Hymn: The Final Volume of the Psalms of Isaak

Hymn: The Final Volume of the Psalms of Isaak

by Ken Scholes

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Overview

Ken Scholes completes his five-book epic that began with his acclaimed first novel Lamentation. The battle for control of The Named Lands has captivated readers as they have learned, alongside the characters, the true nature of world called Lasthome.

Now the struggle between the Andro-Francine Order of the Named Lands and the Y’Zirite Empire has reached a terrible turning point. Believing that his son is dead, Rudolfo has pretended to join with the triumphant Y’zirite forces—but his plan is to destroy them all with a poison that is targeted only to the enemy.

In Y’Zir, Rudolfo’s wife Jin Li Tam is fighting a war with her own father which will bring that Empire to ruin.

And on the Moon, Neb, revealed as one of the Younger Gods, takes the power of the Last Home Temple for his own.

The Psalms of Isaak
#1 Lamentation
#2 Canticle
#3 Antiphon
#4 Requiem
#5 Hymn

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429949583
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 12/05/2017
Series: Psalms of Isaak Series , #5
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

KEN SCHOLES is the award-winning, critically-acclaimed author of multiple novels and short stories. His work has appeared in print since 2000 and includes the Psalms of Isaak series and the Tor.com short story "If Dragon's Mass Eve Be Cold and Clear."

Ken's eclectic background includes time spent as a label gun repairman, a sailor who never sailed, a soldier who commanded a desk, a fundamentalist preacher (he got better), a nonprofit executive, a musician and a government procurement analyst. He has a degree in History from Western Washington University.

Ken is a native of the Pacific Northwest and makes his home in Hillsboro, Oregon, where he lives with his twin daughters.


Ken Scholes is the award-winning, critically-acclaimed author of multiple novels and short stories. His work has appeared in print since 2000 and includes the Psalms of Isaak series (Lamentation, Canticle, Antiphon) and the Tor.com short story "If Dragon's Mass Eve Be Cold and Clear."

Ken's eclectic background includes time spent as a label gun repairman, a sailor who never sailed, a soldier who commanded a desk, a fundamentalist preacher (he got better), a nonprofit executive, a musician and a government procurement analyst. He has a degree in History from Western Washington University.

Ken is a native of the Pacific Northwest and makes his home in Hillsboro, Oregon, where he lives with his twin daughters.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Rudolfo

Lord Rudolfo of the Ninefold Forest Houses, General of the Wandering Army and Chancellor of the Named Lands, brought the glass of chilled peach wine to his lips to drink deeply.

Then watched his enemies do the same.

The effect was instantaneous and it caught him off guard, blinking for a moment before fastening his eyes onto Yazmeera's. Hers were wide now even as she dropped her wineglass. He smiled and kept his eyes locked onto hers, his hand straying to the pouch of magicks tucked within the bandage that wrapped his chest. The wound ached with each beat of his pounding heart, and an exhilaration washed through him. The Y'Zirite general collapsed, wheezing and thrashing about on the floor.

She was not alone. Her officers and her Blood Guard joined her there — a room full of people dying together in puddles of spilled peach wine in the midst of a half-eaten banquet. This — the sight of them kicking their last upon the floor — was the very future he'd drank to when she'd suggested it as a toast just moments before.

Rudolfo wanted to stay and watch, sipping this victory like the finest of his wines. He wanted to crouch next to Yazmeera and watch her breathe her last, maybe stroke her iron-gray hair and whisper to her how happy the moment made him, but he forced that desire aside and pulled out the pouch.

He opened it and threw the powders at his forehead, shoulders and feet, then licked the remaining bitterness from the palm of his hand, bracing himself for the sudden lurch as they took hold. He moved for the door that led to the stairwell, picking his way across a floor of thrashing limbs already quieting as death took hold.

The speed and efficacy of it astonished him. According to Renard, this was the first test of the poison in the field. Rudolfo knew very little in the way of specifics, but he knew that Orius — the Androfrancine Gray Guard general — and his own General Lysias both had armies hidden in the Beneath Places with plans to use the poison on a bigger scale. A weapon like this, he realized, could turn the tide of the war.

Not that he would be present to see it. All of this — his taking the mark, the poisoning of Yazmeera and her staff — was for Jakob. Rudolfo had been lost, overwhelmed by circumstance and uncertain of his path until recently, but it had become clear to him. His son was in more danger in the Empire of Y'Zir as that blood cult's Child of Promise than he could ever be in Rudolfo's care, even in the midst of an invasion.

And so now he fled the rooftop garden, feeling the strength gathering in his legs as the scout magicks flooded him. The spiced food from the banquet churned in his stomach, and he gritted his teeth against the nausea and vertigo that seized him. The powders had that effect, and he knew it would grow worse before too long. When he reached the doorway, he felt hands upon him.

We must flee, Ire Li Tam pressed into the soft skin of his upper arm.

She slipped a loop of thread around his wrist and pulled it taut as she moved ahead of him. She went slowly and he followed, taking the stairs down from the rooftop garden where Yazmeera's officers had dined. Behind him, he heard the first screams as the servants discovered his handiwork, and Rudolfo smiled again.

Twice, Ire pulled him aside as Blood Guard swept past, unmagicked but with knives held ready. When they reached the first floor, she led him out into a warm evening as the sounds of third alarm rose up around them.

Outside, soldiers assembled and Rudolfo saw the eddies of dust that betrayed magicked scouts as they moved in. It would take them time to determine exactly what had happened; and until they identified the dead, they wouldn't know that he and Ire were missing. And certainly the loss of the majority of their officers was going to work to Rudolfo's advantage, creating chaos in the Y'Zirite chain of command. Still, he could not afford to waste time. At some point, the enemy would find their footing, and by then Rudolfo needed to be at sea.

They ran for hours, and he was grateful for the running he'd come back to in recent weeks, though the little he'd managed had certainly not prepared him for this. Even with the magicks burning in him, he felt his legs growing heavy and his breath growing ragged as they put the leagues behind them. Still they ran, keeping to the fields and forests away from the roads. In the distance, Rudolfo saw the scattered farmhouses and villages of Merrique County slipping past, washed by the red-gold of evening.

The sun had set by the time they reached the small river that served as the border with neighboring Jessym County. There, Ire Li Tam turned them west to run downstream in the deepening shadows of cypress trees that lined the bank. She slowed them from a sprint to a jog, and Rudolfo felt gratitude for the change of pace in his ankles and knees.

They'd run alongside the river for perhaps five leagues when a low whistle brought them to a stop. A dark figure separated itself from the shadows.

"Hail, Rudolfo," a quiet voice called.

"Hail, Renard," he answered, settling into a crouch as he slipped his hand from Ire's guide-thread.

The tall man took shape in the dim light of evening, the simple garb of a farmer looking out of place on his angular frame. "You've kicked up the hornets," the Waste guide said with a grin.

Rudolfo smiled, though the magicks masked it. "I've set fire to their nest. Now you and Orius and Lysias will need to keep it burning."

"Aye," Renard said. "We will." His eyes wandered the gray landscape around them. "They'll likely realize it was you and be looking for you by morning, so keep moving. Stay magicked and off the roads."

Rudolfo silently counted the leagues before answering. "Yes." They were two days from the coast, and a quick sail to the mainland. There, he could get word to Philemus and arrange for a ship to bear him across the Ghosting Crests in search of Y'Zir.

To take back my son. He blinked, his memory suddenly flooded with the sight of the boy in the dream, calling to him and so real that Rudolfo could smell his hair. He pushed the memory away and turned his attention to Renard.

"There is a bridge house at the next crossing with fresh clothing, magicks and some supplies. Send what you're wearing down the river before the magicks burn out. Our friend in Talcroft Landing is Simmons. Ask for him at the docks and he'll see you to the mainland."

"Thank you," Rudolfo said. "And thank Orius for me as well."

Renard's face sobered at the mention of the Gray Guard general. "He bid me ask you reconsider, of course. I told him that if I had a son in the clutches of those bloodletters, nothing could keep me from taking him back. Still, with what's coming, I can't blame him. We'll need every soldier in the field and every general on the hill."

"Philemus and Lysias will serve well on my behalf," he said. But he also wondered exactly what was coming. Rudolfo had seen the poison do its work in one room with the element of surprise in his favor. It remained to be seen how they would deliver that poison in such a way as to make a difference in a war they were losing. But he knew better than to ask. "My son will need a home to return to; I trust you all to give him that."

Renard nodded. "We will do our utmost. You've given us a good start. Word of it will spread, and hope will spread with it." The man extended a hand toward him and Rudolfo took it, squeezing it. "Hunt well, Rudolfo."

"Aye," Rudolfo said. "You also."

The Waste guide paused, his face clouded as he looked around. "Your companion goes with you?"

Rudolfo hadn't asked but had assumed, given that Ire Li Tam had sworn allegiance to him the night she'd found him in his tent. He said nothing, waiting for her to answer for herself.

"I follow him to Y'Zir," she said. "I will help him reclaim my nephew."

Renard looked in the direction of her voice. "Good. Soon enough, it will not be safe for you or your kind in the Named Lands. Heed me carefully, Ire Li Tam: If you return with him, you will die."

She said nothing. Rudolfo opened his mouth to the threat but then closed it. There'd been no animosity in Renard's tone; he'd spoken the words as a matter of fact.

They've found a way to deliver the poison broadly. Curiosity pushed at him, but he knew inquiring was pointless. Renard had said what he would say, and Rudolfo knew the benefit of knowing less rather than more in the event of his capture.

"Now run," Renard said.

This time, no looped thread slipped over his hand. Instead, he felt strong fingers interlace his own as Ire Li Tam pulled him alongside her. They ran at a measured pace, Rudolfo's mind replaying every word of Renard's as he worked through the implications of what was coming. Somehow, he thought, the Androfrancines must have access to the Y'Zirite supply lines. Though he wasn't sure how that was possible, especially given the additional security their enemy would certainly implement after the massacre at Rudolfo's Markday Feast.

He continued to ponder it, even after they let themselves into the bridge house to change and remagick themselves. As the stars appeared overhead and they continued their run north through darkened fields, his mind kept at it like a hound to a rabbit. With each muffled footfall, the question echoed within him, and by the time the sky lightened, Rudolfo still had no answer.

What home will we return to?

His breath ragged and his companion's hand cold and firm in his own, Rudolfo kept running and hoped his feet could carry him past the fear that snuffled at his heels.

Jin Li Tam

Jin Li Tam danced the knives in utter darkness and let hatred fuel each move. She went from crouch to lunge, dodging deftly around the room's furniture, building speed as she went. The knives — gifts given to her by Rudolfo on their wedding day, though she'd already wet them in battle months earlier — were perfectly balanced in her hands, precise extensions of her rage.

And they went where she pointed them, the blades whistling up and down as she slashed and thrust at the air ahead of her.

She forced her awareness into the moment and gathered her focus toward the only objective that remained for her: vengeance upon the man who had taken everything from her.

She remembered the night she'd found her father's note beneath her pillow, bidding her to bear Rudolfo an heir as part of Vlad Li Tam's great, secret strategy in the Named Lands. She'd come to motherhood reluctantly under those conditions but had grown to love Rudolfo and the idea of giving him a family. Then, so soon after Jakob's birth, she'd found herself — and their son — at the center of the Y'Zirite blood cult as their Great Mother and Child of Promise. Most recently, they'd been carried to this place — an empire she'd had no knowledge of until recently — to meet the Crimson Empress, her son's betrothed based on the Gospels of Ahm Y'Zir.

She'd watched Jakob play with the little girl, Amara Y'Zir. And then, in a night filled with blood and fire, she'd watched her father murder both children before her eyes.

She flinched at the memory but kept her pace. Jin had chosen a larger room this time, one she was less familiar with. So much of the palace was empty now between the plagues and the uprising of disillusioned, despairing faithful who'd never imagined a world in which their faith could so easily shatter.

A part of her felt a deep connection to them, though she'd never embraced their religion.

Because, she realized, I am shattered, too.

Jakob's face flashed before her eyes, and she felt a sob tugging at her throat and shoulders. Jin missed a step, staggering as she clipped a chair with her thigh. She recovered quickly and conjured the one face that could drive her child's face away and give back her form and substance. She held it before her and danced toward it, knives carving at it as she moved.

Father, I am coming to end you.

She heard the door behind her whisper open. "Great Mother?"

I am no mother now, she thought with a flash of anger and bitterness even as she recognized the voice. Jin untied her blindfold and turned to face the older woman. "Sister Elsbet."

The woman closed the door behind her. She wore the dark robes of her office as Chief Mother of the Daughters of Ahm, her long white hair braided and hanging over her shoulder. "Lynnae told me you were here." She took in Jin's sweaty night shift and knives, and Jin was uncertain how to catalog the look upon her face. Of course, whatever emotion Sister Elsbet showed was quickly subdued and washed out with a look of strained, forced calm.

Jin inclined her head. "I'm sorry for my appearance, Sister Elsbet. I am training."

She returned the nod. "I see that you are. Should I come back at another time?" "No," she said, sliding the knives into the sheaths at her hips.

Sister Elsbet gestured to a pair of sofas facing each other across a low table. "Shall we sit?"

By habit, Jin picked the sofa that offered the widest view of the room, including its two entrances and three windows. She'd not studied the room when she'd first selected it, and now she saw it was a meditation room of some kind — various paintings of a younger Ahm Y'Zir in different reflective poses, fixed to the wall within view of scattered chairs and sofas.

Jin's eyes went from the room to the woman before her. Sister Elsbet's signature calm still dominated the woman's face, but Jin could see the frayed edges. And deep in the woman's eyes, she saw something far more than disillusionment.

She is as lost as I am.

The realization was so intense that Jin broke eye contact. They were quiet, together, for a minute.

Finally, Elsbet leaned forward. "Are you sleeping?" Jin shrugged. "Only a little."

"I could help you with that."

Jin shook her head. "No." She'd spent days asleep, kept under by their powders and medicines, after she'd watched her father murder her son. The memory of sluggish rage and nightmares, fueled by loss and chemicals, in which she could not run fast enough to save her child, made her shudder. "I don't want to sleep more. I have work to do."

The woman nodded. "You still intend to go through with it." It was a statement, not a question.

Jin met the woman's eyes. "I do. Yes."

Now Elsbet looked away. "Part of me," she said slowly, "wants to talk you out of it, wants to remind you that even if you succeed, you won't survive the blood magicks." She paused. "But I know you understand that already. And I can appreciate why that might not deter you." Jin followed the woman's gaze to the window. "Part of me wants to strap on knives and join you."

"Surviving is ... irrelevant," Jin said. She knew the Imperial Blood Guard started ingesting the blood magicks in infancy, mixed with their milk, to prepare their bodies for the toll they took. When she'd first begun learning V'Ral, the Y'Zirite tongue, Elsbet had provided her with a dreamstone and a small phial of blood magicks to enhance her learning, but that limited exposure would do little to help her. At best, she'd have four days under the Y'Zirite scout magicks, and at the end of it, her body would give out from the strain. A sacrifice she would gladly make.

Elsbet sighed. "Yes. I had thought you might feel that way." She reached into the pocket of her robe and drew out a silver phial. Leaning forward, she placed it on the table. "Our own search for your father has yielded little fruit. Lately, he's been abducting magisters and Daughters. We're finding some of the bodies." She looked away. "Not all."

Jin reached out and touched the phial with a tentative finger. "He's looking for something."

"Yes," Elsbet agreed. "We think it's the spellbook, but we can't know for sure. Regardless, it's been relocated to a secure location."

Jin knew little about the book — only that like the staff her father now carried, it had once belonged to the Moon Wizard, Raj Y'Zir. The Imperial Archaeology Society had found it, and for centuries it had been kept hidden deep beneath the Temple of the Daughters of Ahm. But she knew that if her father found it, it couldn't bode well for the Y'Zirites. The Moon Wizard's staff had already given him power beyond anyone's wildest imaginings, and he'd used that power to desolate their faith with plague and fire, murdering anything that stood in his way.

Even children. Jin felt the sob take her shoulders and she wrestled it down, forcing calm to her face. "I will kill him before he finds it," she said. "He's done enough."

"Yes," Elsbet said. "He has."

The woman stood. "The regent has committed two squads of Blood Guard to aid you. He regrets that he cannot do more."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Hymn"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Kenneth G. Scholes.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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