Sample chapter from Wolf’s Blood

Excerpt from WOLF’s BLOOD by Jane Lindskold.
Published by Tor Books.  Copyright © 2007 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.


(These excerpts are based on uncorrected proofs and may slightly differ from the published version of the novel.)


sample-wolfs-blood


 

= II =
A great deal had changed in the not quite five moonspans since Firekeeper and her allies had taken control of the Nexus Islands.
Buildings served different purposes. Almost every resident had been relocated to a different dwelling. The menagerie cages had been torn down. A vegetable garden was planned for that particular location.
One thing remained the same. Ynamynet the Once Dead remained the preeminent spellcaster on the Nexus Island. She was no longer the only one, as she had been when the agreement between the residents of the Nexus Islands had been made. However, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ynamynet was the most important.
Even so, when Firekeeper knocked on the door of the building that served both as Ynamynet’s home and office, the sorcerer answered the door herself. Of medium height, her thick, light brown hair braided long down her back, one hand still holding a damp cloth, Ynamynet did not at this moment look much like a powerful wielder of magic.
Firekeeper glimpsed the retreating form of the little girl fleeing down the hallway toward the back of the house, caught the scent of strawberry jam, and guessed that they had interrupted the sorcerer immersed in one of her other identities, that of mother to a lively little girl everyone called Sunshine.
Ynamynet’s neutral expression changed to one of surprise when she saw who her callers were. She motioned them inside with her damp cloth.
“Firekeeper, Blind Seer… I didn’t know you had returned. Counselor Derian, Isende… Please come inside. Everyone keeps saying that spring is here, but I for one find the weather still rather cold.”
The human callers accepted Ynamynet’s invitation with alacrity for the winds coming off the oceans were indeed chilly. Firekeeper and Blind Seer followed without the same impetus. Neither of them found the weather anything other than invigorating.
Ynamynet left them in a sunny front room, promising to return. Soft voiced conversation in a language Firekeeper didn’t know, followed by a muted clattering of pots and plates hinted at possible refreshments. A squeal of protest indicated that Sunshine was having her face scrubbed, but when Ynamynet returned her expression was tranquil and a touch more composed then it had been when they had arrived.
“I apologize for calling unannounced,” Derian began, “but Firekeeper has a question for you.”
“And Firekeeper will not be kept waiting,” Ynamynet said with a smile. She had brought a fur-trimmed robe with her, and pulled it on as she arrayed herself in a chair she moved to where it would be in the sun coming through the window. Firekeeper found herself sweating just looking at her, but Ynamynet looked comfortable.
There was no real annoyance in Ynamynet’s tone, just a statement of fact: Firekeeper was one who could not be kept waiting. Firekeeper felt pleased. Wolves value their privileges highly. Besides, she approved of Ynamynet. The woman was brave and devoted. If she had a tendency toward – not treachery… That wouldn’t be a fair description. There is no treachery when a mother bird feigns a broken wing to protect her fledglings.
“Is important,” Firekeeper assured their host. “We want to know what is said about where querinalo came from.”
Ynamynet glanced at Derian as if waiting for clarification, and when the young man added nothing, frowned slightly.
“Where querinalo came from? I don’t know. It has been a bane – that’s what we called it in my homeland, ‘the bane’ – for something like a hundred and fifty years. It wiped out the sorcerers who once ruled the Old World and the New. Apparently, it then left the New World alone, but the bane continues to kill and mutilate residents of the Old World to this very day.”
“But you not know where it come from?” Firekeeper asked. “Not even in stories?”
“You mean like the stories the Liglim tell? About how the bane was sent as divine retribution against those who abused the gifts of magic?”
Firekeeper inclined her head in acknowledgment.
“No,” Ynamynet’s tone was bitter. “I have no such stories, and my family was descended from the very sorcerers who once ruled our land and many others.”
Derian spoke very gently. “What about enemies? I have heard some say that the Plague might not have been a disease at all, but rather a magical curse. Could someone have created a curse and then that curse have gotten out of hand?”
Ynamynet regained her composure. “I suppose that’s possible, although it seems idiotic to me that someone would create a curse that might backwash so horribly.”
“Still,” Isende said softly, “you admit it’s possible.”
“Anything’s possible,” Ynamynet replied. “Including deities capable of such incredible cruelty. I know you New Worlders don’t think highly of what the sorcerer monarchs did. All you remember are the tales of their cruelty and abuse. You forget the wonderful things they did as well.”
She motioned to the lantern that waited on the table to be lit when evening came.
“They had lights that didn’t smoke or smell. They could travel vast distances in moments. They could heal wounds with a touch. Some say they could even defy old age and death. I’m sure that many of them were perfectly good and just rulers, but no one ever remembers those who rule over them with any fondness – especially when those rulers are forced to be strict. Right now Sunshine thinks I’m an absolute tyrant because I won’t let her eat all the jam she wants and then run about sticky afterwards.”
“I can see,” Blind Seer said to Firekeeper, “why Ynamynet would prefer to remember her ancestors in such a light, but I have heard many tales of the abuses perpetrated by those Once Dead who reigned on these islands only a few moonspans ago, enough to give lie to those summershine dreams.”
Firekeeper reached out and pulled loose a clump of shedding fur from one of his shoulders.
“I agree, dear heart, but we will not get what we want by reminding Ynamynet of what she prefers to forget.”
“Nor will we if you drop clumps of shed fur on her carpet,” Blind Seer reproved. “Leave grooming for now. You have asserted your precedence enough already.”
Derian spoke to Ynamynet. “So you, personally, have no information about the coming of querinalo. Do you think anyone else among the Old World community might? Your husband, Skea, comes from another people than your own. What about him? We’d even like to hear stories that might be dismissed as legends. Sometimes there’s a good deal of truth hidden underneath.”
“Querinalo is not something about which Skea and I have talked much,” Ynamynet said. “We both passed through the bane long before we met. Would you like me to ask among the other Old World residents here who might have stories to share?”
“That would be helpful,” Derian said.
“I will do that, then,” Ynamynet said.
She half-rose, indicating the interview was ended. Isende spoke before they were quite dismissed.
“What about records? Are there any archives here on the Islands that might contain information about the coming of querinalo?”
Ynamynet frowned. “Possibly. Although I lived here a good many years before your coming, I can’t claim to know everything that’s here. My interests tended to be in the active practice of magic, not in history. Urgana might know. She long made herself useful by doing research for various projects. Why don’t you speak to her?”
“We’ll do that,” Derian promised. “Thank you for seeing us on such short notice.”
Ynamynet looked tired, as if suddenly aware that she had been less than the idea hostess.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help more. The bane was a shadow over my entire life. I sat and watched it burn my brother, Kiriel, alive when I was only six. I’ve feared it and hated it all my life. Will you tell me why you’re so interested in it?”
Firekeeper could hear the fear Ynamynet was trying to conceal. She realized that Ynamynet thought they might be seeking to learn about querinalo in order to somehow use it. Such behavior would have been quite in line with the practices of the Once Dead, many of who had sought magic for the power it would bring them. What was querinalo if not a terrible power?
Firekeeper rose to her feet in one fluid motion and touched Ynamynet on the arm. The woman’s skin was cold as ice.
“We seek querinalo to kill it,” Firekeeper said. “So that once and for ever it will never hunt another – so that little ones like your Sunshine will be safe from the fear that even now makes your blood so cold.”
Firekeeper had never before seen lit her eyes from within and brought color to her pale skin.
“Do that,” Ynamynet promised, “and I will be your slave.”
Firekeeper shook her head. “I would not have that. But I will find querinalo and I will kill it dead, even so. I promise.”

* * * * *

Urgana turned out to be the wrong person to ask for help. The older woman belonged to what had been before the coming of the New Worlders had led to a major restructuring of the social order, the so-called “Never Lived.” This was the term given by the Once Dead � those who had survived querinalo with their magical ability intact – to those who had been born with no inherent magical ability at all.
Those who had – like Plik or Ynamynet’s husband, Skea – once possessed some ability but had sacrificed it in order to survive querinalo, were categorized with the unflattering term, “Twice Dead,” for they had died twice, once in suffering querinalo, once in the death of their magical ability. However, the Twice Dead possessed more status than the Never Lived, because at least they had fought, and by not dying achieved a victory of sorts.
Because of her former low status, Urgana was usually among the most cooperative of the Old World residents with the new rulers of the Nexus Islands. Although lacking magical ability herself, Urgana had been part of the group that had first rediscovered and later colonized the Nexus Islands, because of her refusal to abandon her sister, Ellebrana. When the first signs of querinalo – and with them confirmation that Ellabrana had magical abilities – Ellabrana had been cast out by her family. Urgana had protested against this cruel treatment, and had been exiled herself. This sister had died before the New World conquest of the Nexus Islands, prey to some seasonal illness far less spectacular than querinalo.
After nursing Ellabrana through querinalo, Urgana had learned of a poor but well-run monarchy where rumor claimed the ruler welcomed those who had survived querinalo. The two sisters had gone there, and had indeed been welcomed, but the price of that welcome was that Ellabrana put her magical abilities at the ruler’s disposal.
Urgana was a natural storyteller, and many times over the past winter she had entertained the weirdly isolated island community with tales of her adventures in those days. Derian had listened to the stories with something of the same uneasy pleasure with which he had listened to his grandmother tell scary tales of the days when the Old Country rulers had dominated the lands now known as Hawk Haven. Perhaps his own uneasiness had made him miss a hidden element of those stories: Urgana herself regretted her participation in the use of magic.
“I didn’t have much choice then,” Urgana explained when Derian, Firekeeper, and Blind Seer came to call on her on the morning following their interview with Ynamynet. “My sister had survived querinalo, but you know how weak it leaves you. We needed a refuge. We could never go home.”
Firekeeper, who had not been present for most of the winter storytelling circles, spoke from where she sat on the floor next to Blind Seer.
“I don’t understand this,” she said. “You had done nothing wrong, and your sister… Ellabrana had no more choice in how magic touched her than a wolf does on where the white will fall in his coat. Why were they so fierce against you?”
Firekeeper’s support of what had, after all, been Urgana’s own conclusion all those years ago, Urgana drew herself up stiff and even prim in her chair. She was of the same race as the New World’s Liglim, with warm brown skin and straight black hair, in her case streaked with silver. Her eyes were a darker brown than her skin, and more oval-shaped than Firekeeper or Derian’s. Like all her people, she had high cheekbones.
Derian, who had become something of an expert on Liglimese concepts of beauty during the time he had resided in Liglim, thought Urgana might have been considered lovely once. Now, however, her brown skin was lined with the marks of a life lived – at best – as a sort of privileged slave. The pinch marks around her mouth, deeply graven from a lifetime of not being free to say what she felt, were indented tightly now, so that her mouth almost seemed stitched shut.
“Perhaps Ellabrana and I should have listened to our parents. This was not rebelling, say, as a girl might when presented with a betrothal she does not desire. In resisting the banishment decreed against Ellabrana, we were resisting the will of the deities, as presented by the disdum who serve the Divine Five and make their will known to those of us who serve merely through our worship.”
Once Derian would have found this last statement incomprehensible. His own people practiced a complex form on ancestor worship. The family shrine was the heart of every household. Indeed, Derian had carried duplicates of the key elements with which to furnish his own shrine with him when he had left Hawk Haven to take a post as assistant to the ambassador to the Liglimom. When he had gone to visit Elise and Doc, these had been among the few things he had brought back with him – although he had wondered if his ancestors would still consider a monster one of the line they were bound to guide and protect.
Firekeeper’s religion – if she had any at all – was that of the Royal Wolves who had raised her. As she never spoke of it, what she believed, if anything, remained a mystery even to Derian who was her closest human friend.
Arriving in Liglim, where the entire society was structured around the worship of the Five – Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Magic – and where the rulers were selected by interpretation of omens believed to be sent by these deities, had been rather shocking to both Derian and Firekeeper. Now, however, enough time had passed that they both accepted the practices of the Liglim as normal enough that meeting one of that people who did not honor the Five would have been shocking rather than otherwise.
So they accepted Urgana’s religiously based explanation with composure, and waited for her to elucidate.
“You know that Magic is one of our deities,” Urgana began. “The child of Water.”
When they nodded, Urgana went on.
“Magic had a very odd birth, for she was born because of Water’s envy of Fire, from Water’s desire to impress Earth and Air with his own creativity. However, Water was not completely successful. As he brought Magic forth, she broke into many pieces. The largest of these remains in our sky, and we see her as the Moon. However, although much of Magic remained intact, numerous fragments were lost. Many fell to Earth, and whatever they touched became imbued with Magic.”
Derian nodded. He’d heard several versions of the tale, and the basics remained the same. He thought Urgana was leaving a bit out – that faithful Water had a pretty good reason to envy sulking Fire – but as he tried to remember the details, Urgana’s version of the tale took a twist Derian had not heard before.
Magic’s creation was Water’s envy, Magic was tainted by that envy. Water and Fire both were born out of the love between Earth and Air, and their desire to create something from that love. Of all the deities, only Magic was created for less than ideal reasons, and so Magic remains the easiest of the elemental gifts to abuse.”
Derian could see Firekeeper starting to fidget, so he didn’t ask any of the questions that occurred to him. For one, it seemed to him that Fire had been less than an ideal child to his loving parents, but then maybe Urgana’s people, the u-Chivalum, had a different version of Fire’s story than did the Liglim.
“When Ellabrana developed querinalo,” Urgana said, “I could not believe that she would abuse her gift. Indeed, she did not do so… at least not directly. However, to survive, we needed a home, and not only our own family, but all our homeland was turned against us. I’ve told you how we sought refuge with what seemed to us an enlightened ruler. I’ve also told you how we learned too late that there was a price for his patronage. He had discovered a gate in his land. He wanted that gate open and operational.
“Ellabrana had a gift for sensing stone, and that gift was recruited to assist in learning how the gate worked. I will not bore you with the tedium of those researches, but how I wish they had never ended. I should have known that our joy on the day we finally made the gate operational was tainted. Indeed, the omens showed this was so, for instead of going to another prosperous land, the gate took us here, to the Nexus Islands.
“You see this place as it is now, and it is a bleak enough land. Wind and water are not kind neighbors, not when they thrive virtually unchecked as they do here. However, in the years since I first stepped through the gate and saw this place, let me assure you that much has been improved. What we saw were ruins, buildings deserted with broken windows and sagging doors. We nearly gave up hope. Even our patron doubted the wisdom of pursuing his ambitions. Then someone found an inscription, and we realized that we had come to a place none of us had completely believed existed, a nexus of gates, a myriad of doors to a myriad of lands. Do you know who found that cursed inscription and realized its significance?”
Blind Seer lifted his head as if he would speak, but Firekeeper remained silent.
At last Derian said, “It was you, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right. I am the one who showed an ambitious man, long thwarted in his goals, that he had before him the doors to a host of incontestable invasions.”

* * * * *

Firekeeper sympathized with the pain she heard in Urgana’s voice. Hadn’t she felt something similar when shortly after her coming east humans from Hawk Haven had attempted to colonize the lands west of the Iron Mountains? She had blamed herself because her appearance, ten years after the last known expedition west had been assumed lost without any survivors, had given some the impression that the western lands were not as dangerous as had been believed.
Those who had believed this had been wrong, but nonetheless, Firekeeper had blamed herself for the pain and suffering that had resulted both to humans and to beasts.
“You is not to blame,” Firekeeper said, “for how others think.”
Urgana looked at her blankly. “I could have kept my mouth shut. Perhaps someone else would have understood what we had found, but at least it would not have been me. Instead, out of a desire to be valued for myself, rather than merely tolerated because of Ellabrana’s gifts, I spoke out. Wars followed on the heels of my pride, and the deities turned their backs on those of us who had dared support the magic they had denied humanity. Eventually, when our patron’s enemies finally defeated him, we were pressed into even deeper exile. The Once Dead who set themselves to rule over us were the harsh rulers we deserved.”
“I’ve wondered about that,” Derian said. “Your sister was Once Dead, wasn’t she?”
Urgana nodded. Firekeeper thought that for all Urgana’s complaints there was some shadow of the old pride there still, but it was a pride on which guilt followed firmly at the heels.
“She was. Her gift was for working stone, for sensing the life within it.”
Urgana might have expected them to question this idea that rocks could hold life, but Derian and Firekeeper had seen too much to doubt. They’d even seen something that might be called living rock, but neither of them said anything for fear they would divert Urgana from her explanation.
“Ellabrana’s power did not extend to the type of spellcasting Ynamynet can do. It was more in the line of a talent. Some of the Once Dead pressed her to try and learn more, but Ellabrana resisted, saying she had no sense for spells. We never discussed it, but I have wondered if, like me, Ellabrana felt guilty over what we had become.”
“So Ellabrana was Once Dead, but she was not part of the ruling power structure?” Derian said.
“That’s right. She took her turn guarding the gates. I think she loved them in a strange way. Otherwise, she devoted her energies to helping restore the ruined buildings here. The ones who had lived here before us – the ones who had shut down the facility when they realized they were in danger of being stranded when the last one who could work the gate spells died – they closed and locked many of the buildings, but even so, the weather found its way inside. Many of the structures remained sound outside, but inside the shell, ceilings had collapsed, walls had crumpled. Ellabrana could often tell if a floor was safe to walk upon or whether the supporting pillars were damaged. Things like that…”
Urgana paused and wiped a tear from the corner of one eye without seeming to notice.
“Later, when rebuilding began, Ellebrana did a great deal. She could convince mortar to dry more evenly or seal a crack in a foundation stone. Her handiwork is all around us.”
“And you?” Firekeeper asked. “Did you build, too?”
Urgana began to shake her head, then nodded.
“I did some building, but the Once Dead who ruled – let me call them the Spell Wielders, as they did themselves, marking themselves out as special even among the Once Dead – the Spell Wielders made plain that they accepted me here on sufferance. If I did not make myself useful, then they would make me useful, and for them, the greatest use to which any of the non-magical could be turned was as a source of blood for their disgusting spells.”
Firekeeper felt her lips drawn back from her teeth in an unwitting snarl of revulsion. Beside her, Blind Seer shook with a belly-deep growl.
Urgana did not need to be told the reaction was not directed toward her. She even relaxed as she had not since she had admitted her perceived guilt in helping discover the function of the Nexus Islands.
“So I made myself of use,” Urgana continued, “even though the use they had for me was disgusting to me.”
Derian frowned. “They didn’t…”
Urgana reached out and gave his hand a motherly pat. “It’s not what you’re thinking, young man, although I won’t say that I didn’t deal with that, as well, especially when I was younger and more attractive. No, what they wanted from me was my skills as a researcher. By this time, I could read half a dozen languages, and make my way fairly well in several more. I’ve rather quickly glossed over just how many years of research and experimentation went on before we opened that very first gate, but I was a young woman when we started, and seeing grey in my hair before I first stepped on the Nexus Islands.”
“Is research so bad?” Firekeeper asked.
The wolf-woman thought she knew what Urgana meant, but also knew that she could ask such questions and not be thought stupid. No one was ever quite sure just how much of human culture and motivations she understood. There were times, indeed, that Firekeeper knew Blind Seer was more sophisticated in his comprehension than she was.
Urgana shook her head. “Child, research in itself is not wrong, but when you know as I did that the research will be turned to destruction or exploitation of the weak, then there is no joy in the work. Perhaps if I had believed, as some of the Spell Wielders truly did, that the world would be improved with a return to the old ways, then I might have gone about my work with a lighter heart, but I knew that what I did was in defiance of Divine Retribution, that I was working against the will of the deities. I will not deny that there were times I thought of ending my life, but then Ellabrana would have felt guilty, and by the time Ellabrana had gone to the Five, my sensibilities had been dulled.”
“So you will not help us,” Firekeeper said, “not even when I tell you that we have no wish to conquest or fight. All we wish to know is where querinalo came from.”
“Querinalo came from the deities,” Urgana said firmly. “That is all I know, and all I need to know. If I had remembered this when I was a brash young woman, then perhaps today I would not be a lonely old woman making my home on an island whose purpose I doubt and despise � but which is my home because I have no other.”

#


Excerpt from WOLF’S BLOOD by Jane Lindskold.
Published by Tor Books.  Copyright © 2007 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.

Copyright © 2007 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved.

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