The Book of Atrix Wolfe

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9780441015658: The Book of Atrix Wolfe

Twenty years ago, the powerful mage Atrix Wolfe unleashed an uncontrollable force that killed his beloved king. Now, the Queen of the Wood has offered him one last chance for redemption. She asks him to find her daughter, who vanished into the human world during the massacre he caused. No one has seen the princess-but deep in the kitchens of the Castle of Pelucir, there is a scullery maid who appeared out of nowhere one night long ago. She cannot speak and her eyes are full of sadness. But there are those who call her beautiful.

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About the Author:

Patricia A. McKillip is a winner of the World Fantasy Award, and the author of many fantasy novels, including The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy, Stepping from the Shadows, and The Cygnet and the Firebird. She lives in Oregon.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

“No writer has better captured the elusive power of language than Patricia A. McKillip. The Book of Atrix Wolfe is a shimmering tale of language, power, magic, and soul.”

—Rambles.net

Once, Atrix Wolfe was a great and powerful mage. Then the invaders descended upon his kingdom. Defending his people through magic, Atrix Wolfe brought to life a legendary Hunter—a savage, uncontrollable force that destroyed both armies and killed his beloved king.

Now, after twenty haunted years among the wolves, Atrix Wolfe has been summoned to the timeless realm of the Queen of the Wood. She asks him to find her daughter, who vanished into the human world during the massacre he caused. No one has seen the princess—but deep in the kitchens of the Castle of Pelucir, there is a scullery maid who appeared out of nowhere one night. She cannot speak and her eyes are full of sadness. But there are those who call her beautiful . . .

“Her words and images remain masterfully evocative as she manages to invoke great beauty using the simplest language. Connoisseurs of fine fantasy will delight in this expertly wrought tale.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Steeped in medieval legends of the wild huntsman, living trees, and shape changers, McKillip’s tale is decidedly atmospheric, complex, compelling, and filled with rich imagery.”

—Booklist

 

 

Praise for the novels of Patricia A. McKillip

Solstice Wood

“McKillip conjures a world of secrets and ambiguities where the magical and the mundane constantly intersect . . . With a light touch, McKillip makes a plea for keeping an open mind and heart toward mystery, toward all that goes on ‘in the shadows, the corners, behind and beneath’ what we expect to see.”

—The Boston Globe

“With the same gentle elegance that she uses to craft her fairytale fantasies, McKillip infuses the present-day world with the elements of myths and the elusiveness of the supernatural. A superb addition to most collections.”

—Library Journal

“Compelling contemporary fantasy . . . [a] multilayered tale.”

—Publishers Weekly

Od Magic

“McKillip demonstrates once again her exquisite grasp of the fantasist’s craft . . . an otherworldly delight.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Lyrical prose, well-limned characterizations, vibrant action, a sense of the wonder of magic, and a generous dollop of romance . . . a story that will bind readers in its spell.”

—Booklist

“More enchantments and wonders from McKillip.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“A terrific fantasy tale starring a delightful protagonist, a vile villain, and an assortment of eccentric supporting characters, including the mysterious, wonderful Wizard of Od. The story line grips . . . mesmerizes readers until the final spell is spun.”

—Midwest Book Review

Alphabet of Thorn

“Patricia A. McKillip has given readers an imaginative world to escape to in Alphabet of Thorn. If you’re a bibliophile who loves books about books, get entwined in this one.”

—The Kansas City Star

“It was a pleasure to spend a few evenings with Patricia A. McKillip’s Alphabet of Thorn . . . Her tales are invariably charming. This one is no exception . . . I was pleased with the ending.”

—Analog

“Those who have bemoaned the death of the true fairy tale will be delighted by this charming foray from World Fantasy Award—winner McKillip. She skillfully weaves together two eras and two sets of believable characters to create a single spellbinding story that brilliantly modernizes a beautiful old formula.”

—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“McKillip creates the atmosphere of a fairy tale with her elegantly lyrical prose and attention to nuance. Her characters are at once intimately personal and larger than life.”

—Library Journal

“What a treat it is: Alphabet of Thorn is a masterpiece of complex plotting, deft characterization, and spare, lucid prose that sings like poetry . . . McKillip has struck a perfect balance between scene setting and action. This is character-driven plotting polished to perfection . . . In an era of sprawling megavolume epics, McKillip’s ability to deliver a satisfying tale of wonder and enchantment in a single volume is truly remarkable. From beginning to end, Alphabet of Thorn is a Godiva truffle of a book.”

—SFRevu

In the Forests of Serre

“A hauntingly beautiful tale . . . The ever-masterful McKillip weaves yet another powerful spell.”

—Booklist

“McKillip’s luminous retelling of the Russian legend of ‘The Firebird’ retains its fairy-tale feel while exploring the depths of the human heart. Elegant.”

—Library Journal

Ombria in Shadow

“Like the royal tutor (a key figure), the novel ‘wavers between history and magic,’ and the ornate, occasionally mannered prose conceals both wit and intelligence.”

—The Washington Post Book World

“The author’s graceful prose and remarkable depth of characterization bring to life a tale of love and loyalty that transcends time and space.”

—Library Journal (starred review)

Ace Books by Patricia A. McKillip

THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD

THE SORCERESS AND THE CYGNET

THE CYGNET AND THE FIREBIRD

THE BOOK OF ATRIX WOLFE

WINTER ROSE

SONG FOR THE BASILISK

RIDDLE-MASTER: THE COMPLETE TRILOGY

THE TOWER AT STONY WOOD

OMBRIA IN SHADOW

IN THE FORESTS OF SERRE

ALPHABET OF THORN

OD MAGIC

HARROWING THE DRAGON

SOLSTICE WOOD

Collected Works

CYGNET

The Book of

Atrix Wolfe

PATRICIA A. MCKILLIP

Table of Contents

Prologue

The White Wolf followed the ravens down the crags of Chaumenard to the wintry fields of Pelucir.

In wolf shape, among the wolves, he had scented danger sweeping toward the mountains he loved. His dreams turned dark with the coming of winter, chaotic, disturbed by fire, blood, the sharp, hoarse cries of ravens calling to one another, the cries of humans. Darkness rode a dark horse into the heart of Pelucir, wielding a sword of fire and bone that pierced the Wolf’s dreams. He would wake suddenly in human shape, in a close tangle of fur and smells, trying to see beyond stone, beyond night, into the fire that burned toward Chaumenard. Finally, harrowed by dreams and unable to rest content in wolf shape, he ran to meet the dark rider in Pelucir. He would stop it there, somehow, in the broad fields and gentle hills of the kingdom bordering Chaumenard, before the rider cast its blank, hungry eye into the land of mages and scholars and farmers who raised goats in the high peaks, and plowed a furrow from light into shadow down their sharply sloping sides.

The mage was old, and lingered, every year, longer and longer in the mountains among the wolves. That year, he had forgotten it was winter and that he was human. Pulled so abruptly back into the world, he had not stopped to tell anyone where he was going. Nor did he know who fought in Pelucir. He ran, in wolf shape, faster than any wolf; he was a shimmer of icy wind blowing down the mountain’s flank, the white shadow of his own legend, barely perceptible, moving swiftly, silently, under the staring winter moon, toward the eye of the terrible storm: the castle of the Kings of Pelucir.

He had seen Pelucir in fairer days, when the massive, bulky castle stood surrounded by flowering fields, the slow river running under its bridge reflecting such green that drinking it would be drinking summer itself. The ancient keep, a dark, square tower beginning to drop a stone here and there, like old teeth, faced lush fields and meadows that rolled to a rounded hill where an endless wood of oak and birch began. Now the trees stood stark and silvery with moonlight, and on the fields a hundred fires burned in the burning cold, ringed around the castle.

The mage, still little more than a glitter of windblown snow, paused under the moon shadow of a parapet wall. Tents billowed and sagged in the wind; sentries shivered at the fires, watching the castle, listening. Wings rustled in deep shadow; a sentry threw a stone suddenly, breathing a curse, and a ragged tumble of black leaves swirled up in the wind, then dropped again. Another sentry spoke sharply to him; they were both silent, watching, listening.

The mage drifted past them, searching; dreams and random nightmares blew against him and clung. Within the castle, children wrapped in ancient tapestries wept in their sleep; someone screamed incessantly and would not be comforted; young sentries whispered of fowl browning on a spit, of hot game pie; old men trembling in the ramparts longed for the fires below, the sturdy oak on the hill. On the field, men feverish with wounds dreamed of feet made of ice instead of flesh and bone, of the sharp end of bone where a hand should be, of a mass of black feathers shifting, softly rustling in the shadows, waiting. The mage saw finally what he searched for: a flame held in a mailed fist on a purple field, the banner of the ruling house of Kardeth.

He had known rulers of Kardeth in his long life: fierce and brilliant warrior-princes who grew restless easily and found the choice between acquiring knowledge and acquiring someone else’s land an arbitrary one. Scholars, they spoke with equal passion of the ancient books and arts of Chaumenard, and of its rich valleys and wild, harsh peaks. This ruler, whose name escaped the mage, must have regarded Pelucir as a minor obstruction between Kardeth and Chaumenard. But while his army ringed the castle, laying a bitter winter siege, winter had laid siege to him. He had the wood on the hill for game and firewood; he had only to sit and wait, starving the castle into surrender. But there was nothing yielding about the massive gates, the great keep with its single upper window red with fire, the torchlit battlements spilling light and the shadows of armed warriors onto the snow. In the wood, the game would be growing scarce, and what remained of it, thin and desperate in the harsh season.

So the chilled, hungry, exhausted dreamers around the mage told him in their dreams. He took his own shape slowly in front of the prince’s tent: a tall man with hair as white as fish bone and a face weathered and hard as the crags he loved. He wore next to nothing and carried nothing. Still the guards clamored around him awhile, shouting of sorcery and warding invisible things away with their arrows. The prince pushed apart the hangings and walked barefoot into the snow, a sword in one hand.

The mage, noting how the prince resembled his red-haired grandfather, finally remembered his name. The prince blinked, his grim, weary face loosening slightly in wonder. Around him the guard quieted.

“Let him go,” Riven of Kardeth said. “He is a mage of Chaumenard.” He opened the tent hangings. “Come in.” He nodded at a pallet where a man, white and dizzy with fever, struggled with his boots. “My uncle Marnye. He was wounded last night.” He took the boots out of his uncle’s hands and pushed him gently down. His mouth tightened again. “They come out at night—the warriors of Pelucir. I don’t know how. They have a secret passageway. Gates open noiselessly for them. Or they slip under walls, through stone. At dawn I find sentries frozen in the snow, dark birds picking at them. My uncle heard something and was struck down as he raised an alarm. We could find no one. That’s why my sentries are so wary of sorcery.”

“There is no magic in that house,” the mage said. “Only hunger. And rage.”

He knelt by the pallet, slid his hand beneath Marnye’s head and looked into his blurred, glittering eyes. For an instant, his own head throbbed, his lips dried, his body ached with fever. “Sleep,” he breathed, and drew the word into a gentle, formless darkness easing through the restless, shivering body. Marnye’s eyes closed. “Sleep,” he murmured, and the mage’s eyes grew heavy, closed. Sleep bound them like a spell. Then the mage opened his eyes and rose, stepping away from the pallet. He said, his voice changing, no louder, but taut and intense with passion, “This must stop.”

The prince, feeling the whip of power behind the words, watched the mage silently a moment. He said finally, carefully, “Thank you for helping my uncle. The ancient mages of Chaumenard do not involve themselves with war.”

“You are threatening Chaumenard itself. I know Kardeth. You will crack Pelucir like a nut, take what you want. But you will not stop here. You will not stop until you have laid claim to every mountain pass and goatherder’s hut in Chaumenard.”

“And every rich valley and every ancient book.” Still Riven watched the mage; he spoke courteously, but inflexibly. “Chaumenard is ungoverned. It is full of isolated farmers and wealthy schools where rulers send their children, and villagers who carry their villages around on their backs in the high plateaus.”

“They will fight you.”

“That will be as they choose.”

“If you survive this place.”

The prince’s eyes flickered. He drew breath noiselessly and moved, letting the weariness show in his face, in his sagging shoulders. He unfolded a leather stool for the mage, and sat down himself. He said, surprising the mage, “Atrix Wolfe.”

“Yes. How—”

“I saw you, when my grandfather ruled Kardeth. I was very young. But I never forgot you. The White Wolf of Chaumenard, my grandfather called you, and told us tales of your power when you had gone. He said you were—are—the greatest living mage.”

“I am nearly the oldest,” Atrix murmured, feeling it as he sat.

“I questioned him, for such power seemed invaluable to Kardeth.”

“As a weapon.”

The prince shrugged slightly. “I am what I am. He said that such power among the greatest mages has its clearly formulated restrictions.”

“Experience teaches us restrictions,” the mage reminded him. “They are not dreamed up in some peaceful tower on a mountaintop. If we involved ourselves with war, we would end up fighting each other, and create far more disaster than even you could imagine. Power is not peaceful. But we try to be. The rulers of Pelucir are not peaceful, either,” he added, sliding away from the dream he saw glittering in the prince’s eyes. “This one will turn himself and his household into ghosts before he will surrender to you. I know the Kings of Pelucir. Go home.”

“And you know the warriors of Kardeth.” There was an edge to the prince’s voice. “We do not retreat.”

“Your warriors are battling inhuman things. Pain. Hunger. Madness. Winter itself. Things without faces and without mercy.”

“So is Pelucir.”

“I know.”

“They loosed their hunting hounds two days ago. The hounds howled with hunger all night long within the walls. So.” His hands closed, tightened. “Now they roam at night in my camp; they scavenge with the carrion crows. Among my dead. I will outwait winter itself to outwait the King of Pelucir. And then, in spring, I will march through the greening mountains of Chaumenard.”

“Spring,” Atrix warned, “is another time, another world. In this wo...

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