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The Maelstrom (The Tapestry Series #4)

The Maelstrom (The Tapestry Series #4)

by Henry H. Neff

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

The world is at the brink of ruin . . . or is it salvation? Astaroth has been weakened, and the demon Prusias is taking full advantage of the situation to create an empire of his own. His formidable armies are on the move, and Rowan is in their sights.

Rowan must rely on Max McDaniels and David Menlo and hope that their combined powers can stop Prusias's war machine before it's too late.

But even as perils loom, danger stalks their every move. Someone has marked Max for death and no one is above suspicion. Should the assassins succeed, Rowan's fate may depend on little Mina whose abilities are prodigious but largely untested.

And where is Astaroth? Has he fled this world or is he biding his time, awaiting his next opportunity?

In the Tapestry's fourth book, author-illustrator Henry H. Neff boldly raises the stakes in an epic tale of mankind's struggle to survive in a world now populated by demons and demigods and everything in between!


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375871481
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 09/10/2013
Series: Tapestry Series , #4
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 127,638
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.48(h) x 1.14(d)
Lexile: 890L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

HENRY H. NEFF has been a successful business consultant in Chicago and a popular high school teacher in San Francisco. He now writes and draws full-time from his home in Brooklyn. The Maelstrom is his fourth book.

Read an Excerpt

~ 1 ~
The Xebec
The harbormaster’s bell rang clear and cold as the xebec slipped past the tall breakers and entered Rowan Harbor. Witch-­fire burned at its prow, an oily plume of green flames that sputtered in the breeze and cast a spectral gleam on the dark swells. A dozen fishermen and smugglers scattered out of its path, coaxing their smaller vessels beyond reach of the ship’s oars as it skimmed toward the main dock like a huge black dragonfly.
On the cliffs above, Max McDaniels slung off his heavy pack and stopped to watch the ship’s progress. Despite the predawn gloom, he could make out a weather worker on the xebec’s deck. The witch was crouching near the fire like an old spider as she piloted the craft through a minefield of broken stone towers that jutted from the water.
Max understood the need for caution. He was curious to see how such a ship would navigate the towers, but he was even more curious as to who was aboard and why they were here. Rowan’s shores had become treacherous to visitors. The jagged pillars represented more than just a danger to the ship’s hull; they symbolized all that had changed since May Day.
Just six months earlier, those broken and barnacled spires had belonged to Gràvenmuir. The demons had called it an embassy but it had really been an occupation, a base from which they could influence Rowan’s affairs and keep a close eye on the only humans who might challenge their rule. It had been a darkly beautiful structure, a Gothic sculpture of black towers and battlements encasing gilded halls where demons held court, oversaw trade, and ensured that Rowan honored the terms of her surrender.
All of that was history.
On May Day, Elias Bram had obliterated the embassy and fired a shot heard around the world. Max had witnessed the event, but even now it seemed a dream. It was difficult to believe that a single person was capable of such an astonishing act, much less a man who was supposed to have died centuries ago.
Max replayed the sequence in his mind. Once Bram had halted at Gràvenmuir’s gates, the sorcerer had spread his arms wide. With a roar, the surrounding cliffs had broken, shearing clean away as though struck by a chisel. And as they plummeted, so did Gràvenmuir—cast down into the sea along with everyone inside.
Gràvenmuir’s plunge to the sea had been eerily silent. And during that surreal interlude, Max had realized—with awful, numbing clarity—that the world was about to change. The moment’s scale and implications had been exhilarating and terrifying. There would be no more deliberations or debate. In that instant, Elias Bram had dictated Rowan’s path, and mankind’s fate would hang in the balance. Shocked by this realization, a part of Max had clung to the absurd hope that the silence would continue indefinitely. For as long as it held, they might pause to consider this momentous course.
Seconds later those hopes vanished. Gràvenmuir struck the water with an astounding crash. The impact jolted people from sleep for miles around and shattered the windows in Old Tom and Maggie.
The awful din soon subsided, fading like a summer storm as the sea rushed in to swallow up the dead and dying. All that remained of Gràvenmuir were those jagged spires, lurking at the water’s surface to bare their teeth at low tide.
A shout and the sound of many footsteps snapped Max from his thoughts. Turning, he saw a motley troop of youths hurrying toward him along the cliff’s edge from the north. They clanked along, carrying spears and lanterns as they threaded through the pines and sought to keep up with their leader, who skidded to a stop before him and promptly drew her sword.
“Who are you?” she panted. “Identify yourself and explain why you’re breaking curfew.”
Max merely stared, confused, as the others arrived, surrounding him and leveling their long spears, their breath fogging in the November chill.
“What is this?” Max finally asked, giving a bewildered turn. He failed to recognize a single one of the frightened, eager faces. They couldn’t be Rowan students. For one, they’d obviously had little training, as evidenced by their sloppy perimeter and the fact that most were out of breath. For another, their clothes were mostly homespun and heavily patched—a ragtag array of leather jerkins, woolen leggings, and mismatched boots. Refugees, Max guessed, and recently arrived by their appearance.
“We’ll ask the questions,” snapped the leader. She had coarse black hair and a sallow, ferretlike face. Max waited for the punch line, some clue that she was joking. There was none. “Answer up,” she pressed. “Who are you and why are you breaking curfew?”
“I’m Max McDaniels,” he replied. “And I didn’t know about any curfew. I’ve been away.”
“Then you’re an intruder and our captive,” she declared. “Get his blade, Jack.”
This order was directed at a skinny youth with a tumble of red tangles peeking from beneath a worn leather cap. Glancing at the short sword and its owner, the boy licked his lips like a scolded dog.
“Let’s call an Agent, Tam,” he whined. “He looks dangerous.”
“Follow orders,” she seethed, “or I’ll have you thrown down in the Hollows!”
“Look,” said Max calmly, “you must be new to Rowan. We’re on the same side. If you let me—”
“Old or new don’t matter,” interrupted the girl, jabbing her sword mere inches from Max’s face. “You ain’t from Rowan. You look like you been livin’ in a ditch. You’re the most pathetic demon I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen my share. Now get his blade, Jack, and be quick about it!”
Before Jack could obey, another girl spoke up.
“Max McDaniels,” she mused, repeating it to herself. “I think I heard that name, Tam. I’m sure I have. Maybe he’s telling the truth.”
“You don’t see demons like I do, Kat,” said Tam, her voice taut and hateful. “That’s why they put me in charge. Don’t believe anything this demon says.”
At Tam’s third, furious order to confiscate Max’s weapon, Jack inched forward and reached for it.
“Tam,” said Max pointedly, “I don’t know what this little patrol is supposed to be or anything about a curfew. But I can assure you that I belong here and that none of you even wants to see this sword, much less touch it.”
These words exerted a powerful effect. Jack promptly backed away and stared at the weapon with superstitious awe. But Tam remained undaunted.
“Well, this sword is iron, demon,” she threatened, inching closer. “These spears are iron and thrice blessed. Surrender or we’ll call one of the Red Branch!”
“They’re already here.”
Pulling back his sleeve, Max revealed a tattoo upon his inner wrist. Inked in red, it depicted an upraised hand wrapped with a slender cord. A casual observer might not have looked twice, but for those who knew better, the tattoo was a warning as clear as the mark on a black widow’s belly. It was the sign of the Red Branch, the elite among Rowan’s warriors. Only twelve people bore such marks, and they were the most dangerous Agents in the world.
“I told you I’d heard that name!” exclaimed Kat.
“Well, I haven’t,” Tam snapped, her sword arm trembling. “And demons are false, Kat. He might fool you, but he can’t fool me. I see his shine.”
Max was genuinely surprised to hear such a claim.
“Is that so?” he wondered, cocking his head to appraise her. “That’s a rare gift you have, but not all who shine are demons, Tam. I applaud your courage, but use your head. Would an intruder hang about in the open to watch the harbor? Wouldn’t an intruder have fled or attacked when you came running?”
“Answer some questions, then,” she snapped. “Who is the Great Matriarch?”
“YaYa.”
“And who played fiddle at the Samhain Feast?”
“I wasn’t here,” replied Max, “but I’d guess it was Nolan.”
“Well, what’s the name of the sad old brute who lives on Crofter’s Hill?”
“No idea.” Max shrugged. “No one was living there four months ago.”
Tam snorted dubiously, and Max grew weary of the game.
“Oh, run me through if you want,” he sighed, stepping between her and a twitchy boy with an unfortunate mustache. Desiring a better view of the xebec, Max walked down to the very edge of the cliff and retrieved a weathered spyglass. His would-­be captors trailed uncertainly after him, dragging their spears and muttering to one another.
By now, the xebec was moored alongside the customhouse, and several remote figures could be seen hurrying about the pier. Despite her flurry of orders, Tam’s companions had apparently tired of playing soldier and seemed more intrigued by what Max was studying through his spyglass.
“Have you seen other ships like these?” Max asked, gesturing at the xebec.
“No,” said Jack, dropping his spear in the rough gorse and peering down. “I ain’t seen anything that big, but I haven’t been here very long. Why doesn’t she burn up from all that fire?”
“That’s witch-­fire,” Max explained. “A witch is on that ship. You can see her there—that dark shape by the mainmast. The fire strengthens their weather magic.”
At the mention of a witch, several children hissed.
“I care less about the witch than who she’s working for,” said Max. “Demons hire witches as weather workers. If you’re hunting demons, Tam, I think you’ll find one on that ship.”
“But I’ve got one right here,” she insisted. “And you don’t know there’s a demon on that ship. It could just be a trader from Jakarün or Zenuvia.”
“Do you see any cargo on the deck?” inquired Max, handing her the telescope.
She scanned from stem to stern. “No”—she frowned—“but that doesn’t mean there aren’t goods stowed below. Maybe it’s a smuggler.”
“Possibly,” Max allowed. “But that would be a big ship for a smuggler. At any rate, most smugglers don’t fly royal banners from their masts.” He pointed to a plum-­colored pennant and its pyramid of three gold coins. “Do you know whose standard that is?”
Tam barely glanced at it.
“No,” she muttered, passing the glass along. “I was taught only the mark of my brayma.”
The statement told Max a great deal about her. Brayma was a demon word, a title used for the lord of a fief. Some controlled vast territories and others small, but all enjoyed absolute authority over those who lived on their lands. While some braymas were indifferent to their subjects, Max knew most were tyrants whose appetites and cruelty far exceeded human norms. Tam’s brayma must have fit this description.
From the girl’s accent, Max guessed she’d lived in Dùn. That was Aamon’s realm and comprised much of what had once been Russia and northern Asia. Tam was undoubtedly a runaway slave. Max had to respect anyone who had survived such a life, much less escaped and journeyed all the way to Rowan.
“You live here now,” he said gently. “You have no brayma anymore.”
“So where is that ship from?” she asked, still wary.
“It’s from Blys,” Max replied. “And it’s no merchant—that standard belongs to the king himself. The white pennon beneath is a sign of truce. Apparently, Prusias wants to talk.”
“D-­do you think the king is aboard?” stuttered a boy with terrible burn scars.
“I doubt it,” said Max. “It’s not his style to slip quietly into port. If Prusias visits us again, he’ll be leading an army.”
“So war is coming here,” moaned Jack with gloomy resignation. “I thought I’d finally found someplace safe, but everyone keeps talking of war. They say Rowan broke the peace and it’s only a matter of time before the demons come for us.”
Max gazed down at Gràvenmuir’s ruins, its spires littering the harbor like barrow markers.
“They may be right,” he admitted soberly. “War may come here. But keep your chin up. I’ve been traveling far and wide these past few months. Rowan’s not the only one who kicked the hornet’s nest. At the moment, the demons fear Astaroth and each other far more than they do us. So do your duty, learn to handle that spear, and pray you never need to use it.”
Stretching his tired limbs, Max gestured for the spyglass.
“And now I have to go,” he announced. “The Director probably had warning of that ship, but I need to make certain.”
“But you can’t just leave,” said Jack, grinning up at him. “You’re our prisoner. You gotta pay a ransom or something.”
With an amused grunt, Max dug into his pack and retrieved a leather pouch. “A Zenuvian kraken for each and a piece of maridian heartglass for your fearless captain.” He handed the smooth disk of pearly, translucent stone to Tam. “I won that off a smuggler in Khoreshi. He said if you hold it up to the hunter’s moon, the stone will reveal your true love.”
“Does it work?” she wondered, turning it over.
“Didn’t dare peek. But you give it a try someday and let us know.”
Flushing pink, she studied the heartglass until Jack hooted and she threatened to brain him. His captivity ended, Max turned for the Manse. The others followed along, peppering him with questions as his long strides took him past the academic buildings. He was glad to see Maggie, stout and solid, her pale gray stone peeking modestly from beneath her ivy. Beyond her was Old Tom, stately and elegant with his tall clock tower and broad sweep of marble steps. They had almost reached the Manse when Max noticed someone sitting on the edge of the fountain at its steps, watching their approach with a bemused expression. When their eyes met, the man tipped his cap.
“Back where you belong and in one piece besides,” he drawled. “Who’d have thought?”
Grinning, Max strode over to greet Rowan’s chief game warden. It was unusual to find Nolan outside the Sanctuary, but Max was glad he had. The man’s wry, weather-­beaten face was as warm and welcome as a winter fire. With a laugh, Nolan popped up and embraced him.
“You know, I think you’re taller than Cooper,” he observed, sizing Max up. “Shoot, you’ll be catching Bob next.”
“He might be big, but we still took him prisoner,” Jack announced.
“I can see that, son,” quipped Nolan. “Hope you weren’t too rough. You have any idea who you’ve captured?”
“He says he’s Max McDaniels,” muttered Tam. “Whatever that means.”
Nolan scratched his graying side whiskers and cocked an eyebrow. “Well, I’ll give you a hint what that means. Take a good look around this place, young lady. Without our Max, I don’t think it’d be here. Heck, I don’t think I’d be here. So let’s show a little respect. Why, you’re just lucky Hannah didn’t hear you.”
“Who’s she?” said Tam, scuffing her boots. “His girlfriend?”
“I hope not,” Nolan chuckled. “She’s a goose. Anyway, y’all head off now and leave Max be. I need a private word with him. And curfew’s about over, so try not to assault anyone till breakfast.”
Once they’d finally shuffled out of earshot, Nolan shook his head. “Breaks my heart,” he sighed. “We’ve got hundreds of those kids showing up every day now, scared and starving. They all want to help, but mostly they just get underfoot. Anyway, we got word you’d returned when you passed by Wyndle Farm. Director asked me to keep a lookout for you.”
“Why’d she bother you?” asked Max. “Why not send an Agent?”
“They’re all busy. Been scrambling since the watchtowers caught sight of that ship. Half the Red Branch is already here. Cooper was up north, but he’s on his way. In the meantime, Richter wants you to clean up and report to Founder’s Hall. Military uniform.”
“No rest for the weary.”
“Not today,” said Nolan, his blue eyes tracking the gulls beyond the cliffs. “Anyway, I’ve done my duty and you’d better get going. I don’t know who’s on that ship or what they want, but I feel better knowing we’ve got our Hound.”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2012:
"Within its fantasy world, Neff makes this book a kind of in-depth consideration of war itself. Covering espionage, disinformation, false diplomacy and even cryptography, he gives readers an education in the clandestine tools of war. Despite heavy themes, he continues to balance seriousness with a lighthearted humor that keeps the pages turning. A strong, gutsy chapter in what is already a noteworthy series."

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