Gwin is a Fetcher. With her papa and twin brother, Nat, she travels West Norn, bringing joy to its downtrodden people through song and story. But ever since Mama died, it's been hard to keep the joy alive.
Proud and defiant, Fetchers have always been hunted by the Devouts for preserving the old ways. So when devious Brother Poosk captures Papa, Gwin must rescue himwhatever the cost.
Meanwhile, the Oyster's crew and the Sunkers lay siege to the Citadel. But without their Sleeping Captain, can they ever win against the ruthless Devouts? Can Petrel, Fin, Sharkey, and Rain ever bring light back to such a dark world?
Praise for Battlesong:
"Tanner’s unparalleled world-building seamlessly weaves Gwin’s tale into a complex narrative told from multiple perspectives. The author provides just enough backstory to keep new readers engaged and the action moving toward a thrilling ending that unites characters from all three installments. . . . Masterly writing brings the stark landscape to life and reveals characters’ deepest emotions." School Library Journal
"Nonstop action against a magical backdrop; this is a wonderful world to get lost in." Catherine Jinks, author of the Evil Genius trilogy
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THREE HUNDRED YEARS LATER
Gwin stood in the muddy field outside the village of Swettle, counting the beats. One, two, three —
"Hup!" she cried, which was the cue for her twin brother, Nat, to vault onto the shoulders of their ox, Spindle. And, "Hup hup!" which sent Spindle lumbering in a circle with Nat on his back.
Like all the villages in this part of West Norn, Swettle was dank and miserable. Spring was struggling to gain a foothold, and mud covered everything, including Gwin's bare feet. She curled her toes in the slush and glanced at Papa, who stood to one side with his fiddle tucked under his chin and his eyes half-closed as he played "The Chase of Madden."
It was supposed to be a dance tune, and there was a time when the villagers would've been stamping their feet and hallooing at the tops of their voices, no matter how tired and hungry they were. Nat would've worn a grin a mile wide, and Papa would've laughed as he sawed at his fiddle.
Gwin swallowed the dreadful lump in her throat. Mama would've rattled out the beat on her tambour and danced as if the world was as bright and beautiful as anyone could wish.
Even now, Papa didn't play badly; he was too much of a Fetcher for that. But his heart wasn't in it, and no one in the audience so much as tapped their feet.
They gaped, though. Everyone gaped when they saw Nat performing. They knew he was blind, knew that what he did would be hard even for someone who could see. But there he was, leaping off Spindle's sturdy shoulders and back on again, as quick and fierce as a wildcat, while the fiddle music wove around him.
The old ox lumbered round to the front of the circle again, and Gwin went up on her toes. If I do this next bit perfectly, she thought, everything will be all right. Papa will be happy again. Nat will stop being so angry. Nothing bad will happen to either of them if I do this perfectly.
On exactly the right beat, she dashed forward with her beaded plaits flying. "Hiii!" she cried.
Despite his anger, Nat never got his timing wrong. He reached out in the direction of his sister's voice, and she grabbed his hand and bounced off the ground onto Spindle's broad back.
Her leap wasn't perfect, of course. She and Nat might be twins; they might have the same strong limbs and the same red hair; they might both wear ragged knee pants and rabbit-fur bands on their upper arms, but Gwin had none of her brother's natural brilliance. When she jumped, one of her legs always seemed to lag a little way behind. When she somersaulted, she felt more like a bundle of sticks than like a wildcat.
All the same, she sat behind Nat for a count of seven, with a determined smile on her face. Then she leaned forward. "Eight, nine, ten," she whispered, and as Nat raised his hands in the air, she jumped from a sitting position to standing, gripped his hands and leapt onto his shoulders.
The audience gasped, and a group of ragged children in the front row opened their mouths and cried, "Oooooh!"
Gwin smiled again, a wide Fetcher smile that covered up everything she was feeling. She smiled at the buds that were just starting to open on an apple tree. She smiled at Nat's dog, Wretched, sitting in the audience with his head on a little boy's lap and his tail thumping gently. She smiled at the men and women whose children had died of hunger or been stolen by the Devouts and who couldn't take their eyes off Nat and Gwin.
And all the time she was smiling, she watched for signs of danger.
She saw nothing out of the ordinary. Swettle was just like every other village they visited. Dismal, hungry, and muddy.
With a whoop, Gwin dropped onto Spindle's back. And as the old ox skidded to a halt, she and Nat jumped off, landing with their knees bent and their arms wide.
If things were working the way they were supposed to, Nat would've reached for his clarinetto then, and Papa would've pushed the wooden box into the circle, then raised his bow, ready to play.
But hardly anything worked the way it was supposed to these days. Gwin handed the clarinetto to her scowling brother, then grabbed the box and dragged it forward.
"Papa," she whispered. "It's the Hope song."
Her father started, as if he'd been miles away, and touched bow to fiddle.
When Gwin was small, Mama used to say, "Anyone can sing when they are happy, my darling, and the sun is shining. But to sing in the middle of a storm, when the winds are howling and it feels like the sun will never shine again, that's different. That's our job, as Fetchers. We help keep the heart of the world beating."
Gwin still found it hard to think about Mama without weeping, especially when she wove the beads into her plaits in the exact same pattern Mama had always used or stepped onto the box and began to sing, as she did now.
"How tall the tree, The first to fall ..."
Her voice wasn't anywhere near as beautiful as Mama's, just as her leaps weren't as astonishing as Nat's. But she didn't even think of stopping. For the last couple of months she had been the only one holding the little family of Fetchers together. If she stopped, everything she knew would come to an end.
"How wise to flee The worst of all ..."
The rat appeared halfway through the first verse. Gwin had no idea where it had come from, but it crouched in the shelter of Spindle's cart, peering up at her.
She slipped her hand into her pocket, took out a stone and threw it.
No one in the audience so much as blinked. There were rats everywhere in West Norn, spoiling what little grain the villagers managed to hide from the Devouts, gnawing holes in the thatch so the rain came in, burrowing into cellars and taking bites out of the last few stored apples. Throwing stones at rats in the middle of a conversation (or a song) was as ordinary as scratching a fleabite.
This rat, however, ducked so that the stone flew over its head. Then, instead of running away as any normal rat would have done, it sat up on its haunches, crossed its front paws like an old man and made a tsk-tsk-tsk sound.
It was so unexpected and so ridiculous that for the first time in weeks Gwin almost smiled. A proper smile. A real one, like a tiny spot of warmth in her overburdened heart.
"But hear the song," she sang,
All the way through that first verse, the rat seemed to listen attentively. Except it's not really listening, thought Gwin. Someone's trained it, that's all. But who'd train a rat? And why?
And then, because she was being as cautious as possible, to keep what was left of her family safe, she thought, Could it be dangerous? It doesn't look dangerous, but it's not ordinary either, not with those silver eyes. How can a rat have silver eyes?
She was so busy puzzling over it that she didn't see the real danger signs until it was almost too late.
Gwin and her family had always lived on a perilous edge, fetching trouble just as surely as they fetched songs and stories out of the distant past. But until two months ago, Gwin had believed that nothing could really touch them.
Now she knew better; Papa or Nat could be snatched away from her in an instant, just like Mama. And so, wherever she was, she kept her eyes peeled for any sign of approaching disaster — Like the woman leaning against the apple tree, her fair hair pulled tight against her head, her face worn almost to the bone by grief and hard work. She was one of those who had been watching Gwin and Nat so hungrily, but she wasn't watching them now. She was staring at her neighbor, who kept glancing over his shoulder toward the village, as if he was expecting someone.
The woman took a couple of steps toward him so she could see the Northern Road. Her body stiffened. She turned back, her face a picture of dismay, and mouthed at Gwin, The Masters! Go! Run!
But Gwin couldn't move. "Masters" was what the villagers called the Devouts, who were the enemies of every Fetcher ever born. Last time Gwin's family had run from them, Mama had fallen. ... Gwin tried to catch her breath and couldn't.
Mama had fallen and hit her head. Gwin and Papa had managed to drag her up onto the oxcart in time to escape, but Mama never woke up from that fall. A week later, she passed away.
And now the same thing was happening again! Only this time it might be Papa who fell. Or Nat. Or the Devouts might catch them and hang them —
Gwin wrenched her thoughts out of that awful spiral and did a quick dance step on the box — thump thumpety thump-thump-thump.
It was a Fetcher signal, almost as familiar as the hills that surrounded Swettle. As the music cut off, the villagers struggled to their feet, dragging their children up with them and scattering in all directions.
The rat ran too, though Gwin didn't see where it went. She grabbed the box with one hand and Nat's arm with the other and dashed toward the oxcart, with Papa only a step behind them. Spindle, who knew the signal as well as any of them, was already backing between the shafts.
While Nat scrambled into the cart and Gwin's fingers flew over the straps and buckles of Spindle's harness, Papa jumped into the driver's seat and grabbed the whip. Wretched was tearing toward them, his ears flat, his tail tucked between his legs. Behind him, the woman who had warned them was struggling to get away from her neighbor, who held her by both wrists.
Wretched flung himself up onto the cart beside Nat, and Gwin jumped up next to Papa. Spindle threw his massive shoulders against the harness.
The woman broke free. She looked around frantically, then picked up her skirts and bolted for the cart. Behind her, three men in dark brown robes came out from between the huts, leading a mule.
The neighbor shouted and pointed to the cart and the running woman. Two of the robed men broke into a sprint.
If Mama had been there, either she or Papa would have hauled the woman up onto the cart beside them. If there was one thing Gwin's parents had always loved almost as much as they loved music and laughter, it was snatching someone from the clutches of the Devouts.
But Mama was gone forever, and Papa was not himself. So it was Gwin who grabbed the woman's outstretched hand and hauled her up onto the seat in a breathless, frantic bundle.
Papa cracked the whip. Spindle broke into a rocking gallop. And with a strange woman on board and the Devouts hot on their tail, the Fetchers ran for their lives.
Somewhere along the Northern Road, twelve-year-old Petrel crouched on the lee side of a barn. The stone wall at her back was crumbling and worn, but it kept her out of the wind and away from prying eyes while she waited for her friend Fin.
Every now and again, she squinted around the corner of the barn in the direction of the village.
"Wish he'd get a move on," she muttered to herself. "I don't like these villages one bit. What wouldn't I give to see a nice bit of ice instead! Proper ice, so deep and thick that even the Oyster couldn't bully its way through."
She fell silent, thinking of the life she'd left behind at the far end of the world. Parts of it had been beautiful, but it had been cold and miserable much of the time, and desperately lonely too, for someone who the rest of the Oyster's crew had known only as Nothing Girl.
Petrel hadn't been Nothing Girl for months now; she had true friends and was a valued member of the ancient icebreaker's crew. But the loneliness was a part of her life that she'd never forget, just as she'd never forget the ice.
She heard the scuff of footsteps, and Fin rounded the corner, dressed in the light brown robes of an Initiate of the Devouts.
Petrel leapt to her feet. "Did they talk to you? What'd they say?" "Wait till I get this horrible ..." Fin's voice grew muffled as he dragged the Initiate robe over his head.
There was a time when he'd worn a similar robe with pride, when he'd been a real Initiate, a coldhearted boy who loathed machines and the people who used them. But that was before he met Petrel and discovered that everything the Devouts had ever taught him was a lie.
Now he dropped the robe with a shudder and stood in his ship clothes of sealskin coat, trousers and boots. "Where are Sharkey and Rain?"
"Gone looking for something to eat," said Petrel. "Sharkey reckons he's had enough ship's biscuits to last him a lifetime, and Rain agreed. They'll meet us up the lane a bit. What'd the villagers say?"
Fin ran his fingers through his pale hair. "Nothing much. They were angrier than I remember."
"Have they seen Brother Poosk? Was he here?"
"Yes. Two days ago."
Petrel still found it hard to believe that the Devouts had sent Brother Poosk to do their dirty work. She had only ever seen the man once, in circumstances so confusing that she had no real memory of him. Rain, who was his niece, was afraid of him. So was Sharkey, though he pretended he wasn't. They had all thought that the other Devouts would've hanged Poosk by now, or imprisoned him at the very least, for tricking and humiliating them.
But just ten days ago, Missus Slink, a mechanical rat of considerable age and wisdom, had returned to the Oyster with the news that Brother Poosk had somehow talked his way out of the noose and persuaded the Devouts to send him north and then west, with two guards to help him.
His task? To find Fin's mam and bring her back to the Citadel for execution.
Petrel, Fin, Rain and Sharkey had immediately set out after Brother Poosk and his men, leaving behind them a ship abustle with preparations for an attack on the Citadel.
But the farther they'd come, the quieter Fin had grown. And so, as they set off along the lane to meet up with Rain and Sharkey, Petrel said, "What's the matter, Fin?" "Nothing."
Petrel snorted. "Course it's not nothing! You might as well tell me."
Fin looked away. "I have been ... wondering."
"Sometimes," said Petrel, "you're as hard to get answers out of as an albatross. Wondering what?"
"About Mama. What if —" Fin stopped. Ahead of them, a small bird with a crimson chest dived into the hedge.
"Keep going or I'll pinch you."
The boy half smiled, then grew serious again. "I was only three when she gave me away, too young to remember her name or where she came from. What if she does not want me?"
"Not want you?" cried Petrel. "Of course she'll want you. She's your mam!"
"But she gave me to the Devouts."
"That was to save your life, and you know it. All those villages we've been through, with all those little graves, and the bratlings that do survive are bandy-legged from hunger — that's what your mam was thinking of when she gave you away. Don't you dare doubt her!"
That seemed to cheer Fin up, though Petrel suspected it wouldn't last. And she could hardly blame him. Because if they kept to their current pace, they'd soon catch up with Brother Poosk and his men.
And there was an important question to which Petrel hadn't yet found an answer.
What the blizzards do we do then?
Spindle tore along the muddy road with the cart swaying and rattling so violently behind him that Gwin had to cling to her seat to keep from being thrown off. Beside her the village woman was trembling with shock, and Gwin wasn't much better.
They'll be after us, she thought. We won't be safe till we're off the road.
She scanned the hedgerows, trying to work out how many bends they'd passed and how far behind them the Devouts might be. And all the while her memory replayed Mama's terrible fall, over and over.
Beside her, Papa's face was white and set, and although he said nothing, Gwin knew that he was thinking about Mama too and reliving the events of two months ago.
We have to get off the road!
Except they couldn't, not with a stranger in the cart. If Papa had been in his right mind he would have set the village woman down already, to hide in the hedgerow until the Devouts were gone.
Now Gwin must do it, before it was too late.
"Lady —" she began.
"Hilde. My name's Hilde." The woman raised her voice over the rattling of the cart, and words poured out of her. "That was Piddock who tried to hold me. Piddock, of all people! I cared for his wife when she was dying, and he said at the time he'd be grateful for ever after. Well 'ever after' didn't last long, did it? He would've handed me over to the Masters just because I warned you. Nasty sod he is."
Gwin glanced over her shoulder at Nat, who would've helped her once. But not anymore.
She turned back to the woman. "Hilde, you'll have to —"
"You want to be rid of me, I suppose, and I don't blame you. But I daren't go home. Piddock'll turn me in, I know he will. If he doesn't do it today, he'll do it tomorrow or next week, and then the Masters'll hang me. Can't I go with you, just for a little while?"
"No!" said Gwin, horrified at the thought. No one traveled with Fetchers except other Fetchers.
But before she could say so, Spindle galloped around the next bend, and the road turned from mud to stone. The wheels rumbled over the hard surface like a warning.
Excerpted from "Battlesong"
Copyright © 2017 Lian Tanner.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Three Hundred Years Later,
Chapter 2: Hilde,
Chapter 3: Ariel's Way,
Chapter 4: Listen and Obey!,
Chapter 5: The Mountains,
Chapter 6: The Attack on the Citadel,
Chapter 7: The Wild Mountain Men,
Chapter 8: The Bring Back,
Chapter 9: The Fetch,
Chapter 10: Waiting,
Chapter 11: A Proper Conversation,
Chapter 12: A Small, Rough Voice ...,
Chapter 13: The Singer and the Song,
Chapter 14: He's Been Took,
Chapter 15: The Dreadful Idea,
Chapter 16: Betrayal,
Chapter 17: Everyone She Loved,
Chapter 18: It Cannot Be Her,
Chapter 19: The Hidden Path,
Chapter 20: The Ferry,
Chapter 21: The First to Fall,
Chapter 22: Do You Think Me So Gullible?,
Chapter 23: The Grand Monument,
Chapter 24: That Dreadful Voice,
Chapter 25: Witch,
Chapter 26: Downward,
Chapter 27: The Door,
Chapter 28: Inside the Grand Monument,
Chapter 29: Bargains,
Chapter 30: Moss and Dirt,
Chapter 31: The End of the World ...,
Chapter 32: I Am Not Made for Fighting,
Chapter 33: Our Zeppaleen,
Chapter 34: The End of the Beginning,
About the Author,