Exclusive excerpt from Brian Ruckley's FALL OF THANES

Here's an extract from Brian Ruckley's latest, Fall of Thanes (Canada, USA, Europe), courtesy of the folks at Orbit.

However, make sure you read the first chapter posted on Ruckley's website before you read this excerpt. Also, stay tuned for a giveaway for this one. Coming soon!


The room clenched about him like a tight, hot fist. The heat of half a dozen small braziers was gathered by the rock walls, concentrated, blasted back to make the air thick and suffocating. Within a couple of paces Orisian could feel sweat on his forehead. The orange-red heart of each brazier almost seemed to pulse, so intense was the light and heat being hammered out into the cramped space.

The prisoner was tied to the far wall. His arms were stretched up and apart, bound to iron rings set in the stonework. He had slumped down and his own weight had tautened the muscles in his arms and shoulders. He was naked to the waist, his skin overlain with a film of sweat. Fresh burns pockmarked his chest, red and brown and raw. The man who had inflicted them was standing to one side, stocky, black-bearded. Orisian vaguely recognised him: he had seen him around the barracks once or twice before. One of the town’s Guard. He wore massive leather gloves, and was watching the hilt of a knife sunk into the brazier. He did not even look up when Orisian and the others entered. There was no room in his attention for anything save that knife, buried in the fire, collecting into its metal the savage heat.

One of the several Kilkry warriors gathered there grasped the prisoner’s hair and lifted his head up. His nose was broken and bent. The blood from it might be what crusted the man’s lips, or his mouth might be shattered as well. Orisian winced momentarily at the sight of him. His own jaw and cheek gave a single aching beat, remembering the ruin visited upon them by the haft of a Kyrinin spear. A thread of mixed saliva and blood hung from the man’s chin. Some remembered instinct made Orisian want to turn away. It was the stirring of the person he no longer quite was. It lacked conviction. He chose to look.

‘Speak,’ someone hissed at the broken Black Roader. ‘Let’s hear your poison again.’

Orisian glanced at Taim. His Captain’s face was fixed and grim. Was there the slightest, disapproving tightening around his eyes? A faint, disgusted curl at the edge of his mouth? Orisian could not be sure. Perhaps he wanted to see those things there, and allowed that desire to imagine them for him. He wanted to find in Taim some disgust and revulsion that he could borrow for himself; to be as horrified by this sight he would have been just a few weeks ago.

The man’s voice was stronger than Orisian would have expected. Uneven, but clear despite the distortion of his heavy northern accent.

‘You’re finished. Your time’s done. It’s his time now. The Black Road’s time. The Kall. He’ll cast you all down into ruin and wreck, and lead us to the mastery of the world, and open the path for the Gods to return.’

‘Who will?’ the interrogator demanded, shaking the man’s head so violently he pulled a fistful of hair from his scalp. He took hold again and twisted the prisoner’s face toward Orisian.

Orisian watched those battered lips stretching into a snarling smile.

‘The halfbreed. The Fisherwoman’s heir. Fate works through him.’

‘His name?’ Orisian asked quietly.

‘Not to be named. The na’kyrim. In Kan Avor. That is enough.’

‘Aeglyss?’ Orisian demanded, but the prisoner only grinned at him through blood. There was a madness in his eyes. A sort of mad joy, Orisian thought; a delight at the descent of the world into savagery.

‘Keep him alive,’ Orisian said, and left the choking heat of that deep chamber without another word. He climbed up the steps and out into the bitter night air. Tiny flecks of snow were darting down out of the darkness, dancing in the cauldron of the courtyard. He felt them falling on his cheeks and lips: points of numbing cold.

‘It’s as you thought,’ Taim said behind him. ‘As your na’kyrim have been saying. Whether in his own right, or as someone else’s tool, the halfbreed’s worked his way to the heart of things.’

Orisian looked up into the black sky, blinking against the grainy snow.

‘They’re not my na’kyrim,’ he said.

* * *

In Eshenna’s half-human eyes, Orisian saw very human things: exhaustion and a haunted, hunted unease. When first he met this na’kyrim in Highfast, he had found her determined, firm. That vigour was gone, or at least buried by the debris of what she had seen since then.

‘Where’s Yvane?’ Orisian asked her.

‘With K’rina.’ She spoke that name with obvious reluctance. Another of the petty, cruel tricks the world was working upon its inhabitants in these troubled times: it had been Eshenna who insisted most determinedly that K’rina might be a weapon in the struggle against Aeglyss, yet the cost of finding her, and her condition when they did, had shaken Eshenna to her core. She had not been as well-prepared as she imagined for what lay outside the walls of Highfast.

Orisian pitied her, but it was a detached kind of pity. Few had been ready for what had happened since Winterbirth. Many suffered. More than most, Eshenna had at least made some kind of choice in the path her life had taken in recent weeks.

That path had led here, to a simple, bare house just outside Ive’s Guard compound. Erval, the town’s Captain - and a good man as far as Orisian could tell, though as deeply unsettled as anyone by the course of recent events - had made it available to Eshenna and Yvane without hesitation or demur. Judging by its dilapidated and damp state, Orisian suspected it had been empty for some time. Still, it served the purpose asked of it now: a place for the na’kyrim to shelter away from prying eyes, small enough that it could easily be watched over by the men Taim Narran had set to the task. Whether the more important role of those guards was to ensure no misguided townspeople caused trouble for Yvane and Eshenna, or to protect those townspeople from K’rina if necessary, Orisian did not know. No one did.

‘K’rina still will not come inside?’ he asked Eshenna.

She shook her head. ‘If we try to move her from the goat shed, she thrashes about. Howls.’

‘But does not speak.’

‘No. She never speaks.’

‘You don’t look well,’ Orisian murmured.

Eshenna gave a short, bitter laugh. She was feeding wood to a little fire. As she bent, and sparkling embers swirled up in front of her face, the gauntness of her features was apparent. Since leaving Highfast, she had thinned and her skin had grown paler, almost as if the Kyrinin half of her mixed heritage was asserting itself.

‘If there’s anything I - anyone - can do for you, tell me,’ Orisian said. ‘I’ll help if I can.’

‘I know,’ Eshenna sighed. She held a stubby chunk of wood in her hand, gazing down at it, running her long fingers over its flaking bark. ‘I need sleep. And I need the voices, and the storms, in the Shared to quieten. You can’t do that, can you?’

‘No. I can’t.’

Eshenna threw the log into the flames and crossed her arms, staring blankly into the heart of the fire.

‘Yvane will be a while yet. She spends a lot of time with K’rina.’

Orisian nodded silently and left the na’kyrim to her dark contemplations.

Behind the run-down house, stone walls enclosed a long, thin yard. Half of it was given over to dark, bare soil, which the inhabitants must once have cultivated. Snow was speckling the earth now. The rest was cobbled, running down a gentle slope to a ramshackle shed against the furthest wall. Orisian walked towards it, brushing snow from his hair as he went. He could hear the low voices of two of Taim’s guards coming from beyond the wall, and the rumble of the slowly rising wind as it blustered about Ive’s roofs, but there was no sound from within the shed.

He pulled the door open and peered in. The stink of goats assailed him. The animals were long gone. The only light within came from a single tallow candle Yvane must have brought with her. K’rina was curled in the corner of the shed, on old straw, facing the wall. Yvane knelt beside her, sitting back on her heels. Neither of the na’kyrim stirred at Orisian’s arrival. He stepped inside.

‘No change?’

‘No,’ said Yvane without looking round.

‘You shouldn’t be in here alone,’ Orisian said. ‘What if she attacked you? What if she tried to escape again?’

Yvane rose to her feet. There was just a hint of stiffness, the slightest unsteadiness, in the movement. Perhaps her years weighed a little more heavily on her now. Perhaps sleepless nights were taking their toll on her, as they did on so many others.

‘She’s not some wild animal,’ Yvane said softly. ‘Nor a prisoner, as far as I recall.’

‘Maybe not, but we’ve paid a high price to bring her here. If we lose her, that price was for nothing. She’s tried to slip away once already.’

Yvane hunched forwards a little to brush straw and dirt from her hide dress. She gave the task more attention than it merited.

‘What?’ asked Orisian.

‘You’re wounded,’ the na’kyrim muttered.

Orisian put a hand to the side of his face, tracing the great welt that ran up his cheek, feeling the yielding gap left by lost teeth. That was not what she meant, though. He knew the shape of her concerns, and it had nothing to do with the punishment his body had taken.

‘Some wounds grow thick scars,’ she said. ‘Enough wounds, enough scars, and you can hardly recognise the one who bears them. Ends up being someone completely different.’

Orisian grimaced and stared down at the flagstone floor. He did not want to hear this. It achieved nothing, ploughing over and over the same small field of Yvane’s preoccupations.

‘When I first met you …’ the na’kyrim began.

‘When you first met me, all of this had only just started. I hadn’t seen then what I’ve seen now.’

Yvane sniffed and rubbed at her nose with the back of a grubby finger.

‘None of us had, I don’t suppose,’ she said. ‘I could see why Inurian had taken to you, back then. I could see a little something of what he must have seen in you. He always prized gentleness, thoughtfulness. Compassion.’

‘There are other things I need - we need - more now.’

‘Are there? You think Inurian would agree, if he was still here? You think he would find you as worthy of his affection now as he did …’

‘Don’t,’ Orisian snapped. He glared at her, and met those impassive, piercing eyes with a resilience he would once have thought impossible. He had much deeper reserves of anger to draw upon now, and it could armour him against even Yvane’s fierce gaze.

She smiled, a gesture that started sad and became something much darker and colder before it faded away. She looked down at K’rina.

‘None of us had any idea how far all of this would go,’ she muttered. ‘Except perhaps Inurian. He looked into Aeglyss’ heart back then and saw the poison in it.’

‘We’ve got a prisoner. He talks of Aeglyss as a leader. A ruler, almost, in Kan Avor. As if they all follow him now.’

‘Oh?’ Yvane sounded barely interested.

‘It makes K’rina more important.’

‘As what? A club to beat Aeglyss with?’

‘Or a key in a lock,’ Orisian said, exasperated. ‘I don’t know. Something. It was you and Eshenna who told me she mattered in the first place. I didn’t want to find her like this. None of us did. But now we know the White Owls - Aeglyss - were seeking her. We can see that something, whatever it is, has been done to her. She’s important. Don’t blame me for wanting to understand how, and why. For wanting to know that there was a reason for my warriors to die finding her.’

Yvane held out a placatory hand. ‘We’ll disturb her,’ she said, with a glance down at the prostrate woman in the straw. She bent and picked up the little candle. The flame died between her finger and thumb. For a moment there was only darkness, and the wind rattling the roof shingles.

‘Let’s go back to the house,’ Yvane said.

They barred the door of the shed behind them.

‘I need to know, Yvane,’ Orisian said as they walked. ‘We all do. There’s no time left to be gentle, or cautious. Things are falling apart. If K’rina is to mean anything …’

‘Mean anything?’ Yvane snapped, coming to a sudden halt and jabbed Orisian in the chest. ‘She means as much as I do. Or you. That is precisely what she means. Or do you think a mere halfbreed must work harder than that to have meaning?’

‘You know that’s not ..’ Orisian protested.

‘Something’s been done to her,’ Yvane rushed on, uninterested in anything he might have to say. ‘That’s what you said. Well, she didn’t do it to herself. The Anain have scraped out her mind, as best we can tell. As if she was nothing, as if whatever thoughts and feelings were in there before mattered not at all. She’s a victim in all of this, as surely as anyone is. As surely as Inurian was, or Cerys or any of the others at Highfast.’

She hung her head. The two of them stood there in the dark yard, the wind rumbling overhead.

‘Nevertheless,’ murmured Orisian.

‘Nevertheless,’ said Yvane dully. ‘There’s always a nevertheless. But not tonight. Tonight, I’m going to try to sleep.’ She turned and walked away from him, towards the pale flame of a candle burning in the window of the house.

* * *

Orisian stalked back to his bedchamber with familiar, imprecise anger churning in him. It was always there, always ready to fill any spaces in his thoughts if given the chance. Yvane would say it was the wake Aeglyss left as he moved through the Shared, discolouring everything - every mind - it washed up against. Orisian did not know. It felt like his own thing, crafted from his own experience, but he did not doubt that such a sense might be deceptive. It hardly mattered. It was there, in his heart and his mind, and he must deal with it, whatever its source.

Before taking to his bed he looked down on the orchard once more. The fire was still burning, a little beacon beneath the creaking and swaying apple trees. There was no sign of Ess’yr and Varryn. They had probably retired to the shelters they had made for themselves.

He laid himself out on the mattress and closed his eyes. He no longer expected any night to bring easy rest, for they were always full of frightening dreams and sudden wakings. Still, he could hope.

5 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Just a general idea, but what about a "Click to Continue reading" button that hides the text from the excerpts. Scrolling past them is kind of annoying and I bet a big part of the people who frequent this blog don't read the excerpts at all...

ediFanoB said...

I must admit that I like the idea of a "Click to Continue reading".
Beside this I read excerpts when I'm interested in. In this case I won't read the excerpt because I will get my copy of Fall of Thanes within upcoming week.

KP said...

Just finishing Bloodheir and already have Fall of Thanes sitting on the shelf waiting - should start it today. I like the series and looking forward to the conclusion.

Ryan said...

I agree with the click to continue idea - I particularly don't want to read the excerpts. It's great that you got them, but one chapter isn't enough for me to get an idea of what something's about and I'd rather not read a single bit when I can't read the whole thing.

Adam Whitehead said...

Pat, did Brian update his excerpt later on or did you publish the wrong one? This excerpt is the same as the one on his website.