Exclusive excerpt from Peter V. Brett's THE DESERT SPEAR

With Peter V. Brett's novella The Great Bazaar and Other Stories about to be released, and the paperback edition of The Warded Man (Canada, USA, Europe) just around the corner, Peter and I figured that an excerpt from the forthcoming The Desert Spear (Canada, USA, Europe) seemed to be apropos.


305-308 AR

Jardir was nine when the dal’Sharum took him from his mother. It was young, even in Krasia, but the Kaji tribe had lost many warriors that year and needed to bolster their ranks lest one of the other tribes attempt to encroach on their domain.

Jardir, his three younger sisters, and their mother, Kajivah, shared a single room in the Kaji adobe slum by the dry well. His father, Hoshkamin, had died in battle two years before, slain in a well raid by the Majah tribe. It was customary for one of a fallen warrior’s companions to take his widows as wives and provide for his children, but Kajivah had given birth to three daughters in a row, an ill omen that no man would bring into his household. They lived on a small stipend of food from the local dama, and if they had nothing else, they had each other.

“Ahmann asu Hoshkamin am’Jardir am’Kaji,” Drillmaster Qeran said, “you will come with us to the Kaji’sharaj to find your Hannu Pash, the path Everam wills for you.” He stood in the doorway with Drillmaster Kaval, the two warriors tall and forbidding in their black robes with the red drillmaster veils. They looked on impassively as Jardir’s mother wept and embraced him.

“You must be man for our family now, Ahmann,” Kajivah told him, “for me and your sisters. We have no one else.”

“I will, Mother,” Jardir promised. “I’ll become a great warrior and build you a palace.”

“Of that, I have no doubt,” Kajivah said. “They say I was cursed, to bear three girls after you, but I say Everam blessed our family with a son so great, he needed no brothers.” She hugged him tightly, her tears wet on his cheek.

“Enough weeping,” Drillmaster Kaval said, taking Jardir’s arm and pulling him away. Jardir’s young sisters stared as they led him from the tiny apartment.

“It is always this way,” Qeran said. “Mothers can never let go.”

“She has no man to care for her,” Jardir replied.

“You were not told to speak, boy,” Kaval barked, cuffing him hard on the back of the head. Jardir bit back a cry of pain as his knee struck the sandstone street. His heart screamed at him to strike back, but he checked himself. However much the Kaji might need warriors, the dal’Sharum would kill him for such an affront with no more thought than a man might give to squashing a scorpion under his sandal.

“Every man in Krasia cares for her,” Qeran said, jerking his head back toward the door, “spilling blood in the night to keep her safe as she weeps over her sorry excuse for a son.”

They turned down the street, heading toward the Great Bazaar. Jardir knew the way well, for he went to the market often, though he had no money. The scents of spice and perfume were a heady mix, and he liked to gaze at the spears and wicked curved blades in the armorers’ kiosks. Sometimes he fought with other boys, readying himself for the day he would be a warrior.

It was rare for dal’Sharum to enter the bazaar; such places were beneath them. Women, children, and khaffit scurried out of the drillmasters’ path. Jardir watched the warriors carefully, doing his best to imitate their carriage.

Someday, he thought, it will be my path that others scramble to clear.

Kaval checked a chalked slate and looked up at a large tent, streaming with colored banners. “This is the place,” he said, and Qeran grunted. Jardir followed as they lifted the flap and strode inside without bothering to announce themselves.

The inside of the tent smelled of incense smoke, and it was richly carpeted, filled with piles of silk pillows, racks of hanging carpets, painted pottery, and other treasures. Jardir ran a finger along a bolt of silk, shivering at its smoothness.

My mother and sisters should be clad in such cloth, he thought. He looked at his own tan pantaloons and vest, grimy and torn, and longed for the day he could don a warrior’s blacks.

A woman at the counter gave a shriek as she caught sight of the drillmasters, and Jardir looked up at her just as she pulled her veil over her face.

“Omara vah’Haman vah’Kaji?” Qeran asked. The woman nodded, eyes wide with fear.

“We have come for your son, Abban,” Qeran said.

“He’s not here,” Omara said, but her eyes and hands, the only parts of her visible beneath the thick black cloth, trembled. “I sent him out this morning, delivering goods.”

“Search the back,” Qeran told Kaval. The drillmaster nodded and headed for the dividing flap behind the counter.

“No, please!” Omara cried, stepping in his path. Kaval ignored her, shoving her aside and disappearing into the back. There were more shrieks, and a moment later the drillmaster reemerged clutching the arm of a young boy in a tan vest, cap, and pantaloons—though of much finer cloth than Jardir’s. He was perhaps a year or two older than Jardir, stocky and well fed. A number of older girls followed him out, two in tans and three more in the black, open-faced headwraps of unmarried women.

“Abban am’Haman am’Kaji,” Qeran said, “you will come with us to the Kaji’sharaj to find your Hannu Pash, the path Everam wills for you.” The boy trembled at the words.

Omara wailed, grabbing at her son, trying to pull him back. “Please! He is too young! Another year, I beg!”

“Silence, woman,” Kaval said, shoving her to the floor. “The boy is old and fat enough as it is. If he is left to you another day, he will end up khaffit like his father.”

“Be proud, woman,” Qeran told her. “Your son is being given the chance to rise above his father and serve Everam and the Kaji.”

Omara clenched her fists, but she stayed where she had landed, head down, and wept quietly. No woman would dare defy a dal’Sharum. Abban’s sisters clutched at her, sharing in her grief. Abban reached for them, but Kaval jerked him away. The boy cried and wailed as they dragged him out of the tent. Jardir could hear the women crying even after the heavy flap fell closed and the clamor of the market surrounded them.

The warriors all but ignored the boys as they led the way to the training grounds, letting them trail after. Abban continued to weep and shake as they went.

“Why are you crying?” Jardir asked him. “The road ahead is bright with glory.”

“I don’t want to be a warrior,” Abban said. “I don’t want to die.”

Jardir shrugged. “Maybe you’ll be called to be dama.”

Abban shuddered. “That would be worse. A dama killed my father.”

“Why?” Jardir asked.

“My father accidentally spilled ink on his robe,” Abban said.

“The dama killed him just for that?” Jardir asked.

Abban nodded, fresh tears welling in his eyes. “He broke my father’s neck right then. It happened so fast… he reached out, there was a snap, and my father was falling.” He swallowed hard. “Now I’m the only man left to look out for my mother and sisters.”

Jardir took his hand. “My father’s dead, too, and they say my mother’s cursed for having three daughters in a row. But we are men of Kaji. We can surpass our fathers and bring honor back to our women.”

“But I’m scared,” Abban sniffed.

“I am, too, a little,” Jardir admitted, looking down as he said it. A moment later, he brightened. “Let’s make a pact.”

Abban, raised in the cutthroat business of the bazaar, looked at him suspiciously. “What kind of pact?”

“We’ll help each other through Hannu Pash,” Jardir said. “If you stumble, I will catch you, and if I fall, you,” he smirked and slapped Abban’s round belly, “will cushion it.”

Abban yelped and rubbed his belly, but he did not complain, looking at Jardir in wonder. “You mean that?” he asked, drying his eyes with the back of his hand.

Jardir nodded. They were walking in the shade of the bazaar’s awnings, but he grabbed Abban’s arm and pulled him into the sunlight. “I swear it by Everam’s light.”

Abban smiled widely. “And I swear it by the jeweled Crown of Kaji.”

“Keep up!” Kaval barked, and they chased after, but Abban moved with confidence now.

The drillmasters drew wards in the air as they passed the great temple Sharik Hora, mumbling prayers to Everam, the Creator. Beyond Sharik Hora lay the training grounds, and Jardir and Abban tried to look everywhere at once, taking in the warriors at their practice. Some worked with shield and spear or net, while others marched or ran in lockstep. Watchers stood upon the top rungs of ladders braced against nothing, honing their balance. Still more dal’Sharum hammered spearheads and warded shields, or practiced sharusahk—the art of empty-handed battle.

There were twelve sharaji, or schools, surrounding the training grounds, one for each tribe. Jardir and Abban were Kaji tribe, and thus were taken to the Kaji’sharaj. Here they would begin the Hannu Pash and emerge as dama, dal’Sharum, or khaffit.

“The Kaji’sharaj is so much larger than the others,” Abban said, looking up at the huge pavilion tent. “Only the Majah’ sharaj is even close.”

“Of course it is,” Kaval said. “Did you think it coincidence that our tribe is named Kaji, after Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer? We are the get of his thousand wives, blood of his blood. The Majah,” he spat, “are only the blood of the weakling who ruled after the Shar’Dama Ka left this world. The other tribes are inferior to us in every way. Never forget that.”

They were taken into the pavilion and given bidos—simple white loincloths—and their tans were taken to be burned. They were nie’Sharum now; not warriors, but not boys, either.

“A month of gruel and hard training will burn the fat from you, boy,” Kaval said as Abban removed his shirt. The drillmaster punched Abban’s round belly in disgust. Abban doubled over from the blow, but Jardir caught him before he fell, steadying him until he caught his breath. When they were finished changing, the drillmasters took them to the barrack.

“New blood!” Qeran shouted as they were shoved into a large, unfurnished room filled with other nie’Sharum. “Ahmann asu Hoshkamin am’Jardir am’Kaji, and Abban am’Haman am’Kaji! They are your brothers now.”

Abban colored, and Jardir knew immediately why, as did every other boy present. By leaving out his father’s name, Qeran had as much as announced that Abban’s father was khaffit—the lowest and most despised caste in Krasian society. Khaffit were cowards and weaklings, men who could not hold to the warrior way.

“Ha! You bring us a fat pig-eater’s son and a scrawny rat!” the largest of the nie’Sharum cried. “Throw them back!” The other boys all laughed.

Drillmaster Qeran growled and punched the boy in the face. He hit the stone floor hard, spitting up a gob of blood. All laughing ceased.

“Make mock when you have lost your bido, Hasik,” Qeran said. “Until then, you are all scrawny, pig-eating khaffit rats.” With that, he and Kaval turned on their heels and strode out.

“You’ll pay for that, rats,” Hasik said, the last word ending in a strange whistle. He tore the loose tooth from his mouth and threw it at Abban, who flinched when it struck. Jardir stepped in front of him and snarled, but Hasik and his cohorts had already turned away.

* * * * *

Soon after they arrived, they were given bowls, and the gruel pot was set out. Famished, Jardir went right for the pot, and Abban hurried even faster, but one of the older boys blocked their path. “You think you eat before me?” he demanded. He shoved Jardir into Abban, and they both fell to the floor.

“Get up, if you mean to eat,” said the drillmaster who had brought the gruel. “The boys at the end of the line go hungry.”

Abban shrieked, and they scrambled to their feet. Already, most of the boys had lined up, roughly in order of size and strength, with Hasik at the very front. At the back of the line, the smallest boys fought fiercely to avoid the spots at the end.

“What are we going to do?” Abban asked.

“We’re going to get on that line,” Jardir said, grabbing Abban’s arm and dragging him toward the center, where the boys were still outweighed by well-fed Abban. “My father said that weakness shown is worse than weakness felt.”

“But I don’t know how to fight!” Abban protested, shaking.

“You’re about to learn,” Jardir said. “When I knock someone down, fall on him with all your weight.”

“I can do that,” Abban agreed. Jardir guided them right up to a boy who snarled in challenge. He puffed out his chest and faced up against Abban, the larger of the two boys.

“Get to the back of the line, new rats!” he growled.

Jardir said nothing, punching the boy in the stomach and kicking at his knees. When he fell, Abban took his cue, falling on the boy like a sandstone pillar. By the time Abban got up, Jardir had already taken the boy’s place in line. He glared at those behind, and they made room for Abban, as well.

A single ladle of gruel slopped into their bowls was their reward. “That’s it?” Abban asked in shock. The server glared at him, and Jardir quickly ushered him away. The corners of the room had already been taken by the older boys, so they retreated to one of the walls.

“I’ll starve on this,” Abban said, swirling the watery gruel in his bowl.

“We’re still better off than some,” Jardir said, pointing to a pair of bruised boys with nothing to eat at all. “You can have some of mine,” he added when Abban did not brighten. “I never got much more than this at home.”

* * * * *

They slept on the sandstone floor of the barrack, thin blankets their only shield against the cold. Used to sharing the warmth of his mother and sisters, Jardir nestled against Abban’s warm bulk. In the distance, he heard the Horn of Sharak, and knew battle was being joined. It took a long time for him to drift off, dreaming of glory.

He woke with a start when another of the thin blankets was thrown over his face. He struggled hard, but the cloth was twisted behind his head and held tight. He heard Abban’s muffled scream next to him.

Blows began to rain down on him from all sides, kicks and punches blasting the breath from his body and rattling his brains. Jardir flailed his limbs wildly, but though he felt several of his blows connect, it did nothing to lessen the onslaught. Before long, he was hanging limply, supported wholly by the suffocating blanket.

When he thought he could endure no more and must surely die, never having gained paradise or glory, a familiar voice said, “Welcome to the Kaji’sharaj, rats,” the ‘s’ at the end whistling through Hasik’s missing tooth. The blankets were released, dropping them to the floor.

The other boys laughed and went back to their blankets as Jardir and Abban curled tight and wept in the darkness.

6 commentaires:

CJohnson said...

I really liked the first book, this one doesn't look like it will disappoint!

Desk Jockey said...

I have the Warded Man on my to read pile. Great to see a newly published author like Brett enjoy some success. Can't wait to get to his book (Long away as I have about 15 books on my to-read pile).

nette said...

That's an oddly compelling cover...

Simiyu said...

Brilliant, cant wait to read the whole book. 2010 looks to be a great year for book lovers

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this glimpse!
So eager to read it all!

Elfy said...

I'm really pleased you posted that, Pat. I've picked up and put down The Painted Man on a number of occasions, mainly because of the hype around it. I've read the back blurb and read a few pages here and there in the book. I always put it back on the shelf, because it just doesn't do anything for me. This excerpt served to confirm my opinion. It's not a series I have any desire to read and I thank you because by posting this particular excerpt you've saved me some money.