Juliet Marillier continues the epic fantasy begun with The Dark Mirror, which Interzone called "A fascinating evocation of life in Pictish England and an emotional roller coaster of a story," with The Well of Shades: Book Three of The Bridei Chronicles.
King Bridei is a man with a mission. His wish to unite his kingdom seems almost within his grasp but there are forces working to undo his dream. He sends Faolan, his most trusted advisor (who is also a master assassin and spymaster) out into the world to ferret out the truth of who is friend and who is foe.
Along the way Faolan will uncover many truths. Some may hold the key to Bridei's future. But more important, they may unlock the secrets that Faolan has held deep within his soul for decades.
And offer him the chance of redemption.
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Juliet Marillier is the author of the first two books in the Bridei Chronicles, The Dark Mirror and Blade of Fortriu. In addition to these titles, Marillier is the author of the Sevenwaters trilogy as well as a fantasy duet, Wolfskin and Foxmask. She holds advanced degrees in music and languages, and has had a lifelong passion for both Celtic music and Irish folklore. She resides with her family in Perth, Western Australia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter OneWinter was coming. Faolan saw its touch on the land as he traveled southward out of the province of Ulaid toward a place called Cloud Hill. In the mornings the grass was crisp with frost and a shroud of mist hung low over the hills, wrapping itself around barn and stable, cottage and byre. The fields held only stubble, among which crows made leisurely paths, exchanging occasional sharp comments. The skies were uniformly gray. So long absent from his homeland, he had forgotten the rain; how it came every day without fail, gently insistent, penetrating cloak and hat and boots so a wayfarer could never be entirely dry.He reached Cloud Hill in a fine, drenching drizzle. The tiny settlement huddled under the sudden rise of the hill, low stone huts clustered in a scattering of leafless rowans, geese gathered in the shelter of an outhouse with only half a roof, a larger hall standing square, with smoke struggling up from the thatch and a skinny gray dog skulking in the doorway. The rain became a downpour; Faolan decided it was time to put aside secrecy, and made for the entry. The dog rumbled a warning as he approached, and a man twitched aside the rough sacking that served as a door, peering out into the rain. The growl became a snarl; the man aimed a kick at the creature and it cringed back into the shadows.”What’s your business?” The tone was both surly and defensive.”Shelter from the rain, no more.””Not from these parts, are you?” the man muttered as Faolan came in. “Hardly a day for traveling.”There was a small crowd within, gathered around a smoky hearth, ale cups in hand. The wet was an excuse, maybe, for a brief respite from the work of smithy or field. A circle of suspicious eyes greeted Faolan as he made his way toward the fire, his cloak dripping on the earthen floor. He could not tell if this was home or drinking hall; the atmosphere was hardly convivial.”Where are you headed?” asked the man who had let him in.”That depends.” Faolan sat down on a bench. “What’s the name of this place?””What place are you looking for?”He’d need to take this carefully. Deord’s kin might be among these wary-looking folk, and he would not come right out with his bad news in public. “I’m seeking a man named Deord,“ he said. “Big fellow, broad shoulders; from over the water in Caitt territory. I’m told he has kin in a region known as Cloud Hill.”Muttering and whispers. A cup of ale was slid across the table in Faolan’s direction; he took it gratefully. It had been a long day’s walking.”What’s Deord to such as you?” asked a tall, thin man with calloused hands.”Such as I?” Faolan kept his tone light. “What do you mean?””You’ve a look of someone,“ the first man said. “Can’t quite put my finger on it.””I’ve been away. Years. Deord and I share a past; we were guests in a certain place of incarceration. You’ll know where I mean, perhaps. There’s a name associated with it, a name folk in these parts will be familiar with.”Another silence, then, but with a new feeling to it. The cup of ale was joined by a hunk of bread and a bowl of watery soup brought in by a woman from another chamber behind. She stopped to watch him drink it.”You and Deord, hm?” the first man said. “He’s not here, hasn’t been these seven years or more. Not that there aren’t folk nearby would be wanting news of the man. By the Dagda’s bollocks, that fellow was a fighter and a half. Built like a prize boar, and light as a dancer on his feet. When did you last see him, then? What did you say your name was?”Faolan thought of lying and decided it would make things too difficult later. “Faolan. Yours?”They introduced themselves. The spokesman, Brennan. The tall man, Conor. The woman, Oonagh, wife of Brennan. And others: Donal, Ultan, Aidan. Someone threw another log on the fire, and the ale jug went around again.”I saw Deord last summer,“ Faolan said. “We met in Priteni lands.” He was hacked apart and died in my arms. He honored a vow and was slain for it. “A good man. If he has kin in these parts, I’d welcome the chance to speak with them.”Brennan glanced at his wife. Conor exchanged looks with Ultan. The gathering was suddenly full of something unspoken.Aidan, a lad of sixteen or so, cleared his throat. “Were you really in Breakstone?” he asked in a whisper. “And you got out, just like him?””Hush, lad,“ said Brennan. “If you’d your wits about you, you’d know men don’t like to speak of such things.” He addressed Faolan again. “You know Deord came back? Lasted from plowing to harvest; couldn’t cope with it any longer. The time in there scars a man. Only the strongest make it out, and only the strongest of those pick up the pieces of what they had before. He came home and he left again. Where did he go? What’s he doing?”Sleeping a sleep of no dreams, and the forest creeping over to hide him. “I’d best pass my news to the family first, that’s if there is one,“ Faolan said. “He mentioned a sister.””You got the Breakstone mark?” someone asked in a rush. “Show us.”It was, Faolan supposed, necessary to prove he was not lying. He obliged by turning his head and lifting his hair to show the little star-shaped tattoo behind his right ear.”Just like Deord’s,“ said the man called Ultan. “And yet there’s a look about you that suggests captors rather than captives. You mentioned a name that goes with talk of Breakstone. Your face puts me in mind of that name; an influential one.””It’s like a basket of eggs or a creel of shellfish,“ Faolan said smoothly. “There’s good ones and bad ones. Every family has both. I was—I am a good friend of Deord’s. The men who escape Breakstone Hollow are bonded for life. So, his sister? She married a local man, I understand?” He drained his cup. “This is uncommonly fine ale, Brennan.”Brennan favored him with a cautious smile. “My own brew. Deord’s sister is Anda. They live around the hill in a hut on its own. We don’t see much of them. Her man, Dalach, is a farrier; follows the horse fairs. He might be away. You should find someone there. It’s wet out; why don’t you leave it till the morning? We can find you a pallet in a corner.””Thank you,“ Faolan said, taken aback that the mention of Deord and Breakstone had turned deep suspicion so quickly into welcome. “I’d best be getting on.””The offer stands,“ said Brennan, glancing at his wife. “If you find you need a bed, there’s one here. It’s a fair walk ove
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