With An Apprentice to Elves, Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear return with the third book in their epic fantasy series, the Iskryne trilogy.
The trilogy began with A Companion to Wolves, and continued in The Tempering of Men. This novel picks up the story of Alfgyfa, a young woman who has been raised in the Wolfhall by her father Isolfr, who is the human leader of the queen-wolf Viridechtis' pack, and was the protagonist of the first book.
The warrior culture of Iskryne forbids many things to women—and most especially it forbids them bonding to one of the giant telepathic trelwolves. But as her father was no ordinary boy, Alfgyfa is no ordinary girl. Her father has long planned to send his daughter to Tin, a matriarch among the elves who live nearby, to be both apprentice and ambassador, and now she is of age to go.
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About the Author
SARAH MONETTE is the acclaimed author of Mélusine and The Virtue as well as award-nominated short fiction.
ELIZABETH BEAR was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction, a Sturgeon Award, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel.
Together, they are the authors of A Companion to Wolves, The Tempering of Men, and An Apprentice to Elves.
Elizabeth Bear shares a birthday with Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. This, coupled with a tendency to read the dictionary as a child, doomed her early to penury, intransigence, friendlessness, and the writing of speculative fiction. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in central Connecticut with the exception of two years (which she was too young to remember very well) spent in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, in the last house with electricity before the Canadian border.
She's a second-generation Swede, a third-generation Ukrainian, and a third-generation Transylvanian, with some Irish, English, Scots, Cherokee, and German thrown in for leavening. Elizabeth Bear is her real name, but not all of it. Her dogs outweigh her, and she is much beset by her cats.
Bear was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005. She has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction, a Sturgeon Award, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. She is the author of the acclaimed Eternal Sky series, the Edda of Burdens series, and coauthor (with Sarah Monette) of the Iskryne series. Bear lives in Brookfield, Massachusetts.
Sarah Monette is the author of Melusine and The Virtu, and with Elizabeth Bear is co-author of A Companion to Wolves. She was nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2006.
Read an Excerpt
An Apprentice to Elves
By Sarah Monette, Elizabeth Bear
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
All rights reserved.
Even as a grown woman of fifteen, Alfgyfa never stopped thinking about the wolves she had encountered as a child. Sometimes she tried to speak to them, stretching out into the pack-sense as far as she could.
Once she thought she caught a whisper of mice-under-snow; sometimes she was sure she caught the trailing edge of the wild konigenwolf's thoughts. But if they heard her, they never answered.
And even as a grown woman of fifteen, Alfgyfa did not give over her visits to the trellwarrens. At first, Tin's warnings and the almost-fate of the dog wolf had cowed her for a while. But Alfgyfa was not much-cowable by nature. And once discovered, the lure of those tunnels and their slick, shaped, twisted stone like the boles of ancient trees was beyond her power to resist.
She'd seen stone worked like this before, though it hadn't had this twisting sense of otherness, of being a little dislocated in space between what her eyes told her and what her hands — or feet — felt. The aettrynalfar did something similar, in their caverns near Franangford, and Alfgyfa, who had treated Aettrynheim as every bit as much her home as the wolfheall, had frequently been permitted to watch the stonesmiths at work.
It had fascinated her then and it fascinated her now. She had watched the master stonesmith teaching her journeymen how to coax the stone to malleability, how to mold it as if it were soft clay, how to tease it into doing things clay could not. She had watched them spin a bridge one summer, delicate lacework that could support the weight of an entire troupe of cave bears.
Trellwork was different. The stone was twisted, gouged; she could see that it was worked with just as much care as the aettrynalfar stonesmiths used, and she came to recognize, if not to appreciate, the trellish aesthetics in the almost level floors, in the passageways that curved so subtly they looked straight, in the way that no corner was ever true.
She learned the corridors, the oddly shaped and angled rooms, and she tried to work backward from what was around her to what the working must have been like. The aettrynalfar had been disowned and exiled by their kin for shaping stone, and it was trellwork those long-ago svartalfar had feared.
Alfgyfa wanted to know why.
And not the reasons that the svartalfar gave her — and each other — about abomination and monstrosity and unthinkable perversion. That wasn't how svartalfar curiosity worked.
It would make more sense, she thought, if the aettrynalfar had been exiled for their renunciation of weapons and war. Although that was another of their crimes, it wasn't why the svartalfar had driven them out. They'd driven them out for smithing stone.
But Aettrynheim was nothing like the trellwarrens. There was nothing skew, nothing that deceived or betrayed. Nothing to make a person misjudge a doorway and bang into the wall, or fall flat, tricked by a new, undetectable angle in the slant of the floor. Alfgyfa always had excuses for bruises, being the only human — clumsy, awkward, too tall and yet with her arms stupidly short — among the svartalfar, but Master Tin and the other smiths would have been surprised to learn just how few of Alfgyfa's bruises were gained in Nidavellir.
Sometimes she swore she could feel the trellwarrens twisting around her.
They frustrated her as much as they fascinated her, for there was only so much she could learn from observation alone, and there was no one she could ask questions of. Even if she'd been fool enough to try, no one knew the answers.
One of Alfgyfa's earliest memories was tracing the trellscars on her father's face. She did not want the trellwarrens inhabited again.
She just wanted to know.
* * *
If there was one thing Fargrimr Fastarrson hated more than another, it was waiting. Unfortunately for Fargrimr, lord-in-exile of Siglufjordhur, the Rhean invaders excelled at it, and so Fargrimr had spent all too much time since the fall of Siglufjordhur fourteen — nearly fifteen — years ago skulking through copses and behind bushes that by right of blood and birth were his.
His weeks were divided. Half his time belonged to those patient, infuriating Rheans: on the one hand, watching, and on the other hand, politicking to ensure that the men of the Northlands would not forget the Rheans, as time wore on, nor forget that their foothold at Siglufjordhur was just that — a foothold. The first step onto a foreign beach. Their waiting and garrisoning, Fargrimr was certain, was only a prelude to wider war.
He wished he knew why they waited.
His imagination supplied horrors aplenty: legions of soldiers; war engines; fell magics from beyond the sea. Strange weapons from places Fargrimr had never imagined, let alone visited. Ogres or giants in the Rheans' horse-maned helmets.
It was a great comfort to him that the konungur, Gunnarr Sturluson, and Erik, godheofodman of Hergilsberg, took the danger seriously. It was a comfort, too, that they had sent south a complement of trellwolves and wolfcarls to form the threat of a new wolfheall (named to honor Freya), under the young konigenwolf, gray Signy — Viradechtisdaughter Vigdisdaughter — and her wolfsprechend, Hreithulfr.
The keep Fargrimr had raised in exile shared walls with the wolfheall, as no jarl's keep had done before. Together, they commanded a riverine pass between two wooded fells, and protected a narrow but rich valley below, where his hastily relocated farmers managed to scratch fields and plant crops.
The other half of his time was thus devoted to the far more satisfying duties of a jarl with folk to house and cattle to feed: though the fortress and town at Siglufjordhur had fallen, and the farmlands and crofts sustaining it, the wildlands beyond were but patrolled by the Rheans — nervously, and in force. Fargrimr and his surviving thanes and carls knew those wildlands like the smell of their wives' hair.
The first winter, they lost half a dozen people and a third of the livestock. Mostly the youngest and the eldest, always the most susceptible, but still more than a well-run keep should lose — more than Siglufjordhur-in-exile could afford to. The second winter, though they were all still scarred by grief, only two old men died, and a wolf in his thirty-first molting. They slaughtered meat and smoked it, and with the exception of a ewe lost to a gods-knew-what ailment peculiar to sheep, every other animal spared the autumn culling survived to spring.
In addition to Signy, the Freyasthreat also boasted another she-wolf, tawny Ingrun, wolf-sister to Fargrimr's brother Randulfr. Ingrun was no konigenwolf, just a bitch of the ranks, and smaller than some of the big males — but she was still a wolf-bitch, still strength for a new pack. And though Fargrimr would never admit it, it comforted him to have his brother near.
Fargrimr hated waiting, but he was good at husbandry. Well, the one sort of husbandry. For the other — being a sworn-son, he'd need help getting an heir. Which was another reason it pleased him to have Randulfr nearby, for Randulfr was equipped for heir-getting in ways Fargrimr was not.
The new heall and keep were a half day's travel from the old. Fargrimr imagined the damned Rheans, safe inside his stone walls, and it made him itch and fuss and nag Randulfr about getting a few heirs. Randulfr — being a wolfcarl — couldn't marry, but he could certainly beget, and Fargrimr lost no opportunity to suggest that he would be more than happy to adopt and foster his brother's children as his own. Randulfr made excuses about not having found the right woman yet; Fargrimr offered to introduce him to a few. Randulfr made excuses about it being a bad time to bring children into the world; Fargrimr offered to eat his dagger in small bites if there had ever been a good one.
The bickering was an echo of childhood that comforted and amused them both. Fargrimr knew that Randulfr hated — as he had always hated — to do what tradition and custom expected of him, and that was a good half of how he'd ended up a wolfcarl and not a tattooed seacoast lord. But he had no more intention than Fargrimr did of leaving Siglufjordhur without an heir. He just needed to make his independence clear. Fargrimr might be Jarl of Siglufjordhur, but he was still Randulfr's younger brother, and Randulfr would not dance to his piping.
Fargrimr, fair and lean and stubborn just as Randulfr was, fully understood, and knew better than to push when Randulfr was not ready for pushing. Randulfr would come around.
And meanwhile, Fargrimr knew the Rheans inhabiting his keep could hear the trellwolves howling on a cold, clear night. He hoped it kept those usurping bastards up till dawn.
* * *
Fargrimr and Randulfr ran through the woods as they had when they were children and they had shadowed their father's carls on patrol — except this time, they both had different names than the ones their father had given them. That was not the only change. Now a buff-colored wolf-bitch with a gray nape paced Randulfr, and Fargrimr was a sworn-man rather than a girl with kilted skirts. Also, it was a stomping-in-unison Rhean patrol that they shadowed now, both men silent and light-footed as the ljosalfar of stories in these beloved woods. And the penalty for being caught was not embarrassment and being sent home to their mother.
They might be returned to Siglufjordhur. The Rheans did take prisoners, as the wolfjarl Skjaldwulf, called Snow-Soft, could attest. But it wouldn't be a homecoming such as either of them would wish. There were still cells there, carved into the rock below the keep, and Fargrimr had no desire to spend the rest of his life rotting in one of them.
The Rhean patrol was ten men, and Fargrimr knew there were twenty more within a shout, ten before and ten behind. The Rheans had learned to their grief how to protect themselves in these woods. They stayed to the stone roads they had hewed and paved — Fargrimr mourned every healthy tree — and marched a neat circuit of the farmsteads they claimed as their own. They expected — and Fargrimr knew, bitterly, that they were right — that Fargrimr would not burn out his own people.
Could not burn out his own people. Could not make them pay for his family's failing. It was his responsibility to drive the Rheans out again, not theirs.
He was glad that Randulfr and Ingrun ran with him, separated by enough distance that he identified the man only by the occasional rustling footfall, and the wolf only by knowing that she existed. That knowledge became even more comforting when the patrol did something unexpected.
Unexpected things were bad. Especially when it came to Rheans — those most regimented, predictable, and disciplined of soldiers. Their armies came in multiples of ten. Those decades ran in lockstep, and each man in them wore the same tunic, the same armor, even the same sandals — stuffed with the same straw during the bitter Northern winters.
Their patrols always followed the same routes, too. Where one of Fargrimr's thanes might take his men any which way, and — dependent on treaties — come back with information or plunder or both, the Rheans ran along their roads and kept a schedule. This meant that if one of their patrols went missing, they noticed very quickly, but it did make it easier for Fargrimr and his brother and his brother's wolf-sister to follow them through the woods undetected, avoiding the notice of any other patrols.
So when the ten men veered south to leave the paved road and run back toward the headlands of the fjord, Fargrimr felt a heavy gnawing worm of worry behind his breastbone. Nothing good ever came of Rhean innovations.
Apparently, Randulfr agreed with Fargrimr, because his occasional shadowy steps grew closer as Fargrimr turned to follow the Rheans. Fargrimr caught a glimpse of Ingrun through the ferns ahead, her laughing amber eyes turned back to him. She ducked into the shadows and was gone again just as the soft pad of Randulfr's feet drew up behind Fargrimr.
Fargrimr stopped. He reached out one bare arm, swirled with muddy blue-green spirals of tattoos, and quickly clasped Randulfr's wrist. The brothers shared a wordless glance, then slipped, silent and slightly separated, toward the thinning shade of the edgewood.
The Rheans were moving far more slowly now — their lockstep trot was not well-suited to travel through the Northern forests. They would break out into the clear meadows along the top of the fjord soon, though, and become harder to follow. Fargrimr supposed it was too much to hope that a Rhean or two might stumble on a loose rock at the cliff top and plunge to his death far below.
As he reached the tree line, he crouched into the ferns and brush. There was more undergrowth here, where the light reached. It sheltered him, and the ink under his skin made dappled patterns that helped to hide him in the shade.
Randulfr dropped down beside him, silent as a fawn in its bower. "What are they doing all the way out here?" he asked, beard whisking Fargrimr's ear.
"Going down the old sea-road, it looks like," Fargrimr said.
"What would they want there that they can't get at Siglufjordhur?"
And that was an excellent question. The sea-road Fargrimr had noted ran along the cliff top of Sigluf's Fjord, the fjord for which the surrounding country was named. A half mile farther on, it dipped down through a convenient break in the palisade and descended the precipitous wall at an angle impossible for carts, treacherous for horses, nerve-racking for men, and well within the capabilities of most well-trained asses. Fargrimr knew from childhood experience that at the bottom of the trail was a fine sandy strand a quarter mile long. He also knew from childhood experience that it was forbidden to the children of the keep for good reason: it sloped appealingly under the green glass of the fjord's salt waters, but on the seaward edge, where the ocean currents wore at it, there was a precipitous drop-off to water so deep even the oyster divers didn't brave it to the bottom. It would be easy for a child to wander or be washed the wrong way and be drowned — and in truth, more than one had so died.
"Maybe their commander sent them for a bath," Fargrimr muttered. "They probably need one."
The Rheans had assembled themselves in the clear now. Trotting more slowly — but still in lockstep — they began their two-by-two descent of the sea road. Speaking personally, Fargrimr would have gone down single file. At a walk. Without trying to match paces with his neighbors. But then, he wasn't a Rhean, either — thank all the gods for the small mercies they offered.
Still in a crouch, he scuttled forward, using his fingertips to steady himself against the ground. Randulfr followed. Ingrun held back, crouched, another shadow in the tree-shade.
Careful not to silhouette himself, Fargrimr inched close enough to the cliff edge that he could hear the leather-creak and footsteps of the Rheans below, descending. The smell of salt and the combing of the waves rose on the warm air. He lay down on his belly, hid his face in the straggle of long grass, and peered cautiously over the edge.
He saw — a ship. Three ships, bobbing with the waves, anchored in the deep water south of the beach. They were not like the familiar Northern boats of Siglufjordhur. They were larger — wider, deeper — and each had three rows of oars rather than the familiar one. Where a proper boat should have a dragon prow and a broad striped sail square-rigged, these had eagles carved into the forecastle and triangular sails, with a slanting yard running from its lowest point at the front, lifting to aft far above the top of the mast.
Fargrimr had seen smaller ships like these busy in and out of the harbor at Siglufjordhur for ten long years. These, he realized, would draw much deeper than any Northern ship, which was probably why they were out here, rather than up at the keep and the port. They seemed able to carry a great deal of cargo, but their drafts would be too deep for a channel built for dragon-boats, which even fully loaded would draw only a few inches of water.
Excerpted from An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette, Elizabeth Bear. Copyright © 2015 Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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