Steven Erikson returns to the Malazan world with the second book in a dark and revelatory new epic fantasy trilogy, one that takes place a millennium before the events in his New York Times bestselling Malazan Book of the Fallen.
Fall of Light continues to tell the tragic story of the downfall of an ancient realm, a story begun in the critically acclaimed Forge of Darkness.
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. As 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...
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About the Author
Steven Erikson is an archaeologist and anthropologist and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His Malazan Book of the Fallen series, including The Crippled God, Dust of Dreams, Toll the Hounds and Reaper’s Gale, have met with widespread international acclaim and established him as a major voice in the world of fantasy fiction. The first book in the series, Gardens of the Moon, was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award. The second novel, Deadhouse Gates, was voted one of the ten best fantasy novels of 2000 by SF Site. He lives in Canada.
Read an Excerpt
Fall of Light
By Steven Erikson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Steven Erikson
All rights reserved.
Stepping out from the tent, renarr faced the bright morning light, and did not blink. behind her, on the other side of the canvas wall, the men and women were rising from their furs, voicing bitter complaints at the damp chill, snapping at the children to hurry with the hot, spiced wine. Within the tent, the air had been thick with the fug of lovemaking, the rank sweat of the soldiers now gone, the metallic bite of the oils with which the soldiers honed weapons and worked to keep leather supple, the breaths of drunkards and the faint undercurrent of vomit. But out here those smells were quickly swept away, clearing her head as she watched the camp stir awake.
She took coin no different from the other whores, although she did not need it. She made her false moans and moved beneath a man like a woman both eager and hungry, and when they shuddered, emptying their hoards into her and becoming weak and childlike, she held them as would a mother. In every way, then, she was the same as the others. Yet they kept her apart, forever pushed away from their close company. She was the adopted daughter of Lord Urusander, after all, Legion Commander and reluctant holder of the title of Father Light, and this was a privilege worthy of dreams, and if flower petals were scattered in her wake, they were the colour of blood. She had no friends. She had no followers. The company she kept had all the warmth of a murder of crows.
There was frost silvering the tufts of grass between the tents and the ground was frozen hard underfoot. The smoke rising from the cookfires did not rise far, drifting like confusion about the heads of the soldiers as they readied their gear.
She could see, in their agitated gestures, in the nerves betrayed by fumbling at buckles and the like, and could hear, in the surly tones of their conversations, that many now believed that this would be the day. A battle was coming, marking the beginning of the civil war. If she turned to her left, and could make her vision cut through the hillside to the northeast, through the unlit tumble of stone and earth and root and then out again into the morning light, she would see the camp of the Wardens, a camp little different from this one, barring these snow-burnished skins and hair now the hue of spun gold. And in that other camp's centre, on a standard rising from the command tent, she would make out the heraldry of Lord Ilgast Rend.
The day felt reluctant, but in an ironic way, like a woman feigning resistance on her first night, with rough hands pushing her thighs apart, the air then filling with its share of harsh breaths, ecstatic moans and clumsy grunts. And when it was all done with, amidst deep pools of satisfied heat, there would be blood on the grass.
Just so. And as Hunn Raal would say, had he the wits, justice is a sharp-edged thing and today it will be unsheathed, and wielded with a firm hand. The reluctance is an illusion, and as only Osserc knows, my resistance was indeed feigned, the day Urusander's son took me to rough bed. We are awash in lies.
Of course, it was equally likely that Lord Urusander would defy this seemingly inevitable destiny. Bind the woman's legs together, securing a chastity belt with thorns on both sides, to refuse satisfaction from either direction. He might well ruin things for everyone.
So, in its more prosaic details – the frost, the faint but icy wind, the plumes of breath and smoke, the distant neighing of horses and the occasional bray of a pack-mule; all the sounds of a day's dawning in the company of men, women, children and beasts – she could, if unmindful, believe the stream of life to be unbroken, with all its promise arrayed before it, bright as the morning sun.
She drew her cloak about her rounded shoulders, and set out through the camp. She passed between tent rows, stepping carefully to avoid the ropes and stakes, taking caution on the furrows that cut diagonally across her path, and the stubble left behind by the harvesting only a week past. She skirted the trenches carved deep into the soil where wastes floated on the sluggish surface of murky water, along with the bloated carcasses of rats. By mid-afternoon, when the sun warmed the air enough, mosquitoes would arrive in thick, spinning clouds, thirsty for blood. If soldiers stood arrayed in ranks, facing the enemy, there would be little comfort preceding the clash of weapons.
Though her mother had been a captain in the Legion, Renarr had little sense of the makings and leavings of war. For her, it was a force that had, until now, been locked in her past: a realm of sudden absences, hollow with losses and ill luck, where even sorrow felt cool to the touch. It was a place somewhere else, and to give it any thought was to feel as if she was stealing a stranger's memories. The veterans she took to her furs had known that realm, and each night, as the prospect of battle drew closer, she sensed in them a vague weariness, a kind of fatalism, dulling their eyes and stealing away what few words they were inclined to utter. And when they made love, it seemed an act of shame.
My mother died on a field of battle. She woke to a morning like this one, settling bleak eyes upon what the day would bring. Did she taste her death on the air? Did she see a vision of her rotting corpse, there in her own shadow? And would she have known, by sight, the weapon that would cut her down – a blinding flash drawing closer through the press? Did she look into the glaring eyes of her slayer, and see in them her death writ plain?
Or was she no different, on that morning, from every other fool in her company?
The questions seemed banal, like things covered in dust, the dust shaken free, blown into the air by a heavy but meaningless sigh. Renarr was not born to take sword in hand. The knife in its thin leather sheath at her hip was modest in its pragmatic necessity. She was not yet ready to imagine drawing it. As she walked, unburnished, her skin as yet unblessed by whiteness, soldiers surrounded her, and in the bright light, which rose like another world, a world unlike the night before, she was deftly ignored, seen but not seen, and the sight of her, if it yielded anything at all, raised surely little more than a pang of regret – the soft feel of her flesh, the weight she carried that surprised every man she straddled in the dark. None of these things were relevant now.
But there was power to be found nonetheless: the cheap woman as harbinger of regret, making faces turn away, making strong men bend to some task, frowns cascading on their bared brows. The pleasures of flesh made but a sharp fold in the sensations of life, and upon its opposite side that flesh knew pain and terrible damage. In a careless moment, one could mistake the stains of one for the other.
She was the reminder they did not want, not here and not now, and so she walked unaccosted, too solid to be a ghost, but shunned all the same. Of course, this could perhaps be said of all ghosts – the living ones at least – and if so, then the world was full of them, solid but not quite solid enough, and each day they wandered unseen, dreaming of a future moment, imagining their one perfect gesture that would yield in everyone the delicious shock of recognition.
The banner of the command tent, the golden sun in its blue field, was directly ahead now, and as she drew nearer she noted the gap surrounding that tent, as if some invisible barrier occupied the space. No soldiers edged closer and those that she could see, there on the periphery, were all turned away. Moments later, she could make out shouting from within, the harsh bark of anger, bridling: the voice of Vatha Urusander, commander of the Legion and her adoptive father.
Those who might have replied to Urusander spoke in low tones, with murmurs that failed in passing through canvas walls, and so it seemed as if their lord was arguing with himself, like a madman at war with the voices in his head. For a brief instant, Renarr imagined him alone in the command tent. And in she would stride, to witness his decrepit ignominy. She saw herself observing, strangely unaffected, as he swung to her a confused, baffled face. Then the moment passed and she approached the entrance, where the stained flap hung down like a beggar's blanket.
She was still a half-dozen strides from the tent when she saw that flap stir and then buckle to one side. Captain Hunn Raal emerged, drawing on his leather gauntlets as he straightened. His face was red beneath the bleached mask of his miraculous transformation, but then, it was always red. Pausing, he glanced around, gaze momentarily fixing on Renarr, who had slowed her steps. One of his cousins appeared behind him, Sevegg, and upon her round, chalky face there was a subtle flash of expression, which might have been pleasure, that then curled into a sneer when she saw Renarr.
Nudging her cousin, Sevegg stepped to one side and sketched a mocking bow. 'If you ache on this chill morning, dear girl,' she said, 'winter is not to blame.'
'I am well beyond aching,' Renarr replied, moving past.
But Hunn Raal reached out and touched her shoulder.
She halted, faced him.
'I think he would not delight in seeing you, Renarr,' the captain said, studying her with his bloodshot eyes. 'How many cloaks of defeat can one man wear?'
'You smell of wine,' Renarr replied.
She drew aside the flap and strode into the tent.
Their lord was not alone. Looking tired, Lieutenant Serap – two years older than her sister, Sevegg, and a stone heavier – sat to the man's left, in a battered camp-chair little different from the one bearing Urusander's weight. The map table was set up in the centre of the chamber, but it stood askew, as if it had been shoved or kicked. On its battered surface, the vellum map denoting the immediate area had pulled loose from its anchor stones on one end and the corners had curled up and around, as if eager to hide what it revealed.
With skin so white as to be almost glowing, Renarr's adoptive father was staring at the muddy canvas floor beyond his equally muddy boots. There was gold in his long hair now, streaking the silver. Virtually all among the Legion were now white-skinned.
Serap, her expression grave, cleared her throat and said, 'Good morning, Renarr.'
As soon as she began speaking, Urusander stood, grunting under his breath. 'Too many aches,' he muttered. 'Memories awaken in the bones first, and send pain to every muscle, and all this serves to remind a man of the years behind him.' Ignoring his adopted daughter, the lord faced Serap and seemed to study her quizzically for a moment. 'You've not seen my portrait yet, have you?'
Renarr saw the lieutenant blink, as if in surprise. 'No, milord, although I am told Kadaspala's talent was —'
'His talent?' Urusander bared his teeth in a humourless smile. 'Oh indeed, let us speak of his talent, shall we? Eye wedded to hand. Deft strokes of genius. And in this, my likeness is well captured in thinnest paint. You can look upon my face, on that canvas, Serap, and tell yourself how perfectly it renders depth, as if I stood in a world you could step into. And yet draw close, if you dare, and you'll find my face is naught but paint, thin as skin, with nothing behind it.' His smile was strained now. 'Nothing at all.'
'Milord, no painting can do other than that.'
'No. In any case, the portrait awaits a washing of white now, yes? Perhaps a sculpture, then? Some Azathanai artisan with the usual immeasurable talent. Dust on his hands and a chisel that shouts. But then, whenever has pure marble revealed the truth beneath the surface? The aches, the strains, the twinges springing from nowhere, as if every thread of nerve within has forgotten its own health.' Sighing, he faced the entrance. 'Even marble pits with time. Lieutenant, I am done with Hunn Raal on this day, and all matters of campaign. Do not seek me out and send no messenger in search – I am going for a walk.'
'Very well, milord.'
He strode from the tent.
Renarr walked over to the chair Urusander had vacated and settled in it. The heat of him remained on the leather saddle.
'He'll not acknowledge you in this state,' Serap said. 'You have fallen far and fast, Renarr.'
'I am a ghost.'
'The ghost of regret for Lord Urusander. You appear as the underside of your mother, like a turned stone, and where all we saw of her was in sunlight, you are nothing but darkness.'
Renarr held out her right arm and studied the not quite pearlescent skin. 'Stained marble, not yet gnawed by age. Naked, you are like snow. But I am not.'
'It comes to you,' Serap said. 'But slowly, to mark the reluctance of your faith.'
'Is that it? I but wear my hesitation?'
'At least our enemies wear their blight for all to see.'
Renarr dropped her arm. 'Take him to your furs,' she said. 'His aches, his twinges – drive away his thoughts of mortality.'
Serap made a disgusted sound, and then asked, 'Is that what you glimpse each night, Renarr? In that uncaring face hovering above your own? Some faint flush of immortality, like a rose in a desert?'
Renarr shrugged. 'He's made his flesh a sack of faults. Untie the knot, lieutenant.'
'For the good of the Legion?'
'If your conscience needs a salve.'
'Conscience. That's a word I'd not thought to hear from you.' Serap waved a hand in dismissal. 'Today, it will be Hunn Raal leading the Legion. Out to parley with Lord Ilgast Rend. This madness needs to end.'
'Oh yes, and he's a man of constraint, is our Hunn Raal.'
'Raal is given his orders, and we were witness to them. Urusander fears arriving at the head of his legion will prove too provocative on this day. He will not invite public argument between himself and Lord Ilgast Rend.'
Renarr shot the woman a quick glance, then looked away again. 'Trust Hunn Raal to make this argument public, if we are to descend into euphemisms for battle.'
Shaking her head, Serap said, 'If weapons are drawn this day, they will come first from Ilgast Rend and his misfit Wardens.'
'Jabbed by insult and driven to a corner by Hunn Raal's smirking visage, I would say what you describe is inevitable.'
The woman's fine brows lifted. 'A whore and seer both. Well done. You have achieved what Mother Dark's priestesses yearn for as they thrash through the night. Shall I send you to Daughter Light, then, as her first acolyte in kind?'
'Yes, that is indeed the name Syntara has chosen for herself. Daughter Light. I always thought it a presumption. Oh, and now of you, too, in assuming you have the right to send me anywhere.'
'Forgive my transgression, Renarr. There is a tutor in the camp – have you seen him? The man lacks a leg. Perhaps he would take you under his care. I shall suggest it to Urusander when next I see him.'
'You mean Sagander, fled from House Dracons,' Renarr replied, indifferent to the threat. 'The whores speak of him. But he already has a child he deems to teach. The daughter of Tathe Lorat, or so I am told. Sheltatha Lore, upon whom he leans, like a man crippled by self-pity.'
Serap's eyes hardened. 'Sheltatha? That's a rumour I have not yet heard.'
'You do not consort with camp-followers and whores. Well, not regularly,' she added with a small smile. 'In any case, I have had my fill of tutors. Too many years of that, and oh how delicately they treated the daughter of a dead hero.'
'They did not fail in honing your wit, Renarr, although I doubt any would take pride in the woman they created.'
'More than a few come to mind who would happily share my furs and consider sweet their belated reward.'
Snorting, Serap arose. 'What did you come here to witness, Renarr? This is your first time to your father's command tent since we left Neret Sorr.'
'I needed to remind him,' Renarr replied. 'While I remain unseen to his eyes, still he steps around me.'
'You are his anguish.'
'I have plenty of company in that, lieutenant.'
'Now, I will join my giggling companions, atop a hill from which to watch the battle. We'll fix corbie eyes on the field below, and talk of bloodied rings and brooches.'
She felt the woman's eyes upon her for some time, a full four or five breaths, and then Serap exited the tent, leaving Renarr alone.
Rising, she approached the map table, replacing the anchor stones to force down the curled edges of the map. Then she leaned over it and studied the thin inked lines denoting the terrain. 'Ah, that hill there, then, should do us well on this day.' Conversations of greed with glinting eyes. Sharp laughter and cackling, crude jests, and if the men and women we took last night soon lie cold and still in the mud of the valley below, well, there will always be others to take their place.
Excerpted from Fall of Light by Steven Erikson. Copyright © 2016 Steven Erikson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Book One: The Seduction of Tragedy,
Book Two: In One Fleeting Breath,
Book Three: The Gratitude of Chains,
Book Four: The Most Honourable Man,
Also by Steven Erikson,
About the Author,