Anthony Ryan writes fantasy and science fiction. He works full time as a researcher, has a degree in history, and lives in London. Read his interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, Tower Lord. Courtesy: Anthony Ryan.
Tower Lord – Chapter 1
May the World Father, who sees all and knows all in His love, guide my blade.
She watched the tall man as he made his way down the gangplank and onto the quayside. He was dressed in common sailor’s garb, plain, dun-coloured cloth and sturdy but aged boots, a threadbare woollen cloak about his shoulders and, she was surprised to see, no sword at his belt or on his back. He did, however, have a rope-tied canvas bag slung over his shoulder, a bag of sufficient length for a sword.
The tall man turned as someone called to him from the ship, a broad, black-skinned man with a red scarf tied around his neck, marking him as captain of the vessel that had carried such an illustrious passenger to this minor port. The tall man shook his head, a polite but strained smile on his lips, gave a friendly but emphatic wave of farewell and turned his back on the ship. He walked on quickly, drawing the hood of his cloak over his head as he did so. There were a good number of hawkers, troubadours and whores on the quayside, most affording the tall man the barest attention, though he drew a few glances due to his height. A clutch of whores made a half-hearted attempted to entice his custom, clearly he was another salt-dog with little wealth to share, but he just laughed easily, hands spread in a sham of apologetic and reluctant poverty.
Stupid sluts, she thought, crouched in the dank alleyway that had been her home for the past three days. Fish traders occupied the buildings on either side and she was yet to accustom herself to the stench. He lusts for blood, not flesh.
The tall man rounded a corner, making for the north gate no doubt. She rose from her hiding place to follow.
“Payment’s due, love.” It was the fat boy again. He had been plaguing her since her arrival in the alley, extracting payment in coin not to alert the guards to her presence here, the port authorities had little tolerance for vagrants these days, but she knew it wasn’t payment in coin that really interested him. He was perhaps sixteen, two years her junior, but an inch or so taller than her and considerably wider. From the look in his eye he had spent much of her coin on wine. “No more pretending,” he said. “One more day an’ you’d be gone, y’said. An’ yer still here. Payment’s due.”
“Please,” she backed away, voice high, fearful. If he had been sober, he might have wondered why she backed away from the street into the shadow, where surely she was more vulnerable. “I’ve got more, see?” She held out her hand, a copper gleaming dully in the half-light.
“Copper!” He batted it away, as she had assumed he would. “Cumbraelin bitch. I’ll take your coppers and more besi—”
Her fist caught him under the nose, fore-knuckles extended, a precise blow to a spot which would cause the most pain and confusion. His head snapped back, a small explosion of blood coming from his nose and mashed upper lip. Her knife came free from the hidden sheath at the small of her back as he staggered, but the killing blow wasn’t necessary. The fat boy ran his tongue over his ruined lip, incomprehension lighting his eyes, then collapsed to the alley floor. She took hold of his ankles and dragged him into the shadow. His pockets yielded what remained of her coppers, a small vial of redflower and a half-eaten apple. She took the coppers, left the redflower and walked away munching on the apple. It would likely be hours before anyone found the fat boy and even then they would assume he was the victim of a drunken fight.
The tall man came into sight within the space of a moment, making his way through the gate, giving an affable nod to the guards but keeping his hood in place. She lingered, finishing her apple as he took the north road, letting him get a good half mile ahead before following.
May the World Father, who sees all and knows all in His love, guide my blade.
The tall man kept to the road for the rest of the day, occasionally stopping to check his surroundings, eyes scanning tree-line and horizon. The actions of a careful man, or an experienced warrior. She kept away from the road, staying in the trees that dominated the country north of Warnsclave, just close enough to keep him in sight. He walked at a steady pace with a regular, long-legged stride that ate up the miles with deceptive speed. There were a few other travellers on the road, mostly carts carrying cargo to or from the port, a few lone riders, none of whom stopped to talk to the tall man. With so many outlaws haunting the woods talking to a stranger was unwise, though he seemed unconcerned at their wary disinterest.
As night fell he left the road, entering the woods to seek out a campsite. She tracked him to a small clearing sheltered beneath the branches of a large yew, hiding herself in a shallow ditch behind a copse of gorse, watching through the weave of ferns as he made his camp. It was all done with an impressive economy, the near-unconscious actions of a practised wilds-man; wood gathered, fire lit, ground cleared and bedroll laid in the space of what seemed mere moments.
The tall man settled himself against the trunk of the yew, ate a supper of dried beef, washed it down with a gulp from his canteen, then sat watching his fire burn down. His expression was oddly intense, almost as if he were listening to a conversation of some import. She tensed, wary of discovery, knife already drawn. Does he sense me?she wondered. The priest had warned her he had the Dark in him, that he was the most formidable enemy she was ever likely to face. She had laughed and cast her knife at the target on the wall of the barn where he spent so many years training her. The knife shuddered in the centre of the target, which split and fell apart. “The Father blesses me, remember?” she said. The priest had whipped her, for her pride and the crime of claiming to know the mind of the World Father.
She watched the tall man and his oddly intense expression for another hour before he blinked, cast a final glance around at the forest and huddled in his cloak to sleep. She forced herself to wait another hour, until the night sky was as dark as it would get and the forest was near black as pitch, the only light of substance the lacelike wisps rising from his dead fire.
She rose from her ditch in a crouch, knife reversed, blade flat against the skin of her arm to hide the gleam. She moved towards the tall man’s sleeping form with all the stealth the priest had beaten into her since the age of six, as near soundless as any forest predator could be. The tall man lay on his back, head tilted to one side, neck laid bare. It would be so easy to kill him now, but her mission was clear. The sword, the priest had told her, over and over. The sword is all, his death is secondary.
She switched the grip on her knife, the blade poised, ready. Most men will talk with a knife at their throat, the priest had said. May the World Father, who sees all and knows all in His love, guide your blade.
She launched herself onto the tall man, knife reaching for his exposed throat . . .
The air whooshed from her lungs in a pained rush as her chest connected with something hard. His boots, she realised with a groan. Then she was in the air, launched by the tall man’s boot thrust to land on her back a good ten feet away. She scrambled upright, knife slashing into the spot where she knew he would follow up his attack . . . The knife met only air. The tall man was standing next to the yew, regarding her with an expression certain to provoke an upsurge of rage in her breast. Amusement.
She snarled, charging forward, ignoring the caution instilled by the priest’s cane. She feinted to the left then leapt, the knife slashing down to pierce the tall man’s shoulder . . . The knife met only air. She stumbled, unbalanced by the momentum of her attack. Whirling, seeing him standing close by, still amused.
She lunged, knife moving in a complex series of jabs and slashes, accompanied by a dizzyingly fast array of kicks and punches . . . They all met only air.
She forced herself to stop, drawing breath in ragged gasps, fighting down the rage and hate. If an attack fails, withdraw, the priest’s words loud in her head. Watch from the shadows for another opportunity. The Father will always reward patience.
She gave the tall man a final snarl of rage and turned away, ready to sprint into the darkness . . .
“You have your father’s eyes.”
GO! The priest’s voice shouted in her mind. But she stopped, turned back slowly. The tall man’s expression had changed, the amusement replaced with something like sorrow.
“Where is it?” she demanded. “Where is my father’s sword, Darkblade?”
His eyebrows rose. “Darkblade. Haven’t heard that one in years.” He moved back to the camp, tossing fresh branches on the fire and striking a flint.
She turned back to the forest, then back to the camp, self-hate and frustration burning in her. Weakling, coward.
“Stay if you’re staying,” the Darkblade said. “Or run if you’re running.”
She drew a deep calming breath, sheathed her knife and went to sit down on the other side of the growing fire. “The Dark saved you,” she accused. “Your unholy magics are an affront to the love of the Father.”
He gave an amused grunt, still feeding the fire. “You have dung on your shoes from Warnsclave. Town dung has a particular smell. You should have hidden yourself downwind.”
She looked at her shoes and gave an inward curse, resisting the urge to scrape it off. “I know your Dark sight gives you knowledge, how else would you know about my father?”
“You have his eyes, as I said.” The Darkblade sat, reaching for a leather pouch and tossing it over the fire to her. “Here, you look hungry.”
The pouch contained dried beef and a few oatcakes. She ignored the food, and the growl of protest from her stomach. “You should know,” she said. “You killed him.”
“Actually, I didn’t. As for the man who did . . .” He trailed off, expression momentarily sombre. “Well, he’s dead too.”
“It was at your command, your attack on his holy mission . . .”
“HentesMustor was an insane fanatic who killed his own father and plunged this Realm into a needless war.”
“The Trueblade brought the Father’s justice to a traitor and sought to free us from your Heretic Dominion. His every action was in service to Father’s love . . .”
“Really? Did he tell you that?”
She fell silent, head lowered to hide her rage. Her father had told her nothing, she had never met him, as this Dark-afflicted heretic obviously knew. “Just tell me where it is,” she grated. “My father’s sword. It’s mine by right.”
“That’s your mission? A holy quest for a yard of sharpened steel.” He reached for the canvas-bound bundle propped against the yew tree and held it out to her. “Take this one if you want. It’s probably forged with greater skill than you father’s in any case.”
“The sword of the Trueblade is a holy relic, described as such in the Eleventh Book, blessed by the World Father to bring unity to the Loved and an end to the Heretic Dominion.”
He seemed to find further amusement in this. “In truth, it was a plain weapon of Renfaelin design, the kind used by a man-at-arms or a knight with scant funds, no gold or jewels in the hilt to make it valuable.”
Despite his scorn the words were enticing. “You were there when it was taken from my father’s martyred corpse. Tell me where it is or I swear by the Father you will have to kill me for I will plague you all your days, Darkblade.”
“Vaelin,” he said, putting the bundle aside.
“It’s my name. Do you think you could use it? Or Lord Al Sorna if you’re of a formal inclination.”
“I thought it was Brother.”
“Not any more.”
She drew back in surprise. He is no longer of the Order? It was absurd, surely some kind of trick.
“How did you know where to pick up my trail?” he asked.
“The ship put in at SouthTower before sailing to Warnsclave. A man as hated as you shouldn’t expect to avoid recognition. Word flies quickly among the Loved.”
“So, you are not alone in this great endeavour.”
She bit down on more anger-stoked words. Why not tell him all your secrets, you worthless bitch? She rose, turning her back on him. “This doesn’t end here . . .”
“I know where to find it.”
She hesitated, glancing over her shoulder. His expression was entirely serious now. “Then tell me.”
“I will, but I have conditions.”
She crossed her arms tightly, face wrinkled in contempt and disgust. “So the great Vaelin Al Sorna bargains for a woman’s flesh like any other man.”
“Not that. As you said, I should not expect to go unrecognised. I require a disguise of sorts.”
“Yes, you will be my disguise. We will travel together, as . . .” He thought for a moment. “. . . brother and sister.”
Travel together. Travel with him? The very thought of it was sickening. But the sword . . . The sword is all. May the Father forgive me. “How far?” she said.
“That’s three weeks from here.”
“Longer, I have a stop to make along the way.”
“And you will tell me where to find the sword when we get to Varinshold?”
“My word on it.”
She sat again, refusing to look at him, hating the ease of his manipulation. “I agree.”
“Then you’d best get some sleep.” He moved back from the fire to lie down, wrapping his cloak around him. “Oh,” he said. “What do I call you?”
What do I call you? Not, what’s your name? He expected her to lie to him. She decided to disappoint him. When he died she wanted him to know the name of the woman that killed him. “Reva,” she said. I was named for my mother.