Exclusive excerpt from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s IMAGER

Thanks to Modesitt, here is a little sample chapter from his upcoming Imager, the first volume in The Imager Portfolio series. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.


755 A.L.

Flattery is almost always perceived as either accurate or justified.

On Jeudi afternoon, I was in the work shed powdering red ochre, using the ancient mortar and pestle that looked as though they had been in Master Caliostrus’s family for generations. Despite the sunlight outside, a chill breeze seeped through the bare plank walls. Powdering hard red ochre was sweaty work. The chill made it even less pleasant, especially if I crushed it and twisted the pestle too hard, because then some of the powder seeped into the air and then stuck to my sweat. Later, it got cold and itchy, and scratching just made it worse.

I consoled myself that the situation was only temporary because Stanus had finally run off, after throwing a bucket of hot ivory-black scraps at Ostrius. The scraps had burned holes in Ostrius’s shirt and given him several welts on his neck, but it would have been worse had not Ostrius been wearing a leather working vest. If the city patrollers caught poor Stanus, he’d spend at least a year in the mines, but, in the interim, assuming that Master Caliostrus could find and accept another apprentice, everyone expected me to do all the apprentice chores as well as my own, not to mention painting whatever commissions might come my way, not that I had any at the moment.

Still… the Scheorzyl portrait had turned out well, and I’d even gotten a half gold bonus. I had to wonder how much extra the Scheorzyls had paid Caliostrus. But my name was getting around – at least to families with daughters who liked cats.

Everyone in the household was edgy that morning. As I’d left the table after breakfast, Madame Caliostrus had murmured something to her husband that had sounded like “your worthless brother skulking around here again.” I’d known Caliostrus had a brother, and I’d even seen him a few times over the years – and smelled him, reeking of plonk so cheap that not even the poorest apprentice would have drunk it. That morning, Caliostrus had snapped back, but I hadn’t heard what he’d said. I’d just wanted to get away before Ostrius made another comment about my lack of foresight, especially since it was really his short-sightedness, not that he’d ever admit it.

I checked the powder. Still too coarse, but getting closer to what was necessary to mix with the oil and wax that were melting over the small iron mixing stove in the corner. I went back to grinding, wishing that Stanus were still around, or that Caliostrus would get another apprentice so that I didn’t have to do everything.

The shed door opened, and a gust of wind swirled ochre powder up around me, and I began to sneeze.

Ostrius stood there, glowering at me. “How long will it be before you can mix up the pigment?”
After I could stop sneezing, I just looked at him, noticing that he’d replaced the dressing covering the burn on his neck.

“Answer me. When will we have red ochre pigment?”

“Not until tomorrow. I won’t have enough powder until later today, and then it will have to be blended and cooled…”

“You should have gotten to this earlier.” He glared at me. “We’re both waiting for the pigment.”

“No one told me until this morning.” I didn’t point out that talking to him slowed me down – or that he’d been the one to use all the red ochre pigment for his portrait of High Chorister Thalyt and that he hadn’t bothered to tell anyone that there hadn’t been more than a palette knife’s worth of it remaining.

“You should have known.”

What could I say that wouldn’t make him even angrier? Especially since Ostrius had never been the type to listen to reason or consider himself the cause of anything. He’d been the cause of the problem with his attitude and his mistreatment of Stanus, not that he’d ever been pleasant to me, either, but I had the advantage of having parents who had some position, unlike poor Stanus, whose father was dead and whose mother was a seamstress.

With a last glare at me, he stalked off, leaving the word shed door open. Of course, the wind gusted again and blew some of the finer powder I’d just ground right out of the pestle and up around me. I began to sneeze more, and by the time I got the door closed, I’d probably lost half a cup worth of ground ochre powder. At that moment, I would have liked to have strapped Ostrius to a work table and then slowly poured fine ochre powder down his throat and nostrils until he choked to death.

I recovered some of the powder from the bench top beside the mortar, and then went back to work. But I kept having to stop and sneeze. There was no help for it. I needed to brush the fine grit and powder off me and wash my hands and face, or I’d never get much done.

After carefully and quickly opening and closing the shed door behind me, I walked toward the service pump house in the corner, past the low wall that separated the garden from the more mundane and less attractive working areas of Master Caliostrus’s establishment.

Despite the chill and the wind, Shienna was pruning the bare-branched grape vines – even the leaves were used, mainly for the dolmades her mother made and which one enjoyed the first several times they were served, but which became less than entrancing by the onset of spring in mid-Maris. Some of the less perfect leaves were used with copper plates for making verdigris, but that green pigment was only used for quick treatments because it was so fugitive if exposed for long to bright light.

Shienna was a sweet girl, unlike her elder brother, but to say that she was plain would have been an exaggeration that not even an imager could have transformed into truth.
Still, she was sweet, and I did smile. “Mistress Shienna, how lovely your cheeks today, like the paleness of a fresh white peach…”

“They’re wind-chapped and red, but you’re always so dear, Rhenn. I don’t believe a word, but the kindness is appreciated.”

“And your hair shimmers with a lustre beyond that of the greater moon in the fullness of harvest.” I have never held myself to be bound by the dictates of foolish consistency, particularly when dealing with young women – except, strangely, for Seliora – since most so often professed what they esteemed in a man, and then bedded his exact opposite, while refusing the man who embodied what they said they professed.

Inconsistency I did not condemn, nor even foolishness, but the hypocrisy of professing an ideal, whatever it may be, and defending it verbally and vociferously, while secretly betraying it by behavior, I generally found disgusting. Unless such betrayal was accomplished with such wit and grace that it might be termed admirable, and then it was what one might call polished evil.

“Rhenn!” Ostrius called from one of the studio windows overlooking the rear courtyard. “You are not grinding or powdering when you are jawing!”

I looked up and smiled politely. “I can’t powder when I’m sneezing because someone opened the door and blew powder all over me.”

Caliostrus appeared in the window beside his son. “No excuses, now, Rennthyl!”

“Yes, sir.” I managed not to grimace or grit my teeth, but I would have liked to submerged both of them in powered ochre.

“Don’t mind Father,” Shienna murmured. “He likes to shout because it proves he can.”

“He is the master portraiturist,” I replied.

“Well, just don’t stand there!” Caliostrus shouted down.

I kept my lips together and resumed my progress toward the service pump house, imagining both Caliostrus and his worthless elder son being consumed by an explosion of paraffin from a container heated too hot on the studio stove because Ostrius was too lazy to check it…. flaming wax everywhere, and fire washing over them…


I turned to see flames exploding through the open window where Caliostrus had been a moment before.

For a moment, I just stood there, frozen.

Crumpp! Some sort of explosion, a small one, shook the upper level. As fragments of glass and some tile fragments pattered on the pavement, my mouth dropped open. The entire second floor of the building – the studio level – had become a mass of flame, and the flames were rising higher.

3 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

That was so good!
I can't wait to read the rest.

Dream Girlzzz said...

I see that Modesitt still has the sound effect thing going for him!

Anonymous said...

I just got into Modesitt's books, and can't wait for this new series after reading that preview. :)