Extract from Tad Williams' SHADOWHEART

With Shadowheart (Canada, USA, Europe) about to be released, I felt that the time was right for an excerpt. Special thanks to both Tad Williams and Deborah Beale for providing this extract!

Here's the blurb:

Thousands of years ago the gods fought and fell in the deeps beneath what is now Southmarch Castle, then were banished into eternal sleep. Now at least one of them is stirring again, dreaming of vengeance against humankind.

Southmarch haunts the dreams of men as well as gods. Royal twins Barrick and Briony Eddon, the heirs of Southmarch’s ruling family, are hurrying back home as well: Barrick now carries the heritage of the immortal Qar inside him, and Briony has a small army at her back and a fiery determination to recover her father’s throne and revenge herself on the usurpers.

The cruel and powerful southern ruler known as the Autarch of Xis wants the power of the gods for his own, a power he can only gain if he conquers Southmarch. And nobody knows what the Qar want, only that the mysterious fairy-folk are prepared to die for it – or to kill every living thing in Southmarch Castle and in all the lands around.

It will come to an apocalyptic conclusion on Midsummer Night, when the spirits of the haunted past and the desperate struggles of the present come together in one great final battle. Many will die. Many more will be transformed out of all recognition, and the world will be forever changed


"In another dream, Adis climbed the oak tree high into the sky. As he reached the upper branches he found he could touch the stars themselves, which sang to him, begging him to bring back their father..."

- from "A Child's Book of the Orphan, and His Life and Death and Reward in Heaven"

A couple of dozen refugees from the outer keep were living in the middle of the stairwell that led to the Anglin Parlor, its walls painted in frescoes of the Connordic mountains and scenes of the first king’s life. The folk crowding the stair were just as uninterested in the pictures on the walls as they were in making room for Matt Tinwright to get past.

He was angry to have to step over people, but he kept his feelings hidden – some of the men were looking at his fine clothes with interest, doubtless wondering what they might fetch at one of the impromptu markets held on the green in front of the royal residence. It was shocking, of course, to be weighed for robbery by squatters right inside the king’s house, but these were not ordinary times.

One of the women reached up as he tried to get past her and ran her fingers over his sleeve. “Ooh, a pretty one in pretty clothes, aren’t you?” Tinwright pulled his arm back quickly.

One of the men took notice of his worried haste. “Hoy, are you bothering my woman?” The man half-stood. Another squatter moved a little further into Tinwright’s path on the steps above him. “Did you hear? I asked you…”

He made his voice has hard as he could. “If you touch me you will weep for it. I am on Hendon Tolly’s business. Do you mean to trifle with the Lord Protector’s servant?”

The man on the step above him exchanged a look with the other man, then sidled back a step toward the wall.

“Even his lordship can’t have it his own way forever,” said the first man, but he too was already in retreat. Tinwright recognized the tone of the squatters’ murmuring: they were still afraid of Tolly but his hold on them was slipping: half the outer keep had been leveled by the Autarch’s cannon and the lord protector had shown little interest in fighting back.

Tinwright made his way up the stairs as quickly as he dared, going just slow enough to show that he thought himself safe. In an hour like the one that had fallen on Southmarch, he reflected, people slowly began to change into something else – something simpler, something frightened and angry enough to kill.

Hendon Tolly was standing at the narrow windows of the chamber looking down on the small, unhappy city covering the spot that had once been the royal green and all the space inside the walls of the keep to the base of Wolfstooth Spire, and if base of the great tower had not been full of armed soldiers, Tinwright felt certain they would be squatting there as well.

“Ah, here is my pet poet,” Tolly said without looking away from the window, as though he could see what was behind him as well as before. “It has been a dreary afternoon. The day after tomorrow is Midsummer, you know. Speak some poetry for me.”

“What…what do you mean, Lord?” Tinwright swatted away a fly. The room seemed to be unusually full of them, even for summer.

“By the bleeding, vengeful gods, fool, you are the rhymer, not me. If you don’t know what poetry is then I fear for the art.”

“But I bring news, my lord…”

Tolly finally turned. He was pale as a drowned earthworm, eyes deep sunken and shadowed with blue, his fine, high brow covered with sweat. His clothes and hair were in such disarray that Tinwright could half-believe the dandyish Tolly had just fought his way through the same crowd that had accosted him on the stairs. But it was Hendon Tolly's eyes that were most disturbing. Something bright and shiny but unknowable burned there – a monstrous secret, perhaps, or a vast, subtle joke that Tolly alone of all living creatures could understand.

The lord protector bent a little, as if he was bowing. His sword was in his hand so quickly Tinwright did not see the movement until the point was quivering a hand’s breadth from his chest. “I do not want news…yet,” Tolly said carefully. “I want verse. So speak, poet, or I will hand you your heart.”

"...For if your ear

Shall once a heavenly music hear,"

Tinwright recited, nearing the end of one of Hewney's bits of doggerel,

Such as neither gods nor men

But from that voice shall hear again,

That, that is she, oh, Heaven's grace,

'Tis she steals sweet Siveda's place..."

“Enough.” Tolly made a quick gesture like a man shaking warmth back into cold fingers; when he had finished, his sword was in its scabbard again. “Now pour me a cup of wine – you may have one yourself if you feel a need. There is a middling Perikal on the table. You will know it because it is the only jug still upright. Then you may give me your report on the Godstone.”

Tinwright picked the wine out from among the empty casualties that littered the table. As he did so he noticed for the first time an odd bundle of clothes in the corner of the room, a bundle from which a single bare man’s foot protruded. Tinwright felt his stomach rise into his throat, choked it down, then leaned on the table for a moment with eyes closed, regaining control.

“What’s taking you so long?” Tolly turned. “Ah, him. Yes, that pig of a butler will never again tell me that we have no red wine.” He laughed suddenly. “As the blood was running out of him onto the floor I said, ‘What do you think? Does it need to air a bit?’ He didn’t laugh.”

Trying his hardest not to look at the silent thing in the corner, Tinwright delivered the wine and quickly downed his own.

Tolly took a long, savoring sip. “Now, speak.”

Matt Tinwright did his best to make his days and nights of reading into something easily understood, but it was not an easy chore. He explained to Tolly, who did not appear to be listening very closely, how the Hypnologos sect had believed that the gods were not awake, but only touched humans in dreams, and that the scene of the gods' downfall had played out right here, in Southmarch Castle – or at least somewhere nearby.

“The stone was here. It was in the Erivor Chapel and had been made into a statue of Kernios.”

“That old cuckold,” said Tolly with an angry laugh. “You see, even here old Kernios tries to keep her prisoner. But he cannot. No, I don't care for any magical stone. If the Autarch can open the gate to the land of the gods without it, so can I! We have proved you can speak the words to open the mirror just as well as Okros! Better, in fact, since you still have your life and both arms!”

“My lord?” Tinwright suddenly wondered if Tolly had heard a word he was saying. “I don’t understand any of…”

“Of course you don’t, so shut your mouth and listen. I spent months with Okros, learning the truth that hides behind other truths. The Hypnologoi have a sign they use to know each other – Okros was one himself! Their learning is secret and shared only among themselves…and certain others, such as me, who sponsor their inquiries.

“It’s the land of the gods we’re talking about, poet -- the very place you prating verse-spouters are always on about. The place where they sleep and dream. The autarch seeks to open it up and take the power for his own. But I know how to do it just as well as he – Okros was ready, it had been the study of his life, you see? – and I have all the things I will need to do it. The stone...that is something else, something foolish, a mere precaution that Okros already told me was likely not needed. We have a mirror that will serve the task perfectly well, whether the southerner has one of his own or not. But what we need, ah, what we need now…is the blood.”

Tinwright was caught by surprise. He took a step back, heart beating very fast. “But, Lord Tolly, I have worked so hard for you…”

Tolly laughed even louder. “Do you think I mean you? Do you think any immortal is going to smell the mud that runs in your veins and come running, especially when she’s been asleep for a thousand years and more?” He threw back his head and laughed even louder, an edge almost of madness in it. “Ah, I have not felt so cheerful all day! Your blood! Fool of a poet!” He turned and slapped Matt Tinwright across the face so hard that Tinwright fell to his knees, stunned. “Do not ever presume,” the lord protector said, his voice suddenly a snarl, “that you are like me. The blood that runs in the Eddon family’s veins and also runs in mine is the holy ichor of Mount Xandos – the blood of the gods themselves! But to open the proper doorway, that blood must be spilled from a living heart, and I assure you it won’t be mine.” He laughed again, but this time it was a distracted growl. “No, we must find a proper sacrifice. Almost all the Eddons are gone from here…but there is still one left who carries the sacred blood.”

Matt Tinwright was confused and frightened. He had not heard Tolly talk this way before, as if he believed the maddest of the old tales and meant to act on them. “Eddon blood…?” Who could Tolly mean – old Duchess Merolanna? But she was from somewhere else, wasn’t she? Not of the Eddon bloodline, whatever that truly meant – she had only married an Eddon, like queen Anissa...

Anissa. He had almost forgotten about her. Tolly had been manipulating her for quite some time, long before Tinwright himself had become the Lord Protector’s unwilling servant. Anissa, who had had married the king and had given birth to King Olin's last…

“…Child?” Tinwright had been frightened before, but now he felt sickened as well. “You...you don’t mean the child, do you? Anissa’s child?”

Tolly nodded. “Young Alessandros, indeed. He is exactly what I need. Take soldiers and fetch him to me. Do not harm Anissa, though – I may still have some need of her.” He stood looking out the window again, staring down at the lights of campfires.

Tinwright wanted it not to be true -- he wanted to have misunderstood. “You want me to steal the queen’s baby – the king’s son?”

“If you are too craven just to take it, you may tell Anissa whatever you like,” said Tolly, waving his hand as if stealing a woman’s only child was an everyday sort of task. “Tell her that I mean to have the priests give him a special blessing or something like. No, then she will wish to come along. I don’t care, poet -- time is short! Just bring the child back to me here. Take two guards along -- three of you should be able to deal with a single small Devonisian woman. Now go, curse you. Make haste!”

Child stealer. Tinwright stumbled out of the protector’s chamber, wondering how he had been consigned to the darkest, cruelest pits of the afterlife without ever noticing his own death.

1 commentaires:

Sebert said...

Great! I am looking forward to the last chapter in the Shadowmarch series.
IMO Williams is one of the master of the craft (as a writer), though sometimes I found the plot & setting behind the shadowline to be quite confusing at times :-|