Bleak Seasonsby Glen Cook
"Let me tell you who I am, on the chance that these scribblings do survive....I am Murgen, Standard bearer of the Black Company, though I bear the shame of having lost that standard in battle. I am keeping these Annals because Croaker is dead. One-Eye won't, and hardly anyone else can read or write. I will be your guide for however long it takes the Shadowlanders… See more details below
"Let me tell you who I am, on the chance that these scribblings do survive....I am Murgen, Standard bearer of the Black Company, though I bear the shame of having lost that standard in battle. I am keeping these Annals because Croaker is dead. One-Eye won't, and hardly anyone else can read or write. I will be your guide for however long it takes the Shadowlanders to force our present predicament to its inevitable end..."
So writes Murgen, seasoned veteran of the Black Company. The Company has taken the fortress of Stormgard from the evil Shadowlanders, lords of darkness from the far reaches of the earth. Now the waiting begins.
Exhausted from the siege, beset by sorcery, and vastly outnumbered, the Company have risked their souls as well as their lives to hold their prize. But this is the end of an age, and great forces are at work. The ancient race known as the Nyueng Bao swear that ancient gods are stirring. the Company's commander has gone mad and flirts with the forces of darkness. Only Murgen, touched by a spell that has set his soul adrift in time, begins at last to comprehend the dark design that has made pawns of men and god alike.
Some good ideas, and intriguingly structured, but theatrical and with far too little action to attract readers unfamiliar with the series.
Read an Excerpt
Incessant wind sweeps the plain. It mutters across grey pavements that sweep from horizon to horizon. It sings around scattered black pillars, a chorus of ghosts. It tumbles leaves and scatters dust come from afar. It teases the hair of a corpse that has lain undisturbed for a generation, mummifying. Impishly, the gale tosses a leaf into the cadaver's silently screaming mouth, tugs it away again. The wind carries the breath of winter.
Lightning leaps from pillar to ebon pillar like a child skittering from base to base in a game of tag. For a moment there is color on that special plain.
The pillars might be mistaken for relics of a fallen city. They are not. They are too few and too randomly placed. Nor has a one ever fallen, though many have been gnawed deeply by the teeth of the hungry wind.
... fragments ...
... just blackened fragments, crumbling between my fingers.
Browned page corners that reveal half a dozen words in a crabbed hand, their context no longer known.
All that remains of two volumes of the Annals, A thousand hours of labor. Four years of history. Gone forever.
Or are they?
I do not want to go back. I do not want to relive the horror. I do not want to reclaim the pain. There is pain too deep to withstand right here, right now. There is no way to recapture the totality of that awfulness, anyway. The mind and heart, safely over to the farther shore, simply refuse to encompass the enormity of thevoyage.
And there is no time. There is a war on.
Always there is a war on.
Uncle Doj wants something. Just as well to stop now. Teardrops make the ink run.
He is going to make me drink some strange philtre.
... all around, fragments of my work, my life, my love and my pain, scattered in this bleak season....
And in the darkness, shards of time.
Hey, there! Welcome to the city of the dead. Don't mind those guys staring. Ghosts don't see a lot of strangersat least of a friendly persuasion. You're right. They do look hungry. That happens during these siege things.
Try not to look too much like a lamb roast.
Think that's a joke? Stay away from the Nar.
Welcome to Dejagore, what the Taglians call this deathtrap. The teeny brown Shadowlanders the Black Company grabbed it from call it Stormgard. People who actually live here always called it Jaicureven when that was a crime. And who knows what the Nyueng Bao call it. And who cares, eh? They aren't talking and they aren't part of the equation anyway.
That's one of them. That rascal there, no meat on him and a skull face. Everybody around here is some shade of brown but theirs is different. It has a grey cast to it. Almost deathly. You won't mistake a Nyueng Bao for anything else.
Their eyes are like polished coal no fire will ever warm.
Sounds like Mogaba, the Nar and the First Legion rooting out Shadowlanders again. Some get inside almost every night. They are like field mice. You just can't get rid of them all.
Found some the other day that had been in hiding since the Company took the city.
How about that smell out there? It was worse before the Shadowlanders started burying the bodies. Maybe a shovel was a little too complicated a machine.
Those long mounds that radiate from the city like spokes have corpses stacked like cordwood inside. Sometimes they didn't pile the dirt on deep enough and the gasses of corruption burst the mounds open. That's when you hope the wind is blowing their way.
You see how positively they are thinking, all the not-yet-filled-trenches they are digging. A lot of the dirt goes into the ramps.
The elephants are the worst. They take forever to rot. They tried burning them once, but all that did was irritate the buzzards So where they could they just dragged the bodies over and incorporated them into their ramps.
Who? The ugly little guy with the uglier hat? That is One-Eye. You must have been warned about him.
How come One-Eye? On account of the eye patch. Clever, huh?
The other runt is Goblin. You should have been warned about him, too. No? Well, stay out of their way. All the time is best, but especially if they are arguing, and most particularly if they have been drinking. As wizards go they are no earthshakers but they are more than you will be able to handle.
Puny as they are, they are the main reason the Shadowlanders have stayed out there in the country roughing it, leaving the wallowable luxuries of the city to the Taglian troops and Black Company.
No, now pay attention. Goblin is the white one. All right, you're right, he is overdue for his annual bath. Goblin is the one who looks like a toad. One-Eye is the one with the hat and the patch.
The guys in the once-upon-a-time-they-were-white tunics are Taglian soldiers. Every day now every one of them asks himself what damned fool notion made him enroll in the legions.
The folks wearing the colored sheets and unhappy expressions are locals. Jaicuri.
Fancy this. When the Company and the legions swooped down from the north and surprised Stormshadow they hailed the newcomers as liberators. They strew the streets with rose petals and favorite daughters.
Now the only reason they don't stab their liberators in the back is that the alternative is worse. Now they are alive enough to starve and be abused.
Shadowspinner is not famous for kindness and kissing babies.
The kids all over? Those almost happy and fat urchins? Nyueng Bao. All Nyueng Bao.
The Jaicuri nearly stopped making babies after the Shadowmasters came. Most of the few that were born failed to survive the hard times since. The handful still breathing are protected more fiercely than any treasure. You won't find them running naked through the streets, squealing and totally ignoring strangers.
Who are the Nyueng Bao? You never heard of them?
It is a good question. And a hard one to answer.
The Nyueng Bao don't talk to outsiders except through their Speaker but the word is that they are religious pilgrims who were on the homeward leg of a once-in-a-generation hadj who got trapped by circumstance. The Taglian soldiers say they hail from vast river delta swamps west of Taglios. They are a primitive, minuscule minority abhorred by the majority Gunni, Vehdna, and Shadar religions,
The whole Nyueng Bao people makes the pilgrimage. And the whole people got caught right in the deep shit here in Dejagore.
They need to work on their timing. Or they should sharpen their skills at appeasing their gods.
The Black Company cut a deal with the Nyueng Bao. Goblin and their Speaker gobbled for half an hour and it was settied. The Nyueng Bao would ignore the Black Company and Taglians for whom the Company is responsible. The Nyueng Bao would be ignored in turn.
It works. Mostly.
Their men are a sort you don't want to upset. They don't take shit from anybody.
They never start anythingexcept, according to the Taglians, by being too damned stubborn to do what they are told.
Sounds like One-Eye style reasoning at work there.
Just kick those crows. They're getting too goddamn bold! Think they own the place.... Hey! You got one. Grab it! They aren't good eating but they are a sight better than no eating at all.
Shit. Got away. Hell, that happens. Head for the citadel. You get your best look at the layout from up there.
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