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If you’d like to read four quick excerpts that highlight a variety of characters and themes that you’ll find in the book, you can do so on this page.
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Excerpt #1 — The Dodae
Across the plains, they burned sage for the wind’s favor before setting off in the morning. If a runner started into the winds, the whole day would be against them. Spirits could be fickle, and none more so than wind spirits. Up the mountain trails, they’d stack towers of colorful stones as tribute, and in return the unseen gargoyles let them pass without sweeping them with rockfalls. Upon entering the forests, they’d present a cache of nuts and feathers collected along their way. The forest gnomes and fairies preferred the nuts they couldn’t source from their own trees. Or so it’d been told; Golgrae in all his wandering had met none. He would have liked to believe, but he couldn’t.
Traveling through the foothills, Dodae dangled wind chimes from their belts, or clapped polished sticks together, to announce themselves to the dozing bears and cougars that otherwise might be surprised by them. Wolves and worse might overhear, but there was no dissuading them to begin with.
In the heat, they chewed ginger for hydration. Under rainfall, they slung their packs beneath their cloak across their bellies. Knees up, heads down. On muddy days or across blackthorn meadows, they’d bind their feet to alpenstocks and walk on stilts like the great heron. Over snowcaps and across frozen valleys, they’d bind two alpenstocks crosswise on their backs, should they slip into a hidden crevasse. Atop the fallen snow they could walk on willow hoops webbed with twine, worn as mallard feet.
But of all their customs, of all their tricks, there was nothing to be done against a blizzard. The onslaught of snow blowing horizontally, changing the terrain under each step—now rock, now ice, now powder, now wet, now dry again—there was nothing to be done.
Golgrae pulled a veil across his face that tickled his lashes with every blink but saved his eyes from the constant flakes swarming at him. The veil was pulled tight enough that Golgrae could see out nearly unimpeded. Elsewise, without the veil, he was functionally blinded.
“Benefit of a blizzard,” his brother once told him, “is that you work so hard just to stay on your feet, you never feel the cold.” At the time, that sounded like a rather poor trade-off.
Some argued it’s best to stay put. Some said to stop is to be buried. For all their wisdom, there was no consensus. But Golgrae’s mind never entertained the debate. His gut told him something was terribly wrong at Hurleweth, and he needed to get there as soon as possible. If he waited, the cold wouldn’t kill him; his own curiosity would.
Excerpt #2 — The Kennelmaster
Egor the kennelmaster looked askance at Palderian; Palderian grinned at the humorless woman. They’d been warned the master of ceremonies would conduct a pantomime of their victory for the solstice fest. Egor refused the request to give a demonstration of her dogs’ training. In her opinion, conducting an entertainment would dilute the self-regard of the dogs whose expertise should only be employed in military circumstances. She stood on the secondary platform just below Palderian with her lead dog, Kiku; a grey and white large-game dog with bright chestnut irises ringed around graveblack pupils. Both Egor and Kiku wore the same expression while watching the show. Once Palderian noticed this, he could not stop laughing. Egor Novos, so-called Coldbath since girlhood, came from a long line of stern commanders. When at an age she considered herself venerable, she demanded a command position. When none were offered, she resigned. Years later, she returned with a pack of bear-dogs. Under no one’s orders, she trained and bred every kennel unit in the infantry. She wore her hair in a long black braid that draped along her spine, tucked underneath her undyed cloak, stained by the years in a pattern not unlike treebark. ‘The dogs needn’t dye their coats blue,’ she said once, ‘and yet we know on whose side they serve.’ Therefore, she need not dye her clothing to appease the Fallicorn commanders. Twenty years of kennel work. The joke passed around between sergeants, captains, and commanders was that Egor Novos had gone ahead and amassed an infantry as large as the Fallicorns and placed her loyal charges among every unit. Should the day come the Fallicorns insult her again, be wary of that woman and her whistle.
Excerpt #3 — The Almanac
“Yesterday was colder,” said Bert, holding the tent pole in place.
“Six weeks after the solstice, that’s what the almanac says,” said Theador, screwing and scraping the stake into the frozen ground.
“Tomorrow’s six weeks, Thod,” said Kess, holding the twine.
“Surely. It’s coldest right now and only getting colder all night,” said Theador.
“It’s just the wind,” said Nack, on the other side of the tent, pulling the fly taut. “Without this wind: nothing.”
“What measure is that?” protested Theador. “Wind is weather.”
Kess, straining to grip the thin twine in her wool mittens, said, “Don’t stop hammering, Thod!”
“How would an almanac know?” asked Bert.
“They know the moon phases, the seasons, the tides, the crops, why wouldn’t they know weather?” shouted Theador over the wind.
“It just seems different,” said Bert.
“Surface temperature,” said Nack with a exaggerated, dismissive expression and a sigh, “Not that cold.”
“There was no wind yesterday, before that storm. Without that wind, yesterday is colder than today,” said Bert.
Theador abandoned his duty to stand and point the hammer at Bert. “You colder right now than you were yesterday? Yes or no.”
“Theador,” cried Kess as the twine slid further through her grip. She stepped back and leaned against the wind to secure the tent.
“My nose is colder, I’ll give you that, Thod,” said Bert, “but my lungs are warmer.”
“’Cause you’re full of hot air, the two of you,” said Theador, overproud of his retort. Nack grinned with his cheeks but disdained Theador with his eyes.
“Your nose is plenty warm,” said Bert, but couldn’t end the insult. The wind pressed them all forward. Had his hat not been tied under his chin, Bert would have lost it. He reached his offhand and pressed the rabbit fur down over his ears. The wind lifted Kess, who had been leaning backward, into an upright position. She’d not been concentrating on holding the line down, and once her body weight no longer figured in the balance, the strength of the wind under the fly jerked the twine through her mittens. The tent sucked up into the night; the pole, like hind legs, kicked up and split Theador’s cheek wide; the opposite end of the tent tackled Nack as it shouldered over him; Kess grasped the end of the line which yanked her forward into Bert.
Excerpt #4 — The Tusk Art Fair
“One hundred and sixty spears. With this force I could have held Caladabur.” Palderian said nothing. “I know you disagree, captain.”
“I disagree with the premise. You could hold Caladabur with one sixty. But how many of these troops would we lose on the march there? How would we feed them once we arrive? Athostus is its own resource and more importantly we know how to work the land here. Anshamara is bottomless, insatiable mud. You can only eat at Caladabur what you bring to Caladabur. Down there…”
“All right, fine. Shut up. You’re right,” she said. “Blazes and blazes, Palderian. Just let me mourn for a minute. I don’t want to hear that I’m wrong. I don’t want bloody logic and bloody solutions. Let a person be sad.”
“You’ve been sad for weeks.”
“So what’s another minute going to cost you?”
“Right, I don’t want to saddify their bloody middle-of-the-week, let’s-celebrate-anything party.”
“There are more celebrations during the winter for a good reason. You don’t want to pass half the year with nothing to look forward to. Especially way up here where the winters are so bleak.”
“Come now, captain. You don’t think it’s tedious?”
“They’re all different. The variety’s what makes them fun. There’s the Harvest Games, then the Dawn of Ghosts, preceded by Demon’s Eve which gets out of hand every year, Treelights which is when you want to be in Cadaes, we missed that by two months, the Feast of Plenty which is delicious everywhere, the Solstice Festival or Midwinter, Hounds’ Night, my personal favorite, that’ll be in a few weeks, and then the various sun celebrations before the vernal equinox. And of course each settlement has its anniversary fest. And Jaen’s Day.”
“Jaen’s Day? When is that?”
“Depends on when Jaen first visited each settlement. In Cadaes, for instance, it’s the same day as their anniversary so they celebrate Lodge Days which is essentially a weeklong potlatch. Everyone cooks and fills the main hall with tables of food. There are hermits in the hills surrounding Cadaes who come down every year. It’s the only time anyone sees them and they’re treated as neighbors.”
“All these people do is kick up new reasons to throw parties.”
“You have no idea. In Prokopenko, they have a celebration for each day.”
“And why not? Each day can be beautiful. The one that would drive you crazy though is the Tusk Art Fair. You’re going to spit when you hear the purpose of that one.”
“Does it involve silly costumes?”
“In the early days of Prokopenko,” he said.
“Blazing buckets, I knew this would be another lecture,” she said.
“Before the walls, during the Final Potlatch, the most valuable commodity was scrimshaw. Etched bone, horn, or tusk. Master artists were seated beside master warriors. As the city grew, and to honor Prokopenko’s artists, they hosted an art fair as part of the summer solstice. Breathtaking works, every year. You should see it. There was a silly man, a famous fool on the stage, who submitted the most hideous painting of a tusk. The fool claimed it was his most sincere effort, and proof to his critics that they’d rather have him on the stage than on the walls. From that spawned the Tusk Fair. Each year, hundreds of hilarious bad works of art are displayed. It’s a difficult objective to create the best loved worst work.”
“It should not be an objective at all.”
“With respect, miss. What’s the point of Caladabur and the Great Hunt and the Fallicorn explorations if not for the sake of such absurd celebrations? Not every man and woman can hold a spear. What do we do with those that can neither hold a spear nor a brush?”
“There’s a use for everyone.”
Palderian smiled and shook his head. “You were born and raised by the military. Maybe you’ve never seen a person who by dint of birth or some later tragedy cannot take care of themselves. Cannot hold a spear, nor lug a bucket, nor lift a spoon.”
“Of course we take care of those people. That’s not a question.”
“There are a lot more than you think. What about the man, let’s say he’s a strong as Theador, but he’s a coward. Spiders or the sight of blood or something makes him run for the hills. You and I, military as we are, we hate cowards. We’re told that they’re less than human. But couldn’t this strong man be a builder? Surely we need some strong men who we don’t send off to die in combat. And maybe he has a friend who’s more courageous than you and me but he’s got a worm in his guts that’s eating him inside out and he can’t march more than a mile a day.”
“Fine, we leave those people here. But the vast majority could be used for a higher purpose.”
“Remember that what we do is exceptional. That is, an exception. And never forget that if you weren’t here, all of the unexceptional would find some other way to survive.”
“Great. I’m feeling happier already.”
“One of these days, you need to see the tusk painting.”
“It’s still there?”
“It’s better preserved than the waterfall.”