In Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody, a fellowship was forged--three companions who, through great adversity, became a force to be reckoned with: Rhapsody the Singer; Achmed the assassin-king; and Grunthor, the giant Sergeant-Major.
Driven by a prophetic vision, Rhapsody races to rescue a religious leader while Achmed and Grunthor seek the F'dor--an ancient and powerful demon. These companions may be destined to fulfill The Prophecy of the Three, but their time is running short. They must find their elusive enemy before his darkness consumes them all.
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About the Author
As the daughter of an air force officer, ELIZABETH HAYDON began traveling at an early age and has since traveled all over the world. She draws on the imagery of these visits in The Symphony of Ages series, and blends her love of music, anthropology, herbalism and folklore into much of her writing. Haydon is also a harpist and a madrigal singer (a singer of medieval songs). She lives with her family on the East Coast.
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Child of Earth
By Elizabeth Haydon, James Minz
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2000 Elizabeth Haydon
All rights reserved.
Dawn found them at the crest of the foothills, laying their course for the lands north of the Avonderre-Navarne border. Ashe said the lair of Elynsynos lay within the ancient forest, northwest of Llauron's domain and the vast Lirin forest of Tyrian, so they would be following the sun, then the Tara'fel River northward.
When they reached the conjunction of the foothills and the rocky steppes that those hills became at the mountain's threshold, Ashe suddenly directed her into a thicket of evergreen trees. Rhapsody followed quickly, hiding herself from sight, all but unable to see him.
"What's the matter?" she whispered at the dark branches, thick with fragrant needles beginning to soften with the new growth of early spring.
"There's an armed caravan within sight," he answered in a low voice. "They're heading toward Ylorc."
Rhapsody nodded. "Yes; it's the fourth-week mail caravan."
"Yes, Achmed established an four-week cycle of caravans that travel between Ylorc, Sorbold, Tyrian, and Roland. Now that there is a working trade agreement between the Bolg and Roland, he thought it made sense to make sure that messages and deliveries were escorted by soldiers from Roland to assure that they don't fall prey to the unexplained violence that has been around for so long.
"A contingent arrives on the same day of each week, and if for any reason that were not to happen, whichever post was expecting the caravan would go out in search to make certain they were safe. It takes two cycles, or eight weeks, for each individual caravan to complete the whole circuitous route between Roland, Tyrian, Sorbold, and Ylorc. It has been working very well so far." And Llauron has been making excellent use of it to badger me about sending him information, she thought to herself. So far she had shared very little. She also didn't mention that the most sensitive information was entrusted, not to the soldiers of the caravan, but to birds. Achmed had developed a whole squadron of avian messengers who carried the most important missives through the skies to their destinations. Llauron made use of avian messengers as well.
Ashe said nothing. Rhapsody waited for a few moments, then, hearing no further comments, turned to leave the thicket.
"What's the matter now, Ashe?"
He was still hard to see within the darkness of the branches. "We'll need to wait here. I thought you understood that if we were going to travel overland together, we would need to remain out of sight."
Rhapsody drew her cloak a little closer. "Well, of course, when we're vulnerable in the wide fields, or in unfamiliar territory. But that's just the mail caravan."
"Always. No exceptions. Understood?"
His tone annoyed her; there was a gritty edge to his voice she had not heard before. It served to remind her how little she actually knew him, and underscored why Achmed and Grunthor had objected to her going with him in the first place. Rhapsody sighed, some of her confidence evaporating into the chilly air.
"All right," she said. "We'll wait for them to pass. Let me know when they're out of sight."
They crossed the steppes and the wastelands to the Krevensfield Plain, heading northwest to avoid all but the outskirts of the province of Bethe Corbair and the city itself entirely. The traveling was difficult, the terrain rough and hard to cross in the muck left by the rains of early spring that were falling consistently. Rhapsody found herself stuck in the mud more than once. Ashe had offered his assistance but had been politely refused while she freed herself, muttering under her breath.
The comfortable familiarity that had begun to grow between them in Ylorc seemed to have disappeared now that they were alone together. Rhapsody had no idea why, though much of it seemed to be due to Ashe's unpredictability.
At times he was pleasant enough, joking with her or passing the time when they were encamped in reasonable, if insignificant, conversation. Other times she got the sense he was brooding, angry even; he would snap at her unexpectedly when she spoke to him, as though she was disturbing his concentration. It was as if he were two different people, and there was no way to tell which one was present since his face remained hidden at all times. As a result, most of their time was passed in silence.
It was a little better once they had traversed the wide fields of Bethe Corbair and the southwestern corner of the province of Yarim. They were chasing winter's tail; spring had come to the Bolglands a few weeks before, but the ground was still frozen here, the thaw only just beginning. The terrain was easier to walk and the rains less frequent, which helped their moods somewhat. Still, they were both aware of the lack of cover, and spent a great deal of time hiding when soldiers or travelers came within Ashe's senses. Usually Rhapsody could not see these wayfarers, but had grown accustomed to being grabbed suddenly from behind and pushed into thickets or clumps of weeds. She understood the necessity of these actions, but it did not do much to improve the relationship.
Finally, after several weeks of travel, they reached the province of Canderre, a land with more forests and wooded valleys than either Bethe Corbair or Yarim. The tension eased up a little; Ashe seemed calmer in woods. Rhapsody assumed this was because they were no longer such obvious targets as they had been on the great wide plains.
They began to talk a little more, though still not often. Ashe was frequently pleasant, even funny, but he was holding her at arm's length. He did not share his thoughts, or any of his history, and, above all, he never took down his hood. Rhapsody was beginning to wonder what had happened to his face that made him feel the need to hide it from sight. She wished he trusted her more. His isolation made it impossible to keep from growing suspicious of him as well.
The one thing that he did not object to, to Rhapsody's surprise, were her daily devotions. Each morning and evening she greeted the sun and the stars with song. When she did, she kept her voice low, particularly when they were on the plain, but she knew it made them more vulnerable nonetheless. She was generally sitting watch when dawn came, and so her morning aubade was his call to wakefulness. In the evening, as the twilight took the sky, she excused herself and found an open spot some ways off, to avoid disturbing him. When she returned he never commented, and was still busy with whatever task he had been performing when she left.
The forest thickened, and it became clear that they had passed into the most important and difficult part of the journey. They were now in the Great Forest, an area that covered much of western Canderre and all of northern Navarne and Avonderre to the sea. Their journey had reached the halfway point; Ashe had plotted and achieved the course perfectly. Up until now that had not been very difficult; though there were few landmarks to gauge by, the stars were clear on the plains and the direction simple. They were heading due west, so they had followed the sun. Now came the hard part, the main reason his services as guide were necessary. They were in woods, thick and dark and directionless, with real opportunity for losing their way.
Though Rhapsody had said nothing, Ashe picked up on her increased nervousness.
"A little," she admitted. Their voices broke the stillness of the wood, sounding strange.
"I've been there before; I know where I'm going," he said. His tone held none of the annoyance it had on occasion before.
"I know," Rhapsody said with a weak smile. "But I've never met a dragon before, so I guess it's fair that I'm a little worried. Is she large — for a dragon?"
Ashe chuckled. "I didn't say I was an expert on dragons. Nor did I say I had met her. I just said I'd been near to her lair."
"Oh." Rhapsody dissolved into silence, her questions unvoiced, knowing Ashe wouldn't answer them.
"Perhaps we should stop for supper," he said. "Food often calms nerves, I've found. Besides, it's your turn to cook." There was a mischievous note in his voice.
Rhapsody smiled. "I see, it's a ploy. All right, I'll cook. A fire should be safe enough here, don't you think?" They had rarely had one while on the plain, both of them knowing it would act as a beacon in the absolute darkness.
"I suppose so."
"Good," she said, her spirits lifting a little. "I'm going to see what I can find in the immediate vicinity, forage a bit."
"Don't go far." Ashe heard her sigh as she walked away into a copse of trees.
She was back a few minutes later, looking excited. "Wait until you see what I found," she said, sitting cross-legged on the ground of the clearing they had chosen as camp for the night. She pulled her pack into her lap and began to rummage through it.
Ashe watched as she spread a kerchief on the new shoots of spring grass, mixed a number of ingredients in a battered tin cylinder, then covered it, dug a small hole, and buried it in the ground. Along with it she buried two potatoes she had brought with her, and then built a fire directly on top of it all.
While it burned she cored two small apples she had located in the woods, leftovers from the fall, and spiced them with dried matter from a pouch in her pack. She hung a small pot over the fire into which she had sliced some old leeks and wild horseradish she had found in the forest. When the flames had reduced to coals she pulled the pot off the fire and set the apples into the glowing embers, roasting the fruit in the heat. After a while they began to bubble and send forth an amazing smell that made his mouth begin to water.
Rhapsody pulled the apples from the fire and set them aside to cool, then dug up the cylinder and the potatoes. The latter she set with the apples while she pried open the tin and gave it a good shake. Onto the kerchief slid a small loaf of bread, the aroma of which was slightly nutty and wholesome. She gave the leek soup a brisk stir, releasing an impressive tang into the smoky air.
Ashe felt his appetite increase as she cut the steaming loaf open, then reached back into her pack for a small piece of hard cheese. She sliced this effortlessly, and topped the bread with it. The cheese melted as she set the other elements of the meal before him.
"There. I'm afraid it's simple fare, but it should stave off your hunger for the night."
"Thank you." Ashe sat down next to her, pulling the kerchief she offered him closer. "This looks good." He watched until she had sampled the food herself, then took a bite of each thing she ate in turn.
"It's not much," she said apologetically. "Just a country folk tune."
Ashe's mouth was filled with the spiced apple. "Hmmm?" "I'm afraid you can't do much composing when you only have the ingredients that you can find in the immediate vicinity."
He swallowed. "Composing?"
Rhapsody smiled at the hooded figure. "Yes, well, a truly well-planned meal has all the aromatic elements of a good musical piece." There was no response, so she continued on with her explanation, hoping he didn't find it as inane as Achmed had. "You see, if you put enough thought into the way things impact the senses, you can affect the way they are perceived.
"For instance, if you were planning an intimate dinner, you might want it to come off like a minor orchestral concerto. So you have the string bass section be something like a rich soup. Then, to put in an overlay of violins, some flaky biscuits, topped with sweet butter and honey. Perhaps you serve something light and tangy, like crisp vegetables in an orange sauce, for that addition of an impish flute line. So first you decide what you want the meal to be in terms of a musical piece, and then you compose the food to match the mood."
Ashe took a bite of the bread. "Interesting. Manipulative, but very interesting." The nutty flavor melded perfectly with the cheese, making both items seem far more substantial than they would have been separately.
Rhapsody looked at him in surprise. "Manipulative? I don't understand." He said nothing. "Can you explain your meaning?"
Ashe took another bite. "Is the tea ready?"
Rhapsody rose and went to the fire. Tea was best made from the offerings of summer: strawberry leaves and rose hips, sweet fern and red sumac berries. The herbs she had located were not the best blend, plantain and slippery elm, dandelion roots and yarrow, but they were mild and had only passive, healthy properties. She poured a cup of the steaming liquid and passed it to him, her brow still furrowed, waiting for an explanation.
One was not forthcoming. The cloaked figure raised the cup inside his hood and took a sip. Rhapsody jumped as he spat the tea out violently, spraying some into the fire.
"Bleah. What is this?" His tone was rude, and Rhapsody could feel her blood start to steam.
"Well, now it's herbal vapor, but prior to your mature response it was tea."
"A new and interesting definition for it, I'd say."
Rhapsody's ire was rising. "Well, I'm sorry you don't like it, but it was the best grouping of herbs I could find. All the properties are healthy ones."
"If their taste doesn't kill you first."
"Well, next time I'll be sure to find licorice just for you. I didn't realize until now what serious need you were in of a laxative."
She thought she heard a chuckle as the hidden man rose and went to his own pack. He rummaged for a moment; finally he located what he was looking for.
"You could make some of this." He tossed her a small canvas sack tied with a rawhide cord.
Rhapsody opened the bag and held it to her nose, inhaling its aroma. She recoiled instantly in disgust.
"Gods, what is this?" She held the sack away from her face.
"Coffee. A special blend from Sepulvarta."
"Ugh. It's repulsive."
Ashe laughed. "You know, you're being very close-minded. You should at least try it before you declare it repulsive."
"No, thank you. It smells like dirt from a skunk's grave."
"Well, be that as it may, I like it, certainly much more than your odious tea." Rhapsody's face fell, and he hastened to mitigate the damage. "Though I'm sure tea you make when you are not in the forest and dependent on the availability of certain plants —"
"Spare me," she said coldly. "You are entitled to dislike my tea. No one said it was delicious, just healthy. And if you wish to poison yourself by drinking that bile, please don't let me stop you. But you can make it yourself; I have no desire to inhale the fumes. In fact, I think I'll make a new campsite elsewhere until you're done." She rose from the fire and walked away into the woods, leaving most of her supper untouched.
* * *
Words between them that evening were few. Rhapsody returned after sunset, having sung her vespers, and settled down for the night in her corner of the camp.
Ashe was repairing one of his boots when she walked into the fire circle, and watched her pass by the flames with interest. He had noticed the effect her presence had on fire, and the way it reflected her mood. It was snapping and hissing now with unspoken anger. She obviously had not gotten over the offense he had committed, probably because he had not apologized.
He decided to do so now. "I'm sorry about earlier," he said, turning the boot over without looking up in her direction.
"Put it from your mind."
"All right," he said, pulling the boot back on, "I will. I wish more women let me off that easily."
Rhapsody rolled up her cloak and stuffed it under her head to serve as a pillow. The ground was broken here with tree roots and buried stones, making for uncomfortable sleeping. "Nonsense," she said. "I'm sure your mother let you get away with murder."
Ashe laughed. "Gained," he said; it was the sword-trainer's term indicating a point had been scored and acknowledged. "I assume my apology was accepted, then?"
"Don't become accustomed to it," Rhapsody mumbled from inside her bedroll, a hint of humor returning to her voice. "I rarely forgive spitting. Customarily I'd cut your heart out, although it's fairly obvious someone already has." She closed her eyes and prepared to go to sleep.
A split-second later she heard a humming next to her upturned ear; even behind her eyelids she could see a blue-white light fill the darkness. The sharp metal point of a sword jabbed her throat just below her chin. She opened her eyes.
Ashe stood above her. Even in the dark, his silhouette showed the signs of unbridled rage. With a vicious twist of the wrist he pressed the sword tip deeper into her neck, just before the point of breaking the skin. Within his hood two points of intense light gleamed furiously.
"Get up," he said, kicking her boot savagely.
Rhapsody rose, following the lead of the sword. It pulsated with a blue light, a light she had seen out of the corner of her eye in battle, but never up close before. It was a bastard sword, a weapon of broader blade and hilt and greater length than her own. The sword was scrolled in gleaming blue runes that decorated both the hilt and blade, but these patterns were not the most hypnotic aspect of it.
Excerpted from Prophecy by Elizabeth Haydon, James Minz. Copyright © 2000 Elizabeth Haydon. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Tor Books by Elizabeth Haydon,
Reading Group Guide
The Three shall come, leaving early, arriving late,
The lifestages of all men:
Child of Blood, Child of Earth, Child of the Sky.
Each man, formed in blood and born in it,
Walks the Earth and sustained by it,
Reaching to the sky, and sheltering beneath it,
He ascends there only in his ending, becoming part of the stars.
Blood gives new beginning, Earth gives sustenance,
The Sky gives dreams in life—eternity in death.
Thus shall the Three be, one to the other.
Every reader longs to fall beneath a storyteller's mystic spell, to be swept away by the thrill of adventure and the power of imagination. When Elizabeth Haydon's first book Rhapsody was released in 1999, readers found themselves captivated just so, quickly becoming enchanted with her fresh approach to epic fantasy and the startling strength of her fully-realized world. Critics too were impressed with her tale of the resourceful and beautiful Rhapsody, a fledgling singer of magic, and her equally fascinating companions as they undertook a journey through time to escape the ravages of the F'dor, a being of fearsome evil and unimaginable power.
That wondrous story continues in Prophecy, as Rhapsody and her companions, the assassin-king Achmed, and the barbaric fighter Grunthor, each discover their own critical role in fulfilling an ancient legend. Yet, the foul F'dor has survived the journey as well, and has not forgotten their escape. And even as the companions begin to piece together the scattered fragments of destiny that will guide them to the final confrontation, the F'dor bides its time, gathering strength and allies, ever growing in power and menace, and all the while, hiding in plain sight, swathed in the guise of a friend. Showing a mastery of character and plot that heralds the full flowering of a gifted storyteller, Prophecy continues the fantasy saga that is destined to become a classic.