A thousand years had passed since the Eye of the Hunter last glared in the heavens. A thousand years since the immortal Elfess Riatha brought word of the prophecy to the Warrows Tomlin and Petal with whom she had leagued to hunt down and defeat Baron Stoke, one of the most evil beings to ever stalk the lands of Mithgar. The price of Stoke’s doom had been a beloved companion’s life, the two plunging, locked in combat, down an icy chasm which had sealed shut the ring of eternity.
Now the comet known as the Eye of the Hunter again rode Mithgar’s skies, and the creatures of darkness once again ravaged the lands, heralding the imminent return of their dread mster, Baron Stoke. And now five brave souls must answer the call of prophecy: Riatha and the elf called Aravan; Gwylly and Faeril, last in a long line of Firstborn Warrow descendants of Tomlin and Petal; and one other, one restored to them from Death’s chill grasp.
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Year's Long Day, 5E983
[Twenty-Six years Past]
The first twinges of contraction began just after the Ha-Ji dawn came to the Steppes of Moko, and young Teiji, her belly swollen large, was escorted to the birthing tent, where the midwives awaited. They placed Teiji on a birthing stool, seated above a shallow pit lined with a mat made of woven straw. Along with the biting stick, the juice of the yellow poppy was prepared to ease the pain were it to become severe. Incense was set to smoldering, filling the yurt with a soothing scent. Water was boiled and swaddling cloths made ready, as well as cloths to clean up the blood and to deal with other needs. And they laid out precious scented oils and soaps for the cleansing after. Too, they discreetly brought in the brace of ceremonial blades: a bronze delivery knife to be used in the event the mother failed and her belly needed to be opened; an iron deliverance knife should the child be malformed, the throat to be cut, the curse quickly laid to keep it from tainting the tribe. But none expected either blade to be used, for after all, this was Ha-Ji, the longest day of the year, an auspicious time if ever there was one.
Chakun, who had just turned eleven and was attending her first ever birthing dutyshe would be married in a year or so, and no doubt be with child quickly after, and so she needed to know these thingscame running back from the high steppe stream, water-skin in hand. The chili water was for the cooling of Teiji's brow; it would be Chakun'stask all day.
Throughout the rest of the camp, tea was brewed to be sipped by the women of the tribe, and they settled back to wait. As to the men of the tribe of Cholui Chang, they would not ride their sturdy ponies across the steppes that day but would instead dance 'round the central fire and drink strong ammall palro ch'agifermented mare's milkfor Teiji, the youngest wife of the chuyohan, was to give birth.
As dawn came to the village of Yugu, there on the shores of the Jingarian Sea, Wangu set out in his small craft, the battened sails angled to make the most of the early-morning offshore breeze, for surely on this the longest day of the year he would haul aboard a catch worthy of being taken to the grand market in the great port city of Janjong.
He was headed for the waters off the eastern shore of Shàbíng, the small rocky isle standing like a sentinel on the edge of the deep abyss. And as he sailed he readied his many-twined silk line; perhaps this new one was heavy enough to withstand the pull of even the greatest of fish, unlike the last one, which had broken under the strain of something large and unseen.
In the yurt, Teiji's labor became more intense, her groaning more pronouncedthough her water had not brokenwhile outside the sun rode up in the sky, the long day growing hotter with each passing candlemark. Young Chakun was sent yet again to the cold stream to refill the waterskin and, as she had done before, she passed wide of the men drinking 'round the campfire, avoiding their sidelong glances and disturbing comments.
Wangu tied his new silk line to a short length of precious metal chain linked to his greatest hook, and baited the claw with the mesh bag filled with fish entrails. He said a brief prayer to the gods of the deeps and cast hook and chain overboard, paying out the heavy silken line, the impaled net of intestines disappearing into the depths beneath. Not far behind Wangu the tilted crag of Shàbíng jutted up out of the sea, the rock face stern and unyielding as it stared down into the abyss below.
It was just after midmorning when Teiji's water finally broke. Chakun, soothing Teiji's brow with a cool damp cloth, looked on in amazement as the liquid gushed out, a pinkish tinge to the flow. As the midwives got Teiji to her feet to walk her about in the tent yet again in order to bring on the child, Chakun was given the task of replacing the delivery mat in the pit and carrying the soiled one to the central fire and casting it in. When the wisp of a girl pitched the dampened delivery mat into the curling flames, the men gave a great loud cry of gladness, for it meant Teiji was nearer to bearing. The flames bloomed up to consume the straw, yet Chakun did not tarry to see it burn but instead hurried swiftly away, for some of the men were staring at her, their wide drunken grins unsettling. She got back to the birthing tent just as Old Tal took her hand from between Teiji's legs after measuring the amount of dilation, and then the elderly woman frowned and glanced up at the other midwives and shook her head: "Not even a little finger's width." Chakun felt a stab of fear in her breast, for this was ill news, or so she deemed. And even though Teiji had not heard these words above her own moaning agony, still her groans seemed to come all the louder.
Tzzzz ...! the line hissed out as something took the fish-gut-baited great hook and ran.
"Ai!" shouted Wangu in glee. "I have you now!" And he reached for the free-running silk and caught it up, only to cry out in pain and jerk away as the gossamer cable scored against his palms. Leaning over the stern board, he plunged his forearms into the brine of the Jingarian Sea, the salt stinging but soothing his rope-burned hands.
And yet leaning over, he watched as the line ran out and out, and thenTung!it twanged as it snapped taut, the knot around the aft cleat holding fast. But then whatever had taken the bait began hauling the boat backward through the sea, water churning madly and slopping over the board.
Wangu's eyes widened in fright. "What have I caught?" he shouted to the sea. "Or what is it that has caught me?"
The sun rose up through the skies, crossing the zenith at last to move into the west, as Longday slowly passed. And in the birthing tent of the tribe of Cholui Chang, Chakun covered her ears to shut out Teiji's screams, but still she could hear them, in spite of having her eyes shut as well.
And as two sturdy midwives more dragged than walked Teiji within the tent, the other midwives looked at one another with great concern, for the young wife was in dry labor, and still the signs of delivery had not changed: the baby would not come.
Once again they placed Teiji on the birthing stool, and Old Tal set her ear to the swollen belly and listened in spite of the shrieks. And she pressed her hands to the flesh and lightly squeezed and pushed here and there, and Teiji screamed all the louder.
The old woman then turned to the others. "The child is alive and in the proper position ... not trying to come hindwards to the world."
And then Tal prepared another measure of the juice of the poppy to quench Teiji's hard pain, though the last yellow dose had seemed to have little if any effect.
Backward flew the boat, water churning over the stern. Wangu bailed frantically in a desperate attempt to stem the gushing tide. And just as he thought he would have to cut his precious new line to keep the boat from foundering ... whatever had taken the bait stopped in its run.
Perhaps it is dead.
Still the fisherman bailed.
Do not be stupid, Wangu. It now but pauses in the drag of the boat.... Aiee! What if it plots dark evil?
Wangu madly bailed.
And then from underneath something struck the craft a great blow, pitching Wangu from his feet. He struggled up in time to look over the starboard wale, and glimpsed the great grey shape as it swam down and away.
"Aie!" groaned Wangu. "It is a shâyú."
Once again the boat was hauled backward through the Jingarian Sea. And Wangu readied his knife. Precious or not, if the monster I saw decides to dive down into the abyss and drag the boat under, I will cut the line.
Even so, it galled him, for did not "Wangu" mean "stubborn"? His father, Kwàile, had given him that name for being resolute, even as a child. And the great shark would bring much gold in Jan-jong, could he but land it, for its fins made the best of medicinal soups, while the heart and liver and other organs would bring much on the market as well, especially the eyes, which are said to be used by witches and such in their far-seeing spells. The brain, too, was treasured by witches, for they used it to know what evil men were thinking, or so it was said. The meat of the shark was certainly precious, for it would give strength to those who ate it. Precious also was the cartilage, for it was said to ward off the malignant disease that eats one from within. And the teeth would bring in a measure of gold, for warriors sought them as amuletsthey bestowed ferocity in battle. Aye, if he could but land this shâyú, it would serve him well.
Wangu readied his boathook, the heavy iron barb on the spear-like spar, the nearest thing he had to a fighting weapon aboard.
And then he began bailing again as the boat was haled backward through the sea.
Shrieking and shrieking, Teiji thrashed about on the ground, unable to sit or stand or walk. Midwives futilely tried to soothe her, and though Tal knew that too much of the juice of the yellow poppy was deadly dangerous in itself, still she tried to get Teiji to take some more, though it did not seem to help at all.
And Chakun bathed Teiji's forehead with cool water, the eleven-year-old now unable to cover her own ears to help shut out the shrieks. If this was what it meant to bear a child, Chakun vowed she would never get married but would join the priestesses of Moko instead, and await the prophesied Mage Warrior King to come.
Whump! Its slashing teeth bared in a gnashing jaw as it gnawed on the iron hook and chain, the shark slammed into the side of the leaking boat again, the great fish rolling so that its dead-black eye stared coldly up at screaming Wangu.
Dread coursing through the fisherman's veins, with all his might"Eyahh!"Wangu stabbed the iron prong of the boathook into the monster once more, the barb spearing again through the tough hide of the creature and deep into the flesh below.
Once more the shark wrenched about, Wangu nearly losing his pole as the monster wrested away through the shallows. Wangu and his boat were trapped up against a sheer rock wall on the west side of the stony crag of Shàbíng, where the shâyú had dragged the man in his craft, as if to pin him against stone and then wreak a crushing, slashing revenge. Again and again the shark had attacked, and again and again a wailing Wangu had stabbed the hook into the beast. And now the shâyú turned away once more to ready another charge.
As the shark surged away, Wangu managed to jerk the boathook out of the pierced hide at the last moment, and he clutched the pole tightly, for it and the battered boat were all that stood between him and death.
"I am named Stubborn," shouted Wangu above his own weeping moans of rage and fear. "I am named Stubborn ... Stubborn of the family Sûn."
Out in the brine a heave in the water turned and sped back toward the boat: the shâyú was coming again.
Wailing in terror, with a two-handed grip Wangu readied the boathook once more.
* * *
As the sun lipped the horizon, Teiji gave one last scream, her voice so hoarse it was but a whisper ... and her jaw clenched tightly, and she snapped the biting stick in two. And then Teiji fell limp, the life going out of her. Chakun's heart raced as Old Tal bent over and put her ear to Teiji's breast and listened. The elderly woman rose to her knees and barked out, "Bring the bronze delivery knife. Teiji is dead. Mayhap we can save the child."
Chakun turned her face away as Tal took the knife in hand and slashed a long cut through dead Teiji's belly, blood seeping out.
Standing in the shallows and laughing hysterically and using the boathook as a lever, Wangu managed to roll the dead shark into even shallower water. The monster was seventeen feet long and must have weighed a ton and a half or more. Still, the water gave it a bit of buoyancy, and so it was the bulk Wangu struggled against and not the creature's heft. Even so, the sun was sinking, and Wangu needed to harvest what he could ere night fell and other sharks came following the blood trail. With the shâyú now rolled three-quarters over and braced against the rocks, Wangu unsheathed his gutting knife and, grunting and cursing, managed to hack a long, deep cut through the great shark's underside. He then plunged elbow-deep into the gashed-open gut of the shâyú to gather in the precious organs, but his hands encounteredWhat is this?something unexpected. Hard and smooth and spherical it seemed ... or mayhap an ovoid. Slowly he lifted it outWaugh! It was a crystal, or perhaps a jewel. No! It was jade! Or was it?
They drew the child forth from its dead mother's cloven belly, and squalling cries filled the tent. Chakun was given the task of cleaning the babe, a boy, while Old Tal searched in her bag for gut to tie the cord ere cutting it.
As Chakun cleansed the child of matter, she saw a dark mark twining 'round his neck and up the back of his head and over.
Cord in hand, Tal turned back from her bag to see the mark as well. "Bring the iron knife of deliverance," said the old woman, her voice cold, her features glacial. "This child is cursed."
"But it's just a baby," protested Chakun.
"Nevertheless," hissed Tal, holding out her hand for the knife, "born in pain and death and blood it killed its mother; it has a mark; it must be slain, its throat cut ere the curse can spread to the tribe."
Tears in her eyes, Chakun turned the squalling child onto its back ... and gasped out in wonder, for there on its forehead the mark ended.
"Yong!" cried Chakun. "It is the mark of a Yong!"
Standing out starkly on the forehead of the child was the face of a Yonga Dragonits sinuous body snaking back over the head of the babe, its tail wrapping 'round the tot's neck.
All the midwives moaned and fell down in worship, for the Masula Yongsa Wangthe Mage Warrior Kinghad come at last.
Wangu's eyes widened in amazement, for he held an oblate spheroid of translucent, jadelike stone, flawless and pale green and lustroussome six inches through from end to end, and four inches through acrossand it seemed to glow faintly with an inner light. He held the orb up in the dying rays of the setting sun, the crimson luminance casting back scarlet gleams like glints of candescent blood.
Out into the camp the child was carriedChakun afforded the honor, for wasn't she the first to see the sign on the child's face? She marched to the main fire, all the midwives in a respectful train after, Tal at their head. When Chakun reached the circle of men, she stepped boldly through and she called so that all could hear"He shall be known as Kutsen Yong"and she held up the child for all to see, the mark on his forehead standing out starkly, reflecting his nameMighty Dragon. Moaning in obeisance, all the men fell down in worship, for the long-awaited Mage Warrior King had chosen this tribe to first set foot among.
Old Tal stepped forward and said, "Teiji is dead, and the child will need milk."
"The milk of a mare?" asked Cholui Chang, the chieftain, still on his knees.
The old woman looked down at him in outrage. "This is the long-prophesied Masula Yongsa Wang, the one before whom even the Dragons themselves will bow. Nothing less than the full of a woman's breasts will do."
An icy chill fell over the camp at these words. Cholui Chang rose up and looked about, and he strode to the gathering women of the tribe. And he snatched a wee babe from its mother's arms, and, as she screamed in horror, he slew it with a stroke of his knife.
Aiee! This fish was even more precious than I thought. Nevertheless, there is a harvest to do before the night hunters arrive.
Into his boat Wangu set the jade stone and then returned to the shark. Swiftly he reaped the heart and the liver, and then he took the eyes. As to the brain, he would harvest it on the morrow, if any of it was left, for Dame FortuneLady Yùnchihad guided his boathook, and the iron point had crashed through the head and stabbed through that organ on the shâyú's final run, killing the great savage beast.
Wangu turned to the shark fins, managing to hack off the pectorals ere darkness fell. And in the dimness he clambered into his battered boat, the floorboards awash with brine, and ere falling into exhausted sleep, he bailed most of it out.
Sometime during the night, Wangu was awakened by a loud thrashing as scavengers came and took their toll. But by sunup they were gone.
The next morning it was decided: while weeping Kkother week-old son, now deadwould wet-nurse the child, Chakun would be the principal handmaiden and see to Kutsen Yong's every need. After all she was the first among them to recognize the Masula Yongsa Wang, and she was all of eleven, certainly old enough for the task.
And the Mage Warrior King must be served.
There was a great deal of meat left on the shark, but what had remained of its organs was gone, for the scavengers had torn large chunks from the sliced-open belly on inward. Even so, competing with crabs, Wangu salvaged much of the precious flesh; it would bring a good price in the nearby great port of Janjong.
Finally, Wangu turned to the mouth and, working carefully, pried teeth loose, for he knew the serrated triangular bones would bring gold from the imperial guard. As he reached in to take another, of a sudden the great jaws snapped shut, and screaming in horror, Wangu drew back but a stump where his left hand once had been.
Even in death, the shâyú extracted its revenge for the fisherman's dark deeds done.
Far to the south in the land of Jûng, a yellow-eyed being set out northward for Moko, for not only did the signs say the time had come, his subsequent raising of the dead girl had also revealed his relentless foe was near.
And even as the yellow-eyed one fared away, to the west a black-haired Elf came across the border and into the land of Jûng. He bore with him a crystal-bladed black-hafted spear, and about his neck he wore a small blue stone on a thong. Into the land of Jûng he rode, to finally come to the great central city where the warlord of warlords ruled. There the Elf inquired after a yellow-eyed man, and although a few of those he asked knew of this reclusive, sinister being, none who had seen him knew where he had gone, though they did know it was recent. One by one, the Elf followed each of the roads out from the city, riding for league upon league, inquiring at steads and inns along the way, asking after the yellow-eyed man, but it was as if he had vanished into thin air, for none had seen him pass by. Disappointed once again, the Elf finally turned his horse back to the west, and left behind the land of Jûng.
Under the remnants of a once-great volcano, where the land for leagues upon leagues juddered and jolted and trembled, in the rock far below lay a vast, fiery chamber, magma bubbling and surging and occasionally breaking free to erupt anew. Here it was millennia past Black Kalgalath had laired, the great Fire-drake sending his aethyric self into the molten inferno below. Still that was in a time now gone, the mountain itself long destroyed, and only ruin and devastation remained.
Deep in the stone and faring from points afar, a number of huge beings made their way toward this fiery Hèl, their broad hands splitting open the granite before them and sealing it after as they moved through solid rock. They were coming to draw the molten stone back into the earth, down and away from the surface, to quell this land of its incessant juddering, for the time was drawing nigh, and this was Dragonslair.
And in Dwarven-carved chambers hidden within a black mountain in far Xian, sleepers began to waken and stir and murmur of the verging Trine.
Table of Contents
|Aftermath and Echoes||459|
|About the Author||475|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The book is about two elves, Riatha and Aravan, the baeran, Urus, and two warrows, Gwylly and Faeril, who journey to find and defeat evil Baron Stokes. This is a beautiful haunting book that encourages you to think. It will make you blink and say, 'Dang! So that's what (that!) really meant!' This book also discusses between the characters philosophical ideas and long term impacts. I love McKiernan because he makes you think maybe magic, and fantastic races might still exist today. My only warning is to 'PAY ATTENTION' to the timeline otherwise you can get mixed up (hand raised) and the story won't make sense. This is because there are two stories unfolding one set during present time and the other in the past. The story is written this way for a purpose it has more impact. Usually this type of writing irritates me, but McKiernan skillfully switched between the two stories and made me squirm. (I was not sure which story I wanted to read first) The book is brilliant, the characters are memorable, and the story made me cry. This is a book that readers of fantasy will read and re-read time and again. Go to the bookstore and read the first few pages, you don't know what your missing!!!
This book is a well written fantasy novel. The author develops the characters masterfully so that one falls in love with them and feels that he or she is sharing their adventures. It is recommended that McKiernan's 'Tales of Mithgar' (particularly the story 'The Vulgmaster') be read before this novel as it provides background on several of the book's main characters. My only real criticism of this work is that McKiernan gets a little preachy at times, having his characters give long speaches and philosophical rants against religion and various other topics during the characters' long voyage. Had this ranting been edited, a good hundred pages or so could have been saved. However, this book is a well told story worth reading.
I don't know how they do it. I mean, books like this are near nonexistant. This was a wonderful book... but that word cannot BEGIN to relate to one how good of a book this is. I have read only three McKiernan books--THE IRON TOWER, THE SILVER CALL and this one, THE EYE OF THE HUNTER. Each one was awesome. But there is just something about this book that makes it... special. At first-I admit-I really only got this book so I would have something to read ere getting SILVER WOLF, BLACK FALCON--being ignorant of the fact that that book comes just after this novel. But I took up this book and began to read--and I was trapped in the web that is Mithgar. The characters are outstanding--Aravan, Riatha, Urus, Gwylly, Faeril--they are all amazing and beautifully portraied in this book. And like both THE IRON TOWER and THE SILVER CALL, this book has real emotion--especially the end. I mean, WOW! but I should let a reader find out for themselves. But I recommend this book--nay, I all but DEMAND that one read this book. And, if you see this review, I surely hope you do
'The Eye' will pull you into the world of mithgar and once you are in you won't want to leave. McKiernan is one of the true masters of fantasy. Read his tales of Mithgar- You Will Love Them!
I loved this book. Faeril is one of McKiernan's most intriguing characters. I love the romance between her and Gwylly.
one of the best yet, McKiernan never quits! his ability to pull you into the world of fanticy is amazing. if you pick up his book, you can't put it down.