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Antiphon (Psalms of Isaak Series #3)
     

Antiphon (Psalms of Isaak Series #3)

4.7 32
by Ken Scholes
 

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Nothing is as it seems to be.

The ancient past is not dead. The hand of the Wizard Kings still reaches out to challenge the Androfrancine Order, to control the magick and technology that they sought to understand and claim for their own.

Nebios, the boy who watched the destruction of the city of Windwir, now runs the vast deserts of the world, far from his

Overview

Nothing is as it seems to be.

The ancient past is not dead. The hand of the Wizard Kings still reaches out to challenge the Androfrancine Order, to control the magick and technology that they sought to understand and claim for their own.

Nebios, the boy who watched the destruction of the city of Windwir, now runs the vast deserts of the world, far from his beloved Marsh Queen. He is being hunted by strange women warriors, while his dreams are invaded by warnings from his dead father.

Jin Li Tam, queen of the Ninefold Forest, guards her son as best she can against both murderous threats, and the usurper queen and her evangelists. They bring a message: Jakob is the child of promise of their Gospel, and the Crimson Empress is on her way.

And in hidden places, the remnants of the Androfrancine order formulate their response to the song pouring out of a silver crescent that was found in the wastes.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The third installment of Scholes's grand-scale Psalms of Isaak saga (after 2009's Canticle) expands the genre-blending narrative in glorious style. The secret revival of the bloody Y'Zirite religion, which may be an elaborate conspiracy created generations ago to bring down the Androfrancine Order, has brought madness to the Named Lands. Gypsy King Rudolfo, whose infant son is being called the "Child of Promise" by the cultists, finds blood-magicked spies in his home and enemies in his forest. And as the invisible enemy furthers its masterfully orchestrated invasion, Rudolfo and others hear an ethereal music that seems to require some kind of response. A diverse cast of dynamic characters, a tantalizingly labyrinthine mystery, a world full of wonders, and powerful symbolism and imagery power this seamless merging of epic fantasy and science fiction. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"The third installment of Scholes's grand-scale Psalms of Isaak saga ... expands the genre-blending narrative in glorious style.... A diverse cast of dynamic characters, a tantalizingly labyrinthine mystery, a world full of wonders, and powerful symbolism and imagery power this seamless merging of epic fantasy and science fiction."

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"Scholes continues to show his deft hand at crafting characters, and his penchant for the surprising plot twist is displayed to good effect."

RT Book Reviews

Praise for Canticle:

"The Psalms of Isaak is a superb series. Scholes' has all the story elements of epic fantasy in place: memorable characters living in a vibrantly complex world of magic and ancient history, with plot twists and revelations sprung at just the right moments. More than that, his storytelling verve and craftsmanship makes his pages sing. He's written scenes of apocalypse and steaming metal men and invisible assassins that I won't be forgetting any time soon. Really good stuff."—David Anthony Durham, bestselling author of Acacia

"Not only is Scholes a capable world builder, he ably handles the tough task of keeping the series momentum going, intensifying the mystery so deftly that even if readers can't foresee where the story's going, it's clear that the author knows exactly what he's doing."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on Canticle

"Ken Scholes has already made the leap from good to great…if you thought Lamentation was impressive, then just wait until you get hold of Canticle."—Fantasy Book Critic

"Scholes adds new layers of mystery and intrigue while fleshing out the compelling characters of one of speculative fiction’s most spellbinding new sagas."—Booklist on Canticle

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765360939
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
08/02/2011
Series:
Psalms of Isaak Series , #3
Pages:
496
Product dimensions:
4.22(w) x 6.77(h) x 1.32(d)

Read an Excerpt

ANTIPHON

Chapter 1

 

Rudolfo

Rudolfo urged his stallion forward and laughed with his son as the wind caught his turban. Overhead, the afternoon sun blazed in a sky so blue it burned the eye. Around them, a warm wind stirred the Prairie Sea, golden waves rippling across the vast, rolling expanse. Ahead and around them, on the horizon, the Ninefold Forest rose up to meet the sky.

“He takes well to the ride, General,” a voice shouted to his left above the pounding of the hooves.

Rudolfo looked to Aedric, the first captain of his Gypsy Scouts, and grinned. “Aye. He does.” Then, he leaned forward and whistled the horse faster as Jakob squealed with delight. They’d ridden long enough now for father and son to both grow comfortable with the riding harness that held the swaddled infant snug against Rudolfo’s chest.

The same that bore me upon my father’s steed. Rudolfo felt the slightest stab of loss. Those knives were different upon him now that he himself was a father. The cut upon his soul took a different turn as the moments with his new heir brought back hazy recollections of his own rides with the man he’d named his son for—the man Rudolfo had watched die in his twelfth year. And those memories came with others—wrestling with his brother in the shallows of the Rajblood River, singing in the forest with his mother, learning the Hymnal of the Wandering Army with Gregoric, Aedric’s father, now nearly two years dead.

Those memories had brought sadness to him many times before, but now, alongside the grief, he found hope and joy in remembering. This child helps me find the good in it, Rudolfo realized.

A whistle to his right brought his head around. Low in the saddle and laughing herself, Jin Li Tam pulled ahead of him.

“You’re slowing down, old man,” she shouted over her shoulder. Her red hair, shining in the sunlight, caught wind and flowed behind. She wore the rainbow-colored riding silks of a Gypsy queen, and though they were unnecessary and did not match her chosen outfit, she also wore the scout knives that had once belonged to his mother.

They’d been on the move for two months now, visiting each of his forest manors, introducing a jubilant people to the heir they had longed to see. Of course, so soon on the heels of their wedding at the Seventh Forest Manor, each stop simply continued the celebration as each of his towns rallied to honor both his bride and his boy.

And they honor me as well. They always had, even back to his days as a boy king. But until recently, like those losses in his life, it had meant something different to him. Now, it was a kind of amazement tempered by a gratitude he’d never felt before.

Paramo had been their last stop—a logging town that now stretched itself into a city as refugees settled in to work the old-growth forest, milling the wood and shipping it south by river for the library Rudolfo and Isaak built. Tonight, they would rest easy in their own bed. And tomorrow, Rudolfo would approach the waiting tower of paper that no doubt threatened collapse as it dared gravity there in the basket on his desk. Still, it had been a good respite between the first rains and the last of the sun.

A flash of white on the horizon caught his eye, and Rudolfo slowed his horse at the familiar sight. It shimmered and blurred in the heat of the day, moving in a straight line toward them, low to the tops of the grass. When the bird struck Aedric’s catch net, Rudolfo matched his pace with that of his first captain and watched as the man stripped the note, read the knotted message in the blue thread and unrolled the scroll.

Behind them, the rest of their caravan slowed. Ahead, Jin Li Tam turned and doubled back in a wide and sweeping circle.

Aedric frowned and turned, looking to the northwest. Rudolfo followed his gaze. In the distance, the Dragon’s Spine rose up, gray and impenetrable, above the Prairie Sea and the Ninefold Forest that spread like ancient islands across it.

Rudolfo laid his hand upon Jakob’s cheek. Aedric’s grim look in the direction of the Marshlands told him the source of this latest news. “What are they up to now?”

It had been six months since the Council of Kin-Clave. Half a year since the woman Ria had announced herself as the Machtvolk queen and saved his son’s life before slipping back into the north and vanishing behind her closely watched borders. The Named Lands had slid into madness and disarray, though of late there had been a brooding peace of sorts.

Aedric’s voice brought him back to the moment. Already, the young captain was inking a response and twisting knots of reply into the blue thread of inquiry. “They’ve breached our borders again, General.”

Rudolfo sighed. “Where now?”

“Glimmerglam.”

He felt his stomach sink. Jin Li Tam had slowed her horse to a trot and joined them. “We were just there three weeks ago.”

Aedric nodded. “Two evangelists this time. Preaching their so-called gospel in the streets openly. The house steward has them locked away for now. I’ll deal with them once we’re home and I’ve seen to the men.”

Rudolfo stroked his beard. This had started not long after the council there on the plains of Windwir. Initially, they had found Marshers wandering the Prairie Sea or the more isolated parts of the Ninefold Forest. These they turned back—even chased back—to the low hills that served as a border between his lands and the woman who called herself Winteria the Elder and claimed the Wicker Throne. Later, the ragged preachers had shown up in the towns surrounding his forest manors. These, his militia beat and delivered back to their border. It was less violent than what his father would have done, and still it made Rudolfo wince. Lord Jakob would have placed them on Tormentor’s Row, and after a day or two under the knives of his Physicians of Penitent Torture, they’d have seen the value of keeping their beliefs within their territory. If they’d returned, he’d have had them killed and would have buried them at the border.

The beatings had seemed a reasonable compromise when reason failed.

But still they persist. Rudolfo sighed. “I think a new tack is in order,” he finally said, glancing down at his son. “Have them brought to me.”

Aedric’s face registered surprise. “You want to see them?”

Rudolfo nodded. “I do. I want to speak with them. Question them.”

He glanced to Jin Li Tam. She regarded him with a face he could not read, but her hands moved with subtle grace along the reins. He admired the care she took to be sure none saw but him. Are you certain giving them voice is the answer?

He smiled, though it was brief and felt out of place. He’d just started teaching her the subverbal language of House Y’Zir last month, and she was nearly proficient. Of course, she’d already known eleven other subverbals. Rudolfo’s fingers moved over Jakob’s shoulder and head as he formed his reply. I’m not certain.

Rudolfo felt the power of his words even as his hands made them. He truly wasn’t certain, and it was foreign to him. “I think our old strategies are no longer serving us well,” he said, keeping his gaze steady on her blue eyes.

Then, he looked away from her, toward Aedric. “Be certain they’re well cared for, Aedric. I intend to return them whole to their bloodletting queen.”

He did not wait for Aedric to speak before he pushed his horse forward. He wondered if Jin Li Tam would follow him but secretly hoped she wouldn’t. He needed this time for himself and his son.

Two years ago, he’d ridden these same plains, Gregoric at his side. A shadow had moved over the light of that second summer day, and he’d looked up to a pillar of smoke on the sky. He marked it now as a day when his life—and his world—changed utterly. From that moment, so many other changes had flowed out to him, sweeping him away with the force of their current, including his betrothal to Jin Li Tam and the birth of their son.

He felt the warmth of his son against his chest and thought about the new shadow passing over the light that remained. Six months earlier, at the edge of spring, he’d watched Ria bring Petronus back from the dead with her blood magicks and had watched his betrothed beg for their son’s life as a result of it, the culmination of a grand manipulation. With relations already strained, the events on the Plains of Windwir had driven an even deeper wedge between his houses and the other nations of the Named Lands. Pylos had broken off kin-clave entirely, and Turam was close behind. The Delta remained a loose ally, but it was a paper kin-clave as they wrestled through the upheaval of political reform. And now, adherents to this new Y’Zirite Resurgence brought their sermons into his lands, preaching them to his people and pointing to his son as their so-called Child of Promise.

As he whistled his horse to a gallop, Rudolfo wondered what path he would take. His own words came back to haunt him: I am uncertain. It was a strange sensation, not knowing the best path to take.

He felt the sun on his face and savored the wind that pulled at his silk clothing and his scarf of rank. Silent for a time, Jakob gurgled and laughed again.

When Rudolfo placed his hand over his child’s chest he felt strength there. His fingers moved, and he tapped a message there. Whatever I do, I do for your future.

He could not bring himself to laughter now with the gravity of that thought. Instead, he kept his hand there and urged his stallion faster, finding delight in the voice of his son and purpose in the heart that beat lightly beneath the palm of his hand.

“My best and truest compass,” Rudolfo said in a quiet voice.

Then, he turned his horse toward the line of old-growth forest and raced homeward to his waiting work.

Neb

Holding his thorn rifle loosely, Neb lay still and studied the dust cloud that moved across the shattered landscape of the Churning Wastes. The afternoon sun baked the ground beneath him, and from his vantage point in the hills, he watched heat waves rising from the sand and rock floor of the valley below. There, against the backdrop of that shimmer, a figure ran under cover of magicks.

This was the third time they’d encountered magicked runners in the Deep Wastes in as many weeks.

Shielding his eyes, he chewed the black root and watched. Using fixed patches of scrub or outcroppings of rock to mark distance, counting silently beneath his breath, Neb ciphered out the runner’s speed as he had with the others. He moved too fast for the scout magicks Neb had trained under during his short time with the Gypsies. Faster even than the black root would allow.

Neb had a theory but didn’t want it to be true.

If his theory was correct, the scout below would not only be fast—he would be strong, too. Stronger than four men. And he would be dead in three days’ time, once the blood magicks burned their way through his organs.

Neb shuddered. A sudden memory of Rudolfo’s Firstborn Feast gripped him—the sudden clamor of third alarm as the doors burst inward, the invisible wall of iron that pushed through the Gypsy Scouts as if they were made of paper, assassinating Hanric and Ansylus. It had been a dark night of violence throughout the Named Lands.

Blood magicks. Forbidden by kin-clave in the New World and the product of older ways—the way of the Wizard Kings with their cuttings and bloodlettings and bargains made in the Beneath Places.

He glanced to his right where Renard lay, also scanning the landscape below. The Waste Guide wore the tattered robe of an Androfrancine and the sturdy boots of a Delta scout. He lay with a spyglass to his eye, his own thorn rifle within easy reach. Renard’s mouth was a grim line.

“Three now,” Neb said in a whisper.

Renard’s eyes narrowed as he pulled back from the glass. “More are coming, I suspect.”

But from where? And more importantly, why?

After Renard’s leg had healed from his brutal encounter with the mechoservitor at D’Anjite’s Bridge, they’d spent months in the deeper Wastes. By day, Neb learned not only how to survive, but how to thrive in the harshness of the blasted lands. He’d learned how to trap, how to hunt, and how to find the scant pockets of life that sprang up hidden in the Wastes. Renard had shown him the secret gun grove nestled in an arroyo at the base of the Dragon’s Spine and had taught him how to harvest both the rifles and their thorn pods from the tangled thicket they grew in. Then, he’d taught him how to use them.

At night, Neb held the silver crescent to his ear and listened to the strains of the song that trickled out from it, trying to find his way into the dream he knew lay beneath that haunting music. Even now, he heard it faintly, though the crescent was wrapped tightly in thick wool and buried in his pack. He’d deciphered bits of the code within the song—series of numbers without meaning to him—but so far, he’d not been able to interpret what response the canticle required.

It chewed him, not knowing.

But somewhere out here, he knew there were metal servants who did know the response. Yet in months of searching, there had been no sign of the metal men themselves, only evidence of where they had been. Carefully concealed digs. Empty supply caches. He and Renard moved from place to place, tracking them as they could.

Between them and the song, Neb already had two Whymer Mazes to solve. Now the runners presented him with yet another.

Already, the figure below had disappeared behind a massive outcropping of fused glass and stone, and Renard tucked the spyglass back into his pouch as he pulled himself up into a crouch. Neb did the same.

Renard scratched his close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. “You say the blood magicks will kill the user in three days’ time?”

Neb nodded. “That’s what Aedric told us.” Even the scout magicks that Neb had trained under could eventually kill a man if he hadn’t been raised up in them from an early age and if he didn’t exercise caution and moderation in their use.

Renard backed away from their vantage point and bent to pick up his pack. “It makes no sense,” he said. “We’re weeks from anywhere—at least two from the coast and three from the Keeper’s Gate. Three days wouldn’t get them very far.”

Neb chewed his root and pondered this. His Franci training took hold, and he remembered their seventh precept. The simplest path is most often the best to take. “Perhaps it’s a different kind of magick, then. Or”—here, the root became more bitter in his mouth “—perhaps they’ve found a way to prolong their exposure to the magicks.”

Renard stood upright now, his eyes to the north. “That seems likely. We should get word to the Gypsies. One was an oddity; two was a problematic coincidence.” He looked to Neb. “Three is a pattern.”

Neb pulled his own pack on and cinched the straps tight on his shoulders. “Rudolfo will want to know what these runners are up to.”

“Yes.” Renard’s voice sounded far away.

When Neb looked up, he realized the man watched him carefully. He’d run with Renard for long enough to read him and could see the discomfort in his eyes now. “I think we need to find that out, too,” the Waste Guide said. “Something tells me it can’t possibly be good.”

Neb felt the slightest tickle of fear in the deeper part of his stomach and at the base of his spine. “What are you proposing?”

“There’s still a Gypsy camp at Sanctorum Lux,” Renard said. “You know the way. And you can handle yourself in the Wastes, Neb. You’ve taken to it like a kin-wolf cub.” He nodded to the north. “I can track our new friend for a bit, see what he’s up to. You bear word to the Gypsies and meet up with me at the Dreaming Well in three weeks’ time.”

Neb blinked and felt the fear spreading farther into him. No longer a tickle, now it was as cold and pervasive as the Second River in winter. He’d spent months in the Wastes with Renard and certainly had known at some point they’d part company, even if only for a season. Still, now that the moment stared him down, his mouth was dry and his feet felt rooted. “Are you sure—”

Renard offered a grim smile. “You’re ready, Nebios.” He dug about in his pouch and pulled out a smaller cloth sack tied shut with a bit of twine. He passed it over to him. “You know how to use the powders. Be wary of mixing them with the root for too long—they burn harder and will wear you down faster. If you run into anything you can’t handle use the magicks.”

Neb opened his mouth to protest but couldn’t find the words. Renard was right, of course. He could do this. And it made sense that one of them should track the runner—and that Renard, being the most experienced, was the best candidate for that work. Still, Neb felt the hesitation in both his mind and his body. During his time in the Wastes, Renard had been a constant, and the thought of striking out alone, even for three weeks, frightened him.

Renard’s eyes were on him, and the man raised a hand to place it on Neb’s shoulder and squeeze it quickly. Then, he dropped his arm. “You’re ready for this. Hebda would be proud.”

His father’s name settled the fear in his stomach. Or maybe, he thought, it gave him the resolve he needed to face that fear. “Three weeks then . . . at the well.”

“Three weeks,” Renard said with a final nod. Then, he turned and ran north along the ridgeline, dust from his boot heels rising behind him as the root took hold and his speed increased.

Neb watched him run until he could no longer see him, then took a deep breath. Cinching the straps of his pack even tighter, he willed his legs to carry him southward.

As his feet found their way, he turned his mind back to the song, and not for the first time, he wondered if he would ever hear within it what the mechoservitor assured him lay beneath the notes.

Those few times he’d discussed it with Renard, the Waste guide had simply shrugged. “You’ll hear it when it’s time to hear it.”

Neb had wondered what the man knew that he wasn’t saying.

He’d run twenty leagues before he finally placed his pondering on a shelf in the hidden corners of his mind. Tonight would be soon enough for those questions, when the moon was up and the song was at its loudest. Alongside it, he shelved his questions about the magicked runners and instead tried to turn his mind westward toward Winters, the girl he loved. The girl who had first pointed him toward his purpose in the days before that purpose had sundered them.

But when he could not remember her face, he set that aside as well and gave himself over to the warmth of the sun on his neck and the fingers of wind in his long, flowing white hair. He blessed the solid ground beneath his feet and the steady rhythm of each breath moving in and out of him, keeping time with the pounding of his heart.

As the sky moved into twilight, a kin-wolf howled in the mounded ruins of a city to his east. In his ears, it was a cry of praise and despair.

I would join you in your song, Neb thought.

But instead, he simply ran and gave himself to the running.

Jin Li Tam

The Seventh Forest Manor stirred to life when the sky was still pink from dawn. Servants bustled, laying fires to heat water and cook breakfast, all under the watchful eye of Lady Ilyna. Jin Li Tam moved quietly among them, smiling at each member of the staff that she passed on her way to the back door near the kitchen.

It was unusual for her to awaken before Rudolfo. Typically, he rose first and it was his rising that started her slow journey to wakefulness. But these last several mornings, even while camping on the Prairie Sea or staying in another of his nine Forest Houses, she’d found herself waking first. This morning, she received it as a gift. She had much to do.

Besides, she told herself as she stepped into the cool morning, this was better than the dreams she’d been having of late. Their frequency and intensity had let up since Jakob’s healing there in the midst of the Desolation of Windwir, but when they did visit her, the darkness and terror in them was smothering.

Lately, they’d been about the children.

She walked quickly through the back gardens, past Rudolfo’s Whymer Maze, nodding to the Gypsy Scouts who stood at the small, rear gate of the manor. The younger of the two men opened the gate for her and she passed through. She followed the trail until the forest swallowed her; then she broke into a gentle run and left the path, letting the wet ferns slap at her as she built speed.

She wore loose trousers and a looser shirt for these excursions, trading her low, sturdy boots for a pair of doeskin moccasins that protected her feet without encumbering them. And of course, she wore the knives Rudolfo had given her for their wedding—blades she’d already helped herself to and had even wetted in battle in the days of violence that had culminated in the blood magick that spared her son.

Like the manor, the forest also came to life around her. Birdsong echoed beneath a dark canopy, and foliage shuddered and whispered with the movement of wildlife slipping back into dens to sleep out the day. Mist clung to the ground, lending the wooded terrain an ominous beauty. She ran through it, leaving the familiar path in favor of making her own.

She built speed until she felt the sweat trickling down the sides of her breasts, until she tasted iron in the back of her mouth, until her breathing deepened with effort. Then, she held that pace.

As she ran, she thought about the day ahead of her.

First, she would see to Jakob. And after feeding him, she’d dress him and take him to see the other children. Isaak had tasked one of the mechoservitors with basic education and childcare, drawing on theories from the vast tomes of Franci thought they now re-created for the new library. They had built a school for the children at the base of the hill where that massive structure slowly took shape. She’d wanted to bring them into the Seventh Forest Manor, but there had simply been too many of them; in the end, her father had suggested that this would be more in their best interest.

Memories of the nightmare tugged at her and she increased her speed slightly, as if the extra effort might exorcise the iron knives and the children’s screams from her nightmares.

Y’Zirite monsters. It still closed her throat to think about it. Somewhere southeast of them, in the Ghosting Crests, her father worked with a small remnant of their family to learn what he could about the Blood Temple that had so recently cut most of House Li Tam out of the world.

To save my son, she realized, by making from the blood of others a magick so powerful it could raise the dead, or cure the deathly ill.

She felt the heat of her shame and transmuted it into anger, forcing her legs to bear her rage, savoring the slap of the foliage across her skin as she ran.

I am the forty-second daughter of Vlad Li Tam, she thought as she ran. I am the queen of the Ninefold Forest Houses.

But another voice whispered inside of her—the voice of that so-called Machtvolk queen, Winteria the Elder—calling her by a title she still did not fully comprehend: You are the Great Mother.

She felt the woman’s feet again within her grasping hands, saw the woman standing above her blurred by tears of terror and hope as she begged for her son’s life. She heard again Rudolfo’s cry of surprise and saw him, too, also trapped behind her curtain of tears, standing in the doorway of the massive tent in the last of winter, upon Windwir’s blasted plain.

She turned east and pushed harder, but the run could not strip away the image of her scarred and broken father and the compound of scarred and broken children, cut with the mark of House Y’Zir over their hearts.

As she ran, the forest took on a gloomy silence that weighed heavy on her. But just as she noted the silence, a sound that did not belong there reached her ears.

It was the slightest high-pitched whine, so slight that it tickled her ears, barely discernible over the sound of her pounding heart and feet. Then, another sound—the guttural cry of a bird of prey, the muffled flapping of its wings.

By instinct, she turned toward the noise and slowed. Her right hand moved toward a knife handle even as her left moved out ahead of her to slow the slapping branches.

The whine shifted into a staccato burst of chirps just as Jin Li Tam moved into a small clearing. There, at the center, an enormous bird pecked and clawed at a rotting tree trunk. The chirping rose in volume as if fear fueled it. She drew her knife slowly.

The raven was weathered, its feathers mottled and its large head scarred. It turned as she approached and regarded her with one midnight-colored eye. Its beak opened, and a static hiss leaked out as it cocked its head at her.

I’ve seen you before, she realized. She remembered the dream vividly. “What are you hunting, kin-raven?” she whispered.

And how do I know what you are called? The kin-raven was a bird from older times, from the Age of the Wizard Kings. Though some claimed to have seen them in the skies of late.

In the dim gloom of morning, she thought she saw a flash of silver behind the bird. Something twitching in the hollow of the trunk, just out of the larger bird’s reach.

Jin Li Tam balanced the knife in her hand and crouched. When she threw it, the blade flew straight and struck the kin-raven with its handle. The bird flapped and shrieked at her as she drew her second knife.

“Begone, kin-raven,” she said in a low voice.

It turned its head, casting a long glance at the tree stump. Then, as if understanding her, it launched itself into the sky to speed northwest.

Jin Li Tam recovered her knife and approached the stump. There, huddled in the hollow, a tiny bird shivered and chirped. It sparked and popped as it moved, the flashes illuminating its delicate, silver form.

The chirps slowed slightly, and she suddenly realized they were much more than the sound of fright and panic. The numbers were clear despite the speed with which they streamed from the tiny beak.

She knelt and stretched a hand into the hollow but did not take hold of the small mechanical bird. Instead, she flattened her hand in the way her father had shown her when she was a little girl standing with him at the open cage of his golden bird, which had been at least twice—maybe three times—larger than this one.

“Where have you come from, little sparrow?” she asked it, forcing calm into her voice. “And where are you going?”

The numbers ceased, but the beak remained open. A metallic voice leaked out. “Mechoservitor Number Three, Seventh Forest Manor, Ninefold Forest Houses,” it said. “Message follows.”

It sparked again.

Jin Li Tam withdrew her hand and sat back. Mechoservitor Number Three? She knew that title: It was Isaak’s designation before Rudolfo had named him there in the Desolation of Windwir, where they had all first met nearly two years ago.

The numbers started up once more, and she regarded the small and huddled form. Again, she stretched her hand out. “I am Jin Li Tam,” she said, “queen of the Ninefold Forest. I can take you to Isaak”—she corrected herself—“Mechoservitor Number Three.”

But even as she said it, she wondered if the tiny mechanical could possibly understand her. Her father’s bird—now caged in Isaak’s office in the basement of the Great Library—had understood basic commands but did not have even a fraction of the range that a larger mechanical like Isaak had when it came to memory, speech and analytical function.

Still, her musing was cut short when the chirping abruptly ceased and the bird shuddered one last time. A final pop and spark, and it lay still within the hollow. One tiny jeweled eye went dark.

Biting her lower lip, Jin Li Tam stretched out her fingers and carefully pulled the delicate bird from its hiding place. Its tiny feathers were of a silver so intense that it threw back the reflection of her eye as she studied it and wondered if it could be fixed.

Isaak had repaired her father’s bird. Charles, the man who had built Isaak and the others, surely had similar skills. He was the last of the Androfrancines in the Ninefold Forest, the rest of the remnant having followed Petronus east into the old Pope’s exile in the Churning Waste.

They would know what do, she told herself.

Cradling the silver bird in her hands, Jin Li Tam cut short her morning run and let this new mystery wash away her rage and shame for the moment. As she turned toward home, she wondered what word this tiny messenger carried to Isaak, and why.

Whatever it carried, the kin-raven had brought it down just short of its destination, and she knew of a certainty that there was intent behind that hunting. That the dark bird of prey had sped west and north did not surprise her at all.

As the sun rose behind her, the tiny bird in her cupped hands took on the mottled shading of a red morning sky as light pierced the forest canopy, and Jin Li Tam felt cold fingers moving over her skin.

It was the color of blood.

It was the color of her dreams, as well.

Copyright © 2010 by Kenneth G. Scholes

All rights reserved.

Edited by Beth Meacham

A Tor Book

Meet the Author

KEN SCHOLES is a winner of the Writers of the Future contest whose short stories have appeared in various magazines and anthologies since 2000. His first novel, Lamentation, debuted from Tor in February 2009. Canticle was the second and Antiphon is the third of the five-book series, The Psalms of Isaak.

Ken grew up in a small logging town in the Pacific Northwest. He has honorable discharges from two branches of the military, a degree in History from Western Washington University, and is a former clergyman and label gun repairman. Ken lives near Portland, Oregon, with his wife Jen West Scholes, and their twin daughters.

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Antiphon 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Melhay More than 1 year ago
Ken has to have a metal mans memory for the wondrous things he does here. To remember all the little threads he starts, then we get to the new things created here. This book takes Fantasy to a whole new level with the old fantasy feel and mechanicals mixed in, then there are magicks in the mix and hints of gods and different worlds. This series is truly one of the most in depth mesmerizing epic fantasy reads I have been captivated by. The author is really talented. So much is happening and every word is important to the story. The words could have so many different meanings to them when you start putting them together. The story continues on in the lives of the characters as we go through the changes in the world. The chapters are broken in to separate Point of Views as in the previous two books, which helps greatly in getting all the information to you. And very well broken apart to understand each character. Rafe - The captain of the ship was porting Gypsies to the Sanctorum Lux until he is visited by the Moon Sparrow used by the Francines in the past, to stop by an island. And is hijacked by metal men. Rudolfo - Once certain of what his place was and what to do, now is unsure what he is to do with the world that is crumbling around him. He still works hard to help the refugees showing up at his lands and save the light, but at what cost to the Ninefold Forest. How much help can Rudolfo spare in this drastically changing world. Jin Li Tam - is still having the dark horrible dreams, but not as often now with Jakob better. She finds a small silver mecroservitor sparrow trapped while she is walking in the woods. The mechanical sparrow is looking for Isaak. Petronus - now living with the scars on his neck and over his heart is having dreams wanting to be heard and understood, but he just can't grasp them. Instead he wakes in cold sweats. Winters - now living in a city for refugees by the library the mechoservitors are creating. She does paperwork but it seems as she has lost her faith, the old faith of her people. Waiting in this new life she is making, in the Ninefold forest, for Neb to return to her. Vlad Li Tam - He and his few sons and daughters who where fortunate enough to be rescued have returned to they dreaded island, for six months now, to seek what they can of the Machtvolk who tortured them and have lived here. Vlad Li Tam still watches for the light he had seen in the water that day six months ago. Neb - He is deep in the Churning Wastes with Renard, his guide. He has learned to survive and thrive here. But now he sees new visitors, to fast to be scouts of the Gypsies or even users of the black roots. But he still tries to decipher the response needed to the canticle of the silver crescent. Neb and Renard separate to carry out different deeds with the new visitors only to find trouble lays in front of him. All these characters are shaken up and a little lost with how to respond to the whole situation and happenings of the last six months. And things are not getting better. I did find myself getting lost in some of the story depth. It is amazing the depth of the manipulation of the characters. To try and piece it all together at times is hard to do, but I love trying to get there before Mr. Scholes. There is a mixture of wizards and magics with science and technology in these books. Even the hints of Gods and different worlds. I would suggest this captivating series to an
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
Welcome to the wonderful world of Mr. Schole's brilliant imagination where in a world far- far away where the mode of transportation is still horseback he gives us unimaginable wonders like thinking talking metal men one of which is called Isaak and these are his Psalms. In this volume "war is coming" as we were warned in the previous novel, but there's more going on than meets the glowing eyes of the Mechoservitors . There's unrest in the Ninefold Forest as well as all the other nations in the Named Lands. The problem is who is driving it? Is it Ria, the new queen of the Machtvolk who disposed her little sister? Is it the strange metal man known as the watcher? Or is it something more dire and more sinister. Well my friends you'll have to read it for yourself to find out if the Andofrancine Order will survive, if the Younger Gods or the Wizard Kings have any part in this and what does the house Li Tam have to do with it all. Ken Scholes is a master storyteller who's imaginative mind brings us this make-believe world with some of the most unforgettable characters ever to grace a page of a book. His Named Lands and Nine Fold Forest come alive with his descriptive dialogue along with those characters mentioned before. Underlying plots are all going on at once and Mr. Scholes brings them all together brilliantly as he weaves his own "Whymer Maze" for his audience's entertainment. He has many protagonists in his series so it's hard to bring one to the forefront without ignoring someone else, so I'll just say that they're all amazing in their development and their portrayal. They are all an important instrument in bringing his story to life, and life is what this tale is all about, life and the pursuit of "the light". And hidden beneath all the strife and hardships are classic love stories, stories about alliances that turn to love about two opposites who attract about love of family and love of friends, about sacrifices made for the love of a child, and about the love of one's people and the need to go forward into the unknown for a better way of life. You readers will not want to stop turning pages in this epic adventure series any more than you'd want to stop breathing. This series will appeal to a multitude of audiences, don't be afraid to give it a try just because it bears the label Science Fiction. Inside lovers of mysteries will find a great one, thriller lovers will find none more chilling, lovers of adventure will find it hard to catch their breath, lovers of romance will get their love story and lovers of make believe will get it all. So bring out your inner child and use your imagination and enter the magnificent mind of Mr. Ken Scholes. This novel is a great story on it's own, but if you neglect the first two you will loose valuable information given there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading Ken Scholes first two novels in this series, Lamentation and Canticle, that I actually felt compelled to order the third book, Antiphon. You know those kind of books you read and you get to the last page and you're like "Oh no, there must be more!" That's how I felt when I read Lamentation and Canticle. Lots of complicated characters but not so complicated you lose track of them. I haven't finished reading Antiphon yet but I certainly don't regret ordering it. Great reads.
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dalnewt More than 1 year ago
This third addition to the Psalms of Isaak series is enjoyable and immersive. It can be read as a stand-alone or as the third installment in one of the best epic fantasies I have ever had the pleasure to read. Although enjoyment will be enhanced by reading the first two books, this story stands on its own as a completely entertaining tale. This book concerns the mysterious recurrence and build-up of a fanatical cult that practices sadistic blood magic as well as the re-invention and return of an earlier species, designated the 'younger gods', into a pre-industrial world that nonetheless retains wondrous mechanicals from an earlier age. One of these mechanicals is Isaak, a metal man who sang out a death curse that destroyed a city and gained self-awareness in the process. Like all the books in this series, the story lines follow the experiences of certain key figures who are masterfully humanized. Their stories are intriguing, and the tale unwinds at a pace that ranges from fast to faster. The book's climax is explosive, and the finish leaves the reader hungering for more. This book and the entire series blends fantasy with science fiction and presents the entire package as an irresistible story. If you're interested in an epic tale with intriguing characters, mystery, magic and mechanical wonders, then I recommend that you read this book and series.
Mountain_Muse More than 1 year ago
Book 3 in this Epic Series by Ken Scholes. The first two installments in this series set the stage for this page turner. Ken is proving to be the ultimate spinner of great tales as he leaves the reader guessing what the next chapter will reveal with the turn of the page. The entire PSALMS OF IZAAK is AN ABSOLUTE MUST RE-READ.
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LadyMin More than 1 year ago
Antiphon is book three of The Psalms of Isaac, a five book epic fantasy series. Wait, don't leave if you haven't read the first two books. It's not entirely necessary to have read them to enjoy this volume, although I recommend doing so. The author takes care to refresh our memories of events that happened in the first two books and provide explanations for those who pick up the series with Antiphon, but the level of understanding and satisfaction will be enhanced with the detail in the first two volumes. ~~~~~ I read books one and two, Lamentation and Canticle, shortly before I read Antiphon. I only recently became acquainted with this series by having the opportunity to review an ARC of Antiphon and so decided to read them all at once. I was not disappointed. Each book gets better. Ken Scholes has created an original world, an ambitious plot and a richly layered epic tale. ~~~~~ The series begins with the destruction of the city of Windwir, the murder of it's people and the hint of a coming war between the Kingdoms of the Named Lands. At times I felt it was a bit slow while I got to know the characters and their world but that was to be expected with a story this vast and by the end of Lamentation I was hooked on the series. ~~~~~ Antiphon is an even better book than the first two, which I enjoyed. Now that the characters are developed we proceed at a faster pace. More of the plot is revealed, many of the story lines that built up in the first two novels come together, and questions are answered. There are some great plot twists, surprises, and new mysteries arise. Nothing is as it seems. The second half of Antiphon flew by and concluded with a climactic ending, an element which I did not feel was present in the first two books. ~~~~~ The writing style is from the point of view of each of the main characters within each chapter. I liked this and felt it allowed the reader to get to know each character. We were able to experience their thoughts and feelings as the point of view would shift. The story flowed nicely and was easy to follow. ~~~~~ This is not your typical wizards and swords story although many elements are present such as dreams to foretell events and the use of magic potions and powders. There is a lot of political maneuvering and alliances among the leaders of the Named Lands and the different religious beliefs in each of the lands contribute to the conflicts. The setting is medieval where characters ride horseback, use knives as weapons and send messages by bird, but there are also mechanical men, powered by steam, who hold a library of knowledge from a bygone era. There is good and evil, love and betrayal and at times the story becomes dark and painful with war, assassinations, and torture. There is a science fiction element present which becomes more evident as the series progresses. ~~~~~ I recommend Antiphon and the entire Psalms of Isaak series, especially to fans of the fantasy and science fiction genre.