The fantasy field has been waiting for this for years: Terry McGarrys first novel. Currently the Vice President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, a longtime copyeditor for all the major publishers, and the author of a number of well-received short stories, McGarry is extremely well known throughout the genre. And now, with talent, insight, and skill rarely seen today, McGarry has crafted a fantasy adventure of the first rank; a wonderful, gripping adventure sure to be the sensation of the season. Liath was proud to have passed her challenge and become a true mage, ready to journey the land and find a Triad to bond with as an Illuminator. But that very night, her light fails her: she can no longer see the magical illumination guiders, and thus, despite the mages badge upon her breast, can no longer call herself Illuminator. Liath travels to the city and petitions the Ennead, the senior mages of the land, for help and a cure. Before they will help her, they set a task for her to fulfill: she must find and capture the rogue Dark Mage, and bring him to the Ennead for justice; only then will her light be freed. So goes Liath on the most important journey of her life, for the future of the world rests on her success or failurebut which one?
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About the Author
Terry McGarry lives on Long Island, New York. She is the author of the novels Illumination, The Binder's Road and Triad. She has been a bartender on Wall Street, an English major at Princeton, a street trader in Ireland, and a Page O.K.'er at The New Yorker.
Read an Excerpt
By Terry McGarry, Jenna Felice, Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2001 Terry McGarry
All rights reserved.
Sunset through the high, round window draped the attic in shadows. Liath, tracing invisible designs on the floor with the feather end of a quill, had lit no lamp. Where the feathers brushed, they left a faint, shimmering blue trace. The darker the room grew, the clearer the traces.
If this were a casting, with binding materials, the phantom light would blaze around the quill. It would guide her hand as she painted kadri and inked borders along the blocks of wordsmith's marks inscribed on vellum or sedgeweave or parchment. As she filled in her lines with pigments, the blue guiders would be absorbed into tangible saffron, ochre, verdigris. When she could no longer see the patterns in her mind's eye, the illumination would be complete.
These dim echoes of her guiders were a new thing. Each movement — of hand, or foot, or quill — left a trail through the dark air as if through still water.
Every motion has a consequence.
Through the floorboards she could feel the vibration of life: tavern life, village life. Cottars and crafters, traders and herders, gathered from miles around to drink and game, gossip and dance. She had gone to sleep to the sound of sorrow and celebration each night for twice nine years. The first roll of beater on drum out front, the laughter of children scattered by the broom whisking the road clear for dancing, called her down to her celebration. For once, at least, she wouldn't be on duty; there'd be no hauling fresh kegs in from the coolhouse or negotiating the slippery cellar steps to fetch a cask of some ancient sweetwine.
When she reached for the pull string on the trapdoor, a muffled tide of laughter surged up. She eased back on her haunches. Go, then, it seemed to say. Go on your journeying, as you long to. But every motion has a consequence. You will be leaving Keiler here.
Memory cast another kind of light against the gathering shadows: the flickering of the fire in her local triad's cottage. She had sat there last night, sipping valerian tea after her three-day trial. Hanla, the illuminator who'd trained her, had left to bring news of Liath's success to her family. Hanla's son Keiler had gone to replace materials in the bindinghouse out back. Graefel had sat with her in silence for some time, but of a sudden he'd said, "I'll tell you a wordsmiths' secret. About your name."
An illuminator — trial-proven or not — should be told no more of scribing than anyone else in Eiden Myr. Song was for binders, painting for illuminators, scribing for wordsmiths. Graefel's triad was ever mindful of tradition. Yet his blue eyes, cold and flat as an animal's, held no remorse.
"The ciphers inscribed during a casting form words," he began. "And names are words. Words that can be spoken."
This seemed a strange thing for him to point out. Wordsmiths scribed in the Old Tongue, everyone knew that. A tongue was a spoken thing, by definition. Why did he look so stern?
"Your name, unlike most, has extra ciphers in it. One might call them shadow ciphers, because they don't sound when 'LEE-uh' is said aloud. You carry them with you — a hidden part of yourself, like your innermost thoughts. Were I permitted to tell you which ciphers they are, still I could not tell you what they signify."
He was looking at the fire, not at her. Its glow carved the planes of his vulpine face, glinted in his russet beard.
"Perhaps there will be an extra portion of pain in your life, or perhaps it will be luck, or joy," he went on. "Whatever it is, Liath, you must meet it head-on. Ciphers are the strongest power in the world ... and those will be with you the rest of your days."
Liath had followed his gaze, as if this mysterious future could be glimpsed in the embers' running, molten depths. But suggestions of pattern slipped too quickly into chaos, leaving only warmth and brilliance.
The attic trapdoor thumped open. "Why are you sitting up here in the dark?" Hanla's swarthy face was lit by lampglow from beneath.
"I see guiders without a casting," she answered. "I was trying to understand."
"Ah." The illuminator's chunky frame briefly shut the light out as she squeezed through the opening, then sent rhythmic, crazy shadows dancing on the angled ceiling when she sat on the edge and swung her dangling legs. "Second thoughts about your journeying?"
Liath blinked at the Khinish woman, at the brown eyes she had bequeathed her son and bindsman Keiler, while Graefel, his father and wordsmith, was the source of his red hair and angular face. Keiler had been a second brother to her, a brother who shared her magelight, as her birth brother Nole did not; a brother who understood magecraft, as her family could not. How could she tell his mother, her teacher, what lay heavy on her heart?
"You think I didn't feel the same way when I took the triskele? I knew the cost. I remember my trial every time I look toward Khine." Hanla's expression had softened, but her voice was brisk. "You will learn magecraft we don't know. You'll bring home skills we cannot teach you. It's the reason plants go to seed on the winds, the reason we breed stock in other towns. Magecraft stays healthy only as long as we journey. Eiden Myr is a body, and we are the blood flowing in it."
Liath refrained from mouthing the last words with her. "You settled down," she said.
"Yes, and far from home, just as you fear. The Neck is my home now, not Khine."
They could have been sitting in the cornfield doing lessons in the rich soil. Those sun-soaked days, the golden nights of stories and camaraderie in the tavern below, already seemed a world away.
Liath glared at the tear-blurred shapes of stored clothing, blankets, tools; a spare cot, a two-legged stool, a crate of pewter goblets they never used. Always tongue-tied and stupid about anything but tavern business, she could not speak.
Hanla gestured at the forgotten quill, still twitching in Liath's hand. "A dozen years ago we caught you doodling with a stick in the dust. Now your guiders shine without a casting, begging to be used, though you've scarcely recovered from three days of trial. That is what you must reckon with, my dear. Consider Roiden."
Liath thought of Roiden, a bitter man, hunched around a flagon of Finger wine, eyes tracking her as she did her chores. He'd lived in the village all her life, but she avoided him, ashamed of her own light; she ducked away from those eyes when they caught her listening, rapt, to rovers' tales of the wild places — the plains below the Belt, where the wind spoke in eerie song, the dark wet woods and marshes of the Legs, where weird lights burned and weeping trees were older than memory. The places she could not wait to go.
Spirits take Roiden, she thought — angry at his pain, at the guilt he'd caused her. "I've considered him," she acknowledged. Then, levelly, "I remember Pelkin."
Hanla nodded. "And your sister doesn't. That's a sadness on you, is it?" When no answer came, she said, "Your mother will bear this, Liath. As she bore it before."
All the old words, the same words, and none of them "Keiler."
"Let's go down," Liath said abruptly, rising. The quill — not a true quill, since those were stored by binders, but a shed feather from some pigeon trapped in this attic long ago — dropped to the boards in a soft blue sparkle. Liath ignored it. "An ale and a dance or two will set me right."
The greatroom was full of strangers, unfamiliar faces and garb amid the wrights, the hillwomen, the cowherds — all the folk her eye picked out with recognition. Lately there had been more travelers than usual, all going toward the Ennead's Holding — all but one runner, a slight, pale lad of no more than nine-and-five who'd come from there. His cloak, unlike the wool of ordinary folk, shifted and shimmered in the lamplight. Nine velvet colors, sewn in triangles so expertly that they seemed one piece of cloth. Weather-warded, so the cloak was untouched though the boy looked tired and travel-worn. He sat shyly by himself, watching the celebration with dark blue eyes. He was too young to be a reckoner, the eyes and ears of the Ennead. Not far from him, Liath was surprised to see Lowlanders, Southers from the look of them — thin build, dark hair, horsehair vests over shirtless brown skin, soft breeches not suited to this climate. Come up all the way from the Weak Leg? No Southers had been through in some time.
Old man Marough roared at the sight of her. "There's our little mage now!" He bulled his way through the crowd to slap her too hard on the back. "Hanla, where's that triskele? If she hasn't earned it, no one bloody has."
Hanla forced a tolerant smile. "When it's time, Marough," she said. "We have our traditions."
He snorted: There's no countenancing mages. But relief had made him expansive. Liath had saved him a great deal at her trial. "Drinks on me until the triskele is taken, then!" he said to the room. "You'll get that sorrel for it, Danor, that one you've been eyeing since Sweetbriar foaled. Meira's just done shoeing her."
Marough's sons and nephews left their stones games and their ales to cluster round her, clasp her arm; she stopped them before they lifted her on their shoulders to parade around the room. They were a rough lot, always headed for trouble. Liath had broken up more brawls with them at the center than she cared to count. Still she couldn't help but smile.
Then, she locked eyes with her mother, standing by the pantry door. Geara n'Breida l'Pelkin, Geara Publican, stout and blond, had drunk all comers under the table in her youth. This had been her mother's tavern when she pledged Danor. The Petrel's Rest was a legacy of daughters; Liath would be the first to break the chain. Her sister Breida, who loved horses and Galf n'Marough with all the passion of her nine summers and two, might or might not be the second, though she was named — contrary to custom — for a grandmother, the Breida who had passed the tavern to Geara. It was Nole who had inherited the inclination for affable hosting. By rights he should take over when the time came, instead of helping Megenna run her family's craftery in Orendel. He would make a grand master of the house: his big frame would fill out as he aged, his beard would come in thick and red, he would be Danor all over again. Plump Breida, flirting unsuccessfully with the Ennead's runner boy when she should be collecting cups, was a gentle, fearless child who would mature into a comely woman. Liath would stay as she was — whip-thin, too tall, all gangly limbs, her only graces a pair of thoughtful gray eyes and the pictures in her mind.
Geara had not been there for the trial, though there'd been plenty of gawkers, folk hoping the prentice's luck would rub off on them. Danor had brought their youngest the first day, but thereafter they'd stayed in the tavern. Liath had seen neither of them since she stumbled home at dawn, bleary after dozing off in her chair in the triad's cottage — only Breida, snuggling close to her in their bed. Drowsily she'd demanded a full account; at full light, she'd thumped Liath as she'd gotten up, for letting her fall back asleep before the end of the tale.
Marough's middle son pushed a cup of wine into her hand. "Anything you ever need!" he said. "I owe you, Liath Illuminator!"
"Not 'Illuminator' yet," she said. "Not till I take the triskele." Geara seemed to be listening. Was that pride on her face? Acceptance, after all these years?
"But everyone knows your magelight's special. Sarse and Aunt Sharra heard Graefel say so."
Geara turned on her heel and disappeared into the pantry.
"Aunt Sharra said —"
"Tarny, your brother's won two more rounds at stones." Hanla smiled innocently, slipping in beside Liath. "You'll have a snail's time catching up."
Tarny's thick lips pursed. He looked across the room, then back at Liath, and with a cry of frustrated petulance he launched his rangy horseman's body into the crush of people.
Hanla followed Liath's gaze toward the pantry. "It's love that's broken her heart. She doesn't hate you."
"Only my talent."
"Yes." There was no more to say; there was no mending this. "Now, have your ale, eh?"
Dance rhythms drifted in from outside, local drummers joined by logbeaters from the next valley and a gourdsman from Drey. Oriane and Taemar, Danor's feisty parents, pinched her cheeks and insulted the ale, to remind her she was both child and publican still; they made ribald jokes because someone had to, they said, with Geara's merchant sisters away. Danor's brothers ran the brewery in Iandel now. They had carted their parents in late that afternoon, laughing and shouting loud enough to rouse Liath from exhaustion, and then taken over in the cookroom. Oriane and Taemar cherished all their Clondel grandchildren, though Nole resembled them most, and Breida was their sentimental favorite. They tried hard to make up for what was missing.
Burly, red-bearded Danor banked the fire against the nighttime chill through the open door, and a sweetness of birch smoke filled the room. The crowd grew boisterous as full dark came on. Demick the smith juggled winter apples while his sister played the spoons. Children crawled under tables, untying boots and goosing stonesplayers. Porl the carpenter, never easy at rest, attempted to pull a wobbly stool out from under Naragh Cobbler, who threatened to dump her lentil stew over his head if he didn't leave her in peace. The weavers, just as bad, were arranging a trade with a downriver tailor. Iandel dairyfolk complained of weeds come over from the Clondel water meadow, giving their butter a foul taste, and was Graefel's triad too busy with their prentice to see to important matters? Galf and the millers' younger son, trying to impress Breida, batted a bean sack around the room until Geara chased them out; Drey folk laughed uproariously over some mishap in Orendel. All celebrated the end of sowmid planting, the hard days of ploughing done and only warm weather ahead of them now.
Liath sat in the close, smelly tavern, and let them toast her, and raise her on their shoulders, and howl when Hanla said it was still not time for the triskele; and drank sips of the wine they pushed on her, and listened to their speeches, and table-wrestled all comers as she'd always done, with her wiry arms muscled from lifting barrels and her hands rough and strong from mopping and brewing, hands that followed the blue guiders in her mind when her tall Norther body had been bred for this, the keeping of a public house at the base of the Aralinns, where winters were hard and friendships easy, where no one ever forgot the magecraft that spared them illness and fire and drought, the Ennead that kept them safe from the Great Storms.
Old Drolno Teller told the story, from his choice spot by the hearth. At the first sound of his voice, pitched in ritual tones, the drummers fell quiet and the dancers clustered in, sinking cross-legged to the floor or clearing space to sit on tables. Youngsters were pulled into parents' laps. Liath sat outside with her teaching triad, on the bench below the sunrise window — listening with them, as she had done since she was six, to the story of their craft's founding. Of how sea and earth and sky, once united, could no longer abide together, and separated into three parts, begetting sons and daughters of their rage and love: fire, cloud, wind. Where skyfire met earth, the barrier between sea and sky, Galandra was born — the first mage, the peacebringer, who could soothe the contentious spirits. Earth loved her for her justice and her beauty, and fashioned itself in her image, that they might be pledged — and became Eiden, the figure of a man spread on the waters. All folk were Galandra's children, born of her by Eiden. Those who took after Eiden became caretakers of the ground and the creatures on it. Those who took after Galandra became mages, arranging themselves in threes, after the first spirits. Their charge was to keep the spirits in harmony: settle the earth when it had bad dreams, persuade the sky to release hoarded water, calm the winds when they grew rambunctious or cajole them when they grew torpid. Whenever three mages worked together, the spirits were united once more. "And three become one," Drolno finished, the time-honored words.
Hanla echoed "And three become one" as she draped the triskele-heavy chain over Liath's head and called her Illuminator. Keiler winked at her over his mother's shoulder. Graefel bowed low. Hanla gripped her arms, hand to elbow, forearms tight, in the sign of friendship and respect around the Neck.
"Make us proud," she said.
When they announced that the thing was done, there in a private moment off to the side, Liath took another thumping from Breida, and had to dance with nearly everyone as consolation for the spoiled show. When she'd had enough, breathless and footsore, one more tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned to see her brother's beaming ruddy face, petite Megenna on his arm.
Excerpted from Illumination by Terry McGarry, Jenna Felice, Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2001 Terry McGarry. 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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Table of Contents
1 - BINDING,
2 - ILLUMINING,
3 - INSCRlBING,
Praise for Illumination,