find it. If you let me live I will get more for you, and the next time you need it you will find it here. I do not know your name and would not tell tales on a customer if I did, so there is no advantage to you in harming me.”

Vo stared at him for a moment. “Show me how much to take.”

“Only a drop as big as you can lift on the point of this needle – never bigger than a radish seed.” Kimir dipped the needle into the jar and withdrew it with a tiny ball of glistening, red-amber liquid clinging to the tip. Kimir put it on his tongue and sucked it off the needle. “Once every day. But beware,” he said. “A great deal more at one time will stop even a strong heart like yours.”

Vo sat and watched him for some time, nearly an hour, but the old man showed little difference in his behavior. With Vo’s permission he even began tidying his shop, although he seemed to work in a slightly lackadaisical way.

“It can almost be pleasant,” Kimir said at one point. “I have not tasted it for a long time. I had forgotten. My lips feel a bit strange, though.”

Vo was not interested in how the old man’s lips felt. When enough time had passed that he felt sure no trick was being played, he took a slightly smaller quantity for himself and licked the needle clean.

“And this will keep the thing inside me asleep?”

“If you keep taking the tigersbane, yes,” Kimir told him. “What you have there should last you until the end of summer. It cost me two silver imperials.” Again that grin, like a fox watching a family of fat quail. “I will let you have it for that much, because you will be a returning customer.”

Vo slapped the money down on the table and walked out. The old man did not even watch him go, so busy was he changing the arrangement of the drawers in his apothecary chest.

Vo felt a little odd, but no worse than after drinking a mug of beer quickly on a hot day. He would get used to it. It would not affect his alertness, he would see to that. And if it did, well, he would take an even smaller dose. There was still the chance that when he delivered the girl to Sulepis, the autarch would recognize his usefulness and reward him by removing the creature from Vo’s innards. Who was to say that good things might not happen? If the autarch meant to rule two entire continents then he would need strong, clever men. He would find no better viceroy than Daikonas Vo, a man not bullied by his fleshy appetites like most of his brethren. A country of his own to rule would be an interesting experience indeed…

Vo stopped, aware that something was wrong, but not sure for a moment what it was. He stood on a promontory where the main bazaar road curved out and the hill dropped away on one side, giving a view over the harbor. The morning sun was now high in the sky, and the sky was cloudless…but clouds hung just above the water.

Smoke.

He stared. His feeling of near-contentment abruptly fell away, replaced by anger and something that might even have been fear.

Down in the harbor, the Xixian ship – Vo’s ship – was on fire.

* * *

The sun had been up for an hour at least as far as Qinnitan could tell, and the nameless man seemed to have left the boat, or at least he had not come in to examine them with his empty expression, which was what he had done every other day, starting first about dawn.

So, gone…perhaps. If so, it might be the last time they would be out of his reach until he delivered them into the autarch’s golden-fingered hands. If she was ever to try an escape, now was the moment.

She banged loudly at the door, ignoring Pigeon’s look of concern. At last the bolt lifted and one of the guards peered in. She told him what she wanted. He frowned uneasily, then hurried off to get his commanding officer.

Two more officers came and went before the captain himself appeared, at which point she knew for certain that the nameless man was off the boat. It was obvious that the captain still feared him, though, from the anxious way he dealt with Qinnitan: clearly he knew little about her except that she was being taken to the autarch.

“I am a priestess of the Hive,” she told him for the third time. “I must be allowed to pray to Nushash today. It is the Day of the Black Sun.” She hoped the invented name sounded suitably ominous.

“And you think I am going to let you out on deck for that?” He shook his head. “No. No and no.”

“You would bring bad luck down on your ship? Deny the god his prayers on this day of all days?”
“No. I would have to surround you with guards and to be honest, I dare not show so many men here in this harbor. We are not at home, after all.” He realized he had said more than he should and scowled at her, as if it were Qinnitan’s fault that he had a lax tongue. “No. You may pray until you are hoarse, but only in your cabin.”

“But I cannot pray without sight of the sun. It is an offense against the god!” Now she said a real prayer, begging that he would think he had come up with the idea on his own. “I must have either a view of the all-conquering sun -- or a fire. I have neither.”

“A fire? Ridiculous. I suppose you could have a lamp. Or a candle. Yes, that would be safer. Would a candle be enough to keep the god sweet?”

“You mock the gods at your own risk,” she said severely, but inside she was almost dizzy with relief. “A lamp would be sufficient.”

“No, a candle. That or nothing, and I will take my risks with the gods.”

Qinnitan did her best to look like a spoiled priestess used to getting her own way. “Oh, very well,” she said at last. “If that is the best you can do.”

“Tell the gods I did not hinder you,” he said. “Be honest! You must always tell the truth to Heaven.”

* * *

After a feverish, frustrating wait, a sailor brought her a candle in a clay cup. It was a little thing, only slightly bigger than her thumb, its flame small as a fingernail. When they were alone again she set it on the floor and began to tear her blanket into long strips. Pigeon sat up, his eyes round, and made a questioning sign with his fingers. She smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring way. “I’ll show you. For now, just help me. In pieces this wide.”

When the blanket had been reduced to a couple of dozen strips, she pulled the water jug out from under the bed. She had been saving her water from last night, drinking only a few drops, and now she handed it to Pigeon. “Start pushing the pieces of blanket in this – like so.” She shoved one in the jug and pulled it out, then wrung the excess water back into the ewer. “Now you do it. Just a few, then save the rest of the dry pieces.”

While Pigeon, puzzled but willing, began to dip the scraps of wool, Qinnitan took a tiny perfume bottle she had been given by one of the other girls back in Hierosol. She pried out the stopper and poured it onto a piece of blanket she had saved for herself, then stood up to cram it into a crack between the planks of the ceiling. As the boy looked on in dawning terror, she lifted the candle up and held it to the perfume-soaked rag. A moment later a transparent blossom of blue flame sprang from it.

“Down,” she told Pigeon. “Down on the floor. Hold this over your mouth – like so.” She took one of the soaked strips of blanket and held it against his mouth. Like every other Hive priestess she had learned the story of the terrible fire some seventy years before, when the tapestries in the great hive rooms had caught fire and most of the bees – as well as many of the priestesses and acolytes – had been killed. Ancient Mother Mudry, a young woman then and the only person still alive in Qinnitan’s day from that time, had survived the horrible conflagration because she had just come from the bath with wet clothes and wet hair, which she had pulled over her mouth. This had kept her alive long enough in the choking, blinding smoke for her to find her way to freedom. But now Qinnitan and Pigeon had an even more difficult task.

“We must stay alive until someone breaks down the door,” she told the boy, speaking loudly so he could hear her through the muffling wet cloth. The flame was beginning to blacken the beams where the cloth was wedged and showed every sign of staying lit. When it got to the outer boards and the tar that made them waterproof she hoped the flames would be impossible to stop. “Stay down low, near the ground, and breathe only through the wet cloth. When it gets dry and you can taste the smoke, dip the cloth back in here.” She showed him the jug. “Now lie down!”

O, brave Nushash, she whispered, then realized that even though she had just set the blaze herself, praying to the god of fire might not be the ideal choice. Was the autarch not the child of Nushash, after all? Qinnitan was thwarting his will – perhaps Nushash would not take kindly to that.

Suya the Dawnflower. Of course – Suya had been stolen from her husband’s side and forced to wander the world. She of all the gods would know and understand.

Please, O Dawnflower, Qinnitan prayed, clutching the shivering child beside her as smoke began to obscure the ceiling of the small cabin. Already she could smell it through the wet wool, but she wanted to save the water – only the gods knew how long they would have to wait. Give us your help at this hour. Show me your grace and your favor. Let me protect this child. Help us to escape the people who would harm us. Show us your well-known mercy

Prayer finished, she closed her eyes tight against the stinging smoke and waited.

* * *

She shoved the scrap of blanket all the way down to the bottom of the jug, but it seemed to come out even more dry than it had gone in. The piece she clutched to her own face was bone-dry, too – all she could smell was smoke. Beside her, Pigeon was coughing hard, his tiny body shaking and straining in a way that made Qinnitan feel her heart would break. She could no longer see the door through the thick, coiling clouds of gray.

I don’t mind dying… she told Suya and any other kindly gods who might be listening, and I don’t care what happens to me. But please, if the boy must die too, take good care of him in Heaven. He is innocent.

Poor Pigeon. What a dreadful life the gods had given him – his tongue taken, his manhood too, and then forced to run for his life simply for the crime of being in the wrong place when the autarch had one of his enemies murdered. It isn’t…isn’t…fair… Poor

* * *

Qinnitan shook her head. She could see almost nothing now, and had to strain to get any breath into her burning lungs. Pigeon was barely moving. At the same time a booming pressure echoed through her, as if she were underwater and some ancient, sunken merchantman at the bottom of the ocean was tolling its ship’s bell.

Boooom. Boooom. Boooom.

Qinnitan thought it was strange to be under the water. It hurt to breathe, but not in the way she would have guessed -- and the water was so murky. Sand. Someone or something had stirred up the sand along the ocean bottom until it swirled in clouds around her, flecked with gold, with light, with little bits of starshine like the sky at night the dark the beckoning darkness…

Booom! And then something splintered and the water…the air…smoke…swirled and flames leaped above her and shapes staggered into the murky cabin – dark, shouting shapes that flickered with red light like devils capering on the floors of hell. Qinnitan could only stare and wonder what was happening as strong hands grabbed her and pulled her away from Pigeon. She was carried up the stairs outside the shattered doorway, jouncing like a saddle with a broken strap.

She found a little voice, but it was faint as a whisper. “Get the boy! Get Pigeon! Don’t leave him behind!’

Before she could see whether the soldiers were bringing the mute child, she was dumped unceremoniously on the deck at the top of the stairs. Fire was everywhere, not just crackling in the deck but on the mast and even higher, flames capering in the sails and dancing across the rigging like wicked demon-children. Some of the sailors were throwing buckets of water onto the blaze but it was like throwing pebbles at a sandstorm.

Another soldier dumped Pigeon beside her. The boy was alive, moving a little, but almost entirely insensible. She stared dully at the chaos for a moment, the men running, screaming, bits of flaming rope smacking down from above like the hellwhip of Xergal, and then remembered what she had done. What horror her little candle had caused! Qinnitan struggled up onto her knees. No point trying to wake Pigeon : she would let the water do that job, or else finish the job the fire had just failed to do.

This time I’ll die for certain before I let anyone take him again

She waited a few more stuttering heartbeats until the men nearest her had their backs turned, then she lifted the boy’s limp form as best she could and stumbled to the nearby rail. She leaned her back against it, heaved Pigeon up until his weight was across her shoulder and chest, then clung to him as his momentum carried them both over.

The fall took longer than she expected, time enough for her to wonder if dying in cold water would be better than dying in fire. Then they hit the water hard and green darkness closed around them like a fist.

7 commentaires:

Khaled said...

Which Tad Williams book is a good starting place for someone who hasn't read his work? -Thanks

Anonymous said...

None! Tad Williams is some of the worst shit published. I still can't believe that I read half of the Otherland series. To think I spent my time reading that horse shit. Tad Williams fucking sucks!

Goofilin said...

Relax Anon.... I didn't like Otherland either...

BUT, the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series is quite awesome.... just get beyond the initial 200 pages!

Sneaks said...

Personally I have enjoyed the work I've read. I was introduced to Tad when I picked up Shadowmarch at the library one day when looking for a new Sci-Fi/Fantasy book to read. I'm glad we're getting to read bits of Shadowrise. It's been a long time coming and well worth the wait in my opinion.

Lord Stark said...

Tad Williams published good stuff - Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and even the Otherland series. He is a bit long winded and it takes some time getting used to his style.

The Shadowmarch novel though was a sad joke - a blatant rip-off of George Martin's A Game of Thrones. A castle in the North with a Wall nearby, even the heraldic matches those of House Stark.

Steer well clear of this one.

Woody said...

Wow, that's quite harsh, Lord Stark. I suspect Mr. Martin doesn't share your feelings-- you may not have noticed that one of his lesser noble houses is a sly homage to Mr. Williams and his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series.

In my opinion, Shadowmarch is actually more accessible and less labyrinthine than Martin's work (which I also enjoy), and has little enough in common with it beyond the typical tropes of the genre. Enjoy it. :)

Anonymous said...

There are a few similarities to Martins'work, but then, Martin himself states that Williams was a big source of inspiration to the Songs of Fire and Ice, so, yeah...

Anyway, the Memory Sorrow Thorn books are among my all time favourites, so if you like long, involved, and faintly depressing, then I'd strongly recommend it!