With the release of The Straits of Galahesh imminent (it hits shelves April 3rd), I’m grateful to John O’Neil and Howard Andrew Jones for having me by to share an excerpt. The Straits of Galahesh is the second book in my epic fantasy trilogy, The Lays of Anuskaya. The story picks up five years after the close of the first book, The Winds of Khalakovo. (And by the way, if you don’t already have a copy of WINDS, it’s available for FREE in the US from the Amazon Kindle Store until the end of the month.)
Here’s the cover blurb for STRAITS:
West of the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya lies the Empire of Yrstanla, the Motherland. The Empire has lived at peace with Anuskaya for generations, but with political turmoil brewing and the wasting disease still rampant, opportunists from the mainland have begun to set their sights on the Grand Duchy, seeking to expand their empire.
Five years have passed since Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, was tasked with finding Nasim, the child prodigy behind a deadly summoning that led to a grand clash between the armies of man and elder elemental spirits. Today, that boy has grown into a young man driven to understand his past – and the darkness from which Nikandr awakened him. Nikandr’s lover, Atiana, has become a Matra, casting her spirit forth to explore, influence, and protect the Grand Duchy. But when the Al-Aqim, long thought lost to the past, return to the islands and threaten to bring about indaraqiram – a change that means certain destruction for both the Landed and the Landless – bitter enemies must become allies and stand against their horrific plans.
Can the Grand Duchy be saved? The answer lies hidden within the Straits of Galahesh…
I also wanted to let the readers of Black Gate know that I’m holding a giveaway to help promote The Straits of Galahesh. Everyone is welcome to come by and enter. I’m giving away a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet (winner’s choice), a Kindle Touch or Nook Simple Touch (winner’s choice), a rare ARC of The Straits of Galahesh, and ten SETS of the first two books in both physical and electronic form. The details, including how to enter, can be found here.
One last item of note, if you enjoy the excerpt below, you can download the first eleven chapters from my website.
So, without further ado, here’s the prologue from The Straits of Galahesh.
An Excerpt from The Straits of Galahesh
by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Cover by Todd Lockwood
This is a Special Presentation of a work of fiction. It appears with the permission of Bradley P. Beaulieu, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2012 by Bradley P. Beaulieu.
In the southern gallery of the capital’s sprawling kasir, Hakan ül Ayeşe, the Kamarisi of Yrstanla, stood at a marble balcony. The day was warm. Gardeners below tended to the rows of trees—lemon and fig and plum—that filled the southern acres. Far to the south, beyond the gardens, was a tall stone wall that had never been touched in battle. The wall was exactly three leagues long, and it separated Kasir Irabahce from the vastness of Alekeşir.
From beyond the wall, if the winds were calm and the noise from the palace was low, Hakan could hear the calls of hawking and barter that came from the spice market to the east, or the bazaar to the south. Today, however, was not such a day. Today, he heard the sounds of industry. Beyond the walking paths and the ordered rows of the vineyard, a dozen masons were spending their sweat on a gazebo that would house a bronze statue being made in his honor. He would not have wished it, but the city they’d taken in the ceaseless war with the Haelish barbarians to the west demanded celebration, even if the victory had been hollow. In weeks, perhaps months, the Haelish would have it back, for the Empire’s resources there were too thin, spread too far along their border with the lands of the Haelish kings.
Behind him, the doors to the gallery opened. He kept his eyes on the rows of red grapes, nearly ready for harvest. Mingled with the sound of approaching footsteps—hard leather scraping lightly over the white marble floor—was the faint patter of bare feet and the jingle of tiny bells.
The sounds stopped a respectful distance behind him. The leather uniforms of his guardsmen creaked.
“Leave her,” Hakan said.
More creaking, the guards bowing to their Lord, and the footsteps resumed, this time fading away until the door closed with a click that pierced the room.
Hakan turned and found the woman he’d summoned from the tower of the wives. She had joined his harem some three months ago. She was tall, nearly as tall as he, and beautiful beyond measure. She was graced with golden hair and striking blue eyes, so rare among the women of the Empire. Only far to the north, among the mountain tribes, were such women to be found, but they were too often coarse and unlearned. Arvaneh was refined, with a soft touch and a softer tongue—in both senses of the word.
The supple cloth of her white dress fell along her frame like a waterfall. From her ankles and hands hung chains with golden bells and ruby gems. On her head was an intricate gold headdress. Somehow it had never suited her.
“Remove the headdress,” he said.
She bowed and complied, setting the headdress on a nearby table. When she regarded him again, it seemed to him that her smile was too satisfied, as if removing the finery had been her idea all along.
He moved to the table and from a small glass pitcher poured raki into two golden chalices. He handed one to Arvaneh and kept the other for himself, motioning for her to follow him to the balcony. She complied, calm and confident, as she had always been.
At the balcony, he brought the raki to his nose, smelled the anise and clove that infused it, then took a healthy swallow. He saw Arvaneh do the same, and the tension inside him eased.
“Tell me, Arvaneh, from what part of the empire do you hail?”
“From a village near the western border of the Gaji.” She waved, as if it were nothing. “It is named Kohor, though you’ve probably never heard of it.”
“Is it not in the Empire?”
“It is, Kamarisi.”
He smiled. “I know of Kohor. What I don’t know is how you came to Alekeşir.”
She tilted her head, staring out over the garden as he’d been doing only moments before, except in her there was a clear hunger, a lust for life and the world that stood before her, whereas he had grown … perhaps not weary, but certainly dissatisfied with life in the palace, in the city.
There was more as well. He couldn’t quite define it, but she seemed to be looking beyond the horizon. She seemed, in fact, to be looking beyond her years toward distant ages past. But then the look was gone, and she turned to him with a steely glint in her eyes. “There was nothing for me in the desert. I wished to see the world.”
“And yet you told me that you’ve remained here in the capital since your arrival six months ago.”
“That’s true”—she beckoned him with a smile—“but when one finds herself in the very center of the world, is there anything that might compel her to leave?” Upon saying these words, she studied him—she weighed him—deciding whether or not she should approach. She seemed to decide against it, perhaps sensing his mood, and he realized he had best be careful how much he revealed. Arvaneh was no one to fool with, not if what his seneschal had told him was true.
He watched as she took another drink. He mirrored her, if only to keep pretenses up.
She turned back to the garden, jaw set, apparently giving his question more serious thought. “Alekeşir is calm. Peaceful. Her roots dig deep into the earth. Why would I want to leave?”
“Perhaps there are places you don’t wish to return. Did you leave someone there? In Kohor?”
Her head snapped toward him, her blue eyes cold and judgmental. But then they softened. “The people of Kohor have long since forgotten me.”
“That I doubt.” He finished his drink. “I doubt it very much.”
As she stared, her eyes lost focus, and she shook her head to clear it.
“Do you feel very well?” he asked, taking her nearly empty chalice from her quivering hands. “Would you care to sit?”
She nodded. The bells on her wrists jingled. Her whole body began to shake. She didn’t go three steps before she collapsed to the ground, golden hair splaying across the floor.
Hakan crouched on the balls of his feet, staring into her eyes, which had gone soft, unable to focus. “Now, would you like to tell me who you really are?”
She blinked. Her body shivered.
“You can speak if you want to. It simply takes more effort. Devrim has been watching you, as have the other women. They know that you leave the tower at night. That you spy upon my room from the gardens. Why? Why do you do this?”
“I…” A horrible shiver ran down her frame, preventing her from speaking. She closed her eyes tightly and opened them again, somehow managing to fix them on him once more. “I only wished to know you.”
“For what purpose?”
She took a deep breath and released it in slow, halting increments. Blood trickled from beneath her left temple from where it had struck the floor. It trailed along the tile until it found a crease, and then it spread along the seam between the stones. “I wanted to know the sort of man you were.”
“Who sent you?”
“I came of my own free will.”
“Don’t lie. You may yet live. There is a counter to the poison, but I cannot use it if I think you’ve spoken even one more lie to me.”
She blinked, a slow and measured movement. Her breath was shallower than it’d been only moments ago. “I wouldn’t lie.” The words were soft, like the dying breeze of dusk.
Hakan cleared his throat, which felt suddenly constricted. He cleared it again. “There is more to the story. I would know, Arvaneh.”
“My name … is Sariya…”
He was surprised to hear fire in her words. He had underestimated her reserves of strength. “Sariya. I would know before you pass. Are you an assassin? Were you sent by the Haelish kings? Or the crones who live in the desert?”
“I am … my own woman. And I … know much … of you.”
“You know much…” Hakan wanted to smile, but something in her seemed primitive and ancient, and his heart withered at the notion of taunting her. “What could you know of me?”
“I know … where you go. I know that with victory in the west, as shallow as it may be, you’ve set your heart upon the east.”
Despite himself, he shivered. He had spoken of this to no one. The Haelish uprising, which had begun shortly before Hakan had been born, was a conflict that had plagued him for all of his years, and though it was not over, it was at a stalemate, and he had vowed to himself long ago that as soon as he was able, he would dedicate himself to reuniting the Old Empire. And that meant turning his sights toward the islands. Toward Galahesh and Anuskaya beyond it.
“How could you know?” he whispered.
“Do not fear, Kamarisi. I’ve told no one.”
Somehow, the effects of the poison were no longer spreading. Her voice had regained its verve. Her cheeks had regained their color, and her eyes were once again sharp.
Hakan swallowed again. The tightness in his throat remained. His mind felt muddled, as if he should be more angry at what she had told him. He shook his head to clear it, but as he did, a wave of dizziness swept over him. He pinched his eyes, hoping to clear himself of the malady, but it refused to ebb.
When he opened his eyes again, he was pressed against the cool marble tiles. Ahead lay the balcony at which he’d been standing only moments ago, but instead of finding Sariya lying there, she was now standing, staring down at him with eyes both calm and collected.
His breath released from his lungs, long and slow. Drawing the next breath was difficult, as if the air itself had turned to wine.
“What … have you done?”
“I have done nothing, Kamarisi. This has all been your doing.” She smiled, her blue eyes glinting in the sunlight. She held in her hand the chalice from which she’d been drinking. “You wish to know who I am? Surely you’ve heard of the tales of Khalakovo? In the autumn of last year, a boy was brought to the islands by the Maharraht. They hoped to tear open the rifts that ran through the islands.”
“The rifts … are a myth.”
Sariya smiled, a gesture that revealed perfect ivory teeth. “They are all too real, Kamarisi, and they are spreading. The boy, Nasim, was reborn of a man named Khamal. He was one of the Al-Aqim, one of those who broke the world. And I am another. My name is Sariya Quljan al Vehayeh.”
Hakan blinked. His eyes were slow to open. His breath was shallower than it had been only moments ago.
“Fear not,” Sariya said. “The end has not yet come. There is more yet to do.”
He didn’t understand what she meant, but at the moment he didn’t care. All he could think about was his life being snuffed out here on the cold tiles of the kasir, the place he’d thought safest for him in all the world. “The antidote,” he said.
“Ah, this?” She opened her other hand. In her palm rested a glass phial. She made no move to render it to him. Instead, she kneeled on the balls of her feet, as he had done—or thought he had done. “You will have it, Kamarisi, though it bears a price.”
“What…” His fingers were numb. It was all he could do to force his lungs to draw breath. “What is it?”
“Something you will gladly pay… I wish to help. I wish to guide you eastward.”
She smiled, and when she did, she became more beautiful a woman than he’d ever seen. “My reasons are my own. Suffice it to say there is a jewel in the crown of Anuskaya I would have back.”
He could no longer feel his lips, nor his fingers nor his toes. He tried to take a deep breath, but could not. His lungs refused him. He tried to speak, but all that came out was a weak groan. His mind was alive with fear—he was too young to die; there was so much yet to do—but his body cared not at all. It seemed content to take its final rest.
He fought against the will of his body.
And nothing happened.
Sariya waited, staring down at him with a cruel smile. He knew that she could have forced him to drink it, but she wanted him to ask.
He fought harder, pouring himself into one small movement, something he hoped she would understand as assent. With one last push, he felt his head move up and down—a nod, though terribly weak; he wasn’t even sure she would recognize it as such.
Apparently she had, for she kneeled next to him and rolled him onto his back. Lying there, looking up at her as she pulled the glass stopper from the phial, she looked like a mother caring for her sick child. He thought he should hate her for what she had done, but he didn’t. To him, she was a guiding star.
She would give to Yrstanla her children lost in the War of Seven Seas. He was certain of it, and for this he was undyingly grateful.
As the liquid poured down his throat, he felt relief like he never had before. It was like being reborn.
When it was all down, Sariya kissed his forehead and tenderly stroked his hair. “Together, Hakan ül Ayeşe, we will do well. Together, we will build a bridge the likes of which the world has never seen.”
The Kamarisi, blinded by his love, could only smile at the wonder in her eyes.