Exclusive excerpt from J. V. Jones' WATCHER OF THE DEAD

J. V. Jones' Watcher of the Dead has just been released. And in order to promote its publication, here's an exclusive extract from the book! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.


Do And Be Damned

Stannig Beade left the Hailhold in the same cart he’d arrived in, a six axle wheelhouse with walls of poison pine. He was dressed in the same narrow-shouldered robe of polished pigskin collared with mink and shod in the same nailhead boots. His hair and beard had been freshly dyed, his nails clipped, and his skin unctioned with resin harvested from thousand-year pines that grew in Scarpe’s Armored Grove. His ceremonial chisel was mounted in his right fist, and it was a testament to Blackhail’s wire-pullers that you had to look very closely to see the steel thread holding the fingers in place. No such subtlety marked the stitching of his wounds. Thick black sutures tracked the length of his throat, disappearing beneath the glossy mink collar, cinching hardened crusts of skin.

Raina Blackhail was relieved to see the last of them. As she stood on the paved court at the front of Blackhail’s roundhouse and watched the team of horses pull the wheelhouse south, she prayed they wouldn’t stop.

Go, she wished.

All the days of living with fear.


Sunlight flickered in and out of existence as bands of clouds passed overhead. It was close to midday; two hours later than planned. There’d been a problem with the wheelhouse--one of the rear axles had required remounting--and repair had caused delay. Raina had not known what to do with herself during those hours. She could not sit and wait. Walk? Ride? How could you go about your life when you feared being discovered for a murderer? In the end she had worked, taking herself off to the cattle shed to assist the spring calving. It was hard, bloody work and it had helped. A distressed cow in labor required one’s full attention. Two calves had been born, but only one had stood and suckled. Raina and the head dairyman, Vern Satchell, had been been lifting the second calf to encourage it to stand when the call had come from court.

“All ready with the wheelhouse.”

Raina had left the sick calf to Vern Satchell and now she was here, outside the Hailhouse, watching the wagon lurch into motion. Orwin Shank, Corbie Meese, Gat Murdock, Merritt Ganlow, Longhead, Sheelah Cobbin and other senior clansmen and clanswomen formed a silent company at her back. Scarpes were out in force. The dead man, Stannig Beade, had been their guide for seven years and respect was due. Scarpes in full mourning were a strange and unlovely sight. Over three hundred men, women and children had dyed their left hands black. Arranging themselves in single file around the great paved court of Blackhail they swayed from side-to-side as they named the Stone Gods out of order.

It was chilling to hear Behethmus, the god of darkness, named first.

They have not finished harming us, Raina realized as she watched them. All, even children, were armed with knives and lean-bladed swords. Their roundhouse had burned to the ground. Their chief had plundered her own clanhold, seizing livestock and grain from tied clansmen and distributing the spoils amongst her favorites. Now their guide was dead--killed, rumor had it, by a Hailsman.

Or Hailswoman.

Raina forced herself not to react. She was getting good at that. Harder. Cooler. Less like herself. More like a chief.

Rumors had infested the roundhouse like mice: squeaks here, a trail of droppings there. Ten days ago at dawn Stannig Beade had been found dead in the chief’s chamber. That was fact. Everything else was up for grabs. Mutilated, the rumors went, drained of blood, decapitated, his heart carved clean from his chest. Cowlmen, Hailsfolk said. Anwyn Bird and Jani Gaylo had already been taken by them. In this very house. It had to be a trained assassin from an enemy clan. Who else?

One of your own, countered the Scarpes. Beade kept his chamber door bolted while he slept. He opened it only for those he knew and trusted. And then there were the bloody footprints leading up the stairs from Beade’s chamber. The killer had been barefooted, and small if he was indeed a man.

Raina had kept her mouth shut and her eyes averted. She found manual labor during the day and kept company with the widows by night. Even bone tired she could not sleep. Leaving the chief’s chamber that night, after killing him, she had been filled with a sense of her own power. It hadn’t been enough to take Beade’s life, she was going to destroy the monstrosity of a guidestone he’d hauled here in that very wheelhouse from Scarpe.

Something had happened to her as she climbed the stairs from the chief’s chamber, though, and her thoughts had turned to self preservation. She felt Beade’s blood drying to a sticky paste against her legs. Footsteps sounded as she reached the top of the stairs, and her heart jumped. Light was filtering into the entrance hall and she could hear the clan awakening. Soon warriors would come and push back the door, luntman would begin snuffing lamps, kitchen boys would fuel the bread ovens, and children would run down the halls.

Scarpes would stir right along with them. One of the many silly girls who worshipped Beade would bring the guide a breakfast of warm milk and fried bread. In all likelihood she would be the one who’d find him dead, and if Raina wasn’t careful the girl would also find the person who killed him standing at the top of the stairs with bloody feet. Raina hurried. Slipping through the roundhouse’s shadows, she made her way to her chamber beneath the kitchens. Once there she stripped and cleaned herself with a wet rag, and then slept until she was awakened two hours later with the news of Beade’s death.

She regretted leaving the guidestone intact. From her position on the court she could view it; the halved monolith that had once belonged to Scarpe. Thick seams of bitumen made it weak, and its newly-exposed face was already eroding. When Beade was alive he’d directed it to be covered when it rained and snowed. No one bothered now. Birds shat on it and bitumen leached from the granite, staining it black. As Raina watched a raven land on its west corner and goose-stepped along the top. The guidestone was a worthless hunk of earth, and Hailsmen knew it. In the cold spring sunlight it looked like an abandoned shack.

Raina returned her attention to the departing wheelhouse. The wagon had cleared the court and was now on the dirt road heading south. Dust smoking from beneath the wheels soon obscured it from view. Raina took a deep breath and then another one. It was foolish, she knew, but she had convinced herself that once Beade’s body was gone from the Hailhold she would she be safe. Out of sight, out of mind.

We are Scarpe. Our tongues cut as deeply as our swords. Wrong us and you will feel the swift lash of both. The Scarpe boast. Raina had always thought it a nasty set of words.

Raina studied the Scarpemen and -women. They stared back with dislike. It was no secret that the chief’s wife barely tolerated their presence in the Hailhouse, and with Beade, their biggest champion gone, they were vulnerable. Scarpes had made themselves cozy in the Hailhouse. They were well fed by Hail farmers and cooks, and protected from the cold by the roundhouse’s nine-feet-thick walls. Return to the Scarpehold and they would be forced to find food and shelter for themselves. Yelma Scarpe, the Scarpe chief, ran a lean clan. She offered little incentive for refugees to return home.

And she’s coming here, Raina reminded herself. What had Longhead said? She will travel when the snow clears? Raina looked from the dry pavestones at her feet to the increasingly blue sky. A woman can always hope.

“Warriors returning!”

The cry came from lookouts stationed on the great domed roof of the roundhouse. Everyone who heard it looked to the southern horizon. The Scarpe mourners continued wailing and swaying, but their posture became alert.

“Five,” said the hammerman, Corbie Meese. At over six feet tall he saw further than most. “I think Ballic’s among them.”

Unable to help herself, Raina asked, “And Mace?”

It was a long three seconds before Corbie said, “No.”

Raina exhaled. Quite suddenly her nerves could no longer stand the sound of wailing Scarpes. “Empty the court!” she cried. “All inside.”

For a wonder they actually shut up. Unarmed Hailsfolk began to make their way indoors. They knew and respected the custom of warriors greeting warriors. At first the Scarpes hesitated to follow them--they were keen to see who was arriving--but the Hailsfolk left them little choice. Herded, was the word for it. Hailsfolk herded Scarpefolk into the house.

No one, not Corbie or Orwin Shank, made a move to herd Raina Blackhail. Glancing over her shoulders at the remaining warriors, Raina realized they were arranging themselves in formal ranking around her. Orwin, acting chief of the roundhouse and senior warrior, did not shift from his position at her right hand. Orwin’s brother-in-law Mads Basko, hero of the River Wars, took up position on her left.

Raina took a breath, raised her chin. It was possible, she realized, to feel relief and apprehensiveness at exactly the same time.

The returning warriors rode through dust raised by the wheelhouse. As Corbie had promised, one of the five was the head bowman, Ballic the Red. Grim Shank, Orwin’s eldest was also in the party, together with the young swordsman Jessie Mure, who had been apprenticed under Shor Gormalin, and the young hammerman Pog Bramwell. The fifth rider was a woman. Bareheaded with gleaming chestnut hair fanned out across her shoulders, she attracted the gazes of the men. Her mount was a full grown stallion, dock-tailed, and discreetly trapped in gray suede. As she drew closer, her facial features came into view. Pretty was not a word you could use for her. Her cheekbones stopped sunlight from reaching her lower face and her chin was strong like a man’s.
Raina could not tell if she was clan. Certainly the woman knew how to hold herself in the saddle, knew also her formal place in a party of four sworn clansmen: middle rear. Raina could feel the warriors’ interest. Glorious hair, skill at horse: here was a woman Hailsmen could admire.

“Welcome,” Raina called, as the party slowed to a halt on the court.

Ballic the Red bowed his small neat head and dismounted. As was proper, the remaining three clansmen followed his lead. The woman regarded Raina boldly, with interest. Dismounting a beat later than the men, she demonstrated her recognition of Raina’s status as chief's wife by meeting her afoot.

Clan then, Raina decided. Such subtly of custom was seldom understood outside the holds.

“Lady,” Ballic said, coming forward and grasping her forearms. Hazel eyes accustomed to spotting and tracking pray over distance inspected Raina. The bowman’s grip tightened. “I am at your service, always.”

So he found her changed. In need of service. Raina nodded a response. Accepting the greeting of the remaining three warriors she kept her face still. In the distance, the wheelhouse turned west onto the old clan road, a black phantom trailing dust.

One Scarpe down. A thousand more to go.

“Lady. Da.” Grim Shank broke into her thoughts. The huge fair-haired hammerman had caught the strange woman’s hand in his own and was bringing her forward. The woman’s cloak was heavy and very fine. Gray velvet gleamed like pewter as she moved.

“This is Chella Gloyal of Clan Croser.” Like all the Shanks, Grim had a ruddy complexion that burned easily in sun and wind. As he spoke, his color was so high across his cheeks it looked as if his face might explode. “My wife.”

Raina glanced at Orwin. From the expression on the old hatchetman’s face she guessed this was news for him too. He rallied himself well, though, stepping forward and catching the woman in his arms. “Daughter,” he murmured when his mouth was close to her ear. “Welcome.”

Beaming with relief, Grim clamped his father and his new wife together in a giant bear hug. Chella smiled serenely. Her eyes were gray-green and as cool as a forest lake. As she disentangled herself from the hug, her gaze found Raina.

“You have surprised us,” Raina told her.

Chella took the coolness in her stride. Bowing at the neck, she set her auburn hair in motion. “Love marches quickly in times of war.”

“Aye,” Grim agreed, slipping his hand around his wife’s waist. “Wait and your chance may be lost.”

All the warriors gathered on the court felt the truth of this statement. Silence fell. Looking at the bowed heads and axe-bitten hands of her fellow clansmen, Raina felt a welling of love and respect. My clan. And I must protect them.

It was easy then to be gracious to the self-composed stranger from Croser. She was a clanswoman, after all. And it made sense that Hailish warriors, working in alliance with Croser against Bludd, would come into contact with Croser maids. Dagro had been a firm believer in the benefits of unions between clans. “Every marriage is a length of string,” he had told her once. “Enough of them and we tie a rival to our side.”

Raina said to Chella, “Today you are a Hailswoman.”

Sometimes she forgot her own power. Nine words spoken by the chief’s wife were enough to change the mood from somber to celebratory.

“Aye!” called the warriors in agreement. Bullhammer came forward and clasped Grim’s arms in celebration. One-armed Gat Murdock hollered to the roundhouse for beer. Orwin gave Raina a sweet and noisy kiss on the cheek. Even the sun stayed out.

Chella smiled and nodded appropriately, but in no way seemed relieved. Why should she? Raina thought. Chella had not been worried in the first place.

As they waited for the beer to come, Bullhammer began the questioning and the mood shifted once more.

“Who holds Ganmiddich?”

“Pengo Bludd,” Ballic replied. “He repaired the gate and is staying right behind it. We’ve charged twice and he won’t ride out and meet us.”

Scathing curses followed this pronouncement. Sitting tight against a charge was considered cowardly by men who worshipped the Stone Gods.

“We didn’a do it,” Mads Basko said softly, referring to the strike against Ganmiddich by Spire Vanis. Even outnumbered three to one, Blackhail had ridden from the Crab gate to engage the army led by Marafice Eye.

“It’s worse,” Ballic said. “When Bludd reached the Crab Gate, the Spire army withdrew so quickly they left their equipment on the field. Pengo went prospecting and got himself some siege fire and a thrower.”

Raina felt out of her depth. She had never heard of siege fire, though she knew by the men’s reactions that it was something serious. How can I lead clan when I know nothing of war?

Learn, was the only answer. “What happened?”

“They didn’t know what they were doing during the first charge,” Ballic said, loosening the cloak ties around his throat. “Had the thrower up on the wall, spewing out black oil. No flames--at least not ‘till some damn fool set a torch to it. Entire wall goes up. The Bluddsmen manning the thrower get scorched. A handful of hammermen down below take harm, then the wind switches and the flames get blown back into the roundhouse. Charge breaks on the wall and we laugh our way back to Bannen. Pengo’s no Dog Lord. He’s not the brightest lamp in the hall.

“Six days later we mount a second attack, thinking that if we’re lucky the Bluddsmen will burn down their own gate. Someone there knows what’s he’s doing though. Had the thrower up and working. Waited until we were right on top of them--even cracked open the gate to goad us--and then blasted the van with fire. It was hell. Burning hell. Men. Horses.” Ballic shuddered. “Gods save them.”

Grim, Jessie Mure and others touched their horns of powdered guidestone. Chella Gloyal observed this before touching her own guidestone that was held in a pouch of orange silk at her waist.

“Who took harm?” Raina asked.

“Banmen formed the van. The honor was due--Hail led the first charge.”

Raina nodded softly. The clouds had returned, and a sharp wind gusted around the court, rattling the hammermen’s chains. To the south, the wheelhouse had passed beyond view. Good riddance to it.

“How many were lost?”

“Three hundred and their horses.” Ballic paused. His short stubby fingers with their bowman’s callouses twitched when he added, “They were screaming to be killed.”

Burned and still alive. Raina pictured the horror of it and fixed the images into place in her memory. Bannen had been Blackhail’s ally for a thousand years; their losses and suffering counted as her own.

Orwin said, “Bludd be cursed for its cowardice.”

“Aye,” seconded his son. “Siege fire is city evil. It has no place in the clans.”

“Where do our armies stand now?”

Grim turned to address Raina. Not one of these men, she realized, questioned her right to be here.

“We’re camped a day’s ride northwest of the Crab House, on Bannen Field.”

Raina made herself think about this. “So Mace plans to re-attack?”


At either side of her warriors stamped their feet and nodded. Corbie Meese reached over his shoulder, uncradled his great warhammer and sent the lead and iron head thumping against his left palm. Cheered, that was how he appeared. Raina did not share the feeling. Dark half-formed thoughts drifted through her head. Eight months ago Mace had given the order to slay women and children on the Bludd road. Now Bludd was blasting Blackhail with liquid fire. Both actions were unworthy of clan. What next?

With Mace you could not be sure.

“Any news of Dun Dhoone?” Orwin asked.

And there it was, the final distasteful piece in the puzzle: Robbie Dun Dhoone, the man who had tricked his fellow clansmen into a fatal attack on Withy as a diversion while he retook the Dhoonehouse. Dhoone had betrayed Dhoone. There was no greater wrong in the clanholds than a chief selling out his own clan.

“He’s expected to move on Withy any day now,” Ballic said. “Last thirty days he’s been laying siege. Hanro and Thrago Bludd have been sitting tight, but supplies’ll be running low. Dun Dhoone has the roundhouse surrounded--and rumor has it he’s salted the wells. Both sides’ll be getting jumpy. That means one of two things is likely. Either Thrago will order a charge from the gate, or Dun Dhoone will go right ahead and force one.”

The dark thoughts began to coalesce in Raina’s mind. It was surprisingly easy to anticipate disaster ahead. Dun Dhoone would take Withy. A house cut off and surrounded was dead meat--even a chief’s wife knew that. Bludd would be routed. Then killed. Robbie Dhoone was famous for taking no prisoners; the only Bluddsmen to live through the retaking of Dhoone were those who had found a secret tunnel and escaped right under his nose. So Robbie would take possession of Withy, crown himself a king, and then?

“He’ll come looking for Crab.”

She was hardly aware she spoke.

Looking into the faces of the warriors she was surprised to see that none of them were ahead of her. Ballic, Orwin and others nodded quickly enough but she could tell that they were following her thoughts, playing out in their minds a future where the three northern giants met in battle over the small but exquisitely placed clanhold of Ganmiddich: Dhoone. Blackhail. Bludd.

“Robbie knows Ganmiddich like the back of his hand.” Chella Gloyal said, surprising everyone by speaking. Her sage gray eyes looked straight at Raina, and Raina found herself wondering if the Croserwoman hadn’t been ahead of everyone.

“How so?” Ballic asked. Raina knew the master bowman well, and could hear the challenge and impatience in his voice. What business did a Croserwoman have speaking up at a Blackhail warrior’s parley?

If Chella heard it too, it had no effect upon her. Calmly, she pushed her hair behind her ears before answering. “He lived there for three seasons when he was fourteen.”

This was news. Orwin raised his eyebrows at Raina. Ballic frowned. Grim frowned too, but he obviously knew some things about his new wife that others did not, for his frown was one of agreement, not disbelief.

Chella touched his arm. The wind was pressing her cloak against her body, outlining her slender waist and full hips. “His father Mabb Cormac sent him away after he killed his horse. Robbie rode the old mare from the Stonefly to the Dhoonehouse without stopping to let her rest. She collapsed on the banks of Blue Dhoone Lake and he left her there to die. Mabb was furious and beat his son with a birch switch. When the beating was done Mabb still wasn’t satisfied and sent his son to Ganmiddich for two-hundred-and-fifty days. Best part of a year later, Robbie returned riding a stallion he’d won in a race from the Crab’s nephew Addo Ganhanlin.”

Men nodded. Now things were beginning to make sense. After being ousted from Ganmiddich, Addo Ganhanlin and others had taken refuge at Croser. It was possible Chella had heard Addo’s story firsthand.

Raina fastened the ties on her cloak to give herself time to think. Listen first to what people say, and then second to how they say it. Dagro’s words, spoken fifteen years earlier to his young, inexperienced wife echoed in her mind. Chella Gloyal had told a story and issued a warning: Robbie Dhoone knew more about Ganmiddich and its defenses than anyone could have guessed. The second thing was more subtle. She spoke with authority, assuming equal status with sworn clansmen, and she spoke in an accent that wasn’t wholly clan. This woman had spent time in the mountain cities.

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that anxious clansfolk were beginning to gather by the door. The meeting was going on longer than anticipated and Hailsmen were assuming the worst. Addressing the young swordsman Jessie Mure, she said, “Pass the word inside--no Hailsmen have been lost.”

She was not prepared for the bow the lean, dark-haired young man delivered to her, touching the hem of her cloak in courtly respect. “It is done, Lady,” he said, turning to make his way to the house.

He’d learned that from the master swordsman, Shor Gormalin. Shor had been dead for half a year now, killed by crossbolt to the back of the head. Mace Blackhail had ordered the killing; Shor had been his rival for the chiefship. And for herself.

Heart be strong, she told it.

“Mace is unaware of Robbie’s knowledge of the Crab House?” she asked Ballic.


“Then a message must be sent.”

“I’ll see to it.”

“Good. Chella. I would have you think on what other intelligence you posses that may benefit your new clan.”

The Croserwoman finally had the grace to look surprised. She took a breath, considering her answer, but Raina halted her.

“Do not speak now. You are weary from the road. If something occurs to you later, visit me. You will find me in the chief’s chamber.”

Gods do not send a bolt of lightning to strike me. Chief’s chamber? Where had that come from? Until the very moment the words left her mouth she had no inkling she would say them. Heat flushed her cheeks, and there didn’t seem much option other than to stand there and wait for the condemnation to come.

It didn’t.

The warriors seemed careless, as if she had said nothing out of order. Ballic was unclipping his bowcase from its shoulder harness. Grim had stepped back to steady his horse. Others were growing impatient to get inside the house and greet their kin. Only Orwin and Chella regarded Raina. Orwin had been present that day in the gameroom, when Raina had declared her intention of becoming chief. He knew her purpose . . . but perhaps this was the first time he’d heard her claim it publicly.

After a long moment of appraising her, he said, “Come on, lads. Let’s some food and ale in your bellies.”

Raina watched as the group broke up and began heading toward the roundhouse. As Chella Gloyal passed alongside Raina, she murmured, “In the chief’s chamber. I won’t forget.”

Raina stared ahead. Her chest was tight. Word would get around. It would get back to Mace. Raina Blackhail issues commands from chief’s chamber.

The wind blew across the open ground of the graze and the court, cooling Raina’s hands and face. During the meeting the only thing that had seemed important was Blackhail’s security. Over two thousand Hailsmen were camped northwest of Ganmiddich, and if Robbie Dun Dhoone succeeded at seizing the Withyhouse then Dhoone would march south to retake Ganmiddich. Dhoone, Blackhail, Bludd: the three giants would meet on the shores of the Wolf. That was what seemed important--not who took action or said what.

Do and be damned, that was what Dagro always said about being a chief. Mostly he said it with defiant joy--I’m chief, to hell with my critics--yet there had been times when he’d spoken it softly with fear, when he’d ridden into battle outmanned and out-positioned. To lead, one had to do, Raina realized. That was the message of Dagro’s words. inaction did not make a chief.

Risk did.

Settling that thought into her mind, Raina made her way to the house. As she passed into the dim lamplit space of the entrance hall, she spied a group of Scarpes building a fire in an iron brazier. Bristling, she gathered herself to engage them. Smoke would choke the groundfloor. Yesterday, when they had dragged the brazier indoors she had done nothing. Not today though. That was the thing about declaring yourself chief-in-abstentia: once you did it you had to act like one.

As she opened her mouth to issue a command, she realized she hadn’t thought about Stannig Beade in hours.

2 commentaires:

Jens said...

I haven't read any of the Sword of Shadows novels so far so this is no statement about their quality, good or bad.

But isn't it a kind of weird move from the publishers to put a blurb by Robert Jordan on the front cover of this book given that he probably hasn't even read the previous installment, let alone this one?

I don't quite understand the logic here: everybody knowing who RJ was (i.e. those for whom his praise would be most impressive) are aware of the above fact.
Anyone else (are there any fantasy readers who DON'T know Jordan?) probably would't care very much for his blurb anyway.

What I've heard about Jones' series is all very promising but shouldn't there be some other people who have actually read this book (or at least the previous one) who could find positive words?

Gumption Brash said...

There are a large number of well-stablished authors whose publishers continue the use of a blurb. (Janny wurts, Raymond E Feist, Steven Erikson, etc etc)
It's not unusual.
Especially so if it's from a famous author.
Though, obviously, Jordan hasn't read this latest piece, his comment had more to do with J V Jones and her skills as a writer. If someone well-known said that about me - would I continue to use it? YES.
I would argue that since the popularity of the series - if you do a little checking on google, her series turns up in not a few top ten fantasy series lists - she probably doesn't need another blurb.