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A good thief barters in goods. A great one deals in shadows.
A Shadow all of Light is a stylish, elegant, episodic fantasy novel by award-winning author and former poet laureate Fred Chappell.
Falco, a young man from the country, arrives in the port city of Tardocco with the ambition of becoming an apprentice shadow thief. Falco's tests and adventures teach him to break through ingenious security traps and drop him among con men, monsters, pirates, and the King of Cats.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
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A Shadow All of Light
By Fred Chappell
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Fred Chappell
All rights reserved.
Thief of Shadows
"You know who I am?"
"Sir, I do," I said. "You are Master Astolfo. Everyone knows."
"You know then something of my station?"
I had to think quickly. An ill-chosen word might be an insult. An insult could well be fatal. "You are the Maestro Astolfo of the shadow trade, the most highly respected dealer and most knowledgeable appraiser of shadows in the city of Tardocco, in the province of Tlemia."
"You have me at a disadvantage," he said, "for I know nothing of you."
I could not see what advantage I might have, backed against the wall of a dim corridor of his great manse, with the point of his sword at my throat and a hulking, silent hireling at his side. Astolfo seemed no murderous sort; he was a stocky, almost pudgy, man with an air of deliberate nonchalance and a relaxed gaze that betrayed no particular animosity. Yet his blade had come to my guzzle with swift efficiency when the bulky one had led me to him from his garden.
"My name is Falco," I said. "I am of an honorable family in the southern provinces."
"You are most likely from Caderia or thereabouts, as I judge your accent. That is a country of small, muddy farms. It is not long since you left off trudging a furrow behind the nether end of a mule. Hay wisps protrude from your ears."
I made no reply to these calmly spoken truths. I was not surprised. Astolfo's reputation was that no one knew more of the world than he and that few were wiser in the usage of that knowledge. These were reasons sufficient to make his acquaintance, I thought.
"Furthermore, Falco is a name you have bestowed upon yourself. 'Clodpoll' or some other clownish appellation is your true name. You are a bumpkin trying on the airs of a town bravo and you have stolen over my garden wall in the dark of night, intending to do me grievous harm and to take property that is mine."
"Not so, sir," I said. "I came a-purpose to meet you and to talk with you."
"Why could you not come by the light o' the sun and knock at the gate and make yourself known in honorable fashion? This midnight sneakery must harvest ill."
"I tried the honorable practice," I replied, "and your man here turned me away like a louse-ridden beggar without a word. I believed I would gain more careful attention entering by stealth. I believed you would apprehend me and be curious."
He lowered the point, but did not scabbard his blade. "So you formed a plan and it has worked as you hoped. You must feel proud of your cunning."
"Do I look proud to you?"
He surveyed me with a glance almost desultory. "Well, let us see. Pied hose you wear and a greasy leather doublet that I judge a hand-me-down, and black harness-leather shoes with the out-of-fashion square toes. You very wisely chose to enter here unarmed, but the two steel rings at your belt show that you habitually wear a broadsword or a long sword which is now doubtless in the hands of a tavern keeper who holds it to secure a gaming or wenching or toping debt. In fine, you are a hot-blood lazybones who has run away from a dull farm and a phlegmatic, thick-handed father. You are one of scores who seek each year the streets of Tardocco to hinder the foot traffic of the honest citizenry and to play mischief when the moon is risen. This is you, Master Rustic Lumpfart, and a hundred like you."
This pretty speech succeeded in its purpose of angering me and it was well that I had not carried my sword hither. If I had drawn upon him, Astolfo would have skewered me like a piglet on a spit. "If all you say is true, then I must acquire more urbane ways," I said. "And that is why I have sought you out."
"You think me to be a mincing dancing master, some type of finger-kissing courtier?" He cocked his head to his left side. "No. You believe me to be a great thief, a felon who steals the shadows of the gentry to make himself wealthy thereby. You believe I have acquired all the arts and skills of shadow-taking and you hope I will impart them to you so that you may go abroad and plunder and pilfer and ruin my trade and pile up riches for yourself. You would pay me to make you my prentice, though all you possess in the way of fortune is but one eagle, four coppers, and a pair of dice."
I was so startled that I patted the waist of my doublet to confirm the absence of the pouch I saw in his hand. His name as a pickpurse was legend, but how had he done the trick? I had kept my eyes upon him the whole time. I felt now more strongly than ever that I should acquire his tutelage. "I will admit that I formed some such fancy. You find me naive, I expect."
"I find you backward," he said, "and probably incurably so. Here is your purse."
He tossed the pouch toward me, but when I reached, it was not there. It had returned to his hand.
"That is a childish trick."
"Its purpose was only to demonstrate how very backward you are, and it has succeeded. Now how shall you argue your case?"
Racking my brains for a stratagem, I concluded that only the truth would deliver me; there was no point in trying to deceive or cozen or blind-bag this man. I would tell him all, not omitting how I had rapped my older brother Osbro on the noggin with a spade and robbed his pockets and stole a candelabrum from a priest-house and arrived at Tardocco hidden in a manure cart headed to the municipal gardens. Perhaps by amusing this Maestro Astolfo I could bring him round. Whatever was shaming to me would be risible to him.
So I told him the whole of it, even the part where a scullery maid named Hana thwacked me in the cullions with a skillet for placing my hand where she had given no warrant while at the same time I was attempting to steal a wheaten loaf from the windowsill. And he, Master Astolfo, nodded gravely, as if he had forethought everything I said and found it banal.
But then when he gave me a straight look in the eyes, piercing and unblinking, the question he asked surprised me. He gestured at his manservant and said, "What color are Mutano's shoes?" And added: "Do not look."
I responded immediately. "A purplish black with gilt buckles."
"Clean or soiled?"
"A little mud on the edges of the soles."
"From what source?"
"I know not. How should I know such a thing?"
"By observing. Do you not think it important to know?"
"If you had noticed that your own footwear bore a trace of that same mud, what might you think?"
"That we had been sometime in the same place and I might have seen him there but did not recognize him here."
"That he saw me and remembers me."
He looked me over again, bottom to top and back, and nodded. He hummed a snatch of music. "Tell me what you think: Is he to be pitched on a dung heap or can some use be made of an imbecile?"
"If the imbecile be a willing and faithful fellow, he can be of great use," I replied.
"And the lunatic, what of his case?"
"If his lunacy can be kept in a narrow space and brought to purpose, he could be of use."
"And if this person were both lunatic and imbecile together?"
"Then," I said, "I would have not one but two handsome chances to stand improvement."
"Perhaps, but only if you are the sort to follow orders without question and without delay." He hummed again that snatch of song and returned his sword to its sheath.
It was this gesture that decided me once and for all that I had come to the right place, to the right master. He slid his blade into his sheath, which hung loose in ordinary fashion, without looking, without fumbling, in one smooth motion. I had seen swordsmen of tall repute, duelists and fencing masters, triumph in match upon hard-fought match, and with all of them, even the most expert, there was always that moment of awkwardness when they fitted the sword back into the sheath, just a minor gracelessness of no importance, yet minutely out of character. Nor did Astolfo guide the blade with the thumb-web of his left hand, as stage actors learn to do. Without glancing down, without hesitating, he slid the weapon home, and thus, so far as I was concerned, our pact was sealed.
Master Astolfo, I thought, you do not know it yet, but you have gained the best, most ardent pupil of your arts that you shall ever have instructed.
* * *
Well, that was a time ago, and the ordeal of my training was every bit as difficult as I had imagined it would be.
The first task was to persuade him to accept me. I made so many promises, told so many overripe lies, pleaded, begged, and groveled so assiduously that I blush to recall the episodes and will not retail them now. After that, it was drill after drill: plunging my hand into a small velvet bag prickly inside with fishhooks to bring forth the piddling coin he had placed there; boxing with the voiceless Mutano who always thumped me soundly; learning the use of the quasilune knife to cleave shadows from their casters (iron posts in the beginning, cats at the latter stages); blindfolded to feel cloth of every texture; tasting lush wines I was not allowed to swallow.
Always and ever, I was set to practice with various swords, the usual broadsword, the rapier, the saber and scimitar and the others, but most often and most carefully with that swift, slender graduated crescent blade Astolfo called the Deliverer which can sever from even the most agile of performers his or her fleet shadow.
If you are one of the curious, make this experiment: Choose a bright, windy day in springtime, attach to a head-high pole a banner of flimsiest blue silk to flap in the breeze, and slice it in two with your shiny Deliverer. Do not mangle it. The cut must be as clean and straight as if sheared by a keen-eyed tailor perched cross-legged on his cushion. This you must learn to do if your desire is to heap wealth by being a thief of shadows.
Of course, Astolfo denied that he was a shadow thief at all, much less the acknowledged master of the art. "I deal in shadows," he explained. "Clients come to me. I do not seek them out. Let others purloin as they will — I traffic only in commodities."
And it is true that I never saw him take a shadow by stealth except in the process of a training exercise. His thieving days were behind him. Yet they left a long trail of legend which was vital to his legitimate enterprises. If he were not the hero of scores of tavern-tales and beggars' gossip, he would have attracted fewer clients. To traffic within his sphere was to gain a warrant of security for any risky venture at hand.
Most tedious of all the parts of my training were the mathematics and the treatises of theory. I am no lover of brain-toys, and to spend a long rainy day poring over Teteles's Primeval Shadow Theory or the Liber Umbrae Antiquitae of Carnesius is not my ideal of entertainment. I disliked geometry too, though I could see the sense of it. If you plan to cut away a shadow where it is splayed across a wall nook with three irregular corners, you will be glad to know of angles and arcs and degrees. But if you find any use at all in the worm-gnawed pages of the anonymously written Speculum Mundus Umbrae, you are a scholar far superior to Falco.
The training seemed never to leave off; it was continual, and part of the discipline lay in his deceiving me as to what was an actual theft and what was only an exercise.
Consider the most recent matter, for example. Here we stood at the side entrance of a gloomy harbor warehouse. Astolfo gave the weathered, strap-hinged door a coded knock, two-one-two, and we were admitted by as large a pair of dusky ruffians as you would ever care to accost in the greasy alley called Rattlebone. One of them led the way through the mazy corridors to a small door with no window. The other followed us. At the moment Astolfo rapped upon this door, I felt the unmistakable prick of a sword point between my shoulder blades.
In such circumstances, the apprehensive body allows no rational thought. I dropped to the floor while snatching my dagger from my small-boot, curled like an ingratiating cat around the feet of the large fellow, and clipped in two his heel tendon above his pretty yellow shoe. He howled in a tone surprisingly high-pitched for one so hirsute about the chops, dropped his cutlass, and staggered against the wall. I sprang to my feet and swept out my sword, ready to defend myself and Astolfo. I assumed that we had been led into a trap. Astolfo's wealth was fabled and attempts upon it — and upon his life — were not infrequent.
With a gesture he calmed me. "Hist'ou!" he said. "What are you doing?"
"The fellow threatened my life," I said. "His point was in my back."
The door opened and a wizened, yellow-faced old man peered out and took in the scene with a single glance. "What, Astolfo? Have you brought some assassin upon me?" His voice was that of an elderly man accustomed to the use of authority.
"Look to your man there, Pecunio. He attacked Falco from behind. He is fortunate to escape with a gizzard complete. Why does he draw steel upon an invited guest?"
The old man gave Astolfo a searching look before nodding assent. He signaled to the other lummox of a servant, who helped his companion to stand and supported him as he limped away into the dimness. I watched them go, thinking it would require some space of time before the one who had so rudely poked me would be leading the dancing floor in a quadrille.
"These are perilous days, Astolfo," Pecunio said. "I have made it a practice to hold strangers at blade point when they enter my little counting room."
"Anyone with me is no stranger. You have long had my surety upon that."
Pecunio nodded. "My man Dolo is large, but he is not a giant of the intellect. Let the matter rest and come in."
When we entered I saw by the light of a dozen candles that our host was smaller than I had thought and that he carried a hunchback. He was dressed in black, tunic and hose and footwear, with white laceless linen at throat and wrists. He took his own good time looking me over, and his expression gave nothing away. Then he turned to a tall cabinet, brought forth a decanter and three small gilt-rimmed glasses, and poured a measure for each of us.
I followed Astolfo's lead, raising my glass in salute and draining it in one swallow. It was fiery, and cloyingly sweet, and I knew it too costly for my purse and too genteel for my taste.
"It is good to see you again, Pecunio," Astolfo said. "I hope to be able to do you better service than chopping off the feet of your servants, as my hasty prentice is so eager to do."
"We will come to terms about that when you name a price," Pecunio said, "for the service I have in mind is but a modest one. I only desire your opinion about a certain piece of property."
"Call it so. I have come into possession of a shadow. It has been represented to me as a curious and valuable object. And so might it be, if it is genuine."
"What is its provenance? Can you not trace down the owner?"
"I dare not come anywhere near him, if the provenance is as reported," Pecunio said. "Perhaps you too, even the adroit Astolfo, would think twice upon the matter."
"Perhaps. Just what is this marvelous shade supposed to be?"
"Let us have a look." Pecunio crossed the room to a huge oaken closet with a heavy door that reached to the beamed ceiling. With a small silver key he clicked one well-oiled lock and then another and then finally swung open the silent door. He gestured to Astolfo.
The plumpish shadow master slid his arm carefully into the recess and brought out one of the most opulent umbrae I have ever seen. Midnight its color was, the midnight of a deep forest, with the wind brushing the leafy boughs overhead so that starlight arrowed through in bright streaks. There were colors in its deep blackness, a quick threading of silver here, of scarlet there, and now and again a dull mauve glow hard to distinguish pulsed in the general texture. If 'twere cloth, it would be heavy velvet, but it was shadow and had no weight — mass, of course, but no weight. I will forbear to cite at length the Testamentae gloriae umbrae and all the other beetle-nibbled volumes on this point. Anyone who has seen shadows bought and sold knows all that is necessary.
Astolfo's touch with the stuff was so light, he might not have been holding it at all but only allowing it to drape about his half-opened hands. That is the proper way to handle shadows, but skillful experience alone makes it possible. At that time I had yet to attain to that level of skill.
He gestured slowly, turning his hands over as if warming them by a brazier. "This is excellent material," he said. He put his face near and inhaled gently. "A complex aroma, but with pronounced salt. This is the shade of a quondam seaman, perhaps of someone who no longer follows the sail." He closed his eyes and considered. "If he be such, he has fought many a battle and sent many a poor tar to swirl in the deepest currents." He put his tongue out briefly, tasting the air like a serpent. "I should not like to have the owner of this shadow as my enemy."
"You believe that the caster of this shadow is still alive?" Pecunio asked.
"I know men now standing in their flesh less lively than this shade. Whoever stole it from its caster had best beware."
Excerpted from A Shadow All of Light by Fred Chappell. Copyright © 2016 Fred Chappell. 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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Table of Contents
Part One: The Dealings of Shadows,
I. Thief of Shadows,
II. The Diamond Shadow,
III. Dance of Shadows,
IV. The Creeper Shadows,
Part Two: The Gathering of Shadows,
V. Shadow of the Valley,
VI. Maze of Shadows,
VII. Shadow of Candles,
Part Three: A Feast of Shadows,
VIII. Shadow of the Past,
IX. Gathering of Shadows,
X. The Absent Shadow,
XI. The Shadows Among Us,
XII. The Shadow Not a Shadow,
XIII. A Shadow All of Light,
About the Author,