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Excerpt from THE HIDDEN STARS

Discussion in 'Teresa Edgerton' started by Teresa Edgerton, Mar 4, 2005.

  1.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Chapter Six​


    All day, the two wizards lived with a prickly sensation across the skin, a persistent warning of present danger. Again and again, Sinderian's restless pacing took her up to the quarterdeck, where she scanned the ocean from horizon to horizon. Though her heart said danger, eyes and ears could perceive no threat; extend her senses as she might, there was never anything there to be seen but endless miles of bright blue water, and the V-shaped wake of the ship, like curdled buttermilk.

    At sunset, they decided to take it in turns to keep watch through the night. While Faolein went below, Sinderian stood the first vigil, holding her father's wayward little wind on a tight leash, but otherwise passing the dark hours uneventfully. A little before dawn, Faolein reappeared, and together they watched a flush of color spread across the sky, the pale rim of the sun rise at the edge of the world. Then she went down to the cabin they shared in the hold of the ship, and tried to fall asleep.

    Yer Sinderian found that she could not rest. Even after the long, quiet night, she felt threatened, uneasy. Whenever she closed her eyes, she saw other eyes looking back at her: sea-green and deadly cold, like pale, venomous moons. And every time she began to drift off, she startled back awake at the imagined sound of heavy breathing: a vast windy exhalation within the tiny confines of the cabin, smelling of dead fish and rotting seaweed.

    Finally, she slid into a deep, oppressive sleep filled with unpleasant dreams.

    * * * * *

    Hours later, she woke in the dark with Faolein's shout echoing in her mind. Drowsy and disoriented, she levered herself into a sitting position. Somewhere up above, men were screaming, footsteps clattered across the deck. On all sides of her, timbers creaked and groaned, while the hull of the ship vibrated as though it must surely burst apart. And again -- even more imperative than before -- came the wizard's mind-shout: Sinderian! We are under attack.

    She threw her legs over the side of the bunk, and, with her heart rattling in her chest, she groped her way across the cabin in the dark, pushed open the door, and entered the crew's quarters. There at least there was light, thanks to a half-burnt candle in a hanging tin lantern. An overturned bench, a tankard lying on its side in a pool of ale, a sea chest thrown open and its contents scattered across the floor, all spoke of a sudden alarm, followed by a hasty departure.

    Weaving a hurried path through kegs, boxes, bales, and hammocks, Sinderian finally reached the ladder. A babble of voices -- screams, shouts, frantic orders being relayed from man to man -- came down the hatchway as she kilted up her skirts and scrambled from rung to rung. Even before she reached the top, she had an idea what she would find. The air stank of blood and panic and the rank stench of some deep-sea creature.

    She came out into the blazing midafternoon sunlight to find the decks awash with blood and broken bodies everywhere she looked.

    * * * * *

    Despite the wizard's vigilance, a great water dragon with eyes and horns of crystal had taken Balaquendor by surprise, rising from the depths, slithering up one side of the ship, and looping a section of its long, flexible body around the hull, almost before anyone had time to react. Men had scattered in search of weapons, calling out to their mates below, and Faolein's mind-shout sounded like a clap of thunder in his daughter's head. Then, constricting its snakelike body, the dragon began to squeeze the vessel until boards cracked, and the sea came rushing in. Sinderian arrived just in time to see the monster throw another coil around the ship.

    It was nothing like she had dreamed it, being at once more beautiful and more deadly. Sun reflected off hard, glittering scales: steel-blue, amethyst, and silver, shading to mother-of-pearl below. Light dazzled off the pronounced ridges of its immense rib cage, shone through thin membranous fins all down its spine. It had pointed fishlike teeth, the color of old ivory, the smallest as long as Sinderian's hand, and a pale tongue that flickered in and out like a green flame. Around its neck, ancient wizards had placed a wide metal band, a collar forged of iron and bronze, etched with runes of power to keep it spell-bound -- but the runes had failed.

    The ship gave another violent shudder. While Faolein frantically wove spells to keep the hull together, the water out, and the caravel from sinking, two men up on the quarterdeck armed themselves with bows and sent down a rain of arrows. At the same time, Prince Ruan, his guards, and the remaining sailors attacked the monster with swords, knives, axes, clubs -- anything that came to hand.

    Linking minds with her father, Sinderian felt his lledrion take hold: shining strands of light and energy drew the broken timbers together and held them, slowing the leaks in the side to a mere trickle. Yet it took all of his thought and will to keep the ship from breaking apart faster than he could repair the damage; if he shifted his attention for even a moment, his spell would fail. Rather than distract him, Sinderian withdrew.

    Dropping to her knees beside one of the bodies on the deck, running her hands hastily over him, she sensed a broken arm, a concussion, and massive internal injuries. The spark of life had been so nearly extinguished, for a moment she thought that he was gone. But dead men don't bleed, she reminded herself. And probing a little deeper she was able to detect an almost imperceptible flicker.

    There was no time for the delicate joining of broken blood vessels, the careful knitting of flesh and bone; what Sinderian did instead was simple, crude, and temporary -- but under her hands the life force flared up, the sailor groaned, blinked his eyes, and mumbled a question.

    "Stay there. Don't move, or you'll begin to bleed again," she tossed over her shoulder as she stumbled to her feet and staggered for balance. "I'll come back to you when I can."

    The dragon's wedge-shaped head was weaving from side to side on its long, sinewy neck, and the great tail lashed back and forth across the deck between the masts, making it dangerous to cross. The boards under her feet were slick with blood and seawater. At the sight of a man sprawled unconscious or lifeless on the planks only a dozen feet from the place where she stood, Sinderian felt caution fall away. With reckless determination, she made up her mind that she would somehow find a way to reach him. She waited until one of the Prince's guards engaged the monster's attention by slashing at its head in a blur of motion, then she ducked under the thick muscular tail and flung herself down beside the man on the deck.

    He was already dead -- had almost certainly died instantly, for his neck had snapped, and his head was battered beyond recognition.

    Sinderian felt a sickening sensation of guilt wash over her. I wished to go back into battle, she reflected bitterly, but a wizard should always be careful of her thoughts. Did I, somehow, cause this to happen?

    Yet she knew that to entertain these fears was worse than futile. Let a wizard start blaming herself for everything wrong that happened in her vicinity, and she soon became useless, too frightened to do anything at all, and ultimately a danger to herself. So she had been taught by her masters at the Scholia, and so experience had taught her since.

    She rose to her feet, scolding herself for her momentary weakness. The monsters of the deep don't come at your beck and call, Sinderian, nor the Tides of Fortune flow at your command. Don't make yourself more important than you are. Still, the impression that she was to blame lingered like a thorn beneath the flesh, too painful to be ignored.

    Over by the mainmast, a sailor failed to move quickly enough. The mighty tail swept him across the deck and crushed him against the bulwarks.




    (continued in next message)
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2007
  2.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Meanwhile, Prince Ruan and the guardsman Tuillo were in the very thick of the battle. As the dragon's head weaved from side to side, jaws snapping, they both rushed in with their broadswords.

    Grasping the hilt of his sword with both hands, Ruan slashed downward, felt the blade connect and cut through the glittering hide, only to glance off the bone below. The huge head recoiled, laid back its ears, and hissed, then came hurtling down in his direction. He threw himself back and to the left, just in time to avoid being gutted by the jagged ivory teeth. Beside him, Tuillo swung an overhead cut at the extended neck, striking just behind the skull; there was a trickle of dark red blood, smelling strongly of seawater, but nothing more. Ruan realized they were doing the monster little damage, and only dulling their swords.

    "The eyes," he shouted over the din. "Try for the eyes."

    Tuillo nodded grimly and reached for his dagger, just as the Prince reached for his. They sprang from either side at the same time, stabbing at the crystalline eyes. Ruan felt his dagger connect; there was a sound like shattering glass, and his blade broke, but the eye went dark, and more of the thick red blood came dribbling out.

    Tuillo was less fortunate. His stroke just missed, his dagger skidded off the thick, scaly hide, and his own impetus continued to carry him forward. Trying to recover his balance, he slipped in someone's blood, fell to the deck and hit his head, and lay there stunned.

    Even as Ruan rushed to his defense, the dragon's head came down, and its wide mouth closed around Tuillo's armored torso. There was a horrid sound of teeth grinding against metal links as the monster lifted the guardsman off the slippery boards, whipped him through the air like a terrier worrying a rat, and flung him against one of the masts. His body hit the oaken spar with bone-crushing force, then slid down to the deck.

    In the moment of shock that followed, Ruan heard Sinderian's voice speaking urgently behind him. "Behind the ear. There is an old story: Prince Revin of Alluinn killed a water dragon once, by driving his spear into a soft spot behind the ear. I don't know if the story is true, but--"

    The Prince had already heard enough, and he knew what he must do. Dropping his dagger, he caught one of the ratlines and pulled himself up. Climbing swiftly and agilely, he went halfway up the rigging, then was forced to hang there while the battle continued below, waiting for just the right moment to jump.

    Seeing his chance at last, he leapt from the ropes and landed soft-footed on the broad triangular head, reaching out to grasp one of the curved horns just in time to keep from being thrown off. Then, tossing his sword into the air to reverse his grip, he caught the hilt and drove the point downward, just behind the dragon's fan-shaped ear. The blade went in only an inch or two, then stuck fast, and would go no farther.

    Shifting his footing, Ruan released his grip on the horn, took his sword in both hands, and threw the full weight of his body forward, driving the blade in all the way to the hilt. The monster bellowed, flung its head back, and Ruan felt himself flying through the air.

    He hit the water with a loud splash some twenty yards from the ship and only narrowly missed being caught by the lashing tail as the dragon lost its grip on Balaquendor and landed in the ocean beside him.

    Though a strong swimmer, the Prince was barely able to stay afloat as the monster beat the water into a bloody froth with its convulsions, then sank beneath the waves.

    * * * * *

    The tumult of battle was over, but the air rang with the sound of hammers, and the smell of burning pitch was everywhere, as the men made temporary repairs to the ship.

    Sinderian knelt on the deck beside the battered body of the guardsman Tuillo, desperately trying to stop the bleeding. For every blood vessel she repaired, there was always another and another requiring her attention, and despite her increasingly frantic exertions the life went leaking out of him so quickly she could not keep up. At last his heart gave a final, feeble flutter and stopped beating altogether.

    Why she should doggedly keep on after all hope faded, she did not know. Perhaps it was a lingering sense of guilt and shame, the fear that some careless wish of hers had brought this thing about. When a light hand fell on her shoulder, a quiet voice spoke in her ear, it was a long time before the meaning of Prince Ruan's words finally penetrated.

    "You can't call back the dead. You have labored most heroically on his behalf, but there is no use going on."

    Looking up at him, Sinderian drew in her breath; a flush of anger passed over her. She had blood on her hands and on her gown; her dark hair was sticky with it; she was weary, sweating, bedraggled. Yet the Prince had somehow found the time to remove his wet tunic and braid back his damp hair; in shirt, hose, long cloak, and high boots, he looked none the worse for his dip in the ocean.

    "This man's life may mean little to you," she said, in a voice shaking with anger. "There will be others, I suppose, eager to take his place in your Honor Guard, men of no name or importance ready to serve the High King's grandson--"

    "You are mistaken," Ruan answered softly "I knew this man's name very well and what his life was. He had a wife and a family, and a farm near Pentheirie. His oldest daughter is named Fearn, and she's to be married at Hafentide. Tuillo hoped to return in time to see her wed, and I promised him--" For a moment, the Prince's voice wavered, then it and his jewel-bright gaze steadied. "But dead is dead, and there are others here who have need of your skills."

    One of the two surviving guardsmen, the one called Aell, offered her a rough, calloused hand. Sinderian took it, rose stiffly to her feet, and looked around her with dull eyes. At least a dozen men with bruised and broken limbs were lying on the deck or sitting propped up against the masts; everywhere she looked she saw faces sick with horror or drawn with pain.

    She tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry, tried to stop the shaking of her own limbs, but found that she could not. It was true: she had drained herself to no good purpose, and now she had less than enough to give to those still in need. Did I learn nothing at all in Rheithun? she wondered.

    An unreasoning resentment flared up inside of her: against the world at large, against herself -- most of all, and by far the least reasonable -- against the silver-haired young man standing before her, flanked by his guardsman.

    Sinderian swept him an unsteady curtsy, spoke to him between clenched teeth. "I thank you, Prince Ruan, for teaching me my duty."





    copyright 2004 Madeline Howard
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2007
  3.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Excerpt posted by permission of the author and HarperCollins USA
     
  4.  
    Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Writing and reading Staff Member

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    Thanks pretty good, actually. :)

    I expected to find myself drifting off distracted, but the use of wording was strong, and even though the excerpt was longer than I expected, I read all the way through.

    I'm normally suspicious of fantasy - but this was a decent read. :)
     
  5.  
    Lacedaemonian

    Lacedaemonian A Plume of Smoke

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    Suspicious of fantasy??? It is the safest, oldest genre around Brian...

    Harper Collins is a massive publisher mate, I can only dream of such a publisher looking at my work. I think I will buy this book for myself, and Mark's series for my girlfriend. Though I enjoyed reading the excerpt, it was Mark's review which sold the book to me.
     
  6.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Having read this extract I was particularly impressed by it's strength of description, strong editing values and natural pacing in particular and whilst I've always found dialogue one of the hardest things to get right I felt it was solid withouht being necessarily over pretentiuos or clever, something I'm probably a little guility of at times in my use of speech...

    Finally managed to get hold of Madeline's Rune Of Unmaking Book 1 in TPB and although it's a little pricey for these shores at AUS$35.00 I'm very much looking forward to reading it in the New Year...:D
     
  7.  
    earthangel

    earthangel New Member

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    No long and tedious descriptions to try and work through without falling asleep, definately going to be one of my top reads. Loved the imagery, most likely to be reccomended to my group
     
  8.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Thank you very much, earthangel. Although (to be strictly honest) I'm quite capable of getting carried away with descriptions. I just try to control the urge, because I don't think it would serve these particular books if I let myself get too lavish in that department.
     
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