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The House of the Stag

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The House of the Stag

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Author: Kage Baker
Publisher: Tor, 2008
Series: Anvil of the World: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: High Fantasy
Sword and Sorcery
Avg Member Rating:
(7 reads / 2 ratings)


Before the Riders came to their remote valley the Yendri led a tranquil pastoral life. When the Riders conquered and enslaved them, only a few escaped to the forests. Rebellion wasn't the Yendri way; they hid, or passively resisted, taking consolation in the prophecies of their spiritual leader.

Only one possessed the necessary rage to fight back: Gard the foundling, half-demon, who began a one-man guerrilla war against the Riders. His struggle ended in the loss of the family he loved, and condemnation from his own people.

Exiled, he was taken as a slave by powerful mages ruling an underground kingdom. Bitterer and wiser, he found more subtle ways to earn his freedom. This is the story of his rise to power, his vengeance, his unlikely redemption and his maturation into a loving father--as well as a lord and commander of demon armies.

Kage Baker, author of the popular and witty fantasy, The Anvil of the World, returns to that magical world for another story of love, adventure, and a fair bit of ironic humor.


Chapter One

The Inventory

It's an immense and grand ledger: clasps plated in gold, cut jewels set along the spine, elaborate tooling to ornament the black stuff in which it is bound. All the same, it's a rather unpleasant- looking thing.

You can handle it, if you like, but you won't like the slightly clammy texture of the black stuff; you won't like the weight of the book in your hands, heavier than it ought to be.

You can open it, if you like, and try to read the iron- red text. You won't be able to read it, though, not without your eyes watering, and the disconcerting hieroglyphs will call to mind snakes, whips, thorns, claws. After a few pages you will notice the smell, which will disturb you to the foundation of your consciousness.

It is a slave registry.

It was not made by any crude band of conquerors, if that's your next question; no Riders with knives of bronze could have created anything this carefully made, nor would they have the meticulous patience to cut the point, dip the pen in-ink?-and write the history of each unfortunate soul . . .

4th day 3rd week 7th month in the 230th year from the Ascent of the Mountain. This day, flesh salvaged from the eastern face. Initially routed to Larder. Vitality detected; rerouted to Experimental Medicine and registered as Slave 4372301.

He opened his eyes to unrelieved blackness. Was he dead? He felt nothing. The last memory was of screaming air and blinding light, and a sense of regret as he'd fallen. He'd come so far up the ice wall, and before that so far through the passes, that it seemed a shame to die from simple clumsiness. But his frozen hands had failed him, and so . . .

Dead, then. Was this the womb of the earth? Not the way he had imagined it. He had thought it would be full of green and shifting lights, warm and humming. Not this, which was nothing. No light, no sound, no sensation of cold or heat.

The bleak thought surfaced: Perhaps the earth would not have you. Gard considered that prospect and resigned himself.

It was something of an anticlimax, then, when the light appeared. It flared, it danced like yellow leaves. He started, and every nerve in his body shrieked to life. He wept in pain as the light grew brighter. It was nearing him. He could hear, now, a clanking sort of noise, echoing, and the echoing of footsteps. Now and again the light paused, but always it came on again.

It resolved into a man. He wore the light in a thing like an openwork basket, mounted on his head. He was carrying a . . . water gourd? He wore a harness and woven stuff, like one of the Riders, but he did not look like a Rider. His skin was the color of a sunset. And now he was within arm's reach, if Gard had been able to move his arm.

He stopped and thrust his head in Gard's direction, in an interrogatory way. When he saw Gard looking back at him, he grinned.

"Hhhhnaaaii!" he said. Something popped into existence at his shoulder, the image of a burning child, and it moved its lips and spoke when he spoke again. "The big icicle is awake!"

Or, at least, that was what Gard understood him to say. Meaningless syllables sounded, but within his ear another voice spoke with meaning. Gard tried to answer him and could only sob.

"Yes, I daresay you would cry! I'd cry too, if I was in your condition. Cheer up, though; Magister Hoptriot thinks he will save your legs. Then you'll be lots of use. Always good to be of use, eh?" The man set down the- gourd? No, but it was like a gourd-and uncoiled a thing like a rope. He hooked its end into a wooden frame that held Gard's arm prisoner, and Gard felt a sting in his arm, a tiny spark out of the flaming pain that consumed him. He looked at himself by the light. All bandages, and stinking salve.

The man set the gourd-like thing down and looked Gard over. "Poor icicle. The medicine hurts, yes? Here's what you need." He pulled from a pouch at his waist a handful of leaves. They were green, nearly fresh, only a little limp with having been in the man's pouch. He thrust them between Gard's teeth. "You chew. Soon, you won't care about the hurt."

Gard did as he was told, rolling the leaves into a quid with his tongue. kage baker Almost at once his tongue went numb, and then his mouth; the numbness spread down from there, merciful as cool water. The man squatted, watching him. He chuckled.

"There, now he's happy. Aren't you happy?"

"Am I dead?" said Gard thickly.

"No, not dead! By the grace of the masters, alive. You came a long way through the snow. What were you doing?"

Gard summoned memory. "Looking for a way through."

"Ahhh! To the cities on the other side?"

Gard looked at the man in incomprehension, wondering what cities might be, and the flaming child at the man's shoulder fretted and danced, and at last a tiny voice spoke in Gard's head: Communities/villages/families of people.

"Too bad. You're here now," said the man. He laughed and shook his head. "It's not so bad. I used to break my heart that I wasn't back there, and then one day I thought, what would I be doing if I was back there? Scrambling to find a crust to eat, a place to sleep. Don't have to do that, here. Food and a bed guaranteed, at least." He smacked his thighs and stood.

"Yes, you'll get better. You're strong. I heard they found you wrapped in a white bear's pelt! Did you kill it yourself?"

Bear? Gard had a hazy memory of the white thing that had come down the slope at him, an avalanche on four legs. He had run his spear down its throat and then leaped on its back and locked his arms about its neck . . . blood steaming on the snow, and how grateful he had been for the warmth of its carcass as he skinned it. A demon of the snows, he had assumed. Had that been a bear? The burning child bounced in place, affirmed the word.

"But of course you must have killed it yourself. Nice! One of the mistresses claimed that pelt, very pleased she was too. I heard that story, I said to myself, 'This is a strong one, he'll make it,' " the man chattered on.

"How are you talking in two voices?" Gard asked.


"The fire- baby that talks in my head," said Gard, unable to point at it. "What is it?"

"That? Why, that's only a Translator. Clever, eh? Otherwise I shouldn't have any idea what your jungle talk meant, and I'll bet you never learned the speech of the Children of the Sun." The man grinned wide.

Children of the Sun? "Is that what you are?"

"Yes, of course!"

"Is that what the people here are?"

The man's grin faded. "No." He turned and looked over his shoulder into the darkness. "No, only a few of us here. And long, and so long since I've seen the sun. But it's better than dying, eh? Food and a bed, just as well, not so bad. How's your medicine doing, eh? All drained in?"

Too many new things to understand. And why bother to try, when the numbness and the blindness were so pleasant? Gard floated away into darkness and never felt the needle removed from his arm.

He felt nothing until a long while later, when there was brightness in his face again.

The pain returned with the light. He was being hoisted from the place where he lay, someone gripping him around the legs and someone catching him around the shoulders. He gulped for breath and gave a hoarse scream at the pain.

"Easy with him. Poor old icicle, I'll bet that hurt, eh? Can't give you the leaf for the pain, so sorry; Magister Hoptriot wants a look at you, and he wants you conscious. You be good and you'll have some later, eh? Old Triphammer promises you."

Gard looked around frantically as he was swung down to the floor. The man with the light towered above him; so did two dark giants who crouched, one at his head and one at his feet, and lifted him. He was slung between them on a litter, such as people used to drag the sick, the dying. He was carried forward through the darkness, as the man with the light trotted alongside. Triphammer? The burning child showed him a picture of the man with the light. Perhaps that was his name.

Now he could see, in the halo of light that traveled around him, that they were in a long corridor. Now and again they passed grottoes in the rock, shelves upon which other bodies lay. Some were bandaged. Some were unconscious. Some lay watching Gard pass, and their open eyes were glazed, listless, motionless. Others were bound and writhing, turning a restless, furious gaze on Gard as he passed, and they whined in their pain. They were kinds of people he had not seen before.

In his terror and disorientation, Gard opened and closed his hands, clutching for . . . what was there to save him? Not his spear, not his knife: gone down the ice wall forever. Not the strength of his body: melted away. Nothing left but his strength of will. Nothing in his power to do but die bravely. He clenched his fists. He gritted his teeth.

The whole jolting way he made no sound, though he thought his kage baker teeth might never unlock again; he endured. At last he was borne into a room that flared with brilliance painful to his eyes, and he closed them. He was raised, set down on something hard and cold.

Deft hands unwound the bandages from his legs and burned like hot iron in their touch. He opened his eyes, not wide, but enough to see Triphammer and two others, the ones who had carried him, standing in a line with their eyes lowered. The bearers were big, their skins the color of slate, their eyes like downcast moons.

His tormentor was robed in skin, the hair scraped off smooth; it was gloved and masked in skin too. The eyes domed out like an insect's. It murmured to itself as it examined him, but no burning child appeared to translate for it.

Gard chanced a look at his body. He saw his legs and feet blackened, shriveled, bent. He closed his eyes again, laid his head back, praying for death. Now the voice spoke in his ear: "Are you conscious?"

Copyright © 2008 by Kage Baker


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