I’m currently working on the long-awaited sequel to THE VIEW FROM THE MIRROR, a trilogy which I’ve called THE GATE OF GOOD AND EVIL. The tentative book titles are:
1: The Summonstone
2: The Secret Art
3: The Fatal Gate
Here are the first two chapters of The Summonstone. I’ve taken a small liberty with so called ‘facts’ reported in THE WELL OF ECHOES by an (evidently) unreliable narrator – Karan and Llian have only one child, a daughter, Sulien.
CHAPTER ONE: THE BEATING
What was she to do about Llian?
The ban, which had been in place for seven and a half years now, was eating him alive. It should have been lifted six months ago but the masters had refused, and there were ominous signs that they were going to make it permanent.
A faint, staccato beating sound broke Karan’s train of worry, though before she could identify it, it faded away. A lifetime ban would destroy Llian. Why did they hate him so? What threat could he represent to their smug and well-fed existences?
The beating returned, a little louder – a triple thump followed by a double, two singles and another triple. It repeated again, then again, growing stronger with each cycle. She rolled over and pressed an ear to the middle of Llian’s cool back. His heartbeat, though faster than it should have been, sounded normal.
The beating grew louder, louder. Sulien! Karan threw herself off the high box-bed, landed awkwardly and pain splintered through the thigh bones and pelvis she had broken eight years ago. It was all she could do to stifle a scream.
She clung to the side of the bed, gasping. The flagstones were cold under her bare feet; she pulled a night cloak around herself and limped down the hall towards her daughter’s room. But the pain grew with every step and so did her urgent need for the one thing that could take it away. Hrux!
She suppressed it. Hrux was for emergencies only … for those times when the pain was utterly unbearable.
Sulien lay on her side, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, breathing steadily. Her hair, as tangled and untameable as Karan’s though a lighter shade of red, fanned out to cover the pillow.
The panic eased. She stroked the child’s brow and Sulien gave a little sigh. Karan smiled and kissed her and shed a tear, and stood there for a minute or two, gazing at her seven-year-old daughter, her small miracle, the only child she would ever have. Triunes were generally sterile, and even after Karan had become pregnant, the terrible injuries had made childbirth perilous for her and the baby. Yet out of all the torment had come the most beautiful, perfect thing in her life.
The beating rose and fell, rose and fell. She pressed a fingertip into each ear but the sound did not change. It was inside her head. Could it be a sign of the madness that had taken her poor mother? No, the beating was real … and sounding increasingly like a threat.
Karan shivered, returned to bed and snuggled against Llian. Where was it coming from? What had just changed to cause it? It felt like an alien heartbeat, freshly woken.
Her right thighbone throbbed. Then the left, and the right again. After she had been hurled against the metal side of Rulke’s construct, on the desperate day that had changed the fate of three worlds, the healers had thought she would never walk again. Had it not been for the healing hands of Idlis, once her enemy, she would be a cripple to this day.
Sleep would not come. She rose and paced down the hall, grimacing with every step. The signs were clear now – the pain would get worse until it became unendurable. Through teeth-gritting force of will she forced it down; she had to be strong, for Sulien’s sake, and Llian’s. She could not give in at the first moment – only at the last.
Karan returned to the bed chamber, took a chain of braided silver wire from the top drawer of the corner cupboard, felt for the little, dangling key and went down the stone stairs in the dark. She dipped hot water from the iron kettle hanging over the embers of the fire and made a cup of chard. It tasted like wet hay and probably was; they could no longer afford real chard. She tossed it out and went outside, looking across the shadowed yard of Gothryme Manor.
There had been little summer rain and none so far this autumn. The ground was so dry she could smell it; dust, lifted by a cool breeze, tickled the back of her nose. The drought was unending and the coming harvest was going to be the smallest in her memory. How was she to feed her people this coming year, if she were still here at all? One disaster after another had taken all her resources and unless a miracle happened – like Llian’s ban being lifted – she would have to sell Gothryme to pay her debts.
Her family’s home for more than a thousand years, gone.
A brutal spasm struck her left thigh. Karan fell to one knee, cracking her kneecap on stone and jarring all the way up to her hipbone. Pain shrieked through her and this time it wasn’t going away. Hrux! She had to have it now.
She lurched back into the kitchen. Her hands were shaking so badly that it took five clicks of the flint striker before she could light the wick of a lantern. She got out a stepladder, took it into the larder and, with great difficulty, climbed up. Only by standing on tiptoes could she reach the small box bolted to the back of the top shelf, well out of sight. She unlocked it, the key rattling in the keyhole, withdrew a small package in a wooden case and opened the lid.
The stench, even from so tiny a piece of hrux, was nauseating. She hesitated. There was barely enough left for two doses and she had no way of getting more. Only the strange and terrifying Whelm knew how the perilous drug was made, and they lived far away. Because Karan had spared Idlis’s life three times, he brought her a small supply once a year, in part-payment of the obligation, but his next visit was weeks away. And what if he was delayed, or waylaid? Or died?
Panic stirred. She fought it down. Dare she try a half-dose? It had failed the first time, but the pain had been so much greater then. She took the box to the kitchen bench, cut off a pea-sized piece of hrux and put it in the middle of her palm. But, though the longing was desperate now, she endured the pain. Not yet … not yet …
Karan had taught herself to put up with it a little longer each time. To do otherwise, to give in too easily, was to risk the hrux claiming her. And hrux addiction was worse than any physical pain.
The pain howled; it shrieked; it battered at her like a mad thing. She couldn’t bear it another second … and another … and anoth–
Karan slammed her palm against her open mouth, chewed the little pellet furiously and washed it down with a mug of water. She doubled over, shuddering; it was bitter as well as foul. After washing the knife carefully, three times, she put it away, replaced the case in the box and locked it again. She settled the silver chain around her neck and felt her troubles ease.
Her head swirled. Tingles ran up and down her legs. She headed for the stairs, then turned back. The effects of hrux could be unpredictable; she might shout or scream and that would wake Llian and Sulien. Karan closed the door to the stairs and sat in a battered armchair in the dark, waiting for hrux to bring its blessed relief.
The beating had stopped. She fingered the chain, which had belonged to a crippled young woman, Fiachra, long ago. Traces of an enchantment laid on it to protect her still lingered. Karan hoped it did a better job than it had done for Fiachra, who had been murdered to cover up a terrible crime.
The room was cold. She pulled the night cloak more tightly around her and lay back in the chair, enduring the shooting spasms in her bones, praying that the dose would be enough and it would not take long to work.
What was she going to do about Llian? He was both a brilliant chronicler of the Histories and a masterly teller of the Great Tales, a rare combination. He was also the first teller in hundreds of years to have crafted a new Great Tale, the Twenty-Third, the monumental Tale of the Mirror. And yet, at most everyday things he was awkward, clumsy, and singularly useless. The Great Tales were his life and his passion, and if he could not practice his art, what did he have left? The ban must be lifted, but how?
Karan put the problem aside for the morrow and closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep. She imagined she was surrounded by a downy blanket, insulating her from all the troubles of the world …
Pain sneaked up her thigh, dull now. She opened her eyes but saw only fog. She must be dreaming, though it did not feel like a dream or a hrux hallucination. No, this was a true seeing, and it was showing her a place she had seen years ago – the void. Karan was a sensitive, and she had been mind-roaming under Rulke’s direction as he tried to find a way through the pitiless void that surrounded Santhenar and all the worlds.
The fog thinned a little, and she jumped. Eyes! Eyes in a man’s face, a heavy black beard, close-cropped, and a jagged tattoo – a glyph she did not recognise – on his forehead. She shrank backwards in her chair. The eyes did not blink but she could tell it was a living person, not a painting. Could he see her? She slid sideways but the eyes did not follow her. They were looking down at an object in front of him, though she could not see it clearly enough to tell what it was – a piece of stone, perhaps. He touched it and the beating sounded once more.
A burst of light reflected in his eyes. They were unusual, deep-set, and a unique colour, indigo blue with hints of carmine. Shivers ran across her shoulders, for that was enough to tell her what he was.
And the Charon had been far more than human, physically and intellectually. With just a century of his fellows – The Hundred – Rulke had once captured a world.
The man stood up. He was a foot and a half taller than her, and strongly built. He reached out in her direction as if testing an invisible barrier separating them, and momentarily the scene went out of focus. He dropped his hand, she saw him clearly again, then he looked over his shoulder. More Charon were gathered behind him, heavily armed young warriors, male and female, and all with that jagged tattoo on their foreheads. There were dozens of them, no, hundreds – a mighty force armed as if for war.
Karan scrambled to her feet, her heart thundering. How could this be? There were no Charon any more. After Rulke’s death eight years ago, Yalkara had taken his body away. She and the few dozen surviving Charon, all age-old, had been the last of their kind. She had said they were returning to the void, to face their extinction with dignity.
Clearly, every word had been a lie.
CHAPTER TWO FOLLOWS, BELOW.
The ebooks of THE VIEW FROM THE MIRROR are now available worldwide from Amazon. If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t despair, you can read them on an iPad/iPhone or other tablets with the free Kindle app. The books will be available on the iTunes iBookstore soon.
CHAPTER TWO: BENIE
‘It was just a dream,’ said Llian when she told him. They were eating breakfast – gruel with onions and small cubes of fried bacon – on the terrace at the rear of the manor, facing the range known as the Hills of Bannador. They would have been called mountains anywhere else, save that the real mountains reared up behind them, white-capped and unclimbable. ‘It doesn’t mean anything.’
‘I was wide awake.’
‘You’d just taken hrux.’
‘Only a half dose.’
‘It’s a powerful, dangerous drug. Maybe it was a hallucination.’
‘I know what a hrux hallucination is like,’ snapped Karan. ‘This was a true seeing. I saw hundreds of armed Charon, massing in the void as if planning an attack.’
‘I don’t know.’
Llian sighed. ‘The Charon are extinct,’ he said, evidently trying hard to be reasonable. ‘Rulke was the last fertile one, and when he died the handful of survivors – all elderly – went back to the void to die.’
‘So they said. But the ones I saw last night were young.’
‘Then they can’t have been Charon. Besides, you said they all had forehead tattoos. None of the Charon we met had tattoos.’
‘Who else could they be, with those eyes?’
He shrugged. ‘I heard Rulke’s tales from his own mouth. And I can tell truth from lie – it’s part of my teller’s gift.’
‘I also know when to trust my gift.’
‘Even when you’ve taken hrux?’
Karan fought an urge to whack him. Stupid man! ‘Those soldiers were real, and they were gathering for war. What if it’s war on us?’
‘Why would it be? There could be a million worlds in the void.’
‘I saw them clearly. As if they were on the other side of a window.’
‘But the void folds back on itself – they could have been on the other side of the universe.’
‘Why are you determined to deny everything I say?’
He softened. ‘Because we’ve got more than enough to worry about as it is.’
Karan leaned against him. He put his arms around her.
‘I’m afraid, Llian. Afraid we’re going to lose Gothryme. And if we do, where can we go? We’re practically bankrupt –’ She broke off, but too late.
He wrenched away and threw himself into a chair at the far side of the table. ‘And that’s my fault,’ he said bitterly. ‘I’ve let everyone down.’
‘It wasn’t your fault Wistan banned you from practicing your art.’
‘Yes, it was. He said it all at my trial.’
‘I was there. I don’t need to hear it again.’
But Llian ploughed on, flogging himself in a vain attempt to lift the burden of guilt. ‘I broke the chroniclers’ first law, interfered in the Histories. I manipulated Mendark just to find the answer to a historical curiosity, and a hundred prisoners burned to death in the citadel cells. I still have nightmares about their deaths.’
‘I know, but you didn’t set fire to the citadel. Mendark did – and he tried to burn you alive as well.’
‘But that wasn’t enough for me – oh, no! I provoked Tensor, using my teller’s gift –’
This was too much. ‘You bloody idiot, you were trying to save my life!’ Karan cried.
‘And it went catastrophically wrong, as usual. Tensor ambushed Rulke, treacherously cut him down, and that drove the brilliant, noble Charon into extinction.’ He looked down at his hands as if expecting them to be drenched in blood. ‘That’s why I was banned, and rightly so. I can’t work as a chronicler or a teller … and it’s all I’m good for.’
‘I knew that when I chose you,’ she murmured.
‘You couldn’t have known how bad it was going to get.’
‘I can put up with anything as long as I have Sulien and you.’
But she didn’t have him – that was the problem. A barrier had grown between them and she did not know how to overcome it. He could not confide in her, and they were keeping secrets from each other. Secrets that could tear them apart.
Karan looked across the swan pond, now dry save for a muddy, reeking pool in the middle. Llian took the burden on himself, yet he could do nothing about it, and if he kept on this way it would break him. But what could she do? She had no influence with Wistan or the other masters who maintained the ban. Well, she was not giving up. She was determined to get the old Llian back, infuriating though he could be.
Suddenly Llian cried out, sprang to his feet and made for the axe standing by the woodpile near the door.
‘Ugh!’ she yelped, clutching at her pounding skull. The beating was back.
He froze, his right hand outstretched. His fingers closed, then with an effort he drew back. ‘Karan?’ He turned back to her, his head moving jerkily. His eyes had a shiny, feral glint.
The sound cut off. ‘The beating … it was like a drumbeat, thundering inside my skull.’
The light faded from his eyes and he was Llian again. ‘I can’t hear any beating,’ he said.
‘You’re not a sensitive.’
‘You can say that again!’ His hands clenched and unclenched, involuntarily. His breathing was ragged.
‘Llian, what is it?
‘Just then I felt – I wanted to –’
It was as if he were afraid to say it. No, ashamed to say it. He jerked his head sideways. She followed the gesture, to the axe.
He sat down on his hands, as if to keep them in place. ‘I felt a wild urge to … to run amok. Break windows with the axe. Chop up the plates in the kitchen. Smash the last wine bottles in the cellar …’
She attempted a joke. ‘Given your prodigious appetite for red wine, that’s really worrying.’
He did not smile. ‘I’m afraid, Karan. Afraid of what I might have done.’
She swallowed. Llian had many flaws, but violence was not one of them. With him, anger turned inwards, not out.
‘How long have you been having these feelings?’ she said delicately.
‘Never – until now. It was as if I was drunk. It took all my will-power to pull back from the axe.’
And it had happened at the precise moment the beating started again.
‘Karan!’ came a hoarse cry from the back door. ‘Llian! Come, quickly.’
Rachis, her ancient steward, was hunched in the doorway, panting. Age had withered him; his frame, once tall and upright, was reduced to spindly bone and skin like wrinkled leather. A fluffy white annulus highlighted his bald brown dome. In his eighty-two years Rachis had seen everything, and he was normally unflappable, but now his mouth was opening and closing, his watery eyes staring.
‘Benie,’ he croaked. ‘Benie …’
‘What about him?’ said Karan. Benie was the cook’s apprentice, a good-hearted lad of seventeen, though accident prone. ‘Has he cut himself again? Is it bad?’
‘He’s – he’s murdered Cook. Stabbed him through the heart.’
‘Benie … killed Cook?’ It was preposterous.
But when they reached the kitchen, Cook lay on his back on the flagstones, his arms outstretched. Blood soaked the front of his apron and he was, clearly, dead. Benie was backed up against the door of the larder, a thin-bladed boning knife hanging from his left hand, shivering. Blood dripped from the tip.
Karan held out her hand. ‘Can I have the knife, Benie?’
He handed it to her at once. He looked dazed.
‘What happened?’ said Karan.
‘I – killed – Cook,’ said Benie, shaking his head as if he could not believe it.
‘What did he do? Did he attack you?’
‘No … why would he?’
‘Cook’s got a caustic tongue,’ said Rachis. ‘But he’s not … he wasn’t a hard man.’
‘Why did you do it, Benie?’ said Llian.
‘I don’t know.’
‘There’s got to be a reason.’
‘No. None at all.’
‘Did you hear voices in your head?’ said Rachis. ‘Telling you to kill Cook?’
Benie shook his head. ‘I was boning out a leg of mutton – and suddenly I felt furiously angry.’
‘Why?’ said Karan. ‘What happened?’
‘Nothing. It came from nowhere and couldn’t stop myself. I – just – stabbed – him.’ He looked down at Cook’s body, blanched, and Karan saw the little boy in him, bewildered and terrified. He began to shake and, once started, could not stop. ‘Poor Cook. He taught me so much. I wanted to be as good as he is … better …’
‘Did anything odd happen, before you did it?’ said Karan.
‘No,’ said Benie. ‘Except for that thumping sound.’
‘What thumping sound?’
He tapped it on the bench, the rhythm that Karan kept hearing, the beating. ‘I heard it just before …’
Karan exchanged glances with Llian.
‘What’s going to happen to me?’ said Benie plaintively. ‘They won’t hang me, will they?’
Karan swallowed. He’d been a mischievous little boy, always getting into trouble, but there was nothing she could do about this trouble.
‘I’ll put him in the old cellar,’ Rachis said heavily. ‘And send for the bailiff. Come with me, lad.’ He led Benie away.
‘I didn’t want to hurt him,’ Benie wailed. ‘Cook was good to me. Karan, please help me!’
Karan stood there, fists clenched by her sides. Why, why?
‘Sulien will be down soon,’ said Llian. ‘We’d better do something about the body.’
They carried Cook down to an empty coolroom and locked the door. Llian cleaned up the blood. There wasn’t much. They went out to the orangery and sat among the trees. The small, green fruit were sparse, and the leaves hung straight down, badly wilted. Everything was wilted this year.
‘Is there anything we can do for him?’ said Llian.
Karan sat, head bowed. Benie had been part of Gothryme all his life, and more than half of hers. His mother had died in childbirth, his father was unknown, and he had simply been taken in.
‘It’s got to be the beating,’ she said at last. ‘It affected you too.’
‘But not you.’
She slipped a finger under her braided silver chain. ‘There’s a protection on this. I always feel safe when I’m wearing it … safer, at any rate.’
‘Benie’s a good lad,’ said Llian. ‘He’s worked hard these past years, and we owe him a duty. Do you think we should …?’
‘Let him escape?’ said Karan bleakly.
‘How can we? He killed an innocent man, for no reason. Will he kill again, the next time the beating sounds? And the time after that? I can’t take the risk.’
‘What if we hide him somewhere? Lock him up where he’ll be safe.’
‘Forever? No, we can’t. Cook’s poor wife is now a widow, his three children are fatherless, and without his earnings they’ll starve. I’ll have to take them in, and they have to know what happened, and why. It’s only justice.’ She shook her head. ‘How am I going to tell them? Benie, of all people.’
She contemplated that dismal prospect. Llian paced between the orange trees.
‘Benie will be convicted of murder,’ he said.
‘I’ll plead for him,’ said Karan. ‘I’ll do everything I can …’
‘But he’ll still be put to death.’
She covered her face with her hands. There was no solution; the beating had made sure of that. Llian put his arms around her and she scrunched herself against his solid chest.
‘What if they’re connected?’ Lian said after a long pause.
‘You seeing the Charon, and the beating.’
She recalled how it had started again, right after the Charon man had touched the stone. ‘Maybe they are.’
‘What if it’s happening in other places as well? What if the beating is affecting other people?’
Karan hadn’t thought of that. What was it for, anyway?
‘I’ve a very bad feeling, Llian. That we’re standing on the edge of the abyss, and everything we care about, everything that matters, is about to be swept away.’
I look forward to your thoughts. https://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author
More samples will follow in a while.