Tag Archives: death

The Complete Lamia and Dragon Sequence from Tales of the Shonri

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The Tales of the Shonri is arranged into storylines, which I call sequences because they are sequences of stories.  These sequences will form the basis for future novels and novellas; the Witch and the Warrior sequence has already been published as ‘Tales of the Shonri: City of Lights’

Here is the link to the complete Sequence of the Lamia and the Dragon, which is made up of 31 installments.

 

http://talesoftheshonri.wordpress.com/sequences/the-lamia-and-the-dragon/

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Jarl: excerpt from Kinless Book One of Two (Somewhat gory, not for the faint-hearted)

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The Erisyan archer Jarl Bearclaw fought the urge to vomit at the stench rising from the Vascanar torture pits. The acid taste was part of his penance for another’s mistake, a penance that forced him to gaze upon men ripped asunder and to listen to their agonised screams, to smell their flesh burning, to feel the heat upon his skin… Gods above and below, the suffering tore through his soul in a scalding torrent of anguish. His empathic talent was a dol, a gift of fate, but here…

Hundreds of heat-stones glowing red-hot beneath the tormented bodies of men and boys, shards of pain burrowing into his soul. No military reason for this slaughter, the Vascanar would gain no information from these men. They simply offered this sacrifice to their gods to call them forth to feast upon this land.

They fed them pain and named it sacrament.

These rituals of agony were the reason why the Vascanar were hated and reviled across the breadth of the world. Jarl’s caedi, his clan, the Caedi Haroa — the people of the high valleys — were sworn to the Vascanar by a blood-oath harsh and binding.

No amount of gold was worth this. The Erisyans were a diminished people; taking money for such oaths would have been unthinkable only a few decades ago. A blood oath! For money! Jarl held back tears of shame and gazed across the torment before him.

As every life bawled out its pain, the dark gods of the Vascanar became visible. Dark, pendulous shadows took shape above the glowing heat-stones and screaming victims.

Gluttons at a feast in their honour.

These gods needed a pathway through the salt-forged barriers around the Isles of Symcani, a pathway constructed from the souls of tormented men. The seas protected these lands and to obtain their power the gods first needed their warriors to crush the inhabitants. Jarl knew his histories; he knew that the Karisae had faced the same problem two and a half centuries earlier. But they hadn’t solved it like this, because they weren’t a cult of torture and bloody misery.

Why had Gorak, his hwlman, the war-leader of the caedi — and Jarl’s uncle — signed a pact with these monstrous Vascanar? Screams echoed in the footsteps of these animals. Wherever they trod, the land turned red and the spirit realm darkened.

No payment was worth this. The Caedi Haroa would be reviled amongst the Erisyans. Livia, Jarl’s wife, would cast out his bow and leave him divorced and alone. His daughters would find no husbands, for no caedi would allow such tainted bloodlines into their own, and his sons would find no wives, for no caedi would send their daughters to marry those who signed a blood-oath with the Vascanar. The Haroa would become crydi, wanderers without a homeland.

Thus, Jarl stood witness to the fall of his dreams.

A swaggering Vascanar horse warrior named Torquesten approached through the shimmering heat. Jarl could taste the vicious brutality of Torquesten’s mind. The Vascanar called such as him Akalac, knights of the blood, but Torquesten was worse even than that; a creature steeped in darkness and evil, he commanded the hounds, those poor benighted slaves forced by mystical bindings to sniff out magic for the Vascanar.

Torquesten thrust a jug of Arambra brandy into Jarl’s hand. ‘Drink, bowman. Drink with victory.’ Torquesten’s harshly accented Maebaz, the trade-tongue of every place that fallen empire had touched, made his words hard to understand.

‘I’m not thirsty,’ Jarl said in impeccable Maebaz. Linguistics were easy for an empath; the sense of the word came along with its sound.

‘You drink, bowman,’ Torquesten demanded. ‘Drink.’

Jarl accepted the jug. ‘The term is archer,’ he said, before he let the fiery liquid swill around his mouth, feigned swallowing, and then spat the brandy back into the jug along with his unspoken curse.

‘Dead empire, dead tongue, soon all will speak the language of the gods.’ Torquesten snatched back the jug and almost overbalanced into a nearby pit filled with glowing heat-stones, where a man was being broiled alive.

Jarl resisted the urge to trip the drunken Vascanar.

Torquesten regained his balance and laughed. ‘I like you, bowman. I keep you as pet, yes?’ He staggered away.

Jarl closed his eyes. Gorak, what have you done to your people? He spat the sour flavour of the brandy onto the ground and opened his eyes to bear witness.

The dark forms of the Vascanar gods solidified above the sacrifices, dripping secretions that crackled upon the heat-stones, splattered upon the ground, and hissed upon the pathetic flesh of the sacrifices. Slaves rushed forward with delicate pottery bowls to collect this precious fluid, reaching across the heat to save the sacred harvest from exploding on contact with the stones, taking great care to collect the fluid that etched acid lines of pain upon the skins of men screaming out their last breaths.

Too much; Jarl could bear no more. He turned away from the repulsive sight; but he had stayed too long. Long enough for a Vascanar god to notice him. ‘You are mine.’ The rancid, domineering mental voice of the god crawled into his soul. ‘You will serve me.’ Such longing in that voice, such hatred.

Jarl took a step back from the thrust of that seductive hate, but only one step; then he cast off the bloody dreams rampant in his mind, cast off the temptation to become a monstrous beast raging upon the surface of the world, and cast the discordance at the centre of his soul back into the gaze of the god.

He was Jarl Bearclaw of the Caedi Haroa. He was archer and warrior, father and lover, man of faith, of truth, of worth. He was Erisyan.

The god screamed.

Jarl drove empathy, truth, clarity, the essential chaotic randomness of humanity into the breach of that glare. They may have noticed him, but he’d suffered with every cry of every soul torn open for their greed; they wouldn’t turn him to their ways. He would die before that happened; and he wouldn’t die alone.

The scrape of swords on scabbards as the Vascanar readied their blades.

Jarl, with a smile upon his lips, opened his mind fully and thrust out with all that he had, letting his soul slash at every dark form floating above the pain of men. ‘Take me, then,’ he said, his voice soft in the sudden silence. ‘If you have the nerve for it.’

He drew his own sword, the famous syrthae blade of the Erisyans, with its distinctive inward-curving cutting-edge, its heavy point to add weight to any cut, and its blade as long as his arm. It shimmered in the light of the glowing heat-stones.

Every god cried out its rage. The screech tore the world open and for a moment, a moment of synchronicity, of information given and received, the gods and Jarl connected in the realm of the spirit.

Jarl staggered. Demons! The Vascanar gods were demons. Demons who sought to become gods. Oh, how they coveted that ascension. And these islands, largely untouched by newer faiths, held the power they needed to achieve it.

Demons, not gods — not yet. Just foul creatures loosed upon the world by the tormented cries of dying men. Jarl tried to drag his gaze away from the demon’s eyes, tried to pull his soul out of the connection, but this one was tenacious; he thrust deeper into Jarl’s soul, into his mind, skewering the very heart of him. Jarl struggled, his fists clenching, his face rigid, dragging back his soul, his mind, his heart. In that instant more information flooded through the link.

‘We will tear apart your soul,’ the demons cried into Jarl’s mind — and closed the doors to their own thoughts, freeing him from their hooks.

‘Will ain’t killed,’ Jarl said, and broke the corrosive gaze. He had learned what he needed to know: the Vascanar had sold their souls to demons. Nothing more than that. He almost pitied them, even as he feared for his own people.

Torquesten, at the forefront of the Vascanar, with a longsword above his head, charged towards Jarl.

‘Hold!’ The bellow came from Gorak, Jarl’s hwlman and uncle; the Erisyans had come rushing to Jarl’s aid from the shattered stones of the broken town.

With his warbow held at full draw, arrow nocked and pointed at Torquesten, Gorak lifted his chin. ‘Spill one drop of Erisyan blood and the pact is broken.’ The rest of the caedi stood by Gorak’s side, bows drawn, ready to loose upon his command.

The Vascanar skidded to a halt. Jarl flinched at the crackling viciousness of the Demon-tongue, a language that burned across the souls of those who heard it, blazing between the hovering demons and the fools who worshipped them.

Torquesten said, ‘The gods say he shall live to suffer. They say you must take him from this place.’

‘Your accent’s improved,’ Jarl commented.

‘Quiet now, Jarl,’ Gorak said. Like all users of the Erisyan warbow, Gorak was broad across shoulders and back; but even his bull neck bulged at the mounting effort of keeping a powerful bow at full draw. He smiled at Torquesten and said, ‘We’ll leave now, then.’

‘Go,’ Torquesten snapped.

Gorak lowered his bow. ‘Come along, Jarl. I think you’ve seen enough excitement for one night.’

As they made their way back to the Erisyan tents, Gorak asked, ‘What possessed you to stand there like that?’

‘To bear witness,’ Jarl said. ‘You’ve no idea what you’ve done.’

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Marisa: excerpt from Kinless Book One of Two (to be published on September the 30th 2013)

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In the light of the dawn, mist rose from the River Falas and curled over the meadows. Tendrils of moisture pillowed against the bases of the beehives until they looked like mountaintops above clouds.

Marisa desainLegan calmed the bees with a touch of her spirit. The fragment of a haraf stone about her neck pulsed, connecting her soul to her body through the bridge of her mind.

Black and red and white spiralled through the haraf stone; smooth and silky to the touch, it came from the shrine of Redain upon the shores of Lake Kalon, the sacred lake, and was different from the stones of this House of Falas. All the shrines upon the Shrine Road between Falas and Redain had different stones, different mixes of colours and textures. Nobody knew where they came from, but they gave power to those that wore them.

Sliding the combs out of the hive with her gloved hands, Marisa handed them to Branwen. The Anthanic servant, in her simple, smock-like dress, scraped the honey from the combs into a large basin — honey needed for wound dressings and poultices when the wounded returned from the battle.

Branwen’s crow-black hair was arranged in a simple plait that hung to her waist and contrasted sharply with the shimmering blonde of Marisa’s complicated hairstyle, which required constant delicate maintenance by skilled servants such as Branwen.

Neither woman spoke while they worked. Marisa, the haraf stone warm between her breasts, kept her mind focused on the task of calming the bees — their tiny souls pushed against hers as their honey was stolen — and Branwen maintained the vow of silence that all the Anthanic held to in the Houses of the Doves. The Anthanic were a strange people with many strange customs, but this one irritated Marisa the most. She felt besmirched by their piety, their obeisance to gods not their own; she wondered if she could hold to such a vow if the gods demanded it of her.

The white walls of the House followed the triple-spiral footprint of an ancient Anthanic shrine: tall walls, punctuated by large windows, with dark slate roofs above, curving around a central garden where the spring of the shrine bubbled constantly with pure water containing healing energy.

Powerful healers had travelled from all over the isles to give aid to the soldiers fighting against the Vascanar — as was their duty — but Marisa had another reason to come here to the House of Falas: Drustan.

She had stood and watched as a priest broke Drustan’s sword against the edge of an anvil. Drustan’s gaze never lifted from the shattered shards of his blade, the blade her father gave him when he reached manhood; his back straight, his shoulders tensed, his face a mask.

His eyes — he never looked at her. He did not acknowledge her existence. Turned his back on her, on the life they once shared, and walked away into the world beyond the Salt…

Would he have returned to fight for this land that cast him aside? Would she see him again?

The buzzing of the bees grew louder. Marisa cast Drustan from her mind to focus on the task at hand. Her powers with the creatures were limited; she was a healer, not a witch, and bees were difficult to control.

Branwen clucked her tongue and looked across the meadow towards the grey stones of the bridge spanning the River Falas in seven graceful arches.

Men’s voices reached Marisa’s ears despite the distance, despite the buzzing of the bees and the thickness of the forest. Anger and fear resonated in those cries. Marisa lifted her gaze from the hive. Was he here? Was he dead? Was he…?

The spell broke and the bees began to swarm. Marisa backed away from the hive and dropped the veil across her face, but Branwen simply clucked her tongue again.

A surge of power skated across Marisa’s mind.

This Anthanic servant did not calm the bees, she commanded them. The buzzing quieted; the bees ignored the interlopers in their midst, and the swarm disbanded into foraging workers flying out across the meadow to begin the task of replenishing the stolen honey.

Marisa opened her mouth to speak, to ask the question: who was this servant who had such witchly power over the creatures of the fields? But Branwen shook her head and pointed at the forest road.

The thudding beat of horses galloping, kicking up clods of earth. A bubble of sound that should not have reached Marisa’s ears at this distance. Powerful magic.

Branwen spoke. ‘I must leave. The battle is lost. The shrine will stand, but no blood should be spilled within it. You should leave too, Marisa Gentlehand.’

Gentlehand! A name given to Marisa by the Anthanic of the StormMarch. Awtyni in their tongue, she of the gentle hand, translated into Karisae by Branwen; who had never spoken in Marisa’s presence, but now spoke Karisae in a soft husky voice without a mistake in syntax or pronunciation.

‘Who are you?’ Marisa asked.

Branwen smiled. ‘I am … in your tongue … high priestess of this shrine. In my tongue I am Amthisraf, protector of the shrine.’

‘But you’re a servant.’

‘How else could I remain close to the shrine when you Karisae claim it for your own?’

‘You break your oath of silence.’

‘I am no longer bound by it.’ The smile left Branwen’s face. ‘We flee from this vinraf, this shrine-spring. No battle should be fought here. No blood should be spilled at this shrine.’ Lifting her chin she whistled, a long low note, which was picked up and repeated by others inside and outside the white walls of the House. A note that echoed through the air and raised goose bumps upon Marisa’s flesh.

Branwen placed the bowl of honey upon the ground and ripped the grey servant robes from her body, revealing tight Anthanic undergarments and blue tattoos that swirled across her arms and torso. ‘May the Weaver grant that we meet again, Marisa, lady of the Isle of Storms.’ She reached out and touched the haraf stone dangling from Marisa’s neck. ‘This stone does not come from this shrine and, therefore, you are not bound to this shrine.’ She held Marisa’s gaze with calm strong eyes. ‘You are not bound here, Marisa Gentlehand, this stone,’ Brawen pointed at the walls of the House of Falas, ‘is not your stone,’ she touched Marisa’s haraf stone again. Her gaze held Marisa’s for a moment longer, then she turned and sprinted away into the woods

Marisa stared after her. Outraged Karisae voices cried out as other Anthanic, men and women both, followed Branwen into the forest in a swirl of blue tattoos and discarded grey clothes.

The mournful whistle died away.

‘Slow, sire!’ A bellow from the bridge. ‘Slow!’

Marisa turned in time to see the King’s horse slip upon the stones of the bridge. Other horses plunged, trying to stop, rearing, falling, men leaping clear, at least one man thrown into the river with a splash.

Picking up her skirts, Marisa ran towards the accident.

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Drustan: excerpt from Kinless Book One of Two (to be published on September the 30th 2013)

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Drustan desainCoid wiped another man’s blood from his eyes. Gods, it was hot. Not yet noon and still the sun beat down upon the ragged shieldwall holding the ridge. The grass in front of the Karisae line was churned up, muddy, lubricated by blood and other bodily fluids, despite the baking heat of summer.

He gazed at the broken stub of his sword, which had snapped close to the hilt against the edge of a Vascanar shield. He should have stayed away from this land. Another summer day, Marisa’s body against his… He snarled and threw the useless hilt over the edge of the ridge.

It tumbled in the air, twisting, falling towards the Vascanar infantry disengaging from the battle line.

They would be back.

He lowered his shield to the ground, released his arm from the straps, and shook out the ache in his shoulder. One more Vascanar attack repelled, so the Karisae defenders would live a little while longer. He should have stayed away, away from… No, no more of that; he had chosen this fight.

The slope of the ridge fell away sharply here, but still the Vascanar had driven their infantry assault up into the line. Thereby, they pinned the bulk of the Karisae army in place, while other units attacked the shieldmen in the valley on the left flank.

Dust caked Drustan’s lips. Sweat trickled through the blood and dirt plastered across his face. His breathing calmed and his heartbeat slowed as he recovered his composure after the ferocious fighting. Her eyes on his in the sunlight. Her body arched. Her—

‘Water,’ a wounded Vascanar begged from the pile of dead and dying enemy in front of him.

Prayer scars ripped across the wounded man’s face, cut with his own hand in a brutal act of religious devotion. The long-healed scar on Drustan’s face, slashing from above his right eye and across the bridge of his nose and on into his left cheekbone, was an injury received on the field of honour — when he still believed in such things — not a self-inflicted wound to worship rapacious gods. Marisa weaving her magic with the others, healing his face and weeping as she did so. Drustan’s jaw tightened until his teeth ached.

‘Water,’ the Vascanar begged again. His bloody hands cradled his stomach, holding his bowels inside a gaping wound.

‘Here,’ Cullain said.

Drustan took the offered spear, hefted it, nodded satisfaction at its balance, and drove it down through the Vascanar’s throat.

‘He should’ve stayed home.’ Cullain looked down at the twitching corpse.

‘Vascanar don’t have a home.’ Drustan jerked the spear free and the corpse slackened into death. The Vascanar never settled, never took a homeland; like locusts they simply arrived, devastated a land, and left. Drustan stretched his neck. ‘Damn it’s hot.’

‘Rain’d be nice. Best keep hold of that spear.’ Cullain rolled his massive shoulders and gestured down the slope. ‘It’ll take ’em a while to regroup, but they’ll be back.’

Lifting a hand to shade his eyes, Drustan studied the Vascanar formations on the coastal plain below the ridge. Their red and black tower shields lay upon the ground in front of the shattered remnants of Barstow town, while the Vascanar infantry knelt and drank from bowls the priests held up to their lips, praying to their foul gods.

Barstow was destroyed, all of its people fled or tortured to death when the Vascanar landed on the Island of the Lake. The shield hall, temple to Vulcas, god of war, caster of the spear Deathbringer, burned within the tumbled palisade at the centre of the town.

Beyond the town, Drustan could see the tangled trees of Mornas Marsh. More a wetland forest than a marsh, but still enough to force the Vascanar along this route, along the Shrine Road towards the centre of the Island of the Lake; and so they had to take this ridge.

The Karisae, too, had prayed, but their gods had not come. The heroes from the Sunlit Land, who did the gods’ bidding, had not come. The kingdom of Symcani stood alone against the predatory Vascanar and their voracious gods. The King and his priests had not succeeded in their prayers.

Ships smouldered on the beach beyond the devastated town. Drustan dropped his hand to his side and balled it into a fist. ‘Burning their ships was stupid.’

‘Aye, so you said.’ Cullain chewed his beard, looked at the ships, and shrugged. ‘King wanted vengeance for Barstow. Figured it might call forth Vulcas Deathbringer.’

‘It cost him a quarter of his force for bugger-all gain.’

‘Burned the ships.’

‘Vulcas, god of battle, did not come. Scepteras, king of the gods, did not come. Even Henath, judger of the dead, did not come. So all he did was trap the damn Vascanar here. Now we have to kill every last one of the whoresons.’

Cullain grinned. ‘Gotta hold ’em first.’ He nodded to the Vascanar cavalry milling around opposite the left flank. There was no point sending horses up against the defended ridgeline, but the men on the flat of the valley were taking a battering.

Drustan returned his old comrade’s grin. Could the Karisae defenders hold against the Vascanar? Did it matter? There would always be wars to fight and money to be made. This wasn’t his homeland anymore. Marisa had made sure of that. His hands tightened around the spear. Because of her betrayal, they’d broken his sword and cast him out. Now the sword he’d bought to replace it had broken too. An omen? He shivered. ‘Why in all the hells did we come back?’ he asked.

‘For the gold.’

‘We’re earning every damn piece.’ Drustan spat dust-caked saliva onto the ground. They had made him a mercenary, a sell-sword, when they broke his sword on the altar of Vulcas. Marisa’s betrayal had torn him from this land and still he returned. What kind of fool was he? He spat again and sneered. ‘We should have stayed in that tavern across the Salt.’

‘Aye,’ Cullain agreed. The old warrior stretched his back, looked along the shieldwall and bellowed, ‘Clear out the dead, lads!’ His face so battered and scarred that his original features were barely discernible beneath his heavy beard, his powerful body clad in leather and chainmail, and his dark, dangerous eyes, were all the authority he required. ‘Throw ’em down the slope.’

The soldiers — who had been farmers, fishermen, labourers, and woodsmen before the call to duty came — grumbled, but did as they were told. Dropping the large round Karisae shields upon the ground they worked in pairs, throwing the dead down the slope to bounce and tangle upon rocks and bushes, creating an extra obstacle to the next Vascanar attack.

‘Water!’ a boyish voice yelled. ‘Who wants water?’

‘Over here, boy!’ Drustan drove his spear into the ground, undid his helm, attached it to the hook on his belt, and pushed back the chainmail coif covering his scalp. He wrenched off the padded arming cap and stuffed it into his belt next to the helm. The breeze was cool across his sweat-soaked hair.

Staggering under the weight of waterskins slung across his shoulders, the boy, who looked about twelve, picked his way between the wounded and dead.

‘Here, milord,’ said the boy, handing him a full waterskin.

‘Don’t call me that,’ Drustan snapped.

‘But them boots.’ The boy pointed at Drustan’s feet. ‘Them’s noble’s boots.’

Damn boots. He should have thrown them out with the rest of his gear, but good boots were so hard to come by — like good women. Drustan poured water over his head and face. He swilled out his mouth. The clean, cold taste of the spring water washed away the stench of battle for a moment. Spitting the cleansing water across a discarded Vascanar shield emblazoned with a red and gold flame upon a black background, he lifted the waterskin again and drank deeply.

‘That there’s Drustan,’ Cullain said. A murmur swept through the men near enough to hear; they hadn’t known who fought beside them.

‘Drustan the—’ the boy caught his words behind his teeth. ‘Drustan the Bright Blade.’

Drustan poured the last of the water over his arms, shoulders and neck, washing away the worst of the battle grime from his steel vambraces, leather cuirass, and the chainmail mantle across his shoulders. ‘Drustan the Kinless,’ he said and threw the empty waterskin into the boy’s chest. The boy caught it. ‘I mostly kill for gold these days, but I’ll make an exception if you’re still here when I open my eyes.’ He smiled at the boy and closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, the boy was dodging away between the wounded and the dead.

‘Could’ve done with some water,’ Cullain said.

‘You gossip like a baker’s wife.’ Drustan glanced at the men around him, farmers made into soldiers with heirloom weapons and rough-cut shields. Some of the men met his gaze and nodded their respect, but others would not look at him; would not look at the noble who had lost his place and left the isles in disgrace.

‘You should’ve thrown away them boots,’ Cullain said.

‘Get the men sorted.’ Drustan ran a hand through his wet hair. ‘Their armsman died in the last assault so they’re ours now. I’ll send you water.’ He picked up his shield, yanked his spear from the ground, and walked away from the line.

He could hear Cullain behind him as he clambered up the rise to where he could see the entire battlefield. ‘Right then, lads, stop gawping. Aye, that’s Drustan desainCoid all right. The Bright Blade. And I’m Cullain Strongarm. Ah, you’ve heard of me too, ain’t you? Good. Let’s see if you can learn to act like soldiers then, instead of like farm boys fresh from tickling your mothers’ teats. When those Vascanar whoresons come again, close up the damn line. There’s more god-cursed holes than in your mothers’ skirts. You … aye, you. On the next attack, don’t wave your spear around like your wife’s darning needle. Stick it in, twist it, pull it out, keep on doing it ‘till the whoreson falls. Don’t stab the man in front of you, stab the man to your right. Them damn tower shields of theirs ain’t no use if’n you stab ’em in the swordside. Use your shields as sommat more’n sommat to quiver behind. Protect the man on your left, coz them Vascanar know about shieldside and swordside too. And aim low — if’n you can’t kill the whoreson, at least stop him bloody breeding.’

Drustan grinned as Cullain’s voice faded away into the general noise of an army preparing to defend its line. He spotted a different water-boy and told him where to find Cullain, before climbing the hill to look out over the battlefield.

[Edit: Updated after the final copy-edit of the novel.]

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Eirane and Belina: excerpt from Kinless Book One of Two (to be published on September the 30th 2013)

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Eirane swooped down into the courtyard of the House of Healing, as invisible as a breath of wind. She drifted across the wounds of dying men, giving them solace, allowing them to pass on, offering them the touch of mercy.

Some of the men, close enough to the gates of death that they saw into the spirit realm, reached out to her, but one man cried out in fear.

A white-robed healer bustled across the gardens to calm his terror. She had iron-grey hair and the flashing eyes of one who commanded. There was no doubting her position as leader of this House. The other healers stopped in their ministrations and bobbed their heads to her as she wove her way through the clots of dying men to the one who had screamed.

‘She is here,’ the wounded man moaned. He stank of faeces, his stomach torn open and infected. ‘Death breathes upon me.’

‘Hush now,’ the healer said. ‘Hush now. Henath will guard your soul on your journey to the other side and no spirit can harm you here.’

Eirane stilled in the air, offended by the words. That this foolish man thought her a demon, a creature of the night, was to be expected. The priests of the Karisae lied to their congregations. But this was a healer and ignorance of the truth was no excuse for such nightmarish tales.

‘Cast the spell,’ the dying man begged. ‘Drive her away. Make the walls shine with light.’

‘No such spirit can enter these sacred walls. The gods guard us.’

‘She is here. I can see her. Drive her away. I beg of you. She wishes to feed upon my soul. Please. For all that I have given to my King, please.’

The healer lowered her head. ‘Very well.’ She lifted her hand and drew upon the power of the shrine, of the white-spiralled walls, of the water that bubbled from the spring — a spring fed by the waters of the sacred lake Calovinid, the lake the Karisae called Kalon, the lake at the heart of it all, the lake of Tanaz — the goddess enchained. ‘Be gone, foul spirit! I, Dame Belina desainJasi of this House of Falas, command you. Leave this place.’

But the vinraf, the shrine spring, existed long before the Karisae came to this land. The chips of haraf they wore about their necks as amulets were taken from the huge haraf monoliths that encircled each of the shrines. For haraf meant shrine stone in the language of the Anthanic. And Eirane was as much a part of the chains that bound the goddess as any mere chip of stone or flowing spring.

So, though the amulet around Dame Belina’s neck glowed with glorious light, the vinraf, the shrine spring, did not pick up that light, and the haraf of the walls surrounding the vinraf did not glow with magic.

Dame Belina paled, lifted her hand again and called out the same command.

Is this how you thank me? Eirane asked the men, though they heard her voice only as a murmur of the wind upon the shrine. Some of them, those sensitive to the spirit realm and those so close to the gates that they were already within its embrace, turned their heads away to hide their faces. I come here to help your passing and this is how you thank me, this is how it ends? So be it.

Engulfed in sadness, she turned and flowed away from the shrine. And the walls glowed with light.

‘There,’ Dame Belina said. She smiled down upon the soldier, but he had already died.

[Edit: Updated after the final copy-edit of the novel.]

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