Excerpt Monday: Carol Berg
Carol's winner is: Jean P! Congrats, Jean. Send me your contact information and I'll pass it along to Carol. Thanks to everyone who participated.
A wounded renegade sorcerer has found sanctuary in Gillarine Abbey. Though all he seeks is a roof over his head and a refuge from winter's famine, Valen has been drawn into a mystery of secret societies, doomsayers, monks, princes, and madmen, all seeking the key to a coming dark age.
Vesper bells clanged and hammered. The monks were gone to prayers again, the lingering draft from their departure my only company in the quiet infirmary. Robierre had left me a brimming posset, dosed with extra honey in apology for sending me out walking too strenuously.
In truth my leg felt better recovered from the day's adventure than my spirit. I could not shake my thoughts free of the murdered monk. Had this Horach truly made himself known to me? Surely of all residents of this abbey, I knew the least that might ease a tormented soul. But a man left himself open to mortal peril did he ignore the demands of the dead.
My fingers traced the smooth curves of the wooden mug. The monks would go to supper after prayers, which meant near two hours alone here with naught to think of but a youth left in agony to bleed, unable to cry for help.
Before I knew it, I'd thrown on my damp gown, pulled boots over bare feet, and retrieved my walking stick. Guided by the church towers, and wafting smoke that smelled pleasantly of onion and garlic, I limped across the yard and through the puddled passage between the kitchen and refectory, retracing our path of the morning. Pigeons' cooing accompanied me into the deserted cloisters.
I shivered. Saint Gillare's wingless angels gleamed pure white against the dusk. The chill air, heavy with moisture, smelled of rich earth and green grass. To retreat felt stupid and cowardly, yet now I was here, I couldn't steel myself to step wholly into the courtyard. My hand squeezed the smoothed knob of the walking stick. There were other ways to approach uncertain ground than just blundering in.
Though I'd long denied it, I had inherited the familial bent for route-finding and tracking. My Cartamandua bloodlines were well documented, of course, enshrined in the Registry before my birth and witnessed on the day I took my first breath. I'd always felt like a prized cow, bred to supply Navronne with the cream of sorcery.
I wandered down the south cloister, past the kitchen wall. Dared I release magic here? It would leave traces, detectable by a Registry inspector. Or perhaps an abbey whose Rule forbade use of magic might be warded to prevent spellcasting and give off noises or explosions if I breached its protections. Every instinct said not to risk it, but then again, my instincts were unused to the requirements of unquiet spirits.
I tossed some of Robierre's stock of bergamot onto the grass so young Horach might use it for the Ferryman's tally, apologizing that I'd naught better to offer. Then, clutching my walking stick, I eased myself to kneeling. Crouched at the verge of the west cloister, I laid my palms on the cool wet grass, shaped my intent, and released just a spit of magic.
My limited experience of such trials led me to expect an image of the square to resolve itself in my mind: the grass and stones, the shrine, the bounding columns and walkways, the size, shape, and source of the font. Not a visual image, but more of an understanding of structure, composition, direction, and history, and a sense of what obstacles, spells, or spirits might lie here. But the sensations confounded all expectations.
The earth pulsed beneath my hands, warm and living, its lifeblood a deep-buried vein of silver, as plainly visible to my eye as the shrine itself. The memory of all who had walked here wove a pattern in the earth, each path sharp-edged against the clarity of a long and reverent quiet. The understanding of the yard's composition and direction existed, not as some separate image to be analyzed, but embedded in my flesh as plainly as speech or hearing. And even beyond these marvels, something more teased at my spirit...
I breathed deep and tried to quiet my trepidations, to open my senses and push deeper. Just on the edge of hearing, the sighing notes of a vielle quivered in the stillness, and a woman's clear voice intoned a haunting, wordless melody that swelled my soul with wonder and grief. A memory...and yet a presence, too...if I could but sort out the music and its meaning -
An unseen bludgeon struck. Saints and angels! I toppled backward, landing hard on my backside. As on my first encounter with this place, the blow slammed me square between my eyes. Dizzy and befuddled, I pressed my fingers to my forehead, sure I'd find a bruise swollen the size of a cat. But, though my wounded thigh complained loudly that it was twisted to the point of tearing the infirmarian's stitches, both brow and temples seemed intact.
If Brother Horach wanted my attention, he had gotten it. But did he want me to see what lay here - something far older than a youthful monk - or was he the one who so forcibly forbade my intrusion? I rubbed my brow and tried vainly to recapture the moments before the blow: the warmth of the earth, the silver thread of an underground spring, the music - so beautiful, so dreadfully sad.
I had long speculated that Iero was just another name for Kemen Sky Lord, Creator of Earth and Heaven. But neither Kemen, nor Iero, nor any god or spirit had ever made himself known to me so forcefully. I didn't like it.
Flesh and Spirit is the first half of The Lighthouse Duet, followed by Breath and Bone. This duology won the 2009 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. Read more about this and all my books at http://www.carolberg.com/