Daniel Abraham delighted fantasy readers with his brilliantly original and engaging first novel, and in his second penned a tragedy as darkly personal and violent as Shakespeare's King Lear. Now he has written an epic fantasy of much wider scope and appeal that will thrill his fans and enthrall legions of new readers.
Otah Machi, ruler of the city of Machi, has tried for years to prepare his people for a future in which the magical andat, entities that support their commerce and intimidate all foes, can no longer be safely harnessed. But his efforts are too little, too late. The Galts, an expansionist empire from across the sea, have tired of games of political espionage and low-stakes sabotage. Their general, a ruthless veteran, has found a way to do what was thought impossible: neutralize the andat.
As the Galtic army advances, the Poets who control the andat wage their own battle to save their loved-ones and their nation. Failure seems inevitable, but success would end the Galtic threat.
With wonderful storytelling skill, Abraham has wedded the unique magic, high-stakes betrayal and political intrigue of his previous works with a broad tapestry of action in a spectacular fantasy epic.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Daniel Abraham won the International Horror Award for best short story. His previous novels include A Shadow in Summer and A Betrayal in Winter, the first two volumes of the Long Price Quartet. He is also the author of the Wild Cards comics miniseries The Hard Call, and co-author with George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois of the novel Hunter's Run. He lives in New Mexico.
Daniel Abraham has had stories published in the Vanishing Acts, Bones of the World, and The Dark anthologies, and has also been included in Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction anthology. He won the International Horror Writers Association award for best short fiction for his story “Flat Diane.” His books include The Long Price Quartet, starting with A Shadow in Summer. He lives in New Mexico with his wife and daughter.
Read an Excerpt
An Autumn War
Book Three of the Long Price Quartet
By Daniel Abraham, James Frenkel
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2008 Daniel Abraham
All rights reserved.
It had rained for a week, the cold gray clouds seeming to drape themselves between the mountain ranges to the east and west of the city like a wet canopy. The mornings were foggy, the afternoons chill. With the snowdrifts of winter almost all melted, the land around Machi became a soupy mud whose only virtue was the spring crop of wheat and snow peas it would bring forth. Travel was harder now even than in the deadly cold of deep winter.
And still, the travelers came.
"With all respect, this exercise, as you call it, is ill-advised," the envoy said. His hands still held a pose of deference though the conversation had long since parted from civility. "I am sure your intentions are entirely honorable, however it is the place of the Dai-kvo —"
"If the Dai-kvo wants to rule Machi, tell him to come north," the Khai Machi snapped. "He can pull my puppet strings from the next room. I'll make a bed for him."
The envoy's eyes went wide. He was a young man, and hadn't mastered the art of keeping his mind from showing on his face. Otah, the Khai Machi, waved away his own words and sighed. He had gone too far, and he knew it. Another few steps and they'd be pointing at each other and yelling about which of them wanted to create the Third Empire. The truth was that he had ruled Machi these last fourteen years only by necessity. The prospect of uniting the cities of the Khaiem under his rule was about as enticing as scraping his skin off with a rock.
The audience was a private one, in a small room lined with richly carved blackwood, lit by candles that smelled like rich earth and vanilla, and set well away from the corridors and open gardens where servants and members of the utkhaiem might unintentionally overhear them. This wasn't business he cared to have shared over the dances and dinners of the court. Otah rose from his chair and walked to the window, forcing his temper back down. He opened the shutters, and the city stretched out before him, grand towers of stone stretching up toward the sky, and beyond them the wide plain to the south, green with the first crops of the spring. He pressed his frustration back into yoke.
"I didn't mean that," he said. "I know that the Dai-kvo doesn't intend to dictate to me. Or any of the Khaiem. I appreciate your concern, but the creation of the guard isn't a threat. It's hardly an army, you know. A few hundred men trained up to maybe half the level of a Westlands garrison could hardly topple the world."
"We are concerned for the stability of all the cities," the envoy said. "When one of the Khaiem begins to study war, it puts all the others on edge."
"It's hardly studying war to hand a few men knives and remind them which end's the handle."
"It's more than any of the Khaiem have done in the past hundred years. And you must see that you haven't made it your policy to ally yourself with ... well, with anyone."
Well, this is going just as poorly as I expected, Otah thought.
"I have a wife, thank you," Otah said, his manner cool. But the envoy had clearly reached the end of his patience. Hearing him stand, Otah turned. The young man's face was flushed, his hands folded into the sleeves of his brown poet's robes.
"And if you were a shopkeeper, having a single woman would be admirable," the envoy said. "But as the Khai Machi, turning away every woman who's offered to you is a pattern of insult. I can't be the first one to point this out. From the time you took the chair, you've isolated yourself from the rest of the Khaiem, the great houses of the utkhaiem, the merchant houses. Everyone."
Otah ran through the thousand arguments and responses — the treaties and trade agreements, the acceptance of servants and slaves, all of the ways in which he'd tried to bind himself and Machi to the other cities. They wouldn't convince the envoy or his master, the Dai-kvo. They wanted blood — his blood flowing in the veins of some boy child whose mother had come from south or east or west. They wanted to know that the Khai Yalakeht or Pathai or Tan-Sadar might be able to hope for a grandson on the black chair in Machi once Otah had died. His wife Kiyan was past the age to bear another child, but men could get children on younger women. For one of the Khaiem to have only two children, and both by the same woman — and her a wayhouse keeper from Udun ... They wanted sons from him, fathered on women who embodied wise political alliances. They wanted to preserve tradition, and they had two empires and nine generations of the Khaiate court life to back them. Despair settled on him like a thick winter cloak.
There was nothing to be gained. He knew all the reasons for all the choices he had made, and he could as easily explain them to a mine dog as to this proud young man who'd traveled weeks for the privilege of taking him to task. Otah sighed, turned, and took a deeply formal pose of apology.
"I have distracted you from your task, Athai-cha. That was not my intention. What was it again the Dai-kvo wished of me?"
The envoy pressed his lips bloodless. They both knew the answer to the question, but Otah's feigned ignorance would force him to restate it. And the simple fact that Otah's bed habits were not mentioned would make his point for him. Etiquette was a terrible game.
"The militia you have formed," the envoy said. "The Dai-kvo would know your intention in creating it."
"I intend to send it to the Westlands. I intend it to take contracts with whatever forces there are acting in the best interests of all the cities of the Khaiem. I will be pleased to draft a letter saying so."
Otah smiled. The young poet's eyes flickered. As insults went, this was mild enough. Eventually, the poet's hands rose in a pose of gratitude.
"There is one other thing, Most High," the envoy said. "If you take any aggressive act against the interests of another of the Khaiem, the Dai-kvo will recall Cehmai and Stone-Made-Soft. If you take arms against them, he will allow the Khaiem to use their poets against you and your city."
"Yes," Otah said. "I understood that when I heard you'd come. I am not acting against the Khaiem, but thank you for your time, Athai-cha. I will have a letter sewn and sealed for you by morning."
After the envoy had left, Otah sank into a chair and pressed the heels of his hands to his temples. Around him, the palace was quiet. He counted fifty breaths, then rose again, closed and latched the door, and turned back to the apparently empty room.
"Well?" he asked, and one of the panels in the corner swung open, exposing a tiny hidden chamber brilliantly designed for eavesdropping.
The man who sat in the listener's chair seemed both at ease and out of place. At ease because it was Sinja's nature to take the world lightly, and out of place because his suntanned skin and rough, stained leathers made him seem like a gardener on a chair of deep red velvet and silver pins fit for the head of a merchant house or a member of the utkhaiem. He rose and closed the panel behind him.
"He seems a decent man," Sinja said. "I wouldn't want him on my side of a fight, though. Overconfident."
"I'm hoping it won't come to that," Otah said.
"For a man who's convinced the world he's bent on war, you're a bit squeamish about violence."
"I think sending the Dai-kvo his messenger's head might not be the most convincing argument for my commitment to peace," he said.
"Excellent point," Sinja agreed as he poured himself a bowl of wine. "But then you are training men to fight. It's a hard thing to preach peace and stability and also pay men to think what's the best way to disembowel someone with a spear."
"I know it," Otah said, his voice dark as wet slate. "Gods. You'd think having total power over a city would give you more options, wouldn't you?"
Otah sipped the wine. It was rich and astringent and fragrant of late summer, and it swirled in the bowl like a dark river. He felt old. Fourteen years he'd spent trying to be what Machi needed him to be — steward, manager, ruler, half-god, fuel for the gossip and backbiting of the court. Most of the time, he did well enough, but then something like this would happen, and he would be sure again that the work was beyond him.
"You could disband it," Sinja said. "It's not as though you need the extra trade."
"It's not about getting more silver," Otah said.
"Then what's it about? You aren't actually planning to invade Cetani, are you? Because I don't think that's a good idea."
Otah coughed out a laugh.
"It's about being ready," he said.
"Every generation finds it harder to bind fresh andat. Every one that slips away becomes more difficult to capture. It can't go on forever. There will come a time that the poets fail, and we have to rely on something else."
"So," Sinja said. "You're starting a militia so that someday, generations from now, when some Dai-kvo that hasn't been born yet doesn't manage to keep up to the standards of his forebears —"
"There will also be generations of soldiers ready to keep the cities safe."
Sinja scratched his belly and nodded.
"You think I'm wrong?"
"Yes. I think you're wrong," Sinja said. "I think you saw Seedless escape. I think you saw Saraykeht suffer the loss. You know that the Galts have ambitions, and that they've put their hands into the affairs of the Khaiem more than once."
"That doesn't make me wrong," Otah said, unable to keep the sudden anger from his voice. So many years had passed, and the memory of Saraykeht had not dimmed. "You weren't there, Sinja-cha. You don't know how bad it was. That's mine. And if it lets me see farther than the Dai-kvo or the Khaiem —"
"It's possible to look at the horizon so hard you trip over your feet," Sinja said, unfazed by Otah's heat. "You aren't responsible for everything under the sky."
But I am responsible for that, Otah thought. He had never confessed his role in the fall of Saraykeht to Sinja, never told the story of the time he had killed a helpless man, of sparing an enemy and saving a friend. The danger and complexity and sorrow of that time had never entirely left him, but he could not call it regret.
"You want to keep the future safe," Sinja said, breaking the silence, "and I respect that. But you can't do it by shitting on the table right now. Alienating the Dai-kvo gains you nothing."
"What would you do, Sinja? If you were in my place, what would you do?"
"Take as much gold as I could put on a fast cart, and live out my life in a beach hut on Bakta. But then I'm not particularly reliable." He drained his bowl and put it down on the table, porcelain clicking softly on lacquered wood. "What you should do is send us west."
"But the men aren't ready —"
"They're near enough. Without real experience, these poor bastards would protect you from a real army about as well as sending out all the dancing girls you could find. And now that I've said it, girls might even slow them down longer."
Otah coughed a mirthless laugh. Sinja leaned forward, his eyes calm and steady.
"Put us in the Westlands as a mercenary company," he said. "It gives real weight to it when you tell the Dai-kvo that you're just looking for another way to make money if we're already walking away from our neighboring cities. The men will get experience; I'll be able to make contacts with other mercenaries, maybe even strike up alliances with some of the Wardens. You can even found your military tradition. But besides that, there are certain problems with training and arming men, and then not giving them any outlet."
Otah looked up, meeting Sinja's grim expression.
"More trouble?" Otah asked.
"I've whipped the men involved and paid reparations," Sinja said, "but if the Dai-kvo doesn't like you putting together a militia, the fine people of Machi are getting impatient with having them. We're paying them to play at soldiers while everybody else's taxes buy their food and clothes."
Otah took a simple pose that acknowledged what Sinja said as truth.
"Where would you take them?"
"Annaster and Notting were on the edge of fighting last autumn. Something about the Warden of Annaster's son getting killed in a hunt. It's a long way south, but we're a small enough group to travel fast, and the passes cleared early this year. Even if nothing comes of it, there'll be keeps down there that want a garrison."
"How long before you could go?"
"I can have the men ready in two days if you'll send food carts out after us. A week if I have to stay to make the arrangements for the supplies."
Otah looked into Sinja's eyes. The years had whitened Sinja's temples but had made him no easier to read.
"That seems fast," Otah said.
"It's already under way," Sinja replied, then seeing Otah's reaction, shrugged. "It seemed likely."
"Two days, then," Otah said. Sinja smiled, stood, took a rough pose that accepted the order, and turned to go. As he lifted the door's latch, Otah spoke again. "Try not to get killed. Kiyan would take it amiss if I sent you off to die."
The captain paused in the open door. What had happened between Kiyan and Sinja — the Khai Machi's first and only wife and the captain of his private armsmen — had found its resolution on a snow-covered field ten years before. Sinja had done as Kiyan had asked him and the issue had ended there. Otah found that the anger and feelings of betrayal had thinned with time, leaving him more embarrassed than wrathful. That they were two men who loved the same woman was understood and unspoken. It wasn't comfortable ground for either of them.
"I'll keep breathing, Otah-cha. You do the same."
The door closed softly behind him, and Otah took another sip of wine. It was fewer than a dozen breaths before a quiet scratching came at the door. Rising and straightening the folds of his robes, Otah prepared himself for the next appearance, the next performance in his ongoing, unending mummer's show. He pressed down a twinge of envy for Sinja and the men who would be slogging through cold mud and dirty snow. He told himself the journey only looked liberating to someone who was staying near a fire grate. He adopted a somber expression, held his body with the rigid grace expected of him, and called out for the servant to enter.
There was a meeting to take with House Daikani over a new mine they were proposing in the South. Mikah Radaani had also put a petition with the Master of Tides to schedule a meeting with the Khai Machi to discuss the prospect of resurrecting the summer fair in Amnat-Tan. And there was the letter to the Dai-kvo to compose, and a ceremony at the temple at moonrise at which his presence was required, and so on through the day and into the night. Otah listened patiently to the list of duties and obligations and tried not to feel haunted by the thought that sending the guard away had been the wrong thing to do.
Eiah took a bite of the almond cake, wiping honey from her mouth with the back of her hand, and Maati was amazed again by how tall she'd grown. He still thought of her as hardly standing high as his knees, and here she was — thin as a stick and awkward, but tall as her mother. She'd even taken to wearing a woman's jewelry — necklace of gold and silver, armbands of lacework silver and gems, and rings on half her fingers. She still looked like a girl playing dress-up in her mother's things, but even that would pass soon.
"And how did he die?" she asked.
"I never said he did," Maati said.
Eiah's lips bent in a frown. Her dark eyes narrowed.
"You don't tell stories where they live, Uncle Maati. You like the dead ones."
Excerpted from An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham, James Frenkel. Copyright © 2008 Daniel Abraham. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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