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The River of Shadows

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The River of Shadows

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Author: Robert V. S. Redick
Publisher: Gollancz, 2011
Del Rey / Ballantine, 2011
Series: The Chathrand Voyage: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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The latest novel in Robert V.S Redick's stunning and original fantasy epic is a taut race against time that takes the Chathrand across the seas in a desperate bid to stop the sorcerer Arunis unleashing the Swarm of Night.

From the mysterious River of Shadows to the Infernal Forest, to the Island Wilderness Pazel and his companions face a phatasmogoric journey through altered relaities, a nightmare journey which offers glimpses of what might have been while taking them into the terror of what is to come. Will Arunis use the cursed Nilstone to end the world?

This is a rich fantasy of nightmares and unexpected beauty and is proof positie that Redick is one of the most exciting new talents in fantasy.


Lost Souls

21 Ilbrin 941
220th day from Etherhorde

It might have been a palace window in Etherhorde: round, red-tinted, firelit from within, but it was a living eye set in a wall of sapphire lunging east through a cobalt sea. Beneath the eye, shattered scales, and a wound that gaped long and raw as the opened belly of a bull. Lower still a mouth like a sea-cave, and from it a hot, salt, rancid wind that took the little skiff in a foul embrace.

No one moved. The beast had come upon them so quickly that they'd not yet even turned the skiff about. The quartermaster tried to squeeze out a command, but no sound came. On the second try he managed a whisper: "Lie down. Lie down!"

The others obeyed him, curling down against the deck, and the quartermaster, dropping the helm, did the same. The skiff had been tacking neatly across the inlet, but as the monster closed it began to buck and heave like a wild stallion, and they clung to the thwarts and cleats and oarlocks for dear life. The creature had a serpent's body but its head was leonine, maned in shell-encrusted hair, the strands thick as old halyards and shedding tons of seawater as it rose.

Thasha Isiq lifted her eyes. It was close enough to touch with a boathook; she could have leaped from the skiff right into that blue-green mane. She felt someone tugging her arm; she heard the quartermaster, whose name was Fiffengurt, begging her not to stare. But she could not look away. The eye blinked, huge and terrible and desperate and sad. She saw chipped fangs and a black torrent of tongue. She saw an iron collar buried in the mane, and a bit like a rusted tree-trunk cutting into the flesh at the back of the mouth. She saw a chain fused to the bit and whipping up out of the foam. All this in a split second: just before the chain struck the hull and jerked the boat half out of the waves and snapped her head sharply back.

When the red flash of pain subsided Thasha raised her head again. The waves were smaller, but the boat had sprung a bubbling leak. Frightened curses, desperate looks. Pazel Pathkendle, Thasha's closest friend in the world, was pointing at a spot some twenty yards off the stern. A huge loop of the serpent was rising there, turning like a section of a gigantic waterwheel, each blue-green scale as large as a soldier's breastplate. Farther east another loop broke the surface; and beyond it that terrible head rose again, and the wound flexed and twisted like a second mouth. The beast was heading for the cape across the inlet, with its fishing village and a cluster of rocky islets a few miles offshore. Behind the largest of these the Chathrand stood at anchor, waiting for their return. Thasha could just hear the lookouts starting to howl.

" 'Ent no blary end to that thing!" said one of the Turachs, his eyes on the oozing body of the serpent.

"Quiet, marine," whispered his commander.

"It is dropping lower," said the swordsman, Hercól Stanapeth.

So it was: lower, and lower still, until they could no longer see the horizon beneath the loop of flesh. The farther coil was lowering too, and the creature's head was gone from sight. Then Fiffengurt hissed through his teeth. The water around the skiff had begun to boil.

They were in the center of a vast school of sharks, trailing the monster like a ribbon of mercury, packed so tight that they jostled one another, flicking spray into the boat. The sharks were slender, man-sized, their dead eyes round as coins. Thasha could feel the thump of each snout against the hull.

Their numbers seemed as endless as the monster's length. But eventually the school was past, and at almost the same time the arch of flesh sank out of sight. Nothing remained of the serpent but a trail of foam.

Fiffengurt and the soldiers made the sign of the Tree. Mr. Bolutu, the older dlömu, began a prayer of thanks to Lord Rin. But Pazel rose carefully to his feet. Thasha watched as he shielded his eyes, studying the creature's wake.

So little to him, she thought suddenly. A boy barely seventeen, the age she'd be in six weeks, dark like any tarboy, and a bit darker yet by blood. Thin arms, fierce eyes. Did he care about her anymore? Did she care about him? Did it mean something, that notion, I care, I love, after yesterday? He might well have despaired. He might hate her casually, as part of hating everything: the new world and the old, the Chathrand and the place she'd anchored, the frightened villagers, the savage Gods.

When the prayer ended, Sergeant Haddismal, a hugely muscled Turach with skin like boot leather, twisted around to glare at Mr. Fiffengurt.

"Couldn't believe these eyes," he said, pointing, as though they might have been confused with some other pair. "You dropped the tiller, man! What kind of mucking pilot are you?"

"The kind that brought us safe out of the Nelluroq," said Hercól.

"Didn't ask you, Stanapeth, did I?" snapped the Turach. "But what I will ask, once more, is what in the nine putrid Pits we're doing out here? What did you lot find yesterday that's got you too scared to let the men set foot on land? It has to be something worse than a few more of these fish-eyed abominids."

The pair of dlömu just looked at him, silver eyes shining against the black, black skin. Their indifference to his abuse only fueled Haddismal's rage. He shouted at Pazel to sit down, and at Mr. Fiffengurt to bail, although the quartermaster was doing so already. Looking again at Hercól, the sergeant gestured at the mighty ship that was their destination.

"Just tell me the Gods-damned truth. Eight hundred men goin' mad with thirst, and you come back from the village with two little parlor-casks of fresh water, and say that's it, lads, make do till further notice. What do we get by way of explanation? Nothing. Soon my men are on riot duty, though they're so dry themselves they'd lick sweat off a pig. What can I tell 'em? Nothing. And then, just to prove that you're mad as moon dogs, you announce that we're going to take a jaunt over to the empty side of the inlet, so that you can run about in the dunes. What d'ye find there? Nothing."

"We'll be back on the Chathrand by sunset," said Thasha.

"Sooner," said Fiffengurt, "if we get back to rowing, that is."

Haddismal scowled over his shoulder at the western shore, already a mile behind them. "Pointless," he said. "Why, it's just a spit of sand! Any fool can see--Eh, Muketch! Sit your arse down!"

But Pazel, as if he had forgotten the hated nickname, remained standing in the bows. He was looking at the waves around the skiff, and Thasha noticed that they were ragged and oddly churned.

"Sergeant Haddismal?" said Pazel.

"Sit down! What is it?" barked the Turach.

"Take off your armor."

The soldier's mouth fell open. He raised a hand broad as a shovel to strike the youth. But the hand stopped in midair, and his lip curled as if with an unwelcome thought. He glanced at the other soldier, who was already unbuckling his hauberk, and it occurred to Thasha that the previous Turach commander had died in the very act of beating Pazel about the head, and then the boat shot skyward like a rock from a sling, and split across the keel, and Thasha was flying, spinning, shards of hull and mast about her as the tail of the diving serpent snapped like a whip and was gone.

She caught a glimpse of Pazel, arms crossed to protect his face, crashing back into the sea as through a sheet of glass; then Thasha herself struck, headfirst. She barely slowed: the monster's descent had created a suction that dragged her down, and the cold and terror of sudden darkness nearly made her gasp. But she did not gasp: Thasha was an admiral's daughter, a thojmélé fighter, a survivor of the Nelluroq crossing. She held her breath and tore at her boots.

They were large and came off easily. The woolen coat took longer to escape; by the time she succeeded the water was black and leaden. Somehow she had the clarity of mind to swim sidelong to the downward current. Eight, ten, a dozen aching strokes. Then the current slackened and she aimed for what was left of the sunlight.

Dark flames, overhead. The sharks were returning. She pushed through them, heedless; all she wanted was air. When at last she broke the surface, the dorsal fins were flowing by her like small gray sails.

Her lungs made an ugly croak. There was barely room to tread water among the sharks. She waited for the first bite, cold and angry. But the sharks were dispersing, their collective mind on the serpent and the greater pickings it provided, and not one of them harmed her. On the crest of a wave she saw Pazel, naked to the chest, and Mr. Fiffengurt clinging to a broken plank. She heard Hercól shout for Haddismal but saw neither man.

Her head slipped under again. Her remaining clothes were going to kill her. She clawed at the knot that secured her sailor's breeches, but only managed to tighten it hopelessly. Giving up, she shed her blouse, then tugged off the breeches with brute force. Rising again, she found the shore at a glance and knew she would not drown.

There was Ibjen: supporting the younger Turach, who was limp. Thasha kicked toward them, doubting that the boy could swim a mile through swells and breakers with a dying marine. But before she had taken three strokes the other dlömic man, Bolutu, surfaced on the other side of the Turach and caught his arm. Together they bore the soldier away.

Copyright © 2011 by Robert V. S. Redick


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