Read Cordimancy Online

Authors: Daniel Hardman


BOOK: Cordimancy









Daniel Hardman

Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Hardman


All rights reserved.


No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission, except as allowed by fair use provisions. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination; any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



Cover by Donna Harriman Murillo.

Published by Sivanea Publishers,

For all the Malenas and Torils, the Shivis and Pakas and Ojis that I know.

You are magnificent.

Thanks to Trev, Nathaniel, Nancy, Stephen, Heather, and Jared for editorial help. Thanks to Venetha and Venkat for information about India for the milieu. Thanks to numerous family and friends who offered thoughts on cover design—and to Donna for the meticulous, thoughtful artistry that gave the book its face. Thanks to Laura and Victoria for wonderful supplemental artwork. And most of all, thanks to Linda for patiently supporting my time-consuming project; for reading and reading, listening and listening; for giving kind but demanding feedback; and for believing I would someday finish well.





Although the writing of this book has taken a lot out of me, it has been a great experience. I am pleased with how it’s come together.

I am left with two worries.

The first is that the story has some triggers. It is a tale of good people confronting darkness, and I felt compelled to depict at least some of that darkness as it truly is. You can’t paint such things unless you have black on your brush—real black.

I have tried very hard not to be graphic, and I think I’ve accomplished what I aimed for. If you are especially haunted by abuse or rape or evil ritual, I sorrow with you and hope the story leaves you hopeful rather than traumatized. My brush also painted with as many bright colors as I could fit on the palette; the existence and beauty of such colors is at the heart of my design.

My second worry is the old adage that all fiction is autobiographical. Some who know me may guess that since the conflict in the book centers on children that need rescuing, and my wife and I have adopted, the whole plot line and its characterizations must draw from my life experience.

I do identify with the characters in this book, and of course I draw from things I know and feel. It is hard to go to an orphanage in Haiti, for example, and to not experience a passionate empathy for little ones who lack parents and privilege and possibility. The refugee crisis that’s unfolding as this book goes to press has been simmering for years, and perhaps some of its precursors found their way into a milieu that includes violence and racial tension on a border. In my own way, I have sought to help others, and to understand myself, as my main characters do. But I know dozens—maybe hundreds—of people who ought to hear echoes of their life stories in these pages, if I’ve done my job well.

Don’t each of us, every day, fight battles in “the silent chambers of the soul,” as David O. McKay once observed?

The hero’s journey, and the heart magic, is for all of us.



boy on naming day ~ Toril

stepped forward again, letting river sweep over his head as he sank.

Water invaded his nostrils. Sunlight dimmed and greened. Turbulence muted the drumbeat from the shore behind him.

He knew his mam stood there, lip to teeth, her sari wet, half leaning over the rope that priests held to keep the crowd back. She had reached to him as he walked past, not able to help herself—then pulled back at a hard stare from Toril’s tat.

Another step. The stone that he carried as an anchor hung heavy in his arms. He shivered at the cold sand between his toes.

Ears straining, he found the rhythm of the drummers and allowed it to pace him as his mind invoked the incantation:


I stand at the fork in the path of my three,

Wet and unnamed as the day I took breath...


He released a third of his air in a rush of bubbles. The pressure in his lungs eased, but he felt the first pangs for new air.

Tat promised the magic would come
, Toril told himself.


Which human, which kindred, which person I’ll be—

I’ll choose, then I’ll walk, then I’ll hold till the death.


He waited.


He promised it would come before air mattered...

Another rush of bubbles. The pounding in his chest redoubled.

His lungs felt compressed, depleted. He longed to release the weight that pushed him against the riverbed, kick up, and fling his head into daylight and air. The surface was so close.

But that would mean the easy choice of most of the other children who’d entered the water today. He’d have no grand destiny as a ward of Karkita, and not even magic as a consolation prize. He’d be no better than the timid who halted when the water reached their knees.

Mam would hug him fiercely and tell him she was glad to have him back, and she’d mean it. Amar’s death was still too fresh for her to feel otherwise.

Tat would try to smile as well, but there would be sorrow in his eyes. No glory for the son of Hasha, the clan chief.

Others witnessing the naming day would look away, either pleased with his failure, or pitying him.

A trickle of bubbles emptied his lungs completely. He pushed back rising panic.


I’ll choose, then I’ll walk, then I’ll hold till the death.

I’ll choose, then I’ll walk, then I’ll hold till the death.

I’ll choose, then I’ll walk, then I’ll hold till the death.


The words got faster. He couldn’t hear the drums anymore, couldn’t hear the swirling current. The roar inside his eardrums, the lurching of his heart deafened. Emerald tilted toward black. His fingers trembled.

And then...

A thrill of power stabbed out from his heart, transfixed his lungs, consumed his belly, swept along arms and legs, burned out of fingers and toes. Heat shot up his neck, suffused his face, set lips and tongue afire.

Time slowed. Breath no longer mattered.

Vision returned—but with such astonishing clarity that he felt like a blind boy introduced to sight for the first time. The graininess of the boulder in his hands, the white along the edges of his ragged thumbnails, darting shadows of trout in the deeps of the center current—details leapt at him faster than he could process.

Nor was sight the only sense competing for his attention. Moments ago, he’d been unaware of smell at all; now the odor of the river seemed to flood his sinuses. He caught the fishiness, the algae and reeds, perhaps a whiff of pine, perhaps a hint of peppery watercress. He even detected the dust of yesterday’s pre-rain parch in the wetness, and the odor of smokewood oil that had clung to the comb as Mam bound his hair for the ceremony this morning.

Toril heard the eddy downstream of his ribs. He felt rays strike his shoulders through the gloom, knew exactly which muscles were lit and which were bathed in shade, understood the gradations of clamminess permeating flesh and bone. He tasted cinnamon and cloves from the morning’s breakfast roll on the back of his tongue. Blood shot through his chest and throat. He sensed thousands of hairs along his calves and forearms twitch in unison in response to buffeting water.

He felt urgently alive.

And for the first time he understood Amar.

He’d only been five when his older brother emerged from the water, skin flushing gold, face exultant. He’d watched his mam’s face register shock, then sorrow, then determination. He’d seen his tat’s jaw clench, watched him step forward to wrap his son in a blanket and clasp him tight—and Toril the child had wondered at the choice that took his older brother down the fork of the half lives. Didn’t Amar love his parents? Didn’t Amar love
? How could he abandon all he held dear, in a capitulation to Dashnal’s fire?

Now he knew.

Toril realized that in the seven years since Amar’s naming day, he—not his older brother—was the one who’d been half living. Or far less than half, perhaps. That Amar would embrace the magic seemed not only reasonable, but inevitable. Wasn’t that Toril’s plan now, as well? How could he consider any other?


To walk in the path of the fire, of heart heat,

Is to know in each moment a lifetime complete.


He had skimmed those lines in
Memimir Taran-ya
in the weeks leading to his naming ceremony. They seemed not to need much pondering. Everyone saw that time worked differently for the half lives. They moved so fast, died so soon...

But he hadn’t understood that they lived so much.

I have wronged you, Amar.

Toril lifted his right foot. One step forward, and his path was chosen.

And then he hesitated.

The god of fire and war was a jealous master, more than any of the other Five. He had not come here to choose Dashnal as his tutelary.

Were the lines on Mam’s face any less real than the life now bursting in his veins? She’d stood there, cheeks streaked, as the fire of Amar’s funeral pyre rose last month. Tat had put his arm around her, his own shoulders hunched in grief, unable even to speak at the wake hosted by his son’s adopted people. Amar had flamed out quickly, sired no children before dying of old age. He’d found friends, lived with honor among the
, earned their respect. But he’d dashed Tat’s hopes for a successor, and broken Mother’s heart.

As tears leaked into the swirling water, Toril moved his foot back to its starting point.

I do not choose the path of fire.

He swallowed the sadness in his throat, willed the power in his veins to diminish, willed the shoving at his ribs to slow.

The fire fought. He felt boiling at his fingertips, sizzle along his lips—but he reached out with his mind and pulled frigidness from the flow and drew it into himself, desperately, like a thirsty man sucking raindrops from his palms even as the moisture rolls away.

Karkita, help me!

Little by little, tremble and heat subsided. First his toes cooled to ambient temperature, then his legs. The riot in his ears softened into an ordinary human muddle. Color faded; flickering shadow became murk once again.

How long had he been beneath the swirling surface? Long enough to worry those on shore, he thought—but the flow of magic had skewed his sense of time. For some reason, the need for breath remained remote.

He swallowed again. For most, the ordeal ended here—either because they had no desire to try fire's complement, or because they lacked the ability to continue.

Now, at last, he would learn if he could better his tat’s achievement.


To live with the age and the strength of a tree,

Renounce all heart fire, walk ice-ward, walk free.


Those lines were etched in his memory. He'd repeated them like a litany, dozens of times each day, as he'd practiced the heart-slowing exercises. Karkita was the index finger on Heaven’s Fist—the goddess of wisdom and statecraft, long life and moon. Each night as he spread maps across his desk and dreamed of what might lie beyond the eastern wild, or wondered if he'd be the first to sail the western sea and return with tales of strange lands, he'd imagined himself as one of her
—tall, colorless, polished in manner, possessed of the learning of many lifetimes… The iron self-discipline that enabled them to renounce magic completely was more than paid back in physical toughness and opportunity. Sata were the world's philosophers and generals and scholars.

It could be his, if he had the courage to walk in ice.

He concentrated, willing an ever slower rhythm into his heart. Thump. Thummp… Thhhummpp… The water sliding past his fingertips began to seem warm by comparison with his flesh. The aftertaste in his mouth was gone. The river had lost all smell.

His hands and feet began to ache.

No sata had led Clan Kelun in eight hundred years. Not since Irov ur Hapno. Tat said it was because it didn't work—sata lived solitary, childless lives, outlasting by generations the people they’d grown up with—and their sense of clan identity suffered as a result. He said Toril should keep his magic, if he could get any, and turn it into an asset for everyone's benefit. But Toril had read the histories. Irov was the one who'd brought knowledge of mining back to the mountains of his childhood. He'd turned goatherds and country bumpkins into prosperous merchants who supplied neighbors with copper and silver, gold and iron. He'd founded the schools that taught every child of the clan to read zufan script, to multiply on their abacus, and to measure the seasons by the stars.

Clan Kelun would not simply
a sata if Toril walked the path of ice; he would leave for a time, and see the world—but he'd return, full of ideas and wisdom, to serve the people. And when Hasha became too frail to retain the staff, Toril ur Hasha would step forward and take his rightful post of leadership.

Now the ache of the ice was bone-deep. It radiated through his shoulders, his neck, his skull.

He pulled his left foot out of the sand. It seemed to move with infinite slowness. He still felt no need to breathe, but the ice was wearing him down.

A winter day slipped out of his memory and ran across the stage of his mind. He and Amar had been exploring along the margins of the pond above the
the fortified fort where they lived, at the center of Noemi. They'd cut a hole in the frozen surface, and Amar had challenged him to push his arm in and hold it there as long as he could stand the pain. Toril had lain prone on the ice, first gritting his teeth, then whimpering into the snow. Amar's chuckles turned to amazement, then to exasperation, and finally to worry.

"Take it out," Amar had said.

"I can... stand it," Toril gasped.

"Take it out!"

"You said as long as I could."

Amar had pulled out his arm, finally. It was mottled white and blue. Toril had surrendered to sobs. He'd never imagined such pain. How could he have forgotten that ordeal, thought walking the path of ice, now, would be an easy exercise of will?

This pain was worse. Worse by far.

Every part of Toril's body ached, but especially his face and his chest. His lips and tongue, his relentlessly beating heart refused to surrender to the ice forming around his fingers. He felt that he'd been raising his foot forever to take the step that would seal his choice, but through the dimness he saw only the slightest bend in his knee. Fresh moisture would have welled from his eyes, if his tear ducts had not been frozen shut. A groan died in his chest.

His mam would be proud if he emerged pale and ice-crusted, he knew. Sata were so rare, and they always brought prestige and prosperity to the family they came from. But he'd seen the way she looked at the little ones frolicking at the
. She wanted grandbabies. Amar couldn’t keep their line alive, now. She wanted him to choose the middle path.

But I choose the path of ice
, he thought.
Karkita! Ice!

And yet his leg would not move, his heart would not slow, and his lips, even as they mouthed the words, burned anew.

His tat had been through this. He'd stood in the river himself, years ago, felt the magic rise, pushed through it. He'd also tested the ice, Toril knew, but Tat had always been reluctant to speak of the ordeal. Just said the ice had been cruel, that he'd been glad to leave the water with his human destiny and the tingling in his fingers. He was proud of the endowment of hand magic—manumancy—that Akeet, god of craft and work, had blessed him with as proof of his courage.

Others who braved the river—some of them—gained the talent to kindle with lips, or eyes, or ears.

Mam was a tried “heart”. Supposedly hearts could kindle; there were legends about it. But Toril knew what a heart really was: a dud. She'd been through the same ordeal, but she’d left the water with no magical skill at all. Nothing. Anybody who skipped the ordeal was automatically a heart, and most who endured had that outcome as well. Would that be Toril's fate, too, if he yielded? Would he have nothing to show for his pain? Would all his dreams crumble into the ordinary?

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