Last year, Peter V. Brett surprised a lot of people with his debut novel, The Warded Man (or The Painted Man, depending on your region). We’ve long since forgotten that Brett wrote the novel on his Blackberry (or equivalent device), and he’s since established himself as a bright new voice in the genre.
I’m sure Im not alone in look to The Desert Spear as one of the most anticipated novels of 2010. When I started reading it a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted to bring a sneak peek to my readers. Peat and I discussed a few different scenes from the novel, and eventually settled on Chapter 15: Marick’s Tale as a perfect taste of what the novel has to offer. I’m sure you’ll recognize a few faces!
Chapter 15: Marick’s Tale (Partial)
The Corelings’ Graveyard was in chaos when Leesha and the others returned to town. Hundreds of folk, many of them injured and none of them familiar, filled the square. All were filthy, ragged, and half starved. Exhausted, they rested in grim misery on the frozen cobbles.
Tender Jona was running to and fro, shouting orders to his acolytes as they tried to give comfort to those in need. The Cutters were dragging logs out to the square so people would at least have a place to sit, but it seemed an impossible task.
“Thank the Creator!” the Tender called when he caught sight of them. Vika, his wife, ran to embrace him as he hurried over.
“What happened?” Leesha asked.
“Refugees from Fort Rizon,” Jona said. “They just started pouring in this morning, a couple hours past dawn. More arrive at every moment.”
“Where is the Deliverer?” a woman in the crowd cried. “They said he was here!”
“The wards in the entire city failed?” Leesha asked.
“Impossible,” Erny said. “Rizon has over a hundred hamlets, all individually warded. Why flee all this way?”
“Wasn’t the corelings we fled,” a familiar voice said. Leesha turned, her eyes widening.
“Marick!” she cried. “What are you doing here?” The Messenger was as handsome as ever, but there were yellowed bruises on his face only partially obscured by his long hair and beard, and he favored one leg slightly as he approached.
“Made the mistake of wintering in Rizon,” Marick said. “Usually a good idea; the cold doesn’t bite so hard in the South.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “Not this year.”
“If it wasn’t demons, what happened?” Leesha asked.
“Krasians,” Marick said, spitting in the snow. “Seems the desert rats got sick of eating sand and decided to start preying on civilized folk.”
Leesha turned to Rojer. “Find Arlen,” she murmured. “Have him come in secret and meet us in the back room of Smitt’s tavern. Go now.” Rojer nodded and vanished.
“Darsy. Vika,” Leesha said. “Have the apprentices triage the wounded and bring them to the hospit in order of severity.”
The two Herb Gatherers nodded and hurried off.
“Jona,” Leesha said. “Have your acolytes fetch stretchers from the hospit and help the apprentices.” Jona bowed and left.
Seeing Leesha giving direction, others drifted over. Even Smitt, the Town Speaker and innkeep, waited on her word.
“We can hold on food a moment,” Leesha told him, “but these people need water and warm shelter immediately. Put up the wedding pavilions and any tents you can find, and have every spare hand you can find hauling water. If the wells and stream don’t provide fast enough, put cauldrons on a fire and fill them with snow.”
“I’ll see to it,” Smitt said.
“Since when does the whole Hollow hop to your commands?” Marick asked with a grin.
Leesha looked at him. “I need to see to the wounded now, Master Marick, but I’ll have many questions for you when I’m through.”
“I’ll be at your disposal,” Marick said, bowing.
“Thank you,” Leesha said. “It would help if you could gather the other leaders of your group who might have something to add to your story.”
“Of course,” Marick said.
“I’ll settle them in the inn,” Stefny, Smitt’s wife, said. “Surely you could use a cold ale and a bite,” she told the Messenger.
“More than you could imagine,” Marick said.
* * * * *
There were broken bones to set and infections to treat, many from blistered feet that had burst and been left untreated as folk spent more than a week on the road, knowing that to fall behind the main group meant almost certain death. More than a few of the travelers had coreling wounds, as well, from crowding into hastily put together circles. It was a wonder any had made it to Deliverer’s Hollow at all. She knew from their tales that many had not.
There were several Herb Gatherers of varying skill among the refugees, and after a quick check of their own state, Leesha put them to work. None of the women complained; it was ever the lot of the Herb Gatherer to put aside her own needs for those of her charges.
“We would never have made it without Messenger Marick,” one woman said as Leesha treated her frostbitten toes. “He rode ahead each day and warded campsites for our group to succor when the corelings came. Wouldn’t have lasted a night without him. He even felled deer with his bow and left them on the road for us to find.”
By the time Rojer reappeared, the worst of the wounds had been treated. She left control of the hospit to Darsy and Vika and went with him to her office.
When the door closed behind them, Leesha slumped against Rojer, finally allowing her exhaustion to show. It was late in the afternoon, and she had been working for hours without a break, treating patients and fielding questions from apprentices and town elders alike. It would be dark in a few short hours.
“You need to rest,” Rojer said, but Leesha shook her head, filling a basin with water and splashing it on her face.
“No time for it now,” she said. “Have we found shelter for everyone?”
“Barely,” Rojer said. “All told, there’s more refugees than the entire population of Deliverer’s Hollow twice over, and I’ve no doubt there will be more tomorrow. Folk have opened their homes, but Tender Jona still has people sleeping sitting up in his pews, just to keep a roof over them. If this keeps up, every inch of the greatward will be covered in makeshift tents by week’s end.”
Leesha nodded. “We’ll worry over that come morning. Arlen is waiting at Smitt’s?”
“The Warded Man is there,” Rojer said. “Don’t call him Arlen in front of those people.”
“It’s his name, Rojer,” Leesha said.
“I don’t care,” Rojer snapped, surprising her with his vehemence. “These people need something bigger than themselves to believe in, and right now it’s him. No one is asking you to call him Deliverer.”
Leesha blinked, taken aback. “I’ve gotten used to everyone leaping when I say ‘hop’.”
“Well you can trust me never to do that,” Rojer said.
Leesha smiled. “I want it no other way. Come. Let’s go see the Warded Man.”
* * * * *
The taproom of Smitt’s tavern was filled to capacity when Rojer and Leesha arrived, even though the new inn was twice the size it had been when it burned down the year previous.
Smitt nodded to them as they entered, and jerked his head toward the back room. They hurried through the crowd and ducked through the heavy door.
The Warded Man was in the room, pacing like an animal.
“I should be out hunting for more survivors before nightfall, not waiting on council meetings,” he said.
“We’ll be as swift as we can,” Leesha said, “but it’s best we do this together.”
The Warded Man nodded, though she could see his impatience in his clenching hands. Smitt entered a moment later, ushering in Marick, along with Stefny, Tender Jona, Erny, and Elona.
Marick stared at the Warded Man, though his hood was drawn and his tattooed hands were hidden in the voluminous sleeves of his robe.
“Are you… him?” Marick asked.
The Warded Man pulled back his hood, revealing his painted flesh, and Marick gasped.
“You the Deliverer, as they say?” Marick asked.
The Warded Man shook his head. “Just a man who learned to kill demons.”
“Something caught in your throat, Tender?” the Warded Man asked.
“The other Deliverers never named themselves as such,” Jona said. “They were all given the title by others.” The Warded Man scowled at him, but Jona only bowed his head.
“I guess it doesn’t matter,” Marick said, though he sounded a little disappointed. “I didn’t really expect you to have a halo.”
“What happened?” the Warded Man asked.
“Twelve days ago, the Krasians sacked Fort Rizon,” Marick said. “They came in the night, bypassed the hamlets, and took out the wall guards, opening the gates of the central city wide at the crack of dawn. We were all still in our beds when the killing started.”
“They came in the night?” Leesha asked. “How is that possible?”
“They’ve got warded weapons that kill demons,” Marick said, “same as you Hollow folk. They talk like there ent nothing in the world more important than demon killing, and taking Rizon was just something to keep them busy till the sun set.”
“Go on,” the Warded Man pressed.
“Well,” Marick said, “it’s clear their eyes were on the central grain silos, because they took those first. Their warriors killed any man that resisted, and bent any woman that looked old enough to bleed.” He glanced at the women present, and his face flushed.
“It’s no shock what men will do when they think they can get away with it,” Elona said bitterly. “Get on with your tale, Messenger.”
Marick nodded. “They must have killed thousands, that first morning, and took the city walls to keep the rest of us in. We were beaten, tied together, and dragged into warehouses like cattle.”
“How did you escape?” the Warded Man asked.
“At first I didn’t think any of the desert rats spoke a civilized tongue,” Marick said. “I know a couple of sand words I picked up from other Messengers, but it’s mostly curses, not much to start a conversation with. I figured I was done for, but after a day, a fat one came who spoke Thesan like a native. He started rounding up the royals, landowners, and skilled laborers, bringing them to the Krasian duke. I was among those.”
“You saw their leader?” the Warded Man asked.
“Oh, I saw that big bastard all right,” Marick said. “They brought me before him, bound and battered, and when he heard I was a Warder, he set me free like nothing had happened. Even gave me a purse of gold for my troubles! I think he meant for me to teach them our wards, but I was over the wall and out of the city at dawn the next morning.”
“Their leader,” the Warded Man pressed. “What was he wearing?”
Marick blinked. “Open white robe and head rag,” he said, “with black underneath, like their warriors wear. And he wore a crown; that’s how I knew he was their duke.”
“A crown?” the Warded Man asked. “Are you sure? He didn’t just have a jewel set in his turban?”
Marick nodded. “I’m sure. It was gold, and covered in jewels and wards. Ripping thing must have been worth more than every other duke’s crown combined.”
“And this duke, did he speak our tongue?” the Warded Man asked.
“Better than some Angierians I know,” Marick said.
“What was his name?” the Warded Man asked.
Marick shrugged. “Don’t think anyone said it. They all called him some sand word. Shamaka, or somesuch. I figured it meant ‘duke.’”
“Shar’Dama Ka?” the Warded Man asked.
“Ay,” Marick nodded. “That was it.”
The Warded Man swore under his breath.
“What is it?” Leesha asked, but he ignored her, leaning in to the Messenger.
“Was he about this tall?” he asked, holding up a hand above his own head. “With a forked, oiled beard and a sharp, hooked nose?”
“Did he carry a warded spear?” the Warded Man asked.
“They all carried warded spears,” Marick said.
“You would remember this one,” the Warded Man said.
Marick nodded again. “Metal, it was, point to butt. And covered in etched wards.”
The growl that issued from the Warded Man’s throat was so feral that even Marick, usually fearless, took a step back.
“What is it?” Leesha asked again.
“Ahmann Jardir,” the Warded Man said. “I know him.”
“What does this mean?” she asked, but the Warded Man waved the question away.
“It makes no difference now,” he said. “Go on,” he told Marick. “What happened next?”
“As I said, I scaled the wall and fled the city the moment they set me free,” Marick said. “The hamlets I passed through were half deserted by the time I arrived. When word of the attack reached them, the smart folk grabbed what they could and were on the road before the blood on the cobbles of the central city was dry. Those too weak to travel or too scared of the night stayed behind. I think more stayed than left, but there were still tens of thousands on the road.
“I bought a horse from an old fellow got left behind, and galloped off. I caught up to the folk on the road soon after. The groups were too large to stick together; no city could absorb so many. Most went to Lakton and its hamlets, where any with a hook and line can fill their belly, but the Jongleurs have had a lot to say about you,” he pointed to the Warded Man, “and them that believed you were really the Deliverer come again flocked here. I needed to get back to Angiers and report to the duke, but I couldn’t just leave folk on the road with so few to ward for them, so I offered up my services.”
“It was a good thing you did, Marick,” Leesha said, laying a hand on his arm. “These people never would have made it without you. Go and take your ease out into the taproom while we discuss your news.”
“I have a room reserved for you upstairs,” Smitt added. “Stefny will see you there.”
The Warded Man put his hood up as soon as the Messenger left. “Daylight is fading. If there are more on the road, I need to make sure they see the dawn.”
Leesha nodded. “Take Gared and as many Cutters as can sit a horse.”
“Get your cloak,” the Warded Man told Rojer. “You’re coming with us.” Rojer nodded, and they headed for the rear exit.
“You’ll need Warders,” Erny said, pushing back his wire-framed glasses and rising from his seat. “I’ll go.”
Elona was on her feet instantly grabbing his arm. “You’ll do no such thing, Ernal.”
Erny blinked. “You’re always complaining I’m not brave enough. Now you want me to hide when people need my help?”
“You’ll prove nothing to me by getting yourself killed,” Elona said. “You haven’t sat a horse in years.”
“She has a point, Da,” Leesha said.
“Stay out of this,” Erny said. “The town may hop at your word, but I’m still your father.”
“There’s no time for this,” the Warded Man. “Are you coming or not?”
“Not,” Elona said firmly.
“Coming,” Erny said, pulling his arm from her grasp and following the other men out.
* * * * *
“That idiot!” Elona shrieked as the door slammed shut. Everyone else glanced at one another.
“Take as long back here as you like,” Smitt said, “I need to get out front.” He, Stefny, and Jona quickly filed out of the room, leaving Leesha alone with her fuming mother.
“He’ll be all right, Mum,” Leesha said. “There’s nowhere in all the world safer than traveling with Rojer and the Warded Man.”
“He’s a frail man!” Elona said. “He can’t ride with young men, and he’ll catch his death of cold! He’s never been the same after the flux took him last year.”
“Why, Mother,” Leesha said, surprised, “it sounds like you truly care.”
“Don’t take that tone with me,” Elona snapped. “Of course I care. He’s my husband. If you knew what it was be like to be married almost thirty years, you wouldn’t say such things.”
Leesha wanted to snap back, to shout out all the horrible things her mother had done to her father over the years, not the least of which being her repeated infidelity with Gared’s father, Steave, but the sincerity in her mother’s voice checked her.
“You’re right, Mum, I’m sorry,” she said.
Elona blinked. “I’m right? Did you just say I was right?”
“I did.” Leesha smiled.
Elona opened her arms. “Hug me now, child, while it lasts.” Leesha laughed and embraced her tightly.
“He’ll be fine,” Leesha said, as much for herself as her mother.
Elona nodded. “You’re right, of course. He may look a terror, but no demon can stand up to your tattooed friend.”
“Both of us right in one night, and Da not here to witness,” Leesha said.
“He’ll never believe it,” Elona agreed. She dabbed at her eyes with a kerchief, and Leesha pretended not to notice.
“So was that the same Marick you used to shine on?” Elona asked. “The one you ran off to Angiers with?”
“I never shined on him, Mother,” Leesha said.
Elona scoffed. “Sell that tampweed tale to someone who doesn’t know you. The whole town knew you wanted him, even if you were too prudish to act on it. And why not? He’s handsome as a wolf, and a Messenger on top. That’s man enough for any woman. Why do you think he used to make Gared so jealous?”
“Everything made Gared jealous, Mum,” Leesha said.
Elona nodded. “He’s just like his father: simple men, ruled by their passions.” She smiled wistfully, and Leesha knew she was thinking of Steave, her first love, who had died the year previous when flux took Cutter’s Hollow and the wards failed.
“The Marick I saw when we were alone on the road wasn’t much different,” Leesha said.
“And you used Gatherer’s tricks to keep him off you,” Elona guessed, “instead of taking it as the perfect opportunity to have a romp with no one the wiser.” It was true enough; Leesha had secretly drugged Marick into impotence to prevent his taking advantage of her on the road.
“Like you would have?” Leesha asked, unable to keep the bite from her tone.
“Yes,” Elona said, “and why not? Skirts lift up for a reason. Women have needs down below, just as men. Don’t lie to yourself and pretend otherwise.”
“I know that, Mum,” Leesha said.
“You know it,” Elona agreed, “and yet still you sew your petticoats shut, and think denying yourself somehow makes you heroic. How can you treat every body in the Hollow when you don’t understand the needs of your own?”
Leesha said nothing. Her mother had a most unsettling way of reading her thoughts.
“You should go up and talk to Marick while your other suitors are out of town,” Elona said. “He’s had years and tragedy to season him, and come out a hero. The folk outside can’t stop singing his praises. Perhaps he’ll be more to your liking now.”
“I don’t know…” Leesha said.
“Oh, go on!” Elona said. “Take a plate of food up to his room and talk to him. It’s not like you have to let him stick you this very night.” She smiled and winked. “Though if you did, it’d be a better use of your night than fretting over problems that will remain come morning.”
Leesha laughed despite herself, and hugged her mother again.
* * * * *
Several times they passed scenes of slaughter; bodies, alone and in groups, torn apart by corelings when night fell upon them without succor.
The Warded Man cursed the sights, spurring Twilight Dancer on harder, not bothering to stop after the first. The others who followed him, even Gared and the Cutters, were inexperienced riders falling well behind his powerful stallion, but he didn’t care. There were refugees on the road, driven out of their homes by Ahmann Jardir, the man he had been fool enough to call friend, and he needed to find and protect as many of them as he could before night fell.
But he would hold Jardir to account for every life lost. Corespawn him if he did not.
More than an hour of hard riding brought him to a large group of refugees. The sky was awash with color as the sun set, but the folk were still working on their wards. They had painted the magical symbols on wooden boards, but the area they needed to secure was irregularly shaped, and the net was out of alignment.
He galloped right to the edge of the wardnet, pulling Twilight Dancer up short and leaping down with his warding kit. People cried out at the sight of him, but he ignored them, inspecting their wards.
“It’s him,” one Warder whispered to another. “The Deliverer.” The Warded Man paid him no mind, focusing on the task at hand. Some of their wards he turned or twisted to align properly with others, but many he altered with charcoal, or turned the boards over and replaced entirely.
A crowd began to gather around him, folk clutching one another and whispering as they stared at his tattooed hands and tried to get a peek under his hood. None dared approach him, though, and his work went uninterrupted. When his companions finally caught up, Erny fumbled his way down off his horse to assist. Rojer and the others placed themselves protectively between him and the crowd.
“Deliverer!” a woman screamed at him. He glanced over to see her struggling vainly toward him against the pull of Gared’s trunklike arms, her eyes alight with fanatical fire. He turned back to his work.
“Please!” the woman cried. “My sister is still on the road!”
The Warded Man looked up sharply at that. “Take over the warding,” he told Erny. “Draft as many of their Warders as you need. I’ll leave a couple of archers to buy you time to finish.” Erny gulped, but he nodded and called to the Rizonan Warders, who had been standing back with the rest of the refugees.
“Let her go,” the Warded Man told Gared when he reached the pair. Gared complied immediately, and the woman fell to her knees before him, clutching at his feet.
“Please, Deliverer,” she said. “My sister is with child; too far along to sit a horse. She and our gray parents couldn’t keep up with the group, so our husbands bade me take the children on ahead while they set a slower pace.”
“And they haven’t caught up,” the Warded Man finished for her.
“It is nearly dark,” the woman said, weeping upon his feet and clutching at the hem of his robes. “Please, Deliverer, save them.”
The Warded Man reached down to her, placing a hand on her chin and gently pulling her to her feet. “I’m not the Deliverer,” he said. “But I swear I’ll save your family if I can.”
He turned to Gared. “Pick two archers to stay with Erny while the wards here are completed,” he said. “The rest of you are with me.” Gared nodded, and moments later they thundered out of the camp, riding even more frantically than before.
* * * * *
It was dark when they found them: five people, as the desperate woman had said. They stood in a tiny makeshift ward circle, surrounded by dozens of corelings. Flame demons spat fire and wind demons swooped down from the sky. There was even a rock demon, towering over rest.
Each time the demons struck and the wardnet flared to life, Rojer could see the holes in the web; holes more than large enough for a demon to squeeze through.
The two young men stood by those holes, stabbing out with pitchforks to drive the demons back as an elderly couple tended to the obvious reason why they had fallen behind.
The young woman at the circle’s center was giving birth.
The Warded Man growled and kicked his stallion forward, leaping ahead of the others. He cast his robe aside, and it floated to the ground in his wake. Gared and the Cutters gave a cry and followed suit, freeing their warded axes as they galloped toward the fray.
The Warded Man rode Twilight Dancer right into the rock demon, the warded metal horns welded to the horse’s barding crackling with power as they punched through the black carapace of the demon’s abdomen. The Warded Man leapt from his horse as the demon was driven back, grabbing one of its horns to hold on to as he rode the coreling to the ground, punching it repeatedly in the throat with warded fists as it went down.
He was up in an instant, tackling a flame demon and tearing its lower jaw clean off. The Cutters caught up to him then, catching flame bursts on their warded shields and hacking at the demons as if they were sectioning lumber.
Wonda and the archers took a different tack, halting their horses several dozen yards back and sighting the wind demons that filled the sky. They came crashing down one after another, feathered shafts jutting from their leathery bodies.
Rojer slipped from his horse, leaving it with the archers, and took up his fiddle, playing even as he ran for the small circle. Much like Leesha’s Cloaks of Unsight, his music made him effectively invisible to the corelings as he waded through their lines, but without the need for a slow pace. In moments he was inside the circle, and changed his tune to the jarring notes that would drive the demons away from the small family.
The young woman screamed as battle raged about them, black demon ichor flying free in the night air. Her parents were doing what they could to make her comfortable, but it was clear from their fumbling that they had no idea how to assist in the delivery.
“She needs help!” Rojer cried. “We need to get her to an Herb Gatherer!”
The Warded Man broke away from the demons he was engaging and was at Rojer’s side in an instant. He was clad only in a loincloth, covered in tattoos and demon ichor. The Rizonans backed away from him in fear, but the girl was too far gone to even notice.
“Get my herb pouch,” the Warded Man said, kneeling by the girl and examining her with a surprisingly gentle touch. “Her water’s broken and her contractions are close. There’s no time to get her to a Gatherer.”
Rojer ran out to Twilight Dancer, but the stallion was in a wild rage, trampling a pair of flame demons into the snow and mud. Drawing his warded cloak about him, Rojer took up his fiddle again. As with the corelings, Rojer’s special magic found resonance with the beast, and in short order the horse stood calmly while Rojer retrieved the precious herb pouch.
He brought the pouch to the Warded Man, who quickly began grinding herbs into powder and mixing them with water. The girl’s family kept back, watching the scene in horror as the Cutters laid waste to demons all around them.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Rojer asked nervously, as the Warded Man brought his potion to the moaning woman’s lips.
“I was apprenticed to an Herb Gatherer for six months as part of my Messenger training,” the Warded Man said. “I’ve seen it done.”
“Seen?!” Rojer asked.
“Do you want to do it?” the Warded Man asked, looking at him. Rojer blanched and shook his head. “Then just play your ripping fiddle and keep the demons back while I work.” Rojer nodded and put bow back to string.
Hours later, with the sounds of battle long faded, a shrill cry broke the night. Rojer looked at the screaming babe and smiled.
“There will be no denying it when people call you Deliverer now,” he said.
The Warded Man scowled at him, and Rojer laughed.
The Desert Spear is released April, 13th, 2010. The paperback of The Warded Man hits North American store shelves today.