Excerpt from Paul Kearney's HAWKWOOD AND THE KINGS

Now that both Hawkwood and the Kings (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) and Century of the Soldier (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) are available on both sides of the Atlantic, here's an extract to whet your appetite and give you a taste of The Monarchies of God.

As an added bonus, follow this link to read an interview with Paul Kearney on the Solaris Editors' Blog.



A Ship of the dead, it coasted in on the northwest breeze, topsails still set but the yards braced for a long-lost wind on the open ocean. The yawlsmen sighted it first, on the eve of St. Beynac’s Day. It was heeling heavily, even on the slight swell, and what was left of its canvas shuddered and flapped when the breeze fell.

It was a day of perfect blueness-sea and sky vast, even reflections of one another. A few gulls flapped expectantly round the silver-filled nets the yawl crews were hauling in hand over fist, and a school of gleaming oyvips were sporting off to port: an unlucky omen. Within each, it was said, howled the soul of a drowned man. But the wind was kind, and the shoal was large-it could be seen as a broad shadow under the hull, twinkling now and then with the bright flank of a twisting fish-and the fishermen had been here since the forenoon watch, filling their nets with the sea’s uncertain bounty, the dark line of the Hebrionese coast a mere guess off behind their right shoulders.

The skipper of one yawl shaded his eyes, paused and peered out to sea, blue stone glinting out from rippled leather, his chin bristling with hairs as pale as those on the stem of a nettle.
Water shadow writhed luminously in the hollows of his eye-sockets.

“There’s a sight,” he muttered. “What is it, Fader?”

“A carrack, lad, a high-seas ship by the looks of her. But the canvas is hanging in strips off her yards-there’s a brace flying free. And she’s made a ton of water, if I’m any judge. She’s taken a pounding, all right. And what of the crew? Un-handy lubbers.”

“Maybe they’re dead, or wore out,” his son said eagerly. “Maybe. Or maybe sick of the plague as I hears ravages them eastern lands. The curse o’ God on unbelievers.”

The other men in the yawl paused at that, staring darkly out at the oncoming vessel. The wind veered a point-they felt it shift out of one eye-and the strange ship lost way. She was hull up, her battered masts black against that uncertain band of horizon that is either sea or sky. Water dripped from the men’s hands; the fish flapped feebly in the nets, forgotten and dying. Droplets of sweat gathered on noses and stung their eyes: salt in everything, even the body’s own water. They looked at their skipper.

“It’s salvage, if the crew’s all dead,” one man said.

“It’s an unlucky ship that coasts in from the empty west and no sign of life aboard,” another muttered. “There’s naught out there but a thousand score leagues of unsailed sea, and beyond that the very rim of the earth.”

“There may be men alive aboard her in need of help,” the skipper said sternly. His son gazed at him with round eyes. For a moment, the stares of all his crew were fixed on his face. He felt them like he did the warmth of the sun, but his seamed visage revealed nothing as he made his decision.

“We’ll close with her. Jakob, set the forecourse, brace her round. Gorm, get these nets in and hail the other boats. They should stay. There’s a good shoal here, too good to let by.”

The crew leapt to their tasks, some sullen, some excited.

The yawl was two-masted, the mizzen stepped abaft the rudder head. She would have to beat into the landward breeze to board the carrack. Men on the other boats paused in the hauling of their catch to watch as the yawl closed on her goal. The bigger vessel was broadside on to the swell, listing to starboard as the waves broke on her windward side. As the yawl drew close, her crew broke out sweeps and strained at the heavy oars whilst the skipper and a few others stood poised on the gunwale, ready to make the perilous leap on to the side of the carrack.

She towered darkly above them now, a looming giant, her running rigging flying free, the lateen yard on her mizzen a mere stump and the thick wales that lined her side smashed and splintered as though she had squeezed through a narrow place. There was no sign of life, no reply to the skipper’s hail. Surreptitiously, men at the sweeps paused in their labour to make the Sign of the Saint at their breasts.

The skipper leapt, grunted at the impact as he hit the carrack’s side, hauled himself over her rail and stood panting. The others followed, two with their dirks in their teeth as if they expected to fight their way aboard. And then the yawl drew off, her mate putting her about on the port tack. She would heave to, keep the wind on her weather bow and ride out the breeze. The skipper waved at her as she eased away.

The carrack was wallowing low in the water and the wind was working on her high fore- and sterncastles. There was no sound but the hiss and lap of the sea, the creak of wood and rigging, the thump of a staved cask that rolled back and forth in the scuppers. The skipper raised his head as he caught the whiff of corruption. He met the knowing gaze of old Jakob. They nodded at each other. There was death aboard, corpses rotting somewhere.

“The Blessed Ramusio preserve us, let it not be the plague,” one man said hoarsely, and the skipper scowled.

“Hold your tongue, Kresten. You and Daniel see what you can do to put her before the wind. It’s my belief her seams are working in this swell. We’ll see if we can’t get her into Abrusio before she spews her oakum and sinks her bow.”

“You’re going to bring her in?” Jakob asked.

“If I can. We’ll have to look below though, see if she’s anywhere near settling.” The roll of the ship made him lurch a little. “Wind’s picking up. That’s all to the good if we can get her head round. Come, Jakob.”

He pushed open one of the doors in the sterncastle and entered the darkness beyond. The bright blue day was cut off. He could hear Jakob padding barefoot and breathing heavily behind him in the sudden gloom. He stopped. The ship heaved like a dying thing under his feet – that smell of putrefaction, stronger now, rising even over the familiar sea smells of salt and tar and hemp. He gagged as his hands, groping, found another door.

“Sweet Saint!” he breathed, and pushed it open.

Sunlight, bright and blazing, flooding through shattered stem windows. A wide cabin, a long table, the gleam of falchions crossed on a bulkhead, and a dead man sitting watching him.

The skipper made himself move forward.

There was water underfoot, sloshing about with the heave of the ship. It looked as though a following sea had swamped the windows; at the forward end of the cabin was a tangle of clothing, weapons, charts, and a small brassbound chest, much battered. But the dead man sat upright in his chair with his back to the stem windows and the brown skin stretched tight as parchment over the lines of his skull. His hands were shrunken claws. The rats had gnawed him. His chair was fixed in wooden runners to the deck, and he was tied into the chair by line after line of sodden cordage. It looked as though he had bound himself; the arms were free. A tattered scrap of paper was clenched in one decaying fist.

“Jakob, what is this we see?”

“I know not, Captain. There has been devilry at work in this ship. This man was the master – see the charts? – and there is a broken cross-staff here too. But what happened to him that he did this?”

“There is no explaining it-not yet. We must go below. See if you can find a lantern here, or a candle. I must have a look at her hold.”

“The hold?” The old man sounded doubtful.

“Yes, Jakob. We must see how fast she is making water, and what her cargo is.”

The light left the windows and the motion of the ship grew easier as the men on deck put her before the wind. Jakob and his captain gave a last look at the dead master and his skull face, and left. Neither told the other what he was thinking: the dead man had ended his tenure of the world with his face distorted by terror.

* * *

Bright sunlight again, the clean spray of the sea. The other boarders were busy with the lifts and braces, moving yards far heavier than they were used to. The skipper barked a few orders. They would need canvas and fresh cordage. The mainmast shrouds were ripped to shreds on the port side; a wonder she had not rolled out the mast.

“No storm ever did this to a ship,” Jakob said, and ran his horny hands along the ship’s rail. The wood was tom, punctured. Bitten, the skipper thought, and he felt a cold worm of fear coil in his stomach.

But he shut his face to Jakob’s look of enquiry.

“We are mariners, not philosophers. Our task is to make the ship swim. Now are you coming with me or shall I ask one of the youngsters?”

They had sailed the Hebrionese coast for more than two-score years together, weathered more storms than they could remember, hauled in a million fish. Jakob nodded mutely, anger burning away his fear.

The tarpaulins over the hatchways were flapping and tom.

It was dark there, in the very bowels of the ship, and they lowered themselves down with care. One of the others had found and lit a lantern. It was passed down into the dark and by its beam they found themselves surrounded by crates, casks and sacks. There was a musty smell in the air, and again the faint stink of corruption. They could hear the swirl and gurgle of water deeper in the hold, the rolling rumble of loose cargo, the creak of the ship’s overworked hull. The stink of the bilge, usually overpowering in a large ship, had been overwhelmed by incoming seawater.

They made their slow way along an avenue between the cargo, the lantern beam swinging shadows in chaotic directions. They found the remains of rats half eaten, but none alive. And there was no sign of the crew. The master in his cabin above might have been piloting the ship alone and unaided until his death.

Another hatch, and a companion ladder leading down, deep into utter blackness. The ship creaked and groaned under their feet. They could no longer hear the voices of their shipmates above, in that other world of salt air and spray. There was only this hole opening on nothingness, and beyond the wooden walls that surrounded them nothing but the drowning sea.

“Water down there, deep enough too,” Jakob said, lowering the lantern through the hatch. “I see it moving, but there’s no spume. If it’s a leak, it’s slow.”

They paused, peering down into a place neither of them wanted to see. But they were mariners, as the skipper had said, and no man bred to the sea could stand idle and watch a ship die.

The skipper made as if to start down, but Jakob stopped him with an odd smile and went first, the breath rattling audibly in his throat. The skipper saw the light break and splinter on multifaceted water, things bobbing in it, a splash amid the chiaroscuro of shadow and flame.

“Bodies here.” Jakob’s voice came up, distorted, far away.

“I think I’ve found the crew. Oh sweet God, his blessed Saints –“

There was a snarling, and Jakob screamed. The lantern went out and in the blackness something thrashed the water into a fury. The skipper glimpsed the yellow gleam of an eye, like a ravening fire far off on a pitch-dark night. His lips formed Jakob’s name but no sound came out; his tongue had turned to sand. He backed away and bumped into the sharp corner of a crate. Run, some part of his mind shrieked at him, but his marrow had become like granite within his very bones.

Then the thing was swarming up the companion towards him, and he had not even the time to mouth a prayer before it was rending his flesh, and the yellow eyes were witness to his soul’s flight.

4 commentaires:

Kenny Cross said...

Just about my all-time favorite fantasy series. Epic fantasy...with cannons! I won't give away any other spoilers because this is a must read fantasy series.

Kearney's Sea Beggars series probably is my favorite all-time fantasy series. Of course the third book wasn't released by Bantam Spectra here in the states and supposedly there will be an omnibus edition of the Sea Beggars including the third book when the rights expire. Why Bantam Spectra failed to support these two novels or release the third seems a bit crazy to me. Awesome stuff.

The MONARCHIES OF GOD series was a total random buy on my part. I had never heard of the author, I liked the name Hawkwood, it looked interesting so I bought the first book HAWKWOOD'S VOYAGE. From the start I was hooked.

Jebus said...

I bought the two omnibus editions (and for some reason BookDepository has several versions, I just bought the cheapest so got the two for under $20 Aussie, which is an absolute STEAL) after Wert's recommendation and they haven't let me down.

I'm about 110 pages from the end of the last book and have read both over the course of probably 2 weeks (slow reader). I am astounded I'd never heard of this guy before The Ten Thousand came out and I started reading blogs, the fact he's not better known is criminal.

He may not go into the massive amount of detail that Erikson or GRRM does but the scale of the conflict and the great characters is just fantastic. I've been recommending this series to everyone I come across and will be trying to find the SEA BEGGARS ASAP. The Ten Thousand is already waiting on my shelf and I'll definitely be getting the new novels.

Love it!

(HA! Word Verification is "hellho" - aka known as the dirty skank that backchats her pimp.

Dave said...

I've been meaning to give Kearney's books a try for a while now, just gotta decide between monarchies of god and sea beggars...

Adam Whitehead said...

"I've been meaning to give Kearney's books a try for a while now, just gotta decide between monarchies of god and sea beggars..."

Go for MONARCHIES, as it's complete.

SEA-BEGGARS won't be finished for a while as Kearney's old publishers won't let the rights for the first two books and the third go, but they also refuse to publish the third book. So he has to wait for the rights to revert to him automatically before he can finish it, which apparently is still years away.