It is a time for celebration in Tielmark, at long last free from the age-old rule of the decadent but powerful Bissanty empire. Yet as the young glamour witch Gaultry Blas travels to witness the sacred rites which will renew her prince's magical bond to the land and its twin goddesses, she had no idea of the trials that await her and all Tielmark. Foiling an attempt by Bissanty assassins to taint the prince with dark, poisonous magic, she finds herself thrown into the midst of a sinister and dangerous plot. With one of the assassins as her unlikely ally, she must journey deep into the heart of Bissanty-where it will take all her skill and magic to uncover the last hidden ties that bind Tielmark's destiny to that of its depraved former masters...
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About the Author
Katya Reimann is the author of Tremor in the Bitter Earth.
Katya Reimann was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the author of the Tielmaran Chronicles, including Wind from a Foreign Sky and A Tremor in the Bitter Earth.
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A Tremor in the Bitter Earth
By Katya Reimann, James Frenkel
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1998 Katya Reimann
All rights reserved.
When Gaultry Blas, the young Huntress Witch of Arleon Forest, arrived at the three sacral hills where Princes of Tielmark celebrated the feast days of the Goddess Twins, her position at court could best be described as ambiguous. Certainly, she was a hero, her accomplishments manifold. She had defeated Tielmark's traitorous Chancellor in single combat, had broken the Bissanty bondmagic he had laid upon the Prince, and had stood upon the coronation stone of Tielmark to chose the Prince's new bride. For a woman raised in an isolated rural cottage deep in the southern border forest, these were exhilarating feats. But they also frightened and confused her. They had changed the course of Gaultry's life irrevocably, not least because they revealed her heritage — which was to serve and protect her Prince's destiny. Long-dormant magic coursed, strong and potent, in her blood, magic that could safeguard Tielmark, the Prince, and even the Great Twins' rule over Tielmark, should she so choose to use it.
Yet with the Chancellor dead and the Bissanty threat laid, Gaultry found herself adrift in a web of court politics in which her powers had little relevance in everyday affairs. Benet, Tielmark's Prince, had rewarded her stunning acts of magic with a courtier's favors. He had gifted Gaultry and her twin sister, Mervion, with ample accommodations, horses, a falcon, and generous stipends. Gaultry and her twin had been chosen to perform in a ceremonial capacity on feast days such as this, when Goddess Twin Emiera's benediction was supplicated to bless the spring planting. But such rewards and sinecures, which made no active use of either sister's talents, had only served to compound resentment towards them, stirring envy and resentment among those who had been less active in thwarting the Bissanty incursions.
Ironically, Gaultry had helped the Prince renew the god-pledge that would protect Tielmark. from powerful Bissanty, its northern imperial neighbor, for a full cycle of rule: fifty years. Fifty years, Gaultry thought wryly as she reached the flat top of Feeding-Hill, would be a long time to laze at court waiting for her services to once again truly be necessary.
She turned slowly on her heels to survey the sacral land that spread around her. The sun shone warmly on her face and the light breeze brought a tang of fresh sea and plant scents. Despite all her worries, she found her mood lightening. For three hundred years, Princes of Tielmark had celebrated the Goddess Emiera's planting day at this site. Today, at least in part because of her actions, the Prince could celebrate it once more. The green hills stood on a small rise of land that separated the rugged coastal cliffs from the thin band of forest that extended inland towards the Dousallier hills, east of Princeport, Tielmark's capital city. It was an ancient site, with a history that reached deep into the years of Bissanty occupation. Clarin, the founder of Free Tielmark, had consecrated the ground in the Great Twins' names on the site of an even earlier Bissanty outpost. Gaultry, drinking in the beauty of the day and the fabulous view of the green hills and sea, could not help but feel proud, thinking on the part she had played in denying the Bissanties' efforts to reclaim this land for their powerful thunder-goddess, Mother Llara.
Supporters and detractors of the new Princess, loyalists to the Prince, and Bissanty-sympathizers who had survived the purge, stood clustered together on the hill in the strong morning sun, waiting for the noon ceremonial. That was when everyone would renew their vows of service: to the Prince, to Tielmark, and to Tielmark's god-wrought freedom. Gaultry was not surprised that some of them appeared openly uneasy.
The Prince was there with his new Princess to dedicate himself, body and bride, to the spring planting. The supplication to the Great Lady Emiera was Benet's first formal act as a Free Prince of Tielmark, a Prince who had escaped Bissanty bonds and claimed the Great Twins' Blessing on his marriage and his rule. But despite the joyous nature of the occasion, the Prince had summoned his court to the sacral hills with a grim warning: without renewed pledges from every landholder, he would pray for the Goddess to wither the crops in their fields. This was no empty threat. Benet's god-pledges meant that he was joined in mystic marriage to the land. He had the power to damage the harvest if he withheld his blessing from the sacred ceremonies. Though some men grumbled that there was space between prayer and the gods, few were willing to chance it. The hills were near overrun with courtiers and their servants.
Gaultry found the pomp and the elaborately colorful preparations overwhelming. In the village near the forest cottage where she had grown to womanhood, Lady Emiera's Feast meant a scanty meal comprised more of the roots and dried legumes left over from winter than of the thin new produce of spring. At the Prince's feast, by contrast, gaily-laid tables groaned with the weight of early harvest gifts, drawn from all quarters of Tielmark. If bounty and expense counted as indicators of a people's loyalty, the Prince proved himself well-loved today.
The many closed and nervous faces among the Prince's courtiers spoke otherwise. Some, grown accustomed to the loose leash of a sorcery-bound, weakened Prince, had little reason to celebrate Benet's recovered strength. Others felt that Benet's fallibility, in falling prey to Bissanty wiles, had yet to be redeemed. On a cloudy day, the dark faces would hardly have been noticed. Today, the sweet scent of spring and sea combined with the clear blue of the sky to make the discord among the Prince's people uncomfortably conspicuous. Many of the discontented were not even Bissanty collaborators.
For Gaultry, the most disturbingly unhappy face was that of Tielmark's newly restored High Priestess. Dervla of Princeport's shrill voice and her ill-suppressed anger could be heard even from where Gaultry stood at the hill's seaward edge, drawing her eye to the High Priestess as she thrust her way aggressively through the throng on Feeding-Hill, in open argument with the Master of the Tables about the assignment of places from the Prince's table downwards. Though dressed in splendid robes as befitted the day, and crowned with a wreath of ash branches — Emiera's signifier — the High Priestess's face, beneath the budding twist of branch, was pinched and sour. As the top-ranking priestess of Tielmark's Twin Goddesses, confident in her Prince's readmission to Their favor, some part of Dervla must have found the day a glad one. But as a politician who felt that her modest role in the Prince's reinstatement had served only to diminish her influence, Dervla seethed with the frustration of unfulfilled ambition.
Sensing the young southern woman's scrutiny, the unsmiling priestess turned. Her eyes narrowed. Gaultry, caught staring, answered the woman's hostile glare with a foolish guilty smile. Dervla, seeing that smile, abruptly dismissed the table-master and pushed a man out of her way, moving towards Gaultry, anger evident in the tense lines of her thin body. The High Priestess was not above lashing out at those whom she imagined had detracted from her personal share of glory. From the chill in the High Priestess's pale almond eyes as she approached, Gaultry could see that whatever had focused the woman's ill humor, right now she had decided to hold Gaultry responsible.
"A fine feast day to you," Gaultry greeted the priestess, bowing her head. She wanted to be conciliatory, though she had never liked Dervla. Before the Prince's reinstatement, the priestess had seized every opportunity to challenge Gaultry's part in the struggle to defeat the traitor Chancellor Heiratikus and his Bissanty-backed insurgency. Now she was foremost among those whose conduct made Gaultry feel out of place at court.
"And to you," the priestess said shortly. "Such a crowd. Lasalle is struggling to find everyone places at the tables. Those the Prince did not call should have stayed at home. This is a Princely rite, not a sideshow gawkery!"
"People want to see the new Princess."
"They should have stayed home. I'm sure their own people are missing them. Indeed ..." The pale eyes fixed on Gaultry. "I'm sure Paddleways Village must miss their homegrown huntress-lady twins."
"People in Paddleways are preoccupied with their planting now," Gaultry said, taking two steps up the hill to meet Dervla on level ground. The lanky young woman was a good head taller than Dervla, and she knew Dervla disliked the physical advantage it gave her. "Along with the rest of Tielmark. Oats, wheat, brown barley, and rye. Hunting is probably the last thing on their minds, so they don't need me. I doubt they miss Mervion either. They know her duties lie here with the Prince. Paddleways has its own priestess to play the lady's part on Emiera's Day."
Dervla cocked her ash-crowned head toward the young huntress, the almond eyes unreadable. "It's a small village," she insisted. "They must miss you. Both of you." Dervla's supercilious expression went well with her thin ascetic's body. Her taut, active movements, and her carriage somehow suggested that righteous denial of the flesh should be taken as an example by all around her. But despite her self-conscious denial of excess — or perhaps because of it — the priestess had a poor understanding of the hard simplicity of working life in a small border village.
Or how little a part Gaultry and her sister, living deep in the border forest with their eccentric forest-bound grandmother Tamsanne, had ever been of it.
"Neither of us will be returning to Paddleways any time soon," Gaultry told the priestess stiffly. "Not while the Prince wants us here at court."
"Or the new Princess," Dervla said, unusually candid in her bitterness. She disliked the Prince's new bride, who, like Gaultry, was not court-bred. "But what is it that you are hoping to accomplish by staying?"
"The Great Twins know better than I." Or you, Gaultry felt tempted to add. "In the meantime, Mervion and I are here to serve Benet in anything he asks of us." The priestess was a fool not to see that her point had been won long past, at least insofar as Gaultry was concerned. Her few short weeks at court had taught her — all too quickly — that there was no regular service she could hope to offer her Prince for which there was not someone else who was better trained, better habituated, more ready. "We're being a help today," she added, defensive in spite of her pride. "My morning began before dawn. I was out with the branch-cutting party."
"Physical labor," Dervla scoffed. "Don't pretend you believe that's your calling."
"Work finds me as it may." Gaultry rubbed her palms together, conscious suddenly of the skin she had chafed dragging branches, and beginning to lose her patience. "I wish it were my place to smooth the Prince's path with magic and prayer," she added. "Unfortunately for me, my calling is not so easily defined."
Dervla's thin cheeks reddened. "Don't mock my vocation," she hissed, an expression on her face that made those around them draw hastily away. "There is nothing easy in channeling the power of the gods."
Gaultry, aware of the attention they had drawn from those who had been casually listening nearby, looked round in dismay, surprised that Dervla was so ready to make a public show that she took the young woman's every word as an uncloaked insult. "I respect your power, High Priestess," she said. "The Great Twins' light is strong in you."
"You!" Her words served to make Dervla angrier than ever. "You respect power, and only power! And I have power enough to put you in your place!" She reached out and seized Gaultry's wrist, forcing the young woman to feel the green heat of holy magic that coursed like renewing fire through her whip-thin body. "By the Huntress and Lady both," the priestess said, shaking with effort as she drew up her strength, "don't think you can mock me. If you have acted where others could only hope to serve, don't flatter yourself that it was of your own planning."
Whatever Dervla's weakness for posturing, she had earned her place as High Priestess through merit. Gaultry, her senses overborne by the woman's power, felt her resentment and with it her resistance abating before the river of Goddess-light. But she would not bow without a struggle. Dervla's attacks, her tests, were no longer the surprise they had once been. Even as her head dipped in submission, half-mastered, a painful warmth spread through her chest as her own magic lashed to life, rousing against the bullying. The flare of magic was golden, intense, and barely under Gaultry's control. "Huntress help me!" Gaultry fought to speak, "I never offered you any such challenge!" She struggled to rein back her counterassault. "Leave me be!"
Power flashed between them. Gold magic seared green, driving it back. Dervla dropped Gaultry's wrist, rebuffed. She spread her fingers to dissipate the pain, and shot Gaultry a venomous look. Gaultry looked away, her own ears ringing as though they'd been boxed. She panted, still struggling to quiet the instinctive surge of power, wishing angrily that Dervla would learn to leave her alone.
"If you truly loved great Elianté and Emiera," Dervla said, disingenuously mild, "you would understand your duty to submit."
Gaultry, her face flaming, had no answer. If the thin priestess refused to admit she did not quite command the power to force either Gaultry or her sister to submit to a subordinate role in Emiera and Elianté's priesthood, there was little Gaultry could do about that. Priests often disapproved of those who called magic from the gods without first surrendering their lives to religion. Gaultry had encountered such prejudice before, and she knew there was little she could do to change it. But Dervla's stubbornness stemmed from more than this, and again there was little Gaultry could do. Although Gaultry and her sister called magic from the Great Goddess Twins — weak magic, that Dervla could easily have suppressed — a second, stronger source of power fortified that magic, a source that enabled even an inexperienced huntress-witch like Gaultry to face down the High Priestess of Tielmark.
Gaultry and Mervion were throwbacks. They had been born with Glamour-souls, an atavistic primitive magic. Glamour was a raw and dangerous force, which both sisters were struggling to control and to understand. When the gods first created humankind, they had drawn human flesh from their own bodies, and formed it in their own image. Because of this, their new creation at first proved more powerful than even the gods had predicted. The gods each wielded distinctive creating fire: green for the Twin Goddesses Elianté and Emiera, silver for their mother Llara Thunderbringer, red for Father Andion the Sun, and on through all the Great Twelve. Born of god-flesh, the gods' new playthings inherited a pale echo of these divine powers: a new, golden fire called Glamour. Glamour-power manifested itself in the human body as a second soul, a soul of molten creative fire that bestowed mingled torture and beauty on its possessors. It had alternately destroyed and exalted those who had possessed it.
The gods acted swiftly to purge mankind of Glamour, drawing all they could of that golden power back into themselves. Now, less frequently than once a century, a throwback was born with a Glamour-soul. It was unheard of for twins to be born to Glamour. ... until the birth of Gaultry and Mervion Blas.
As children, unaware of their latent power, the Blas twins had prayed to the Great Twins for their magic. During the events that lead up to the Prince's marriage and his God-pledge, the threat to their lives had awakened their hidden strength. But they were still fledglings, trying to learn to use their power safely. If used incautiously, Glamour-magic was almost certain to consume them with its wild creative force. Gaultry gave Dervla an unfriendly look, realizing that the High Priestess had chosen to goad her, aware of the risks the young woman faced when she drew on the power of her new magic under duress.
The priestess, refusing even to acknowledge that she'd challenged the younger woman, gave herself a little shake and tucked her stung hand into one of her voluminous sleeves. "Benet wants you here at court," she said, jerking her shoulders in a resigned shrug. "As if either you or your sister is suited to serve him in that capacity. I can't worry about that. He'll learn better soon enough."
Gaultry, still sick from the lurch of raw Glamour-magic, did not trust herself to answer.
"Look —" The older woman pointed, spinning away. "The thrones are almost ready."
Below, in the gentle bowl of land between the triad of hills, a wide circle had been cleared in the glossy grass. A little beyond the circle's perimeter, workmen were weaving ivy and flowering branches into twinned chairs where the Prince and Princess would sit to accept the obeisance of their courtiers. The seats and chair-backs were complete, only the armrests left unfinished. The priestess's manner as she gestured to the thrones was carefully cool. They had come to the reason for Dervla's hard feelings — at least for this feast day.
Excerpted from A Tremor in the Bitter Earth by Katya Reimann, James Frenkel. Copyright © 1998 Katya Reimann. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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