Read an Excerpt
The Glasswrights' Master
The Glasswright Series: Volume Five
By Mindy L. Klasky
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2010 Mindy L. Klasky
All rights reserved.
As the battering ram pounded against the city gates, Rani Trader prayed that the Thousand Gods would permit her to live until sunset. Hundreds of soldiers shuffled around her, repeating the holy sign with their own mailed fists. A breeze swirled down the cathedral's marble aisle, harbinger of autumn's chill, and Rani automatically looked at Mair, making sure that her Touched friend had settled a cloak around her too-thin shoulders.
Mair glared back at Rani, as if the cold breeze were a personal affront. Rani started to let herself believe that the Touched woman's old spirits had revived, that she had finally returned to her habit of ordering the world about. Before joy could boil around Rani's heart, though, Mair glanced at the silken square tied about her wrist. She whispered to the cloth in a voice almost too soft to make out in the echoing cathedral. "All'll be well, Lar. Fear not, son. Ye'll not grow too cold."
Rani shuddered against the chill that walked down her spine, a prickling that had nothing to do with the temperature in the House of the Thousand Gods. Mair had spent the better part of the past year speaking to her dead son, Laranifarso. She had convinced herself that he still rested in her arms, that she carried him wherever she went with the square of black cloth, cloth that had been ripped from the mask Mair wore when she attended clandestine meetings of the Fellowship of Jair.
Rani could still remember the sound of the fabric rending, Mair's rage against the Fellowship that had murdered her son. That day, Mair first crossed to the distant land of madness. That day, Mair first left sanity and stability and all the familiar world.
The battering ram continued to pound the gates in the city below the cathedral, and Rani tried to remember that entire days went by without the Touched woman speaking to the silk. But each time Rani's hopes climbed that Mair had been healed, the other woman would raise her wrist and mutter to the cloth as if it were a living, thinking creature, as if it could answer her more completely than Mair's infant son had ever managed in his too-short life. Rani forced herself to remain silent, to pretend that she did not see the imaginary child. And then Mair would go about her day as if there were nothing strange, nothing odd, nothing hideously, horribly wrong.
The ram increased its urgent tattoo as Mair rubbed her hand across the silk, as if she were smoothing a real boy's hair, as if she were gentling a fussy child. "Pay attention!" Rani whispered, unable to restrain herself.
"Mind yer own prayers, Rai," Mair growled, and Rani almost believed that the Touched woman was upset about nothing more than participating in a service that was designed to glorify the soldier caste. The old Mair would certainly chafe about wasting time in the House of the Thousand Gods while enemy Briantans camped outside the city walls, while Liantine ships blockaded the harbor. She would concentrate on keeping her fingers from roaming into the purses of the nobles who stood closest to her. She would focus on sparing the kneeling soldiers from her sharp tongue. She would glare at the priest who stood at the altar, blithely offering up prayers to gods that seemed always to ignore the Touched.
No, the new Mair acted nothing like the Touched woman that Rani had befriended more than nine years before. The new Mair ignored all the assembled worshipers around her—all of them but Rani. And Farsobalinti.
Rani caught one look flashed between the pair. Mair still wore the golden armband that Baron Farsobalinti had given her during their wedding ceremony. The nobleman, though, had set his aside, unable to bear the remembrance of easier times, of brighter days when his wife and his son had prospered. When Laranifarso had died, Mair was forced to disclose her secret loyalties, her involvement with the shadowy Fellowship. Farso had made it clear that Mair's silent betrayal hurt him even more than the murder of their son. Nevertheless, Rani could tell that he remained perfectly aware of Mair; the troubled nobleman darted frequent glances from the dais where he stood beside his king.
If only Mair and Farso could speak to each other in the easy way they had shared before Laranifarso was lost! If only they would say what they were thinking, how they ached, how they longed for vengeance against the secret forces that had killed their son!
But there would be no speaking, not today. Not with the War Rites only partially completed. Not with the steady pounding of a battering ram against Moren's gates. Not with a fleet of Liantine ships blockading the harbor, with all of King Halaravilli's enemies arrayed against him, ready to strike, ready to bring him down once and for all.
A Briantan army of priests had crested the hills near Moren on the same morning that Liantine ships blockaded the harbor. Hastily organized messengers had carried demands from the besieging army. The Briantans had come to Moren to burn out the corruption in the city's soul, a corruption that had led Halaravilli ben-Jair to offer sanctuary to Princess Berylina. The princess had been the strongest witch that the Briantans had executed in over a century of meting out religious death sentences.
Ironically, the Liantines were attacking Moren for the same princess. Berylina's father demanded compensation for the loss of his only daughter, for the strange child that he had only too willingly resigned to Moren nearly four years before. As a princess, Berylina had no value to the house of Thunderspear. As a martyr, she inspired dreams of revenge, dreams of recapturing the Liantines' longtime profits from monopolistic trade in spidersilk.
Religion and money–what better reasons for a war? What better reasons for Morenia to be caught in the vice of its neighbors to the east and to the west?
With aggravating deliberation, Father Siritalanu spread his green-clad arms and intoned, "And so we ask you Arn, god of courage, to watch over Morenia. We ask you to guide our poor kingdom in these dark days. Arn, give us strength against all our enemies, from those known and unknown, from those seen and unseen."
Some of the soldiers were little more than boys; they had spent their entire lives practicing their caste's warrish obligations, but they had never marched to battle for their king. Nevertheless, they understood the War Rites; they knew what was expected of them in the ceremony. Taking their cue from the robed priest, the assembled soldiers bellowed their response from one united throat: "Arn, give us strength against all our enemies!"
Rani's eyes narrowed as she watched the priest. She had listened to him protest that morning. He had told King Halaravilli that he could not lead the Rites, that he could not prepare the men for battle, that they should wait for the missing Holy Father Dartulamino.
Dartulamino. No one had seen him in three days, since the Briantan soldiers had crested the distant ridge and poured onto the Morenian plain. The king's men had searched throughout the city, demanding access to the cathedral close, but the Holy Father had vanished, as if he had been spirited away by the steady clang of the Pilgrims' Bell.
Rani bit the inside of her cheek, restraining herself from calling out Father Siritalanu's name, from urging the priest to skip large sections of the Rites. Couldn't he see that they were almost out of time? Didn't he realize that Moren needed the ceremony completed now?
Finishing their salute to Arn, the soldiers stamped their feet in a traditional military tattoo. Above the clattering noise, Rani recognized her own personal signature for Arn, the incongruous sound of a child suckling at its mother's breast. There was an urgency to that whisper, an earnestness that made Rani glance about the cathedral.
Arn was speaking to her. Little time remained. The god of courage would have grim work all too soon.
Next to Rani, Mair repeated the soldiers' vow mechanically: "Arn, give us strength against all our enemies."
Against the Fellowship, Rani knew Mair must be thinking. The Fellowship that had slain her son. Rani glanced about the cathedral, wondering who was spying for them even now. Had the hated Fellowship coerced the Liantines into setting siege to the harbor? Had they bought the Briantans, paid those western religious fanatics to close off all landward approaches to Moren?
On the dais, Father Siritalanu moved his hands in a holy symbol, and Rani's fingers reflexively followed. Perhaps the gods would help her. Perhaps they would calculate some escape from Moren's nearly inevitable destruction. Perhaps they would figure out a way that the city could slip free from the closing pincers of attacking armies.
After all, King Halaravilli had surrounded himself with his best advisors. When scouts first reported that the Briantans were marching, Hal had hurriedly recalled Duke Puladarati from distant Amanthia. When the Liantine ships appeared on the horizon, Hal had summoned Davin from the inventor's tower chamber, asking the old man to craft a system for breaking the blockade. Those advisors stood on the dais now, the lion-maned Puladarati brushing back his hair with his three-fingered hand, Davin squinting out at the soldiers through his deepest wrinkles.
The pounding of the battering ram echoed inside Rani's thoughts, squeezing her heart with its predictable rhythm.
Father Siritalanu swallowed hard, as if he were trying to drown his own hopeless desperation, and then he continued. "And let us pray in the name of Bon, the god of archers." In her mind, Rani immediately heard the powerful whinny of a stallion, the sound of Bon. In the past year, she had grown accustomed to meeting the gods this way, to gathering their introduction through her eyes or her ears, her mouth or her nose, through her very flesh. The gods came unannounced, pouncing on her as if she were a mouse daring to invade their feline domain.
She would offer herself up to Bon if that would help. She would sanctify herself to the god of archers, if only Morenia's soldiers would be strengthened. The War Rites were designed to protect fighting men, to give them comfort and confidence as they prepared to chance their lives on a battlefield. Perhaps the sound of a stallion was precisely what they needed. Perhaps that was all they required to stave off the invaders.
"That's right, Lar," Mair crooned beside Rani, directing her words to the soiled silk. Her voice was loud enough that many people in the cathedral looked away, embarrassed. Rani scowled and stepped closer, knowing without looking at the dais that Farso's face would be carved with sorrow. Hal would be glaring at her, ordering her to keep Mair under control. He had wanted to forbid the Touched woman from attending the service altogether.
Rani had argued, though, that it would take an entire herd of stallions to keep Mair from the cathedral. She would not easily pass up the chance to gaze upon her husband, to study the new grey streaks in Farso's hair, to memorize the most recent lines etched into his face, into the face of the man who had fathered her poor, doomed son.
Now, that man looked straight at Father Siritalanu, raising his voice to proclaim, "Bon, give us strength against all our enemies!" The vow was shouted by hundreds of warrior voices, and the words echoed off the ceiling.
Almost, they drowned out the change of timbre in the battering ram. Almost, they hid the fact that the last boom was deeper. Almost, they obscured the sound of splintering oak, the roar of warriors on the distant plain. Rani could imagine the Briantan men maddened by their success; she could picture soldiers scrambling to enter the city, fighting to be the first to course through Moren's streets.
As if he were unaware of the encroaching disaster, Father Siritalanu moved his hands in another holy symbol, and his voice echoed off the cathedral ceiling. "And let us pray in the name of Doan, the god of hunters."
A flash of forest-deep green blinded Rani. Would Doan protect them? Or would he shelter the Briantans and Liantines? Could Morenia possibly be the hunter, or was she doomed to be the hunted, the prey, the hapless victim?
The soldiers in the cathedral might never have thought to ask the question. Father Siritalanu raised his voice yet higher, and the cords of his neck stood out as he proclaimed: "We ask you Doan, god of hunters, to watch over Morenia. Doan, give us strength against all of our enemies!"
"Doan give us strength!" the soldiers cried, and their feet pounded out their military pattern upon the floor.
"Doan give us strength!" Rani added her voice to the melee. How many more gods would Father Siritalanu honor? How many more deities would he weave into the ancient Rites? How much more time did they have before the Briantans broke into the cathedral?
As if King Halaravilli heard Rani's impatience, he stepped forward, making his way to the center of the dais. The soldiers watched their king hungrily, pounding their mailed fists upon their shields. They stomped the stony floor as if they would crumble it into dust. Puladarati and Farso looked out with satisfaction, even as Davin cocked his head toward the cathedral doors.
"Soldiers of Morenia!" the king proclaimed, and Rani was struck by the realization that he was far more than simple Hal, much greater than the companion she had known for nine years, than the friend who trusted her to advise him on matters of trade.
This was Halaravilli ben-Jair, king of all Morenia, founder of the Order of the Octolaris. This was a man who had held his throne for nearly a decade, despite conspirators of all kinds. This was a man who had fought his own demons, overcome his own doubts, fought to unify his kingdom against all threats.
As if Hal sensed the awe that Rani cast toward him, he raised his chin, setting his jaw as he stared out at his assembled soldiers. The men continued their clamor, a noise loud enough to drown out the roar of the successful Briantan soldiers, to wash away the tumult of foreign priests and warriors crowing victory in the Morenian streets.
Hal nodded slowly. His hands rose from his sides, and he looked like a priest himself, like one of the holiest men of the kingdom, summoning power and faith and devotion from his assembled warriors.
Then, just when Rani could not imagine the soldiers showing any more dedication, just when she could not fathom their demonstrating a greater love of their king, Hal took a single step forward. The motion brought him squarely into a beam of sunlight, a beacon that streamed from one of the highest windows in the cathedral wall.
Rani knew the window well. She had watched her glasswright masters crafting it when she had first joined their guild. She had scrubbed its clean lines from a whitewashed table when she was only an apprentice. She had studied every join of lead and solder; she had viewed it from inside the cathedral and from without.
Hal stepped into the cobalt stream of the Defender of the Faith.
Rani's guild had made that window for another descendant of Jair. They had fashioned the masterpiece for a man who was dead these nine long years, a man whom Rani had watched stand on the very same dais. Without glancing up, Rani knew that the window would reflect a near-perfect image of her king, the long lines of his face, the square shape of his jaw. She would see Hal's high cheekbones, his penetrating eyes. She would be looking at Hal's older brother, the prince who had been groomed to rule the kingdom, the glorious lord who had been cut down in the prime of his life, but she would see King Halaravilli ben-Jair captured there.
The riotous soldiers knew nothing of glasswork, of grozing irons or diamond knives. They had never heard of silver stain, or lead chains, or specially forged armatures to support the weight of a glassy masterpiece. Their knowledge was limited to swords and maces, battle axes and spears. They knew about long leagues marched down endless roads. They knew about blood and sweat and the salty stench of exhaustion.
And they knew about their king. They knew that their king was threatened, that he called upon them to rise up against invaders. They knew that they were about to be tested, that they were being asked to pledge their lives anew, to offer up the most personal of devotions.
Excerpted from The Glasswrights' Master by Mindy L. Klasky. Copyright © 2010 Mindy L. Klasky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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