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Lamentation
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Lamentation

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Author: Ken Scholes
Publisher: Tor, 2009
Series: The Psalms of Isaak: Book 1
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

An ancient weapon has completely destroyed the city of Windwir. From many miles away, Rudolfo, Lord of the Nine Forest Houses, sees the horrifying column of smoke rising. He knows that war is coming to the Named Lands.

Nearer to the Devastation, a young apprentice is the only survivor of the city -- he sat waiting for his father outside the walls, and was transformed as he watched everyone he knew die in an instant.

Soon all the Kingdoms of the Named Lands will be at each others' throats, as alliances are challenged and hidden plots are uncovered.

This remarkable first novel from an award-winning short fiction writer will take readers away to a new world -- an Earth so far in the distant future that our time is not even a memory; a world where magick is commonplace and great areas of the planet are impassable wastes. But human nature hasn't changed through the ages: War and faith and love still move princes and nations.


Excerpt

Chapter 1

Rudolfo

Wind swept the Prairie Sea and Rudolfo chased after it, laughing and riding low in the saddle as he raced his Gypsy Scouts. The afternoon sun glinted gold on the bending grass and the horses pounded out their song.

Rudolfo savored the wide yellow ocean of grass that separated the Ninefold Forest Houses from one another and from the rest of the Named Lands--it was his freedom in the midst of duty, much as the oceans must have been for the seagoing lords of the Elder Days. He smiled and spurred his stallion.

It had been a fine time in Glimmerglam, his first Forest House. Rudolfo had arrived before dawn. He'd taken his breakfast of goat cheese, whole grain bread and chilled pear wine beneath a purple canopy that signified justice. While he ate, he heard petitions quietly as Glimmerglam's steward brought the month's criminals forward. Because he felt particularly benevolent, he sent two thieves into a year's servitude to the shop keepers they'd defiled, while sending the single murderer to his Physicians of Penitent Torture on Tormentor's Row. He dismissed three cases of prostitution and then afterward, hired two of them onto his monthly rotation.

By lunchtime, Rudolfo had proven Aetero's Theory of Compensatory Seduction decidedly false and he celebrated with creamed pheasant served over brown rice and wild mushrooms.

Then with his belly full, he'd ridden out with a shout, his Gypsy Scouts racing to keep up with him.

A good day indeed.

"What now," the Captain of his Gypsy Scouts asked him, shouting above the pounding hooves.

Rudolfo grinned. "What say you, Gregoric?"

Gregoric returned the smile and it made his scar all the more ruthless. His black scarf of rank trailed out behind him, ribboning on the wind. "We've seen to Glimmerglam, Rudoheim and Friendslip. I think Paramo is the closest."

"Then Paramo it is." That would be fitting, Rudolfo thought. It couldn't come close to Glimmerglam's delights, but it had held on to its quaint, logging village atmosphere for at least a thousand years and that was an accomplishment. They floated their timber down the Rajblood River just as they had in the first days, retaining what they needed to build some of the world's most intricately crafted woodwork. The lumber for Rudolfo's manors came from the trees of Paramo. The furniture they made rolled out by the wagonload and the very best found its way into the homes of kings and priests and nobility from all over the Named Lands.

He would dine on roast boar to night, listen to the boasting and flatulence of his best men, and sleep on the ground with a saddle beneath his head--the life of a Gypsy King. And tomorrow, he'd sip chilled wine from the navel of a log camp dancer, listen to the frogs in the river shallows mingled with her sighs, and then sleep in the softest of beds on the summer balcony of his third forest manor.

Rudolfo smiled.

But as he rounded to the south, his smile faded. He reined in and squinted against the sunlight. The Gypsy Scouts followed his lead, whistling to their horses as they slowed, stopped and then pranced.

"Gods," Gregoric said. "What could cause such a thing?"

Southwest of them, billowing up above the horizon of forest-line that marked Rudolfo's farthest border, a distant pillar of black smoke rose like a fist in the sky.

Rudolfo stared and his stomach lurched. The size of the smoke cloud daunted him; it was impossible. He blinked as his mind unlocked enough for him to do the math, quickly calculating the distance and direction based on the sun and the few stars strong enough to shine by day.

"Windwir," he said, not even aware that he was speaking.

Gregoric nodded. "Aye, General. But what could do such a thing?"

Rudolfo looked away from the cloud to study his captain. He'd known Gregoric since they were boys, and had made him the youngest captain of the Gypsy Scouts at fifteen when Rudolfo himself was just twelve. They'd seen a lot together, but Rudolfo had never seen him pale before now.

"We'll know soon enough," Rudolfo said. Then he whistled his men in closer. "I want riders back to each of the houses to gather the Wandering Army. We have kin-clave with Windwir; their birds will be flying. We'll meet on the Western Steppes in one day; we'll be to Windwir's aid in three."

"Are we to magick the scouts, General?"

Rudolfo stroked his beard. "I think not." He thought for a moment. "But we should be ready," he added.

Gregoric nodded and barked out the orders.

As the nine Gypsy Scouts rode off, Rudolfo slipped from the saddle, watching the dark pillar. The column of smoke, as wide as a city, disappeared into the sky.

Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, General of the Wandering Army, felt curiosity and fear dance a shiver along his spine.

"What if it's not there when we arrive?" he asked himself.

And he knew--but did not want to--that it wouldn't be, and that because of this, the world had changed.

Petronus

Petronus mended the last of the net and tucked it away in the prow of his boat. Another quiet day on the water, another day of little to show for it, but he was happy with that.

Tonight, he'd dine at the inn with the others, eating and drinking too much and finally breaking down into the raunchy limericks that made him famous up and down the coast of Caldus Bay. Petronus didn't mind being famous for that at all. Outside of his small village, most had no idea that more fame than that lay just beneath the surface.

Petronus the Fisherman had lived another life before returning to his nets and his boat. Prior to the day he chose to end that life, Petronus had lived a lie that, at times, felt more true than a child's love. Nonetheless, it was a lie that ate away at him until he stood up to it and laid it out thirty-three years ago.

Next week, he realized with a smile. He could go months without thinking about it now. When he was younger, it wasn't so. But each year, about a month before the anniversary of his rather sudden and creative departure, memories of Windwir, of its Great Library, of its robed Order, flooded him and he found himself tangled up in his past like a gull in a net.

The sun danced on the water, and he watched the silver waves flash against the hulls of ships both small and large. Overhead, a clear blue sky stretched as far as he could see and seabirds darted, shrieking their hunger as they dove for the small fish that dared swim near the surface.

One particular bird--a kingfisher--caught his eye and he followed it as it dipped and weaved. He turned with it, watching as it flexed its wings and glided, pushed back by a high wind that Petronus couldn't see or feel.

I've been pushed by such a wind, he thought, and with that thought, the bird suddenly shuddered in the air as the wind overcame it and pushed it farther back.

Then Petronus saw the cloud piling up on the horizon to the northwest.

He needed no mathematics to calculate the distance. He needed no time at all to know exactly what it was and what it meant.

Windwir.

Stunned, he slid to his knees, his eyes never leaving the tower of smoke that rose westward and north of Caldus Bay. It was close enough that he could see the flecks of fire in it as it roiled and twisted its way into the sky.

" 'Oh my children,' " Petronus whispered, quoting the First Gospel of P'Andro Whym, " 'what have you done to earn the wrath of heaven?' "

Jin Li Tam

Jin Li Tam bit back her laughter and let the fat Overseer try to reason with her.

Copyright © 2009 by Ken Scholes


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