In a world shrouded by soot and smoke, young Makarria has literally been forbidden to dream...
"I enjoyed this book immensely. It's fast-paced, colorful, and richly detailed. It'll pick you up quick and won't let you down again until it's over. My kind of book." -James P. Blaylock, World Fantasy Award winner, author of The Aylesford Skull and The Last Coin
"Good solid fantasy adventure." -Tim Powers, multiple World Fantasy Award winner, author of Hide Me Among the Graves and On Stranger Tides
Legend has foretold the demise of Emperor Thedric Guderian at the hands of a sorceress with royal blood, and the Emperor has made it his legacy to stamp out all magic from the Sargothian Empire in favor of primitive coal fired smelters and steam powered machines. When Guderian's minions discover a Dreamwielder on a seaside farmstead, a chain of events forces Guderian's new threat- the young Makarria-to flee from her home and embark upon an epic journey where her path intertwines with that of Princess Taera, her headstrong brother, Prince Caile, and the northman Siegbjorn, who captains a night-flying airship.
Dogging their every step is the part-wolf, part-raven sorcerer, Wulfram, and Emperor Guderian, himself, a man who has the ability to stint magic and a vision to create a world where the laws of nature are beholden to men and machines. Only by learning to control the power she wields can Makarria save her newfound companions and stop the Emperor from irreversibly exterminating both the magic in humans and their bond with nature.
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A Scent in the Air
Far from the soot-blackened walls and towers of Col Sargoth and the Sea of Gathol, south of the Forrest Weorcan and east of the sea-dwelling city of Kal Pyrthin, on a peninsula jutting out into the turbulent Esterian Ocean, sat a lone farmstead. It was a humble farmstead, with only a single A-frame barn and a tiny house, both built of rough-hewn timber and with thatched roofs of bound palm leaves. But on this night, beneath the stars and tendrils of purple clouds threaded across the sky, the farmstead suddenly shimmered and became a castle. Gone were the timber walls of house and barn, and in their place massive granite walls and turreted towers. Gone was the daub and stone chimney dribbling peat smoke into the night air, and in its place a rooftop pennon snapping in the wind. Gone were the sleeping plough horses and dairy goats, and in their place warhorses and hunting hounds mulling about the courtyard.
Inside the keep, Makarria — a princess — slept on a canopied bed piled high with cushions and sleeping furs. A simple violet gown hung on a brass rack beside the nightstand. Makarria sighed contentedly, but the sound of sudden pounding at her chamber door agitated her sleep and she rolled over to bury her head deeper in the cushions. The pounding persisted, however, and the doors groaned and finally burst open. Galen, Makarria's father, doubled over in the doorway to catch his breath from the exertion of kicking the door in, and Makarria's mother, Prisca, rushed past him, her gold embroidered sleeping gown billowing behind her.
"Makarria," Prisca gasped, shaking the sleeping girl by her shoulders. "Makarria, wake up!" Makarria groaned and tried to push her mother away in her sleep. "Makarria, wake up this instant," Prisca yelled, feeling herself become dizzy and disoriented. "Makarria!" she barked again and this time she slapped her daughter across the face.
Makarria woke with a gasp and in a blink of an eye it was all gone: the sleeping cushions, the canopied bed, the ornate clothing, the castle, all of it except the violet gown, which fell to lie crumpled on the uneven wood-slat floor. Makarria put one hand to her burning cheek but gave it little thought. In her mind, the image of a glorious castle still lingered. She looked up at Prisca with her big green eyes. "Mother?"
Prisca took a deep breath and collapsed onto the sleeping mat beside Makarria. "It's alright now. You were just having a nightmare."
"A nightmare?" Makarria sat up, her stinging cheek already forgotten. "It wasn't a nightmare. I was a princess, and I was in a castle preparing for a grand ball. I had a dress, and I was to meet —"
"You're not a princess, Makarria," her mother interrupted. "Just a farm girl, and you were keeping us all awake talking in your sleep."
"I'm sorry, Mother," Makarria said, realizing her father was there too, standing at the curtain that separated her sleeping area from the rest of the one-room house. "Sorry, Father. Did I wake Grampy too?"
Her mother sat up and frowned. "No, your grandfather can sleep through anything it seems. Now go back to sleep. Remember, if you have any nightmares or dreams — no matter how fun they seem — push them away, forget them. You're not a little girl anymore."
"I'll try, Mother," Makarria agreed.
Prisca brushed back Makarria's tangle of dark brown hair and tied it up in a bun with a leather tie, then nudged her to lie back down. "Close your eyes, fall fast asleep," she sang softly, "Rest your head, without a dream. When you wake, you will see, a bright new day for you and me."
Makarria smiled at the familiar song. "How am I supposed to be a big girl when you sing me nursery rhymes?"
"Never you mind," Prisca said, giving her a kiss. "Just close your eyes and sleep fast. The goats need milking at first light."
Makarria did as she was told and closed her eyes, and though she was still excited about her dream and cared not to go back to sleep, she was more weary than when she had first gone to bed that night. Why am I so tired, she wondered, grasping for the details of her dream, but already the images had flitted away like mist on a breeze, and she was fast asleep before even her mother bent over to pick up the gown from the floor.
"Some tunic for a farm girl," Prisca whispered as she stepped from the sleeping area and Galen closed the curtains behind her.
"Looks to be silk," Galen said. "Not likely to last long in the mud and salty air."
"I best wake my father and see what he thinks."
Galen nodded in agreement. "I'll check on the animals," he said and slipped outside.
Prisca stepped quietly to her father's sleeping area. When she opened the curtain, she found him already awake.
"Another dream?" he asked, pushing aside the strings of gray hair from his face and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Did you not see the castle? Did you not see yourself? You were probably dressed in an ermine robe with a crown on your head."
"I saw none of it," he replied. "I just now awoke when I heard voices. Did everything go back to normal?"
"Everything but this," Prisca said, handing him the gown. "Her tunic. Or used to be, at least."
He ran the folds of the gown between his fingers. "Silk. Violet and real as could be." He looked up at his daughter with concern. "You and Galen are both alright?"
"Galen is fine. It made me dizzy and nauseous when I tried to wake her, but I'm fine now."
"And the animals?"
"Galen's checking on them."
"Have him check the flowers in the garden outside too. The color of this gown is no coincidence, I think. With any luck the sweet violets were the only things to be harmed. Better them than us or the animals." He handed her the gown. "You best put this in the fireplace and burn it."
Prisca took the gown and sat down beside his withered frame. Though the nausea was gone, she felt weary and weak, nearly on the verge of crying. "When will this stop, Father? What if a traveler passes nearby and sees something? What if one of us does get hurt? What if one of his agents finds out?"
"There's nothing more we can do, Prisca. Wake her when she dreams, keep people away, destroy anything she creates. Keep her occupied with milking goats and tending the garden, and she'll grow out of it soon enough."
"When? She's nearly thirteen already."
"When she has her first moonblood. No later than that."
"Yes," he told her, though he was not so certain of it himself. He wanted it to be true, for everyone's sake — his own, Prisca's, Galen's, and most of all, Makarria's — but deep inside he suspected it was nothing more than wishful thinking.
The sorcerer Wulfram stooped through the doorway into a small round chamber at the top of the tallest tower in Col Sargoth. A cloak of shadow covered his body from crown to toe, a mottled mantle of black feathers and fur. His body, though shrouded beneath the cloak, was visibly misshapen: his legs were splayed forward and bent at a grotesque angle, his shoulders stooped forward, yet arched above his head, and his head — even hidden beneath his hood of feathers — was too long and too narrow to be completely human.
"What is it?" he growled at the man awaiting him. "Why have you summoned me from my sleep?"
The man wet his lips and swallowed before speaking. He was the most privileged servant in the Sargothian Empire — High Houndkeeper — and he'd been Wulfram's servant for nearly forty years, and yet he still was terrified by the sorcerer's presence. "The hound," he said, pointing to the large contraption in the center of the chamber, "she's smelled something, Master."
Wulfram turned his gaze upon the contraption, a copper compass five feet in diameter resting on four gilded legs, each fashioned in the shape of a woman's calf and foot. The outer ring of the compass was graduated like any normal compass, with 360 equidistant marks, but there the similarity ended. In the center, sprawled out on her back, was a scent-hound: a woman with the snout of a dog. She lay naked upon a copper wheel that rotated on an axle protruding up through her navel, and her outstretched, emaciated limbs were melded into the tarnished green metal, so that it was impossible to tell where flesh ended and wheel began.
Her snout twitched and sniffed at the air, but the wheel remained motionless. Wulfram followed the mark on the wheel extending from the tip of her nose to the outer ring of the compass. "One hundred and forty arc degrees off north. That's where she was pointing?"
"Thereabouts," the houndkeeper said. "The scent was weak and it only lasted a few moments. She couldn't sniff out the exact coordinate."
"If the scent was so weak, why did you bother waking me?"
"I, I'm sorry, Master. I didn't think you would be asleep. I —"
Wulfram glared at him, and the High Houndkeeper clamped his mouth shut. "I don't want an apology, I want an answer. Why did you summon me if the scent was so weak?" The houndkeeper licked his lips. "Because, Master, the hound, she was whining when she smelled it, and she only whines when she smells one kind of sorcerer: a dreamwielder."CHAPTER 2
Visions of Fire
Prince Caile Delios of Pyrthinia reigned in his horse and called for his men to halt.
"What is it?" asked Lorentz, the captain of Caile's honor guard, which numbered only five including Lorentz.
Caile shielded his eyes against the sun and stared down the long ribbon of road stretching before them between vast fields of wild grasses. "Someone is coming."
Lorentz followed his gaze, but saw nothing. "Your eyes are better than mine then. Shall we take cover, Your Highness?"
Caile smiled. Lorentz had been his protector for as long as he could remember, and the two of them had long ago dispensed with addressing each other formally except when in the presence of royalty and dignitaries. "We're not in Valaróz anymore," Caile chided him. "These are Pyrthin fields around us."
"And those were Pyrthin badlands ten days ago when we were attacked," Lorentz reminded him. "It's been five years. Things change, even Pyrthinia."
Caile frowned at being reminded of the skirmish in the badlands. It had not ended well for the highwaymen who attacked them. The bandits were poorly armed and weak with hunger, and though Caile had taken pity on them, he could not in good conscience leave highwaymen behind to harry travelers on the high road.
"We're wardens of the realm," Caile said, as much to himself as to Lorentz. "We have a code of honor to uphold. I'd sooner wear a dress than take cover in our own lands."
Lorentz smiled. "If memory serves me, I seem to recall your sister putting you in a dress not so many years ago. I believe she was teaching you ballroom etiquette."
Caile turned to glare at his captain, but the corners of his mouth twitched upward into a partial smile, betraying his feigned anger. "That is vile hearsay, Captain," he said, drawing his sword melodramatically. "Now if you're quite finished with your japes ..."
Caile commanded his mount forward with a yell, and his men spurred their horses behind him. It soon became apparent to all of them that Caile was correct; a group of mounted warriors was approaching, a score of them at least — too many to defeat if it came down to a fight. Caile did not hesitate, however, even though he knew Lorentz would lecture him later about charging an unidentified force.
The group of horsemen in the distance halted upon seeing Caile approach and raised a banner displaying the red and gold stripes of Pyrthinia. Still, Caile charged onward, sword in hand, ready for trouble. He could be reckless at times, he knew, but he was wary and paid more heed to Lorentz's advice than he let on. The Pyrthinian banner meant nothing; the armed horsemen could just as easily be highwaymen under guise as they could be official Pyrthinian troops. Only when Caile saw a face he recognized did he slow his mount and return his sword to its scabbard — and the face he saw brought a smile to his own.
"Well, little brother," his sister, Taera, remarked when he and his men finally came to a halt, "are you in such a hurry to be home that you meant to charge through a whole score of Pyrthinia's finest soldiers and your own sister to get there?" Caile dismounted and said nothing as he walked over to her and pulled her from her saddle in a bear hug. Taera squealed, thinking the both of them would topple over, but her brother was no longer the skinny boy she remembered last seeing. He lowered her to the ground with ease, and the two of them held each other in a warm embrace.
"You shrunk," Caile said.
"Or you've grown. Five years and I hardly recognize you. Is that the beginnings of a beard I see? Have you started shaving, Caile?"
Lorentz cleared his throat. "Once a month, whether he needs it or not, Your Highness."
Caile shot Lorentz a dark expression, but Taera laughed and spoke before Caile could come up with a retort. "Captain Lorentz, it's a pleasure to see you again," she said.
"The pleasure is all mine, Your Highness. You've grown more beautiful by the day, I can well see."
Taera brushed her blond hair away from her face and smiled. "And you've grown more charming."
Caile groaned. "More disagreeable is closer to the truth. Let's be off. We can talk as we ride. I'd like to reach Kal Pyrthin while it's still light. It's been so long, I barely remember what my own home looks like."
"Indeed," Lorentz agreed, and the entire procession, now nearly thirty strong, made off to the east along the high road toward the greenbelt of trees skirting the River Kylep in the distance.
Lorentz joined the captain of Taera's honor guard at the forefront of the troops, and Caile and Taera settled in midway between the two groups of soldiers. "It's good to see you, Caile," Taera said. "I can't tell you how happy I am to finally have you back."
"You say happy, and yet sadness is plainly written on your face. What's going on, Taera? I was supposed to stay in Valaróz for two years still. Why has Father summoned me back?"
Taera dropped her eyes away from him to stare blankly at her saddle horn. She had insisted that she be the one to accompany the honor guard from Kal Pyrthin to greet Caile, but now that she was here, her courage seemed to abandon her.
"What's happened?" Caile asked again.
"It's Cargan. He's dead."
Caile took the news silently though his mind raced with a myriad of conflicting thoughts and emotions. He did not feel a pang of loss or grief, for his brother was older even than Taera, and Caile had hardly known him as a child. Rather, it was a dread that pervaded him as all the ramifications of his brother's death surfaced in his mind.
"What happened?" Caile asked after a long moment of silence.
"We don't know entirely. A messenger raven came from Col Sargoth. All the message said was that he'd been drunk and gotten in a fight and died."
Caile snorted, and Taera nodded silently in agreement; their brother had a well-known reputation for shunning drink, among other things, and he was not one to get into a brawl with drunkards — certainly not one to lose in a fight against drunkards.
"Did the message say anything else?" Caile asked.
"You know as well as I do what else it said. Emperor Guderian demands Father send a new ward to Col Sargoth." Caile pounded a fist into his saddle, though his horse walked on unperturbed. "Ward? Hostage is more like it. How stupid does he think we are?"
Several of Caile's men took notice of his outburst, but Caile paid them little heed.
"I don't believe he cares how stupid or intelligent we are," Taera said, looking past her brother toward the first traces of Kal Pyrthin peaking over the horizon. "As long as we're scared and do as he says, that's all that's important — that we're frightened into obedience."
The tone of Taera's voice cut through Caile's anger and he realized he had completely neglected to consider how scared she must be. "Blast it all, Taera! Father can't seriously be contemplating sending you to Col Sargoth?"
"What choice does he have?"
"But after all the" — Caile caught himself near shouting and lowered his voice and leaned in closer to his sister so no one would overhear — "after all the visions? Have you had any more? Since Cargan died?"
Taera squeezed her eyes shut and flinched.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dreamwielder"
Copyright © 2013 Garrett Calcaterra.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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