Thanks to the folks at Transworld, here's an exclusive excerpt from Steven Erikson's Forge of Darkness (Canada, USA, Europe). It features the three Sons of Darkness; Anomander Rake, Silchas Ruin, and Andarist!
Here's the blurb:
Forge of Darkness: Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...
It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power… and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...
Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.
Even bad habits offered pleasure. In her youth, Hish Tulla had given her heart away with what others had seen as careless ease, as if it was a thing without much worth, but it had not been like that at all. She’d simply wanted it in someone else’s hands. The failing was that it was so easily won, and therefore became a thing of little worth for the recipient. Could no one see the hurt she felt, each and every time she
was cast aside, sorely used, battered by rejection? Did they think she welcomed such feelings, the crushing despond of seeing the paucity of her worth? ‘Oh, she will heal quickly enough, will our dear Hish. She always does . . .’
A habit like a rose, and on the day of its blossoming, why, see how each petal revealed its own unique script, with smaller habits hiding within the larger one. Upon this petal, precise instructions on how to force out the smile, the elegant wave of the hand and the shrug. Upon another petal, lush and carmine, a host of words and impulses to resurrect her vivacious nature; to glide her across every room no matter
how many or how gauging the eyes that tracked her. Oh and she held tight upon the stem of that rose, didn’t she?
The horse was quiescent beneath her; she could feel the gelding’s comforting heat against her thighs, her calves. Beneath the branches of the tree under which she had taken shelter, evading the sudden downpour, she could see, through the slanting streams, the three men standing now before the basalt gravestone, out in the clearing where crouched the crypts and tombs, as the rain poured down as if seeking to drown them all.
She had known the pleasures of two of the three brothers, and, though she was no longer inclined, the last one was now likely beyond her reach, for he was soon to be wed, and it seemed that for Andarist his love was rare enough, precious enough, that once set at the foot of one woman, never again would he look elsewhere, never again
would he even so much as to glance away. That flighty, vain daughter of Jaen Enes knew not her fortune; of that Hish was certain, for she saw too much of herself in Enesdia. New to womanhood, eager to love and drunk with its power, how soon before she chafed at her bridling?
Hish Tulla was mistress to her House. She had no husband and would now take no one into her life. At her side, these days, was the desiccated remnant of her old habit, the petals almost black; the thorny stem stained and thickly smeared with something like vermilion wax. It served the role of an old friend, confidante to her confessions, ever wise in its recognition, never spurred into judgement. And these days, when she crossed a room, the eyes that tracked her . . . well, she no longer
cared what they thought they saw. The woman older than her years, the spinster of many scars, the wild slave to carnal excess now returned to the earth, wisely subdued, though still ready for a moment’s bright vivacity, the flash of a smile.
The rain fell off; a curtain drifting down in sudden dissolution as the sun’s light broke through once more. Water still ran from the leaves, slicking the black branches, dripping down upon her waxed cloak like old tears. Clucking, Hish Tulla edged her mount forward. Stones crunched wetly under hoofs, and the three brothers turned at the sound.
They had ridden up from the south track, ignoring the torrent from the sky, and she concluded that they’d not seen her as they reined in before the crypt, dismounted and walked to stand before the unmarked plinth sealing the tomb. The body of their father, Nimander, lay in eternal repose within that crypt, in the hollowed-out trunk of a blackwood tree, but two years dead, and it was clear that his three sons were not yet done with the memory of him.
Witnessing the scene, Hish had recognized its privacy, the lowering of guard, and in their expressions now she thought she could see their disapproval and, perhaps, faint dismay. Raising a gloved hand as she walked her horse closer, she said, ‘I was sheltering from the rain, brothers, when you rode into sight. Forgive my intrusion, it was not intended.’
Silchas Ruin, to whom Hish had given ecstatic adoration for four months a few years ago, before he lost interest, was the first to speak. ‘Lady Hish, we knew we had an audience, but the shadows beneath the tree hid from us your identity. As you say, it was but chance, but be assured, you are always welcome in our eyes.’
Her old lovers were consistently courteous, probably because she never fought to hold on to any of them. The heart thus broken had no strength and even less will, and but crawled away with a weak smile and welling eyes. In their courtesy, she suspected, there was pity. ‘Thank you,’ she replied. ‘I thought only to identify myself, and now
I shall ride on and leave you to your remembrance.’
To that, it was Anomander who said, ‘Lady Hish Tulla, you misunderstand our purpose here. We require no cenotaph to remember our beloved father. No, in truth, it was curiosity that brought us to this place.’
Hish frowned. ‘Lords, I am afraid I do not understand.’
She saw Andarist look away, as if he would claim no part in any of
this. She knew he meant her no disrespect, but then, he had no reason
to pity her and so cared little for courtesy.
These three brothers had a way of standing apart, even when they
stood together. All were tall, and each shared something both magnetic
and vulnerable. They could pull entire worlds around their selves, yet
not once yield to pride, or arrogance.
White-skinned, red-eyed, Silchas Ruin waved a long-fingered hand,
directing her attention to the basalt plinth. ‘By our father’s own
command,’ he said, ‘the words carved upon his gravestone hide on the
other side, facing in. They were intended for him alone, though he has
no eyes with which to see, and no thoughts left to consider.’
‘That is . . . unusual.’
Anomander’s sun-burnished face, the colour of pale gold, now smiled at her. ‘Lady, your touch is no less soft for the years between us.’ Hish felt her eyes widen at those words, though, upon a moment’s reflection, perhaps more at the open affection in his tone. She met his gaze, searchingly, but saw nothing ironic or cruel. Anomander had been the first man she had taken as lover. They had been very young.
She remembered times of laughter, and tenderness, and the innocence of the unsure. Why had it ended? Oh, yes. He went to war.
‘We are of a mind to prise loose this stone,’ said Silchas.
At that Andarist turned to his brother. ‘You are, Silchas. Because of your need to know everything. But the words will be Azathanai. To you they will mean nothing, and that is as it should be. They were never meant for us, and to the bite of our eyes they will answer with bitter curse.’
Silchas Ruin’s laughter was soft. ‘These are your days of superstition, Andarist. Understandably.’ So dismissing his brother, he said, ‘Lady Hish, from here we ride on to the building site of Andarist’s new house. And awaiting us there is a stone-carver of the Azathanai, who has arrived with the hearthstone Anomander has commissioned as a wedding gift.’ He gestured again, in that careless way she remembered from years past. ‘This was but a minor detour, an impulse, in fact. Perhaps we will force the stone, perhaps not.’
Impulsive was not a behaviour Hish would associate with SilchasRuin; indeed, not with any of these brothers. If their father chose to gift those words to darkness, it was in honour of the woman he had served all his life. She met Anomander’s eyes again. ‘Upon opening a crypt, you will all draw the breath of a dead man’s air, and that is
truth, not superstition. What follows upon that, curse or ill, will be for seers to glean.’ She gathered up her reins. ‘Pray, withhold yourselves for a moment and grant me the time to depart this yard.’
‘You are riding to Kharkanas?’ Silchas asked.
‘I am.’ If he thought she would explain further, he was mistaken. She nudged her mount forward, directing it towards the track that cut over the hump of the hill. The crypts on all sides of this ancient burial ground seemed to crouch, as if awaiting the pounding of yet more rain, and the moss draped over many of them was so verdant it startled the eye.
Hish Tulla felt their regard following her as she rode on; wondered, briefly, at what words they might now pass among them, faintly amused perhaps, or derisive, as old recollections – at least from Anomander and Silchas – awakened, if not regret, then chagrin. But they would laugh, to break free of the discomfort, and shrug away their own impetuous years, now well behind them.
And then, in all likelihood, Silchas would exhort his muscles to prise loose the gravestone, to look well upon the hidden words etched into the black, dusty basalt. He would, of course, be unable to read them, but he might recognize a hieroglyph here, another there. He might glean something of his father’s message to Mother Dark, like catching a fragment of conversation one was not meant to hear.
In the dead man’s breath there would come guilt, bitter and stale, for the three men to taste, and Andarist would know fury – for that taste was not something to bring into a new home for himself and his wife to be, was it? He had every right to be superstitious – omens ever marked great changes in life.
A smell bitter and stale, a smell of guilt. Little different, in fact, from that of a dead rose.
* * *
‘To this day,’ Anomander muttered, ‘my heart swells at the sight of her.’
‘Just your heart then, brother?’
‘Silchas, will you ever listen well to what I say? I choose my words with precision. Perhaps, in truth, you speak only of yourself.’
‘It seems that I do, then. She remains lovely to my eyes, I admit, and if I find myself desiring her even now, there is no shame in admitting it. Even now, I think, we but spin in her wake, like leaves from a fallen tree.’
Andarist had listened in silence to this, unable to share in any tender memories of the beautiful woman who had ridden out from the shadows beneath the tree. Yet, in that moment, he saw an opportunity to draw out his brothers, in particular Silchas – and perhaps it would be enough to dissuade him from his intentions. So he faced Silchas and said, ‘Brother, why did you end it with her?’
Silchas Ruin’s white face bore droplets and streaks of rain as would a visage carved in alabaster. He preceded his reply with a sigh, and then said, ‘Andarist, I wish I knew. No, I think I realized that she was . . . ephemeral. Like a wisp of fog, I could not grasp hold. For all that she lavished attention upon me, it seemed there was something missing.’ He shook his head, shrugged helplessly. ‘Elusive as a dream, is Hish Tulla.’
‘And is this unchanged in her?’ Andarist asked. ‘She has taken no husband.’
‘I imagine her suitors have all given up,’ Silchas answered. ‘Each draws near, only to see too sharply this own failings, and in shame pulls away, never to return.’
‘You may well be right,’ Anomander mused.
‘She seems to have suffered nothing in her solitude,’ Silchas observed, ‘nor do I see any weakness in her attention to grace and perfection. In elegant remoteness, she arrives like a work of high art, and you may well desire to edge ever closer, seeking flaws in the maker’s hand, but the closer you get, the more she blurs before your eyes.’
Andarist saw that Anomander was studying Silchas intently, yet when he spoke it was clear that his thoughts had travelled tracks other than those consuming Silchas. ‘Brother, do you see Hish Tulla as a potential ally?’
‘In truth, I cannot say,’ Silchas replied. ‘She seems the definition of neutrality, does she not?’
‘She does,’ Anomander admitted. ‘Well, let us consider it again, at a later time. For now, will you have at this gravestone?’
Eyes closing, Andarist awaited his brother’s answer.
Silchas was a moment before replying. ‘I see more rain, and we have another league before us. The valley floor promises mud and treacherous footing. I suggest we set this matter aside for now, as well. Be at ease, Andarist. I would do nothing to endanger your future, and though I have little time for omens and such, I do not await what awaits you. So, if you’ll forgive my occasional amusement, let us not cross the lame dog’s path.’
‘I thank you,’ Andarist replied, glancing over to meet Silchas’s warm gaze. ‘And will endeavour to think no ill of your amusement, irritating and patronizing as it may be.’
The smile on Silchas’s face now split into a grin, and he laughed. ‘Lead us on, then. Your brothers would meet this famous mason and look well upon his offering.’
Andarist looked across at Anomander. ‘One day I hope to answer your sacrifice, brother, with one as worthy and as noble as yours.’
‘Where love is the coin, no sacrifice is too great, Andarist. And with that wealth, who among us would hesitate? No, I but teased with you, brother. I trust I will be well pleased with the giving of this gift, and I hope you and your bride find the same pleasure in its receiving.’
‘I am minded,’ Andarist said after a moment, ‘of our father’s gift to us. Mother Dark has rewarded his loyalty through the elevation of his sons, and you, Anomander, have been lifted the highest among us.’
‘And the point you wish to make?’
‘Would you have permitted Silchas the desecration of Father’s tomb?’
‘Desecration?’ Silchas said in shocked disbelief. ‘All I sought was—’
‘The sundering of a seal,’ Andarist finished. ‘What else could it be called?’
‘The moment is past,’ Anomander said. ‘There will be no more said on the matter. Brothers, we approach a precious time. Let us value it as it should be valued. The blood ever flows between us, and ever shall, and that is our father’s greatest gift to us – would either of you argue against that?’
‘Of course not,’ Silchas replied in a growl.
‘And though I am now elevated to First Son of Darkness, I will not stand alone. I see you both with me, at my side. Peace shall be our legacy – we will achieve it together. What must be done I cannot do alone.’
After a long moment of riding, Silchas seemed to shake himself, and then he said, ‘Hish Tulla looks fondly upon you, Anomander. She will see the nobility in what you seek.’
‘I hope so, Silchas.’
And Andarist said, ‘Though I do not know her as well as either of you, by reputation alone she is known for affability and a certain . . . integrity, and not once have I heard a word of spite directed towards Hish Tulla, which is in itself remarkable.’
‘Then shall I approach her?’ Anomander asked, looking from one brother to the other.
And both nodded.
Anomander had done well, Andarist reflected, in reminding them of what awaited them in the time ahead. A struggle was coming, and in Mother Dark’s name they would find themselves at the very centre of it. They could afford no divisiveness or contention between them. Through the branches of the trees lining the track, the sky was clear, the glare of the sun like molten gold on the leaves.
‘It seems,’ said Silchas, ‘the way ahead has seen no rain, Andarist. I imagine your builders are well pleased at that.’
Andarist nodded. ‘It is said that the Azathanai have power over both earth and sky.’
‘These are Tiste lands,’ Anomander countered. ‘Purake lands. I do not recall my invitation extending to the extravagant use of sorcery. Though,’ he added with a half-smile, ‘I find I cannot entirely object to a cloudless sky over us.’
‘We shall arrive with steam rising from us,’ Silchas observed, laughing, ‘like children born of chaos.’