I’m in Los Angeles this weekend attending the Writers of the Future award ceremony and talking to this year’s winners about how the contest and workshop impacted my writing career. Fun stuff.
In other news, as we prepare for the mass market paperback release of Canticle (8/31) and the hardcover release of Antiphon (9/14), Tor is running a limited-time special on the e-book of first volume, Lamentation. Hard to go wrong with a price like $2.99!
So to celebrate that and to introduce you all to a small corner of my Imagination Forest, I thought I’d post the first little bit of the book. Here, you’ll meet Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses and General of the Wandering Army. He’s one of four protagonists whose life is about to change….
See you on the other side!
Windwir is a city of paper and robes and stone.
It crouches near a wide and slow-moving river at the edge of the Named Lands. Named for a poet turned Pope – the first Pope in the New World. A village in the forest that became the center of the world. Home of the Androfrancine Order and their Great Library. Home of many wonders both scientific and magick.
One such wonder watches from high above.
It is a bird made of metal, a gold spark against the blue expanse that catches the afternoon sun. The bird circles and waits.
When the song begins below, the golden bird watches the melody unfold. A shadow falls across the city and the air becomes still. Tiny figures stop moving and look up. A flock of birds lift and scatter. The sky is torn and fire rains down until only utter darkness remains. Darkness and heat.
The heat catches the bird and tosses it further into the sky. A gear slips; the bird’s wings compensate but a billowing, black cloud takes an eye as it passes.
The city screams and then sighs seven times and after the seventh sigh, sunlight returns briefly to the scorched land. The plain is blackened, the spires and walls and towers all brought down into craters where basements collapsed beneath the footprint of Desolation. A forest of bones, left whole by ancient blood magick, stands on the smoking, pock-marked plain.
Darkness swallows the light again as a pillar of smoke and ash blots out the sun. Finally, the golden bird flees southwest.
It easily overtakes the other birds, their wings smoking and beating furiously against the hot winds, messages tied to their feet with threads of white or red or black.
Sparking and popping, the golden bird speeds low across the landscape and dreams of its waiting cage.
* * *
Wind swept the Prairie Sea and Rudolfo chased after it, laughing and riding low in the saddle as he raced his Gypsy Scouts. The afternoon sun glinted gold on the bending grass and the horses pounded out their song.
Rudolfo savored the wide yellow ocean of grass that separated the Ninefold Forest Houses from one another and from the rest of the Named Lands—it was his freedom in the midst of duty, much as the oceans must have been for the seagoing lords of the Elder Days. He smiled and spurred his stallion.
It had been a fine time in Glimmerglam, his first Forest House. Rudolfo had arrived before dawn. He’d taken his breakfast of goat cheese, whole grain bread and chilled pear wine beneath a purple canopy that signified justice. While he ate, he heard petitions quietly as Glimmerglam’s steward brought the month’s criminals forward. Because he felt particularly benevolent, he sent two thieves into a year’s servitude to the shopkeepers they’d defiled, while sending the single murderer to his Physicians of Penitent Torture on Tormentor’s Row. He dismissed three cases of prostitution and then afterwards hired two of them onto his monthly rotation.
By lunch time, Rudolfo had proven Aetero’s Theory of Compensatory Seduction decidedly false and he celebrated with creamed pheasant served over brown rice and wild mushrooms.
Then with his belly full, he’d ridden out with a shout, his Gypsy Scouts racing to keep up with him.
A good day indeed.
“What now,” the Captain of his Gypsy Scouts asked him, shouting above the pounding hooves.
Rudolfo grinned. “What say you, Gregoric?”
Gregoric returned the smile and it made his scar all the more ruthless. His black scarf of rank trailed out behind him, ribboning on the wind. “We’ve seen to Glimmerglam, Rudoheim and Friendslip. I think Paramo is the closest.”
“Then Paramo it is.” That would be fitting, Rudolfo thought. It couldn’t come close to Glimmerglam’s delights but it had held onto its quaint, logging village atmosphere for at least a thousand years and that was an accomplishment. They floated their timber down the Rajblood River just as they had in the first days, retaining what they needed to build some of the world’s most intricately crafted woodwork. The lumber for Rudolfo’s manors came from the trees of Paramo. The furniture they made rolled out by the wagonload and the very best found its way into the homes of kings and priests and nobility from all over the Named Lands.
He would dine on roast boar tonight, listen to the boasting and flatulence of his best men, and sleep on the ground with a saddle beneath his head—the life of a Gypsy King. And tomorrow, he’d sip chilled wine from the navel of a log camp dancer, listen to the frogs in the river shallows mingled with her sighs, and then sleep in the softest of beds on the summer balcony of his third forest manor.
But as he rounded to the south, his smile faded. He reined in and squinted against the sunlight. The Gypsy Scouts followed his lead, whistling to their horses as they slowed, stopped and then pranced.
“Gods,” Gregoric said. “What could cause such a thing?”
Southwest of them, billowing up above the horizon of forest-line that marked Rudolfo’s furthest border, a distant pillar of black smoke rose like a fist in the sky.
Rudolfo stared and his stomach lurched. The size of the smoke cloud daunted him; it was impossible. He blinked as his mind unlocked enough for him to do the math, quickly calculating the distance and direction based on the sun and the few stars strong enough to shine by day.
“Windwir,” he said, not even aware that he was speaking.
Gregoric nodded. “Aye, General. But what could do such a thing?”
Rudolfo looked away from the cloud to study his Captain. He’d known Gregoric since they were boys and had made him the youngest Captain of the Gypsy Scouts at fifteen when Rudolfo himself was just twelve. They’d seen a lot together, but Rudolfo had never seen him pale before now.
“We’ll know soon enough,” Rudolfo said. Then he whistled his men in closer. “I want riders back to each of the houses to gather the Wandering Army. We have Kin-Clave with Windwir; their birds will be flying. We’ll meet on the Western Steps in one day; we’ll be to Windwir’s aid in three.”
“Are we to magick the scouts, General?”
Rudolfo stroked his beard. “I think not.” He thought for a moment. “But we should be ready,” he added.
Gregoric nodded and barked out the orders.
As the nine Gypsy Scouts rode off, Rudolfo slipped from the saddle, watching the dark pillar. The column of smoke, as wide as a city, disappeared into the sky.
Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, General of the Wandering Army, felt curiosity and fear dance a shiver along his spine.
“What if it’s not there when we arrive?” he asked himself.
And he knew—but did not want to—that it wouldn’t be, and that because of this, the world had changed.
Well, there it is. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll consider picking up this book and the others in the series. Meanwhile, I’m going go enjoy some sun, some good company and some quiet time away from home to work a bit on Requiem.
Next week: Goshwowsensawunda Moments, Part 2: Television