Authors: John Brown
Tags: #Fantasy - General, #Fantasy fiction, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Epic, #Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Good and evil
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
SERVANT OF A DARK GOD
Copyright © 2009 by John Brown
All rights reserved.
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Brown, John, 1966–
Servant of a dark god / John Brown.—1st ed.
First Edition: October 2009
Printed in the United States of America
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The Goat King danced the crags by day,
At night he came to feed,
And dupe the foolish farmer’s wives
To hold his monstrous breed.
The husbands sought to hunt him down
And take him as he lay,
But the wily King, with a wicked touch,
Stole their souls away.
alen sat at the wooden table in nothing but his underwear because he had no pants. Somehow, during the middle of the night, they had walked off the peg where he’d hung them. And he’d searched high and low. The last of their cheese was missing as well.
The cheese he could explain: if you were hungry and a thief, then cheese would be a handy meal to take. But it was not the regular poverty-stricken thief who roamed miles off the main roads, risked entering a house, and passed up many other fine and more expensive goods to steal a pair of boy’s dirty trousers hanging on a peg in the loft.
No, there wasn’t a thief in the world that would do that. But there was an older brother and sister.
Talen had two pair of pants to his name. And he wasn’t about to ruin his good pair by working in them. He needed his work pants. And to get those, he needed leverage. The good news was that he knew exactly which items would provide that leverage.
It only took a few moments to find and hide them. Then he went back to the house, cut three slices of dark bread, and put them on a plate in the middle of the table next to the salted lard.
River, his sister, came in first from outside carrying a massive armload of rose stems clustered with fat rose hips. Talen sighed. She already had fifteen bushels of the stuff in the back. Were they going to make rose hip syrup for the whole district? And he knew he’d be the one that would have to cut each and every hip and remove the seeds so her syrup didn’t end up tasting like chalk. It was a thorny business, even if he did wear gloves.
River walked to the back room to deposit her load and returned. Blood spattered her apron. A thick spray ran from her cheek to throat.
“What happened to you?”
“Black Jun,” she said. “The cow that was bred by that rogue bull, her water broke last night, but the calf was too big for a normal birth.” She shook her head. “Jun’s brother-in-law from Bain cut into the cow this morning and made a mess of it.”
“Did she die?” asked Talen.
“Not yet,” said River, “but such a wound, even with old Nan’s poultice, would take a Divine’s hand to keep it from corruption.” River had been apprenticed to Nan, who had midwifed as many cattle as she had humans. That’s where River learned how to take a calf that couldn’t be pulled, by cutting in from the side. That’s where she’d learned about the virtues of everything from pennyroyal to seeding by moonlight. She could have learned far more, but old Nan went out late in a rainstorm one night and tumbled down a steep slope to her death. Even so, as unfinished apprentice, if River said the wound was bad, it was bad.
“And the calf?” asked Talen.
“Saved,” she said. “For now.” She took off her bloody apron and hung it on a peg on the wall.
Under the apron, River was wearing her work pants, which would have been a much easier mark for a clothing thief since River’s room was on the first floor of the house. Of course, she’d only point out that nobody would look for pants in a girl’s room. Which was true for most women, but River wasn’t most women. She wore pants to everything but the dances and festivals, and even then she threatened to do so. Skirts were a bother in the fields, she said. A bother on a horse, and a bother when hunting. And nobody was going to tell River otherwise.
Talen gave his bloody sister his most pleasant smile.
She looked at his bare chest and legs. “Where are your clothes?”
“That’s a good question,” said Talen.
River shook her head and went to the cupboard to get her pot of honey. She searched about and then turned around, looking as if she’d lost something.
There was nothing like her cinnamon honey. It was not the thick amber that most of the honey-crafters sold. This honey was thin and clear and tasted like moonlight. River got it from a lovesick dyer who lived on the far side of the settlements and liked her despite her pants. He said the honey came from bees that made their hives in the cliffs there. He had also said that his love for her flowed like the nectar of the pale green flowers that clung to the cliffs, that she was his flower and he her bee, and that their pollinations would be more wild and splendid than anything a pot could contain. All of which proved that the dyer knew nothing of women. At least, not River. She had smiled at the dyer’s sentiments, but that didn’t make the dyer any less of an idiot or his hands any less blue. River was not a girl won with declarations of wild and amorous pollinations or delicious gifts, even if the gift was spiced honey that cost three weeks’ worth of labor.
Ke, Talen’s older brother, walked in next with flecks of barley stalks caught in his tunic. Ke was built like a bull. In the summer he looked even more like one because he shaved his hair short. He did it, he said, to keep his head cool and make it easier to clean. But it also allowed others to see the thick muscles in his neck. He retrieved his bow and archer’s bag from his bedroom. The bow was made with wood, horn, and sinew, and it was so powerful only someone with his massive strength could draw it more than half a dozen times. Da, because of his strength and size, was sometimes called Horse. Ke, having inherited all of Da’s muscle, had picked up the name of Little Horse, but he wasn’t a horse. That was too noble a creature. Ke was a bull, no doubt about it.
Talen, of course, inherited all the wit in the family, but nobody seemed to value that. He was never referred to as “the bright one” or “that great blaze of brains.” Instead, he got names like Twig and Hogan’s Runt.
Ke sat at the table. His bow was blackened with charcoal and linseed oil and then covered with a good layer of goose fat and beeswax to protect it from the wet. He’d always been an excellent archer. Da had seen to that. But Ke was now something more. He’d proven last year in the battles with the Bone Faces that he was an efficient killer as well. He pulled out his crock of goose fat to rub in yet another layer, then looked back into the bag. “Hey,” he said, and opened the mouth of the sack wider to fish about in its contents.