Excerpt from Stephen Deas' THE ADAMANTINE PALACE


Amazon just started shipping this novel, so the excerpt couldn't come at a more opportune time!

Here's the blurb for Stephen Deas' The Adamantine Palace (Canada, USA, Europe):

The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemicly was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-players that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses. The Empire has grown fat. And now one man wants it for himself. A man prepared to poison the king just as he has poisoned his own father. A man prepared to murder his lover and bed her daughter. A man fit to be king? But uknown to him there are flames on the way. A single dragon has gone missing. And even one dragon on the loose, unsubdued, returned to its full intelligence, its full fury, could spell disaster for the Empire. But because of the actions of one unscrupulous mercenary the rivals for the throne could soon be facing hundreds of dragons . . . Stephen Deas has written a fast moving and action-fuelled fantasy laced with irony, a razor sharp way with characters, dialogue to die for and dragons to die by.

Enjoy!
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Prologue – Jehal

Prince Jehal felt the dragon take to the air. Curled up inside a saddlebag, he couldn’t see a thing. But that didn’t matter. He could see it in his mind, exactly and precisely. He felt every stride as the dragon accelerated. He knew exactly when the dragon would make one last bound and unfurl its wings. He felt himself grow heavier as the dragon rose up into the air.

The bag smelled slightly of rotten meat. Jehal wriggled and stretched as best he could, trying to make himself more comfortable in the tiny space. He forced himself to breathe slowly, suppressing the edge of panic that threatened to blossom inside him. Small spaces had never agreed with him, and the smell made him uneasy. It made him wonder what the bag had been used for before. Carrying dragon snacks was the obvious answer.

Is that me? Am I the snack of the day today?

The absurdity of the thought calmed him. Queen Aliphera was as shrewd as anyone, but she was also besotted. Jehal had come to know what that looked like, even in a dragon-queen.

The dragon stopped climbing and began to glide. Officially, Jehal was indisposed. A great deal of effort had gone into his illness, every bit of it spent so that he and Queen Aliphera could be alone and unobserved. All he had to do now was stay hidden until the queen found an excuse to fly away from her riders, her dragon-knights. Months of work and then days of waiting for exactly the right weather, all for half an hour of absolute privacy.

He clenched his fists. One of his feet had cramped. He wriggled his toes. When that didn’t work, he tried to rearrange himself so his feet were underneath the rest of him. That didn’t work either, but by the time he gave up trying, the cramp had gone away anyway. Eventually, he fell asleep.

* * *

He woke up to see grey sky pouring in above him. Every muscle in his legs was shouting at him, demanding to be stretched. He yawned, stood up and grinned at what he saw. They were high
in the sky, skimming the base of the clouds. Aliphera liked to do that.

Jehal looked around, scanning the horizon, but there were no other dragons in sight. Finally, he looked at Aliphera. She was still half strapped into her saddle, but she was looking back at
him, grinning. Her eyes were very wide. They’d flirted with each other for months, in little ways, little stinging touches where no one else would see.

Jehal grinned back. Anticipation, that was the key. And now she had him alone at last.

‘You look a little dishevelled, Prince Jehal.’

Carefully, Jehal hauled himself out of his saddlebag. He crawled the few feet towards her, mindful of the thousand or so feet of empty space between him and the ground. It would be stupid to get this far only to plunge to his death.

‘I want you, here and now.’

She laughed, but he saw a flash of excitement in her face. ‘You’re being silly. We’d fall.’

‘I don’t care.’ He didn’t let her answer, but covered her mouth with his own. One hand went to the soft skin of her neck. He let it slide down, only an inch or two, and then stopped.

‘Loosen that harness,’ he said. ‘I want to ride with you. Let me hold you while you find a place to land.’

‘Yes.’ They fumbled together at the clasps and straps that held her fast. Now and then they let their fingers stray.

Finally, the last restraint fell away. Jehal lifted her up, just enough so he could slide into the saddle behind her. He let his hands run slowly down her body and felt her shudder.

‘I can’t tell you just how long I’ve been waiting for this,’ she breathed.

With a sudden jerk, he rammed his head into the small of her back. She staggered and gasped as he rose and drove forward, punching her as she tried to turn. Once, twice, knocking her forward. Her arms flailed and then she was gone, off into the sky. Jehal sat back down and pressed himself into the saddle, gripping the dragon with his legs while he strapped himself in. A part of him couldn’t believe it had been so easy.

The dragon tucked in its wings and dived after her, but that was simply what any hunting dragon was trained to do. It couldn’t catch her. All it could do was land somewhere close by and then stay there, howling, pleading for help. Not that anyone could survive a fall like that.

He clung on and peered over the dragon’s shoulder, listening to Queen Aliphera’s screams, watching until the ground reached out and swallowed her whole.

‘That’s exactly what your daughter said,’ he hissed.

Hatchling Gold

When a dragon-rider wishes a new dragon for his eyrie, he will write to one of the dragon-kings or -queens, petitioning them for their favours. If the rider is wise, the letter will come with a gift. It is understood that the more generous the gift, the more likely the rider will receive a favourable response. This gift is the first of many payments and is made long before a suitable dragon is even born. This gift is called the Hatchling Gold.

Naturally, as dragons are few and lords are fickle, nothing is ever certain.

* * *

Sollos

There were three riders. Sollos had watched them land away in the fields beyond the edge of the forest. They’d all come down on the back of a single war-dragon, and one of them had stayed behind, keeping the dragon calm. The other two had walked straight towards the trees. Their pace was brisk and full of purpose. Sollos watched as they passed his position and then padded silently after them. They were dressed from head to toe in their dragonscale armour, and Sollos began to think they might as well have let the dragon come with them. It might have made less noise.

He took careful breaths, following behind. As long as the other men who’d been waiting for the riders to arrive didn’t get a sudden case of cold feet.

A few hundred yards into the trees, the ground rose into a small mound topped with a standing stone. It had been a place of worship once, back in the days of the old gods, but now the forest
had all but swallowed it. The riders went straight up the mound and stopped at the top.

‘This is it, isn’t it?’ said one, in the kind of whisper of someone to whom the whole concept of being secretive was something of a mystery.

The other one was even worse. He leaned against the stone and started fiddling with a tinderbox. Sollos couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing, or rather what he was smelling. The idiot was smoking pipeweed.

‘It’s almost insulting, isn’t it,’ breathed a voice in his ear. Sollos froze for an instant, and then relaxed. Kemir. ‘They’re as subtle as a mace in the face.’

‘I wish you wouldn’t do that, cousin.’ Sollos hissed the words between his teeth, hardly daring to make a sound. He could actually feel Kemir’s lips brushing his ear, that’s how near he was. He
found it uncomfortably distracting. How did Kemir get that close without him ever noticing?

‘Don’t worry. We’re downwind, and the men waiting for them are on the other side of the mound. They’ve been there for a while now. They’re getting impatient.’

‘They’re probably wondering why this lot didn’t just crash in through the branches on the back of their dragon.’

‘I was beginning to wonder the same.’

‘The men on the other side of the mound. Are there still just three or are there more now?’

‘Still three.’

Sollos took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He still wasn’t sure what to make of all this. He’d had his orders, whispered in his ear, and they’d been quite clear. A pair of Queen Shezira’s dragon-knights were going to come to the forest around these parts. They were coming to buy something, something meant to harm the queen. He and Kemir, a pair of sell-swords, were going to stop them. The gold in their pockets came from the queen’s knight-marshal, but if anything went wrong they were nothings and nobodies with no ties to anyone who mattered. That was as much as Sollos knew.

‘Did you see what they brought with them?’

Kemir didn’t answer.

‘They must have brought something.’

‘Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they’re going to do our work for us and gut this pair of traitors for their gold. If they did, it’s small. I didn’t see anything.’

The whispering voice hadn’t given any clues as to what the something was, either, only that trying to buy it should cost these dragon-knights their lives. Sollos was to wait until the riders
met whoever was doing the selling, then discreetly kill the lot of them. The riders would be carrying gold. He could help himself to that, the whisper had said. As for the rest, he would leave the bodies alone and untouched. They’d be found in the morning, by which time Sollos would be back in his barracks. He’d wake up as shocked as anyone else to find that two of the queen’s riders had been found murdered.

Which was all very well, but there were three dragon-knights, not two.

‘There’s another one,’ he whispered. ‘A third rider came with them. He stayed with the dragon.’

There was a long pause. He could almost hear Kemir thinking. ‘We have to let that one go, don’t we?’

Sollos nodded. There were supposed to be two riders. From short range with the advantage of surprise, he and Kemir could be reasonably sure of taking down one apiece. A third, though, forewarned, with a dragon at his back, that was a different matter.

‘What do you make of them? Not the riders, the others. The sellers.’

‘Nervous. They’re not swordsmen. They’ll run, not fight. We’ll have to take them down quickly.’

Sollos shuddered; Kemir’s lips were still brushing his ear. He edged away. ‘When the purse changes hands, that’s when we act. I’ll deal with the rider who gives over the money, you shoot the other. Whoever is holding the purse is mine too. Then we go after the rest. Closest first.’ From the corner of his eye Sollos saw movement at the top of the hill. He shooed Kemir away and began to creep closer. As he did, he took a careful grip of his dragonbone longbow. It was an old weapon, taller than he was, honed from the wing of some monster of a war-dragon by the looks of it. Too long and clumsy for his liking at such close quarters, but guaranteed to punch through as much steel and dragonscale as a man could wear and still stand upright.

‘Have you got what we want?’

‘Have you got our money?’

‘Show me you’ve got what we want.’

At the top of the hill three men had joined the dragon-knights.

As if all the noise they’d already made hadn’t been enough, now they were arguing. Sollos had a fleeting vision of simply walking into the middle of them and seeing how many he could stab before they even noticed he was there.

‘Show us the gold, friend. Then you see what you get for it.’

‘No. You first.’

‘Oh, just show them the money. Here . . .’

One of them lit a torch. Slowly, Sollos rested an arrow against the string of his bow. One of the riders was holding what looked like a purse. Any moment now . . . And they were making it all
so easy. The purse changed hands. As Sollos let fly, he saw the other rider stagger. He didn’t even look to see what his own arrow had done, but reached at once for a second.

Both riders were down. The man holding the purse was still exactly where he’d been a moment ago. Sollos could see his eyes, slowly tearing themselves away from the riches in his hands as the dragon-knights toppled over.

The dragon-knights’ torch lay on the ground, still burning, lighting the faces of the three strangers still standing on the top of the hillock. Sollos fired again. This time his aim was a little low. The arrow hit the man with the purse in the jaw and ripped off half his face. Good enough. He could see the last two clearly. Still they didn’t think to run. Sollos dropped his bow and charged at them, first one hand and then the other drawing a pair of long knives out of his belt.

The furthest pitched suddenly backwards with another of Kemir’s arrows in his chest. Finally the last one turned to flee, but by then Sollos was barely yards away and coming at a sprint. A leap and a lunge and Sollos buried both knives into the man’s back, one high and one low. That turned out not to be enough, so he slit the man’s throat for good measure. Then got up and looked at himself. His shirt was damp and glistening.

‘Shit. I’m covered in blood.’

‘Better stay away from that dragon, then.’ Kemir was standing by the torch, his longbow held loosely at the ready.

‘Are you sure there aren’t any more of them?’ Sollos scurried back to where he’d dropped his own bow. Without it, he felt naked.

Kemir shrugged. ‘As sure as I can be. You never know.’

‘We should leave. There’s still a rider and a dragon waiting for those two to come back. The purse is there. Get it.’

He watched Kemir stoop and pick something up off the ground. Something that jingled with a very pleasant sound. Sollos smiled.

Kemir frowned. ‘This is a lot, Sollos. Are you sure we’re supposed to take it all?’

‘That’s the deal.’

That would normally have been enough for Kemir, but he was still standing there, frowning. As Sollos walked towards him, Kemir reached down and picked up something else. ‘Have a look at this.’

‘Put it back! Whatever it is, it’s not ours.’

‘Yes, yes, I will, but I want you to look at it first.’

Sollos shook his head. ‘Leave it alone.’ Do exactly what was asked, no more and no less. Wasn’t that a simple enough rule to live by? For Kemir, apparently not, and it was this sort of thing that always got him into trouble. ‘Just put it back,’ he snapped as he reached him, so of course Kemir thrust it into his hands instead.

‘What is it?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t care.’ What Sollos was holding was a spherical bottle made of glass, stoppered and sealed with wax at the top. It fitted nicely into the palm of his hand, and from the way its weight shifted was filled with some sort of liquid. In the darkness he couldn’t quite see.

Sollos frowned. If it was a liquid, it was a very heavy one. Then he reminded himself that he really didn’t want to know. Quickly, he put the bottle back down where Kemir had found it and took Kemir’s arm, dragging him away.

* * *

Much later, when Sollos and Kemir were both long gone, the shadow of a woman slipped out from among the trees and stepped carefully around the corpses. The woman bent down where Kemir and Sollos had stood. She picked up the bottle and crept silently away.

3 commentaires:

Mulluane said...

I wanted to make a note for those of you who want a copy of this book as badly as I do. As of now, this is a UK release only.

Amazon US has 5 copies from 3rd party sellers but the book is supposed to be published here by Berkley Ace sometime in the future. (Per a comment made by Stephen Deas on a forum board.)

Amazon Canada lists a preorder and a release date there of May 1st.

Meanwhile, the excerpt just makes me want it even more!

trish said...

Hi, Pat! I didn't see a way to contact you on your site via email, so I hope that leaving a comment is okay.

As a quick introduction, my name is Trish and I blog over at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? I recently launched a virtual book tour company called TLC Book Tours with another book blogger friend.

I'm coordinating a virtual book tour during the month of May/June for a young adult fantasy crossover book entitled Starfinder. I think this book would be a great fit for your site and wanted to know if you would be interested in reading and reviewing this book on your site!

Here's the synopsis:

What would life be like if you could fly? Young Moth of Calio wants to know. He’s obsessed with the airships around his mountain home and dreams of becoming a Skyknight one day, to take to the air like his heroes. So begins Starfinder, the first book of The Skylords trilogy. Not only is it a story of coming of age for the two main protagonists, Moth and his friend Fiona, but it’s also about mankind’s coming of age. The world of Starfinder is very much like our own at the turn of the last century, with steam trains and electricity and budding technologies. And thanks to the inventive genius of Fiona’s grandfather Rendor, humans have finally taken to the sky, not only in giant airships but in small, ornithopter contraptions called dragonflies as well. Not everyone is happy to see mankind’s progress, however. For thousands of years, the mysterious and powerful race known as the Skylords have jealously guarded their heavenly domain. In all this time, an uneasy peace has existed between humans and Skylords, but Moth and Fiona are about to breach the magical boundary between the two worlds.

You can find out more about the author and the book at our site:

http://tlcbooktours.com/2009/02/john-marco-author-of-starfinder-on-tour-mayjune-2009/

As a tour host, we would send you a copy of Starfinder right away. We would ask that you read and review it, and post your review on a certain date (mutually agreed upon) during the author's tour in May/June. We don't expect only favorable reviews, just honest and fair ones. John is very nice and is open to guest posts, interviews, Q & A's, and whatever else a blogger could dream up!

Let me know if you'd like to host John Marco and his book, Starfinder, on your site in May or June!

Thanks for your consideration, Pat!

Trish

stephen deas said...

Yes, Berkley Ace. As recently noted elsewhere, I know they've sent copies out for quotes. I expect it to be out in the US this summer but that's just my personal guess.