From the Publisher
“Turtledove has proved he can divert his readers to astonishing places. He's developed a cult following over the years; and if you've already been there, done that with real-history novelists Patrick O'Brian, Dorothy Dunnett, or George MacDonald Fraser, for your Next Big Enthusiasm you might want to try Turtledove. I know I'd follow his imagination almost anywhere.” San Jose Mercury News
“Beginning a new alternate history series with this tale of two eras on the edge of catastrophic change, Turtledove brings an era to life.” Library Journal on Beyond the Gap
“A solid actioner with an ironically attractive protagonist.” Booklist on Beyond the Gap
“Vivid!” Publishers Weekly on Beyond the Gap
Read an Excerpt
I The Breath of God blew down hard from the north. Here in the Bizogot country near the Glacier, the wind off the great ice sheet blew hard all winter long. Hamnet Thyssen’s own breath smoked as if he were puf.ng on a pipe. He wished he were, though Ulric Skakki liked tobacco better than he did. Unless Raumsdalian traders had brought a little up from the south, there was none for hundreds of miles.
Count Hamnet was a Raumsdalian himself. He was large and dark and dour, with a black beard that had a streak of white above a scar and some scatterings of gray elsewhere— and that looked whiter now than it really was, what with all the rime and snow caught in it. He wore Bizogot- style furs and leather, with the stout felt boots that were the best foot-gear ever made for .ghting cold. In spite of hooded jacket and furred trousers, he felt the frigid weather like an icepick in his bones.
Ulric was up from the south, too, though Hamnet wasn’t sure the foxy- faced adventurer had been born inside the borders of the Raumsdalian Empire. Whether he had or not, he spoke Raumsdalian perfectly these days. Pitching his voice to carry through the shrieking wind, he said, “Things could be worse.”
“How?” Hamnet asked. “We could have frozen to death already?”
“Oh, you don’t freeze to death up here, not if you’re careful. You just wish you could,” Ulric said, which was true. “That’s not what I meant. A couple of thousand years ago, we could have enjoyed this lovely weather down near Nidaros.”
Sigvat II, the Raumsdalian Emperor, ruled from Nidaros these days. Two thousand years earlier, thegreat city was no more than a hunting camp on the edge of Hevring Lake. The meltwater .lling the lake came from the Glacier, which in those days lay just to the north. The glaciers had fallen back all this way in the years since. Nidaros was almost temperate these days; barley grew there most years, and wheat in the warmer ones. Hevring Lake was long gone. When the ice dam that corked it melted through, it poured out to the west in a great .ood that carved out the badlands still scarring that terrain.
Despite the warming weather in the south—or rather, because of it— Hamnet Thyssen bared his teeth in a mirthless grin. “Better that, some ways, than this.”
“What?” Ulric mocked without mercy. “I thought you always wanted to go beyond the Glacier.”
“Not always. I didn’t used to think there was anything beyond the Glacier,” Hamnet answered. “And even after I found out there was, I didn’t want what lived beyond the Glacier coming here, curse it.”
“Life is full of surprises,” Ulric Skakki said, which would have been funny if only it were funny.
For some time now, the Glacier had been melting back towards the northwest and northeast, leaving a corridor of open land— the Gap— between the two great frozen sheets. Now at last the Gap had melted through, allowing travelers from the south to discover what lay on the far side of the Glacier.
Up until that .nally happened, Hamnet Thyssen had always thought the northern glaciers went on forever. So had most Raumsdalians— and most of the nomadic Bizogots who lived north of them. The Golden Shrine? As far as Count Hamnet was concerned, the Golden Shrine was only a myth.
He knew better now. Oh, not about the Golden Shrine, which might still be mythical for all he could prove. But he’d gone beyond the Glacier himself. He’d seen the striped cats called tigers, which preyed there in place of the lions and sabertooths he knew. He’d seen the great brown bears that scooped salmon from streams unfrozen in summer. He’d seen vast herds of deer with both stags and does bearing blunt- tined antlers.
And he’d seen the folk who rode those deer as men on this side of the Glacier rode horses. The Rulers, they called themselves. They not only herded woolly mammoths, as the Bizogots had for centuries uncounted, but rode them to war, with lancers and men with long, long lances on the beasts’ shaggy backs.
The Rulers seemed convinced any folk not of their blood were animals, to be tamed like mammoths or hunted and killed like wolves and tigers. They were not warriors to be despised, and their sorcerers had strength neither Raumsdalian wizards nor Bizogot shamans could easily withstand.
Trasamund rode up to Hamnet and Ulric. He too looked north. “Anything?” he asked, doing his best not to sound worried. He was a big, burly man, bigger than Hamnet Thyssen, with piercing blue eyes and a thick, curly red- gold beard almost like a pelt.
“Hard to tell with this snow, Your Ferocity, but I don’t think so.” Hamnet gave the jarl of the Three Tusk clan his proper title of respect, even if the Rulers, pouring down through the Gap, had shattered the clan and left him a jarl with only a remnant of a folk to rule. Trasamund’s pride remained grand as ever— grander, maybe, to help compensate for all he’d lost.
“A couple of men from the Red Dire Wolves are right behind me,” Trasamund said. “You southerners can ride for the tents now. I know you’re feeling the weather worse than a man born to it would.”
“It gets this cold down in the Empire,” Ulric Skakki said. “It just doesn’t stay this cold from fall through the start of spring.”
“Well, go in anyway. Warm yourselves. Get some food.
You need more when it does stay like this.” Trasamund was right about that; Count Hamnet had seen as much. He ate like a dire wolf to keep from freezing, and didn’t gain an ounce. The Bizogot paused, an anxious look .itting across his face. “You can .nd your way back to the tents by yourselves in this weather?”
It wasn’t an idle question. With snow and wind wiping out tracks almost as fast as they were made, with visibility short, someone who didn’t know how to make his way across the frozen steppe could wander till he froze to death.
All the same, both Hamnet Thyssen and Ulric Skakki smiled. They weren’t Bizogots, born to the northern plains, but they could manage. Smiling still, Ulric said, “Yes, Mother dear.”
Trasamund’s snort birthed a young fogbank. “Scoff all you please,” he said. “Any Bizogot clan will tell you about Raumsdalian traders who ended up stiff clean through because they thought they knew more about this country than they really did.”
“We’ll get there,” Hamnet Thyssen said. He wheeled his horse. The beast seemed glad to face away from the Breath of God. Hamnet and Ulric rode south, towards the encampment housing the remnants of the Three Tusk clan and the Red Dire Wolves, who guested them and who, reluctantly, joined them in the war against the Rulers.
One stretch of snowy, windswept ground really did look a lot like another. Count Hamnet was starting to wonder whether he and Ulric had bragged too soon when the Bizogots’ mammoth- hide tents appeared in the distance. The mammoths’ thick skins and the long, shaggy dark brown hair on them offered a barrier formidable even to the .ercest gales.
All the same, entrances invariably faced south. They did down in the Empire, too. Hamnet Thyssen and Ulric Skakki tethered their horses behind a snow- block wall that shielded the animals from the worst of the wind. They’d bought the horses in Nidaros, but the animals were of the small, shaggy Bizogot breed, better suited to the harsh northern weather than other&