Three strong women on separate missions dominate this slow-moving middle volume (after 2006's The Fortress of Glass) in the trilogy slated to round out Drake's long-running Lord of the Isles series. Prince Garric's sister, Sharina, the wizardess Tenoctris and Ilna the witch-weaver face the lion's share of adventure, taking on tasks to help Garric reunite the Isles. The self-effacing Tenoctris must draw huge amounts of magical power to help Garric defeat a new enemy called the Last. Sharina abandons princessly femininity to mount an offensive against a city overwhelmed by the Last while her brother quests after the mythical Yellow King. Ilna, who's taken on the job of personally eradicating the catlike Coerli despite Garric's attempts to make peace with them, faces her prejudices against a society that mirrors her own. While "second book blues" bogs things down a bit, Drake balances it with vivid descriptions and lots of action. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Mirror of Worlds (Crown of the Isles Series #2)by David Drake
David Drake's Isles series is a continuing success, and The Mirror of the Worlds is the second of a new trilogy that will conclude the series. The Donato covers of the last few books are a particularly strong package. This is one of our lead fantasy serSee more details below
David Drake's Isles series is a continuing success, and The Mirror of the Worlds is the second of a new trilogy that will conclude the series. The Donato covers of the last few books are a particularly strong package. This is one of our lead fantasy ser
Unified under the leadership of Prince Garric and his companions, the Kingdom of the Isles now faces a new set of challenges. The receding ocean, responding to an upheaval of magic, has transformed the isles into mountains of a new continent containing creatures from the pasts and futures of many places, many of whom wish to make war on humans and take the world for themselves. In this second volume of his "Crown of the Isles" trilogy (after The Fortress of Glass), Drake maintains his consistently excellent storytelling, creating appealing characters and intriguing situations while offering a new twist on world events. Fans of Drake's "Lord of the Isles" series will want this latest installment in a popular fantasy saga.
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The Mirror of Worlds
The Second Volume of the Crown of the Isles
By David Drake, David G. Hartwell
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2007 David Drake
All rights reserved.
Ilna looked down the valley to the gray limestone temple and the slaughtered bodies around it. There were many corpses, though she didn't know precisely how many: when a number was higher than she could count on her fingers, she had to tell it with beans or pebbles ... if she cared.
Mostly she didn't care. These folk, the humans and the cat men who must've killed them and been killed in turn, were all dead. The dead didn't matter.
Ilna had loved her family, Chalcus and Merota. They didn't matter either because cat men had killed them also.
"It can't've happened long ago," said Asion, the small, dark man who apparently cropped his hair and beard with a knife at long intervals. Ilna'd known the hunter for nearly a month, and she hadn't seen him trim it in that time. "I don't smell them in the breeze."
"There's no breeze," said Karpos, his ginger-haired partner, equally unkempt. He crushed a pellet of dry soil between the thumb and finger of his right hand, letting the dust drift to the ground. It fell straight, so far as Ilna could see. "You're just pretending you feel one."
"There's a breeze," said Asion, crooking his left index finger without taking his eyes off the valley. "The fuzz on my ears feels the wind even when dust won't drift. There's breeze enough that I'd smell them if they'd started to stink."
Karpos' left hand held a short, very stiff wooden bow with an arrow nocked; its point was bronze, thin but with broad wings that'd require only a few heartbeats to bleed out the life of whatever he hit fairly. Asion had a sling with a short staff and linen thongs. For ordinary hunting he shot smooth pebbles, but he carried a few pointed lead bullets in a pouch; one of those was in the pocket of molded leather now.
A word was cast into the metal of the bullets. Asion seemed to think it was a valuable charm, though he wasn't sure because the hunters couldn't read any better than Ilna could.
Ilna didn't believe in charms of that sort. From what she'd seen since the hunters joined her, the strength of Asion's shoulders would be sufficient for most purposes.
Ilna glanced at the strands of yarn in her hands, ready to be woven into a pattern to freeze the mind or stop the heart of anyone who saw it. She could instead knot the yarn into a simple oracle to answer the question "Does an enemy wait for us below?"
She did something similar every morning to choose the direction for the day's travels ... but such care wasn't required now. She trusted the long, fine fur growing on the top of Asion's ears, and she trusted her own instinct to tell her if something ahead wasn't right, was out of place in a peaceful valley. She didn't feel that here.
Ilna'd lived in a hamlet on the east coast of Haft until she was eighteen. Two years ago a wizard named Tenoctris had washed up on shore and everything had changed. She and her brother, Cashel, had left home forever, accompanied by their childhood friends, Garric and Sharina. And now —
Garric was ruler of the Isles; his sister had become Princess Sharina of Haft; and Cashel had the only thing that'd ever mattered to him, Sharina's love. He could be Lord Cashel if he wanted, but the title meant no more to him than it would've to Ilna.
Ilna's lips looked as hard as knife edges. At one time she'd have said she didn't want anything beyond what her skill at weaving brought her. Then she met Chalcus and Merota, a man and a child who loved her ... until they were killed.
Ilna smiled. Death was the greatest and perhaps the only peace she could imagine. Until then, she'd kill cat men.
"We'll go down," she said, standing and stepping out of the brush without waiting to see whether the hunters agreed. That was their business; they'd joined her, rather than Ilna os-Kenset clinging to a chance-met pair of strong, confident men for protection. The skills Ilna had learned in Hell were far more lethally effective than the hunters' weapons and muscles. Though —
Ilna knew that meeting Asion and Karpos wasn't really chance. Her oracle had directed her over a ridge and into a valley to the east of the one she'd been following for the first week after she left the royal army and her friends. Her surviving friends. The smell of a fire had led her to the hunters, smoking thin-sliced venison on a rack of green twigs.
Asion and Karpos followed her because they were confused and fearful, while Ilna had purpose. The Change, the mixing of eras by wizardry, had turned the Isles into the single great continent which had existed in its far past. The hunters — Ilna assumed they were from a much earlier time; she and they struggled occasionally with each other's dialect, though they understood one another well enough — had been completely disoriented by what had happened.
Ilna didn't understand the Change any better than the hunters did, but that was simply one more thing that didn't matter to her. She lived to kill the cat men, the Coerli, because they'd killed the man and the child who'd given her life meaning.
The hunters would've been willing to do things they found difficult to be allowed to accompany Ilna. All she asked them to do was to kill, and at that to kill animals rather than men. Asion and Karpos found killing animals as natural as breathing.
Karpos went down with Ilna, angling a little out from her left side and letting his long legs carry him enough ahead that he could be said to be leading. His right thumb and forefinger rested on his bowstring, ready to draw it back to his ear and loose in a single motion. Karpos was a rawboned man with beetling brows. He looked slow and awkward, but he'd shown that he was neither.
Ilna smiled. The oracle of her cords wouldn't have led her to Karpos and his partner if they hadn't been the sort of men she needed as helpers.
Asion waited on the ridge, watching the back trail as Ilna and Karpos walked down the gentle slope. The men had hunted dangerous game together for a decade, so they were naturally cautious. That was good, though the great scaly herbivores they'd hunted on Ornifal in their own day weren't nearly as deadly as the Coerli they preyed on at Ilna's direction.
The valley'd been planted in barley or oats — the shoots were too young for Ilna to be sure; ancient olives budded in gnarled majesty among the furrows. Ilna gave a tight smile: the trees appeared to be randomly spaced, but they formed a pattern so subtle that she would've said no one but herself or her brother Cashel could see it.
Almost no one, perhaps. Ilna didn't like pride, in herself least of all, and she especially disliked learning that she'd arrogantly assumed she was uniquely skilled. She smiled a little wider: since she disliked herself at most times, having a particular cause didn't make a great deal of difference.
A goat bleated on the far side of the valley. There was a sizable herd, cropping the grass growing among the rocks on that slope. No one had kept goats in the borough around Barca's Hamlet where Ilna grew up. Goats were hard on pastures, though Ilna'd been told they gave better milk than sheep. Sheep's milk and brick-hard whey cheese had been good enough for Ilna and her brother when they were growing up as orphans; good enough when they could afford them, that was.
"They aren't straying into the crops," she remarked, her eyes narrowing as she watched the herd. The goats were aware of her and Karpos, but they didn't appear skittish or even much interested. "Though there's nobody watching them."
The hunter shrugged. "All dead, I reckon," he said. "There's no fires burning and nothing to hear but the birds. And the goats, I mean. Do we have goat meat tonight, mistress?"
"I'll tell you when I decide," Ilna said curtly. The hunters didn't appreciate how well trained the goats must be that they didn't stray into the crops.
There'd been a time when Ilna took certain things for granted. Oh, not in her speech the way most people did, but still in the back of her mind: the sun would rise, the wind would blow, and Chalcus and Merota would go through life with her.
So far the sun continued to rise and the wind to blow, but those might change in a heartbeat; and if they did, that would matter less to Ilna than the loss of her family had. Still, for now there were Coerli to kill.
Three bodies lay just ahead, two middle-aged human males and a cat man. They'd been hacked savagely by swords or axes: one man had been disemboweled and the Corl's head clung to his shoulders by a scrap of skin — its spine was cut through. No weapons were in evidence, but the cat man's muzzle was bloody.
"We don't have to worry about what's behind us, now," Karpos said. "Hold up before we check on what might be waiting inside, right?"
Without taking his eyes off the temple and sprawled bodies, the hunter raised his right arm and waved to his partner. Before returning his fingertips to the nocked arrow, Karpos wiggled his long dagger in its sheath to make sure it was free.
Ilna didn't think they needed to wait for Asion, but she didn't argue the point. If it'd mattered, she'd have done as she pleased — and seen to it that the hunters did as she pleased also. She didn't need to prove her power; that was for weak people.
She considered for a moment, then put the hank of yarn back in the sleeve of her outer tunic. She'd woven the cloth herself, and she'd also woven her cloak of unbleached wool that shed water like a slate roof.
Karpos and his partner wore breeches and vests of untanned deerskin with the flesh side turned out. The packs that they'd left back on the ridgeline included fur robes for cold weather, though the season had advanced so that they were no longer necessary even at night.
Ilna suspected the men continued to carry the robes because the town to which they'd previously hiked every spring to sell packloads of lizard gall didn't exist in the world after the Change. They were unwilling to give up the few aspects of their past life which still remained.
The hunters had decorated their vests by sewing on the scalps of Coerli they'd killed since joining Ilna, a double handful each. Ilna didn't object, but of course she didn't take trophies herself.
All that mattered to Ilna was the killing. When she'd killed all the cat men in this world, she didn't know what she'd do. Die, she hoped, because her life would no longer have purpose.
Asion joined them, holding the staff of his sling in his right hand and cupping the pocket and bullet in his left. "Have you guys noticed the pond?" he said with a frown in his voice. "Why did they do that, d'ye think? Throw the plants in?"
The little temple was set up three steps from the ground. Forsythias grew around both it and the small, round pool in front of the building. Several bushes had been pulled up by the roots and thrown into the water. The men who'd done that had mortal wounds, clearly. One of them lay on the curb with a yellow-flowered branch clutched in a death grip.
"Why do they have a pond there anyway?" said Karpos. "Are they raising fish? It's too small."
"I don't know," Ilna said. She didn't add to the statement, because there was nothing to add and she saw no point in wasting her breath. "Let's go on, then."
The pool surprised her as well, though she didn't bother saying so. Ilna hadn't seen a temple till she left Barca's Hamlet some two years — or a lifetime — before, but there'd been plenty of them in the cities she'd passed through since then. Ilna didn't pay particular attention to buildings, but she had an eye for patterns. She'd certainly have made note of a temple facing a pool if she'd seen one. This was the first.
Karpos knelt and placed his right index and middle fingers to the throat of the first corpse, a man lying on his back. The fellow's hair was white, as much of it as was left; his forehead rose to the peak of his scalp. His face was as calm as if he'd been praying, though the wounds that'd killed him — three deep stabs in the lower body and a slash that'd broken the bone of his upper right arm — must've been extremely painful.
"Dead since daybreak," Karpos said, rising and touching the bowstring again. "Maybe a little longer, but not much."
Ilna looked into the pool, her face frozen into a deliberate lack of expression in place of her usual guarded silence. The water was clear and so shallow that she could see the narrow crevices between the stone blocks paving the bottom. Forsythia stems cast jagged shadows, and there were smears where mud'd washed from the roots of the plants.
"He was a tough bastard, I give him that," Asion said, his voice oddly gentle. He nodded to the corpse on the coping of the pool. "He had to crawl most a the way. Look at the trail."
"Yes," said Ilna. "I noticed."
All the corpses were at least middle-aged; this fellow was older yet. To look at, he seemed soft if not precisely fat; the sort of man who did no more work than he had to and was readier to lift a tankard than a hoe.
Perhaps that had been true. The man's last living act, however, had been to pull a full-sized bush out of the ground and drag it ten double paces to the pool while his intestines spilled out in coils behind him. He'd been laid open as if by a cleaver, but he hadn't quit until he was dead.
"Mistress?" Karpos said. He sounded puzzled and therefore worried; people who accept great danger as a fact of life become concerned when faced with things they don't understand; they knew all too well what might be hiding within the unknown. "The cat didn't kill this fellow. It was a blade did this."
"The Coerli had weapons," Ilna said harshly. She turned from the body and the pool. "The survivors took them away. There's nothing amazing about that!"
"Then who was this cat chewing on?" the hunter said, pointing to the dead Corl. "Look at his muzzle, the blood and —"
He saw Ilna's face and swallowed. "Sorry, mistress," he mumbled in a small voice. "I guess it was the cats."
"Mistress, who's this fellow?" said Asion from the steps up the front of the temple. Most of the bodies were there in a ragged pile. "What is he, I mean?"
Asion had stuck his sling beneath his belt to get it out of the way, drawing instead his long steel knife; that was a better weapon for a close-in tangle with anything that pounced on him from the temple. With his free hand he dragged a corpse out by the ankle.
The corpse of a man, Ilna assumed; but its chest was abnormally deep, its belly smaller and flatter than a corseted woman's, and its skin had the smooth black gleam of polished coal. Its genitals were very small.
The corpse was nude except for the round metal shield hanging from a neck strap; its right hand death-gripped the hilt of a sword that looked serviceable for either slashing or stabbing. It could easily have been the weapon which'd killed both the white-robed humans and the Coerli ... and the fellow's throat had been worried through by what were almost certainly a cat man's long jaws.
"There's more blacks under here," Asion said. "Three or four, I'd guess."
"I don't know who they are," Ilna said coldly. She was angry at the hunter for asking a question that she couldn't answer, and even more angry with herself for not having said so at once instead of forcing her companions to wait.
She walked toward the temple entrance, skirting the corpses. "And it appears that the weapons were in the hands of the blacks, whoever they are," she added, though by this point she did so merely as a public admission of her mistake; the hunters already knew she'd been wrong. "Not the Coerli."
Ilna disliked stone. The rational part of her mind knew she was being silly to think that stone disliked her as well; but not all of her mind was rational and she did think that, feel it deep in her bones. She walked up the leveling courses and onto the porch, smiling at the cool gray slabs beneath her feet.
I'm walking on you, she thought. And I'm fool enough to think you know that.
Excerpted from The Mirror of Worlds by David Drake, David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 2007 David Drake. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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