Action, horror, politics, and sensuality combine in this DEBUT EPIC FANTASY novel for fans of George R. R. Martin and Michael J. Sullivan, set in the world of the Eisner Award-nominated Artesia comic books. To find the Sword, unearth the Barrow. To unearth the Barrow, follow the Map. When a small crew of scoundrels, would-be heroes, deviants, and ruffians discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword buried in the barrow of a long-dead wizard, they think they've struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map turns out to be cursed and then is destroyed in a magical ritual. The loss of the map leaves them dreaming of what might have been, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place. Stjepan Black-Heart, suspected murderer and renegade royal cartographer; Erim, a young woman masquerading as a man; Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire; Leigh, an exiled magus under an ignominious cloud; Godewyn Red-Hand, mercenary and troublemaker; Arduin Orwain, scion of a noble family brought low by scandal; and Arduin's sister Annwyn, the beautiful cause of that scandal: together they form a cross section of the Middle Kingdoms of the Known World, united by accident and dark design, on a quest that will either get them all in the history books...or get them all killed.
|Product dimensions:||8.80(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Mark Smylie is the author of The Barrow. In addition, he has worked in the publishing and entertainment industries for almost two decades as an artist, an illustrator, a writer, a game designer, an editor, and a publisher. In 2003, he founded a comics and graphic-novel publishing company, Archaia. He spent twelve years there, initially as publisher and then as chief creative officer, before departing to return to his own creative endeavors.
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By MARK SMYLIE
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2014 Mark Smylie
All rights reserved.
AT THE GATES OF THERAPOLI MAGNI, CAPITAL OF THE MIDDLE KINGDOMS
THE 10TH OF EMPERIUM, 1471IA
The walls of Therapoli normally shone with a sandy, sienna color that could look like burnished gold in the right light. But in the hues of early morning before the rising of the sun, the city was just blue, as blue as the rest of the world. Erim could hear the quiet conversations of men and women in the morning gloom, waiting for the West Gates to open: farmers from the High King's Demesne, bringing fruits and grains to market; traders and tinkers, with wagons and carts piled high with barrels, sacks, and baskets; horse sellers and cattle men, pilgrims and weary travelers, all of them waiting patiently, bleary-eyed in the sleepy light of the pre-dawn hour. A donkey brayed nearby, and further away several roosters answered. From her vantage point atop her horse, a large part of the city was visible beyond the gate and walls: the crowning heights of the High King's Hall and the noble tower houses in the High Quarter, the University on its rise past the Gate of Eldyr, and then the lower parts of the city down by the docks below. She could see small, faint sparks of orange and red appearing amidst the blue where fires were being stoked. Bakeries and smithies would be the first to stir, to get their ovens and kilns hot for the workday. The Morning Star hung bright in the blue sky above the city to the east, and as these were Divine King lands the prayers she could hear to Ami the Dawn Maiden from amongst the more devout in the waiting line named the star as the Divine King's Herald.
Erim shifted in the saddle of her horse, a reasonably sedate Danian half-bred courser named Cúlain-mer that Stjepan had picked out for her, and her gaze fell on a similar line of wagons and people at the South Gate, then on the docks inside the city and the bay beyond, and the fish towns that stretched down the coast from the city south to Durinham. The fisher fleet was already starting to put out into the waters of the bay, and she could see small coasters sailing out between the larger ships that waited for the main docks to open. Erim had grown up in a port city, Berrina down in the Kingdom of Huelt, and so she could class her ships and sails. She could see dozens of merchant hulks and clinker-built cogs from around the Middle Kingdoms and from across the Mera Argenta, from Hemispia and its League of Cities; high-masted lateen-sailed caravels and square-sailed carracks from Palatia; even a few Déskédran dhorrows and decorative, lug-sailed baferrils. All of them were waiting for dock space so they could disgorge their cargo, their orange lanterns flashing messages back and forth to each other and the docks in the blue light of the morning.
The city waited, its breath held for the start of the day, and Erim waited with it.
* * *
While Stjepan and Harvald had found the map they were looking for, the expedition could hardly have been called a success; not simply because of the deaths of so many of their compatriots, but because they'd had to leave most of the immediately useful loot behind. Indeed, they would have actually been worse off than when they'd started, having spent their own coin for food and lodging along the way, had the dead men's horses and supplies not refilled their purses. Erim had been almost surprised that the horses were all still alive and accounted for upon their return to the small hill village where they'd stabled them before the rough march further into the hills, along with what they judged to be most if not all of the small pack items left behind. She had found herself regretting the suspicion with which she'd eyed the poor villagers.
They had decided not to leave the Manon Mole the way they entered it, even though it meant being in the hills longer, and so Stjepan had led them across the spine of its high, deserted range, sticking to old shepherd's trails. They had to hide several times when they saw mounted parties moving in the distance, but they made it down into the foothills after two hair-raising days, looking over their shoulders the whole way. Then it had taken them another day in the Hada Wold, sticking to the trails that skirted the Tilbrae River. She'd have probably preferred they skip the woods, but Stjepan had explained that the Hada Wold was the domain of the Court of the Stone Wood, and the fae of the Stone Court tended to leave mortals alone. And sure enough they were unmolested on their journey through the dark, leafy trees. Stjepan had found an old shrine made of stones piled about the hollow of a great, dead tree, and he prayed there for their lost companions on the Path of the Dead.
They'd made it safely all the way down to Tilfort, and they'd sold the eight riding horses and two spares and their tack and harnesses and extra supplies to some traders there. Erim thought the price they'd gotten was low, a hundred shillings a horse and another thirty shillings for the tack and harness, but the gear wasn't in great shape and the market at Tilfort wasn't a big one. The traders could probably sell the horses for closer to three times what they paid for them, even in a small market like Tilfort; the horses were good stock, sturdy Danian palfreys. But traders never gave full price anyway, she figured, otherwise they wouldn't be able to make any money selling them again. Stjepan had thought the price was fair. They could've gotten more perhaps in Vesslos, but Stjepan didn't want to walk into the city with Guilford's horses in tow, which made sense to her.
Still, it was enough of a sale that the traders had paid out twenty-seven gold crowns and two hundred and twenty in shillings, big sums for Erim to work her head around. Stjepan had paid a couple of shillings to have mourners at the temple of the Divine King in Tilfort say the prayers for Guilford's lost crew for the rest of their time on the Path of the Dead, and then he had insisted they return through Vesslos; from Tilfort they could've gone to Soros or Abenton and found a barge or a ship to take them across the bay to Therapoli, which Harvald argued they should do, but Stjepan had said it was the right and proper thing to return through Vesslos. Guilford had people there, a young Danian woman and a squalling baby that shared the rooms he let above the Dancing Stag on the Run Street. Erim and Harvald had waited in the tavern's common room as Stjepan visited with the young woman and the child upstairs, shifting uncomfortably as the locals gave them sour looks; they'd known instantly that Black-Heart had brought bad news. She found out later that Stjepan had given the woman a dozen gold crowns for her and the baby, easily enough for a year's room and board with some left over, and then when he came downstairs he bought a round of drinks in Guilford's memory for the house, and spent some time quietly recalling Guilford's life and death with some of the hard men there. The young woman and her baby had come down later, dressed in mourning black, and Tall Duram, who owned the Stag, and a bunch of the regulars went with her and Stjepan to the Divine King temple. Erim didn't go with them, and neither did Harvald, but she found out later that Stjepan had paid for the mourners there too, and for another priest to pray for Guilford and his crew in the last few days of their journey on the Path of the Dead.
Stjepan still hadn't finished; most of Guilford's crew had been young men, street men, except for Llew the Stew, but he had no known surviving family, and old Jon Pastle, who had been a widower and had two grown sons who were tenants of the Lord of Kielwell. Erim and Harvald had waited in town while Stjepan rode out west the ten miles to the farms there to deliver them eight gold crowns and the news of their father's death. Harvald had gone to find better accommodations at an inn across town, but she'd stayed in the common room at the Dancing Stag until Stjepan returned well after dusk. She had sat in a dark corner, eating her dinner, lamb meatballs in a mushroom sauce with onions and garlic over a bowl of herbed rice, and observed the locals as they drank to Guilford and told stories about him and the Stick and Gap Tooth Tims. She had tried not to weep into her food. Eventually a couple of them had worked up the courage to come and ask her about the details of Guilford's death. Since Stjepan hadn't told her not to, she told them in a low voice about the harried fight in the temple, the swarms of cultists, Guilford killing their vulture-masked priestess with a thrown spear and then dying at the hands of a Rahabi demon while trying to save Gap Tooth Tims. She had tried not to embellish too much, but hoped that when they repeated the stories to his woman and child that they'd see him as a hero; judging from the awed expressions on the men's faces, she'd told the story right. The two men had thanked her quietly in serious tones, and then had rejoined their fellows, repeating what she'd told them. And so legends are born, she'd thought to herself as she had raised her glass to the ceiling in a silent toast.
She and Stjepan had slept in the common room on padded benches built into the back table booths, and it had been the best night of sleep she'd had since the disastrous fight in the temple. She'd watched Stjepan sleeping next to her for a while, his face peaceful, the anger and danger gone out of it, then drifted off with a warm sensation in her chest.
"Don't come back, Black-Heart," Tall Duram had said to Stjepan as they'd left in the morning to find Harvald. There hadn't been any heat in his words, though.
"Don't make me, Tall Duram," Stjepan had replied, fixing him with that gaze of his.
"Fallia and the baby will be well taken care of, my word on it," Tall Duram had said, and they'd nodded to each other and Tall Duram had gone back inside the Dancing Stag.
Having lost over a full day in Vesslos, they had tried to hurry the rest of the way back to Therapoli, aiming to cross the Abenbrae at the bridge at Tauria and then cut east across open country belonging to the Baron of Misal Ruth to cross the Harbrae at the bridge at Grawton, then down the West King's Road through the High King's Demesne to the capital. About fifty miles of road and country in total. But they'd had some trouble finding Harvald and got a late start, so they'd missed the closing of the gates at Grawton, and then the local inn on the west side of the river was so jammed even the common rooms were full, so they'd been forced to spend the night in the fields with other travelers who had been late to the bridge. It hadn't been an unpleasant evening, trading gossip and news with tinkers and traders, banding around campfires for warmth and security from the Black Hunter in case the Wild Hunt was loose in the night. Of course, if the Black Hunter had come calling they'd have been fucked, except that some of the tinkers had discreetly set out folk charms around the campfire to ward off the Wild Hunt, and luckily no one minded.
The traders and tinkers had told them that the passes up into the Highlands of Daradja had opened up early that spring, and traders were already winding their way back and forth; that a man named Fearam, son of Ishal, had been outlawed for murder by Wallis Liefring, the Baron of Misal Ruth, and was being hunted as he fled north for those same fresh-opened passes, hoping to reach the safety of the mountains; that a black stag had been seen near the Darker Tower, and that was certainly an ill omen to the locals there, and huge flocks of carrion crows and vultures had been seen winging their way out of the Plain of Stones, so something terrible and tragic was on the horizon. Useful tidbits all, but getting caught on the west side of the river overnight meant they'd lost a bit of travel time, and the next day they'd wound up arriving too late to enter Therapoli as well, missing the closing of the gates by about an hour.
The inns just outside the capital city's walls at the North Gate were notorious for their high prices, so they'd moved down to the West Gate to see if the lodgings might be cheaper, but had found no room at the inns there. Not wanting to keep going to another gate, they had found a wagon train of farmers and traders from Pierham who'd also missed the gate closings and who let them hunker down with them for a few pennies. The farmers had shared a bottle of apple brandy and fine signing voices, so it had been another fine evening under the star sign of the Star-Child.
Erim had woken up in the back of a hay cart with the rise of the Dawn Maiden, the world around her turning from deepest black to pale blue. A single distant bell had tolled over the city to announce the coming of the Morning Star. As the wagon train had slowly stirred, and other farmers with carts and travelers from nearby inns had started to queue up for the gates, they'd finished off their dried figs and hard cheese and the potato-onion bread they'd gotten back in Yefram on the West King's Road, still surprisingly fresh, and Stjepan had counted out the last of their coins from the sale of the horses.
"We've got seven gold crowns and a hundred shillings left over, give or take," Stjepan had said. "So that's a little over a hundred shillings each." But when he'd counted out the coins he'd given her four gold crowns and twenty shillings, Harvald three gold crowns and twenty shillings, and then kept sixty shillings and change for himself. When she'd protested, he'd shrugged and said quietly, "You need it more than me." Which was true, so she hadn't argued much. Harvald had income both from his father's estates and his clerkship at the High King's Court, and so had the most money of any of them; he was also a stickler for his fair share, though Stjepan never seemed to begrudge him that. Stjepan had his income from the High King's Court as a cartographer, so he'd be all right. But she didn't have any regular means.
* * *
The temple bells in the city finally started ringing, announcing the coming of the sun and Divine King, and the call to morning prayers. "Islik, King of Heaven. Hail, King of Heaven!" shouted out some of the men up ahead of them as they greeted the sun and dropped to their knees to pray, and the line began to stir. Pilgrims, she thought. Or at least devout men; but by their dress they're not locals. Therapoli Magni was not merely the capital of the Middle Kingdoms, and the seat of the High King; it was a jewel of the ancient world, founded during the Golden Age by King Culainn of the Danians exactly four hundred years before the ascension of Islik to the throne of the King of Heaven, and now over eighteen hundred years old. Its most infamous king, Myrad the Mad, had actually imprisoned Islik in his fabled dungeons for a time, while Islik was in exile from his earthly throne, and it was there that Islik had met the other three Kings in Exile. That made the city a holy site, sacred to all that worshipped the Divine King, and devout pilgrims flocked to the city from all the lands around the Mera Argenta to pray in its great temple; though if they looked to visit the dungeons where Islik had been held they would be disappointed, as they had been buried and sealed below the city centuries ago.
Stjepan and Harvald sat on their horses and said nothing, and neither did she. They were all wrapped in an extra layer over their travel clothes to ward off the spring morning chill, Stjepan with a rough wool blanket drawn about him and an oiled leather hat with broad brims that curled up on the sides, Harvald with a brown hooded cloak, and her with an old sleeveless fur-lined half-coat. A right band of ragamuffins, we are, she thought.
Excerpted from THE BARROW by MARK SMYLIE. Copyright © 2014 Mark Smylie. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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
ContentsPrologue: In the Hills of the Manon Mole, in the Year 1471ia, 17,
PART ONE: IN THE CITY OF MONEY AND FILTH,
Chapter One: At the Gates of Therapoli Magni, Capital of the Middle Kingdoms, the 10th of Emperium, 1471ia, 55,
Chapter Two: On the Way to the Forum, 75,
Chapter Three: In the City House of the Baron of Araswell, 91,
Chapter Four: Baker Street, 103,
Chapter Five: In the Baths of the Foreign Quarter, 113,
Chapter Six: At the High King's Court, 121,
Chapter Seven: At the Library of the University of Therapoli, 133,
Chapter Eight: Round Midnight, When It All Goes Even More Terribly Wrong, 155,
Chapter Nine: The Public Funeral Plaza of the City of Therapoli, the 17th of Emperium, 1471ia, 183,
Chapter Ten: Above Sayles & Grim, Printers & Engravers, 209,
Chapter Eleven: At the City House of the Baron of Araswell, 213,
Chapter Twelve: Out of the City, 241,
PART TWO: ON THE ROAD OF SWEAT AND TEARS,
Chapter Thirteen: Farewells at Pierham, the 18th of Emperium, 1471ia, 251,
Chapter Fourteen: So Close to Home, 265,
Chapter Fifteen: Skirting the Manon Mole, 279,
Chapter Sixteen: Across the Eridbrae, 309,
Chapter Seventeen: Woat's Inn, 331,
Chapter Eighteen: The Plain of Flowers, 355,
Chapter Nineteen: The Mizer Road, 379,
Chapter Twenty: The Great Wall of Fortias the Brave, 389,
Chapter Twenty-One: The Ruins of Lost Tir'gaile, 409,
Chapter Twenty-Two: The Bale Mole, 419,
Chapter Twenty-Three: The Ruins of the Black Tower, 427,
Chapter Twenty-Four: Camped before the Barrow, 435,
PART THREE: IN THE BARROW OF THE DEAD AND DYING,
Chapter Twenty-Five: The First Attempt, 451,
Chapter Twenty-Six: The Shadow in the Night, 487,
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Digging, 505,
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Dreams in the Witch House, 531,
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Two by Two, 537,
Chapter Thirty: The Return of Azharad, 547,
Chapter Thirty-One: The Last Day, 569,
Epilogue the First: Woat's Inn, 577,
Epilogue the Second: Therapoli Magni, 579,
A Brief Glossary of Deities, Places, People, and Events, 589,
About the Author, 607,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not a particularly memorable book
The argonian patiently waits at the tall doors of bleak falls barrow for other people to join him.