In July, Gollancz is delighted to be publishing the first Gallow book, THE CRIMSON SHIELD. Written by Nathan Hawke, a newcomer to the list, the Gallow books are fast-paced fantasy with a sharp edge. Gallow himself is a wonderful creation – a man adrift from his homeland and history, forced to live a quiet life, but unwilling to back down if forced into confrontation. And a very good fighter. Over the next few weeks we’ll be running a series of short stories, deleted scenes and extended excerpts from the books. You can find out more at www.nathanhawke.com, where you will also find a wonderful interactive map. It’s worth exploring to see where else Gallow will be appearing…
We also have five copies of THE CRIMSON SHIELD to give away to five lucky people. To enter read the short story below and email the answer to this question:
How does the ‘magician’ say you can kill the Eyes of Time?
Medrin and the Magician
Location – Sithhun
The man on the table in front of the Aulian was dying. The soldiers with their forked beards crowded around, full of anxious faces, but they knew it: he was past any help. The Aulian shook his head. “I’ll do what I can. I make no promises. Leave him with me.” And when they did leave, that too was a sign of how little hope they had. A prince of the Lhosir left alone with an Aulian wizard. The Aulian opened up his satchel and his bag and set about making his preparations. The dying man’s eyes were open. The skin of his face was grey and slick with sweat but there was a fierce intelligence behind those eyes. And a fear, too. A prince of the Lhosir who was afraid to die, but then who wouldn’t be when dying looked like this?
“Who are you?” The Aulian didn’t answer, but when he came close the Lhosir still had enough strength to grab his sleeve. “I asked you: who are you?”
“I’m here to heal you. If it can be done.”
“I will try, but I’m. . . I am not sure that it can. If you have words to say, you should say them now.” The Aulian lifted the Lhosir’s head and tipped three potions into his mouth, careful and gentle. “One for the pain. One for the healing. One to keep you alive no matter what for two more days.” The Lhosir let go. He was trembling but he seemed to understand. The Aulian unrolled a cloth bundle and took out a knife and started to cut as gently as he could at the bandages over the Lhosir’s wound. The room already stank of putrefaction. The rot was surely too far gone for the Lhosir to live.
“I left him. I left my friend. I abandoned him.”
The Aulian nodded. He mumbled something as he cut, not really listening. The Lhosir was fevered already and the potions would soon send him out of his mind entirely and nothing he said would mean very much any more. “If you survive, your warring days are over. Even small exertions will leave you short of breath. I am sorry.”
“I was afraid. I am Lhosir but I was afraid.”
“Everyone is afraid.” The Aulian lifted away a part of the bandage. The Lhosir flinched and whimpered where it stuck to the skin and the Aulian had to pull it free. The stench was appalling. “I’m going to cut the wound and drain it now. It will hurt like fire even through the potions I’ve given you.” The Aulian dropped the stinking dressing into a bowl of salt. He forced the Lhosir’s mouth open as delicately as he could and pushed a piece of leather between the Lhosir’s teeth. “Bite on this.”
The Lhosir spat it out. “The ironskins took him.”
The Aulian paused, waiting for the potions to take the Lhosir’s mind. “Ironskins?”
The Aulian looked at the knife in his hand, razor sharp. “Then tell me about these iron-skinned men while we wait.”
“The guardians of the Temple of Fates in Nardjas, magician.” The Lhosir tried to rise but his strength failed him. “I know I’m dying. I know the cure for flesh-rot.”
“I must cut out the rot. All of it.”
“And it’s spread too far and too deep for you to do that without killing me. And if you do that then the men who brought me here will murder you.”
“Perhaps.” The Aulian frowned. “Someone should have tended to you sooner.”
The Lhosir spat out a laugh and shook his head. “I’m the son of our king. No one dared and so they brought me here flat on my back in a cart. Corvin the Crow thinks it’s bad luck to have his prince die in the middle of his army and so he sends me away to die alone instead. Oh, he said he was sending me back to my father but we both knew I’d never live to cross the sea. Away, that was all that mattered. Flat on my back, and I a proud Lhosir prince.” He coughed.
“Tell me,” said the magician again, “about the iron men.”
“They serve the Eyes of Time. What, magician, did you not see them when they crossed the sea last summer after the Crow took the Crimson Shield from Prince Yarric’s corpse? They took it away from him and brought it back to to Nardjas.” He coughed again. “And that’s how I earned this end.”
“No, I did not.” The magician looked at his knife. The Lhosir was slipping into the trance of his potions. Another few minutes and he wouldn’t feel a thing. And the Lhosir was right, too – he probably wouldn’t ever wake up again. “Speak your peace to your gods now, Lhosir.”
“The Fateguard. Skins of black iron.” The Lhosir closed his eyes. “Iron masks and iron crowns. What they are beneath, who can say? Men, I suppose, but there’s plenty who believe otherwise. No one ever sees them without their iron skins, no one outside the temple. Stupid rumours that can’t be true, that they never eat or sleep or rest. Dead men brought back to life to serve Fate.” The Lhosir closed his eyes.
“Smoljani?” The word came out of the magician like an unforeseen breath of wind, lingering a moment and then gone. His face, his voice, everything about him changed as though he was suddenly a different person. A chill went through him. “There was another like that that came before them,” he said, as much to himself as to the Lhosir. “Long ago. We buried it far away from here under a place called Witches’ Reach. It was a terrible thing made of old pacts with ancient dusty gods. Its power was very great.” The Aulian touched a thumb to the Lhosir’s face and drew back an eyelid. The eyes beneath had rolled back. “Smoljani.” He shook himself and took up his knife again, opened the Lhosir’s wound and started to drain it. The stench was enough to make him turn away and gag, and when he turned back the Lhosir’s eyes were open again.
“Is that one of your potions?” The Aulian didn’t answer, and after a moment the Lhosir sagged and his eyes rolled back a second time. “They took my friend and I didn’t stop them. I’ve heard of you, magician. They say you have a fine house, a palace almost, yet none of the Marroc will go near it. They say you’re a witch.”
“I will cut away the rot and fill the wound with maggots and honey. Do you understand? Maggots to eat away the bad flesh I cannot reach and honey to help with the healing. Where do they come from, these iron-skinned men?”
“The Eyes of Time makes them in frozen halls of the Frost Wraiths.” The Lhosir’s lips drew back in something that might have been an effort at a smile. “Maybe there’s no flesh under that black iron at all. Maybe they’re the wraiths themselves.”
“Oh, there is flesh,” said the Aulian.
“You know them?”
“And the Eyes of Time?”
“By another name, yes, I think my people knew it once.”
“They took my friend. I am responsible.” The Lhosir’s words were slurring.
“How do I kill the Eyes of Time, magician?”
“Salt and fire and the Edge of Sorrows.” The Aulian took the Lhosir’s hand. Maybe that would ease him on his way.
“They took my friend. I should have. . . I should. . . I was afraid. . . I was. . . I. . .” The Aulian listened until the Lhosir’s words broke into senseless mumbles. The potions were taking hold. He turned his knife back to the Lhosir’s wound and the Lhosir screamed. He screamed like a man having his soul torn out of him piece by piece. Like a man slowly cut in two by a rust-edged saw. The Aulian worked quickly. The wound was deep and the rot had spread deeper still and the stink was enough to make him pause now and then and breathe through a scented cloth. He cut it out as best he could, drained the seeping pus, cut until blood flowed red and the screaming grew louder still. When he was done he placed a bowl over the wound and tipped a hundred wriggling maggots over the dying Lhosir’s bloody flesh, then fresh warm honey.
The door flew open. Another Lhosir, with the dying prince’s bodyguards scurrying in his wake. They ran in and then stumbled and turned away, hit by the reeking air. The Aulian didn’t look up. He wrapped cloth over the wound as fast as he could, hiding what he’d done. The first of the soldiers was on him quickly, gagging. The dying prince was quiet now. Fainted at last.
“Wizard, what have you done?”
The Aulian cleaned his knife and began to pack away his bags. “If he lives through the next two days then he may recover. Send someone to me then.” He looked at the forkbeard soldier. “Only if he lives.”
But the Lhosir wasn’t looking at him, he was looking at the wound and at the cloth over the hole in the dying prince’s side. He was looking at the blind writhing thing that was trying to wriggle free from under it. The Aulian frowned. He’d been careless in his haste. He turned back to the soldier. “It will–”
“Sorcerer!” The forkbeard drove his sword through the Aulian. “Monster! What have you done?”
The Aulian tried to think of an answer, but all his thoughts were of a different monster, the monster with the iron skin that he’d thought long buried and gone. And as he fell to the floor and stared at the dying Lhosir’s hand hanging down from his table, how the Lhosir seemed to have too many fingers.