“Drake is one of the best fantasy writers this genre has ever produced.” Eric Flint, author of 1632 on The Legions Of Fire
Out of the Waters (Books of the Elements Series #2)by David Drake
The wealthy Governor Saxa, of the great city of Carce, has generously subsidized a theatrical/religious event. During this elaborate staging of Hercules founding a city on the shores of Lusitania, dark magic turns the panoply into a chilling event. The sky darkens and the waves crash in the flooded arena. A great creature rises from the sea: a huge, tentacled
The wealthy Governor Saxa, of the great city of Carce, has generously subsidized a theatrical/religious event. During this elaborate staging of Hercules founding a city on the shores of Lusitania, dark magic turns the panoply into a chilling event. The sky darkens and the waves crash in the flooded arena. A great creature rises from the sea: a huge, tentacled horror on snake legs. It devastates the city, much to the delight of the crowd.
A few in the audience, although not Saxa, understand that this was not mere stagecraft, but something much darker and more dangerous. If all signs are being read right, this illusion could signify a dreadful intrusion of supernatural powers into the real world. Saxa's son, Varus, has been the conduit for such an event once before. This new novel is as powerful and elaborate as that fantastic theatrical event, a major fantasy for this year.
“Drake is one of the best fantasy writers this genre has ever produced.” Eric Flint, author of 1632 on The Legions Of Fire
Second installment in Drake's new four-volume fantasy cycle (The Legions of Fire, 2010, etc.) set in early Imperial Rome or, as the author terms it, Carce.
Once again in the early going, there's altogether too much emphasis on protocol and manners, but eventually Drake gets his engine warmed up. Rich, influential senator Gaius Alphenus Saxa, celebrating his promotion to consul, prepares an extravagant entertainment dramatizing Hercules' conquest of Lusitania. During the proceedings an extraordinary vision intrudes, apparently showing the destruction of Atlantis by the huge sea monster Typhon. Accompanying one of the guests, Senator Marcus Sempronius Tardus—whose official duties involve the prophetic Sibylline books—is a trio of sinister wizards. As Saxa's scholarly son Varus, Greek tutor Pandareus and Varus' half-dryad soldier friend Corylus debate the meaning of the vision, Alphena, Varus' sword-wielding younger sister, reveals that she saw not a monster but a man. Meanwhile, Hedia, Saxa's astute, honorable trophy wife, suffers terrifying dreams of what is clearly also Atlantis. Varus, whose own magical powers are developing rapidly, discusses the matter with the Sibyl herself. The twisty, reasonably coherent plot develops rapidly once the wizards abduct Pandareus; Tardus, our heroes discover, is a zombie, controlled by the wizards. Soon enough, Hedia, Alphena and Corylus separately arrive in Atlantis, where they learn that the seeming bad guys may be bad good guys; and Varus will call upon ancient Egyptian thaumaturgy indicted on a scroll he's never read.
A much-improved effort, not overly formulaic, with characters recognizable as people rather than online avatars.
Read an Excerpt
Out of the Waters
By David Drake
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2011 David Drake
All rights reserved.
Varus sat upright at his father's side in the Tribunal — the patron's box — over the right edge of the stage in the Pompeian Theater, jotting notes in the waxed memorandum book on his lap. Staring at him from the vast bowl of the theater was an audience of thousands: perhaps twenty thousand all told, including the slaves standing — they weren't allowed to sit — in the aisles and the surrounding colonnades.
It was disquieting to look out at so many human faces, though he knew that only a handful of them were even vaguely aware of Gaius Alphenus Varus. Indeed, very few of the spectators would pay any attention to his father, Gaius Alphenus Saxa: senator of Carce, replacement consul, and destined governor of the province of Lusitania on the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
The spectators didn't worry Varus as much, though, as the vision forming in his mind: a very old woman, seated on a throne. He wasn't sure if she really existed or if she ever had existed; but he knew why he was seeing her.
Varus was too well schooled in philosophy to lie, even to himself, about his father's personality. Saxa was a cultured and well-read man, but not a particularly wise one. He had chosen to commemorate his consulate by putting on a mime written for the occasion: The Conquest of Lusitania by Hercules.
The replacement consul sat on his gilded, high-backed chair, beaming with pleasure. If the emperor had been present, the Golden Seat would have been his. The Tribunal wasn't the best place from which to view the three-hundred-foot-wide stage, but it was the best place in which to be seen by the audience.
The citizens of Carce would probably have preferred watching exotic animals being slaughtered by the hundreds and perhaps even convicted criminals being devoured by cats and bears, but Saxa was wealthy enough that the present spectacle was keeping the audience in its seats.
Varus had once imagined he could become a great poet, one whose readings would fill a hall and might even fill this theater. His first public performance had been a disaster, not so much in the eyes of those attending as in his own.
On that occasion, the audience had been of freedmen and hangers-on of his father's wealthy friends, sent as a courtesy. They had expected to be bored. Varus himself was too intelligent and too well taught ...
He glanced over his shoulder toward his teacher, Pandareus of Athens; the scholar nodded crisply in reply. He sat in the Tribunal as a mark of Saxa's gratitude.
... not to understand how bad his epic was when he heard the words coming out of his mouth.
Under the careful direction of two handlers each, the Cattle of the Sun — big animals with bright bay hides — were marching across the stage. Though they had been gelded and their horns sparkled with gold paint for this show, they were of the same Iberian stock as the bulls which not infrequently gored to death the lions and tigers set to fight them in the arena.
While even more dangerous animals sometimes appeared on stage, these steers were nothing to have loose in the belly of the theater. That was especially true since the seats in the orchestra were reserved for senators and their families.
A steer bellowed peevishly and lashed its tail. The actor playing Hercules stood at the back of the scene on a "rock"; he twitched noticeably. It was unlikely that an angry animal would crash through the spiked iron fence protecting the orchestra, but one certainly might knock down the mountain of plaster on a wicker frame and then start in on the actor who had been standing on it.
The audience would love it, Varus thought, smiling faintly. He wasn't the sort of aristocrat who sneered at The Many, the common people; but even at seventeen he was enough of a philosopher to be wryly amused by the difference between his tastes and those of his fellow citizens of Carce — including the tastes of many who were just as wellborn as the Alphenus family.
Varus gestured Pandareus to slide his chair up a few inches. The Greek had been careful to take a subordinate place rather than imply his equality with citizens of Carce, but that had now been established. Varus wanted to talk with his teacher, the only person in the box who shared his own passion for truth.
Saxa had a capacious mind, but it was like a magpie's and his learning was slanted toward the marvelous. The more remarkable a report was, the more likely he was to believe it.
Varus preferred sober facts. His smile quirked again. It disturbed him that some of the events he'd recently seen — and participated in — were more amazing than the fantastic myths which charlatans retailed to his father.
Pandareus advanced his chair to the railing. He and the others in the Tribunal sat on backless folding chairs with fabric seats. They were identical to the chairs of the senators in the orchestra, except that the frames were of oak or fruitwood instead of ivory.
Apart from the senators, free persons in the audience sat on stone benches. The wealthier had brought cushions, while the poor made do with a cloak or an extra tunic. This mime was scheduled to last all afternoon, so even a toil-hardened farmer visiting the capital needed something between his buttocks and the stone.
Pandareus followed his pupil's eyes to the slaves in the gallery and murmured, "I wonder how many of them are Lusitanians themselves? It's supposed to be a rather wild province, of course. If there are any of them here, they may not have enough Latin to realize that they're supposed to be looking at their homeland."
The last of the cattle stamped and clattered off the stage below the Tribunal. An actor dressed as Mercury with a silver helmet and winged sandals cried, "Behold, the treasures of Lusitania, now yours by right of conquest!"
The first of what was obviously a long line of donkeys followed the steers. Instead of ordinary pack saddles, the animals were fitted with shelves which displayed silver and gold plate, bronze statuary, silks, and expensive pottery. Some of the dishes were decorated blue on a white background, products of the same Far Eastern peoples who produced the silk.
"Master?" Varus said as a question occurred to him. "There were twenty cattle. Is there some literary basis for that? Because frankly —"
He lowered his voice, though there was no likelihood that Saxa on his right side could have overheard.
"— I would have expected my father to provide more, just for the show."
Pandareus allowed himself a pleased smile. "As it happens," he said, trying to keep the pride out of his voice, "your father's impresario, Meoetes, asked me the same question while he planned the mime. I told him that annotations by Callimachus on Euripides' claim that the 'cattle' are actually a metaphor for the twenty letters of the Greek alphabet which Heracles —"
He used the god's Greek name.
"— brought to replace the alphabet of Cronus. Meoetes was doubtful, as you surmise, but the senator insisted on accuracy over spectacle." He coughed and continued, "Since I couldn't give any guidance on the loot of Iberia, I believe they decided to, ah, spread themselves."
Varus grinned again, feeling a rush of unexpected warmth toward his father. Saxa had not been harsh toward his son and daughter — he wasn't a man who could be harsh to anyone, even a slave; though of course he had foremen and stewards who could do what they thought was necessary. Neither had Saxa showed any interest in his children, however.
That had changed very recently. Saxa appreciated the real erudition which he was honest enough to know that he lacked himself. He had learned that Marcus Priscus, a member of the Commission for the Sacred Rites and reputedly the most learned man in the Senate, respected Varus' scholarship and regarded Pandareus as his equal in knowledge. That had raised son and teacher enormously in Saxa's estimation.
Alphena, Saxa's sixteen-year-old daughter, had gained status for an even better reason: Hedia, Saxa's third wife and the children's stepmother, had taken the girl under her wing. Hedia was lovely and could be charming, but she knew her own mind — and got her way in everything that mattered to her.
Varus wouldn't have believed that his tomboy sister would ever want to act like a lady, let alone that she would be capable of doing a creditable job of it. The fact that Alphena was here in the theater, wearing a long dress with a silk cape over her shoulders, was almost as remarkable as other things that had happened in the course of the past week.
Almost. Varus had seen the earth open and demons rise from the blazing rivers of the Underworld. He had seen that, or he thought he had seen that; and it had seemed that he himself was the magician whose chanted spell had dispersed those demons and sealed the world against them.
Varus prided himself on his intellect; intellectually he knew the things he recalled could not be true. Unfortunately for logic and reason, his teacher recalled the same things. When a scholar of the stature of Pandareus accepted the evidence of his eyes over common sense, a mere student like Varus was left with a dilemma.
The line of mules moved steadily except when one stopped, raised its tail, and deposited dung on the stage. Pandareus leaned forward, watching with more interest than he had shown for the splendid goods themselves.
"How will they clean the stage after the performance, Lord Varus?" he said. "That is, I understand there are to be eight hundred mules. If even a small portion of such a herd ...?"
Varus laughed. He wasn't a frequent spectator at Carce's mass entertainments, but he obviously got out more than his teacher did. He said, "They hold beast fights and hunts —"
So-called hunts, that is. Archers and javelin throwers behind metal fences shot corralled animals until they had no more living targets.
"— here also. Channels from the Virgin Aqueduct divert water over the stage and the cellars beneath to wash detritus into the sewers."
He met his teacher's eyes and added, "I don't believe that will be part of the performance though, as this mime doesn't include Hercules cleansing the stables of King Augeas."
They smiled together. Varus was proud to be able to make literary jokes with his teacher, and he suspected that Pandareus was pleased to have students who actually appreciated literature as something more than a source for florid allusions to be thrown out during a speech. Of the ten youths studying with Pandareus at present, only Varus and his friend Corylus could be described as scholars.
Varus let his eyes drift over the audience to where he had spotted Corylus while the jugglers and rope dancers were performing before the mime itself began. Publius Cispius was a Knight of Carce, entitling his son Publius Cispius Corylus to a seat in the first fourteen rows at any public entertainment. Corylus was in the fourteenth row, so that his servant, Marcus Pulto, could sit directly behind him.
The elder Cispius had capped a successful military career with command of a squadron of Batavian cavalry and had been knighted on retirement. He had purchased a perfume business on the Bay of Puteoli with the considerable money he had made while in service.
By ordinary standards, Cispius was wealthy — but Saxa was wealthy by the standards of the Senate. At Varus' request, Saxa had invited Corylus to watch the mime with them in the Tribunal. Corylus had refused, politely but without hesitation.
Part of Varus deplored the stiff-necked determination of a sturdy provincial not to look like a rich man's toady. There was no question of anything of the sort: Varus just wanted his friend to sit with him at this lengthy event.
On the other hand, if Carce's citizens hadn't been so stiff-necked and determined, the city would not rule all the land from Mesopotamia to the Atlantic, from the German Sea to Nubia. Logically, Varus would admit that being without his friend's presence was a cheap price to pay for an empire.
In his heart, though, he wasn't sure. Corylus was a soldier's son and destined for the army himself. He had grown up on the Rhine and the Danube, where mistakes meant not embarrassment and expense but death in whatever fashion barbarian ingenuity could contrive. Corylus projected calm.
Varus needed calm right now. He wasn't really watching the stately procession of treasures across the stage. That vision of the wizened old woman seated on a throne in the clouds was becoming sharper in his mind.
She was the Cumean Sibyl, and she prophesied the approach of Chaos.
* * *
Hedia's face was turned toward the stage, wearing a look of polite pleasure. That was the appropriate expression for the wife of the noble patron of the entertainment, so of course that was how she looked. She would have tried to appear just as politely pleased while torturers used a stick to roll her intestines out through a slit in her belly if that were what the duties of her station called for.
Moved by a sudden feeling of fondness, Hedia patted the back of her husband's hand. He looked at her in surprise, then blushed and faced the stage again.
Saxa was a thoroughly decent man, a sweet man. There were people — there were quite a lot of people, in fact — who felt that Hedia in her twenty-two years of existence had encompassed all the licentious decadence which had flowed into Carce along with the wealth of the conquered East. There was evidence for their belief, but even Hedia's worst enemies would never claim that she wasn't a perfect wife in public.
As for what happened after dinner parties at the houses of friends or in Baiae while the business of the Senate detained her husband in Carce, well — there were stories about any wealthy, beautiful woman, and not all of them were true. In Hedia's particular case, most of the stories were true, but she maintained a discreet silence about her private life. That was, after all, the appropriate response to impertinent questions.
The dreadfully long line of mules seemed to have passed. Another patron might have made a hundred mules do, leading them around behind the stage and exchanging their loads for fresh goods. Saxa's wealth made that unnecessary.
The actor draped in a gilded lion skin raised his hands, one of which held a glittering club. Hedia thought he was supposed to be Hercules, but she hadn't paid much attention. She had always found life to hold quite enough drama without inventing things to put on stage.
"As a sign of my prowess!" the actor boomed. He seemed a weedy little fellow, despite his armor and the lion skin, but his voice filled the hollow of the theater. "I raise these pillars to mark my conquest!"
On cue, a pair of gilded "hills" began to rise from the basement, through trap doors in the stage. Hedia frowned: bizarrely, monkeys were tethered in niches in the steep cones. The animals had been dusted with gold also, but in between bouts of angry chittering they were trying to chew their fur clean.
"In later years, another conqueror and god will come to this strait!" said the actor. "He too will bring the whole world beneath his beneficent rule before he returns to the heavens; but greater than I, he will found a line of succession. Each of his descendents will be more magnificent than his predecessor. Hail Caesar, and hail to your mighty house!"
A monkey shrieked and made a full-armed gesture. Something splattered the ornate shield displayed on a frame beside the actor.
Hedia blinked, uncertain of what she had just seen. Oh by Venus! The little beast is throwing its own feces! she realized. She started to whoop with laughter, not because what had happened was particularly funny but because its unexpectedness had broken the shell of fear that had enclosed Hedia since last night's dream.
She stifled the laughter into what she hoped would pass for a coughing fit. She was horrified at herself. The incident would embarrass Saxa if he noticed it, and to have had his own wife leading the seeming mockery would shrivel his soul.
Hedia reached over and this time gripped Saxa's hand firmly. The last thing she wanted to do was to hurt the gentle man who had, very likely, saved her life: he had married her when the relatives of her first husband, Gaius Calpurnius Latus, were claiming she had poisoned him.
Maybe some of the relatives had believed that. Latus had been an unpleasant man with unpleasant tastes; one of his partners — particularly the sort of boys he favored — might well have poisoned him. Hedia wasn't the sort, though if someone had brained Latus with a statuette ...
Excerpted from Out of the Waters by David Drake. Copyright © 2011 David Drake. 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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DAVID DRAKE lives in Pittsboro, North Carolina.
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In the city of Carse, Senator Gaius Alphenus Saxa sanctions a public religious production of Hercules creating a city on the Lusitania Sea. The play is well received as the audience enjoys the performance especially when a monster arises Out of the Waters and destroys the city. Saxa's bookworm son Varus and few others know the behemoth was not part of the drama. He believes what everyone at the theater witnessed was a vision of what is to come. Although he prefers his books to combat, a determined Varus, his resolute sister Alphena the Amazonian warrior and their tougher than Hercules stepmother Hedia confront a watery abomination that traces itself to the extinction of Atlantis. The stupendous second Books of the Elements switches elements. The heroic trio battle water as opposed to fire like they did in the opening act The Legions of Fire. The cast is fully developed as they behave in accordance to their society's culture. Using the Roman Empire as a base but enhancing it with the Drake mythos, David Drake provides a strong quest fantasy starring three kick-butt champions in an action-packed adventure.