Excerpt from Daniel Abraham's THE PRICE OF SPRING

Now that the novel's pub date is just around the corner, Daniel Abraham is kind enough to supply this extract from The Price of Spring to whet your appetite! For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.


The voyage returning Otah to the cities of the Khaiem took weeks to prepare, and if the ships that had left Saraykeht all those months before had looked like an invading fleet, the ones returning were a city built on the water. The high-masted Galtic ships with their great billowing sails dyed red and blue and gold took to the sea by the dozens. Every great family of Galt seemed bent on sending a ship greater than the others. The ships of the utkhaiem--lacquered and delicate and low to the water--seemed small and awkward beside these, their newest seafaring cousins. Birds circled above them, screaming confusion as if a part of the coast itself had set out for foreign lands. The land of Otah's one-time enemies fell away behind them. That first night, the torches and lanterns made the sea appear as full of stars as the sky.

One of the small gifts the gods had granted Otah was a fondness for travel by ship. The shifting of the deck under his feet, the vast scent of the ocean, the call of the gulls were like visiting a place he had once lived. He stood at the prow of the great Galtic ship given him by the High Council for his journey home and looked out at the rising sun.

He had spent years in the eastern islands as a boy. He'd been a middling fisherman, a better midwife's assistant, a good sailor. He had come close to marrying an island woman, and still bore the first half of the marriage tattoo on his breast. The ink had faded and spread over the years as if he was a parchment dropped in water. With the slap of waves against wood, the salt-laden air, the morning light dancing gold and rose on the water, he remembered those days.

This late in the morning, he would already have cast his nets. His fingers would have been numbed by the cold. He would have been eating the traditional breakfast of fish paste and nuts from an earthenware jar. The men he had known would be doing the same today, those who were still alive. In another life, another world, he might be doing it still.

He had lived so many lives: half-starved street child; petty thief; seafront laborer; fisherman; assistant midwife; courier; khai; husband; father; war leader; emperor. Put in a line that way, he could see how another person might imagine his life to be an unending upward spiral, but it didnft feel that way to him. He had done what he had to at the time. One thing had led to another. A man without particular ambition had been placed atop the world, and likewise the world had been placed atop him. And against all probability, he found himself here, wearing the richest robes in the cities, with a private cabin larger than some boats hefd worked, and thinking fondly of fish paste and nuts.

Lost in thought, he heard the little shipfs boat hail a booming voice speaking Galtic words before he knew it was approaching. The watchman of his own vessel replied, and then the landsman's chair descended. Otah watched idly as a man in the colors of House Dasin was winched up, swung over, and lowered to the deck. A knot of Otah's own clerks and servants formed around the newcomer. Otah pulled his hands up into his sleeves and made his way back.

The boy was a servant of some sort the Galts had a system of gradation that Otah hadn't bothered to memorize with hair the color of beach sand and a greenish tint to his face. Seeing Otah, the servant took a pose of abject obeisance poorly.

"Most high," he said, his words heavily inflected, "Councilman Dasin sends his regards. He and his wife extend the invitation to a dinner and concert aboard the Avenger tomorrow evening."

The boy gulped and looked down. There had, no doubt, been a more formal and flowery speech planned. Nausea led to brevity. Otah glanced at his Master of Tides, a youngish woman with a face like a hatchet and a mind for detail that would have served her in any trade. She took a pose that deferred to Otah's judgment, gave permission, and offered to make excuse all with a single gesture. Dasin's servant wouldn't have seen a third of her meanings. Otah glanced over at the shining water. The sun's angle had already shifted, the light already changed its colors and the colors of the ocean that bore them. He allowed himself a small sigh.

Even here there would be no escape from it. Etiquette and court politics, parties and private audiences, favors asked and given. There was no end of it because of course there wasn't. No more than a farmer could stop planting fields, a fisherman stop casting nets, a tradesman close up warehouses and stalls and spend long days in singing in teahouses or soaking in baths.

"I should be pleased," he said. "Please convey my gratitude to Farrer-cha and his family."

The boy bowed his thanks rather than making a formal pose, then blushing, adopted a pose of gratitude and retreated back to the landsman's chair. With a great shouting and the creak of wood and leather, the chair rose, swung out over the water, and descended. Otah watched the boy vanish over the rail, but didn't see him safely to the boat. The invitation was a reminder of all that waited for him in his cabin below decks. Otah took a long, deep breath, feeling the salt and the sunlight in his lungs, and descended to the endless business of Empire.

Letters had arrived from Yalakeht outlining a conspiracy by three of the high families of the utkhaiem to claim independence and name a Khai Yalakeht. Chaburi-Tan had suffered another attack by pirates. Though the invaders had been driven off, it was becoming clear that the Westlands mercenary company hired to protect the city was also in negotiation with the raiders; trade to the city's economy was on the edge of collapse.

There was some positive news from the palaces at Utani. Danat wrote that the low farms around Pathai, Utani, and Lachi were all showing a good crop, and the cattle plague they'd feared had come to nothing, so those three cities, at least, wouldn't be starving for at least the next year.

Otah read until the servants brought his midday meal, then again for two and a half hands. He slept after that in a suspended cot whose oiled chains shifted with the rocking ship but never let out so much as a whisper. He woke with the low sunlight of evening sloping in the cabin window and the low thunder of feet above him announcing the change of watch as clearly as the drum and flute. He lay there for a moment, his mind pleasantly emptied by his rest, then swung his legs over, dropped to the deck, and composed two of the seven letters he would send ahead of the massive, celebratory fleet.

When, the next evening, his Master of Tides sent to remind him of the engagement he'd agreed to, Otah had indeed forgotten it. He allowed servants to dress him in robes of emerald silk and cloth of gold, his long, white hair to be bound back. His temples were anointed with oils smelling of lavender and sandalwood. Decades now he had been Emperor or else Khai Machi, and the exercise still struck him as ridiculous. He had been slow to understand the value of ceremony and tradition. He still wasn't entirely convinced.

The boat that bore him and his retinue across to the Dasin's ship, the Avenger, was festooned with flowers and torches. Blossoms fell into the water, floating there with the reflections of flame. Otah stood, watching as the oarsmen pulled him toward the great warship. His footing was as sure as a seaman's, and he was secretly proud of the fact. The high members of the utkhaiem who had joined him--Auna Tiyan, Piyat Saya, and old Adaut Kamau--all kept to their benches. The Avenger itself glowed with candle light, the effect lessened by the last remnant of the glorious sunset behind it. When full darkness came, the ship would look like something from a children's story. Otah tried to appreciate it for what it would become.

The landsman's chair took each of them up in turn, Otah last out of respect for his rank. The deck of the Avenger was as perfect and controlled as any palace ballroom, any Khaiate garden, any high chamber of the Galts. Chairs that seemed made of silver filigree and breath were scattered over the fresh-scrubbed boards in patterns that looked both careless and perfect. Musicians played reed organ and harp, and a small chorus of singers sat in the rigging, as if the ship itself had joined the song. Swinging down in the landsman's chair, Otah saw half a dozen men he knew including, his face upturned and amused, Balasar Gice.

Farrer Dasin stood with his wife Issandra and the young woman--the girl--Ana. Otah let himself be drawn up from the chair by his servants, and stepped forward to his hosts. Farrer stood stiff as cast iron, his smile never reaching his eyes. Issandra's eyes still had the reddened rims that Otah recalled, but there was also pleasure there. And her daughter . . .

Ana Dasin, the Galt who would one day be Empress of the Khaiem, reminded Otah of a rabbit. Her huge, brown eyes and small mouth looked perpetually startled, and her voice was so soft, Otah always half-wondered whether he'd understood her when she spoke. She wore a gown of blue as pale as a robin's egg that didn't seem to fit her complexion and a necklace of raw gold that did. She would have seemed meek, except that there was something of her mother in the line of her jaw and the set of her shoulders. It was to her he made his first greeting.

"Ana-cha," he said. "I hope I find you well."

"Thank you, most high," she said. "And you also."

"Emperor," Farrer Dasin said in his own language.

"Councilman Dasin," Otah said. "You are kind to invite me."

Farrer's nod made it clear that he would have preferred not to. The singers above them reached the end of one song, paused, and launched into another. Issandra stepped forward smiling and rested her hand on Otah's arm.

"Forgive my husband," she said. "He was never fond of shipboard life. And he spent seven years as a sailor."

"I hadn't known that," Otah said.

"Fighting Eymond," the councilman said. "Sank twelve of their ships. Burned their harbor at Cathir."

Otah smiled and nodded. He wondered how his own history as a fisherman would be received if he shared it now. He chose to leave the subject behind.

"The weather is treating us gently," Otah said. "We will be in Saraykeht before summer's end."

He could see in all their faces that it had been the wrong thing. The father's jaw tightened, his nostrils flared. The mother's smile lost its sharp corners and her eyes grew sad. Ana looked away.

"Come see what they've done with the kitchens, most high," Issandra said. "It's really quite remarkable."

After a short tour of the ship, Issandra released him, and Otah made his way to the dais that was intended for him. Other guests arrived from Galtic ships and the utkhaiem, each new person greeting the councilman and his family, and then coming to Otah. He had expected to see a division among them: the Galts resentful and full of barely controlled rage much like Farrer Dasin, and Otah's own people pleased at the prospects that his treaty opened for them. Instead, he saw as the guests came and went, as the banquet was served, as priests of Galt intoned their celebratory rites, that opinions were more varied and more complex.

At the opening ceremony, the divisions were clear. Here, the robes of the Khaiem, there the tunics and gowns of that Galts. But very quickly, the people on the deck began to shift. Small groups fell into discussion, often no more than two or three people. Otah's practiced eye could pick out the testing smile and almost flirtatious laughter of men on the verge of negotiation. And as the evening progressed--candles burning down and being replaced, slow courses of wine and fish and meat and pastry making their way from the very cleverly built kitchens to the gently shifting deck--as many Galts had the glint in their eyes that spoke of sensed opportunity. Larger groups formed and broke apart, the proportions of their two nations seeming almost even. Otah felt as if he'd stirred a muddy pool, and was now seeing the first outlines of the new forms that the pool might take.

And yet, some groups were unmoved. Two clusters of Galts never budged or admitted in anyone wearing robes, but also a fair-sized clot of people of the cities of the Khaiem sat near the far rail, their backs to the celebration, their conversation almost pointedly relying on court poses too subtle for foreigners to follow.

Women, Otah noted. The people of his nation whose anger was clearest in their bodies and speech tended to be women. He thought of Eiah, and cool melancholy touched his heart. Trafficking in wombs, she would have called it. To her, this agreement would be the clearest and most nearly final statement that what mattered about the women of the cities--about his own daughter--was whether they could bear. He could hear her voice saying it, could see the pain in the way she held her chin. He murmured his counter-arguments, as if she were there, as if she could hear him.

It wasn't a turning away, only an acknowledgement of what they all knew. The woman of the Khaiem were just as clever, just as strong, just as important as they had ever been. The brokering of marriage--and yes, specifically marriage bent on producing children--was no more an attack on Eiah and her generation than building city militias or hiring mercenary companies or any of the things he had done to hold the cities safe had been.

It sounded patronizing, even to him.

There had to be some way, he thought, to honor and respect the pain and the loss that they had suffered without forfeiting the future. He remembered Kiyan warning him that some women--not all, but some--who could not bear children went mad from longing. She told stories of babies being stolen, or of pregnant women killed and the babes taken from their dying wombs.

Wanting could be a sickness, she had said. He remembered the night she'd said it, where the lantern had been, how the air had smelled of burning oil and pine boughs. He remembered his daughter's expression at hearing the phrase, like she'd found expression for something she'd always known, and his own sense of dread. Kiyan had tried to warn him of something, and it had to do with the backs of the people now at the rails, turned away from the Galts and the negotiated future forming behind them. Eiah had known. Otah felt he had still only half-grasped it. Farrer Dasin, he thought, might see it more clearly.

"It appears to be going quite well, wouldn't you say, most high?"

Balasar Gice stood beside the dais, his hands in a pose of greeting. The cool night air or else the wine had touched his cheeks with red.

"Does it? I hope so," Otah said, smoothing away his darker thougths. "I think there are more trade agreements than wars brewing tonight. It's hard to know."

"There's hope," Balasar said. And then, his voice growing reflective, "There's hope, and that's actually quite new. I hadn't realized it had become quite such a rare thing, these last few years."

"How nice," Otah said more sharply than he'd intended. Balasar looked at him more closely, and Otah waved the concern away. "I'm old and tired. And I've eaten more Galtic food than I could have wanted in a lifetime. It's astounding you people ever got up from your tables."

"You aren't expected to finish every dish," Balasar said. "Ah, I think the entertainment has begun."

Otah looked up. Servants and sailors were silently moving across the deck like a wind over the water. The glow of candles lessened and the scent of spent wicks filled the air as a stage appeared as if conjured across the deck from Otah's dais. The singers that had hung from the rigging had apparently made their way down, because they rose now, taking their places. Servants placed three more chairs on the dais at Otah's side, and Councilman Dasin and his family took their seats. Farrer smelled prodigiously of distilled wine and sat the farthest from him, his wife close at his side, leaving Ana nearest to Otah.

The singers bowed their heads for a moment, then the low sounds of their voices began to swell. Otah closed his eyes. It was a song he knew--a court dance from the Second Empire. The harmonies were perfect and rich, sorrowful and joyous. This, he understood, was a gift. Galtic voices raised in a song of an empire that was not their own. He let himself be carried by it, and when the voices fell again, the last throbbing notes fading to silence, he was among the first to applaud. Otah was surprised to find tears in his eyes.

Ana Dasin, at his side, was also weeping. When he met her eyes, she looked down, said something he couldn't hear, and walked briskly away. He watched her descend the stairs below decks as the singers began another, more boisterous song. Otah's gaze flickered to Issandra. In the dim light, the subtle signs of age were softened. He saw for a moment who she had been as a younger woman. She met his eyes with a profound weariness. Farrer had his hand on her arm, holding her gently to him though the man's face remained turned away. Otah wondered, not for the first time, what brokering this agreement had cost Issandra Dasin.

He glanced back at the stairs down which her daughter had vanished, and then back, his hands shifting into a pose that made an implicit offer. Issandra raised an eyebrow, a half smile making a dimple in one cheek. Otah tugged at his robes, straightening the lines, and stepped carefully down from the dais. The girl Ana would be his daughter too, soon enough. If her true mother and father weren't placed to speak with her in her distress, perhaps it was time that Otah did.

Below decks, the Galtic ship was as cramped and close and ripe with the scent of tightly-quartered humanity as any ship Otah had sailed with. Under normal circumstances, the deck now peopled with the guests of the Dasin family would have given room to a full watch of sailors. Instead, most were lurking in the tiny rooms, waiting for the songs to end and their own turn with fresh air to come. Still, Otah, Emperor of the Khaiem, found a way cleared for him, conversations stopping when he came in view. He made his way forward, squinting into the darkness for a glimpse of the rabbit-faced girl.

Galtic design divided the cargo hold in sections, and it was in one of these dark chambers that he heard the girl's voice. Crates and boxes loomed above him to either side, the binding ropes creaking gently with the rolling ship. Rats chattered and complained. And there, hunched over as if she were protecting something pressed to her belly, sat Ana Dasin.

"Excuse me," Otah said. "I don't mean to intrude, but . . . may I sit?"

Ana looked up at him. Her dark eyes shone like river stones in the dim light. Her nod was so faint it might almost have been the movement of the ship. Otah stepped carefully over the rough board, hitched his robes up to his shins, and sat at the girl's side. They were silent. Above them, the singers struck a complex rhythm, like jugglers tossing pins between them. Otah sighed.

"I know this isn't easy for you," he said.

"What isn't, most high?"

"Otah. Please, my name is Otah. You can call me that. I mean all of this. Being uprooted, married off to a man you've never met in a city you've never been to."

"It's what's expected of me," she said.

"Yes, I know, but . . . it isn't really fair."

"No," she said, her voice suddenly hard. "It isn't."

Otah clasped his hands, fingers laced together.

"He isn't a bad man, my son," Otah said. "He's clever and he's strong, and he cares about people. He feels deeply. He's probably a better man than I was at his age."

"Forgive me, most high," Ana Dasin said. "I don't know what you want me to say."

"Nothing. Nothing in particular. Only know that this life that we've forced on you . . . it might have some redeeming qualities. The gods all know the life I've had wasn't the one I expected either. We do what we have to do. In my ways, I'm as constrained by it as you are."

She looked at him as he were speaking a language she hadn't heard before. Otah shook his head.

"It's nothing, Ana-cha," he said. "Only know that I know how hard this time is, and it will get better. If you allow room for it, this new life might even surprise you."

The girl was quiet for a moment, her brow furrowed. She shook her head.

"Thank you?" she said.

Otah chuckled ruefully.

"I'm not doing a particularly good job of this, am I?" he said.

"I don't know," Ana Dasin said after a pause. Her tone carried the shielded contempt of an adolescent for her elders. "I don't know what you're doing."

Making his way back through the crowded belly of the ship, Otah wondered what he had thought he would say to a Galtic girl who had seen forty five fewer summers than himself. He had expected to offer some kind of wisdom, some variety of comfort, and instead it had been like trying to hold a conversation with a cat. Who would have thought a man could be as old as he was, wield the power of empire, and still be so naive as to think his heart would be explicable to an eighteen-year-old girl?

And, of course, as he reached the plank stairway that led up, he found what he wished he had said. He should have said that he knew what courage it took to face sacrifice. He should have said that he knew her suffering was real, and that it was in a noble cause. It made them alike, the Emperor and the Empress-to-be, that they compromised in order to make the lives of uncountable strangers better.

More than that, he should have encouraged her to speak, and he should have listened.

An approving roar came from the deck above him. A reed organ hummed and sang, flute and drum following a heartbeat later. Otah hesitated and turned back. He would try again. At worst, the girl would think he was ridiculous, and she likely already did that.

As he drew near the hold, he heard her weeping again, her voice straining at words he couldn't make out. A man's voice answered, not her father's. Otah hesitated, then quietly stepped forward.

In the gloom, Ana Dasin knelt, her arms around a young man. The boy, whoever he was, wore the work clothes of a sailor, but his arms were thin and his skin was as pale as the girl's. He returned her embrace, his arms finding their way around her as if through long acquaintance; his tear-streaked face nuzzled her hair. Ana Dasin stroked the boy's head, murmuring reassurances.

Ah, Otah thought as he stepped back, unnoticed. That's how it is.

Above deck, he smiled and nodded at Issandra and pretended to turn his attention back to the music. He wondered how many other sacrifices he had demanded in order to remake the world according to his vision, how many other lovers would be parted to further his little scheme to save two empires. He would likely never know the full price of it. As if in answer, the candles guttered in the breeze, the reed organ took a mournful turn, and the sea through which they sailed grew darker.

6 commentaires:

Guy said...

anyone know why Tor has not released the cover for this release
neither in amazon or other retail stores or the official site, although the black and white version was in their catalog and Daniel Abraham poster the art quite a long time ago

Anonymous said...

That, my friends, is a very beautiful picture... Might be worth checking out, this series...

pdxtrent said...

Damn that man can write! I've read the first two books, but I never get over how well he writes. If anyone hasn't read at least A Betrayal in Winter, they owe it to themselves.

Anonymous said...

We've been so pleased with this series and have reviewed The Price of Spring at Fantasy Literature.

Anonymous said...

I can't hardly wait for this; reading this has made waiting even harder! :) This is a fantastic series!

ediFanoB said...

I didn't read the excerpt because I haven't read yet the other books. But due to great reviews I bought A Shadow In Summer recently. The book is part of my summer reading list.