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From debut author Daniel Abraham comes A Shadow in Summer, the first book in the Long Price Quartet fantasy series.
The powerful city-state of Saraykeht is a bastion of peace and culture, a major center of commerce and trade. Its economy depends on the power of the captive spirit, Seedless, an andat bound to the poet-sorcerer Heshai for life. Enter the Galts, a juggernaut of an empire committed to laying waste to all lands with their ferocious army. Saraykeht, though, has always been too strong for the Galts to attack, but now they see an opportunity. If they can dispose of Heshai, Seedless's bonded poet-sorcerer, Seedless will perish and the entire city will fall. With secret forces inside the city, the Galts prepare to enact their terrible plan.
In the middle is Otah, a simple laborer with a complex past. Recruited to act as a bodyguard for his girlfriend's boss at a secret meeting, he inadvertently learns of the Galtish plot. Otah finds himself as the sole hope of Saraykeht, either he stops the Galts, or the whole city and everyone in it perishes forever.
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About the Author
DANIEL ABRAHAM has had stories published in the Vanishing Acts, Bones of the World, and The Dark anthologies, and has been included in Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction anthology as well. A Shadow in Summer is his first novel in the Long Price Quartet. He lives in New Mexico with his wife.
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
A Shadow in Summer
Book One of the Long Price Quartet
By Daniel Abraham, James Frenkel
Tom Doherty Associates, LLCCopyright © 2006 Daniel Abraham
All rights reserved.
As the stone towers of Machi dominated the cold cities of the north, so the seafront of Saraykeht dominated the summer cities in the south. The wharves stood out into the clear waters of the bay, ships from the other port cities of the Khaiem—Nantani, Yalakeht, Chaburi-Tan—docked there. Among them were also the low, shallow ships of the Westlands and the tall, deep sailing ships of the Galts so strung with canvas they seemed like a launderer's yard escaped to the sea. And along the seafront streets, vendors of all different cities and lands sold wares from tall, thin tables decked with brightly colored cloths and banners, each calling out to the passers-by over the cries of seagulls and the grumble of waves. A dozen languages, a hundred dialects, creoles, and pidgins danced in the hot, still air, and she knew them all.
Amat Kyaan, senior overseer for the Galtic House Wilsin, picked her way through the crowd with a cane despite the sureness of her steps. She savored the play of grammar and vocabulary crashing together like children playing sand tag. Knowing how to speak and what to say was her strength. It was the skill that had taken her from a desperate freelance scribe to here, wearing the colors of an honorable, if foreign, house and threading her way through the press of bodies and baled cotton to a meeting with her employer. There were ways from her rooms at the edge of the soft quarter to Marchat Wilsin's favorite bathhouse that wouldn't have braved the seafront. Still, whenever her mornings took her to the bathhouse, this was the way she picked. The seafront was, after all, the pride and symbol of her city.
She paused in the square at the mouth of the Nantan—the wide, gray-bricked street that marked the western edge of the warehouse quarter. The ancient bronze statue of Shian Sho, the last great emperor, stood looking out across the sea, as if in memory of his lost empire—rags and wastelands for eight generations now, except for the cities of the Khaiem where the unrest had never reached. Below him, young men labored, shirtless in the heat, hauling carts piled high with white, oily bales. Some laughed, some shouted, some worked with a dreadful seriousness. Some were free men taking advantage of the seasonal work. Others were indentured to houses or individual merchants. A few were slaves. And all of them were beautiful—even the fat and the awkward. Youth made them beautiful. The working of muscles under skin was more subtle and enticing than the finest robes of the Khaiem, maybe because it wasn't considered. How many of them, she wondered, would guess that their sex was on display to an old woman who only seemed to be resting for a moment on the way to a business meeting?
All of them, probably. Vain, lovely creatures. She sighed, lifted her cane, and moved on.
The sun had risen perhaps half the width of one hand when she reached her destination. The bathhouses were inland, clustered near the banks of the Qiit and the aqueducts. Marchat Wilsin preferred one of the smaller. Amat had been there often enough that the guards knew her by sight and took awkward poses of welcome as she entered. She often suspected Wilsin- cha of choosing this particular place because it let him forget his own inadequacies of language. She sketched a pose of welcome and passed inside.
Working for a foreign house had never been simple, and translating contracts and agreements was the least of it. The Galts were a clever people, aggressive and successful in war. They held lands as wide and fertile as the Empire had at its height; they could command the respect and fear of other nations. But the assumptions they made—that agreements could be enforced by blades, that threat of invasion or blockade might underscore a negotiation—failed in the cities of the Khaiem. They might send their troops to Eddensea or their ships to Bakta, but when called upon for subtlety, they floundered. Galt might conquer the rest of the world if it chose; it would still bow before the andat. Marchat Wilsin had lived long enough in Saraykeht to have accepted the bruise on his people's arrogance. Indulging his eccentricities, such as doing business in a bathhouse, was a small price.
The air inside was cooler, and ornate woodworked screens blocked the windows while still letting the occasional cedar-scented breeze through. Voices echoed off the hard floors and walls. Somewhere in the public rooms, a man was singing, the tones of his voice ringing like a bell. Amat went to the women's chamber, shrugged out of her robe and pulled off her sandals. The cool air felt good against her bare skin. She took a drink of chilled water from the large granite basin, and—naked as anyone else—walked through the public baths, filled with men and women shouting and splashing one another, to the private rooms at the back. To Marchat Wilsin's corner room, farthest from the sounds of voices and laughter.
"It's too hot in this pisshole of a city," Wilsin-cha growled as she entered the room. He lay half-submerged in the pool, the water lapping at his white, wooly chest. He had been a thinner man when she had first met him. His hair and beard had been dark. "It's like someone holding a hot towel over your face."
"Only in the summer," Amat said and she laid her cane beside the water and carefully slipped in. The ripples rocked the floating lacquer tray with its bowls of tea, but didn't spill it. "If it was any further north, you'd spend all winter complaining about how cold it was."
"It'd be a change of pace, at least."
He lifted a pink and wrinkled hand from the water and pushed the tray over toward her. The tea was fresh and seasoned with mint. The water was cool. Amat lay back against the tiled lip of the pool.
"So what's the news?" Marchat asked, bringing their morning ritual to a close.
Amat made her report. Things were going fairly well. The shipment of raw cotton from Eddensea was in and being unloaded. The contracts with the weavers were nearly complete, though there were some ambiguities of translation from Galtic into the Khaiate that still troubled her. And worse, the harvest of the northern fields was late.
"Will they be here in time to go in front of the andat?"
Amat took another sip of tea before answering.
Marchat cursed under his breath. "Eddensea can ship us a season's bales, but we can't get our own plants picked?"
"How short does it leave us?"
"Our space will be nine-tenths full."
Marchat scowled and stared at the air, seeing imagined numbers, reading the emptiness like a book. After a moment, he sighed.
"Is there any chance of speaking with the Khai on it? Renegotiating our terms?"
"None," Amat said.
Marchat made an impatient noise in the back of his throat.
"This is why I hate dealing with you people. In Eymond or Bakta, there'd be room to talk at least."
"Because you'd have soldiers sitting outside the wall," Amat said, dryly.
"Exactly. And then they'd find room to talk. See if one of the other houses is overstocked," he said.
"Chadhami is. But Tiyan and Yaanani are in competition for a contract with a Western lord. If one could move more swiftly than the other, it might seal the issue. We could charge them for the earlier session with the andat, and then take part of their space later when our crop comes in."
Marchat considered this. They negotiated the house's strategy for some time. Which little alliance to make, and how it could most profitably be broken later, should the need arise.
Amat knew more than she said, of course. That was her job—to hold everything about the company clear in her mind, present her employer with what he needed to know, and deal herself with the things beneath his notice. The center of it all, of course, was the cotton trade. The complex web of relationships—weavers and dyers and sailmakers; shipping companies, farming houses, alum miners—that made Saraykeht one of the richest cities in the world. And, as with all the cities of the Khaiem, free from threat of war, unlike Galt and Eddensea and Bakta; the Westlands and the Eastern Islands. They were protected by their poets and the powers they wielded, and that protection allowed conferences like this one, allowed them to play the deadly serious game of trade and barter.
Once their decisions had been made and the details agreed upon, Amat arranged a time to bring the proposals by the compound. Doing business from a bathhouse was an affectation Wilsin-cha could only take so far, and dripping water on freshly-inked contracts was where she drew the line. She knew he understood that. As she rose, prepared to face the remainder of her day, he held up a hand to stop her.
"There's one other thing," he said. She lowered herself back into the water. "I need a bodyguard this evening just before the half candle. Nothing serious, just someone to help keep the dogs off."
Amat tilted her head. His voice was calm, its tone normal, but he wasn't meeting her eyes. She held up her hands in a pose of query.
"I have a meeting," he said, "in one of the low towns."
"Company business?" Amat asked, keeping her voice neutral.
"I see," she said. Then, after a moment, "I'll be at the compound at the half candle, then."
"No. Amat, I need some house thug to swat off animals and make bandits think twice. What's a woman with a cane going to do for me?"
"I'll bring a bodyguard with me."
"Just send him to me," Wilsin said with a final air. "I'll take care of it from there."
"As you see fit. And when did the company begin conducting trade without me?"
Marchat Wilsin grimaced and shook his head, muttering something to himself too low for her to catch. When he sighed, it sent a ripple that spilled some of the tea.
"It's a sensitive issue, Amat. That's all. It's something I'm taking care of myself. I'll give you all the details when I can, but ..."
"It's difficult. There are some details of the trade that ... I'm going to have to keep quiet about."
"It's the sad trade," he said. "The girl's well enough along in the pregnancy that she's showing. And there are some facets to getting rid of the baby that I need to address discreetly."
Amat felt herself bristle, but kept her tone calm as she spoke.
"Ah. I see. Well, then. If you feel you can't trust my discretion, I suppose you'd best not talk to me of it at all. Perhaps I might recommend someone else to take my position."
He slapped the water impatiently. Amat crossed her arms. It was a bluff in the sense that they both knew the house would struggle badly without her, and that she would be worse off without her position in it—it wasn't a threat meant seriously. But she was the overseer of the house, and Amat didn't like being kept outside her own business. Marchat's pale face flushed red, but whether with annoyance or shame, she wasn't sure.
"Don't break my stones over this one, Amat. I don't like it any better than you do, but I can't play this one any differently than I am. There is a trade. I'll see to it. I'll petition the Khai Saraykeht for use of his andat. I'll see the girl's taken care of before and after, and I'll see that everyone who needs paying gets paid. I was in business before you signed on, you know. And I am your employer. You could assume I know what I'm doing."
"I was just going to say the same thing, pointed the other way. You've consulted me on your affairs for twenty years. If I haven't done something to earn your mistrust—"
"Then why shut me out of this when you never have before?"
"If I could tell you that, I wouldn't have to shut you out of it," Marchat said. "Just take it that it's not my choice."
"Your uncle asked that I be left out? Or is it the client?"
"I need a bodyguard. At the half-candle."
Amat took a complex pose of agreement that also held a nuance of annoyance. He wouldn't catch the second meaning. Talking over his level was something she did when he'd upset her. She rose, and he scooped the lacquer tray closer and poured himself more tea.
"The client. Can you tell me who she is?" Amat asked.
"No. Thank you, Amat," Wilsin said.
In the women's chamber again, she dried herself and dressed. The street, when she stepped into it, seemed louder, more annoying, than when she went in. She turned toward the House Wilsin compound, to the north and uphill. She had to pause at a waterseller's stall, buy herself a drink, and rest in the shade to collect her thoughts. The sad trade—using the andat to end a pregnancy—wasn't the sort of business House Wilsin had undertaken before now, though other houses had acted as brokers in some instances. She wondered why the change in policy, and why the secrecy, and why Marchat Wilsin would have told her to arrange for the bodyguard if he hadn't wanted her, on some level, to find answers.
Maati held a pose of greeting, his heart in his throat. The pale- skinned man walked slowly around him, black eyes taking in every nuance of his stance. Maati's hands didn't tremble; he had trained for years, first at the school and then with the Dai-kvo. His body knew how to hide anxiety.
The man in poet's robes stopped, an expression half approval, half amusement on his face. Elegant fingers took a pose of greeting that was neither the warmest nor the least formal. With the reply made, Maati let his hands fall to his sides and stood. His first real thought, now that the shock of his teacher's sudden appearance was fading, was that he hadn't expected Heshai-kvo to be so young, or so beautiful.
"What is your name, boy?" the man asked. His voice was cool and hard.
"Maati Vaupathi," Maati said, crisply. "Once the tenth son of Nicha Vaupathi, and now the youngest of the poets."
"Ah. A westerner. It's still in your accent."
The teacher sat in the window seat, his arms folded, still openly considering Maati. The rooms, which had seemed sumptuous during the long worrisome days of Maati's waiting, seemed suddenly squalid with the black-haired man in them. A tin setting for a perfect gem. The soft cotton draperies that flowed from the ceiling, shifting in the hot breeze of late afternoon, seemed dirty beside the poet's skin. The man smiled, his expression not entirely kind. Maati took a pose of obeisance appropriate to a student before his teacher.
"I have come, Heshai-kvo, by the order of the Dai-kvo to learn from you, if you will have me as your pupil."
"Oh, stop that. Bowing and posing like we were dancers. Sit there. On the bed. I have some questions for you."
Maati did as he was told, tucking his legs beneath him in the formal way a student did in a lecture before the Dai-kvo. The man seemed to be amused by this, but said nothing about it.
"So. Maati. You came here ... what? Six days ago?"
"Seven. And yet no one came to meet you. No one came to collect you or show you the poet's house. It's a long time for a master to ignore his student, don't you think?"
It was exactly what Maati had thought, several times, but he didn't admit that now. Instead he took a pose accepting a lesson.
"I thought so at first. But as time passed, I saw that it was a kind of test, Heshai-kvo."
A tiny smile ghosted across the perfect lips, and Maati felt a rush of pleasure that he had guessed right. His new teacher motioned him to continue, and Maati sat up a degree straighter.
"I thought at first that it might be a test of my patience. To see whether I could be trusted not to hurry things when it wasn't my place. But later I decided that the real test was how I spent my time. Being patient and idle wouldn't teach me anything, and the Khai has the largest library in the summer cities."
"You spent your time in the library?"
Maati took a pose of confirmation, unsure what to make of the teacher's tone.
"These are the palaces of the Khai Saraykeht, Maati-kya," he said with sudden familiarity as he gestured out the window at the grounds, the palaces, the long flow of streets and red tile roofs that sprawled to the sea. "There are scores of utkhaiem and courtiers. I don't think a night passes here without a play being performed, or singers, or dancing. And you spent all your time with the scrolls?"
Excerpted from A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham, James Frenkel. Copyright © 2006 Daniel Abraham. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
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