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Authors: Martha Wells

The Element of Fire

BOOK: The Element of Fire
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The Element of Fire

 

 

 

by Martha Wells

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2006 by Martha Wells
Cover Design by
Tiger Bright Studios

The image of the rapier on the cover is licensed under the
 
Creative
Commons
 
Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 France
 
license by Rama.

Typesetting by Katya Loney

ISBN 978-0-6151-3571-7

 

Originally published by Tor Books:

Hardcover July 1993

Paperback July 1994

 

www.marthawells.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

The Element of Fire
was my first novel, written around 1990, when I was 26. It was published in hardcover in 1993 and paperback in 1994, by Tor Books. It was published in Italy in 1995, Russia in 1997, Poland in 1998, in France, by l'Atalante, in 2002, and will be published in Spanish by Bibliopolis. It was a finalist for the 1993 Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award and a runner-up for the 1994 Crawford Award.

It was the first Ile-Rien book, before I knew there were going to be any other Ile-Rien books. Since then Vienne, altered by time, war, and general rough usage, has been a setting for
The Death of the Necromancer
(nominated for the Nebula Award in 1998 and also becoming impossible to find in the US) and
The Wizard Hunters,
The Ships of Air
, and
The Gate of Gods
, available in paperback
and ebook
from HarperCollins. Kade Carrion also appears in the short story "The Potter's Daughter" in the anthology
Elemental
, edited by Steve Savile and Alethea Kontis, published in 2006 by Tor Books.

The text here does not match the original US edition; I've edited it to make the prose a little smoother and more in line with my current style, but haven't made any substantial changes to plot, storyline, characterization, or anything else.

 

And New Philosophy calls all in doubt,

The Element of fire is quite put out;

The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit

Can well direct him where to looke for it.

-John Donne

"An Anatomie of the World"

 

 

Chapter One

THE GRAPPLING HOOK skittered across the rain-slick stone of the ledge before dropping to catch in the grillwork below the third-story window. Berham leaned back on the rope to test it. "That's it, Captain Sir. Tight as may be," the servant whispered.

"Well done," Thomas Boniface told him. He stepped back from the wall and looked down the alley. "Now where in hell is Dr. Braun?"

"He's coming," Gideon Townsend, Thomas's lieutenant, said as he made his way toward them out of the heavy shadows. Reaching them, he glanced up at the full moon, stark white against the backdrop of wind-driven rain clouds, and muttered, "Not the best night for this work." The three men stood in the muddy alley, the dark brocades and soft wools of their doublets and breeches blending into the grimy stones and shadow, moonlight catching only the pale lace at the wrists or shirt collars of Thomas and his lieutenant, the glint of an earring, or the cold metal sheen on rapiers and wheellock pistol barrels. It was a cool night and they were surrounded by failed counting houses and the crumbling elegance of the decaying once-wealthy homes of the River Quarter.

Thomas personally couldn't think of a good time to forcibly invade a foreign sorcerer's house. "The point of it is to go and be killed where you're told," he said. "Is everyone in position?"

"Martin and Castero are up on the tannery roof, watching the street and the other alley. I put Gaspard and two others at the back of the house and left the servants to watch the horses. The rest are across the street, waiting for the signal," Gideon answered, his blue eyes deceptively guileless. "We're all quite ready to go and be killed where we're told."

"Good," Thomas said. He knew Gideon was still young enough to see this as a challenge, to care nothing for the political reality that sent them on a mission as deadly as this with so little support. Glancing down the alley again, he saw Dr. Braun was finally coming, creeping along the wall and uncomfortably holding his velvet-trimmed scholar's robes out of the stinking mud. "Well?" Thomas asked as the sorcerer came within earshot. "What have you done?"

"I've countered the wards on the doors and windows, but the inside... This person Grandier is either very strong or very subtle. I can't divine what protections he's used." The young sorcerer looked up at him, his watery eyes blinking fitfully. His long sandy hair and drooping mustache made him look like a sad-faced spaniel.

"You can't give us any hint of what we're to find in there?" Thomas said, thinking,
This would have been better done if I hadn't been saddled with a sorcerer who has obviously escaped from a market-day farce.

Braun's expression was both distressed and obstinate. "He is too strong, or... He might have the help of some creature of the Fay."

"God protect us," Berham muttered, and uneasily studied the cloudy darkness above. The others ignored him. Berham was short, rotund, and had been wounded three times manning barricades in the last Bisran War. He claimed that the only reason he had left the army was that servants' wages were better. Despite the little man's vocal quavering, Thomas was not worried about his courage.

"What are you saying?" Gideon asked the sorcerer. "You mean we could fall down dead or burst into flame the moment we cross the threshold?"

"The uninitiated so often have ill-conceived ideas about these matters, like the fools who believe sorcerers change their shapes or fly like the fay. It would be exceedingly dangerous to create heat or cold out of nothing..."

"So you say, but..."

"That's enough," Thomas interrupted. He took the rope and tested it again with his own weight. The first floor of the house would be given over to stables, storage for coaches or wagons, and servants' quarters. The second would hold salons and other rooms for entertaining guests, and the third and fourth would be the owner's private quarters. That would be where the sorcerer would keep his laboratory, and very likely his prisoner. Thomas only hoped the information from the King's Watch was correct and that the Bisran bastard Grandier wasn't here. He told Gideon, "You follow me. Unless, of course, you'd like to go first?"

The lieutenant swept off his feathered hat and bowed extravagantly. "Oh, not at all, Sir, after you."

"So kind, Sir."

The brickwork was rough and Thomas found footholds easily. He reached the window and pulled himself up on the rusted grating, balancing cautiously. He felt the rope jerk and tighten as Gideon started to climb.

The window was set with small panes of leaded glass and divided into four tall panels. Thomas drew a thin dagger from the sheath in his boot and slipped the point between the wooden frames of the lower half. Working the dagger gently, he eased the inside catch up. The panels opened inward with only a faint creak. Moonlight touched the polished surface of a table set directly in front of the window, but the darkness of the deeper interior of the room was impenetrable. It was silent, but it was a peculiar waiting silence that he disliked.

Then the window ledge cracked loudly under his boots and he took a hasty step forward onto the table, thinking,
Now we'll know, at any rate.
Dust rose from the heavy draperies as he brushed against them, but the room remained quiet.

"Was that wise?" Gideon asked softly from below the windowsill.

"Possibly not. Don't come up yet." Thomas slipped the dagger back into his boot sheath and drew his rapier. If something came at him out of that darkness, he preferred to keep it at as great a distance as possible. "Tell Berham to hand up a light."

There was some soft cursing below as a dark lantern, its front covered by a metal slide to keep the light dimmed, was lit and passed upward. Thomas waited impatiently, feeling the darkness press in on him like a solid wall. He would have preferred the presence of another sorcerer besides Braun, the rest of the Queen's Guard, and a conscripted city troop to quell any possibility of riot when the restive River Quarter neighborhood discovered it had a mad foreign sorcerer in its midst. But orders were orders, and if Queen's guards or their captain were killed while entering Grandier's house secretly, then at least civil unrest was prevented. An inspired intrigue, Thomas had to admit, even if he was the one it was meant to eliminate.

As he reached down to take the shuttered lamp from Gideon, something moved in the corner of his eye. Thomas dropped the lamp onto the table and studied the darkness, trying to decide if the hesitant motion was actually there or in his imagination.

The flicker of light escaping from the edges of the lamp's iron cover touched the room with moving shadows. With the toe of his boot Thomas knocked the lantern slide up.

The wan candlelight was reflected from a dozen points around the unoccupied room, from lacquered cabinets, the gilt leather of a chair, the metallic threads in brocaded satin hangings.

Then the wooden cherub supporting the right-hand corner of the table Thomas was standing on turned its head.

He took an involuntary step backward.

"Captain, what is it?" Gideon's whisper was harsh.

Thomas didn't answer. He was looking around the room as the faces in the floral carving over the chimneypiece shifted their blank white eyes, their tiny mouths working silently. The bronze snake twined around the supporting pole of a candlestand stirred sluggishly. In the woolen carpet the interwoven pattern of vines writhed.

Keeping hold of the rope, Gideon chinned himself on the window ledge to see in. He cursed softly.

"Worse than I thought," Thomas agreed, not looking away from the hideously animate room. Unblinking eyes of marbleized wood stared sightlessly, limbs and mouths moved without sound.
Can they see? Or hear?
he wondered grimly. Most likely they can. He doubted they were here only to frighten intruders, however effective they might be at it.

"We should burn this house to the ground," Gideon whispered.

"We want to get Dubell out alive, not scrape his ashes out of the wreckage."

"How?"

Good question,
Thomas thought. The vines in the carpet were lifting themselves above the surface of the floor like the tentacles of a sea beast. They were as thick around as a man's wrist and looked strong, and metallic glints that had been gilt threads in the weaving were growing into knife-edged thorns. It was only going to get more difficult. Thomas caught up the lantern and stepped down into a chair with arms shaped into gilded lampreys. They were struggling viciously but were unable to turn their heads back far enough to reach him. From there he stepped down to the hardwood floor and backed toward the doorway.

Gideon made a move to climb into the window but the viselike tentacles were reaching up above waist-height and groping along the edge of the table. Thomas said, "No, stay back."

At the sound of his voice the vines whipped around and stretched out for him, growing prodigiously longer in a sudden bound, and Thomas threw himself at the door.

The latch was weak and snapped as his weight struck it. He stumbled through and caught himself, just as something thudded into the dark paneled wall in front of him. He dropped the lantern and dove sideways, scrambling for cover between two brocaded chairs and the fireplace.

Embedded in the wall, still quivering, was a short metal arrow; if he had come through the doorway cautiously it would have struck his chest. The lion heads on the iron firedogs snapped ineffectually at him as he pushed himself further behind the chairs, thinking,
Where the hell is he?
The sputtering candle sent shadows chasing across crowded furniture and everything was moving. Then in the far corner he saw the life-sized statue of a Parscen archer. Naked to the waist and balancing a candleholder on his turbaned head, he was drawing a second arrow out of the bronze quiver at his side and putting it to his short bow.

BOOK: The Element of Fire
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