Beyond the Gap: A Novel of the Opening of the World

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9781400153824: Beyond the Gap: A Novel of the Opening of the World

Count Hamnet Thyssen is a minor noble of the drowsy old Raumsdalian Empire. Its capital city, Nidaros, began as a mammoth hunters' camp at the edge of the great Glacier. But that was centuries ago, and as everyone knows, it's the nature of the great Glacier to withdraw a few feet every year. Now Nidaros is an old and many-spired city; and though they still feel the breath of the great Glacier in every winter's winds, the ice cap itself has retreated beyond the horizon. Trasamund, a clan chief of the mammoth-herding Bizogots, the next tribe north, has come to town with strange news. A narrow gap has opened in what they'd always thought was an endless and impregnable wall of ice. The great Glacier does not go on forever-and on its other side are new lands, new animals, and possibly new people. Ancient legend says that on the other side is the Golden Shrine, put there by the gods to guard the people of their world. Now, perhaps, the road to the legendary Golden Shrine is open. Who could resist the urge to go see? For Count Hamnet and his several companions, the glacier has always been the boundary of the world. Now they'll be traveling beyond it into a world that's bigger than anyone knew. Adventures will surely be had...

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About the Author:

Harry Turtledove is an award-winning and bestselling author of science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. His alternate-history works include How Few Remain (winner of the Sidewise Award for Best Novel), The Man with the Iron Heart, the Worldwar saga, the Colonization books, and the Settling Accounts series.

William Dufris has been nominated nine times as a finalist for the APA's prestigious Audie Award and has garnered twenty-one Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which also named him one of the Best Voices at the End of the Century. He has also acted on stage and television in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
 
When the wind blew down from the north, Nidaros felt as if the Glacier had never gone away. Two thousand years before, the spired city that ruled the Raumsdalian Empire was a mammoth-hunting camp at the southeastern corner of Hevring Lake, the great accumulation of meltwater at--or rather, just beyond--the southern edge of the Glacier.
 
Hevring Lake was centuries gone now. Whatever had dammed its outlet to the west finally let go, and the great basin emptied in a couple of dreadful days. The scoured badlands of the Western Marches were the scarred reminders of that flood.
 
The Glacier had fallen back, too. New meltwater lakes farther north marked its retreating border. These days, farmers raised oats and rye and even barley in what they called Hevring Basin. No wild mammoths had been seen anywhere near Nidaros for generations. They followed the ice north. Sometimes, though, mastodons would lumber out of the forest to raid the fields.
 
Back when Nidaros lived by mammoth ivory and mammoth hides and rendered mammoth fat and dried mammoth flesh, no one would have imagined forests by Hevring Lake. The Glacier was strong then, and its grip on the weather even stronger. That was tundra country in those days, frozen hard forever beneath a frosty sky. So it seemed all those years ago, anyhow.
 
Now, as Count Hamnet Thyssen rode up toward Nidaros, he thought about how the world changed while men weren't looking. He was a big, dark, heavyset man who rode a big, dark, heavyset horse. Over his mail he wore a jacket of dire-wolf hides, closed tight against that cold north wind. The head from a sabertooth skin topped his helm. The beast was posed so its fangs jutted forward instead of dropping down in front of his eyes.
 
His thoughts were as slow and ponderous as his body. Many other men would get where they were going faster than he did, whether the journey was by land or over the stormy seas of thought. But if the way got rough, or if it petered out altogether, many other men would turn back in dismay. Count Hamnet carried on . . . and on, and on. Sooner or later, he got where he was going.
 
And much good it's done me, he thought sourly. His left hand, mittened in bearskin against the wind, rose to scratch at the white streak in his thick black beard. But for that streak, the beard would have hidden the great scar seaming the left side of his jaw.
 
He muttered under his breath. Fog puffed from his mouth and his great prow of a nose. If he'd thought faster ten years ago, he would have realized sooner that his wife was betraying him. If he'd thought faster, he might even have found a way to make her not want to betray him. And if he'd moved faster in the world, her laughing lover never would have been able to lay his face open like that.
 
The other man was dead.
 
So was his love--or so he kept telling himself, anyhow. He would have taken Gudrid back. She didn't want to come. Where she'd left him secretly before, she left him openly then. And he'd never found anyone he cared about since.
 
He muttered again. Gudrid and Eyvind Torfinn lived in Nidaros--one more reason Hamnet stayed in his cold stone keep out on the eastern frontier as much as he could. But when the Emperor summoned, Count Hamnet came. Sigvat II was a man for whom disobedience and rebellion meant the same thing.
 
As Hamnet neared Nidaros' gray stone walls, he had to rein in to let a merchant caravan come out through the South Gate. Horses and mules and two-humped hairy camels were laden with the products of the north. Some carried mammoth tusks. Others bore horns cut from the carcasses of woolly rhinos. Many in the south--and not a few in the Raumsdalian Empire--believed rhinoceros horn helped a man's virility. What people believed often turned out to be true just because they believed it. Charlatans and mages were quick to take advantage of that. Which was which . . . Hamnet Thyssen shook his head. He doubted there was any firm dividing line.
 
Baled hides burdened other beasts. Still others bore baskets and bundles that hid their contents. A few horses hauled carts behind them. The ungreased axles squealed. The carts bumped up and down as their wheels jounced in the ruts.
 
Merchants rode with the animals. Some were plump and prosperous, with karakul hats and long coats of otter or marten over tunics and baggy breeches tucked into boots of buttery-soft leather or, more often, of felt. Others were accoutered more like Hamnet Thyssen--they were men ready to fight to keep what they owned.
 
And the caravan had a proper fighting tail of guards, too. Inside the Empire, they were probably--probably--so much swank, but beyond the borders bandit troops thrived. Some of the guards were Raumsdalians in chainmail like Hamnet's, armed with bows and slashing swords. Others were blond Bizogot mercenaries out of the north. The lancers looked as if they would rather be herding mammoths than riding horses. Even though they were many and he only one, they gave him hard stares as they rode past. Their cold blue eyes reminded him of the Glacier in whose shadow they dwelt.
 
He rode through the South Gate himself once the caravan came forth. A guard stepped out into the middle of the roadway to block his path. With upraised hand, the fellow said, "Who are you, and what is your business in the capital?" He sounded like what he was--an underofficer puffed up with his own petty authority. Most men coming into Nidaros would have had to bow and scrape before him. They might have had to grease his palm before he let them pass, too. No wonder he was puffed up, then.
 
The count looked down his long nose at the gate guard. "I am Hamnet Thyssen," he said quietly. "I have an appointment with his Majesty."
 
"Oh!" The gate guard stumbled back, all but tripping over his own feet. "P--P--Pass on, your Grace!" Petty authority punctured, he deflated like a pricked pig's bladder.
 
At another time--or, more likely, were he another man--that would have made Count Hamnet laugh. Here, now, he just felt sad. Without another word, he booted his horse forward and rode into smoky, smelly Nidaros.
 
He hadn't gone more than a few feet forward before a man sitting on horseback in front of a tavern rode out alongside him. "Good day, Count Hamnet," the rider said, his voice a light, musical tenor. "God grant you long years."
 
"I don't know you." Hamnet's eyes narrowed as he surveyed the foxy-faced newcomer. The crow's-feet at their corners deepened and darkened when he did. He shook his head. "No. Wait. Ulric Skakki, or I'm a Bizogot. Forgive me. It's been a few years." He pulled off his right mitten and held out his hand.
 
Ulric Skakki had an infectious grin. As he clasped hands with Count Hamnet, he said, "Don't worry about it, your Grace. I'm not offended. D'you think I'm a Bizogot?"
 
He might have been a lot of things. Though he spoke Raumsdalian perfectly, he might well not have been a native of the Empire. But a truculent mammoth-herder from the fringes of the Glacier? That, never.
 
Count Hamnet started forward. "Forgive me, but I have business in the city."
 
"I know," Ulric said. "I was waiting for you. I have the same business, you see."
 
"Do you?" Hamnet eyed him suspiciously. "With . . . ?" He didn't finish. His hand slipped toward the basket hilt of his sword. The basket was big enough to let him wield the blade even with a mitten. If Ulric Skakki didn't give him the right answer . . . Well, no matter what sort of trick the other man had in mind, he wouldn't profit from it.
 
But Ulric Skakki nodded. "Yes, with the Emperor."
 
Count Hamnet's hand retreated, not quite so smoothly as it had advanced. He hadn't known Sigvat had summoned anyone else. But, since he still didn't know why the Emperor had summoned him, he couldn't be surprised his Majesty had also called someone else. And Ulric was a man of parts, no doubt about it. Just what the parts added up to . . . Yes, that was a different question.
 
"Let's go, then," Hamnet said roughly, and rode on into Nidaros.
 
"Yes, let's." Ulric Skakki's voice was mild as milk, sweet as honey. He rode beside Hamnet as if he had not a care in the world. Maybe he didn't. Some men were born without a conscience, or perhaps had it sorcerously removed. Count Hamnet's still worked all too well, however much he wished it didn't.
 
Nidaros . . . Nidaros was worse than a maze, for a maze bespoke intelligent design. Nidaros was a jumble, surely the place where the the phrase You can't get there from here was born--and where it had flourished mightily ever since. Nidaros' streets and lanes and alleys twisted back on one another, worse than a mammoth's bowels in the cavern of its belly.
 
The imperial capital was an old town, an old, old town, which helped account for that. New cities farther south had their streets arranged in neat grids, some running northeast and southeast, others northwest and southwest. Strangers could find their way around in them with the greatest of ease. Hamnet Thyssen knew that was true; he'd done it. By the time a man learned to navigate all the quarters of Nidaros, he was commonly too old to get around with ease. You steered by smell as much as any other way. The Street of the Perfumers ran not far from the palace. The butchers' and dyers' districts gave the southern part of town, through which Hamnet and Ulric Skakki rode now, a different sort of pungency.
 
Because those districts were in the southern part of town, the wind from the Glacier blew their stinks away more often than not. The Glacier . . . The great shield over the north of the world . . . You couldn't see it from Nidaros any more, as you had been able to in ancient days, but its might, though somewhat lessened, still lingered. And the Glacier, and the wind from the Glacier, was the other reason Nidaro...

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