Excerpt from Daniel Abraham's THE DRAGON'S PATH

Thanks to the kind folks at Orbit, here's an exclusive extract from Daniel Abraham's forthcoming The Dragon's Path. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

For those who may have missed them, there are two more extracts from the novel here and here.

Here's the blurb:

Summer is the season of war in the Free Cities.

Marcus wants to get out before the fighting starts. His hero days are behind him and simple caravan duty is better than getting pressed into service by the local gentry. Even a small war can get you killed. But a captain needs men to lead — and his have been summarily arrested and recruited for their swords.

Cithrin has a job to do — move the wealth of a nation across a war zone. An orphan raised by the bank, she is their last hope of keeping the bank’s wealth out of the hands of the invaders. But she’s just a girl and knows little of caravans, war, and danger. She knows money and she knows secrets, but will that be enough to save her in the coming months?

Geder, the only son of a noble house is more interested in philosophy than swordplay. He is a poor excuse for a soldier and little more than a pawn in these games of war. But not even he knows what he will become of the fires of battle. Hero or villain? Small men have achieved greater things and Geder is no small man.

Falling pebbles can start a landslide. What should have been a small summer spat between gentlemen is spiraling out of control. Dark forces are at work, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon’s Path — the path of war



If Geder Palliako hadn't been thinking about his translation, he would have saved himself. The book in question was a speculative essay on the Drowned by a semi-discredited philosopher from Princip C’Annaldé. Geder had found it in a scriptorum in Camnipol, and preparing for the long march south to the free cities, and he had left out a spare pair of boots to make room for it. The dialect was ancient and obscure. The leather binding wasn't original. Its pages were almost brown with age, and the ink was faint.

He loved it.

The waxed cloth of his tent was cheaper than good field leathers, but it kept the worst of the cold at bay. His legs and back ached from riding. His inner thighs were chafed, and he had untied his vest to give his belly some room. His father had the same build. The family curse, he called it. Geder had an hour, perhaps, before he had to sleep, and he was spending it on a folding stool, hunched close over his book, piecing out each word and phrase.

Unlike the animals of the field, humanity need not resort to an abstract, mythological God to discover its reason for being. With the exception of the unmodified, bestial Firstblood, each race of humanity is the artifact of some purpose. The eastern races – Yemmu, Tralgu, Jasuru -- were clearly fashioned as beasts of war; the Raushadam as objects of amusement and entertainment, the Timzinae -- youngest of the races -- as a race of beekeepers or some such light use, the Cinnae, myself included, as the conscious lens of wisdom and philosophy, and so on.

But what of the Drowned? Alone of the races of humanity, the Drowned show design without purpose. Common opinion places these, our lesser siblings, as akin to plants or the slow-moving beasts of the western continents. Their occasional gatherings in tidepools indicate more about the ocean's currents than anything of human will. Some romantics suggest that the Drowned are themselves working on some deep, dragon-inspired plan that continues to unfold even after the death of its planners. A romantic thought, and one which must be forgiven.

Instead, I think it is clear, the Drowned are the clearest example of humanity as artistic expression, and as such--

Or would aesthetic intention be more accurate than artistic expression? Geder rubbed his eyes. It was late. Too late. Tomorrow was another long ride to the south with another day of the same following it. If God was kind, they'd reach the border in a week, spend a day or at worst two choosing the field of battle, a day to crush the local forces, and he could be in a real bed, eating real food, and drinking wine that didn't taste of the skin it had been carried in. If he could only make it that far.

Geder put the book aside. He combed his hair, pleased by the absence of lice. He washed his face and hands, then laced up his vest for the short trek to the latrines as a last stop before bed. Outside his tent, his squire – another gift from his father – slept curled in a ball after the Dartinae fashion, eyes glowing a dull red behind their lids. Beyond him, the army lay on the countryside like a moving city.

Cookfires dotted the nearby hills and filled the air with the smell of lentils. The carts were gathered in the center of the camp, and the mules, horses, and slaves were all in separate corrals beside them. A cold wind blew from the north. It was a good sign. No rain. The moon had crawled halfway up the sky, its crescent offering the idea of light more than actual illumination, so Geder made his way to the latrine carefully.

The essay kept turning itself in his mind. He wished there was someone on the march with whom he could discuss the matter, but speculative essay wasn't considered a manly art. Poetry. Riding. Archery. Swordplay. Even history, if it was done with sufficiently apt turns of phrase. But speculative essay was a guilty pleasure, best hidden from his companions. They laughed at him enough for the size of his belly. No need to give them more stones for their slings. But if not "aesthetic intention" . . . was the Cinnae author really saying that the Drowned were only brought into existence because they made the shoreline pretty?

The latrine was empty, a small cloth tent with two rough planks spanning a pit. Geder took down his hose, his mind still turning on the fine points of the book. He noticed the sweet smell under the reek of shit, but didn't put importance on it. He sat his bare ass on the planks, sighed, and wondered a moment too late why the latrine smelled of sawdust.

The planks gave way, and Geder shrieked as he tipped backwards and down into the foul-smelling swamp of turds and piss. One of the planks bounced against the side of the pit and gouged his arm. The force of his landing blew the breath out of him. He lay stunned in the stinking darkness, his jacket and hose soaking up the sewer wetness and the cold.

Laughter came from above him. And then light.

Four lanterns shed their hoods, glowing in the sky above him. The light hid the faces of the men that held them, but the voices were clear enough. His so-called friends and companions of the sword. Jorey Kalliam, son of the Baron of Osterling Fells. Sir Gospey Allintot. Sodai Carvenallin, secretary to the High Marshal. And, worst of all, Sir Alan Klin, captain of the company, Geder's immediate superior, and the man to whom he would have reported the poor behavior of his fellows. Geder stood up, his head and shoulders peeking above the pit while the other men howled their mirth.

"Very funny," Geder said, holding shit-stained hands up to them. "Now help me out of this."

Jorey took him by the arm and hauled him up. He had to give the man some credit for not shying away from the mess they'd tipped him into. Geder's hose hung at his knees, soaked and filthy. He stood in the lantern light considering whether to put them back on or go naked from the waist down. With a sigh, he pulled up the hose.

"You were our last hope," Klin said, pounding Geder's shoulder. There were tears of hilarity running down his cheeks. "Everyone else noticed something wrong. Well, except Sodai, but he was too skinny to break the boards."

"Well, it was an excellent joke," Geder said, sourly. "Now I'm going to go find something clean to--"

"Ah, no," Sodai said in his nasal, high-town accent. "Please, my friend. Don't spoil the night. It was a jest! Take it as it was meant."

"It's truth," Klin said, putting an arm around Geder's shoulder. "You must let us apologize. Come, my friends! To the tents!"

The four men stumbled off through the darkness, hauling Geder along with them. Of the four, only Jorey seemed genuinely sympathetic, and then only in his silence.

All through his childhood, Geder had imagined what it would be to serve the king, to ride on campaign, to prove his cleverness and his strength in arms. He read stories of the great warriors of old, heard his father's wine-soaked anecdotes about the friendship and camaraderie of the sword.

Reality disappointed.

The captain's tent was heavy leather strung on iron frames. Inside, it was more luxurious than Geder's home. Silk hung from the ceiling, and a great fire roared in the pit, smoke channeled up and out by a hanging chimney of finely-wrought chain and blackened leather. The heat was like walking into the worst of summer, but at least there was a bath drawn, and Geder didn't shiver as he pulled off his soiled clothes. The others shed the gloves and jackets that had been contaminated by touching Geder, and a Timzinae slave boy took it all away.

"We, my friends, are the pride and hope of Antea," Klin said as he filled a deep flagon with wine.

"To King Simeon!" Gospey said.

Klin pressed the flagon into Geder's hand and stood with the wineskin in his own.

"To Kingdom and Empire," he said. "And confusion to the upstart in Vanai!"

The others rose. Geder stood in his bath, water running down him, because to stay seated would have been a petty treason. It was the first toast of many. Sir Alan Klin was many things, but stingy with his wine wasn't one. And if Geder had the sense that his flagon was always a little more filled than the other men's, it was surely only a sign of the captain's contrition, an apology for the evening's prank.

Sodai declaimed his latest sonnet, a bawdy tribute to one of the more popular road whores that followed the campaign. Klin topped the performance by extemporizing a speech on the manly virtues of strength at arms, cultured arts, and sexual prowess. Jorey and Gospey pounded out a merry song on drum and reed organ, their voices harmonizing beautifully. When the turn came to Geder, he rose from the tepid bath, recited an explicit rhyme, and did the little jig that went with it. It was something his father had taught him once when they were deep in their cups, and Geder had never shared it outside the family. It wasn't until he finished, the other men helpless in their laughter, that it occurred to him how very drunk he must be to have repeated it here. Geder smiled to hide the sudden stab of anxiety. Had he just become complicit in his own humiliation? The smile goaded them on to new hilarity, until Klin, breathless, pounded the floor and gestured that Geder should sit.

There was cheese and sausage, more wine, flatbread and pickles, more wine. They talked about things that Geder could hardly follow at the time, much less recall later. At some point, he found himself going on with a drowsy gravity about the Drowned as artistic expression, or possibly aesthetic intention.

He woke in his own waxed-cloth tent, cold and aching and without memory of coming back to it. The thin, unkind light of the coming dawn pressed in through the cloth. A breeze whistled. Geder pulled his blanket up around his head like a fishwife's kerchief and willed himself back to sleep for just a few minutes more. The lingering tendrils of dream teased his mind, but the blare of the assembly call ended all hope of rest. Geder struggled up, put on a fresh uniform, and pulled back his hair. His guts were in riot. His head was in a debate between pain and illness. If he vomited inside the tent, no one would see it, but his squire would have to clean it up before they struck down for the day's ride. If he went outside, he'd almost certainly be seen. He wondered how much he'd drunk the night before. The second assembly call came. No time for it now. He gritted his teeth and set out once again for the captain's tent.

The company stood in order, Kalliam, Allintot, and two dozen other knights, many of them already in chain and show plate. Behind each, their sergeants and men-at-arms arranged in five ranks deep. Geder Palliako tried to stand straight and true, knowing that the men men behind him were judging their chances of glory and survival by his competence. Just as his depended on the captain, and above him Lord Ternigan, the high marshal who commanded the whole of the army.

Sir Alan Klin stepped out of his tent. In the cool light of morning, he looked like the perfect warrior. His pale hair was drawn back. His uniform was a black so deep it seemed like a sheet cut from midnight. His broad shoulders and jutting chin were a memorial statue brought to life. Two camp slaves brought a speaking dais and set it at the man's feet. The captain stepped up.

"Men," he said. "Yesterday, Lord Ternigan sent new orders. Vanai has entered into alliance with Maccia. Our reports are that six hundred sword-and-bows are on the march to reinforce Vanai even as we speak."

The captain paused to let that sink in, and Geder frowned. Maccia was an odd sort of ally for Vanai. The two cities had been at each other's throats over the spice and tobacco trades for more than a generation. Vanai was built of wood, he’d read, mostly because Maccia controlled the quaries while timber floated down the river from the north. But perhaps there was something more going on than he knew.

"These reinforcements will not save Vanai," Alan said. "Especially because when they arrive, they shall find us in control of the city."

Geder felt his frown deepen, and a sense of sick foreboding rise in his gut. It was perhaps five days from Maccia to Vanai, and they were at least a week from the border. To reach Vanai before the reinforcements meant . . .

"Today, we begin a hard march," Alan said. "We will sleep in out saddles. We will eat while we walk. And in four days time, we will take Vanai by surprise and show her what the power of the Severed Throne means! To the King!"

"To the King!" Geder said in chorus with the others, raising his hand in salute even as he tried not to weep.

They had known. Last night, they had known. Already, Geder could feel the ache growing in his spine and his thighs. The throbbing in his head redoubled. As the formation broke, Jorey Kalliam met Geder's eyes and then looked away.

Here was the prank. Being tipped into the sludge of the latrine had only been the start. After that, insist on the buffoon accepting apology. Get him in warm water. Fill him full of wine. Make him dance. The memory of reciting his father's dirty rhymes and dancing the little jig came back like a knife in his back. And all so that they could announce the forced march while fat idiot Palliako tried not to puke himself at formation. They'd taken his last night of sleep, and for days, they would have the pleasure of watching him suffer.

The camaraderie of the sword. The brotherhood of the campaign. Warm, meaningless words. It was no different here than back home. The strong mocked the weak. The handsome pitied the plain. Everywhere and aways, the powerful chose who was in favor and who could be made light of. Geder turned and stalked back to his tent. His squire had the slaves ready to strike it. He ignored them and walked into his last moment's privacy before the battle that was still days away. He reached for his book.

It wasn't where he'd left it.

A chill that had nothing to do with autumn ran down his spine.

He'd been drunk when he came back. He might have moved it. He might have tried to read it before he slept. Geder searched his cot, then under his cot. He looked through his uniforms and the wood and leather chest that held all his other things. The book wasn't there. He found himself breathing faster. His face felt hot, but whether it was shame or anger, he couldn't let himself think. He stepped out of his tent, and the slaves jumped to attention. The rest of the camp was already being loaded onto wagons and mules. There wasn't time. Geder nodded to his Dartinae squire, and the slaves got to work putting his own things in order. Geder walked across the camp again, his steps slowed by fear. But he had to have his book back.

The captain's tent was already struck, the leather unfastened from the frames, the frames broken down and stowed. The bare patch of earth where Geder had capered last night was like a thing from a children's story, a fairy castle that vanished with the dawn. Except that Sir Alan Klin was there, his leather riding cloak hanging from his shoulders and his sword of office at his hip. The master of provender, a half-Yemmu mountain of a man, was taking orders from the captain. Geder's rank technically gave him the right to interrupt, but he didn't. He waited.

"Palliako," Klin said. The warmth of the previous night was gone. 

"My lord," Geder said. "I'm sorry to bother you, but when I woke up this morning . . . after last night . . ."

"Spit it out, man."

"I had a book, sir."

Sir Alan Klin closed his noble, long-lashed eyes.

"I thought we'd finished with that."

"We did, sir? So you know the book? I showed it to you?"

The captain opened his eyes, glancing about at the ordered chaos of the breaking camp. Geder felt like a boy bothering a harried tutor.

"Speculative essay," Klin said. "Palliako, really? Speculative essay?"

"More for the exercise in translation," Geder lied, suddenly ashamed of his true enthusiasm.

"It was . . . courageous of you to admit the vice," Klin said. "And I think you made the right decision in destroying it."

Geder's mouth went dry. His heart knocked against his ribs.

"Destroying it, sir?"

Alan looked at him, surprise on his face. Or possibly mock-surprise.

"We burned it last night," the captain said. "The two of us together, just after I took you back to your tent. Don't you remember?"

Geder didn't know whether the man was lying or not. The night was a blur. He remembered so little. Was it possible that, lost in his cups, he had forsworn his little failure of sophistication and permitted it to be set to fire? Or was Sir Alan Klin, his captain and commander, lying to his face? Neither seemed plausible, but one or the other had to be true. And to admit not knowing was to confess that he couldn't hold his wine and prove again that he was the joke of the company.

"I'm sorry, sir," Geder said. "I must have been a little muddled. I understand now."

"Be careful with that."

"It won't happen again."

Geder saluted, and then before Klin could respond, stalked off to his mount. It was a gelding grey, the best his family could afford. Geder lifted himself to the saddle and yanked the reins. The horse turned sharply, surprised by his violence, and Geder felt a stab of regret through his rage. It wasn't the animal's fault. He promised himself to give the beast a length of sugarcane when they stopped. If they stopped. If this twice-damned campaign didn't drag on to the end of all days and the return of the dragons.

They took to the road, the army moving at the deliberate pace of men who knew the walk wouldn't end. The hard march began, rank following rank down the wide, dragon's jade road. Geder sat high in his saddle, holding his spine straight and proud out of sheer will and anger. He had been humiliated before. Likely he would be humiliated again. But Sir Alan Klin had burned his book. As the morning sun rose, the heat drawing cloaks from shoulders, the glorious leaves of autumn glowing around them, Geder realized that he had already sworn his oath of vengeance. And he'd done it standing before his new and mortal enemy.

It won't happen again, he'd said.

And it wouldn't.

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