Excerpt from S. L. Farrell's A MAGIC OF DAWN

I feel like an idiot because I was convinced that S. L. Farrell's A Magic of Dawn (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) was being released this fall. So you can imagine my dismay when I learned last week that the book has been out since April. My bad, I know. . .

Here's the blurb:

Kraljica Allesandra sits on the Sun Throne of a much-diminished Holdings empire, while her son Jan rules the rival Coalition of Firenzcia. The schism between them threatens to tear apart the realm when they need solidarity the most. Facing powerful threats, from the rising influence of the Numetodo sect to the fundamentalist preacher Nico Morel-- as well as the army of Tehuantin from across the sea-- Allesandra and Jan must each find a pathway to survival for themselves and their people.

Anyway, I now have a copy on the way, and here's an extract from the novel.


Varina ca'Pallo

It was difficult to be stoic, even though she knew that was what Karl would have wanted of her.

Karl had been failing for the last month. Looking at him now, Varina sometimes found it hard to find in the drawn, haggard face the lines of the man she had loved, to whom she'd been married for nearly fourteen years now, who had taken her name and her heart.

Because he was so much older than her, she had feared that their time together must end this way, with him dying before her.

It seemed that would be the case.

"Are you in pain, love?" she asked, stroking his balding head, a few strands of gray-white hair clinging stubbornly to the crown. He shook his head without speaking -- talking seemed to exhaust him. His breath was too fast and too shallow, almost a panting, as if clinging to life required all the effort he could muster. "No? That's good. I have the healer's brew right here if that changes. She said that a few sips would take away any pain and let you sleep. Just let me know if you need it -- and don't you dare try to be brave and ignore it."

Varina smiled at him, stroking his sunken, stubbled cheek. She turned away because the tears threatened her again. She sniffed, taking in a long breath that shuddered with the ghost of the sobs that wracked her when she was away from him, when she allowed the grief and emotions to take her. She brushed at her eyes with the sleeve of her tashta and turned back to him, the smile fixed again on her face. "The Kraljica sent over a letter, saying how much she missed us at the Gschnas last night. She said that her entrance went better than she could have wished, and that the globes I enchanted for her worked perfectly. And oh, I forgot to tell you -- a letter also came today from your son Colin. He says that your great-daughter Katerina is getting married next month, and that he wishes... he wishes you..." She stopped. Karl would not be going to the wedding. "Anyway, I've written back to him, and told him that you're not... you're not well enough to travel to Paeti right now."

Karl stared at her. That was all he could do now. Stare. His skin was stretched tautly over the skull of his face, the eyes sunken into deep, black hollows; Varina wondered if he even saw her, if he noticed how old she'd become as well, how her studies of the Tehunatin magic had taken a terrible physical toll on her. Karl ate almost nothing -- it was all she could do to get warm broth down his throat. He had difficulty swallowing even that. The healer only shook her head on her daily visits. "I'm sorry, Councilor ca'Pallo," she said to Varina. "But the Ambassador is beyond any skill I have. He's lived a good life, he has, and it's been longer than most. You have to be ready to let him go."

But she wasn't ready. She wasn't certain she would ever be, could ever be. After all the years she'd wanted to be with him, after all those years when his love for Ana ca'Seranta had blinded him to her, she was to be with him only for so short a time? Less than two decades? When he was gone, there'd be nothing left of him. Karl and Varina had no children of their own; despite being twelve years younger than Karl, she'd been unable to conceive with him. There'd been a miscarriage in their first year, then nothing, and her own monthly bleeding had ended five years ago now. There were times, in the last several weeks, when she'd envied those who could pray to Cénzi for a boon, a gift, a miracle. As a Numetodo, as a non-believer, she had no such solace herself; her world was bereft of gods who could grant favors. She could only hold Karl's hand and gaze at him and hope.

You have to be ready to let him go...

She took his hand, pressed it in her fingers. It was like holding a skeleton's hand; there was no returning pressure, his flesh was cold, and his skin felt as dry as brown parchment. "I love you," she told him. "I always loved you; I will always love you."

He didn't answer, though she thought she saw his dry, cracked lips open slightly and then close again. Perhaps he thought he was responding. She reached for the cloth in the basin alongside his bed, dipped it in the water, and dabbed at his lips.

"I've been working with a device to use the black sand again. Look-" She showed him a long cut along her left arm, still scabbed with dried blood. "I wasn't as careful as I should have been. But I think I may have really stumbled upon something this time. I've made changes to the design and I'm having Pierre make the modifications for me from my drawings..."

She could imagine how he might answer. "There's a price to pay for knowledge," he'd told her, often enough. "But you can't stop knowledge: it wants to be born, and it will force its way into the world no matter what you do. You can't hold back knowledge, no matter what those of the Faith might say..."

Downstairs, she could hear the kitchen staff beginning to prepare dinner: a laugh, a clattering of pans, the faint chatter of conversation, but here in the sickroom the air was hot and still. She talked to Karl mostly because the quiet seemed so depressing. She talked mostly because she was afraid of silence.

"I spoke to Sergei this morning, too. He said that he'll stop by tomorrow night, before he goes off to Brezno," she said in a falsely cheery voice. "He insists that if you won't join him at the table for dinner, he's going to come up here and bring you down himself. 'What good is Numetodo magic if you can't get rid of a little minor illness?' he said. He also suggested that the sea air in Karnmor might do you some good. I might see if we could take a villa there next month. He said that the Gschnas was ever so nice, though he mentioned that Stor ca'Vikej's son has come to the city, and he didn't like the way that Kraljica Allesandra paid attention to him..."

She realized that the room was too still, that she hadn't heard Karl take a breath for some time. He was still staring at her, but his gaze had gone empty and dull. She felt her stomach muscles clench. She took in a breath that was half-sob. "Karl...?" She watched his chest, willing it to move, listening for the sound of air moving through his nostrils. Was his hand colder? She felt for his pulse, searching for the fluttering underneath her fingertips and imagining she felt it.


The room was silent except for the distant clamor of the servants and the chirping of birds in the trees outside and the faint sounds of the city beyond the walls of their villa. She felt pressure rising in her chest, a wave that broke free from her and turned into a wail that sounded as if it were ripped from someone else's throat.

She heard the servants running up the stairs, heard them stop at the door. The sound of her grief echoed in her ears. She was still holding Karl's hand. Now she let it drop lifeless back to the sheet. She reached out and brushed his eyelids closed, her fingertips trembling.

"He's gone," she said: to the servants, to the world, to herself.

The words seemed impossible. Unbelievable. She wanted to take them back and smash them so they could never be spoken again.

But she had said them, and they could not be revoked.

Rochelle Botelli

She hadn't expected to find herself in Brezno. Her matarh had told her to avoid that city. "Your vatarh is there," she'd said. "But he won't know you, he won't acknowledge you, and he has other children now from another woman. No, be quiet, I tell you! She doesn't need to know that." Those last two sentences hadn't been directed to Rochelle but to the voices who plagued her matarh, the voices that would eventually send her screaming and mad to her death. She'd flailed at the air in front of her as if the voices were a cloud of threatening wasps, her eyes -- as strangely light as Rochelle's own -- wide and angry.

"I won't, Matarh," Rochelle had told her. She'd learned early on that it was always best to tell Matarh whatever it was she wanted to hear, even if Rochelle never intended to obey. She'd learned that from Nico, her half-brother who was eleven years older than her. He'd been touched with Cénzi's Gift and Matarh had arranged for him to be educated in the Faith. Rochelle was never certain how Matarh had managed that, since rarely did the téni take in someone who was not ca'-and-cu' to be an acolyte, and then only if many gold solas were involved. But she had, and when Rochelle was five Nico had left the household forever, had left her alone with a woman who was growing increasingly more unstable, and who would school her daughter in the one, best skill she had.

How to kill.

Rochelle had been ten when Matarh placed a long and sharp knife in her hand. "I'm going to show you how to use this," she'd said. And it had begun. At twelve, she'd put the skills to their intended use for the first time -- a man in the neighborhood who had bothered some of the young girls. The matarh of one of his victims hired the famous assassin White Stone to kill him for what he'd done to her daughter.

"Cover his eyes with the stones," Matarh had whispered alongside Rochelle after she'd stabbed the man, after she'd driven the dagger's point through his ribs and into his heart. The voices never bothered Matarh when she was doing her job; she sounded sane and rational and focused. It was only afterward... "That will absorb the image of you that is captured in his pupils, so no one else can look into his dead eyes and see who killed him. Good. Now, take the one from his right eye and keep it -- that one you should use every time you kill, to hold the souls you've taken and their sight of you killing them. The one on his left eye, the one the client gave us, you leave that one so everyone will know that the White Stone has fulfilled her contract..."

Now, in Brezno where she had promised never to go, Rochelle slipped a hand into the pocket of her out-of-fashion tashta. There were two small flat stones there, each the size of a silver siqil. One of them was the same stone she'd used back then, her matarh's stone, the stone she had used several times since. The other... It would be the sign that she'd completed the contract. It had been given to her by Henri ce'Mott, a disgruntled customer of Sinclair ci'Braun, a goltschlager -- a maker of gold leaf. "The man sent me defective material," ce'Mott had declared, whispering harshly into the darkness that hid her from him. "His foil tore and shredded when I tried to use it. The bastard used impure gold to make the sheets, and the thickness was uneven. It took twice as many sheets as it should have and even then the gilding was visibly flawed. I was gilding a frame for the chief decorator for Brezno Palais, for a portrait of the young A'Hïrzg. I'd been told that I might receive a contract for all the palais gilding, and then this happened... Ci'Braun cost me a contract with the Hïrzg himself. Even more insulting, the man had the gall to refuse to reimburse me for what I'd paid him, claiming that it was my fault, not his. Now he's telling everyone that I'm a poor gilder who doesn't know what he's doing, and many of my customers have gone elsewhere..."

Rochelle had listened to the long diatribe without emotion. She didn't care who was right or who was wrong in this. If anything, she suspected that the goltschlager was probably right; ce'Mott certainly didn't impress her. All that mattered to her was who paid. Frankly, she suspected that ce'Mott was so obviously and publicly an enemy of ci'Braun that the Garde Hïrzg would end up arresting him after she killed the man. In the Brezno Bastida, he'd undoubtedly confess to having hired the White Stone.

That didn't matter, either. Ce'Mott had never seen her, never glimpsed either her face or her form, and she had disguised her voice. He could tell them nothing. Nothing.

She'd been watching ci'Braun for the last three days, searching -- as her matarh had taught her -- for patterns that she could use, for vulnerabilities she could exploit. The vulnerabilities were plentiful: he often sent his apprentices home and worked alone in his shop in the evening with the shutters closed. The back door to his shop opened onto an often-deserted alleyway, and the lock was ancient and easily picked. She waited. She watched, following him through his day. She ate supper at a tavern where she could watch the door of his shop. When he closed the shutters and locked the door, when the sun had vanished behind the houses and the light-téni were beginning to stroll the main avenues lighting the lamps of the city, she paid her bill and slipped into the alleyway. She made certain that there was no one within sight, no one watching from the windows of the buildings looming over her. She picked the lock in a few breaths, opened the door, and slid inside, locking the door again behind her.

She found herself in a store room with thin ingots of gold -- 'zains,' she had learned they were called -- in small boxes ready to be pressed into gold foil, which could then be beaten into sheets so thin that light could shine through -- glittering, precious metal foil that gilders like ce'Mott used to coat objects. In the main room of the shop, Rochelle saw the glow of candles and heard a rhythmic, dull pounding. She followed the sound and the light, halting behind a massive roller press. A long strip of gold foil protruded from between the rollers. Ci'Braun -- a man perhaps in his late fifties, with a paunch and leathered, wrinkled skin, was hunched over a heavy wooden table, a bronze hammer in each of his hands, pounding on packets of vellum with squares of gold foil on them, the packets covered with a strip of leather. He was sweating, and she could see the muscles in his arms bulging as he hammered at the vellum. He paused for a moment, breathing heavily, and she moved in the shadows, deliberately.

"Who's there?" he called out in alarm, and she slid into the candlelight, giving him a small, shy smile. Rochelle knew what the man was seeing: a lithe young girl on the cusp of womanhood, perhaps fifteen years old, with her black hair bound back in a long braid down the back of her tashta. She held a roll of fabric under one arm, as if she'd purchased a new tashta in one of the many shops along the street. There was nothing even vaguely threatening about her. "Oh," the man said. He set down his hammers. "What can I do for you, young Vajica? How did you get in?"

She gestured back toward the storeroom, placing the other tashta on the roller press. "Your rear door was ajar, Vajiki. I noticed it as I was passing along the alley. I thought you'd want to know."

The man's eyes widened. "I certainly would," he said. He started toward the rear of the shop. "If one of those no-good apprentices of mine left the door open..."

He was within an arm's length of her now. She stood aside as if to let him pass, slipping the blade from the sash of her tashta. The knife would be best with him: he was too burly and strong for the garrote, and poison was not a tactic that she could easily use with him. She slid around the man as he passed her, almost a dancer's move, the knife sliding easily across the throat, cutting deep into his windpipe and at the side where the blood pumped strongest. Ci'Braun gurgled in surprise, his hands going to the new mouth she had carved for him, blood pouring between his fingers. His eyes were wide and panicked. She stepped back from him -- the front of her tashta a furious red mess -- and he tried to pursue her, one bloody hand grasping. He managed a surprising two steps as she retreated before he collapsed.

"Impressive," she said to him. "Most men would have died where they stood." Crouching down alongside him, she turned him onto his back, grunting. She took the two light-colored, flat stones from the pocket of her ruined tashta, placing a stone over each eye. She waited a few breaths, then reached down and plucked the stone from his right eye, leaving the other in place. She bounced the stone once in her palm and placed it on the roller press next to the fresh tashta.

Deliberately, she stripped away the bloody tashta and chemise, standing naked in the room except for her boots. She cleaned her knife carefully on the soiled tashta. There was small hearth on one wall; she blew on the coals banked there until they glowed, then placed the gory clothes atop them. As they burned, she washed her hands, face and arms in a basin of water she found under the worktable. Afterward, she dressed in the new chemise and tashta she'd brought. The stone -- the one from the right eye of all her contracts and all her matarh's -- she placed back in small leather pouch whose long strings went around her neck.

There were no voices for her in the stone, as there had been for her matarh. Her victims didn't trouble her at all. At least not at the moment.

She glanced again at the body, one eye staring glazed and cloudy at the ceiling, the other covered by a pale stone -- the sign of the White Stone.

Then she walked quietly back to the storeroom. She glanced at the golden zains there. She could have taken them, easily. They would have been worth far, far more than what ce'Mott had paid her. But that was another thing her Matarh had taught her: the White Stone did not steal from the dead. The White Stone had honor. The White Stone had integrity.

She unlocked the door. Opening it a crack, she looked outside, listening carefully also for the sound of footsteps on the alley's flags. There was no one about -- the narrow lane was as deserted as ever. She slid out from the door and shut it again. Walking slowly and easily, she walked away toward the more crowded streets of Brezno, smiling to herself.

Brie ca'Ostheim

Brie raised her eyebrow toward Rance ci'Lawli, her husband's aide and thus the person responsible for the smooth running of Brezno Palais. "She's the one, then?" she asked, pointing with her chin to the other room -- a drawing rooms in the lower, public levels of the Brezno Palais. Several of the court ladies were there, but one was seated on the floor with Elissa, Brie's oldest child, the two of them working on an embroidery piece.

Rance nodded. He towered over Brie as he towered over most people: Rance was long and thin, as if Cénzi had taken a normal person and stretched him out. He was also extraordinarily ugly, with pocked skin, sunken eyes, and the pallor of boiled rags. His teeth seemed too big for his mouth. Yet he possessed a keen mind, seemed to remember everything and everybody, and Brie would have trusted him with her life as she trusted him now. "That's Mavel cu'Kella," he whispered. It sounded like the grumbling of a distant storm.

"I suspected as much; I noticed Jan paying a lot of attention to her at the ball last month. And you're certain of her... condition?"

A nod. "Yes, Hïrzgin. I have my sources, and I trust them. There's already some whispers among the staff, and when she starts obviously showing... Well, we can't have that."

"Does Jan know?"

Rance shook his elongated head. "No, Hïrzgin. I came to you first. After all..."

"Yes," Brie sighed. "It's not the first time." She stared at Mavel through the sheer fabric of the curtain between the rooms. The young woman was younger than Brie by a good ten years, dark-haired as most of Jan's mistresses tended to be, and Brie envied the trim shape of her, though she imagined that she could see the slight swell of her belly under the sash of her tashta. After four children, Brie struggled to keep her own figure. Her breasts sagged from years of feeding hungry infants, her hips were wide and her stomach was crisscrossed with stretch marks. She was still holding much of the weight she'd gained with Eria, her youngest from almost three years ago. Mavil had the litheness that Brie had once possessed herself.

She wouldn't keep that long. Not now.

"The cu'Kella family has some land holdings in Miscoli. She could stay with her relatives there during her interment," Rance said. "I've had dealings with her vatarh; he was supposed to be on the list to be named chevaritt, but now..." He shook his head. "That will have to wait. We'll see if one of the minor Miscoli families might have a younger son they need to marry off, who would be willing to call the child his own. I'll make the usual offer for the girl's silence, and draw up the contracts for her vatarh to sign."

Brie nodded. "Thank you, Rance. As always."

He gave her an awkward half-bow. "It's my pleasure to serve you, Hïrzgin. Send Vajica cu'Kella to my office, and I'll talk with her. She'll be gone by this evening. I'll give the staff some convenient reason for her absence to counter the gossip." He bowed again and left her. Brie took a breath before the curtain and entering the drawing room. The women there rose as one, curtsying to her as she approached, while Elissa grinned widely and ran to her. Mavel rose slowly, and Brie thought she saw a hesitation in her curtsy, and a cautious jealousy in her eyes. The young woman's hand stayed on her stomach.

Brie crouched down to hug Elissa and gather her up in her arms, kissing her. "Are you enjoying yourself, my darling?" she asked Ellisa, brushing back the stray strands of gold-brown hair that had escaped her braids.

"Oh yes, Matarh," Ellisa said. "Mavel and I have been embroidering a scene from Stag Fall. Would you like to see?"

"Certainly." Brie kissed Elissa's forehead and put her down on the floor. She glanced at Mavel, who dropped her gaze to the rug, with its black and silver patterns. "But I was just talking to Rance, and he has asked that Vajica cu'Kella come to his office. Some family news." That brought the girl's head up again, and now her eyes were large and apprehensive. "I'm sure you'll excuse her," Brie said to Elissa.

There was a moment of silence. Brie could see the other ladies of the court glancing at each other. Then Mavel curtsied again, hurriedly. "Thank you, Hïrzgin," she said. "I'll go immediately." She gathered up her sewing, and left the room, brushing past Brie with the scent of almonds and flowers.

"Well, then," Brie said to Elissa. "Let's see that embroidery..." She smiled as she let Elissa take her hand, and the other women of the court smiled in return. Brie wondered, behind the smiles and idle talk, what they were really thinking.

But that, of course, she would never know.

4 commentaires:

Cecrow said...

"Brie raised her eyebrow toward Rance ci'Lawli, her husband's aide ... "She's the one, then?" she asked, pointing with her chin to the other room."

I'm being uncharitable, but I can't help imagining the twisting of face this would induce, lol. Wish I could see this enacted.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't read past the first sentence. Truly awful and grating.

lexcade said...

he was my novel writing professor. i know too much about this book, lol.

Eva said...

Taking some words from an obscure Central European language (kraljica, brezno) does not a compelling story make. And all the apostrophes are making me twitch.