Attila's Treasure

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9780553575316: Attila's Treasure

Set against a landscape of howling snows and golden summertide loves, of trollcraft and blood-oaths, of proud ships and roistering mead-halls, enchanted sunrises and dazzling valkyries, Attila's Treasure breathes life into an age of unequaled grandeur.
From out of the icy steppes once came the fiercest and most feared warriors the world has ever known. And at their head was a figure whose name would become legend: the wily and ferocious Attila of the Huns. Behind him lay a trail of pillage and carnage, and many of his would-be foes hastened to become allies. Now, to cement one such alliance, a young Burgundian prince named Hagan is sent in fosterage to Attila's camps. There he is to learn the fighting arts of the Huns under the tutelage of his unpredictable new foster father, with whom he forges an uneasy relationship.
But in his first battle, Hagan learns the most important--and most dangerous--lesson of all. A handspan away from death, he discovers a pathway to the otherworld and flowering of unexpected powers. And this is a knowledge he must guard carefully--and use even more wisely--for it could make him a dangerous adversary of the great Attila himself.

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From the Publisher:

Praise for Stephan Grundy and Rhinegold:

"Fresh, vivid and astonishingly convincing. . . A masterwork, on a level with The Once and Future King and The Mists of Avalon."
--Locus

"A rich saga of violence and tragedy. . . that draws on great myth and mesmerizing prose to create an unforgettable experience."
--Diana Gabaldon

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

They were riding roughly southeast, the morning bright on their faces: if Hagan's guess was right, the Goths and Huns would fight with Sunna at their backs that afternoon.  Were that not so, he thought, Attila would no doubt have had us ride at night, or else camp nearby so that we could do battle in the morning.  Still .  .  .  and now he looked more brightly around himself: the battle plan assumed that their foes were set in a certain stead and would wait meekly for Attila and Thioderik to come to them.  Attila must have made his choice swiftly, yes .  .  .  but if the Roman settlers had held back the geld he asked, they must have known that a fight would follow, and readied themselves as well.  Now Hagan saw that the troop of youths and frith-bonders was well-set among the older men, with seasoned warriors before and behind, and that he and Waldhari had, as if by chance, been moved into the best-warded positions.  When he listened carefully past the sound of hooves thudding on the dry dirt road and the chirping and rustling of the woodlands, it seemed to him that he could hear a slight trace of more purposeful movement.  Attila must have outriding scouts all along the trails, and readied himself in other ways in case of ambush or surprise.  Hagan marked, too, that the young Huns about him did not have quite the same look of ease that the Goths did: Rua must have told them more than he was able to say in Gothic.  Hagan bared his teeth in satisfaction.

"Hai, what are you thinking?" Waldhari asked.  He had pulled his cup out of his saddlebag and was chewing slowly on his dried figs as he rode.  "Would you like a fig?"

"Thank you." Hagan took the piece of dried fruit, nibbling on it as he told Waldhari his thoughts.

"That makes good sense to me.  Well, we shall doubtless have enough warning to draw our swords, whatever happens."

Nothing happened before the host stopped for a midday meal and a brief rest, however: but when they mounted again, Hagan could tell that the mood of the others had changed.  The northeastern wind seemed to have grown colder, prickling at the little hairs on his arms and tingling along his arms; the bone hilt of his blade was slightly slippery under his palm--though its bronze studs would serve to keep his grip firm even when slick blood poured over his hand.  Hagan licked his dry lips, glancing about him.  The birch-trunks shimmered unnaturally white in Sunna's brightness: the polished sky suddenly seemed blindingly deep, its pale blue edges darkening to purple above his head.  The spear-leek he had eaten with his noonday bread still burned the edges of Hagan's breath: he held a second peeled clove in his shield-hand, ready to chew it down and swallow it the moment the fighting began.  If I am gutted, at least Waldhari will know straightaway whether to try to bind my hurts or cut my throat.  .  .  .  Hagan's sword-hand tightened on the smooth wood of his spear: could that have been the gift the Gyula had offered him--surety of a swift death, rather than a lingering one?  

Many a man lives where there is little hope, but my luck has turned from me, so that I will not be healed. Wodan does not will that I wield sword again, since he has let it be broken.  I have had my victories while it pleased him.  .  .  .

At first Hagan could not remember where the words had risen from, but then it came to him: Sigimund the Walsing was said to have spoken them as he lay dying on the battlefield.  But he was old, and had left a son in the womb, and many mighty tales behind him, so that his name would not soon be forgotten.

"Now you are thinking like Waldhari," Hagan said to himself, and would have laughed had he been able.  He was responsible for himself, to fight and not to die, so that he could come back to Gundahari as a warrior whose fame would make folk less willing to trouble his brother.  Some of the Huns were already stringing their vicious little recurved bows of horn, glancing about warily.  Though Hagan had not come this way before, he knew that they were getting closer to the border-marches.

As the host rode on, the road grew wider: even the trampling of the horsemen could not quite beat down the deep ruts that wagon-wheels had left to set in the sticky mud as it dried into crusts near hard as sandstone.  They were nearing the crossing: Hagan could hear the Danu clearly now, and he breathed deeply, tasting the faint dampness from the river.  His slow heartbeat quickened, and for a moment it seemed to him that it beat as two hearts striving against each other within his ribs--one eager for the crashing and blood of battle, one longing only to dive into the river's cool realm, swept downstream by the current that bore him up.

The host halted, parting so that the wagons that had ridden behind could rumble up to the fore.  The rafts were stacked on these: the Huns had made horseback raids across the water before.  If they were unlucky, the Roman ships could yet surprise them on the river and the day would be lost--but Hagan guessed that Attila's scouts had been ranging along the shore for the past few days and knew how matters stood with the fleet as well as the Romans themselves did.

The Huns' horses let themselves be herded onto the rafts with ease, though Rua had to take the reins of Hagan's to get it off the shore.  "Not like you much, I think," Rua said, malicious merriment sparking through his voice.  "No Hunnish horse-blood in you, Khagan." He gestured to the oars.  "You .  .  .  uh .  .  ."

Hagan took one oar; one of the young Goths took the other, and they shoved off.  The rushing of the current felt good to Hagan, singing up through the wood and into his bones.  Now he had no fear of the Roman galleys, for, even though it was full daylight, he could hear the soft whisperings of the water, and knew the southern men were far away.  The raft was heavy and the river wide, but he felt stronger after they had crossed than before.

They had not gone far from the river when the air of the host seemed to change: those men who had not strung their bows before strung them now, and Rua's head was raised to the wind as though to catch the first rustle of feet through the leaves.  Hagan chewed the spear-leek clove down as fast as he could, swallowing again and again to try to wash the searing taste away, and shifted the spear in his hand, ready to turn and throw it the moment he caught sight of a Roman.  Waldhari, too, had his bow at the ready: he could shoot from horseback almost as truly and swiftly as a Hun, a skill Hagan thought he himself would never learn.

Suddenly a shrieking whistle, like the one that had signaled their start that morning, sounded from the woods.  Something sang ice-cold by Hagan's ear; now he was trying to manage shield, throwing-spear, and reins at once as the others galloped back and forth around them, loosing their arrows between the trees.  The Romans had chosen their ground well, after all: the Huns had little advantage on the road, where they could not use their horse-skill to full effect.  They were coming out thickly now--not real Roman legions, but a horde of warriors not too unlike the tribesmen Hagan knew, with a bit of Roman regalia here and there to mark the true rulers of the settlement.  He let his spear fly, but did not see whether it struck or not.  His shield jerked beneath the solid thumping of arrows; the Goths were leaping from their horses now, and Hagan thought he should do likewise.  As the two hosts met, the shooting sputtered out: the Huns could no longer be sure of friend or foe, and now had to meet their enemies on solid earth--wheeling their horses in and among the troops with reckless abandon, many whirling a lasso in one hand and sword in the other.

Hagan drew his sword as he ran, flinging himself straight at a big man whose black beard bristled out beneath his helmet.  Hagan barely ducked the first stroke .  .  .  can't stand and trade blows .  .  .  in and out .  .  .  He dodged as Hildebrand had taught him; the other man's blade sheared a piece of his shield off, but Hagan struck low and hooking, slicing deep into the back of the other's leg beneath the edge of his byrnie.  The blade cutting cleanly through flesh, snapping through the tendons .  .  .  such a spurt of bright blood, as the man stumbled and fell full-length.  Hagan wanted to stay and finish him, but someone else was upon him now--short and solid, byrnie plated instead of ringed--a real Roman?  Hagan beat at him savagely, his wyrm-patterned blade sparking bright from the Roman's shorter weapon where they clashed.  Thrust, don't slash.  .  .  .  Hagan's sword slid along the Roman's, glancing from the gladius's hilt to the other man's throat.  The singing in his skull felt like drunkenness, like breathing deeply in the hemp-baths--but better, cold blue fire burning all through his body, as though he had truly eaten his foe's life with his sword-blade.  .  .  .

Waldhari's face flashed pale in Hagan's sight; the other youth was stumbling back, his shield-arm hanging limply at his side as he parried the blows of the man before him with his sword.  Hagan shouted something...

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