Some of you who kept up with my Ile-Rien books might remember that there was supposed to be a fourth Giliead and Ilias story, called "Rites of Passage," set after "Holy Places" (which appeared in Black Gate #11 in 2007, and was reprinted in Lightspeed's November ebook issue last year). These were all prequel stories to the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. Black Gate acquired "Rites of Passage" but then had to stop doing the print magazine, and long story short, I haven't been able to find another place for it. It's a novelette-length fantasy story, which makes it a bit tricky. So I'm posting it on my web site.
I'm going to post the first section as a teaser under the cut, since it's really too long to post here. Or you can go directly to it: Rites of Passage. And if you want to and can afford to throw something in the donation box after you read it, I'd really appreciate that.
In other news, this week I'm working on the edits for the first two Raksura novellas, "The Tale of Indigo and Cloud" and "The Falling World," which will be published by Night Shade in a paperback collection and individually as ebooks in September. The next two, "The Dead City" and "Novella 4: I don't have a title yet" will be out in Spring 2015. I'm still trying to finish "I don't have a title yet."
first section teaser: Rites of Passage
Ilias, Giliead, and their older sister Irissa walked down the waterfront of Cineth's harbor. It was a busy place, with men hauling casks of water and big dusty red amphorae of olive oil and wine, and traders hawking their wares. The sun was bright and the breeze cool, and Ilias was enjoying the day, despite the fact that Giliead was trying very hard to start a fight with Irissa.
"When are you going to buy a husband?" Giliead asked her, apparently determined to be as obnoxious as possible. "After this harvest, you could have anybody in town."
Irissa snorted derisively. "I don't want anybody in town."
Ilias had heard her say this before, and was just as glad to hear it again. He said, "You should wait to marry somebody for love, like Karima did." Karima was Giliead and Irissa's mother. She was younger than their father Ranior, and had been wealthy enough to take her pick of husbands, but it was obvious she had chosen with her heart.
Giliead kicked at a piling, determined not to be deterred from the argument. "Irissa never talks to anybody, how will she know if she's in love or not?"
Ilias gave him a sour look, but he knew why Giliead was in such a bad mood. They had just heard in the market plaza that Menander, the Chosen Vessel for the Uplands, had left on a hunt, heading up into the eastern hills to follow a rumor of a curseling seen near one of the isolated villages. Again, Giliead had been left behind.
Giliead was the Chosen Vessel for Cineth, gifted at birth by the god that watched over the city; the gift gave him the ability to smell curses and see the traces they left in air, earth, and water. But he was nearly seventeen seasons old now, and he had never yet been on a wizard hunt. Menander, much older and far more experienced than Giliead, should have been letting him help protect both Cineth's territory and the Uplands. The god of each area guarded its territory as well as it could, but wizards and their curselings were adept at slipping through the boundaries to do as much damage as possible, and it was the Vessels who had to stop them. But so far, all Menander's teaching had been theoretical. Now that Giliead was older, it was beginning to chafe.
"I'd rather buy a galley than a husband," Irissa said, eyeing the row of ships. Most of the those docked along here were fishermen or merchants with one or two sails, the canvas every shade of purple, red, blue, and other lucky colors, with the stylized eyes painted on their bows so the ships could find their way home. "Maybe we could try trading with the Chaens."
Ilias grinned at her. "You just want an excuse to travel." He hadn't been around the farm during the past winter season much himself; he had been working at hauling cargo, staying overnight in the city with Andrien relatives. This season he had made enough extra money to buy copper earrings for himself and a second set as a gift for Giliead, and a matching armlet for Irissa.
"What's wrong with wanting to travel?" Irissa waved toward the ships. "Mother and father can take care of our land. There's plenty of time before I have to worry about it."
Ilias knew that Irissa didn't have many real friends except for them, and the people of Andrien village. There weren't any single men her own age she had much to do with. Thinking of some of the spectacular mistakes he had seen other women their age make in the husband-choosing area, he said, "Waiting to pick the right person is better."
Irissa evidently appreciated the support. "That's right." She flung her arms in the air in frustration. "I should just marry Ilias. Save us all a lot of trouble."
Over the past season or so, Ilias had been privately thinking that that would be a wonderful idea, but the fact that Irissa had brought it up, even as a joke, struck him so much that he couldn't reply. He had lived at Andrien House with them for more than ten seasons, but he wasn't Giliead and Irissa's brother by blood. It was apparent from their looks; Ilias was inland Syprian, short, stocky, and blond, and Giliead and Irissa were both olive-skinned, with straight chestnut hair. Giliead was a couple of seasons the younger but he was already taller than both Ilias and Irissa, broad-shouldered and strong.
Unimpressed, Giliead said, "It would be cheaper. And after that thing with the trader's daughter, mother will be lucky to get more than three chickens and a diseased goat for him-- Ow!"
He made a retaliatory grab for Ilias, who had punched him in the back. To forestall further violence, Irissa slung an arm around Ilias' neck, throwing her weight on him to make him stagger out of reach.
Instead of pursuing them both, Giliead turned away and shaded his eyes to look out over the harbor. Ilias followed his gaze, trying to see what was so interesting. There was only one ship coming in, a merchant with black and white square designs painted on the hull and a single red sail. A dark-clothed man holding the tiller shouted orders as others scrambled to take in sails. "Hisian," Giliead said, as if he wasn't aware he had spoken aloud.
Ilias had spotted the bare prow too. Hisian ships never had eyes, so they were just dead soulless wood, like a raft or a dinghy. It was stupid to put to sea on a ship like that, especially for the long distance down the coast from the nearest Hisian port. Still leaning comfortably on Irissa, he said, "Let's watch the Portmaster search her."
Irissa nodded, but added, "I bet they didn't bring any women. They aren't that stupid anymore."
Hisians treated their women like slaves or worse, so Syprians rescued them whenever possible. There were several women who had been Hisian living in Cineth now, known by their skin, which was the color of bleached parchment, and the tribal scarring on cheeks and forehead. The woman who ran one of the smaller provisioners on the harbor front had been a Hisian once.
They started down toward the stone piers, where the ship was being awkwardly brought into dock. Someone else must have shared Giliead's suspicious interest in the newcomer; Ilias saw a patrol galley appear at the mouth of the harbor, the three rows of oars working as it followed the Hisian in.
They reached the slip as the ship was still tying off. Giliead and Irissa's father Ranior was there, waiting with the Portmaster Hadria, an older woman with gray woven through her dark hair. The men who would search the ship for her stood around by the pilings, speculating on what they would find.
When Hadria went to talk to a cargo factor, Giliead asked Ranior, "Will the Hisians agree to the search?"
Ranior nodded. "Hadria said they seem to be reasonable." He glanced at Giliead, his smile turning concerned. Ranior was tall and olive-skinned like Giliead, his red-brown hair almost all gray now, though he still wore it long like a younger man. "Why? What's wrong?"
His eyes still on the ship, Giliead shook his head, his face a little bewildered. "I don't know. It just gives me a strange feeling."
Ilias tried to see what Giliead saw. "You mean a strange feeling like it's a trick to get into the harbor, or a strange feeling like something...else?" He found himself not wanting to say "cursed" aloud.
"I don't know," Giliead said again, sounding annoyed now. "It's not a curse, not on the ship. That I'd be able to see. Or I should be able to see it." He shrugged, almost angrily. "I can't tell if this is a real feeling or I'm just imagining it."
"Maybe Gil should go aboard." Irissa looked at Ranior hopefully. Ilias was fairly sure that meant that Irissa thought she should go aboard and that Giliead would be a good excuse, but he couldn't blame her; he wanted to see the foreign ship too.
But Ranior's expression was serious. "I'll talk to Hadria." He added, still watching Giliead, "Don't say what you're looking for, don't even imply it, not with a look, not with a word. Not unless you're certain."
Giliead hesitated, a flicker of unease crossing his face, then he nodded. "I understand."
Hadria agreed to let them go aboard with the searchers, probably thinking Ranior wanted to see the ship for himself. But once Ilias stood with Irissa on the deck, he admitted to some disappointment. The ship was just an ordinary merchant, her shallow hull stuffed with bales of fur, some millstones, and other goods. There was no cabin on the deck for shelter, just a section of tarp to rig up as protection from the sun. The small crew were mostly young boys, and the dark-clothed shipmaster was a lean old man, his tribal scars so puckered from age and weather they were nearly impossible to read. He stood beside the mast, weary and resigned, and the young crew mostly huddled nervously near the water casks. They all wore dark colors, as Hisians usually did, and had already stripped to the waist to prove they weren't trying to conceal any female captives. They looked like what they said they were; a family of merchant Hisians coming along the coast to trade for wine and olive oil.
His expression of mild interest fixed, Giliead wandered around the deck as the Portmaster's assistants climbed through the cargo. The Hisians barely noticed him, and were more occupied with trying desperately not to look at Irissa. They treated their own women like dirt and then killed each other for looking at them; they seemed slow to get the idea that with Syprians, it was all right to look, just not to be rude about it.
The youngest, scrawniest boy snuck a glance at Irissa, then accidentally made eye contact with Ilias. He twitched and hunkered down closer to the deck in terror. Ilias was highly conscious of the need to keep from betraying the fact that Giliead was looking for curses, and in trying to keep his face blank, he felt he probably looked far more forbidding than he meant to. He tried to relax, telling Irissa in a low voice, "Doesn't look like anything's wrong."
"No," she agreed reluctantly. "Gil needs to go with Menander, to get some real experience." Frustrated, she added, "Sometimes it doesn't seem as if Menander remembers that Gil is a Chosen Vessel at all."
Ilias knew reading the Journals and listening to Menander's stories was all well and good, but Giliead needed to work with a real Vessel, to see a hunt for himself, and to help with it. Yet now he found himself wanting to argue with Irissa that Menander was right, that putting it off was best. "Some Vessels just travel alone."
Irissa pointed out bluntly, "Yes. Usually the ones who die quickly."
Ilias didn't have an answer for that. The Journals had shown it over and over again, that Chosen Vessels who hunted alone tended to come to their ends far more quickly than those who didn't. Though it was risky either way, and usually the companions died faster than the Vessels. Ilias had meant to be Giliead's companion as long as he could remember, but with Menander putting off Giliead's training, it had been easy to pretend it was never going to happen, that their lives would be normal.
He looked away, even more uncomfortable now. Something in Ranior's face when he had told Giliead not to even hint that the ship might be cursed had made Ilias uneasy. That Giliead might be wrong and innocent people die, or be given curse marks and ostracized.
Chosen Vessels were supposed to prevent that, it was the whole point of having them. Hisians didn't have Vessels, and accused each other of being wizards constantly, and killed each other like animals.
In the Poets' stories, it all seemed so simple. Except Ilias already knew nothing was simple.
"Harbormaster, I hope there's no trouble," someone said, and Ilias looked up to see a man he had taken as part of the crew addressing Hadria. "I've been on the ship since Ancyra, and these are good people." He was young, with a tangle of dark hair cut at the shoulders. Under the coating of sweat and grime, he wasn't as pale as the other Hisians, but he was dressed like them with a black wrap around his waist. Ilias squinted at him, trying to decide if he was Syprian or not. It was hard to tell, but his Syrnaic had an inland accent and he had spoken to Hadria first. The Hisian shipmaster had kept trying to talk to Ranior, who had just eyed him silently until the man forced himself to speak to Hadria.
"Are you a trader?" Hadria asked him.
He smiled, answering the question she hadn't asked. "My name is Delphian, from Syrneth. I'm a poet."
See the rest at: Rites of Passage
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April 23rd, 7:10