The Quartered Sea (Quarters Series #4)

The Quartered Sea (Quarters Series #4)

by Tanya Huff
The Quartered Sea (Quarters Series #4)

The Quartered Sea (Quarters Series #4)

by Tanya Huff

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Overview

Fourth in the epic fantasy series from the author of No Quarter: “Good reading in the same vein as [Mercedes] Lackey’s The Last Herald-Mage series” (Locus).

Benedikt can control the element of water through music, but water is the only element Benedikt can sing, which isolates him from his fellow bards. When the queen of Shkoder outfits a voyage to discover the lands across the sea against the Bardic captain’s objections, Benedikt is the only bard willing to brave the captain’s wrath and volunteer.

In uncharted waters, a storm strikes and the kigh of the deep seas rises. All of Benedikt’s skill is unable to save ship or crew. Shipwrecked in an unfamiliar country and unable to send word to Shkoder of the ship’s fate, Benedikt must play the part he’s been given: a pawn in the game of politics and religion between brother and sister—who both intend to use his song to their advantage.

As the queen waits for word, the kigh of the deep seas rises again . . .

Praise for the Quarters series

“I love the way Huff writes. She creates rich, complex fantasy worlds, populates them with likeable characters, includes lots of humor and action, bright, lively dialogue, and in this case, an ‘all’s well that ends well’ ending that is perfect. Unputdownable.” —Voya

“A richly complex story set in a magical world that could almost be a part of our own history.” —Science Fiction Chronicle

“This isn’t fluff, and it isn’t light—but it has so much heart to leaven its dark moments.” —The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781625671257
Publisher: JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.
Publication date: 11/01/2019
Series: Quarters Series , #4
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 419
Sales rank: 418,301
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Although she left Nova Scotia at three, and has lived most of her life since in Ontario, Tanya Huff still considers herself a Maritimer. On the way to the idyllic rural existence she shares with her partner Fiona Patton, six cats, and a Chihuahua, she acquired a degree in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson Polytechnic—an education she was happy to finally use when writing her SMOKE novels. Of her previous twenty-three books, the five BLOOD novels featuring Henry Fitzroy, a bastard son of Henry VIII, romance writer, and vampire, are among the most popular. In fact these books became so popular that they inspired the TV series, Blood Ties.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The fishing boat rose to the surface of the bay like an abandoned vessel of the old gods. Such was the angle that the masthead, draped in pennants of torn and dripping sail, had barely emerged before the bow broke through, water sheeting over the gunnels back into the sea. A moment later the stern followed, cradled on the crest of an unnatural wave. Long ropes of weed trailed off the rudder as though the depths had attempted to hold their prize.

Ignoring waves and wind, the boat cut across the chop toward a nearly identical vessel carrying four oilskin-wrapped people. Three of the four watched the approach, openmouthed. The fourth, a young man standing alone in the bow, watched the water and Sang.

A few moments later, the salvaged boat drew parallel with the other and stopped, both boats keeping their position as though held by unseen hands.

"That's her, that's my Second Chance." Leaning over the gunnels for a closer look, one of the identical trio pushed her hood back off salt-and-pepper hair and squinted into the spray. "Well, I'll be hooked and fried, they even brung up both pairs of oars." Half-turned toward the bow, she lifted her voice over the combined noise of wind and sea and Song, "Hey bard! We're close enough to use the gaff. Should I hook her in and make her fast?"

Still Singing, Benedikt shook his head and shuffled around on his damp triangle of decking to face the shore. Shoulders hunched against the chill, he changed his Song, and both boats began to move toward the gravel beach at the head of the bay where the tiny figures of the villagers paced up and down.

When the keels scraped bottom, he changed the Song again.

Two roughly human translucent figures rose up out of the shallows on either side of the bow and brushed against the ends of Benedikt's outstretched fingers like liquid cats. Closing his eyes, he allowed the four notes of the gratitude to linger a moment or two after the kigh dissolved back into the sea.

"Right, then!" The owner of the Second Chance took command of the silence with an authoritative bellow. "Let's have some help here before the tide turns!"

His part in the salvage completed, the bard stayed where he was until it became obvious that there was nothing left to do but disembark. Clambering awkwardly over the side, he winced as the frigid water seeped into borrowed boots. The uneven footing threw him off balance. He staggered forward, then back, then forward again.

A sudden grip on his elbow kept him from falling.

* The figure beside him, indistinguishable from all the others in the ubiquitous oilskins, was considerably shorter than his own six feet. Under his hood, he felt his ears burn. Bards were not supposed to need rescue. Especially not from rescuers so much smaller than themselves.

The hand remained around his elbow until dry land was reached, then it released him and rose to push back the masking hood. Fortunately, he recognized the face. Bards were not supposed to fumble for names either.

"Lucija."

The woman who'd offered her boat for the trip out into the bay smiled up at him. "Benedikt."

Wobbly on the slippery piles of beach gravel, he had no idea of what he was supposed to say next.

As though she sensed his unease, Lucija's smile dimmed a little. "That was an impressive bit of Singing out there; what with Tesia swamping right over the cleft and all. I never knew bards could control the kigh so deep."

He could feel the tension start to leave his shoulders. It had been an impressive bit of Singing, and he was pleased that she'd noticed. "It was nothing."

"Nothing?" Drawn around by the sound of her name, Tesia stomped over and smacked the bard enthusiastically on the arm. "You've given me back the fish, boy. That's an unenclosed sight more than nothing. Now you head over to my place around dark, and I'll cook you a meal that'll make a start at payin' you back."

"You don't have to ..."

"I know that. I want to." She grinned around him at the younger woman. "I can see what you're thinkin', Lucija. You may as well come, too."

* * *

The entire village ended up at Tesia's cottage. From where Benedikt sat, there seemed to be a man, woman, or child in every available space — occasionally, two deep. Lucija had a seat close by, and the heat in her pale eyes made him wish his place of honor wasn't quite so close to the fire.

When they called for a song, he dried his palms on his thighs and lifted his quintara like a shield. He wasn't good in large crowds; there were just too many people to please.

* * *

"It's all right, these things happen." Up on one elbow, Lucija stroked the soft triangle of golden hair in the center of Benedikt's chest. "Don't worry about it."

It took an effort, but he kept his voice light. "Easy for you to say."

"Maybe you just need a little encouragement."

As her hand moved lower, Benedikt closed his eyes. When Lucija had finally come right out and invited him to her bed, he hadn't been able to think of a believable way to say no. He'd wanted to be with her, but he'd been afraid that exactly what had happened would happen.

It wasn't his fault really, it was the pressure. After his performance in the afternoon, he'd known that she'd expect an equivalent performance in the dark. He'd been magnificent out on the bay. The need to be that magnificent again — and the fear that he wouldn't be — had made him so tense. ...

It would've been easier to raise another fishing boat.

"Maybe you're just too tired."

There was sympathy in her voice, not blame, but he couldn't have her telling others that Singing the kigh had exhausted him. Grasping at straws, he began a silent Song, calling up the one thing that had never failed him. Sleek, fluid, the image of the water kigh was not entirely human-seeming.

Not that it mattered.

"Ah, there we are."

* * *

"A lot of us fatten a pig and pretty much everyone keeps some chickens," Lucija explained, forking the strips of bacon onto Benedikt's plate beside the two fried eggs. "There's a limit to how much seafood a body can eat."

"It does lose its appeal after a while," Benedikt agreed with a laugh. "When I first went to the Bardic Hall, I didn't eat fish for almost a year."

"You're from a fisher family, then?"

He nodded around a mouthful of breakfast. "My three older brothers fish out of Three Island Cove," he told her when he'd swallowed, adding proudly, "They all go out to the deep water."

"Brave boys."

"Yeah, they are. Absolutely fearless. But not reckless," he hastened to explain. "Just really good at what they do. And my father's the factor at Three Island Cove. There hasn't been a surplus in the last twenty years that he hasn't convinced the Duc of Sibiu to pay handsomely for." One dark-gold brow lifted. "Whether she started out wanting the fish or not."

"Your father'd be bored stiff here, then. We're so close to Elbasan that all of our surplus is contracted in advance, and all we have to do is hand it over to the regular traders." Grinning and shaking her head, she sopped up egg yolk with a bit of toasted bread. "But you're a bard. You already know that."

"You've heard the rumors that we know everything, then?"

Her laughter added a special savor to the food and he almost stopped worrying about the impression he was making. He'd only been Walking on his own for a year and, sometimes, being a bard of Shkoder was as much a burden as a blessing.

"So, where do you go from here?"

"Fort Kazpar for the Queen's visit."

"So she's actually going through with it this quarter?"

"I don't know." Sighing contentedly, Benedikt pushed his empty plate away and picked up the heavy clay mug of tea. "I won't know until I arrive."

Lucija mirrored his movement. "Seems a shame you have to go all that way if nothing's happening. Can't you send a kigh ahead to the fort?"

The silence stretched and lengthened until the distant screams of scavenging gulls moved into the cottage to fill the void.

"Benedikt?"

"I Sing only water." Hands flat on the table, chin lifted, he dared her to comment.

"Ah." Looking somewhat taken aback, Lucija took a long swallow of tea before saying, "We had a Headwoman back when I was real young who could Sing water, but she decided to stay fishing rather than become a bard. Not that I'm suggesting you should've gone fishing," she added hurriedly when she caught sight of Benedikt's expression.

He felt the muscles tighten across his shoulders, the tension moving right down both arms and curling his fingers into fists. "If I'd gone fishing," he reminded her, "Tesia's boat would still be at the bottom of the bay."

"Hey, calm down." Hands making soothing motions in the air, Lucija gave him as much distance as the chair would allow. "We were all impressed by the way you Sang the kigh yesterday. Obviously, you made the right decision becoming a bard."

Shoving his own chair back with a shriek of protest, wood on wood, Benedikt stood. He'd hoped this time would be different, but it always came to the same thing in the end. "My thanks for breakfast and for last night, but I don't need your pity."

* * *

Arms folded, Lucija stood by her cottage and watched Benedikt grow ever smaller as he climbed to the top of the cliff, resolved that if he turned and waved, she wouldn't wave back. When Tesia came up behind her, smelling of warm pitch, she grunted a greeting but kept her gaze locked on the path.

"So, he's leavin' is he?" Without waiting for an answer, the older woman spat and added, "I never met a bard so uncomfortable at bein' the center of attention."

Lucija snorted. "I never met a bard I so desperately wanted to smack."

* * *

"Can't you send a kigh ahead to the fort?"

It always came to that. No matter how well he Sang or how long he spent playing song after song after song, in the end, they always found him wanting.

"I Sing only water."

His parents had been thrilled when Karlene had Walked into the village and discovered his talent. It explained why skills his brothers performed as easily as breathing came so hard to him. His father had bragged about the discovery up and down the road to Sibiu and even the duc had sent her congratulations. His mother had made him a new suit of clothes, his alone instead of outgrown bits and pieces. To have a bard in the family was a thing to be proud of. So what that he only Sang water — he was untrained. "After training," they'd told him as they proudly sent him off to the Bardic Hall in Elbasan, "you'll surely improve."

They hadn't understood. He'd been taught Command, and Charm, and tricks of memory that allowed him to recall months of travel down to the tiniest detail. He could Witness in cases of judgment and be an integral part of any service in any Center anywhere the honoring of the Circle had spread.

But he would only, ever, Sing water. Nothing he could do, nothing he could be taught could change that.

He couldn't tell if his family was embarrassed for him or by him. Visits home were a trial; everyone smiling too broadly, making excuses to the neighbors, telling him too heartily that it didn't matter.

And it wasn't just his family. Even the other bards told him it didn't matter. "There're half a dozen bards Walking through Shkoder who Sing only air," they told him. "And don't forget Jazep. Jazep Sang only earth." Jazep had been a fledgling with Annice, the Princess-Bard. Jazep had been the best teacher the Bardic Hall had ever seen. Jazep had died saving the kingdom. Benedikt was sick to death of hearing about Jazep and, when asked to play "In the Arms of the Earth," Jazep's song, he'd begun to deny ever having learned it.

"Can't you send a kigh ahead to the fort?"

He'd hoped Lucija would be different.

Settling the straps of his pack more comfortably on his shoulders, Benedikt turned toward Fort Kazpar and settled into the rocking stride the bards used when they needed to cover distance quickly. Unable to learn if the queen would be attending the ceremony, he had no choice but to arrive before her.

* * *

"Everyone understood why you decided against visiting the forts in First Quarter, Majesty, why you sent His Highness in your stead, but you can't do it again."

Jelena, Queen in Shkoder for almost exactly four full quarters, raised an imperious brow and leaned slightly forward, her palms pressed flat against the crested papers scattered over her desk. "Can't?" she repeated.

"Shouldn't, Majesty." The Bardic Captain carefully kept his tone neutral.

After a moment of narrow-eyed consideration, Jelena accepted his correction and sat back. "Why can't Tavas go again? He's willing, and the visits are only ceremonial. They serve no real function."

"On the contrary, Majesty." This time, Kovar allowed his voice to rise. "Even ignoring the very real function ceremony itself serves, it is necessary that you dispel the lingering fear amongst your people that the road to Fort Kazpar is ill-omened."

"Ill-omened?" The young queen shuffled paper from one pile to another. "Kings and Queens of Shkoder have traveled that road hundreds of times."

"Yes, Majesty, they have. Until a queen died."

* * *

"And then he dared — dared! — to remind me about my mother's death." Unable to remain still, Jelena paced from one end of the terrace to the other, the soles of her half-boots slapping against the wet granite. "As though I've forgotten!"

"Lena, I don't think he meant ..."

"He meant it all right. The smug, self-satisfied windbag!"

Tucked up tight against the palace wall in a futile attempt to find protection from the Fourth Quarter chill, His Imperial Highness Prince Otavas, youngest brother of the Havakeen Emperor and the consort of Shkoder's queen, frowned as he watched his beloved travel back and forth and then forth again.

"He as much as implied that if I didn't go on this ever-so-symbolically-important ceremonial visit, I was being a bad queen."

As she passed, Otavas snagged Jelena's arm and pulled her to his side. With the thumb of his free hand, he smoothed the wrinkles from her forehead. "You are not a bad queen," he murmured, "but the Bardic Captain is right."

She jerked her head away from his touch. "Right?"

"Right," he repeated. "You've put it off once; if you put it off again, how much easier will it be to put it off a third time or a fourth?"

* * *

"So after the Bardic Captain tells me I'm a bad queen, Tavas as much as tells me I have to get back onto the horse."

"And do you think you should?" Magda asked, tossing her saddlebags onto a chair and shrugging out of her damp jacket.

"Do I think I should what?"

"Get back onto the horse." She hung the jacket on an iron hook by the fire and turned in time to see Jelena's lips thin. "Problem?" "I am not a bad queen."

"I never said you were."

"You never said I wasn't."

"Oh, I see." Dropping down into the closest chair, Magda began working off her boots. "You followed me up from the stables so that I could tell you that I think it's too soon, that you can put off the visit to the forts one more time."

"No ..." When the healer raised both dark brows, the young queen sighed. "Yes."

Magda smoothed all expression from her face as she studied her royal patient. In spite of the best efforts of tailors and valets, her clothing seemed a size too large, the embroidered velvet filled out with quilted under-tunics to keep out the cold. But the weight loss worried the healer less than the shadows that continued to linger under the hazel eyes. "It's been almost four quarters since your mother died, Jelena. I think that, if on your way to Fort Kazpar, you visited the spot where it happened, it might help you heal."

"I doubt it."

Boots tossed to the hearth, Magda stood, trying to decide if the protest sounded petulant or obstinate. Not that it mattered; queens could ill afford the luxury of either. "Jelena, you have got to move past the moment of your mother's death."

"So you've said." Jelena's left hand jerked up into the space between them, the royal signet inches away from Magda's face. "But how can I when everything I am, I became when she died? Her death made me Queen. How can I get beyond something I have to live with the rest of my life?"

"That's a question only you can answer."

Jelena's hand fell back to her side. "You are no help at all," she muttered, spun on one heel, yanked open the door and stomped off down the hall, her two guards hurriedly falling into step behind.

* * *

"Of course I'm worried about her," Magda snapped, "but keep in mind it's been barely four quarters since her mother died. Her spirit, her kigh, was wounded. That takes time to heal."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Quartered Sea"
by .
Copyright © 1999 Tanya Huff.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
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.

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