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Weight of Stone
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Weight of Stone

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Author: Laura Anne Gilman
Publisher: Gallery Books, 2010
Series: The Vineart War: Book 2

1. Flesh and Fire
2. Weight of Stone
3. The Shattered Vine

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Alternate/Parallel Universe
Heroic Fantasy
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Synopsis

An island nation has vanished. Men of honor and magic have died unnatural deaths. Slaves flee in terror. . . . Are the silent gods beginning to speak? Or is another force at work in the Lands Vin?

Laura Anne Gilman’s critically acclaimed, Nebula Award–nominated Flesh and Fire introduced a brilliantly imagined world where the grapevine-cultivated by the Vinearts who know the secrets of wine magic-holds together disparate lands. Now, confusion, violence, and terror are sweeping over the Lands Vin. And four people are at the center of a storm.

Jerzy, Vineart apprentice and former slave, was sent by his master to investigate strange happenings-and found himself the target of betrayal. Now he must set out on his own journey, to find the source of the foul taint that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear. By Jerzy’s side are Ao, who lives for commerce and the art of the deal; Mahault, stoic and wise, risking death in flight from her homeland; and Kaïnam, once Named-Heir of an island principality, whose father has fallen into a magic-tangled madness that endangers them all.

These four companions will travel far from the earth and the soul of the vine, sailing along coastlines aflame with fear, confronting sea creatures summoned by darkness, and following winds imbued with malice. Their journey will take them to the very limits of the Sin Washer’s reach . . . And into a battle for the soul of the Lands Vin. For two millennia the Sin Washer’s Commandment has kept these lands in order: Those of magic shall hold no power over men and those princes of power shall hold no magic. Now, that law has given way. And a hidden force seeks the havoc of revenge.

An adventure through an unforgettable realm conjured by breathtaking imagination, Laura Anne Gilman’s saga of the Vineart War is a "dramatic, authentic, and potent" (Publishers Weekly) literary delight.


Excerpt

Chapter 1

THE WESTERN SEA
Spring

Jerzy of the House of Malech, Vineart-student and currently accused apostate under the mark of death, heaved his guts over the side of the ship and wished, not for the first time, that a wave would simply sweep him over the side and be done with it.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

Ao had come up behind him while Jerzy was losing what was left of his previous evening’s dinner, and was standing by the railing, glancing out over the calm blue waters. The trader was barefoot and shirtless, his straight black hair slicked away from his round face, emphasizing the narrow, heavy-lidded eyes that, even when things were going badly, held some inner amusement—often, as this morning, at Jerzy’s expense.

Above him, the wind snapped the canvas sails and rattled the main. The air was sweet and salty; large white birds sailed overhead, calling out in harsh, high voices as they searched for breakfast in the waters below; and the sun was only just rising, turning the briny blue-green depths into a brighter aquamarine.

Jerzy would have traded it all for a miserably rainy day in the dankest room anywhere on solid land.

“I hate you,” he said, leaning against the wooden railing and wishing that his limbs would stop shaking already.

Ao laughed, but there was real sympathy in his voice. “No, you don’t,” he said. “Here.” The trader handed him a towel to wipe his mouth. The cloth was scratchy linen, air-dried and smelling of mildew and sea spray, but Jerzy barely noticed at this point. They had been at sea for ten days now, and he had been sick every single morning.

Jerzy pushed a sweat-damp lock of hair off his forehead and mopped his skin with the towel, then looked up at the dun-colored sail snapping in the breeze above them. The creaking, slapping noise still sounded dangerous to him, but he freely admitted that he knew nothing about boats or sailing, leaving that to Ao and the third member of their party who was currently at the helm, steering them through the waters.

The thought of her made him look over his shoulder to where Mahault stood tall and proud at the wheel, her attention on the far horizon, where water seemed to merge into sky without a single obstacle to mar the view.

Her blond hair was no longer caught up in the formal, complicated knot she had worn as the daughter of the lord-maiar of Aleppan, but was instead braided into a thick plait, hanging halfway down her back. The time under the open skies had bleached it from deep gold to the color of straw, and darkened her smooth skin to a pale brown, almost exactly the color of tai, the bark brew popular back home. Her lady-mother would have been outraged to see her daughter looking so much like a common sailor.

The fact that Mahault seemed happier now, free and browned, than she had been the entire time he had known her in Aleppan, took away some of the regret Jerzy felt at his involvement in her exile.

The thought made him grimace. Mahault would have glared at him if she knew he was taking any responsibility at all for her actions—she had made the decision to leave on her own; in fact, she had used their rescue of him to make her own escape. An exile, yes, but a chosen one, against worse options.

And at that, she was faring better than he—not only was he a poor sailor, but his skin pinked under the sun, burning at the bend of his arms and back of his neck unless he kept them covered. Ao assured him that the skin would darken over time, adapting to the different weather, but Jerzy didn’t want to spend enough time here to discover the truth of that. He wanted to go home.

Unfortunately, that was the one place he could not go.

Eleven days ago they had fled the city of Aleppan, barely one step ahead of Washers who named Jerzy apostate, oath-breaker, saying that he had broken Sin Washer’s Commandment forbidding one Vineart from interfering with the vines of another.

It was a crime punishable by death.

Jerzy was not guilty of that crime, but he was not innocent, either.

Master Vineart Malech, Jerzy’s master and teacher, had sent him to Aleppan under the guise of studying with Vineart Giordan—itself an unheard-of breach in tradition—to listen, in that city of trade and gossip, for further news of recent, disturbing events: magic-crafted serpents attacking shoreline villages, strange disappearances of Vinearts, out-of-season vine infestations, and more they had not yet heard about.

Instead, Jerzy had discovered that the strange happenings went deeper than Master Malech could have dreamed, attacking not only Vinearts and villagers, but men of power as well. While trying to investigate, he had been caught up in lines of deceit and magic entangling the lord-maiar, Mahault’s father, and turning Aleppan into a deadly trap for both Jerzy and Vineart Giordan.

Ao and Mahault had risked everything to help Jerzy escape, fleeing the city on horseback with only what Mahault had had time to throw into packs, and no idea where they would go or what they could do.

Unable to contact his master, with not only his own survival but his companions’ to consider as well, Jerzy had decided to go to the one place where he could not be easily tracked: open water. As a member of the Eastern Wind trading clan, however junior, Ao had been able to barter their two horses and Mahault’s jewelry for this ship. It was seaworthy but small, and not meant to be taken out of sight of the shoreline.

Given a choice, Jerzy would never have willingly set foot on another boat, after his terrible sickness on the way from his home in The Berengia to Aleppan. The risk of illness was welcome, compared to the options: if they stayed on the shore, they would have been retaken, he would have been killed, and Ao and Mahault … he did not know what would happen to them, but it would not have been good.

The three of them had agreed that until they determined how far the search for them had spread, it was safer here on the empty waters, where they could see any pursuit coming. Their supplies were limited, though, and they needed to replenish their fresh water or they would die of thirst, surrounded by seemingly endless blue waves.

Jerzy felt the responsibility for their situation keenly; it was his fault, his failure that had brought them to this. He had promised to give his companions a chance to recoup the losses incurred when they linked their fates to his … but he had no idea how to do that. More, he could not allow that promise to become his foremost priority. He was Jerzy of the House Malech; his first and only obligation was to warn his master of what he had learned in Aleppan.

But Jerzy had no way to contact Master Malech; the enspelled mirror he was meant to use had been broken when he was arrested, and he had neither messenger birds for the sending nor knowledge of a decantation that would cast his voice into his master’s ear, even if he had access to the proper spellwine.

He had no spellwine at all.

“Mahl says we should be able to see the shores of the next island by midday,” Ao said. “The map shows a village there, large enough for us to find what we need, without standing out so obviously as strangers. We can bargain for supplies there, restock, and listen for news.”

Ao barely seemed to notice the sun’s intensity, the copper highlights of his skin merely darkening to bronze. More annoying to Jerzy, the trader’s natural enthusiasm, high already, increased dramatically at the thought of new people to bargain with.

Jerzy changed his mind. He didn’t want to go overboard; he wanted to throw Ao overboard.

Unaware of his friend’s emotions, or simply ignoring them, Ao clapped him on the shoulder. “And once we discover what is what, my friend, we will be able to solve our little dilemma, and return us all home, covered in glory.”

Home. The thought gave Jerzy an unexpected pain in his chest, like a hollow ache. Home to The Berengia. Sloping hills and low stone walls, the welcoming smell of warm earth and fruit ripening on the vine.

Home, now forbidden him, thanks to the tangled plots of Washer Darian and Sar Anton, who claimed to have caught him in the act of stealing Vineart Giordan’s vines, and the betrayal of Giordan himself.

Jerzy could not find it in himself to blame Giordan, who had thrown Jerzy to judgment in order to save himself. Holding anger at what served no purpose; that Harvest was done, and Giordan had suffered for it, was likely dead now, for his efforts. Jerzy had Ao and Mahault to concern himself with now, and the mission that his master had set him upon.

Even now, Jerzy did not know if Sar Anton, the man who had accused both Jerzy and Giordan of breaking Sin Washer’s Command, was part of the greater taint, or merely using the unsettled situation there to advance his own political purposes.

Jerzy’s mission was to bring what he knew to Master Malech. Simple enough—except that the moment he went home, the Washers would take him and possibly his master as well. If that were to happen, all hope of defending themselves against the true threat would be lost.

“As simple as that?” he asked Ao, returning to the matter at hand. “Sail in, ask a few questions, discover the answer?” Jerzy had tried that in Aleppan, and even with Ao’s help, it had not turned out well, leaving them with more questions and no answers. “Even if we did discover who set all this in motion, I can’t see the Washers admitting that they were wrong, can you?” Jerzy had learned some of politics, in Aleppan.

The trader didn’t hesitate, shaking his head ruefully. “No. Not without proof they could not ignore, and maybe not even then.” The brotherhood was secure in their mission: they were Sin Washer’s heirs and keepers of the Commands, the living barrier standing between power and abuse.

Copyright © 2010 by Laura Anne Gilman


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