Brown River Queen cover art

Friday, September 9, 2011

Excerpt from All the Paths of Shadow

Today is September the 9th, which means the new book hits the stands in precisely eleven days.  The book, for those of you who have somehow managed to elude my non-stop yammering on the subject, is All the Paths of Shadow, which will be brought to you by the erudite and fascinating people at Cool Well Press.

Can you pre-order?  No, not yet.  

Will the book be available in electronic and print formats?  Yes.

Will reading the book cure male pattern baldness, halt the devaluation of the US dollar, or eliminate the need for costly, strong-smelling creams or ointments?  No, yes, and yes, respectively.

My readers will instantly recognize the name Markhat.  Some have asked if All the Paths of Shadow is a new Markhat novel.  No, it isn't.  Paths is set on a new world and features an all-new cast of characters.  You'll find Paths of Shadow to lie somewhere between Wistril's world and Markhat's.  But I think you'll enjoy it, just the same.

Finally, yes, All the Paths of Shadow is the first in a new series.  The sequel, entitled All the Turns of Light, is now underway. 

I'm putting an excerpt from All the Paths of Shadow below, in the hope of whetting your appetite for the release on the 20th.  And don't worry -- I'll be back well before then with all sorts of helpful links designed to make your purchase of the book as simple and as pleasant as possible, because I'm a helpful kind of guy.

Enjoy the excerpt!


Beyond the park and the oaks Tirlin itself rose up in a tidy profusion of red brick buildings and dark slate roofs and red-gold tree tops just touched by autumn. The towers and spires of the palace peeped through here and there, rising just barely above the banks and shops and offices that made up the heart of Tirlin.
Above it all, though, loomed the Tower, squat and black and brooding in the midst of the green and open park.
Meralda frowned, and looked away.
“Mistress,” said Mug, turning all twenty-nine of his eyes toward Meralda. “Talk. What’s wrong?”
“How many days remain until the Accords?” said Meralda, quietly.
“Twenty,” said Mug, with a small stirring of leaf tips. “Counting today, which I suppose I shouldn’t, since it’s nearly gone.”
Meralda sat on the edge of her battered kitchen chair. “So,” she said. “In nineteen days, Tirlin will be full of Alonyans and Vonats and Eryans and Phendelits, all gathered here to strut and brag and eat like pigs while making long speeches explaining why they broke every promise they made at the last Accord.”
Mug nodded by dipping his eye buds. “You left out carousing and spying and tavern wrecking,” said Mug. “What does that have to do with you?”
Meralda slapped her hands down on the table. “Nothing,” she said. “It should have nothing to do with me at all. The Accords are a political matter.”
“Or so you thought.”
Meralda shook her head. “So I thought.” She put her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. Just for an instant, she heard her mother’s scolding voice. “Elbows off the table, young lady. We raise swine. We do not emulate their table manners.”
Meralda sighed and stared at the table top. “His Highness is to give the customary commencement speech on the eve of the Accords,” she said. “He plans to speak from a platform at the foot of the Tower. Carpenters are building covered stands in the park for the delegates.”
Mug shrugged with a tossing of fronds. “Sounds fine. I think Kings Ortell and Listbin did the same thing, way back when.” Mug lifted his three red eyes toward Meralda’s face. “It’s not the weather, is it? Surely even Yvin knows better than to take pokes at the climate just to make sure he has a sunny day for a speech.”
“He didn’t ask that,” said Meralda. “Yet.”
She stretched and yawned and thought again about caramel apples and fall carnivals. “Yesterday—” said Meralda, “Yesterday, the King was inspecting the stands being built in the park. He arrived at five of the clock, the same time his commencement speech is set for.”
“And?” said Mug.
“And,” said Meralda, “It suddenly dawned on our gifted monarch that the sun sets in the west and casts shadows toward the east.”
“Leaving His High Pompousness to make a speech in the shadow of the Tower,” said Mug, with dawning apprehension. “Which aggravated his royal sense of badly done melodrama.”
“And led him to instruct me to move the Tower’s shadow,” said Meralda. “Move it, or banish it, or fold it up and pack it away for an hour,” said Meralda, in a mocking baritone. “Roll up a shadow? Pack away the absence of light caused by a seven hundred year old wizard’s keep?” Meralda shoved back the chair and stood, hands spread before her. “What kind of an imbecile asks for a roll of packed up shadows?”
Mug cast his gaze toward the ceiling. “The kind with the scepter and the crown,” he said, quietly.
Meralda stood. She walked back to her open window and leaned on the sill.
“Was it a suggestion, a request, or a royal directive?” asked Mug.
“Is there a difference?” asked Meralda. “The king asked. Before the full court. I stood there and nodded and made vague assurances that I’d look into the matter.” Meralda sighed. “The Tower is—what? Nine hundred feet high? Almost two hundred wide? At five of the clock today, the tip of its afternoon shadow hit the park wall at the east entrance. That makes its shadow almost two thousand feet long and two hundred wide at the base.”
Mug ticked off figures on his leaf tips. “How big a bag will you need, after you roll it up?” he asked.
“Mug!” snapped Meralda. “Enough.”
“A thousand pardons, Oh Fiery-Eyed One,” said Mug, with a mock bow. “But could it be, mistress, that you are not exclusively angry with King Yvin?” A trio of bright blue eyes peeked up through Mug’s tangle of leaves. “Could it be that you are peeved at your own reluctance to describe to the king in lengthy detail just how asinine and vacuous his shadow-packing scheme truly is?”
Meralda glared. “I could get a cat,” she said. “A nice quiet cat.”
Mug lifted out of the bow. “Fur on the couch, a litter box to empty? I don’t see you with a cat,” said Mug.
“Keep talking,” she said. “We may all see things we didn’t expect.” Meralda shook her head, ran her fingers through the strands of long red-brown hair that had worked loose from the tight bun at the back of her head.
“I was going to add that you shouldn’t fault yourself for not browbeating the king before the full court,” said Mug. “I was going to say that even though your hero Tim the Horsehead spent his career berating and insulting kings he was always careful to do so in private.” Mug paused, waving his leaves. “I was going to suggest that you take a long hot bath and curl up on the couch with a cup of Vellish black tea and a book of Phendelit poetry, and that you see Yvin privately tomorrow and explain to him that you only just discovered that moving the Tower’s shadow would loose a plague of biting flies on Banker Street and devalue Tirlish currency abroad and cause the collapse of the aqueducts and, incidentally, make snakes grow in his beard. He’ll forget the whole shadow business and you can go back to your studies of spark wheels and lightning rods, interrupted only by occasional royal requests to shrink the royal bald spot.”
Meralda laughed. Mug turned his eyes away. “And you want a cat,” he said, airily. “Could a cat say that?”
“No one with lungs could say that, Mug,” she said. “You’re right. I should have a talk with Yvin.”
“Then why aren’t you making tea and drawing a bath?” said Mug.
Meralda sighed. “Because I’m changing clothes and going back to the laboratory,” she said. “There are things I need to look into, at least.”
Mug sighed. “Mistress,” he said. “Can it be done? Can the shadow be moved?”
“I don’t know, Mug,” she said. “Perhaps.”
Mug turned a tangle of green eyes toward her. “I don’t like this, mistress,” he said, no humor in his tone. “The Tower isn’t something to be trifled with.” Mug bunched all his eyes together in an instinctive signal of grave concern. “Leave it alone, if you can,” he said. “Please.”
Meralda frowned. “Why, Mug?” she said. “It’s just an old tower.”
Mug moved his eyes closer. “It was never just a tower,” he said. “Not seven hundred years ago, not yesterday, not now.” Mug’s leaves stirred, though no wind blew. “Why do you think the old kings tried for all those years to knock it down?” Mug paused and stilled his leaves. “Leave it alone, mistress. Tell Yvin to light a few gas lamps and leave the Tower be.”
Meralda stroked Mug’s topmost leaves. “Thank you, Mug,” she said.
“For what?” said Mug.
Meralda smiled. “For not being a cat,” she said.
Mug’s eyes exchanged glances. “You’re welcome,” he said. “I think.”
“Water?” asked Meralda.
“None, thanks,” said Mug. The dandyleaf plant sighed. “So you’re going to try this, despite my heartfelt plea.”
“I have to,” said Meralda. “I have to try. Not for the king, but for me.”
Mug grunted. “As long as it’s not a heroic effort for the glory of His Thick-headedness,” said Mug. “So what’s this idea of yours?”
Meralda bit her lip. She turned from Mug and began to pace slowly around the dining table.
“I see two ways to do this,” she said, frowning. “First, bend the sunlight around the Tower, so it casts no shadow at all.”
Mug frowned. “That would render the Tower invisible, wouldn’t it?” he said. “And a working invisibility spell? Weren’t you saying just a few days ago that such a thing was impossible? I believe you used the words ‘penny-novel nonsense’.”
“The spell would only redirect light striking the Tower from a certain angle,” said Meralda. “It wouldn’t be invisible. Just a bit fuzzy, from a single spot out in the park.”
“I see,” said Mug. “What’s your other idea?”
“Leave the shadow,” she said. “Just delay it a bit. An hour, perhaps. Maybe less.”
“Delay it? How, mistress, does one delay the setting of the sun?”
Meralda laughed. “I’ll leave the sun alone, thank you,” she said. “I’d merely borrow a bit of sunlight from one day and move it to the next.”
The edges of Mug’s leaves all curled slightly upward. “Let’s work with your original notion,” he said. “Moving sunlight from one day to the next. That sounds like the sort of story that ends with the Thaumaturge being brutally suntanned and the king giving his speech from beneath the cover of perpetual night.”
Meralda smiled. “Good night, Mug,” she said. “I’ll be late. Shall I move you to the sitting room window?”
“No, thank you,” he said. “I’ll stay right where I am. It’s a good place in which to worry oneself sick. Lots of room to drop leaves and shrivel.”
Meralda sighed. “It’s only a shadow, Mug,” she said. “And the Tower is just a tower. Stones and wood. Nothing more.”
Mug sniffed. “Certainly,” he said. “Nothing to all those old stories. Nothing at all.”
Meralda snatched up her cloak and stamped out of the kitchen. Mug listened to her wash her face, brush her teeth, and change her clothes. Then the living room door closed softly, and Mug was all alone.

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