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Canticle

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Canticle

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Author: Ken Scholes
Publisher: Tor, 2009
Series: The Psalms of Isaak: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

Come back to the Named Lands in this compelling sequel to Ken Scholes amazing novel Lamentation.

It is nine months after the end of the previous book. Many noble allies have come to the Ninefold Forest for a Feast in honor of General Rudolfo's first-born child. Jin Li Tam, his wife and mother of his heir, lies in childbed.

As the feast begins, the doors of the hall fly open and invisible assassins begin attacking. All of Rudolfo's noble guests are slain, including Hanric, the Marsh Queen's Shadow. And on the Keeper's Gate, which guards the Named Lands from the Churning Waste, a strange figure appears, with a message for Petronus, the Hidden Pope.

Thus begins the second movement of The Psalms of Isaak, Canticle.


Excerpt

Chapter 1

Rudolfo

Late-afternoon sun washed the expansive forest in red, and Rudolfo watched it from the highest point of Library Hill. It had been a long day of paperwork amid the pandemonium that gripped his Seventh Forest Manor's staff, and .nally Rudolfo had .ed under the pretext of an unscheduled inspection of the library construction. He had quietly strolled the basements and subbasements, grateful for the break in routine.

Of course, he couldn't blame the staff for the chaos. It was, after all, his Firstborn Feast they were preparing. In mere weeks, Rudolfo would see his .rst child into the world, and it was the custom of the Forest Gypsies to celebrate that event with great vigor. That it was Rudolfo's firstborn and an heir transformed the event into a minor affair of state, with dignitaries expected from a dozen or more houses. Even the Marsh King was attending. Rudolfo smiled at this, knowing that the large hairy man who posed as the Marsh King did so at the command of a fifteen-year-old girl who was the true heir to that Wicker Throne. But to night, Hanric would play the part of king alongside Rudolfo and the other lords in attendance. Those aspects of to night's festivities bored Rudolfo. Instead, he thought about the men who were the true hosts of to night's event--the men who rose to their captain's challenge to honor their Gypsy King and the Gypsy King to Come.

The Gypsy Scouts could be proud of their work. They'd hunted and .shed for six weeks to stockpile the game required for the festivities; they'd sent birds and riders all over the Named Lands to gather the .nest sampling of wines and spirits. They'd even hired in cooks from the Emerald Coasts to study the best of the Forest recipes and reproduce them with southern augmentations to draw out the fiavor.

Rudolfo chuckled. Tonight, the Marsh King would sit to his left and the Entrolusian ambassador would sit to his right. The Entrolusians had sent their ambassador because Erlund was beset by the fires of rebellion on the Delta. When Erlund's uncle, Sethbert, had destroyed Windwir, he'd hoped to shore up the Entrolusian economy by annexing the Ninefold Forest Houses with the help of his puppet Pope. Rudolfo and his kin-clave had pressed them back, and eventually Sethbert's plans were unraveled and the Overseer himself tried and summarily executed for the genocide of the Androfrancine Order and their city.

How long ago had that been? Six months? Seven? It had crawled like years. League upon league of paperwork. Hour upon hour of meetings. Entire days that slipped past him without seeing the sky or feeling the wind on the back of his neck. The last time he'd stood here, the bookmakers' tent was still below in the heat of Second Summer as metal man and Androfrancine and Forester worked together to reproduce what they could of Windwir's Great Library.

Now winter wrapped the forest, and the bookmakers' tent was packed away. Their tables now crowded the basements of Rudolfo's Seventh Forest Manor, and the books they produced .lled the hallways and spare rooms to over.owing. Until now, of course, when those spaces were suddenly required.

Rudolfo paused and wondered where they had managed to store all of the books. And how long ago had it happened?

What it pointed to disturbed him. I didn't even notice. There was a time when he would have picked up on the slightest difference in the length of any one of his scout's beards. But now mountains of books vanished beneath his very feet and it took him days to realize it.

He heard the clicking and clacking, the slightest wheeze of bellows, and turned to watch his metal friend approach.

"Lord Rudolfo?" a metallic voice asked.

"Isaak," Rudolfo said. "You've found me."

Isaak stepped into view. "Yes, Lord." He paused, smoothing his Androfrancine robes with his metal hands. "I trust you found your inspection satisfactory?"

Rudolfo chuckled. He should've known the metal man would worry. "You are doing wonderful work here, Isaak."

Isaak blinked. "Actually, Lord, there are many more besides myself performing this work. The list is rather extensive, but I have a file of names in my of.ce for your review. Or I could recite them--"

Rudolfo raised a hand. "A compliment to all involved," he said.

Isaak nodded. "Thank you, Lord. We serve the light."

"We do indeed," Rudolfo said. "But truly, Isaak, you are a fine foreman for this work."

Isaak inclined his head slightly. "Thank you, Lord. Might I add that Lieutenant Nebios has been extremely helpful in that respect."

Rudolfo had seen Neb's leadership throughout the grave-digging of Windwir. That was when he'd .rst recognized that there was a fine captain buried in the lad. And some of Isaak's methods looked surprisingly similar to Neb's. "So he's been advising you?"

Isaak blinked again. "I have been making inquiries and cross-referencing them against library holdings on Francine observations of human leadership dynamics." He paused, releasing steam through the exhaust grate in his back. "Neb is a natural leader."

Rudolfo nodded and stroked his beard. "Yes," he said. "I see that, too." But beyond what Rudolfo saw, the Marshfolk saw Neb as the one who would someday find--and take them to-- the new home as promised in their Book of Dreaming Kings.

Rudolfo turned his eyes back to the forest and his home in it.

The sun was nearly down now, and the lights of the manor and the town called to Rudolfo. High above, as the sky went from purple to charcoal, swollen stars pulsed to life and a blue-green sliver of moon danced behind a hazy veil of cloud. Rudolfo drew in a lungful of night air and smelled the roasting meat from the kitchens far below.

"I suppose we should get ready for the feast," he said, clapping Isaak on the shoulder and feeling the cool metal beneath the rough wool robe.

Isaak nodded. "Lady Tam sent a scout for you. I told him I would pass her message along."

Rudolfo chuckled. A few weeks earlier and she'd have come herself, but the River Woman insisted she rest now. She'd balked initially but at the last accepted the midwife's instruction and forced herself to bed. Rudolfo knew better than to taunt the tiger in her cage. "I was finished here," he said, turning to Isaak. "Walk with me."

They walked in silence among the massive, scattered stones that were slowly taking shape. The air was cold on Rudolfo's face and his breath showed. Picking his way carefully through last week's snow, he and Isaak descended the hill that was gradually transforming the Ninefold Forest, turning it into the center of the Named Lands.

It had already started, of course, not long after Petronus had executed Sethbert and transferred the wealth of the Androfrancine Order into Rudolfo's name for the reestablishment of the library. And just yesterday, another university--this one a larger bookhouse out of Turam--brought their petition to establish a presence near the Great Library. Rudolfo had listened to their request, told them he was honored by their interest in the Ninefold Forest, and that he would take the matter under consideration. It was the fourth university to ask in as many months, and he wasn't sure how long he could keep them at bay.

Rudolfo's boot slipped on a patch of snow-crusted ice and he stumbled.

Copyright © 2009 by Ken Scholes


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