Read an Excerpt
A Spellsong Cycle Novel
By L. E. Modesitt Jr., David G. Hartwell
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2002 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
Heavy wet flakes drift past the windows of the Liedfuhr's study, each window hung with maroon velvet drawn back to reveal an early-spring snow that has already dropped more than half a yard of whiteness on the city, and on the ice that still covers the River Toksul.
The man who stands before the windows, looking out, wears a sky-blue tunic with a silver chain bearing the amulet-seal of the Liedfuhr of Mansuur around his neck and a mourning band of black and maroon upon his left arm. For a moment, his hard green eyes flick to the ice-and-snow-covered river that cuts through the city, if well below and beyond the hill on which the palace rests. Then, he turns, standing beside the polished wooden desk that has graced the study for three generations, and asks, "You think Neserea will fall before harvest?"
"As matters now proceed, it is most likely," replies the trim overcaptain in the maroon uniform of the Mansuuran Lancers. There are but a few streaks of raven black amid the silver-gray of the lancer's short hair. His thin eyebrows are silvered as well, but the dark eyes are deep and intent. "Despite the efforts of the Sorceress of Defalk, Aerlya and Annayal hold but an area little more than a hundred deks around Esaria."
"If we dispatch the fifty companies of lancers from Unduval? Then what, Bassil?" Kestrin runs his right hand through short-cropped brown hair that is already half-gray, although he will not reach his full second score of years until the turn of the following spring.
"Are you willing to risk all fifty companies? And to slaughter all those who do not support your sister and her daughter?"
Kestrin tilts his head slightly as he studies Bassil. "If I must."
"You must. You must also avoid facing the sorcerer Lord Belmar. He is strong enough to dispatch all your lancers with his spells."
"Unless we can catch him in a snowstorm or the rain." Kestrin laughs.
"You risk much if you send your lancers into Neserea," cautions the older man.
"I risk more if I do not."
"Your seers report that the Sea-Priests are readying a fleet to sail from the Ostisles," reports Bassil.
"They are doubtless sailing eastward, but not to Mansuur."
Bassil raises his eyebrows, but does not speak.
Outside the private study of the Liedfuhr, the wind moans. The snowflakes are smaller, and falling faster, and the light dims as the clouds overhead darken, as if winter is returning to Mansuus.
"This Secca — Lord Robero's new Sorceress Protector of the East — she has destroyed all the Sturinnese vessels that had threatened Liedwahr. Do you think that the Maitre of Sturinn will decide to invade us while he has forces in Dumar that are threatened by the sorceress?"
"She remains in Encora for the moment." Bassil pauses. "Yet it is most likely that she will travel to Dumar and use her sorcery against the Sea-Priests there before the Maitre can reinforce them. That will not be easy for her. The Maitre can use the sea to land more sorcerers and lancers, but it will be weeks, if not longer, before the snows melt enough for Lord Robero to send reinforcements to Lady Secca."
"He will not send them even then," predicts Kestrin. "He fears Belmar as much as the Sturinnese. Lady Secca has been successful without further aid. Lady Clayre is slowly losing in Neserea, as you have pointed out, and Aerlya and Annayal may have to flee before long."
Kestrin sighs. "Perhaps to Nordwei."
"It is yet winter there."
"And you question that I should send lancers into Neserea?"
"I cannot see how you could do otherwise — when you can. They cannot cross the snows of the Mittpass yet." Bassil shakes his head. "If you do not dispatch them, once the snows melt, Belmar will take all of Neserea by midsummer. But ... if he is as bright as he seems, he will turn to face your lancers, in order to destroy them."
"They must not face him. Their task is to destroy those who rebelled against Aerlya." Kestrin's voice is hard. "If he turns, then the Sorceress of Defalk may be able to strengthen Aerlya's hold on the north and east."
"That is possible," Bassil concedes, his voice neutral.
"Not likely, but possible," Kestrin replies with a grim laugh. "Better that than we do nothing. The lady Secca may yet retake Dumar from the Sturinnese, but this Belmar is their tool, and even she will be hard-pressed if Neserea falls and the Sturinnese reinforcements land in Narial."
"Because she will be caught between him and the Sturinnese?"
The Liedfuhr nods slowly. "Because we will then face the Sea-Priests alone."
Outside the study, in the growing darkness, the moaning of the returning winter wind rises with the night.CHAPTER 2
The late-morning sunlight poured over the two-story structure that held the Matriarch's guest quarters, but the wide second-story windows that faced west were still in shadow. The air in the main chamber was hot and still, foreshadowing summer in Encora, although by the turn of the seasons, spring had even yet to arrive.
Rather than using the small working desk that faced away from the leftmost of the three windows, Secca had seated herself at the circular golden oak conference table, her back to the windows. Alcaren sat on the opposite side of the table, leaving four chairs vacant. The tiled hearth on the south wall held several logs set on a pair of heavy iron andirons, but it had been weeks since Secca had needed a fire.
The petite and redheaded sorceress looked at the rose that lay on top of the papers before her on the conference table — a perfect white rose, appearing so delicate that the slightest breeze would rip off the petals. But like so much in Liedwahr, the rose was not what it seemed, for the petals were of white bronze and the stem of a greenish iron — and it had been Alcaren's love gift to her, one she had never expected.
Her amber eyes went from the rose to Alcaren — narrow-waisted and broad-shouldered, almost too short for his breadth to be handsome, yet not stocky, with short-cut brown hair and gray-blue eyes. He wore the pale blue Ranuan uniform and the collar insignia of an overcaptain. As he felt Secca's eyes upon him, he looked up from the map he had been studying and smiled warmly.
In spite of herself, Secca flushed.
"I do the same thing," he said with a slight laugh, adding, "when you look at me."
She shook her head. "It is hard to get used to."
"I know. No one ever looked at me that way."
Secca wondered about that, and yet, she didn't. Alcaren was barely a head taller than she was, and he was striking, but not necessarily handsome. He was a largely untrained sorcerer in a land that feared sorcery, and a strong man in a land ruled by women. "We still need a consorting ceremony," she said slowly.
"You sound dubious, my lady. Am I that much of a burden to bear?"
At the mock-woeful tone of his voice and the twinkle in his eyes, Secca laughed. "You are no burden. Far from that! Still, it is strange."
Alcaren waited, his smile encouraging her to speak.
"It is strange, and it is not. After these years, I had not thought to find love."
"Though I have not traveled as you have, my lady," he replied gently, "neither had I."
"I had thought, were I ever to be consorted, it would be in Falcor, or Flossbend, or even Loiseau ... not in a strange land."
"We could wait," he suggested. "I would not wish to rush you into such."
Secca shook her head. "Lady Anna waited even to acknowledge her love for Lord Jecks, and I fear she lost years of happiness because she delayed." A sad smile crossed Secca's lips as she thought of the woman who had been more than a mentor, more than a teacher — a mother as well, in fact, if not in name. Secca doubted that she would ever recall Anna without love, emptiness, and a sense of regret that she had not told Anna how much the older woman had meant to her.
After a silence, Secca added, "I need you, both for myself and for what we do. I would not have it said that our alliance was disharmonious or merely of bodily needs."
Alcaren raised his eyebrows.
Secca found herself flushing again, wondering how she had been able to ignore the sheer magnetism of her consort-to-be for as long as she had. "I did not say ..." She laughed once more, shaking her head as she did.
Alcaren laughed as well.
As the moment of shared joy passed, Secca cleared her throat gently, repeating, "We must have a consorting ceremony before we leave Encora."
"Because you're a Lady of Defalk."
"And so that the Ladies of the Shadows know that I'm going to carry you off away from Ranuak."
Secca smiled mischievously for a moment. "Does the Matriarch perform such ceremonies?"
"Seldom ... but she can."
"Surely, she would do that for a beloved cousin."
"She would more likely do so to make sure her beloved cousin was leaving Encora forever," replied Alcaren dryly as he rose from the chair and stepped back, stretching, before looking past Secca toward the windows and the harbor beyond.
"I think she would like to see you happy," Secca said.
"Oh ... that she would. Happy with a lovely woman and a beautiful sorceress ... and happily gone from Encora and on our way to save Liedwahr from the scourge of the Sea-Priests. With song-sorceries used to great effect elsewhere."
Secca nodded agreement, even as she sensed the underlying bitterness. "But she would perform the consorting ceremony."
"I am most certain she would."
"I will send her a request by messenger," replied the petite redhead, "after we meet with the others."
"Will you also send a message to Lord Robero?"
"Yes, but not by sorcery, and not soon. Perhaps I will wait to tell him personally." Secca grinned. "He did say that I needed to consider the matter of heirs."
Alcaren's mouth opened.
Secca laughed once more. "Not now, but with you able to do sorcery, I could have children without fearing all would be after me while I was weakened."
"I am not ..." he replied slowly.
"You can certainly sing a scrying spell already," Secca pointed out. "That is not forbidden, even by the Ladies of the Shadows."
"The idea of greater sorcery — it feels strange," Alcaren replied.
"Best you get used to it if we are to contend with the Sea-Priests." Secca eased to the working desk, bent over, and lifted the lutar from the case beside the left end of the desk. She began to check the tuning.
"You want me to try a scrying spell now?" he asked.
"Why not? We need to check on the Sturinnese ships before we meet with the others. I'll do the first one, and then I'll write the words for the second."
"You have high visions of my ability."
Secca shook her head. "I know what you can do." She pulled on the copper-tipped leather gloves, then stepped to the conference table and looked down at the scrying glass in the middle before clearing her throat. She'd already run through a series of vocalises before Alcaren had arrived, and they should have been enough for scrying spells.
Chording the lutar, she sang.
"Mirror, mirror, show me clear and as before, any ships of Sturinn near Liedwahr's shore ..."
Even after Secca had finished the spell and lowered the lutar, the mirror remained blank silver, showing only the white plaster of the ceiling.
Secca frowned, then handed the lutar to Alcaren. As he strummed it and hummed the spell-melody, Secca dipped the quill in the inkwell and then jotted down the words she held in her mind. Careful not to tilt the paper or brush the wet ink, she set the sheet on the table between Alcaren and the scrying glass.
He studied the words and ran his own chords, not quite like hers, mouthing the words silently. Finally, he sang the spell in his true and light baritone voice.
"Show me now, most clear and as must be, ships of Sturinn near our southern sea ..."
The glass remained blank.
Secca jotted a third spell — one asking to see Sturinnese ships in the Western Sea near Mansuur. Even after Alcaren sang it in his true baritone, the glass came up equally blank.
"My singing?" he asked.
"I think not. Try this one." She slipped a fourth spell before him.
"If this doesn't work, you get to try it again," he said.
"It will work."
He raised his eyebrows for a moment, then concentrated on the spell.
"Show us clear and show us bright ships of Sturinn that share Ostisles' light ..."
The glass displayed a bird's eye view of a wide harbor filled with vessels.
Secca swallowed. Never had she seen so many ships in one place — even through a scrying glass. "You see. You can do it as well as I."
"I can do it, but not so well," he countered.
After trying to count the vessels in the glass, she lifted her eyes. "Can you do a release spell?"
"It will fade without it," he pointed out.
"But it takes energy from you. The release spell ends the drain immediately."
He frowned, then sang, chording the lutar.
"Release this vision of what we see, and let the glass a plain mirror be."
Secca laughed. "I haven't heard that one."
"I couldn't remember yours," Alcaren confessed. "So I made that one up."
"That just shows you are a sorcerer, no matter what you say."
"Don't tell the Ladies of the Shadows, thank you."
"I won't." Secca frowned. "I lost count at threescore ships."
"The spells showed that all those ships are still being readied in the Ostisles," Alcaren pointed out.
A solid thrap on the door interrupted their conversation.
"The lady Richina is here, Lady Secca," called Easlon, the lancer stationed outside her door.
"Have her enter."
The tall blonde sorceress — the youngest of all of the full sorceresses of Defalk and not even a year beyond being more than an apprentice — stepped into the main room of the guest chamber, inclining her head to Secca, and then to Alcaren. Her green eyes smiled with her mouth. "Wilten and the chief players will be here shortly."
"Has your glass ...?" Secca shook her head. "You can tell us all at once when they arrive."
Richina, more than fifteen years younger than Secca and nearly a head taller, moved toward the conference table with the kind of tall grace that the all-too-petite Secca had often envied in others. "It's most pleasant outside, if with a chill breeze."
"It looks to be," Secca admitted.
"You should get out more often, lady," suggested the younger sorceress.
"The chief players," announced Easlon.
Spared the need for a response, Secca replied, "Have them enter."
The gray-haired Palian stepped through the door, her light gray eyes offering a smile as they passed over Secca and Alcaren. Delvor followed, his lank brown hair flopping over his forehead. Both inclined their heads to Secca, and to Alcaren and Richina, if slightly less deferentially. Two steps behind came Wilten, the overcaptain of Secca's undermanned four companies of lancers. The overcaptain nodded reverently, if stiffly, to Secca.
Secca waited for Richina and the other three to seat themselves before she began, slowly. "The Matriarch has gathered crews for some of the Sturinnese ships." As she spoke, she found herself thinking again how dearly the spell that had destroyed the Sturinnese sailors and armsmen had cost her. Yet, had Alcaren not offered his own life with Darksong to save hers, she never would have known the depth of his love. Still ... remembering how she had felt sprawled on the ship's deck dying, she almost shivered, and she had to swallow before continuing. "And there are also another half-score of Ranuan ships that will accompany us when we leave for Dumar."
"Are there other Sturinnese warships near?" asked Wilten.
Secca nodded to Alcaren.
"There are none near Liedwahr," explained the Ranuan overcaptain. "The glass shows that the Maitre gathers ships in the main harbor of the Ostisles. That is a voyage of two weeks with the most favorable of winds."
"The seas are clear," pointed out Wilten, "but the Sea-Priests hold Narial and the coast all the way east to the Ancient Cliffs, do they not?"
Secca nodded. "We will have to use the glass to find a landing where we will not have to fight our way ashore. There are few Sturinnese lancers on the lowland coasts west of Narial. It's a longer voyage, but there are roads north to Envaryl."
"They could take Envaryl any day, could they not?" pressed the overcaptain.
Excerpted from Shadowsinger by L. E. Modesitt Jr., David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 2002 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.