This blog has reached 10,000 hits! As promised, here's a small teaser for the next book. Be careful about reading ANY FURTHER if you don't want to spoil the intervening books!
The walk was a long one for Carlin. How many times had he ventured through these dark and damp tunnels? A thousand? More? He offered a nod to the guards at the entrance to the chamber and proceeded through to the prison. A wrinkled and weighty tome was slung beneath his right arm, its leathery pages pressing against his side. The story it contained had been a favourite of his for many years, though for some reason, he had never shared it with his daughter. Now was as good a time as ever. He raised his torch and set it in one of the wall sconces, before sitting cross-legged on the floor. “I see they’ve kept to their word in cleaning up your cell.”
Before him, caged within ivory bars, was Mirel. Her great mass of knotted hair had been shaven off only a few months before, and already it had regained enough length to make her appear rather elfin. She looked happier for it, though the event itself had required a considerable amount of manpower, ropes and poison-tipped darts. Carlin did not like to see her treated in this way, of course, but he had come to accept what she was capable of. What he refused to accept, however, was that his wife had died bringing a heartless creature with no future into the world.
“I don’t know why you bother visiting me, old man. Your words bore me.”
“You should have someone to speak to every now and then, even if you find them dull.” Carlin opened up the book on its first page and appraised the lettering. Its construction was rather fine for a volume that appeared quite unassuming at first glance.
“Have they found her yet?”
“Do not pretend you don’t know. I know she died last month.”
Carlin sighed. “I haven’t heard anything, and it would be better for you if you gave up this millennia-long fixation with her. It’s not healthy.”
She sighed and made a noise that sounded halfway between a hiss and a guffaw. “This world is cracked and broken with its own ignorance already. No hope remains.”
“That is a matter of opinion.” Carlin cleared his throat and began to read, “In the Era of Half Light it was said that the clouds never separated to give forth the golden rays of the sun, and that the beneficent glow of the moon was all but forgotten. The skies remained opaque, but-”
“There was sunshine. You had to be at the right place at the right time to find it. And no one was stupid enough to forget the moon was there. No one but the author of that book.”
Carlin cracked a smile. It was the most sensible thing she had said to him yet. “Then tell me what it was like. What did you do then?”
Her voice lowered to a whisper. “It was a very long time ago.” Mirel retreated into the shadows of her cell, and crouched so that her chin rested upon her knees.
“Well, if you won’t tell me then I’ll have to read more of this.” He gave her a moment to speak up, but when she did not he resumed his reading, “The skies remained opaque, but illumination still shone forth from the hearths and homes of the people. And in one town, a town at the very edges of the inhabited world, resided a community of people so tough that not even a thousand years of the harshest winters had succeeded in destroying them. These people were the Furini, The Resolved. And w-”
“They weren’t resolved. They spent half their time drinking and the other half breeding. That was how they survived.”
Carlin blinked. “You met these people?”
“I was born there once. A waste of my time.”
“And this was before your training as an assassin?”
Mirel’s blue eyes flared. “Modern children! Always so ignorant of the past! Of course it was before – two-thousand damned years before!”
Carlin nodded to himself. He really ought to have gotten a handle on her temper when she was smaller. It was clear that her inability to deal with her anger was part of her problem, though he had no idea how to fix it in an adult. He chose to talk to her as he would a child. “Don’t speak to me like that, Mirel. I am still your father. I think I deserve more respect. So, why don’t you tell me about that life so that I can overcome this area of ignorance, hmm?”
There was a look in her eye that he knew was intended to incite fear, but it rapidly faded. She sighed heavily and moved closer to the bars once more. “Ignorance: I lived in it. Fear was not my friend as it is now. It was cold there. And there were always gales outside. They’d whistle… My father was… it was so long ago… he was a whisper on the wind like everyone else. He used to sell… it was… he used to sell fine things. Things that had been brought over the mountains of ice and the rough seas of storms. You couldn’t grow anything there. Not in that wasteland. I had two older brothers; their names are lost now. All names are lost in time. All that remains to us is to reproduce and live, and to befriend fear.”
“Do you remember what they looked like?”
“They looked like fear!” She made a short, sharp noise of frustration and exasperation. “This was always the sort of thing she would go on and on about: ‘Oh, I love the family so, so much. And my fathers… Please don’t kill them - they are everything.’ I had to listen to that sickening bilge for years. Centuries!”
“But surely you loved the families who had brought you into the world, the ones who had fed you and cared for you?”
“They did their duty. I am here to save this world from its own disaster. Theirs was a privilege.”
Carlin had to admit that he did not feel particularly privileged at that moment. But he did have a duty. “If you want to save the world, you cannot do it in this state. And your rivalry with this other girl has hardly done you any favours, has it?”
“You do not know what you are speaking of, father.”
“Well, she is free and you have been in prison these last twenty-five years because of the crimes you committed.”
“She killed more people than I ever did, and she did it through her own selfishness – out of some fool belief that she was saving her precious loved ones. She could never see the importance of detachment, and that sometimes those deaths were necessary.”
Carlin smiled. “Then you admit it. You do have loved ones?”
“Love is reserved for commoners. The Dedicated were never that.”
“But you pursued the old king here, did you not?”
Without any warning, Mirel hurled herself at the bars, her teeth bared. She seemed almost to foam at the mouth. “He was to be my soldier! My ally!”
“Commanders do not need to lie with their soldiers.”
Her ire snapped suddenly and a strange, contorted smile spread across her features. “A girl is permitted a little pleasure, is she not?”
But Carlin knew that he had touched upon an area of some emotional sensitivity the moment she moved a hand to touch her jaw. It was the clearest sign of her lies, and had been present since she was a small girl. A tell, gamblers called it, and it showed that Mirel was not heartless. Not at all. One had to know love in order to know detachment. And if she understood that people were more than just meat to be saved, then surely she could learn the value of each and every life? Surely?