This follow-up to Ian C. Esslemont's Blood and Bone is sure to delight Malazan fans.
Tens of thousands of years of ice is melting, and the land of Assail, long a byword for menace and inaccessibility, is at last yielding its secrets. Tales of gold discovered in the region's north circulate in every waterfront dive and sailor's tavern and now countless adventurers and fortune-seekers have set sail in search of riches. All these adventures have to guide them are legends and garbled tales of the dangers that lie in wait -- hostile coasts, fields of ice, impassable barriers and strange, terrifying creatures. But all accounts concur that the people of the north meet all trespassers with the sword. And beyond are rumored to lurk Elder monsters out of history's very beginnings. Into this turmoil ventures the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard. Not drawn by contract, but by the promise of answers: answers to mysteries that Shimmer, second in command, wonders should even be sought. Arriving also, part of an uneasy alliance of Malazan fortune-hunters and Letherii soldiery, comes the bard Fisher kel Tath. And with him is a Tiste Andii who was found washed ashore and who cannot remember his past life, yet who commands far more power than he really should. Also venturing north is said to be a mighty champion, a man who once fought for the Malazans, the bearer of a sword that slays gods: Whiteblade.
And lastly, far to the south, a woman guards the shore awaiting both her allies and her enemies. Silverfox, newly incarnated Summoner of the undying army of the T'lan Imass, will do anything to stop the renewal of an ages-old crusade that could lay waste to the entire continent and beyond.
Casting light on mysteries spanning the Malazan Empire, and offering a glimpse of the storied and epic history that shaped it, "Assail" is the final chapter in the epic story of the Empire of Malaz.
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A Novel of the Malazan Empire
By Ian C. Esslemont
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Ian Cameron Esslemont
All rights reserved.
Kyle sat in his accustomed seat in a sailors' dive in Kevil, Mare, of south Fist, and considered his dwindling stash of coins, and thus options, for escaping these damnably insular Korel lands. It was a region so notoriously hostile to foreigners that should any here find him, an obvious stranger, wounded in the street, many would go out of their way to kick and spit upon him.
Especially as he wore the gear of the hated Malazans.
He'd ordered a stein of beer, which finally arrived at his table only because he'd proved himself a paying customer; something which might end soon enough. He supposed he could afford the short jaunt across Black Strait to Stygg on the mainland, and from there it was but a hop and a skip overland south across the Great Ice Wastes to Stratem, wasn't it, my lad? He had the money for that at least. Or he could always join the Mare navy. They at least were recruiting. Not that they'd take a foreigner, and certainly not a blasted ex-Malazan who'd been at the naval engagement where the much vaunted Mare galleys had been razed to the waterline by said invaders and their allies.
He sipped the beer and damned that Katakan captain he'd hired. Once Fist slipped below the horizon the man turned round! He should've put his sword to his throat and forced him to sail on east. 'Course, there was no way he could've kept the whole crew at knife point for two weeks – but at least he'd have gotten off the wretched island.
Patience, he told himself, Kylarral-ten, son of Tulo, of the People of the Wind. There will be other chances.
Abyss, maybe a foreign trader would put in and he'd be able to hire on as crew. He was wondering how long it would be before that happened, and whether he had enough coin, when someone eased himself down into the chair opposite.
'You are looking for a ship,' the fellow said, and crossed his arms. He was wearing a canvas shirt, ragged and much patched, and his trousers were similar. His face and neck were sun- and wind-darkened to the Mare sailor's usual deep polished brown. An antler-handled dirk stood up from the strip of hair rope he wore tied as a belt. His dark eyes held the common disapproval and scarcely hidden hostility Kyle usually found directed at him as the cut of his leathers, his belt, sheath and boots, labelled him as being of those recent invaders.
Kyle allowed a guarded nod. 'Unsuccessfully,' he said.
'I speak for Tulan Orbed, Master of the Lady's Luck. He is interested in your talk of lands east of here across the Bloodmare Ocean.' The man's face and tone, however, made it plain that he was not.
'Those lands are so close the Bloodmare Ocean should be named a strait.'
The sailor leaned forward to push his stubbled chin out over their tiny round table. 'Listen, Malazan. We Marese are the greatest sailors of the age. If there was any such land so close then it would be our colony by now.'
Not if those lands are the ones I seek, my friend, Kyle silently rejoined. He also thought it politic not to mention that the combined Malazan and Moranth Blue navies, having defeated the Mare navy, might have a word to say about who were the greatest sailors of the age. In any case, he allowed himself a small shrug. 'What does Master Tulan Orbed say?'
The sailor fell back, scowling. Knife scars on his cheeks and chin twisted and paled a ghostly white as they stretched. 'He would meet you to discuss the matter. He would have you come on board.'
'Tonight. Tomorrow. Whenever,' and he echoed Kyle's indifferent shrug.
'Then I will come this night.'
'We would require payment before we push out,' he warned, and he thrust his chin forward once again.
Kyle stood, tossed a coin to the table. 'That is for your master and me to discuss, I should think.'
He left the tavern not even glancing back. The fellow had made his disapproval obvious. There was nothing more to discuss. He headed to the wharf, or rather series of wharves. For Kevil, as he had discovered, like all Mare cities, was really nothing more than a land-based depot and servicing centre for their extraordinary, apparently unsinkable, galleys.
At least, he reflected, they may not sink but the Moranth certainly proved that they do burn.
He walked the uneven cobbles of the wharf's main way. It bore ruts from centuries of foot and cart traffic. The cortex of many stones had eroded through to the creamy brown flint beneath. Through the evening gloom of clouds, smoke and mist he could just make out the looming shapes of the nearest moored vessels. All thrusting so tall and proud their sculpted galley bow-figures of waves, dolphins, and, of course, the obligatory women.
Well ... maybe not quite so proud these days.
The famed galleys of Mare, when not drawn up for repairs, were each housed in their own slip flanked by piers allowing easy access to the long slim vessels. The effect of the league-long line of such berths was of a great set of teeth deployed ready to bite the waters of the bay.
Dragging steps behind announced the resentful sailor following. Kyle searched for and found a lad lounging among the piled cargo of boxes and bales. He approached; the lad made a show of ignoring him. He cleared his throat. 'I'm looking for the Lady's Luck.'
A lazy sullen gaze scoured Kyle up and down. The gaze slid away. 'Her mate's a knife thrust behind you.'
'Where's his ship?'
The lad just smiled his contempt and crossed his arms, leaning farther back.
Calm, Kyle, he reminded himself. Calm. It's worth it to get out from among these ignorant inward-looking people.
He headed on. Movement on his left and the mate appeared. He decided to give the man another chance. 'This direction, I assume.'
The mate said nothing.
So, am I right or wrong? If they reached the end of the wharf, he decided he'd throw the man off.
After a long silent walk, interminably long it seemed to him, the mate edged his head over and muttered a grudging, 'The Lady's Luck.'
A tiny orange glow at the raised stern deck marked a lit brazier. Kyle stepped down into the longship, edged along the narrow seating of the oarsmen up on to the central raised walkway, and climbed the seven slim steps that led to the open stern deck. The mate followed all the way.
Here Kyle found two men, one old and one young, each wrapped in furs against the chill of the passing winter, roasting titbits of meat on skewers over the brazier.
The older one, a great boar of a man with a thick black head of curly hair and beard to match, eyed him while he licked his fingers clean, one at a time. His dark face carried the scars of decades of fighting and exposure to sun and wind. The younger's face was smooth and pale; Kyle hazarded a guess that he had been to sea rarely if at all. The lad glanced from his elder, his father perhaps, to the mate, then to Kyle, and back round again.
'You are this foreigner speaking of lands to the east?' the elder rumbled.
'I am Tulan Orbed, Master of the Lady's Luck.' He waved a great paw to the lad. 'This here is my nephew, Reuth.'
'The black storm cloud behind you is Storval, First Mate.'
'Ha! I intuit from your tone that you certainly have. So gloomy is he we name him Black Storval.' He urged Kyle to him. 'Come, come. Set yourself at ease. We see so few foreigners here. Tell us of the world beyond Fist. You have seen these distant shores to the east?'
Kyle was rather taken aback to meet such a cosmopolitan attitude. He sat easily enough, but to one side, so as not to put his back to the ill-tempered mate. Tulan chuckled at this, and winked. Then, peering up sharply, he said, 'Another horn and more ale, Storval.'
The man scowled even more but ground out a nod. 'Aye, captain.' He thumped down the stairs.
Tulan extended a wood skewer to Kyle, who took it and jabbed a scrap of meat that he then held over the glowing brazier coals. 'I have seen them.'
The captain's gaze flicked to his nephew. 'Indeed. And does this land have a name?'
'It does. The southern lands are known to some as Bael. The northern some name ...' and here he paused, wondering whether to mention the damned ill-omened name at all. But he ploughed on, thinking, wind toss it, no one from Korel would know it anyway: '... Assail.' The captain eyed his nephew once more. But the lad was watching Kyle. A faintly amused smile pulled at his mouth. They know this already, he realized. They just wanted to see if I'd lie about that name. 'Anything else?'
'Where were you there? A port? Did you land?'
Kyle nodded while he ate his sizzling cut of meat. Storval returned, set down a third drinking horn and a fat skin. Kyle used the skewer to pick his teeth. 'A city on the east coast. Kurzan.'
Again, Tulan eyed his nephew, who nodded.
Kyle turned to the unprepossessing pale blotchy-faced lad and looked him up and down. 'You've been there?'
He blushed furiously, his face almost glowing, and shook his head.
'Reuth's a scholar,' Tulan explained. 'But a particular kind of scholar. I paid a fortune to send him to poke through dusty records in Jasston and Jourilan. Isn't that so, Reuth?'
The lad nodded vigorously.
Tulan picked up the skin and squeezed a stream of ale into the horn. He offered it to Kyle. 'His passion is cartography. Know you this line of knowledge?'
Kyle accepted the horn, nodding. 'Charts and maps.'
'Indeed. He is only happy when bent over dusty sheets.' The captain glanced to his nephew. 'Quite the secret hoard of charts they have in Jourilan, confiscated from every vessel that ever landed or wrecked itself upon the coast. Isn't that so, Reuth?'
The lad leaned forward, all eagerness. 'Yes. And you, sir, your accent is not Malazan, sir. Where are you from? Is it Seven Cities?'
The captain raised a paw as if to backhand the lad. 'Not now, dammit to the Lady's grave!' Reuth flinched away. 'Apologies,' Tulan growled. 'The lad has spent too much time among scrolls and records and not enough time crewing among men – some of whom may not look kindly upon questions regarding their past.'
Kyle gave the young man a reassuring smile. 'I welcome curiosity. I find it ... refreshing.'
Tulan grunted a laugh. 'No doubt you do here along these shores!' He wiped his greasy hands on his furs. 'Now to business. How many days to cross – by your estimate?'
'Due east of here? A fortnight at the least, I should think. With favourable winds.'
Again the captain eyed his nephew, who answered with a curt nod of approval. 'Good, good. Such a crossing is as nothing for us of Mare.'
Yet none of you have ventured it, Kyle reflected. On the other hand, perhaps some have ... they've simply never returned. He sipped the ale and found it even worse than he'd anticipated; he grimaced. 'And is your goal – pure exploration?'
Tulan guffawed anew. His toothy grin was conspiratorial and he hunched forward, lowering his voice. 'Come now, friend. That you seek these eastern lands proves you've heard the rumours.'
The big man sat back and frowned behind his greasy beard. 'No need to play things so close. We of Mare are traders, sea-scavengers. Aye, I'll even admit it openly here upon the deck of my own good ship ... marauders and raiders. No need to pretend with me.'
Kyle had no idea what the man was getting at. He swirled the dregs of the ale in its horn, considered dumping it over the side. Rumours? There were plenty of rumours surrounding Assail. Yet these were all of a kind that would send you fleeing it. Not seeking passage to it. He slowly shook his head, all the while keeping his gaze steady on the man. 'I'm sorry, Tulan, captain. But I have heard no recent rumours.'
Tulan once more waved a hairy hand at his nephew. 'Foreign gods, man. Even Reuth here has heard, in Kor! The ports are seething with the news.'
Kyle continued to shake his head.
Reuth cleared his throat. 'A word, Uncle, if I may?'
'What?' Tulan grunted, now all ill-humour.
'Our friend is a foreigner in these lands, yes? No one here would speak to him regarding anything. Let alone pass on choice bits of news, or even gossip to while away the time.'
The captain's dark masses of brows rose as he considered his nephew's words. He slammed his horn to the keg he used as a table. 'Of course! No one would pass such news along to some damned foreigner – ah, no insult intended.' By way of apology, he held out the ale-skin and Kyle could only answer by extending his horn for refilling. 'An offering to our journey!' Tulan laughed as he overtopped the horn, spilling ale to the deck. 'And a propitiation to the new gods to come. Though,' and he lost his smile, 'after the Lady, we've quite had our fill of gods in this region, I should think.'
'The news then?'
Tulan raised his horn to the toast. Reuth joined, and Kyle also, though inwardly dreading more of the brackish drink. 'To a profitable, ah ... venture, friend. For it is all the news that gold has been discovered in the northern mountains of the lands across the Bloodmare Sea. Great wide fields of gold. Enough wealth to make kings of us all.'
So astounded by this claim was Kyle that he mechanically threw back his drink and had to force the vile liquid down. Ye gods! Gold in northern Assail? This news would draw thousands from all across the lands. Especially if word of it had reached even isolated and inward Korel. 'When was the strike made?' he asked, clearing his throat and coughing.
Tulan waved the horn airily. 'Well, admittedly, it has taken some time for the news to come to us. Apparently, word first came from a shipwreck on the Jourilan coast. Some people heralding from some backward land named Lether. The crew had heard of it first hand from a stricken vessel they'd come across and ... ah ... rescued.'
Kyle shook his head, unconvinced. 'Tall tales to save their skins.'
Tulan winked. 'So too would I have thought. But then similar news came by way of a vessel that put in for repairs on the north Fist coast. This ship hailed from Falar, north of Malaz. Know you it?'
'I know it. Excellent mariners, the Falari.'
'Yes. They claimed to have landed on an island within spitting distance of the Assail mainland only to find the place nearly deserted. Entire villages empty. They questioned some oldsters who gave them the news ... gold had been discovered in Assail. Everyone picked up and went after it.'
Kyle raised his hands wide. 'Then we are too late. These strikes are usually cleaned out in months. All the rich ground worth sifting gets claimed.'
The captain winked again – it was an engaging gesture that seemed to say: 'Yes, this may be so, but we are both men of the world and we know better ...' Kyle found himself warming to the old pirate – for pirate he had as good as confessed to being. 'But this is Assail,' Tulan said, pushing more meat on to his blackened skewer. 'We know the tales of that land.' Don't we now, Kyle silently answered, and he shook his head at the dreadfulness of them. 'Just so. Few will live to reach the fields, yes? And as to claims or ownership ... well.' The big man gave an eloquent shrug.
Kyle knew this to be true. If the stories were to believed, no state existed up there to grant any rights of ownership, or to recognize any claims or stakes. It would be utter chaos. Armed bands would provide the only authority, and they answerable only to themselves. And as to those who already lived up there – petty warlords, pocket tyrants continuously at war with their neighbours – they could find themselves utterly overrun. Surely not even they could kill quickly enough to stem the tide soon to be breaking on their shores.
He almost tossed back the last of his drink but stopped himself in time. He eyed the grinning pirate captain. 'You plan to take a rich claim, empty it, and cut your way back to the Lady's Luck?'
Excerpted from Assail by Ian C. Esslemont. Copyright © 2014 Ian Cameron Esslemont. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It's a worthy addition to the Malazan series, probably not the best overall of ICE's novels but still a captivating story all in all
This was an awesome book. I have loved every book to do with the Malazan empire.