In this captivating third installment in Marillier's historical fantasy series (after 2006's Blade of Fortriu) set in the sixth-century Scottish Highlands and Ireland, Faolan of the Uí Néill clan—bard, assassin, spy and adviser to the Pictish King Bridei of Fortriu—must complete three difficult missions. For Bridei, he must track down a cleric named Colmcille. For his own peace of mind, he must return home to Erin and confront his past. (Ten years earlier Faolan faced an impossible choice that shattered his family and left his eldest brother dead.) For his deceased comrade Deord, he must bring news of the warrior's death to the man's family in Cloud Hill, a task that lands Deord's impoverished 16-year-old daughter, Eile, and her toddler in Faolan's care. Faolan brings Eile back to the court of King Bridei, where they find themselves enmeshed in a plot against the king's half-fey son, Derelei. Despite some anachronistic instances of liberated female behavior and a few discordant modern colloquialisms, this episode will appeal to series fans and new readers alike. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Well of Shadesby Juliet Marillier
The continuation of the story of the Pictish king Bridei and his quest to bring peace to his land, with the help of the Fair Folk in tow.See more details below
The continuation of the story of the Pictish king Bridei and his quest to bring peace to his land, with the help of the Fair Folk in tow.
This third installment in a fantasy series set in sixth-century Scotland continues the saga of King Bridei and his battle to maintain his kingdom and religion against the rising tide of Christianity. The monarch and his mystical wife enjoy the birth of a baby and the education of their young son, who is showing signs of possessing Tuala's magical abilities. Despite these happy circumstances, Bridei learns of some dark and hidden forces plotting to twist apart the kingdom he's worked so hard to build. He sends Faolon, a skilled assassin and his most trusted friend, out across Scotland and Ireland to learn who the hidden enemies really are. The journey dredges up moments from his past, forcing him to deal with the painful memories of his dead brother and leading into a surprising and well-written love story. Of course, his new love and the strength of the kingdom are both tested through various adventures, acts of treachery, and dark plans fabricated by manipulative villains. Fans of the series will delight in the focus on Faolon, while new readers will find it an easy entry point into Marillier's world. The author makes grand use of the historical and mythological stories of Scotland to create a gripping page-turner that readers of character-driven fantasy will love.
Matthew L. MoffettCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
The Well of Shades
Book Three of the Bridei Chronicles
By Juliet Marillier
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2006 Juliet Marillier
All rights reserved.
Winter was coming. Faolan saw its touch on the land as he traveled southward out of the province of Ulaid toward a place called Cloud Hill. In the mornings the grass was crisp with frost and a shroud of mist hung low over the hills, wrapping itself around barn and stable, cottage and byre. The fields held only stubble, among which crows made leisurely paths, exchanging occasional sharp comments. The skies were uniformly gray. So long absent from his homeland, he had forgotten the rain; how it came every day without fail, gently insistent, penetrating cloak and hat and boots so a wayfarer could never be entirely dry.
He reached Cloud Hill in a fine, drenching drizzle. The tiny settlement huddled under the sudden rise of the hill, low stone huts clustered in a scattering of leafless rowans, geese gathered in the shelter of an outhouse with only half a roof, a larger hall standing square, with smoke struggling up from the thatch and a skinny gray dog skulking in the doorway. The rain became a downpour; Faolan decided it was time to put aside secrecy, and made for the entry. The dog rumbled a warning as he approached, and a man twitched aside the rough sacking that served as a door, peering out into the rain. The growl became a snarl; the man aimed a kick at the creature and it cringed back into the shadows.
"What's your business?" The tone was both surly and defensive.
"Shelter from the rain, no more."
"Not from these parts, are you?" the man muttered as Faolan came in. "Hardly a day for traveling."
There was a small crowd within, gathered around a smoky hearth, ale cups in hand. The wet was an excuse, maybe, for a brief respite from the work of smithy or field. A circle of suspicious eyes greeted Faolan as he made his way toward the fire, his cloak dripping on the earthen floor. He could not tell if this was home or drinking hall; the atmosphere was hardly convivial.
"Where are you headed?" asked the man who had let him in.
"That depends." Faolan sat down on a bench. "What's the name of this place?"
"What place are you looking for?"
He'd need to take this carefully. Deord's kin might be among these wary-looking folk, and he would not come right out with his bad news in public. "I'm seeking a man named Deord," he said. "Big fellow, broad shoulders; from over the water in Caitt territory. I'm told he has kin in a region known as Cloud Hill."
Muttering and whispers. A cup of ale was slid across the table in Faolan's direction; he took it gratefully. It had been a long day's walking.
"What's Deord to such as you?" asked a tall, thin man with calloused hands.
"Such as I?" Faolan kept his tone light. "What do you mean?"
"You've a look of someone," the first man said. "Can't quite put my finger on it."
"I've been away. Years. Deord and I share a past; we were guests in a certain place of incarceration. You'll know where I mean, perhaps. There's a name associated with it, a name folk in these parts will be familiar with."
Another silence, then, but with a new feeling to it. The cup of ale was joined by a hunk of bread and a bowl of watery soup brought in by a woman from another chamber behind. She stopped to watch him drink it.
"You and Deord, hm?" the first man said. "He's not here, hasn't been these seven years or more. Not that there aren't folk nearby would be wanting news of the man. By the Dagda's bollocks, that fellow was a fighter and a half. Built like a prize boar, and light as a dancer on his feet. When did you last see him, then? What did you say your name was?"
Faolan thought of lying and decided it would make things too difficult later. "Faolan. Yours?"
They introduced themselves. The spokesman, Brennan. The tall man, Conor. The woman, Oonagh, wife of Brennan. And others: Donal, Ultan, Aidan. Someone threw another log on the fire, and the ale jug went around again.
"I saw Deord last summer," Faolan said. "We met in Priteni lands." He was hacked apart and died in my arms. He honored a vow and was slain for it. "A good man. If he has kin in these parts, I'd welcome the chance to speak with them."
Brennan glanced at his wife. Conor exchanged looks with Ultan. The gathering was suddenly full of something unspoken.
Aidan, a lad of sixteen or so, cleared his throat. "Were you really in Breakstone?" he asked in a whisper. "And you got out, just like him?"
"Hush, lad," said Brennan. "If you'd your wits about you, you'd know men don't like to speak of such things." He addressed Faolan again. "You know Deord came back? Lasted from plowing to harvest; couldn't cope with it any longer. The time in there scars a man. Only the strongest make it out, and only the strongest of those pick up the pieces of what they had before. He came home and he left again. Where did he go? What's he doing?"
Sleeping a sleep of no dreams, and the forest creeping over to hide him. "I'd best pass my news to the family first, that's if there is one," Faolan said. "He mentioned a sister."
"You got the Breakstone mark?" someone asked in a rush. "Show us."
It was, Faolan supposed, necessary to prove he was not lying. He obliged by turning his head and lifting his hair to show the little star-shaped tattoo behind his right ear.
"Just like Deord's," said the man called Ultan. "And yet there's a look about you that suggests captors rather than captives. You mentioned a name that goes with talk of Breakstone. Your face puts me in mind of that name; an influential one."
"It's like a basket of eggs or a creel of shellfish," Faolan said smoothly. "There's good ones and bad ones. Every family has both. I was — I am a good friend of Deord's. The men who escape Breakstone Hollow are bonded for life. So, his sister? She married a local man, I understand?" He drained his cup. "This is uncommonly fine ale, Brennan."
Brennan favored him with a cautious smile. "My own brew. Deord's sister is Anda. They live around the hill in a hut on its own. We don't see much of them. Her man, Dalach, is a farrier; follows the horse fairs. He might be away. You should find someone there. It's wet out; why don't you leave it till the morning? We can find you a pallet in a corner."
"Thank you," Faolan said, taken aback that the mention of Deord and Breakstone had turned deep suspicion so quickly into welcome. "I'd best be getting on."
"The offer stands," said Brennan, glancing at his wife. "If you find you need a bed, there's one here. It's a fair walk over there. Aidan will go with you as far as the stile and point out the way."
Aidan grimaced, but went for a piece of sacking to put over head and shoulders.
"You got a knife on you?" Donal asked, offhand, as Faolan was heading out the door.
"Why do you ask?" Faolan turned a level stare at Donal, and Donal gazed at his own hands.
"What he means is, can you defend yourself?" Brennan's tone was diffident.
"I think I should be able to manage," said Faolan, who had been not only translator and spy to two kings of Fortriu, but assassin as well. "Difficult, is he, this farrier?" It was not quite a shot in the dark; he was expert at reading faces and voices, at hearing the words not spoken.
"You'd want to be on your guard," Brennan said.
The rain continued. They reached the stile and the boy pointed out the way, a muddy track barely visible in fading light and persistent downpour. His job done, Aidan fled for home. Faolan climbed over the stile and headed on, boots squelching. He had an odd sense that someone was following him. The dark forms of cattle could be discerned here and there in the gloom, but nothing could be heard but the rain and his own footsteps. Nonetheless, he looked back and looked back again. Nothing; he was being foolish, taking those men's warnings too much to heart. No self-respecting vagrant would choose such a day to lurk by the road for easy pickings. No sensible traveler would be out in such a deluge. He should have taken up the offer and stayed in the settlement overnight. All the same, the news he bore was bad, and he owed it to Deord to make sure it was his family who heard it first. He just hoped they were home; it would be a long, wet walk back.
The hut was a poor thing, a low construction of mud and wattles, with the water streaming off the thatch to pool around the base of the walls. Here and there the fabric of the place was crumbling; farrier this Dalach might be, but he was evidently not handy around the house. Someone had made an attempt at a vegetable plot; a low stone wall surrounded a dug patch in which a few cabbages grew, and a row of stakes stood ready for peas or beans. In a corner Faolan thought he saw lavender, its gray-green spikes bowing under the rain.
As he came up to the doorway, he had the eerie sense again of an unseen presence behind him. Not being a man much given to superstitious fears, he turned calmly, reaching for his knife as the gray form of the emaciated dog came into view, slinking low, ears laid back in anticipation of a blow, coat bedraggled. It had followed him all the way.
"If I had a crust on me, I'd give it to you," Faolan murmured, slipping the knife back in his belt. "But I'm all out of provisions. It wasn't worth your while." He drew a deep breath. There was a dim light inside the small dwelling; someone was home. And he had the worst kind of news to give them, news that would be hard both in the telling and the hearing. Ah, well; best get this over with.
He lifted a hand to knock on the door frame; only a strip of stained felt covered the entry. An instant later, the tines of a pitchfork were a handspan from his eyes.
"Get out, or I'll push this through your head!" snarled someone, and the thing jerked forward.
Faolan's knife was in his hand again. He calculated the position of the speaker's arms and shoulders as he replied. "I'm a friend. I mean no harm."
"Friend, huh! I know that trick. Now get out or I'll set the dogs on you!"
Faolan did not look behind him. The cur that had tailed him from the settlement was silent; if there were indeed dogs within, they did not seem to be causing it concern. "Are you Anda?" he ventured. "I'm seeking a woman of that name. I'm a friend of her brother's. I've come a long way to speak with her."
There was a silence. The dog came up to the door, stationing itself beside Faolan, ready for admittance. The pitchfork wavered.
"It is the truth. I mean no harm to anyone here. My name is Faolan."
"Never heard of you. He never said anything about you." The felt curtain moved a fraction away from the door frame, and Faolan found himself looking down into a face that was angry, scared, and much younger than he expected. Green eyes blazed defiance against grubby pale skin. He revised his guess. This was not much more than a child.
"Is your mother home?"
"A reasonable question under the circumstances. It's very wet out here. We're getting soaked. Do you think you could put that thing away?"
"We're getting soaked? You and who else?" The pitchfork was back in his face. For such a small boy — girl? — the wielder was exceptionally strong.
"Me and the dog. I'd introduce you, but I don't know his name."
The curtain twitched farther. The green eyes looked down and the dog looked up, mangy tail wagging. The curtain came aside at the base, aided by a foot, and the dog slipped into the house. Faolan made to follow, and the girl — he had seen the long, unkempt hair tied back with string — spoke again. "Not you. You're a liar. Deord went away. He never came back. Why would he send you?"
Because he was dying, and could not say good-bye. "What I have to tell is for his close kin," Faolan said levelly. "When will Anda be home?"
"Soon. Any time now."
"Then might I come in and wait?"
"No. Take one step and I'll whistle for my big brothers. They'll make you wish you'd never been born. Go home. Go back where you came from."
"I do have news. She'll want to hear it."
"Go away and take your poxy news with you. If he's not coming back, he needn't think sending his friends here with messages is going to make up for it."
Faolan was thinking hard, but he could not place this girl anywhere in what he knew of Deord. The sister's child? She did not speak as a serving girl would. There was something there that curbed his tongue; he saw the longing in her eyes, for all the furious words.
"I won't hurt you," he said. "I give you my word."
"You'd be better to give me your weapons," the girl snapped.
"That's before or after you set the dogs and the brothers on me?" he queried, and instantly regretted it. Her small features tightened; there was a look on her face that sat ill in one so young, the look of a person who is accustomed to betrayal. He could not quite judge her age, but she was surely no more than thirteen or fourteen. An image of Áine came to him, and he willed it away.
"Don't you dare mock me!" the girl hissed. "I know how to use this and I'll do it. You'd better believe that. Now go. I'll tell her you came. When she gets back. Aunt Anda, I mean." Then, seeing some change in his face, "What?"
Let this not be. Let me not have to tell her now, alone, at night. "Forgive me," Faolan said, "but does that mean you are Deord's daughter?" And, before she could reply, he saw that it must indeed be so; it was in the square stance, the hard grip on the too-large weapon, the way she held her head, proudly for all the filth and the fear. Deord had never spoken of a wife, of children. Only the sister. Gods, this girl must have been the merest infant when her father went into Breakstone. She would have been five or six, perhaps, when he came home and lasted only a season. "Is your mother still living?"
"None of your business, but yes, that poxy wretch is my father and no, she's not. He broke her heart. She strung herself up from one of those oaks out there. When you go back to wherever he is, you can tell him that."
"I'm sorry," Faolan said inadequately. "Is there nobody home but you?"
"If you think I'm going to answer that, you're even stupider than you look. Go back to the settlement. I'm not letting you in." And, as he turned away, "What is this news anyway? Tell me." He heard it again in her voice, a trembling eagerness she was fighting hard to hide. His heart clenched tight. He had viewed this as the easiest of his three missions. At this moment he would have given much not to have to reply. "Go on, tell me," she said. "Just say it. He's not coming home, is he?"
Go back to Brennan's, Faolan told himself. Wait for morning. See the sister alone and tell her first, not this quivering bundle of defiance and need. You can't tell her, not here, not now.
"Tell me the truth!" she commanded, and in that moment he saw Deord's face, dying, and the strength in the lone warrior's eyes.
"It's not something I'm willing to say out here," he told her. "You need to be inside, sitting down. Here, take my knife. Hold on to that if you must have a weapon. Just put away the pitchfork. If it helps, you might notice the dog seems to trust me. Dogs are astute judges of character. Is he yours?"
She had paled at this speech; the girl wasn't stupid. Now she leaned the fork against the wall and backed into the house, holding Faolan's knife in front of her, point aimed accurately at his heart. "Sit there and don't move. Now tell me."
"You should sit down. What is your name?"
"Eile. I'll stand. Just say it, will you? What? He's not coming? Could have guessed that. He's hurt? Not much I can do about that, since he never bothered to let me know where he was ..." She faltered to a halt, eyes on Faolan's face. "Just tell me. Please." She sat down abruptly, and the dog came to stand by her. It was hard to say which was the more pathetic specimen; both were disheveled and looked half-starved. The fire in the rudimentary hearth was barely alight, the wood basket near empty. Faolan could see no sign of food or drink in the place, just empty crocks on a shelf and a bucket of water.
He cleared his throat. "It's bad news, I'm afraid. I had hoped to tell your aunt first."
She waited, utterly still.
"Deord — your father — I'm afraid he's dead, Eile." Not a flicker on the neat features, not a twitch of the thin lips. "He was killed in early autumn, up in the north of Priteni lands. There was ... a battle. I got there too late to save him, and he died of his wounds. I buried him in the forest. Eile, he was a good man. A brave man." No words could capture Deord's transcendent valor or his deep serenity.
Eile bowed her head a little. One hand went out to touch the dog, moving against its neck. Her fingernails were bitten to the quick, the hands raw and chapped. She said nothing.
"He asked me, when he was dying, to come here and break the news. It was a heroic end, Eile. He gave his life so that I and two friends could escape from certain death. If I say I am sorry, I don't expect you to believe it. You don't know me, and you can't know how it happened. But I am sorry; sorry at the waste of such a fine man. He loved you. I am certain of it." That part was a lie.
"That's not true." Eile spoke in a whisper. "If he'd loved us, he would have stayed. He wouldn't have just ... gone."
Excerpted from The Well of Shades by Juliet Marillier. Copyright © 2006 Juliet Marillier. 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.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >