Read an Excerpt
The Tyranny of the Night
Book One of the Instrumentalities of the Night
By Glen Cook, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Tom Doherty Associates, LLCCopyright © 2005 Glen Cook
All rights reserved.
Drums muttered like a clutch of old ladies gossiping. Their job in the ritual was to keep the children out from under foot while their parents watched the old folks manage the funeral. Night gathered. Torches came to life. Old Trygg thrust his brand into the bonfires. Starting from the left end of the line. Flames rose in defiance of the night. Horns called from the heights overlooking either shore of the Skogafjord. Horns called back from watchtowers inland.
A great man was about to go to sea for the last time.
Singer Briga stood at the cold water's edge, singing his song to the sea, reminding the tide that it was time to ebb.
The sea knew its part. Each wavelet fell a little farther short of Briga's bare toes.
Pulla the Priest waved to young men knee-deep in the chill water.
The drums shifted their beat. Erief Erealsson's own longship crew, last of the great sturlanger, pushed the ship out onto the dark tide.
A breeze caught the simple red-and-white-striped sail. A breathless silence overcame the celebrants. There could have been no better omen than that breeze, which would carry the ship down the fjord on the breast of the tide.
The horns resumed mourning. The drums took up their dialogue with the night. Erief's crewmen sped burning arrows toward the ship. Which now drifted into a fog that had not existed only moments before.
A kelpie surfaced, long green hair glowing in the firelight.
The fire arrows seemed to have been loosed by the most inept archers ever. Only a handful reached the ship with the screaming bear's head prow. They failed to start a fire—despite kegs of oil having been splashed everywhere. Despite Erief's corpse being surrounded by tinder.
A dozen sea people surrounded the ship. Was their sorcery stifling the fire? It had to be sorcery that kept the arrows missing the kelpies.
"Stop!" Pulla roared. "Do you want to waken the Curse of the Sea Kings?"
The archers desisted.
The ship drifted. Erief Erealsson would be missed. His genius in war and diplomacy had gathered the fractious families, clans, and tribes of the Andorayan fjords and islands under one banner for the first time since Neche's Reach.
"Everyone sing!" Briga shouted. "The Priga Keda! With heart!" He sounded frightened. The people picked up the song. It was the only one they knew that begged the Instrumentalities of the Night to overlook Skogafjordur when they chose to meddle in the lives of men.
The Old Gods, the gods of the forests and the sky and the north, were not the sort who responded to the prayers of men. They existed. They ruled. They were indifferent to mortal suffering and tribulation. Unlike some gods away down south, they made few demands. But they did know what went on in the world. They did notice those who lived their lives well. And those who did not. Sometimes they sent luck or misfortune where those seemed particularly appropriate.
Times change, though. Even for the Old Ones.
The First Among Them, the All-Father, the One Who Harkens to the Sound, sometimes called the Walker or Gray Walker, was aware of the murder of Erief Erealsson.
The people of the sea screamed suddenly and plunged into the deeps.
Then the people of Snaefells and Skogafjordur fell silent again. This time in anticipation and awe. A huge presence began to fill the night. Something of great power, something terrible, was approaching.
Two shrieking streaks of darkness arrowed down at the longship. They circled like fluttering cloaks of darkness, defined by the bonfires.
A murmur of fear and awe: "Choosers of the Slain! Choosers of the Slain!" Everyone knew about those insane demigoddesses, but only ancient Trygg had seen them, when he was a boy of fourteen, off Mognhagn, during the thousand-ship battle of Neche's Reach.
"There're only two," someone muttered. "Where's the other one?"
"Maybe it's true, the story about Arlensul." One of the mad daughters of the Walker had been exiled for loving a mortal.
The air grew as cold as the land of ice farther north. The blankets of darkness squabbled like sparrows aboard the longship. Then they soared up and away.
The fire spread rapidly now, growing so enthusiastic it roared.
The people watched till the fire began to fade. The longship was far down the fjord, then, again accompanied by the people of the sea.
Pulla summoned the elders of Skogafjordur. "Now we deal with Erief's murderers."
There were several schools of thought about who had struck Erief so treacherously.
The law insisted that the fallen be seen into the next world before any trial or revenge or ruling of justification. Tempers needed time to cool.
Briga said, "The Choosers of the Slain." He could not get over that. "The Choosers of the Slain. They came. Here."
Trygg nodded. Harl and Kel did the same.
Briga completed the thought. "There wasn't a battle. He was murdered."
"Frieslanders," Pulla said. Everyone knew there would have been a war with Friesland if Erief had had another summer to finish uniting all of Andoray. The Kings of Friesland claimed Andoray too, despite Neche's Reach.
The old men stared at Pulla. The old women, Borbjorg and Vidgis, too. None agreed with the godspeaker.
Pulla shook his head. "Maybe I'm wrong. But that's what I think."
Trygg observed, "Erief was a great one." Speaking no ill of the dead. "Maybe so great the Walker himself wanted him. Who else would send the Choosers? Did anybody see His ravens? No?"
Pulla said, "I'll throw the bones and consult the runes. There may be something the Night wants us to know. But first, we have to decide what to do with the outlanders."
The law had been observed. But tempers were no cooler than when the murder had been discovered.
Pulla sensed a wrongness before the torchlight revealed the prison pit. He barked, "Stop! Something huldrin has been here." Huldrin literally meant "hidden." In this instance huldrin meant a creature of Faerie, spawn of the Instrumentalities of the Night and the Hidden Realms. Huldre people, the Hidden Folk, while seldom seen, were part of everyday life. You disdained the Hidden Folk only at great peril.
The priest stopped. He shook his bag of bones overhead. Their clatter would intimidate the things of the night.
Still rattling the bones, Pulla moved forward. He stumbled after a dozen steps. He asked Briga to lower his torch.
He had slipped on a stick as thick as his wrist. Had he fallen forward he would have plunged into the empty prison pit.
"They're gone." Briga was a master at stating the obvious.
The outlanders had come to Snaefells and Skogafjordur three weeks earlier, peddling some absurd religion from the far south, where the sun burned so hot it addled men's brains. They seemed harmless enough at first. Their stories were so ridiculous they were entertaining. No grown man with the smarts to scratch his own lice would buy that nonsense. Physically, they were bad jokes. A half- grown girl could thrash them. Except that they refused to get that close to anyone female.
But sometime during the night last night somebody drove a dagger into Erief's heart while he slept. The dagger got stuck between the hero's ribs. The assassin abandoned it.
That blade was foreign, like none known in the north. Not even Trygg had seen its like. And Trygg had visited many far lands in his youth.
The foreigners went into the pit, protesting their innocence, minutes after the crime was discovered.
Trygg thought them innocent. His view, however, constituted a minority. The missionaries were awfully convenient.
Pulla gathered the old folks close. "These foreigners must be powerful sorcerers. They scattered the stick hut over the pit, then flew away."
Trygg snorted derisively. "Someone helped them climb out. The someone who really murdered Erief. Someone huldrin."
That started a ferocious argument over whether the foreigners had been beaten badly enough before being dumped into the pit. They should not have been able to climb, even with help.
Herva, a crone so ancient she made Trygg seem young, snapped, "You waste your breath. None of that matters. They have escaped. They must be brought back. There must be a trial. Find Shagot the Bastard and his brother."
The people of Snaefells heard her. They approved. Shagot and his brother had been Erief's lieutenants. They were hardened, cruel men who made their own people nervous. Especially now that there was no Erief to rein them in. So why not get them out of the village and exploit their experience at the same time?
Something screamed on the mountainside. Nearer, something laughed in the dark.
The hidden folk were never far away.CHAPTER 2
Esther's Wood, in the Holy Lands
Else wakened instantly. Someone was approaching his tent stealthily. He grasped the hilt of a dagger. A silhouette formed at the tent's entrance, limned by the campfires beyond.
"Else! Captain! We need you." A hand parted the flaps beyond Else's toes. The firelight leapt inside.
"Aye. We have a situation shaping up, sir."
The blazing campfires had told him that. "What kind of trouble?" It was nighttime. The fires were up. That was all the answer he needed, really.
Of course. Here in the wilds of the Holy Lands, amongst the Wells of Irhian, the most supernaturally infested corner of the earth, human danger seldom prowled the Realm of Night.
Else dressed quickly, slid out of his tent like a big cat, six feet tall, lithe and hard, with striking blond hair and blue eyes, at his physical prime.
"Where?" A glance at the horses told him they were not yet troubled.
Else jogged. Bone could not keep up. Bone was too old to be in the field. He should have stayed home to teach the youngsters coming up. But Bone knew the Holy Lands better than any other Sha-lug. He had fought the Rhûn here for two decades, long ago.
Else joined al-Azer er-Selim, the band's Master of Ghosts. Az stared fixedly into the darkness.
"What have we got? I don't see anything."
"Right there. The darkness that hides the trees behind it."
He saw it now. "What is it?" He saw more as his eyes adapted. Vague black wolf shapes prowled beyond the fringes of the light.
"It's a bogon. The master spirit of the countryside. In a more settled land it would be a local deity, probably confined inside an idol in a town temple. To limit the amount of evil it could do. Out here, where no one lives, it would remain diffused. Normally."
"Normally." The darkness now had a vaguely manlike shape, but doublewide and fourteen feet tall. "It's manifesting? Why?"
"Somebody compelled it. Somebody—or something—conjured it, commanded it, and here it is. Once it manifests completely, it'll attack us. And slaughter us. Our charms can't repel that much brute power."
The wolf shapes were there in anticipation of the collapse of the mystic barriers protecting the camp.
"I thought things were going way too smooth. What do we do?"
"Right now we can only get ready to do whatever we'll try to do. We can't hurt it while it's still pulling itself together. Once it manifests, though, we'll have a few seconds before its intellect catches up with its body. That's when you'll have to act. So you'll have to be ready."
"I will, eh?"
"You're the captain."
"How much time do I have?"
"About five minutes."
Else turned. The men were all awake, now. Some seemed frightened, some resigned. In this foreign land, the Realm of War, their confidence in their own god was less than complete. Other gods stalked this land. This was the land where gods were born. And devils, as well.
They stared at those restless wolf things, growing more defined and bold.
"Mohkam. Akir. Bring the falcon."
"What're you going to do, Captain?"
"I'm going to save your sorry asses. Unless you'd rather stand around asking me questions. Heged. Agban. Bring the money chest. Bone. I need a pail of gravel. Norts. Get a keg of firepowder. Az. Get a reliable torch going. All of you, do it on the run. Because if you don't you'll all be dead in about five minutes." Else ignored his own racing pulse. He did not look at the wolves directly. They looked like the real thing, now, impatient, snapping at one another. But they were half the size of real wolves, which had been exterminated in this region ages ago. They did not fear men. They were amongst the most common terrors generated by the Instrumentalities of the Night, known wherever men sat round campfires and looked out at the eyes of the Night. They were more dangerous in number than as individuals. Any semicompetent hedge wizard could run a singleton off or keep a pack from breaking into the circle of light. Even a normal, unskilled man could handle a singleton if he kept his wits about him. Powdered wolfbane would chase those spawn of Night.
Mohkam and Akir came running with the falcon, pushing the carriage. The little brass cannon could be as dangerous to its operators as to its target. It had not been fired since its test shots at the foundry where it had been cast. Falcons were new, secret weapons meant to be used only in desperate circumstances.
"Firepowder!" Else thundered. "Get moving! Bone! You lazy old fart, let's go! Heged! Agban! Where are you? Move it! Come on. Come on. Get that firepowder loaded. Charge and a half."
They looked at him warily but did as they were told. Bone arrived with the gravel. "This shit is everywhere when you're trying to sleep on the ground. But try to find a gallon when you need it."
"Get the chest open. Just silver. Fast. Mix it with the gravel."
"Captain! You can't ..."
"Bitch about it later. Akir. Prime it. Heged. Agban. Load the shot. Move. Move." The bogon would not wait.
Seconds later, Agban jumped back. "It's ready."
"Get the ram out."
Else said, "Good. Done with time to spare. Az. Get your ass over here. With the torch."
The wizard sputtered. He was no common soldier. He was a Master of Ghosts.
"You're the one who knows when to touch the fire. Get in here and do it."
The wolf shapes dared the light, testing the encampment's wards. The bogon towered eighteen feet high and eight wide, hunched forward like an ape. Its eyes had gained definition.
The wizard shook as he stepped up beside the falcon.
"The rest of you, get down. Get behind something. Or go calm the horses and oxen." He was pleased that the bogon had chosen to manifest on the side away from the animals. And wondered if there was any significance to that.
In an eye's blink the bogon finished manifesting.
Al-Azer er-Selim set torch to match hole.
The falcon gouted flame, thunder, and a vast cloud of sulfurous smoke. Else understood instantly that he had been right to overcharge. The firepowder had been damp. It had burned slow. It created so much smoke that, for half a minute, it was impossible to discover the effect of the shot.
Ah! That part had gone perfectly. The bogon was down, full of holes, with darkness evaporating off it like little streamers of black steam. Shredded wolf lay scattered around the monster. Beyond, brush had been leveled and trees stripped of their bark. Several small fires burned out there, already dying. And then there was the quiet, a silence as profound as that in the Void before God created Heaven and Earth.
Awed swearing began to leak from the nearest raiders.
"Bone. Mohkam. Akir. Have you checked the falcon for cracks? Have you swabbed the embers out? Are we ready if that thing gets up off the ground?"
The Master of Ghosts said, "The bogon won't bother us, Captain. It won't bother anyone ever again."
"Then the bogon is no concern anymore, Az. Now we worry about the man who raised it. It isn't him that we just killed."
"Worth remembering. He'll know that he failed. And awareness of the bogon's destruction will spread fast. Though not how or why. A secret to be kept for sure. A lot of folk will think that some terrible feat of sorcery did it. We should get out of here fast. Before people come to investigate. We aren't supposed to be here."
Excerpted from The Tyranny of the Night by Glen Cook, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2005 Glen Cook. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
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