Thanks to the author and the folks at Tor Books, here's an excerpt from Melanie Rawn's return to high fantasy, Touchstone. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, 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, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying. Cade combines the talents of Merlin, Shakespeare, and John Lennon: a wholly charming character in a remarkably original fantasy world created by a mistress of the art.
Although Touchstone can stand alone, it is the first book of a brilliant, utterly engaging new fantasy series from the author of the bestselling Dragon Prince series.
And then one early autumn dawning he was in a coach, clattering out of one of the Palace's lesser courtyards, and the Winterly had begun.
There was no one to see them off except Lord Kearney Fairwalk, and it turned out that he wasn't there to see them off but to accompany them. Mieka wondered when this had been decided, then shrugged. He didn't much care whether His Lordship came along for the ride or not. And perhaps Cayden's mood would improve, what with Fairwalk chattering away as usual about how clever Cade was at rearranging and rewriting lines, and urging him to work up some truly original things soon. This was what Mieka had been demanding forever, with not much result. If Fairwalk could manage it, he wasn't going to complain.
His Most Gracious Majesty had fastidious notions about the behavior of his players while on a Circuit—even when in the privacy of the coach he provided. It was, after all, his coach. Framed on the door just beneath the window was a set of printed guidelines for comportment.
Abstinence from liquor is requested. But if you must drink, let it be no more than one bottle each day, and shared amongst you.
No unsanctioned passengers are permitted. This includes relations, friends, acquaintances, business associates, strangers, flirt-gills, and all manner of trulls.
At all stops, refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
Blankets and carriage-robes are provided for your comfort. Do not abuse the privilege by hoarding the majority of them to yourself. The offender will be made to ride with the coachman.
Do not snore loudly.
In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will result in injuries and leave you at the mercy of the elements, highwaymen, and hungry wolves.
Should the coachman judge a passenger guilty of any of the following offenses, that person shall receive chastisement as the coachman determines.
1. Foul language 2. Drunkenness 3. Incivility 4. Indecency 5. Incorrectness of attire 6. Damage to His Gracious Majesty's property 7. Endangering the horses, the coachman, the outrider, fellow passengers, the citizenry, or the peace of the Kingdom
Rafe read the whole of it out loud as the coach pulled away from the Palace gates, and finished with, "They musta known you were comin', Mieka."
It instantly became Mieka's objective to pull off each and every one of these infractions and get away with them unscathed. He kept his resolve to himself for the moment, however, because Cayden would simply have murdered him.
Cade's temper had not significantly improved with the waning of the summer and the preparations for the Winterly. Well, they were all nervous. Rafe kept fidgeting his fingers with the bracelet of heavy copper links Crisiant had recently given him; he'd be writing her ten letters a day, Mieka was convinced of it. Jeska had spent the first hour of the journey trying to read the folio of playlets he had memorized long ago, then given it up when the swaying of the coach began to upset his stomach. Cayden wore an expression as if just last night he'd seen an Elsewhen that included six months of lice-infested beds every night, ice-encrusted shaving water every morning, horrible food, and blashed beer. Fairwalk occupied himself with the itinerary, making notes and muttering into his lace-frothed neck-band. He would be traveling with them until word got round that anything but the finest treatment given to Touchstone would distress His Lordship most severely. Nobody said anything to anybody else for three solid hours.
Mieka was bored.
Thus he simply couldn't pass up the chance to mark off one of The Rules when it presented itself.
The coachman had called a halt beside a summer-parched stream so that the passengers could stretch their legs. On a walk round the vehicle, he found that one of the leather lashings that secured the boot had flapped loose. Cade blanched; his precious glass baskets and withies were packed in there. Mieka took one look at the coachman, who was puce in the face and speechless with fury, and saw his chance.
"Who the unholy fuck was the fritlaggering fool back at the Palace who did this?" Mieka snarled. "Is this the King's best coach and the King's best driver, or is it not?" And then he let loose with a string of insults, invective, abuse, and just plain profanity regarding the sanity, antecedents, personal habits, and sexual practices of whatever idiot was responsible for securing the straps back in Gallantrybanks.
Mieka's cussing vocabulary had been faithfully gathered since the age of six. His sources included everyone from dockworkers to his own brothers, with contributions from his father (when referring to great-great-grandmother). He used almost all of it in the space of two minutes. It was Auntie Brishen's view that a gentlemen ought to be able to swear fluently that long without repeating himself. Mieka did her proud.
Then he conjured up a look of absolute horror, turned to the coachman, and began stammering apologies.
The man smiled all over his weathered, snub-nosed face. "Not a worry be in your head about it, lad. That's the best I've heard since me brother caught his wife with the stable boys."
Mieka's turn to stare. Boys, plural? The impulse to enquire further was squelched when Cade yelled, "Mieka! Shut up!"
After assisting in securing the boot, they all climbed back into the coach. Everybody was staring at Mieka. Perfect.
"Cade," he asked sweetly, "lend me your new pen?"
Lady Jaspiela Silversun, giving in with surprising grace to the inevitable, had gifted Cayden with a beautiful new writing instrument that owed nothing to any duck or goose or swan every hatched. It was a slender, elegant thing made of golden oak, and instead of the sharpened end of a feather, at one end was a silver nib to dip into an inkpot. It was absolutely the latest innovation, according to Prince Ashgar, who, according to Lady Jaspiela, had suggested it to her husband as an appropriate present. (Mieka knew the instant she said it that the gift was to please the Prince and not her son; he kept this to himself, and his opinion about persons who gave presents only when prompted).
Once the mystified Cade had produced the requested pen and ink from his satchel, Mieka crouched on the floor beside the rules and crossed out the words Foul language.
Rafe was suddenly howling with laughter. Jeska, shoulders shaking, put his head in his hands and groaned. Lord Fairwalk looked bewildered.
But it was Cayden's face Mieka watched as he slid back into his place on the brown leather seat. A confusion of emotions played over the long, tense face, tightening wide mouth and thick brows, bunching the muscles of jaw and forehead. Finally—finally—he gave a great roar of laughter.
Satisfied, Mieka folded his arms and beamed at them all. "One down, six to go!"
* * *
The first stop on the Winterly was the university town of Shollop. Very pretentious, very grand, and very full of students who, after a month in classes after the summer holiday, were more than ready for renewed carousing. There were artists of all sorts, from painters who relied solely on paint and painters who worked with magic, to musicians, sculptors, imagers, poets, and crafters and designers of everything from glassware to jewelry. Added to these were scholars of history and literature, languages and the law. Cayden was, predictably, intimidated. This did not sweeten his temper. By the night of their performance before the Shollop Marching Society (a private show arranged by Fairwalk; the official venue was the Players Hall on the university grounds), Mieka had once again had enough of his tregetour's sulks.
So instead of breaking a withie or two, he decided—with Rafe's amused connivance—on a more interesting approach.
The Marching Society's venue had at one time been a greenhouse where the university's naturalists and the university's cooks battled constantly over how much space would be given to the exotic plants brought back for study from distant lands and how much to vegetables. Then an obscenely wealthy nobleman had left his entire fortune to Shollop for "the Health and Comfort of the Kitchens." Gleefully in possession of a large new winter gardening location, the cooks had abandoned the old greenhouse to the naturalists. These worthies had petitioned the king, saying that this precedence of scholarly bellies over scholarly brains was an outrage. So His Gracious Majesty, who at the time had just begun his fascination with plants and beasts (and, eventually, people) from faraway regions, "encouraged" his nobles to contribute to the cause.
Thus the old greenhouse had been abandoned, and the Marching Society had bought it up for practically nothing, and the only reminders of its previous function were the odd-looking plants in crumbling pots scattered about amid the tables, and a lingering odor of fertilizer.
When Touchstone investigated the venue on the afternoon of their show, Mieka formed the opinion that the place needed a good airing out. Rafe agreed.
So at the end of the riotous "Troll and Trull" they shattered one wall's top row of glass panes.
The students loved it. The authorities were not as pleased. It was left to Lord Fairwalk to adjudicate the matter—and keep Touchstone out of the local lock-up—while Cade, Mieka, Rafe, and Jeska were treated to as many free drinks as they could swallow.
Mieka fell into bed shortly before dawn, quite drunk and entirely delighted with his success, for Cade had lost his diffidence around these young men—his own age, most of them—who knew so much more about so many more things than he did. He'd actually enjoyed himself. Just like old times—if old included a few months ago. Not that Mieka had understood five words in twenty of most of the conversations Cade had been drawn into. But it was enough for him that the drinks were free, and excellent, and that Quill had had a good time.
He hadn't reckoned on the next morning's hangover.
They were due to depart for Dolven Wold that afternoon. Rafe always woke early by long habit, professing himself incapable of sleeping much past the usual hour when his parents began the day's baking. He was hoping to get over it. Jeska, now that he no longer had to fit bookkeeping into his days whenever he could, was catching the knack of sleeping in. Since leaving school at the age of fifteen, Mieka never got out of bed until late morning unless physically yanked from the blankets. But even he was up and about before Cade that morning.
The rest of Touchstone had gathered in the empty taproom, waiting for Fairwalk to tell them it was time to pack up and get ready to leave. Rafe was, predictably, writing to Crisiant. They'd only been gone fifteen days and this had to be at least his fifth letter to her. Mieka had every respect in the world for the girl, and liked her as much as she'd let him, but it just wasn't decent for even a bespoken to have this kind of stranglehold on a man. Jeska was playing a rousing game of slapcards with the innkeeper's daughters—aged six and nine, giggly around this young man they already recognized as stupendously good-looking. Hells, any female out of nappies saw it. Mieka kept eyeing the bar. His breakfast ale had worn off and he was just about to head back upstairs for the bottle in his satchel when Cayden stumbled into the room.
Bleary-eyed, colossally hung over, snarling on his way to the kitchen—Mieka tried to make himself as small and unobtrusive as possible in his chair. Except for last night, Cade in general had been surly; today he was likely to be insufferable.
"What th'fuck d'ya mean, there's no breakfast?"
Rafe glanced up from pen and parchment. Jeska missed slapping the table and hit his own thigh instead.
"Closed until dinner?"
The kitchen door swung open in time to hear the innkeeper's condescending reply: "We get up in the morning around here, son."
Cade erupted from the doorway. His pale eyes fixed on Mieka. "Let's go!"
"Cade—" Rafe began.
"Find Kearney and tell him to order me a bath!"
Mieka traded winces with the fettler and scrambled after Cade out into the bright sunshine and muddy slush of the street. A block later they were outside a dry goods shop. Cade yanked open the door and snapped, "You got money? Go find me some milk."
"Er…Cade, what d'you want with—" But the rest of the question stuck in his throat when Cade glared at him.
So he went up the street, peering into each shop window, and finally located a place that sold cheese. His request was met with blank looks, and a lot of time was wasted as he explained he really did want the raw material, not the finished product, but eventually he emerged with milk (he had to pay for the covered jug, too). Cade was pacing outside the dry goods store, a heavy burlap sack in his arms.
Mieka caught him up, careful not to spill the milk. "Cade, what're you—"
Back at the inn, they blew past Fairwalk on the stairs. His Lordship mumbled about a hot bath waiting, but there was scarcely time because they really ought to leave, don't you see. Mieka scrambled up the stairs after Cade to the second floor garderobe's lovely big bathtub, filled as requested with steaming hot water.
Cade ripped opened the bag, dumped the contents into the tub, and pulled a spoon out of his pocket. The bag slapped to the tiled floor. Mieka saw the label for the first time: ten pounds of Bellytimber's Best Porridge Oats.
"'Twas the milk what made it Art," Mieka told Rafe and Jeska and the baffled Lord Fairwalk once they were in the coach. "Anybody else woulda been content with eating a few spoonfuls of plain porridge—even me!—but not Quill! Gods, it was beautiful!"
Rafe and Jeska collapsed, howling with laughter. Cade sat with arms folded, cool as a cloud.
His Lordship frowned. "But you don't mean to say—that is, he didn't actually—I mean—"
"Oh yes he did!" Mieka crowed.
"You! Stop! Stop at once! Don't you dare move those horses one step!"
It was the innkeeper, arms waving wildly, covered to the elbows in congealed porridge.
"I thought it would harden faster," Cade remarked.
Mieka shouted out the open window to the coachman, "Drive!" Then, with a polite, "Do pardon me an instant," he turned, and as the coach jolted forward unhitched his trousers and presented his naked backside out the window to the infuriated innkeeper.
This time Cade brought out pen and ink without being asked, and personally crossed off the words Incorrectness of attire.