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Naamah's Curse
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Naamah's Curse

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Author: Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Gollancz, 2010
Grand Central Publishing, 2010
Series: Kushiel's Legacy: Book 8
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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(6 reads / 2 ratings)

valashain
2.5

Allie
3.5



Synopsis

Far from the land of her birth, Moirin sets out across Tatar territory to find Bao, the proud and virile Ch'in fighter who holds the missing half of her diadh-anam, the divine soul-spark of her mother's people. After a long ordeal, she not only succeeds but surrenders to a passion the likes of which she's never known. But the lovers' happiness is short-lived, for Bao is entangled in a complication that soon leads to their betrayal.


Excerpt

Impossible as it may seem, I fell asleep amid the cattle.

I was tired beyond exhaustion, as tired in spirit as though I'd been drained almost to death, and as tired in body as though I'd climbed White Jade Mountain all over again. The presence of the cattle was warm and soothing, and the stone wall blocked the worst of the storm. There was nothing I could do for my horses until the storm passed.

And so I closed my weary eyes, thinking only to rest them a moment, and fell into a black pit of unconsciousness.

I awoke to a startled shout.

I opened my eyes to find calm morning light, and one of the young Tatar herdsmen staring at me. He loosed another shout when I opened my eyes, gripping his herder's staff with both hands. The dog beside him planted its haunches on the frozen ground and wagged its tail, bright-eyed, its tongue lolling.

I shouted too, scrambling to my feet. The cattle on either side of me heaved themselves upright in their ungainly, rear-end first way.

The boy yelled questions at me, his voice high and fierce. More cattle milled between us. I shook my head and spread my hands helplessly, eyeing Ember amid the herd and wondering if I could get to the bow and quiver strapped to the saddle.

The boy hesitated, then turned and raced toward the felt dwellings now visible some thirty yards away, shouting all the while.

I hesitated, too.

I was alive, and so were my mounts. It looked as though most of the supplies loaded on Coal were intact.

But I had no tent, and it was ungodly cold. Snow dusted the frozen sod; not as much as I would have expected, but I supposed the fierce wind prevented it from accumulating. I sidled through the cattle and reached Ember's side, unlashing my bow. My fingers had thawed just enough that I was able to string it.

More folk spilled out of the felt huts; men, women and children of all ages. I held the bow loosely in my left hand and plucked one arrow from the quiver without nocking it, trying to look calm. I didn't want to present myself as an enemy, but I didn't intend to appear an easy victim, either.

The Tatars fanned out as they approached, pointing and exclaiming to one another. I stood my ground uncertainly. A man of middle years whose coat and hat bore finer embroidery than the others beckoned to a young girl and spoke to her. She dashed back to the nearest hut, returning with a thick woolen blanket.

The man took it from her and began to push his way through the cattle toward me, holding out the blanket, uttering a sound such as one might make to soothe a fractious horse. "Ha, ha, ha!"

I eyed him, bow in hand, unable to determine whether he meant to offer the blanket to me or capture me in it.

He clucked his tongue, shaking the blanket at me in a way that could have been inviting or menacing. "Ha, ha!"

"I'm sorry!" I said aloud in the scholar's tongue. "I don't understand what you're trying to do."

One of the women said somewhat in a sharp tone. The adult Tatars argued amongst themselves. Wide-eyed children with round faces stared at me. I tried smiling at one, and he burst into tears.

Another woman emerged from the felt huts, walking slowly and carefully; in part because her pregnant belly strained against her long coat, and in part because she carried a small bowl of steaming liquid. She paused to dip her fingers in it, scattering droplets on the frozen earth.
All the Tatars murmured in approval.

The pregnant woman and the man with the blanket exchanged glances. He shrugged and stepped backward to let her pass him. She came toward me with those delicate little steps, smiling at me with weary sweetness. This time, the cattle moved out of the way of their own accord.

A few paces away from me, she raised the bowl to her lips and mimed drinking from it, then held it out to me. I paused, then slung my bow over my shoulder and returned the arrow I had drawn from my quiver. The pregnant woman nodded encouragingly. She cradled the bowl in one hand, pointed at it, then pointed at the ground, raising her eyebrows in question.

I felt foolish.

"Thank you," I murmured, cupping my hands together in a gesture of gratitude. "I recognize an offer of hospitality. You do not need to treat me like a wild creature."

She beamed, holding out the bowl with both hands.

I bowed in the Ch'in manner and came forward to accept it, taking it in both hands and lifting it to drink.

It was tea, hot and salty, rich with milk-fat. Another time and place, I might have found the taste repugnant. Here, it tasted like heaven. I meant to sip it politely. Instead, I downed the entire bowl.

The Tatars I had been so assiduously avoiding all made sounds of welcome and approval. Still beaming, the pregnant woman turned to her husband – as I later learned he was – and extended her hand for the woolen blanket. He gave it to her with an affectionate, rueful smile. She raised her brows at me once more, offering the blanket to me.

"Thank you," I said a second time, accepting it with another bow and wrapping it around my shoulders.

She touched my sleeve, then touched my face, her fingertips gentle and inquisitive. I held still and let her. Her dark, angular eyes searched mine. At length, satisfied, she nodded, turned and said somewhat to the others. Her husband nodded and said somewhat more, making a firm gesture of dismissal.

With obvious reluctance, the others began to disperse, returning to their felt huts or setting about various chores.

The couple turned their attention back to me. The woman asked me a question, speaking as slowly and carefully as though to a very young child. I shook my head helplessly. After another exchange with her husband, she pointed toward the felt huts. She mimed eating and sleeping, first raising an imaginary spoon to her lips, then pressing her cheek against folded hands.

Given my fears, I was embarrassed by their kindness. "Thank you," I said for the third time. "But I must tend to my mounts first." I pointed to myself and then at Ember and Coal, still saddled and loaded amid the meandering cattle, then mimed awkwardly to indicate what I needed to do.

The man's face cleared with understanding. He nodded in approval and called over the boy who had first discovered me. The boy went to work straightaway at unloading Coal's packs, blowing on the frozen buckles to thaw them. With an elaborate series of gestures, the man indicated that the boy would unload the horses and carry my gear and supplies to the hut, then turn the horses loose to graze on the frozen plain. He finished by echoing his wife's gesture with the imaginary spoon.

His wife didn't wait for my reply. Grasping the fur-trimmed cuff of my sleeve, she tugged me firmly toward the encampment. Wrapped in a warm blanket and their generosity, I went willingly.

There were some two dozen of the felt huts, which I later learned to call gers, in the camp. At close range, they were much larger and more substantial than I had reckoned, and infinitely more sophisticated than the simple tent that the storm had snatched away from me, thick felt layered on dome-shaped lattices. All the gers faced south, with brightly painted wooden doors. Smoke drifted from a hole at the top of each dome.

My hostess led me to the ger with the most elaborately painted doorway, ushering me inside.

Warmth struck me; warmth, and the smell of the rich, salty tea she had brought me. There were thick woolen carpets woven with intricate designs covering the floor of the ger, keeping the cold of the frozen ground at bay. Overhead, the poles of the lattice framework radiated like the spokes of a great wagon-wheel. Beneath the smoke-hole, two pots simmered atop an iron stove. I inhaled deeply, letting the blanket slide from my shoulders. My hostess smiled and took the empty bowl from my hand, then said somewhat in a formal tone.

I bowed in response. Even if she couldn't understand my words, it seemed important to speak them aloud. "May all the gods bless you for your hospitality and generosity, my lady."

"Eh?" On the far side of the ger, a seated figure lifted a wizened face, cupping one ear. Her bright eyes squinted in a parchment map of wrinkled skin. With an effort, the oldest woman I'd ever seen in my life, older than Old Nemed of the Maghuin Dhonn, dragged herself to her feet and hobbled across the carpets.

My hostess offered her what sounded like a bemused explanation.

The old woman nodded absently, peering at me. She had to crane her neck since a hump atop her spine wouldn't allow her to stand entirely straight. Licking her weathered lips, she essayed a question, starting and stopping several times, pausing to search her memory. At last she got it out, each syllable rusted and creaky. "Did I hear you speak the scholar's tongue of Shuntian?"

I blinked in surprise. "Yes, Grandmother."

"Thought so." She poked me in the breast-bone with one gnarled finger, her eyes sharp and inquisitive. "Who are you? What are you? And why in the world are you here?"

My hostess glanced back and forth between us, perplexity on her kind face. A boy toddler wobbled over to clutch at her coat; another child, a young girl, sidled up behind her, peeking out at me.

"I am Moirin," I said politely. "Moirin mac Fainche of the Maghuin Dhonn. And as to what that means and why I am here, I fear it is a very long story."

"Oh, good." The old woman doubled over and coughed deep in her chest, then straightened to the best of her abilities, dark eyes glinting at me in her wrinkled face. She yawned widely, covering her mouth to hide it. "And after I've finished my morning nap, you can tell it to me." She turned to hobble away, offering one last comment over her shoulder. "And take your time about it, because it's going to be a long winter."

Copyright © 2010 by Jacqueline Carey


Reviews

Naamah's Curse - Jacqueline Carey

- valashain
  (4/12/2014)
Naamah's Curse

- Allie
  (10/13/2018)

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