When Shan was fifteen years old, dark soldiers came out of the west, like a cloud of evil boiling over the soft hills of his homeland. They commanded terrible beasts, which killed with hook claws like scythes and cold eyes that dripped icy fire. The soldiers wore helmets that looked like fiends, tusked and snarling and sneering.
The terrible consequences of war have left the boy Shan wounded in body and mind by the invading army of Magravandias. He's taken from his devastated village by the magus Taropat, chosen by the master's mysterious impulse to become the wizard's pupil, and a weapon against the invading empire.
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Storm Constantine has written over twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction and well over fifty short stories. Her novels span several genres, from literary fantasy, to science fiction, to dark fantasy. She is most well known for her Wraeththu trilogy (omnibus edition published by Tor), and is currently at work on a new set of novels set in the world of Wraeththu, beginning with The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure (Tor, 2003). Wraeththu are magical and sensual hermaphroditic beings, who when their story first began, almost twenty years ago, broke startling new ground in the often staid fantasy/sf genres.
Her influences include myth, magic and ancient history and the foibles of human nature. She uses writing and fiction to bridge the gap between mundane reality and the unseen realms of imagination and magic. She strives to awaken perception of these inner realms and the unexplored territory of the human psyche.
Aside from writing, Storm runs the Lady of the Flame Iseum, a group affiliated to the Fellowship of Isis, and is known to conduct group members on tours of ancient sites in the English landscape, in her husband's beat up old army Land Rover. She is also a Reiki Master/Teacher, has recently set up her own publishing company, Immanion Press, to publish esoteric books, and teaches creative writing when she gets the time.
Neil Gaiman, author of the Sandman series, once said: 'Storm Constantine is a mythmaking, Gothic queen, whose lush tales are compulsive reading. Her stories are poetic, involving, delightful, and depraved. I wouldn't swap her for a dozen Anne Rices!'Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
EXPERIENCE OF WAR
When Shan was fifteen years old, dark soldiers came out of the west, like a cloud of evil boiling over the soft hills of his homeland. They commanded terrible beasts, which killed with hooked claws like scythes and cold eyes that dripped icy fire. The soldiers wore helmets that looked like fiends, tusked and snarling and sneering.
Shan was just an ordinary boy. His mother was dead, and his father, Hod, gathered crops in the fields for a local farmholder. In the winter, Hod harvested wood from the rustling forests that surrounded the fields. Shan worked at his father’s side, with no ambition ever to do anything else. They lived in a one-room cottage on the outskirts of Holme, a village filled with peasant folk, whose lives were those of toil and scant ambition. There was a squire, Sir Rupert Sathe, to whom they paid tithes and who occasionally funded village celebrations. Once a year Sir Rupert attended God’s chapel for the harvest festival, but other than that, he was mostly invisible in the villagers’ lives. His sons and daughters spent most of their time, along with their mother, in the city of Dantering, far down the Great Western Road. Country life held no attractions for Sir Rupert’s family, so there were no winsome, blue-blooded maids to fire the hearts of local boys, nor rakehellion sons to make the village girls tremble in their beds.
Shan was as happy as any person in his position could be. He was fed adequately, the cottage snug and secure against wolves in winter and cool in the summer. He and his father grew vegetables in the small patch that surrounded their home, and there was a single apple tree that always bore good fruit. His aunt came regularly to make sure he and his father didn’t live like pigs, which left alone they probably would. Once a week they worshipped in the chapel of the God who had no name, and laid offerings of forest flowers at the altars of His three daughters, the virgin, the mother and one without child. Though devout in their conventional worship, they also made more furtive offerings to the folk of the forest, to ensure that their livestock were free from blight, and their produce without bane. Also, most importantly, they revered the guardians of the land, those invisible spirits whose benevolence ensured the seasons gave forth their appointed bounty. The god might enable a person’s soul to walk the airy road beyond death into the heaven of heavens, but all the villagers knew who really held power in the realm of the living; the fertile earth, the running stream, the water-bearing clouds. The guardians cared not for human souls; they were the life of the land, and were treated with respect rather than worshipped.
News came slowly down the Great Western Road, or not at all. The people of Holme knew nothing of politics. When the great city of Dantering fell to the Magravands, nobody heard. Messengers might have fled from the burning walls with dire news for other cities, but the villages were hidden among the hills. Who would bring news to them in time? They were unaware Dantering had been their last defense against whatever might come prowling from the west.
The soldiers came at sundown, first to the manor house. Sir Rupert, dining alone, was dragged roaring from his dinner table and summarily beheaded before the astonished servants, who had been rounded up like sheep. Then the male servants were hung, the women raped and beaten. A commanding officer of the invading army went into the dining room and there sat down with his staff to finish the squire’s dinner. All the time they ate, they must have been able to hear the screams of the women, the pleading moans of the men.
While their officers were making inroads into the port wine, the rest of the troupe rode down toward Holme, their beasts flapping and scrabbling before them. The guardians of the land sank down into the deep earth at their approach, sensing a power so dark their own was in danger of being snuffed out. Their absence left the landscape without spirit, its inhabitants more vulnerable to attack.
Men do terrible things in war. To fighting men, people are no longer people. The soldiers displayed the head of Sir Rupert high upon a pole, as they poured like oil over the hills and into Holme. The villagers were taken by surprise, and offered no resistance to speak of, yet still their cottages were put to the torch, their women ravished, and the men cut down like wheat. It was a senseless atrocity. The schemes and aspirations of men in power meant nothing to the people of Holme. They cared only for their daily toil, the bread upon their tables, the roofs over their heads. The soldiers could just have told the villagers who their new masters were and ridden on. Whoever sat in the manor house would still need his land tended, after all.
When it happened, Shan was sitting by the willow pool at the back of the cottage. He heard the noises—strange and terrible—and for a moment sat very still. His instincts told him at once that something bad was happening, something very bad. He smelled smoke, and it was not the sweet smell of wood burning. His father came out of the cottage and looked at him where he was squatting by the water, tense and alert as a young dog. They exchanged a glance, and then Hod went out to the road and looked down it. Shan heard the sound of galloping hooves. Someone was coming, a great many someones. He wanted to tell his father to move, that they should run into the woods in the next field, but it all happened too quickly. Later, he thought about how if he’d shouted out this intuitive suggestion the moment Hod had looked round the cottage wall, they might both have been saved, and for many years punished himself for those minutes of indecision.
The riders were accompanied by two of the terrible black beasts, which lunged ahead of them down the road, scratching up sparks. They fell upon Shan’s father before he could defend himself or attempt to escape. The razor claws slashed and the poisonous eyes dripped smoking ruin. It did not take them long to reduce a human body to a mess of meat no longer recognizable as a man.
Shan was frozen in horror by the pool. He wondered what he and his father could have done wrong. Who were these people? His stasis was mercifully brief and once it released him, he surrendered to the instinct to flee. At first, his limbs moved sluggishly, as in a nightmare. He struggled in what seemed painful slowness toward the back gate. The flesh over his spine contracted, waiting for a blow. Had they seen him? The fact that his father had just been gored to death had not sunk in. Self-preservation was his only thought. Suddenly, everything became faster. He vaulted over the gate like a deer, and his legs were pumping madly as he cut a path through the long grass of the field beyond.
He had almost reached the shadows of the trees, whose labyrinth he knew so well and in which he would undoubtedly have managed to lose his pursuers, when the riders caught up. There were only two, and the beasts were not with them. This was clearly to be different sport. They set their horses prancing round Shan in a circle. He could not see their faces, because of the demonic helmets, but he heard their laughter, muffled by metal. They swung swords that still dripped blood. He tried to keep running, but they left him no avenue of escape. He cowered in the grass before them, hoping that death would be quick.
One of the riders dropped lightly from his saddle, his leather armor creaking. He was hot in his leathers, for Shan could smell him strongly. The soldier said something in a language Shan did not know, but he could tell it was a rhetorical question from the tone: something like, What have we here?
I haven’t done anything, Shan squealed, but perhaps they didn’t understand him.
The things those men made him do and did to him, Shan later blotted from his memory. They were without compassion and so full of mirth at their obscene attack, it was beyond the worst human evil. They hurt Shan badly, and perhaps thought they’d killed him, because after a while, they got back onto their horses and rode away again.
Shan lay in the crushed grass, unable to see properly. His head was full of a buzzing sound and lights pulsed before his eyes. Carrion flies landed on his face and feasted on the crusts of blood and saliva and semen. He thought his body was broken beyond repair and dared not move. Every muscle felt wrenched and torn.
The moon rose above him, hung about with a pall of bitter smoke. He heard a vixen cry, and the contemplative hoot of an owl. Wide white wings crossed the clouds above his head. He heard their rattling whisper. Perhaps some of the forest folk would insinuate themselves into the night and come ghosting through the trees toward him. They might take pity on him, and remember the sweet-smelling posies he had left among the mossy roots for their pleasure. But no one came, and the land was quiet, holding its breath, its guardians still affronted and buried far deep beneath the soil.
Shan expelled a careful sigh. Must he wait to die? How long would it take? He thought he could hear ominous sounds in his body, as of vital fluids flowing through the wrong channels, pooling in dangerous places. Through his blurred vision, he saw his father standing over him, and thought that perhaps he’d been wrong about seeing him slaughtered. You must get up, lad, said Hod and his face was a mask of grief.
Dada, murmured Shan through his torn lips and tried to reach out with his bloodied fingers. But his father wasn’t there at all. For only a moment, he thought someone else stood close to him, a young man, still and silent. He tensed in terror, but there was only the sky above him, and a few stalks of broken grass hanging over his face. The tears came then, although he couldn’t give in to them because the sobbing would hurt his bruised chest. He set his face into a rictus of despair and the tears rolled coldly, but he was otherwise immobile.
He lay in the field all n...
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Book Description Tor Books, 2001. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0312873298
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