Exclusive excerpt from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s THE LORD-PROTECTOR'S DAUGHTER

Many thanks to Modesitt for being kind enough to allow us to catch a glimpse of his newest installment in the Corean Chronicles, The Lord-Protector's Daughter (Canada, USA, Europe), which will be published by Tor Books in a few short weeks.

For more info on the author and his work, check out his official website: http://www.lemodesittjr.com/


Duadi was not that much better than Lundi, because, try as she might, Mykella had been unable to discover any reason within the Finance ledgers why tariff revenues were declining. She had hoped that the decline had been the result of poor accounting, but that hope had vanished by the time she had closed the last ledger that afternoon. With what she had learned from the portmaster, revenues should have been higher.

Dinner was quiet, and in the family quarters, because her father and her uncle had been to a banquet held by the Seltyrs and High Factors to the celebrate the end of a successful fall trading season. Mykella read in the family sitting room until her eyes tired of the poor light cast by the oil lamps, and she had retired to her own chambers – where sleep had been a long time coming.

From somewhere, the faintest of greenish lights suffused the dark of Mykella’s chamber, rousing her from an uneasy slumber. Green? She squinted, but discovered she was looking away from the window and toward her wardrobe. She turned over, keeping the comforter tight around her, conscious of just how chill the air was, even inside the palace. The green illumination was not coming from the window, but from the gauzy-winged and shimmering small who hovered above the foot of her bed.

She just stared at the soarer, then slowly sat up, gathering the comforter around her. “You can’t be real,” she murmured in a voice so low that no one could have heard her words.

The soarer eased toward her, then bent forward, a graceful arm reaching out toward Mykella.

Mykella was half-frightened, but also so bemused and intrigued that she did not move, not until the fingertip of a small hand brushed Mykella’s forehead. At that moment, a tingle ran through her body.

If you would save your land and your world, go to the Table and find your talent.

There was no sound at all in the room, yet the soarer’s words were as clear as if she had spoken them loudly and distinctly. Then, the soarer floated toward the outside wall… and was gone, as if she had never been there.

If you would save your land and your world, go to the Table and find your talent. What had the soarer meant? What table? Certainly not a banquet table…

Abruptly, Mykella shuddered. The Table beneath the palace. It had to be the stone table in the chamber in the lowest level of the palace, and there was little doubt that the small winged woman was a soarer – one of the Ancients featured in so many folk tales.

Rumors and tales, tales and rumors. Still, she could not deny that she had seen and heard a soarer –twice now – and some tales even held that the legendary Mykel, the first Lord-Protector, had been directed to Tempre by a soarer after the Great Cataclysm. Now… she had been directed to go to the Table. Could she do any less than her ancestor?

She sat huddled in her comforter for several moments longer. Then she threw it off and padded to the armoire, pulling out garments until she had a tunic, trousers, and boots, all of which she donned hurriedly in the darkness. Was she being foolish? She shook her head, knowing she was trying to convince herself.

Then she slipped out of her chamber and out of the family quarters.

The guards patrolling the corridor outside looked at her as she neared, once, then twice.

“I’m going down to the lower level,” was all she said.

Neither guard said a word, whatever they might have thought, since, as the Lord-Protector’s daughter who also fulfilled some of the functions of his consort, she had the keys to all the locks and access to any place in the palace.

In the dimness, she hurried down the central staircase to the ground level, then down the west corridor. She did not go so far as the rear door to the gardens, but stopped in front of another locked door – one that looked more like a closet or storeroom door. It wasn’t either, but the door to another staircase, the one that led down to the lowest levels of the palace. During the day, it was guarded, but at night, when the palace was locked, the guard was shifted to the garden door, since he could watch both doors easily.

From the door to the garden, the guard inquired, “Mistress Mykella?”

“It’s me, Noult. I shouldn’t be long.” Mykella finished unlocking the door and opened it. Should she lock it behind her? She decided against that and merely closed it.

Her bootsteps echoed dully in the narrow stairwell as she descended the stone staircase to the lowest level of the Lord-Protector’s Palace. When she reached the small foyer at the bottom, she paused and glanced around. The ancient light-torch in its bronze wall bracket illuminated the precisely cut stones of the wall and floor with the same tired amber light as it always had – ever since she could remember. Seeing it brought to mind, once again, the thought that it was indeed a miracle that so many of the ancient devices still functioned.

Why was she down in the seldom-visited depths? Had it just been a dream? Had she actually seen the soarer?

She looked through the archway separating the staircase foyer from the long subterranean hallway that extended the entire length of the palace. The dimly-lit passageway was empty, as it should have been.

She’d never quite figured out the reason for the box-like design of the Lord-Protector’s palace, with all the rooms set along the corridors that formed an interior rectangle on each level. The upper level remained reserved for the family and the official studies of the highest ministers of Lanachrona, but there was only one main staircase, of gray stone, and certainly undeserving of the appellation of “grand staircase,” only one modest great dining chamber, and but a single long and narrow ballroom, not that she cared that much for dancing. More intriguing were the facts that the stones of the outer walls looked as if they had been cut and quarried but a few years earlier and that there were no chambers truly befitting the ruler of Lanachrona.

Mykella walked briskly down the underground corridor toward the door set in the middle of the wall closest to the outside foundation on the north side of the palace. Once there, she stopped and studied it, as if for the first time. The door itself was of ancient oak, with an antique lever handle. Yet that lever, old as it had to be, seemed newer than the hinges. The stones of the door casement were also of a shade just slightly darker than the stones of the corridor wall. Several of the stones bordering the casement were also darker, almost as if they and the casement had been partly replaced in the past.

After a moment, Mykella tossed her head impatiently, hardly disarranging short-cut black locks, then reached out and depressed the lever. The hinges creaked slightly as she pushed the door open, and she made a mental note to tell the steward. Doors in the Lord-Protector’s Palace should not squeak. That was unacceptable.

She stepped into the Table chamber, closed the door behind her, and paused. At first glance, it looked as it always had, a windowless stone-walled space some five yards by seven, without furnishings except for a single black wooden chest and the Table itself – a block of blackish stone set into the floor whose flat and mirrored surface was level with her waist – or perhaps slightly higher, she had to admit, if only to herself. She was the shortest of the Lord-Protector’s offspring, even if she did happen to be the eldest. But she was a daughter who would be married off to some heir or another, most probably the Landarch-heir of Deforya, a cold and dark land, she’d heard, scoured by chill winds sweeping down from the Aerlal Plateau. She had seen the Plateau once, from more than thirty vingts away while accompanying her father on an inspection trip of the upper reaches of the River Vedra. Yet even from that distance, the Plateau’s sheer stone sides had towered into the clouds that enshrouded its seldom-glimpsed top.

Her thoughts of the Plateau and Deforya dropped away as she realized that there was another source of illumination in the chamber besides the dim glow of the ancient light-torches. From the Table itself oozed a faint purplish hue.

Mykella blinked.

The massive stone block returned to the lifeless darkness she’d always seen before on the infrequent occasions when she had accompanied her father and her brother Jeraxylt to see the Table.

“Because it is part of our heritage,” had invariably been what her father had said when she had asked the purpose of beholding a block of stone that had done nothing but squat in the dimness for generations.

Jeraxylt had been more forthright. “I’m going to be the one who masters the Table. That’s what you have to do if you want to be a real Lord-Protector.” Needless to say, Jeraxylt hadn’t said those words anywhere near their father, not when no Lord-Protector in generations had been able to fathom the Table.

Mykella doubted that anyone had done so since the Cataclysm, even the great Mykel, but she wasn’t about to say so. Before the Cataclysm, the Alectors and even the great Mykel had been reputed to be able to travel from Table to Table. Another wishful folk tale, thought Mykella. No one could travel instantly from one place to another. Yet all of Corus had been ruled from the vanished cities of Elcien and Ludar, and there were the eternal and indestructible highways, and the Great Piers and the green towers.

She shook her head. So much had been lost. Could the Tables once truly have transported Alectors? How was that possible?

Yet… once more, the Table glowed purple, and she stared at it. But when she did, the glow vanished. She looked away, and then back. There was no glow… or was there?

She studied the Table once more, but her eyes saw only dark stone. Yet she could feel or sense purple. Abruptly, she realized that the purplish light was strangely like the soarer’s words, perceived inside her head in some fashion, rather than through her eyes.

She shivered, then drew herself up, concentrating on the Table. What did it mean? How could sensing a purple light that wasn’t there be a talent? And why had soarer appeared to Mykella, and not to her father or to Jeraxylt? And what was threatening her land? Or her world? And what exactly did the Table have to do with it all? The questions raised by the appearance of the soarer and her simple sentence seemed endless.

Slowly, Mykella walked around the Table, looking at it intently, yet also trying to feel or sense what might be there, all too conscious that she was in the lowest level of the palace in the middle of the night – and alone.

At the western end of the Table, she could feel something, but it was as though what she sensed lay within the stone of the Table. She stopped, turned, and extended her fingers, too short and stubby for a Lord-Protector’s daughter, to touch the stone. Was it warmer? She walked to the wall and touched it, then nodded.

After a moment, she moved back to the Table, where she peered at the mirror-like black surface, trying to feel or sense more of what might lie beneath. For a moment, all she saw in the dimness was her own image – black hair, broad forehead, green eyes, straight nose, shoulders too broad for a woman her size. At least, she had fair clear skin.

Even as she watched, her reflection faded, and the silvery-black gave way to swirling silvery-white mists. Then, an image appeared in the center of the mists – that of a man, except no man she had ever seen. He had skin as white as the infrequent snows that fell on Tempre, eyes of brilliant and piercing violet, and short-cut jet-black hair.

He looked up from the Table at Mykella as though she were the lowest of the palace drudges. He spoke, if words in her mind were speech. She understood not a single word or phrase, yet she felt that she should, as though he were speaking words she knew in an unfamiliar cadence and with an accent she did not recognize. He paused, and a cruel smile crossed his narrow lips. She did understand the last words he uttered before the swirling mists replaced his image.

“…useless except as cattle to build lifeforce.”

Cattle? He was calling her a cow? Mykella seethed, and the Table mists swirled more violently.

The Table could allow people to talk across distances? Why had no one mentioned that? There was nothing of that in the archives. But then, the archives did not mention anything about the Table except for its existence. Could it be that no one knew? If they had, wouldn’t her father have know? And where was the strange-looking man? Certainly not within the sunken ruins of Elcien. Could he be in far Alustre, so far to the east that even with the eternal ancient roads of Corus few traders made that journey and fewer still returned?

Alustre? What was Alustre like?

The swirling mists subsided into a moving border around a circular image – that of a city of white buildings, viewed from a height. Mykella swallowed, and the scene vanished. After a moment, so did the mists.

The strange man – could he have been an Alector? Hadn’t they all perished in the Cataclysm? Mykella didn’t know what to think. Still… she had thought of Alustre and something had appeared. Could she view people?

She concentrated her thoughts on her father. The mirror surface turned into a swirl of mists, revealing in the center Lord Feranyt lying on the wide bed of the Lord-Protector, looking upward, his eyes open. Beside him, asleep, lay Eranya, his dark-haired mistress. After the death of Mykella’s mother, her father had refused to marry again, claiming that to do so would merely cause more problems. Mykella had never questioned that, but seeing Eranya beside her father, she wondered what kind of problems he had meant. As she thought about that, Mykella felt strange looking at her father, clearly visible in darkness.

Quickly, she turned her thoughts to Jeraxylt. Her brother was in his own chamber, but he was far from asleep, nor was he alone. Flushing in the darkness, and yet somehow both irritated and disgusted, Mykella quickly thought about their summer villa in the hills to the northeast of Tempre.

The mist swirled, and then an image of white columns appeared, barely visible in the dark above the low walls that enclosed the front garden.

Next she tried calling up an image of the Great Piers, and those appeared in the mirror-like surface of the Table, dark, but clearer than they would have appeared to her eyes had she actually been standing on the eternastone surface and looking west at the short river wharves and the dark water beyond.

After that, she tried to call up the barracks of the Southern Guards, located a vingt east of the palace. The large square structure appeared before her. In turn, she tried calling up images of other places in Tempre – the market square, the public gardens, and the front of Lord Joramyl’s mansion, to the southeast of the Southern Guards, situated on a low rise. All appeared clearer in the mirrored surface of the Table than they would have to her eyes – yet they were clearly showing things as they were in the night.

What about Dereka?

An image appeared, and she looked down on a city where dark-eternastone and gold glimmering stone mixed, where faint lines of green appeared as well, and where a massive aqueduct split the city.

She’d been to Vyan, and she thought of it. Obligingly, the city square appeared, as did the square in Krost, but even the mists vanished when she tried to see Soupat or Lyterna. Finally, she stepped back from the Table. It still glowed with the unworldly purple sheen, but she could now distinguish between what she saw with her eyes and what she sensed.

She shivered. Telling herself that it was merely the chill from the cold stone of the lower levels, she eased back out of the Table chamber, carefully glancing around before closing the door behind her. Once she had climbed the two flights of stairs and returned to her own simple room, Mykella sat on the edge of the bed.

What had really happened?

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