Rhapsody, n, (1542) 1: a portion of an epic poem adapted for recitation 2 archaic: a miscellaneous collection 3 a (1): a highly emotional utterance (2): a highly emotional literary work (3): effusively rapturous or extravagant discourse b: Rapture, Ecstasy 4: a musical composition of irregular form having an improvisatory character.
Elizabeth Haydon is a major new force in fantasy. Equipped with a quick wit, Haydon has a sharp ear for dialogue, panache with characters, and that essential ability to transport her readers into her own fantastical world-a world so real you can hear the sweet music of Rhapsody's aubade and smell the smoldering forges within the Cauldron.
Rhapsody is a woman, a Singer of some talent, who is swept up into events of world-shattering import. On the run from an old romantic interest who won't take no for an answer, Rhapsody literally bumps into a couple of shady characters: half-breeds who come to her rescue in the nick of time. Only the rescue turns into an abduction, and Rhapsody soon finds herself dragged along on an epic voyage, one that spans centuries and ranges across a wonder-filled fantasy world.
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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 Blood
By Elizabeth Haydon, James Minz
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1999 Elizabeth Haydon
All rights reserved.
1146, THIRD AGE
He moved like the shadow of a passing cloud, unseen, unnoticed, even by the wind that blew around him as if he were not there. He crept up the rise to the crest of the hill, his mismatched eyes scanning the fields below. It was partially in shadow, the scorched grass bent from the wind that rippled across the valley. Aside from the wind, nothing disturbed the silence.
As darkness covered the land he rose to a stand. The Brother turned and looked over his shoulder. He nodded and returned to his reconnaissance.
A moment later an enormous shadow joined him on the summit of the hill. In the remaining light of the setting sun the hilts of the weapons that jutted out from behind the giant's back resembled the armored claws of a gargantuan crab. The Sergeant matched the angle of his vision to the Brother's, then spoke.
"'Ow long we got?"
The figure in black paused before answering, his hooded head angled as if listening to a distant conversation.
"They are a quarter of an hour behind us. They are not what concerns me."
"Oi know." The heavily armed giant sighed. "We ain't gonna make it, are we?"
The Brother's eyes did not leave the horizon. "Ultimately, probably not." After a moment he looked up at his seven-foot companion. "You might, if you leave now, head elsewhere."
"No, sir," the giant replied, a wry grin revealing a carnivorous smile. "Oi've come this far; 'twould be a pity to turn back now. Besides, it'd only be a matter o' time before they caught up with me. If it's all the same to you, sir, Oi'd rather buy it 'ere with you."
The Brother nodded, and his gaze returned to the horizon once more. "Well, then, I'd rather not be caught with the hunters behind us." With a shrug of his shoulder the large, crossbow-like weapon the Brother carried across his back swung into his hands, and he was off down the face of the hill.
"Oi suppose not," said the giant to the wind, the only thing that remained with him on the hilltop.
The descent of darkness was heavier than the footfalls of the Brother, whose passing was unnoticed even by the small creatures of the field. Unseen as well; black weapons on black cloak, he was as tall and thin as one of the fading shadows to which he now clung. He made no sound, left no tracks; there was no way to tell he was there unless one happened to be keen-sighted enough to pick him out of the darkness in which he was wrapped. And that would have been most unfortunate for the witness, for, no doubt, his pulse would have quickened, his heart would have hesitated for a split second, and that would have been enough. The Brother would have sensed it, and the witness would have died before his next heartbeat.
The Brother slipped through the gusts of the wind, avoiding disturbing in any way the myriad vibrations of the world that few beside himself could sense. His targets were formidable, the signatures of their personal power strong; his former master had spared no expense in the hunt. The Brother had expected no less.
He dropped to one knee and positioned his weapon. Beneath his veils a grim smile took up residence. His targets were now in range.
He could not see them, not yet, but he didn't need to. In the distance he could feel the tread of their footsteps, the beating of their hearts. Like a shark in the water he could smell their blood, sense their movements. It was the reward of his inhuman inheritance, though he was more sensitive to these things than even Dhracians of full blood. He was the Brother; this was his gift.
He closed his eyes and sensed the movement of the air, the changes in the wind, the subtle currents that might alter the shot. Then he released his breath and gently squeezed the trigger of the weapon in his hands.
No bolt or quarrel was fired from the bow. Three whisper-thin metal disks, each the size of a maple leaf, were hurled from the three- foot-long weapon, projected by the force of recoil. They cut through the air, their course altered slightly by the strong breeze, but the marksman had accounted for those changes. Long before the projectiles had reached their target the Brother had reloaded and fired again, and again, sending volley after volley into the foreheads and eyes of his victims nearly a quarter-mile away.
Then the Brother was off, even as the first three disks sliced into the left eye socket of his first target, each one driving the other deeper into his skull before erupting through the other side and into the throat of the next victim. Four more of his predators died before they even noticed anything.
Only the commander had a moment to turn his head and look into the face of his own death before it met him. In the distance, already at the summit of the hill from which he had listened, the Brother paused and spared a backward glance.
"The commander was fast," he said to the giant, who nodded.
"Not fast enough, though, eh, sir?"
"Not this time."
The Brother's patrol of the area surrounding their campsite that night had assured him there was no one to witness their fire. Nonetheless, Grunthor placed three metal sheets in a barricade around it to block out the light. Extraordinary precautions were what kept them alive.
The giant Bolg looked questioningly at the heavy sack that contained their rations, and the Brother nodded. Grunthor sat down before the fire and opened the sack, dragging forth the haunch of a hind they had killed two days earlier.
Using one of its long bones as a spit, he positioned the meat on two small notches in the metal sheets, turning it over the low flames. The two sat in silence until the outside of the meat was charred, the Brother keeping his ear to the wind. Grunthor paid no attention; he knew the routine. If something was wrong, he would be told.
After a while the giant Bolg took the meat from the fire and ripped off a palm-sized piece. He handed it, still dripping with juice, to his companion, taking the remainder for himself. The Brother watched as Grunthor sheared the flesh from the bone with his teeth. Then he sliced his own piece with his dagger and began to eat. It had a foul, slightly fishy taste to it. He swallowed.
"This is pretty close to rotten."
The giant Bolg nodded. "Well, guv, we could start in on the dry goods."
"No. We need those for the trip along the Root."
"Oi know, but this is all we got left."
"What about the coney?"
"We ate it yestaday."
The Brother put down the rest of the meat. "Then tomorrow I'll hunt."
They returned to their accustomed silence. After a moment Grunthor stretched out downwind of the fire. The Brother watched the giant as he fell asleep. He let his mind wander, and was lost in the memories that had brought them to this place in time.
He recalled how he had walked across the devouring blackness that was the Deep Chamber of the F'dor. He could not stop his boots from sounding loudly on the polished obsidian floor.
The walls of the chamber were so distant that even if the room had been lit, he would still have had a poor view of the black volcanic-glass surfaces, intricately carved with obscene patterns. Despite the braziers burning with black fire, there was no illumination within the cavernous chapel except the circle of light that the Dhracian assassin had approached.
Within the circle stood the figure of a man clad in the crimson robes of the demonic priesthood, the man who had summoned him here, once human, now the human host of a demonic spirit, blended into one obscene entity. A man he would never have accepted voluntarily as a client.
The Brother had clenched his teeth as he fought against his instinctual reaction to the place, and to the creature he approached. Needles seemed to run in his veins as he repressed his natural response to the perversions of nature that were conducted here. His ancestral hatred, born of generations of racial crusades by the Dhracians against all F'dor, revolted at being in the place his race's enemies had made their home.
Both sides of his bloodline — the vibrationally sensitive Dhracian inheritance of his mother and the Bolg's love of the deep earth bequeathed to him by his unknown father — rebelled at the defilement of what had once been a holy site. Strongest of all was the disgust he felt towards the demonic spirit clinging to the no-longer-human figure that stood before him now. The Lord of a Thousand Eyes. The F'dor. Tsoltan. His master.
When he stepped into the circle of light he heard a soft voice speak, warm as honey.
"I have a job for you."
The dark priest's red-rimmed eyes searched the Brother for a reaction. The Dhracian's sensitive nerves screamed at the intrusion, a sensation similar to the prodding examination of a butcher searching for the best cut. The Brother did not answer. He was doing all he could to keep from breathing the same air.
"Your hand," said the demon-priest.
The Brother unclenched his fist and slightly extended his left palm.
The F'dor chuckled in the darkness. "Your resistance amuses me still," it said. "By now you've learned there is no way to reclaim your true name. Your service is too valuable to me. There is no price for which I would ransom it back to you, nor will I reveal how I obtained it."
Directly in front of the Brother a vine grew up from the glass floor. It seemed made of glass itself, spiked with obsidian thorns. A key was wrapped in its highest tendril.
With a decisive motion the Brother plucked the key from the vine. The obsidian tendril shattered like the stem of a fragile wineglass.
He held the key up before his half-Bolg eyes, the night eyes of a people who had risen up from the caves, smiling inwardly at the increase in the rhythm of the demon's formerly human heart, the only outward sign of its consternation at his defiance. The key itself was unremarkable except that it was made from a dark bone, its shaft curving as a rib might.
"You will take this key to the base of the failed land bridge to the northern islands. The foundation of this bridge contains a gateway unlike any even you have ever passed through. The fabric of the Earth is worn thin there; you may experience some discomfort. If you have passed through correctly, you will find yourself in a vast desert.
"You will know the direction to go, and an old friend of mine will come to meet you. Once there, you will agree to the time and date when you shall serve as his guide through the gateway to this side. My only concern is that it be as soon as possible. Return to me, and I shall prepare you as his guide. Is this clear?"
"You will tell me of the arrangement, and carry any message he might send."
"I am not a page."
"How right you are. You are but a footnote." The talisman around the neck of the demon caught the light from a distant brazier and glinted, black, in the darkness. Within the golden circle of flame was a pattern of red stones that spiraled into the center of the amulet, in which was carved the image of a solitary eye. It bore the same piercing stare that now met the Brother's own.
The F'dor approached him, and the Brother's nose wrinkled from the reek of burnt flesh on the demon's person, and especially its breath. It was a stench that accompanied all those of its race, but his master's malodor was particularly strong.
"I want this done quickly. It will make whatever trivial catalogue of death you think yourself responsible for a mere jot, an afterthought of inconsequence. I am the true master, and you will be my thrall until you follow me willingly, or are swept away in my victory."
He had done as the demon demanded.
The Brother had no compunction about death, did not shirk in the presence of evil, but what he had encountered in the wasteland beyond the horizon defied any horrific description of which his mind might be capable. In the face of the destruction that would ensue, the devastation that would come over the world, he decided instead, for the first time in his life, to run, to abandon all he had, to risk an eternity of something worse than death. Even for him, anything else would have been unthinkable.
The Brother shook off his thoughts at the stirring in the distance that had alerted his senses. The key was in his hand, glimmering slightly in the darkness, and he slipped it quickly back into the pocket where he carried it.
He looked in the direction of the vibrations and felt the presence of approaching wolves. They were a long way off, but they were on the prowl. A discordant vibration indicated they were not ordinary wolves, but animals used as eyes by the F'dor.
He made a soft clicking sound. Grunthor's eyes opened at once, and his hand went immediately to his weapons belt. He turned in the direction of the Brother without making a sound.
The Brother made a few fast hand signals: six wolves, three on each flank. Grunthor nodded, and with one hand drew his great bow. With the other he placed a large metal lid on top of the fire, smothering it without allowing the smoke to escape. The Brother held his own odd weapon, the cwellan, at the ready, while Grunthor positioned his pike close at hand. They waited.
The Dhracian's head tilted to one side as he concentrated on the animals. The wolves didn't even slow down. They continued on their prowl until they had passed over the horizon and beyond his senses. They had not noticed the small camp in the hidden dell. When they were well away, the Brother nodded and took a breath, exhaling deeply. Grunthor did the same.
"They're getting closer," the Brother said.
"No surprise really, is it, sir? They've got our scent, and we've got that key. They can probably feel it."
"I know. We have to make haste to another city. Get lost in the crowd."
"Lovely. Oi know how much you like cities."
When the deepest part of the night had passed and the summer rain began, the two broke camp and headed for Easton ahead of the approaching thunderstorm.CHAPTER 2
"More soup, love?"
"No, thanks, Barney." The young woman glanced up at the barkeeper hovering over her and smiled. "It was good, though." She returned her attention to the messy pile of parchment pages and odd objects that littered the table in front of her, scratching away furiously with a quill and humming softly to herself.
Barney sighed and brought the soup tureen back to the bar, enjoying the physical thrill that always resulted from being the recipient of that smile. Then he glanced furtively about, hoping Dee hadn't seen him grinning like a fool. Dee loved the girl too, but it was best not to rock the marital boat.
Under the pretense of wiping clean the ale-spattered surface, he indulged in another look. The girl brushed a loose strand of golden hair out of her eyes and touched her throat absently, untangling a simple gold locket that hung from a delicate chain around her neck.
She was still writing away at an intense pace, pausing every now and again to examine one of the assorted small things on the table before her, or to pluck a few strings of the shepherd's harp resting on her lap beneath the table. She was glowing with quiet excitement, and despite her being tucked away at her favorite table near the back of the bar, that excitement was radiating through the crowd of regulars and generating quite a din. Generally the middle of the day was a dismally quiet time at the Hat and Feathers; today it was as loud as a holiday night. No wonder Dee loves her, Barney thought, chuckling to himself. She's good for business.
Few noticed the stranger enter over the clamor of voices and clinking of tankards. He made his way impatiently through the crowd, searching the tables until he came to hers. The man stood over her, waiting for her to look up, but she ignored him and continued with her writing, frowning as she scratched out the occasional mistake.
Finally he spoke. "You're Rhapsody."
She did not look up, but moved a few of the papers into a neater pile and drew forth a fresh sheet of parchment.
She still did not favor him with a glance. "Oh, sorry. Thank you for reminding me." There was a pause, and then she spoke again. "If you'll excuse me, I'm rather busy."
The man swallowed, choking back the anger her dismissive tone raised in his gullet. He could feel the eyes of some of the patrons shift to him, and he attempted to keep his voice calm.
"I am here representing a gentleman friend of yours."
There was no break in her concentration or the focus of her attention. "Really? And who might that be?"
"Michael, the Wind of Death."
The hubbub in the Hat and Feathers died away, but the young woman didn't seem to notice or care. "Either they have redefined the words gentleman and friendin this language, or you're making very sloppy use of it," she said. "What does he want?" "Your services, naturally."
"I'm not in the business anymore."
"I don't think your professional status is of much interest to him."
For the first time she stopped writing and looked up at the stranger. The eyes that met his contained no hint of fear and were such a startling green that he took a step backward. "Well, what he wants is not of much interest to me," she said evenly. "Now, if you will kindly excuse me, as I said, I'm very busy." She returned to her work once again.
Excerpted from Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon, James Minz. Copyright © 1999 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.
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The Lost Island,