Table of Contents
Also by James Barclay from Gollancz:
Chronicles of the Raven
Legends of the Raven
The Ascendants of Estorea
CRY OF THE NEWBORN
SHOUT FOR THE DEAD
James Barclay is in his forties and lives in Teddington with his wife
and son. He is a full-time writer.
A GOLLANCZ EBOOK
First published in Great Britain in 2008 by Gollancz.
This eBook first published in 2009 by Orion Books.
Copyright © James Barclay 2008
The rights of James Barclay to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the copyright, designs and patents act 1988.
All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 5750 8764 4
This eBook produced by Jouve, France.
Orion Books The Orion Publishing Group Ltd Orion House 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane London WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK Company
For Oscar, who brings such joy to my life
Blood sprayed across Geskard’s chest. He grunted in satisfaction and stepped back out of range. He needn’t have bothered. His strike had beaten his mark’s defence and bitten deep into the shoulder, carving through leather jerkin and flesh before smashing the collarbone.
The uneven contest was done. Their eyes met. The victor and the unfortunate with too much money on his belt and too little skill with his blade. This city was no place for such imbalances. Never had been.
‘You should have given me your purse when I asked you,’ said Geskard. He smiled, recognising the dismay at approaching death that contoured the man’s face. ‘But I am much obliged you chose to fight.’
The man dropped to his knees, his sword falling from his right hand, which then clutched at the wound in his left shoulder. Nothing he could do would staunch the blood. His eyes dimmed and regret was his lingering, final emotion. He slumped forward, face in the dirt.
Geskard took a quick look about him. Again he blessed the chaotic sprawl of streets behind the north edge of Xetesk’s central marketplace. A man of his profession had surely designed it. In the warm light of early evening, tenements threw shadows across the alleyway. Above him, tatty washing hung on rotting lines. The sounds of the market day winding down rolled gently over him. If anyone had heard the brief exchange, they preferred not to make themselves known.
‘Very sensible,’ said Geskard.
He cleared his throat then cleaned and sheathed his sword, humming tunelessly. He knelt down by the body of the erstwhile merchant who had been just too eager to make one more deal in the day.
‘This wasn’t the sort of killing you had in mind, was it, my friend?’ said Geskard.
One big hand had reached for the man’s belt and bound purse, the other for a knife to cut it clear when Geskard shivered and paused. He looked round. A shadow had moved across the light behind him, making a shape like a man tattered by wind. He had seen it quite clearly, though just for a heartbeat.
No one there. He shrugged and returned his attention to his prize. The merchant moved. A tiny twitch but there nonetheless. Geskard started then chuckled.
‘Fight in you yet, is there? I’m impressed.’
Geskard felt for a pulse at the neck. Nothing. He moved his fingers and pushed harder. Still nothing. It didn’t matter. The man wasn’t about to offer any resistance. Geskard looked about him once more. He remained alone. He smiled to himself, shook his head and reached a third time for the purse.
The merchant abruptly pushed himself up on his hands, coughed and spat blood onto the hard-packed ground. Geskard scrambled backwards, his heart thumping. He dropped his knife and put his hand to his sword hilt.
‘Why aren’t you dead?’ he asked, backing off a pace.
The man looked at him as if for the first time. Blank dead eyes met Geskard’s. The merchant’s body rose to stand, a little unsteadily at first. Geskard watched slack-jawed while the man looked himself over, scraped ineffectually at the blood soaking his clothes and rolled his good shoulder with a cracking sound.
‘Hmm. It’ll do for now,’ said the merchant, light entering his eyes. ‘I can’t wait any longer anyway.’
‘For what?’ asked Geskard not knowing why he had uttered a sound.
‘There are people I need to see,’ said the man.
Geskard was not a man normally prey to fear but when those dead eyes fixed on his and the sagging mouth tugged into a smile, something let go inside. He could feel his legs shaking, his crotch warm.
‘Oh. Dodgy bladder?’ said the merchant. ‘Now then.’
Geskard wanted to run. To scream his terror. But he still couldn’t place why he was so afraid. The man was a head shorter than him and half as powerful. He posed no threat. And yet, and yet. Geskard drew his sword, watching the merchant stoop to recover his own, the wound in his left shoulder gaping hideously, exposing raw flesh, sinew and bone. Fresh blood ran over his jerkin.
‘There is no honour in murder, so we will make this fight again,’ said the man. ‘But this time you will find out something new. That you aren’t quick enough to beat me.’
‘You’re dead,’ said Geskard. ‘I killed you.’
He backed away another pace and swallowed on a dry throat. He’d have fled but he’d never run from a fight in his life. His reputation was based on it. So he brought his blade to guard.
‘You murdered a man for a few coins, that’s true. And now you face me.’
‘What?’ Geskard couldn’t suppress the laugh. ‘I don’t have time for this.’
He already knew the man’s weaknesses and they were many. He crossed the space between them, a two-handed grip on his long sword, and wound up a strike to sever the left arm completely at the shoulder. But the merchant didn’t try to defend like before. He merely swayed to one side and had jabbed his sword into Geskard’s midriff even before Geskard’s blade hit the ground.
Geskard gasped in pain and jerked back to give himself some space. He clutched at his belly. The cut was not deep but it should have been. In front of him, the merchant smiled but the eyes remained so bleak.
‘Told you,’ said the merchant.
‘Don’t dare to toy with me, boy,’ said Geskard.
‘Hmm,’ said the merchant, moving in. He switched his sword between his hands three times. ‘I’m used to greater reach in my right arm.’
‘Grea—’ Geskard swallowed. ‘What is this? A game?’
‘No game,’ said the merchant.
The sword hilt settled in the man’s left hand. Geskard wasn’t ready. The blade came across him, carving into his right shoulder and thudding into his neck. The pain was exquisite but brief. Warmth, then cold. Geskard felt himself falling.
Auum stared up into the rainforest canopy and let his gaze travel over the dripping foliage. The sun that had emerged from the latest bank of cloud would bless the treetops until the rains returned. A sniff of the air told him that time was already very close.
Everywhere, spears of luminescence bore down through the shadow, sparkling on raindrops and forming pools of bright light that warmed the forest floor. It was a time to drink in the glory of Yniss, God of all creation, Father of the rainforest and all that drew breath there, grew there and died there.
Yet Auum did not kneel to pray. Instead he listened to the sounds of bird, beast and insect. All muted, fearful. His gaze came to rest on the temple of Varundeneth, the last home of Shorth, God of the dead. The glorious structure sat in a clearing four days travel from the nearest settlement. Deeper inside the rainforest than any other. Hidden so completely from the unwanted eye that only those called, or those blessed like Auum, could ever find it.