From New York Times bestselling author R. A. Salvatore, the legendary creator of Drizzt Do’Urden, comes Child of a Mad God, the first novel in the epic fantasy series, The Coven.
When Aoleyn loses her parents, she is left to fend for herself among a tribe of vicious barbarians. Bound by rigid traditions, she dreams of escaping to the world beyond her mountain home.
The only hope for achieving the kind of freedom she searches for is to learn how to wield the mysterious power used by the tribe’s coven known as the Song of Usgar. Thankfully, Aoleyn may be the strongest witch to have ever lived, but magic comes at price. Not only has her abilities caught the eye of the brutish warlord that leads the tribe, but the demon of the mountain hunts all who wield the Coven’s power, and Aoleyn’s talent has made her a beacon in the night.
About the Author
Date of Birth:January 20, 1959
Place of Birth:Leominster, MA
Read an Excerpt
THE WORLD BEYOND THE WORLD
(The last day of the ninth month, Parvespers, God's'Year 839)
The long arms of the strong and lanky boatman reached far ahead, slowly and silently dipping the paddle through the glassy surface of the giant mountain lake. He had never been formally trained, but still, the clever frontiersman moved the paddle so gracefully and smoothly, barely disturbing the water, and thus, not disturbing the huge and ferocious monsters that lived in the deep waters of Loch Beag.
Talmadge wore his hair long and beard thick and both showed a deep mix of red and dark brown. He kept his hair pulled back, sometimes tied and sometimes loose, but always with a thin braid pulled aside and hanging from beside his left ear and over his left shoulder. "Something to chew on," he often said, and often did, using the braid as a constant reminder to pay attention to every detail, to watch for every sign and potential threat. Talmadge had lost track of his own age, but he knew that he had passed his twentieth year. That simple fact proved to any who knew this dangerous land that he still had much to learn, for though he had spent the entirety of his adult life and even much of his midteen years on his own out here in the western wilds, beyond even the Wilderlands, and far, far from the borders of the civilized kingdom known as Honce-the-Bear, Talmadge was still green compared with the other trappers and traders, still of the age where it was expected that he would meet a terrific and horrific ending. The gatherings of the frontiersmen were full of such stories.
"Low branches," complained his companion, a wily and grizzled old wood-cat named Seconk, but known more commonly as Badger, because of his fondness for brawling and his penchant for leaving the other guy broken and bleeding in the dirt. Short, barrel-chested, and spindly-armed, it was often whispered, and teased, that Badger had a bit of the powrie dwarf blood running through him. Badger took those taunts as a compliment, though, for the bloody-capped powries were legendary for their toughness.
"Then duck," Talmadge replied. "Need I really tell you that?"
"I paid yourself well for the passage," the indignant Badger answered.
"If you'd not, I wouldn't have taken you."
"Bah, young idiot, but your mouth'll get you killed soon enough."
Talmadge glanced over his shoulder to note Badger staring out at the wide lake, then aimed the canoe in closer and leaned way back as they glided under a very low strand of hanging moss.
The distracted man behind him got a mouthful, and spat a mouthful back out. "Bah, too close, longlegs!"
"Then duck," Talmadge repeated, and he didn't keep a chuckle out of his voice.
"You're too damned close to shore."
"I'm not close enough," Talmadge retorted. "You want us out there on the open water, in the morning fog?"
"We know the direction," Badger argued.
"Getting lost isn't my concern," Talmadge assured the man.
Badger snorted. "That again?"
"Oh, there be monsters."
"Bah! No fish's eating Badger, but Badger's eating fish!"
"Might that we should have cut you your own canoe, that you could run farther out," Talmadge said slyly.
"I been on lakes more days than yourself's been alive!"
"Not this lake," Talmadge replied without hesitation, and in a more reverential and somber tone. "Not a lake as deep and as cold, and as filled with dark shadows. Don't doubt that one of Beag's hungry beasts would find us were we floating deeper."
"Badger eats the fish!"
"Who said anything about fish?" Talmadge asked, turning about so the old grump could see the gravity in his expression. Indeed, that honest expression seemed to steal the bluster from Badger.
"We are staying near to shore, so keep low and keep alert and try not to let a branch catch you and flip you off the back," Talmadge went on. "I'm not turning around for you, and your furs would catch me a finer price at Fasach Crann than you'll be getting at Car Seileach."
"Strange words, eh?" Badger remarked. "Car Seileach!"
"Short Willows, then, if it makes you feel more at home," Talmadge replied sourly. This gruff older man was not going to do well among the tribes of Loch Beag, he knew. Here, the names of places were more tied to the land, more descriptive and informative. Simple and pragmatic, like the people, with habits and routines designed to accommodate the ways of the lake, the mountains, the valleys, and the creatures that inhabited them.
There was a beauty in that simplicity, Talmadge had come to appreciate, a kind of commonsense harmony and simplicity to their existence. Unlike in Honce-the-Bear, out here in the wilds, the land itself was more honored, more respected, and more dangerous than the castles of the barons and the kings, and so the tribes existed on the edge of utter ruin, where a winter storm could make seven tribes into six, or fewer. Or the lake monsters, or a bear, or a mountain cat, or a goblin (which they called the sidhe, and which were quite a bit bigger here than back in the civilized world) could take the most vulnerable child, or the most skilled warrior, and so quickly. And, of course, there were the warrior men of the mountain, the Usgar deamhain, always there, above them, looking down.
The villagers along the shores of Loch Beag did not have the luxury of complicating life. Death always hovered nearby, an ill, but constant, companion.
With gentle ease and practiced movements, Talmadge navigated around a tumble of rocks. At one point the long canoe, hollowed from a giant cactus, glided in water so shallow that Talmadge could scrape the end of his short paddle on the rocks glimmering below in the morning sun.
"A better price, you're saying?" Badger asked slyly. "Why're you stopping short, then? Another ten pieces of silver for yourself to take me all the way to this Crann place."
"They would kill you," Talmadge said matter-of-factly.
"They don't kill Talmadge, do they?"
"It took me many visits and introductions from Seileach tribesmen," Talmadge explained. "A stranger does not simply walk into one of the villages unknown and unannounced. Car Seileach is the entry point for all of the seven tribes about the lake, the village most amenable to folk from beyond the mountain plateau. This is where you will make your acquaintances, and if you prove as lovable as Talmadge, you might work your way about the shoreline to the other settlements, in time."
"Seven tribes? Been told there were eight? What's yourself hiding from old Badger?"
Talmadge settled the paddle across his lap and turned to regard his companion. He put on a grin for Badger, a mocking grin.
"Keeping all the good markets for Talmadge, eh?" Badger asked.
Talmadge laughed and directed the other man's gaze up to the huge mountain anchoring the southeastern corner of the lake. "Oh, there's an eighth tribe," Talmadge explained. "More nomads than villagers, wandering the great mountain's high ways. I can point you to them, but you'll go alone. And you'll not come back. No one comes back."
The ominous ring of his warning hung in the air for a bit, until Badger harrumphed and spat back, "Bah, but they're all savages, aren't they? And ugly, too!"
With a chuckle, Talmadge went back to his rowing, not interested in correcting the stubborn old fur trader. Talmadge thought that he was quite the clever young man those years ago when he somehow managed to escape the rosie plague and discovered that he could survive in the Wilderlands and even west of that remote region with his wits and intelligence and the few skills his father had taught to him. Now, still a young man, but so very much more worldly than his years, the greatest truths Talmadge had come to know involved his own limitations. Talmadge had survived and often thrived because he accepted that many of the things he believed he already knew he didn't really know at all.
Savages? From someone who had grown up in a kingdom torn by war, with dueling kings and fighting abbots, with fields of dead men piled atop each other, "savages" was not the word Talmadge would use to describe the folk of Loch Beag.
He couldn't deny Badger's other claim, however, for the people of Loch Beag were indeed quite ugly by the standards of the eastern men. They wrapped the heads of their infants tightly to reshape their skulls, and to truly shocking effect. Some skulls were simply elongated, some shorter but with a thicker, almost mushroomlike hump, and some bizarrely formed into a double-hump appearance that was indeed quite off-putting. The few folk back in the Wilderlands who had come this way wouldn't even call the lakemen human, often explaining their weird appearance as the result of mating with goblins, or powrie dwarves, or that they were, instead, some demonic perversion of humankind.
But Talmadge knew better. These were indeed humans, quite civilized and quite sophisticated, and he loved this time of the year, autumn, because in the autumn each year, he could come to Loch Beag and be among the tribes.
He snickered again as he considered Badger's reactions, for the eighth tribe the man had spoken of were not ugly at all, and did not reshape their skulls with wraps or anything else. To the lakemen the eighth tribe were deamhain — demon gods — and from all that Talmadge had heard and seen, it was a description, a reputation, well earned in spilled blood.
Talmadge sincerely hoped he never saw one of those deamhain ever again, nor ever again witnessed the aftermath of one of their devastating raids on the more gentle folk of the lakeshore.
"Getting close?" Badger asked sometime later, the western corner of the southern shore of the lake in view, although with many miles yet to go.
"Tonight or on the morn," Talmadge replied. He eased his paddle up again and glanced out to the lake, spotting the distant sails of the small fishing boats, far to the west of his position.
Probably from Fasach Crann, he thought, for they were coming out right under the shadow of the great mountain, Fireach Speuer.
Talmadge smiled. Fasach Crann was his favorite settlement, and to his surprise, his initial revulsion at the elongated skulls of the villagers there had worn away to the point where he often found, with a proper tease of the hair, the look striking and quite appealing.
He thought back to five years before, to when he was more boy than man, innocent to the world and safe in his family bed. He recalled his mother and father, and his six siblings — of late, he found that he could hardly even remember their unblemished faces anymore.
Still, Fasach Crann reminded him of that town on the western edge of Honce-the-Bear. This one village on the mountain lake felt a little bit like home to Talmadge — home before the plague had swept through the land. Home before he had watched his parents and siblings bloat and die horribly, covered in red sores, something he wished he could hardly remember.
He asked himself for the thousandth time, "Why me?"
He winced with the weight, the guilt of surviving. He dipped his paddle in the water, pushing the canoe ahead, suddenly eager to be rid of Badger and any other reminders of that faraway world and its complications.
* * *
The sun was sinking low behind them when Talmadge guided the canoe about the hanging moss and drooping branches of short and wide willow trees that leaned over the water thirstily.
The young trader knew then that he wouldn't make Car Seileach that day, unless he traveled long after sunset, and far too many dangerous creatures lived in or about Loch Beag for him to like that proposition. So, he began to scan the bank for a good place to set camp.
On one clear stretch of still water, he put up his paddle and began to turn to tell Badger of his decision, but he stopped halfway around, caught by a most curious sight. A line of orange needles wove its way toward him from the deeper water, and if that was not strange enough, several other such lines were moving all about, and even as he stared at them, many more appeared.
It only took Talmadge a few heartbeats to sort it out, recalling the clo'dearche, the huge orange lizards common about the lake.
Huge and aggressive.
And now they were coming in from the depths in a swarm. He saw a dozen, two dozen!
Talmadge splashed his paddle into the water left of the canoe and gave a tremendous pull, slightly turning the boat for the shore.
"Put in your paddle on the right and hold it flat there!" he cried to Badger.
"Turn! Turn!" Talmadge yelled.
"What in the name o' King Danube?"
"Just turn, you fool!" Talmadge retorted, though in truth, he had the craft almost facing the shoreline then, so he corrected, "Just row! To the trees — they don't climb!"
Badger gasped and Talmadge knew he had finally caught on.
"Are we to outrun 'em?" the old veteran asked.
The canoe bounced as Talmadge pulled and he grimaced and moved his hand near his short sword, thinking that one of the lizards had bumped up against the craft. But no, he realized, it was Badger, up and running the length of the boat, then leaping ahead to the shallows. If it wasn't bad enough that the man had deserted the boat and their supplies, Badger landed in the water, spun about and shoved back against the moving canoe, nearly capsizing it, and knocking Talmadge off-balance.
"I can outrun yourself!" Badger said, splashing to the shore and laughing wildly.
Talmadge grabbed both edges of the craft, trying to steady it. He had to get up and out, he realized, but even as he started to rise, the boat lurched again, mightily, and rushed in for the shallows, propelled by a powerful lizard. The canoe leaned heavily to the right and turned sideways. It scraped the bottom, hit a stone, and lurched, and Talmadge tumbled out sidelong.
He was smart enough to roll with the throw, and savvy enough to grab a rather large stone as he came around, splashing to his knees and hopping to his feet just as the lizard got its feet onto the sand and stones of the shallows, tossing the canoe about like a child's toy with a simple shake of its large head, and pressing forward at Talmadge.
The man pegged it, right on the skull, with the stone.
The clo'dearche hissed and opened wide its maw to display lines of needlelike teeth. Twice as long tip to tail as Talmadge was tall, and four hundred pounds of claws and scales and murderous jaws, it reared up onto its hind legs, fiery orange in the slanting late-afternoon sun rays.
Talmadge fell back and drew the short sword from his belt, certain that he was doomed. He glanced at the trees to see Badger already in the lowest branches, and knew that he could not get there, and understood, too, that the man wasn't coming back to help.
The clo'dearche hissed savagely, and a fan of skin, like small and furious wings, opened wide about its neck, and vibrated fiercely, the slapping of skin against scale adding to the sound.
And warning Talmadge.
He dived aside as the beast spat, a giant wad of ugly, sticky, dangerous goo. He knew more than one Seileach tribesman whose eye had been burned out by the acidic spittle.
Splashing and stumbling, Talmadge got to dry ground, but there his heart sank as more of the giant lizards exited the water left and right, with the hungry beast's snapping maw so near behind him!
His mind whirled — these were not pack hunters, but solitary beasts except in the spring during their mating frenzies. Why were so many about? And how?
Talmadge took two steps before he had to swing about and slash across with his short sword to keep the lizard at bay. He nicked one foreleg, but got hit himself, by the other, scratching in at his sword arm as it passed.
How easily the lizard's claw sliced through his thick leather sleeve and gashed his flesh! He knew that he was lucky that his arm hadn't been sheared off at the elbow. Instead of countering with a backhanded slash, Talmadge flipped the blade into his left hand and tucked his wounded right elbow in close as he retreated.
He glanced left and right, seeing huge orange lizards rushing by. With a flick of his head, he sent his thin braid up to his mouth, where he clamped onto it, chewing, trying to sort this all out. For a moment, he feared that he was being flanked, but no, these other beasts were fleeing, scrambling, scrabbling, heads and tails whipping side to side.
But not the one before him. Up on two legs still, that one came on with murderous intent, claws twitching, tongue flicking. Talmadge jabbed his sword repeatedly, but had to give ground.
"Be a good lad, then," Badger called from up in the nearby willow tree. "Might that yourself'll be dead soon enough, so offer some words on how I'm best to speak with them Seileach folk, eh?"
"Help me, you fool!"
"Oh, I'm not thinking that'd be in my plans," Badger replied with a snort.
The clo'dearche lurched forward, maw snapping, then fell forward, nearly overwhelming Talmadge as it went to all fours once more, sending the man rolling away.
"Badger!" he called.
"Aye," came the answer. "Right here, watching, and thinking that my own self'll do fine since I'll have twice the haul of furs and skins."
Excerpted from "Child Of A Mad God"
Copyright © 2018 R. A. Salvatore.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.
Table of Contents
Part 1: Curious Child,
1. The World Beyond The World,
2. Deamhain of The Mountain,
3. The Darkness of Usgar,
4. The Secret and The Sacred,
5. You Are Stupid,
Part 2: The Ills Around Her,
8. The Young Woman,
11. Staring Into Hell,
12. The Bells,
14. Rough And Tumble,
Part 3: Writing Their Stories,
18. Into The Mouth of God,
19. Harmony And Discord,
20. Virgin Vista,
21. Curiosity and Courage,
22. Magical Jacks,
23. The World Bleeds,
24. The Realm of Insubstantial,
25. When The Red Moon Set,
26. The Bite of Monsters,
Part 4: Secrets,
27. Freedom To Fly,
28. When You Fear, Charge!,
30. The Owl and The Snake,
32. The Crystal Maven's Play,
34. Riddles Under A Red Moon,
36. Circle of Life, Circle of Time,
37. The Face of Evil,
38. Talmadge's Tears,
Tor Books by R. A. Salvatore,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Worth buying. Was a good easy read.
Salvatore once again proves his mastery of world crafting and character development. Once started, it was impossible to put down.
As always the storyline is written by a master. R.A. Salvatore's perfectly clear description of exciting action and well built characters ensure a fast paced read that leaves you wanting more. Great job sir!
Always loved his writing. Definitely worth reading! Can't wait for the next one.
Another good read from Salvatore, thank you.
Can not wait to see where he leads us in the future of this world that has been expanded once against
This was my first step in the world of Corona, and I cannot wait for the next installment into this Story. From page 1 to the final page i was hooked and did not want the book to end. I would recommend this book for any fan of the Fantasy Genre at all.
I am hoping there will be many to come. It has a similar feel to his Forgotten Realms books but with new insights and a darker feel to it. If you liked his other works you will love this one as well.