Exclusive Excerpt: Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle (Angry Robot)

Night's Masque 03 Prince of Lies

Shadowhawk presents an exclusive excerpt from Anne Lyle’s third and final Night’s Masque novel, coming soon from Angry Robot Books.

“Its been a long wait for this novel, and this excerpt comes at just the right time to get me excited again. Definitely looking forward to reading the novel next month.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

Anne Lyle’s debut novel, The Alchemist of Souls, is one of the first Angry Robot novels I read, in January of last year. It proved to be a surprisingly great debut, especially since it was the first time that I had really tried reading a historical fantasy. Its not a genre that I’m comfortable with or have much of an interest in, but Anne’s novels have done much to change that. Her sequel, The Merchant of Dreams, proved to be equally good when I read it late last year.

In many ways and for a lot of reasons, Anne is one of my favourite authors, and I’m really excited to host an (my first ever!) exclusive excerpt of her forthcoming novel The Prince of Lies. This novel ends the saga of the Catlyn brothers and their adventures with the Skraylings, and while I am a little sad to see the trilogy come to an end, I am also very excited regardless. Its been a wonderful experience so far and I hope that it continues on!

And who knows, there might be even more content for you all at some point later on, so don’t forget to check back now and then. In the meantime, here are some relevant links for your interest, and then the excerpt, the first chapter of The Prince of Lies.

Interview (2012), Guest Post – Names As Characters (2012).

Reviews: The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams.

Official links: The Prince of Lies.

Anne Lyle on Twitter, Facebook, Website.

*****

Night's Masque 03 Prince of Lies

Excerpt from The Prince of Lies

Chapter I

Mal reined in his mount and rested his gloved hands on the saddlebow, letting the gelding snatch a mouthful of new spring grass from the roadside. From here he could see the whole of London laid out below him, from the crumbling splendour of the Tower in the east to the gilded turrets of Whitehall Palace in the west, with Southwark a grubby stain on the farther bank of the Thames.

“See? I told you we weren’t lost. Stretch your legs if you like. I won’t be a moment.”

Sandy said nothing, only stared at the city as if he could close the distance by sheer force of will. Which admittedly he could, if he wanted to.

“And don’t go disappearing on me,” Mal added in a low voice. “I don’t need you affrighting half of London by using your magics in broad daylight.”

“I am not such a fool as that. Brother.”

“Well. Good, then.”

He dismounted and strolled over to the nearest bush. A hawthorn, vivid green leaves bursting from the bud, clusters of white flowers already open. In his mind’s eye he saw the design inked into his left shoulder: a roundel of flowers and thorns, reminder of the sacred grove back in Vinland where skraylings went to die and be reborn… No. Pissing on a hawthorn was sacrilegious whichever way you looked at it. He moved further into the thicket, where a great clump of holly stood like a fortress within a curtain wall of gorse and brambles. Did everything on this godforsaken heath have thorns? He unbuttoned his breeches and sighed, breath frosting the air.

A voice from the road behind him. And not Sandy’s. Mal hurriedly refastened his clothing and padded back to the road, drawing his rapier silently.

“Hold! Or…” The man with a pistol to Sandy’s head looked from one to the other, taking in their identical dark wavy hair and neatly trimmed beards. “Or your brother’s a dead man. He is your brother, right?”

“Twins, as you see,” Mal said, letting the tip of his rapier droop towards the ground as if on the verge of surrendering it. The fellow looked desperate enough to kill, hollow of cheek and with scabby red skin showing through his ripped and filthy finery. Stolen from other victims, no doubt.

“So if I shoot him,” the footpad said, “do you die as well?”

Mal shrugged. “I’m not eager to test that hypothesis.”

“Oi, don’t you try and maze me with no fancy Latin.”

“Actually,” said Sandy, “it’s Greek. From–”

“Shut up!” The pistol began to shake. “Shut up, the pair of you. Hand over the chinks. Now. And that pretty pigsticker. Bet it’s worth ten times what you’ve got in your purse.”

“You’ve a fine eye,” Mal said, throwing his rapier onto the ground about halfway between them. The curving lines of the hilt flashed as they caught the afternoon sunlight. That gave him an idea…

“And the knife,” the footpad said. “Come on, I can see the hilt sticking out behind your back.”

The dagger joined its mate on the grass.

“Get on with it!”

Mal hefted his purse for a moment then tossed to the footpad in a high arc. The fool went to catch it with his free hand – and looked straight up into the sun. Sandy stepped aside and Mal ducked forward, snatching up the rapier and lunging in a single fluid movement that ended with the point of his blade pressing into the tender flesh under the man’s chin.

“Once you pull the trigger,” Mal said, “it’ll take at least two heartbeats for the powder to ignite and the gun to fire. How many do you think it’ll take for me to open your veins?”

The footpad’s throat worked as he weighed the relative consequences of speaking and staying silent. After a moment he lowered the pistol.

“Drop it on the ground,” Mal told him. “Carefully.”

He did so, never taking his eyes off Mal. Sandy stepped behind him and took the man’s head in both hands. The footpad whimpered and squirmed in Sandy’s grasp, and his eyes rolled back in his skull.

“What are you doing?” Mal strode over and laid a hand on his brother’s arm. “I told you–”

Sandy released the footpad, who fell to the ground in an untidy heap.

“–not to use magic openly.”

“There is no one here to see us.”

“There’s him. Assuming you haven’t killed him.”

Mal sheathed his sword and crouched beside the man, taking hold of his jaw and turning his head from side to side. Drool trickled out between the slack lips, but the footpad appeared to still be breathing.

“You know I can’t do that,” Sandy replied.

“Do I? I’m not certain what you’re capable of any more.” Mal retrieved his fallen purse and straightened up.

“You’re afraid, aren’t you? Afraid of becoming like me.”

Mal looked away, unable to meet his brother’s eye. It was hard to keep secrets from someone when you shared a soul.

“You didn’t need to do it. I had him disarmed and at swordspoint.”

“He could have been an assassin.”

“Him?” Mal shook his head over the sorry figure on the ground. “He’s naught but a common thief. Plenty of them on the roads into London; the only wonder is we haven’t been troubled by any before now.”

“Still, I had to be sure.”

“And was he?”

Sandy pulled a face. “No.”

“Don’t fret yourself. We were in London for weeks after we first got back from France; if someone was set on killing me, they’d have tried it before now.” He stepped over the man, picked up his dagger and returned it to its sheath. “No, whoever sent that assassin after me on Raleigh’s ship seems to have backed off. Probably doesn’t want to upset the prince.”

“The boy is barely four years old; I cannot think he leads our enemies yet.”

“Not Henry; his father Robert.” Mal looked around for the horses. “It’s a good hour’s ride to Southwark. If we want to talk to the skraylings before Youssef’s ship docks, we’d best hurry.”

* * *

The suburb of Southwark had grown outwards in all directions except one. On its eastern edge the boundary was still the stream just past Morgan’s Lane, crossed by a wooden bridge. The common land beyond lay as empty as ever, apart from a few grazing cattle and of course the skrayling encampment. Evidently no one was so desperate for land that they wanted to build within a stone’s throw of the aliens.

“Remember,” Mal said as they drew near the gates, “we offer help first, ask favours after.”

He dismounted and stepped onto the near end of the bridge across the moat surrounding the camp. He recalled his very first visit here, trailing after Ambassador Kiiren in the pouring rain, shirt sticking to the bloody welts on his back. The fact that he had been the first human to set foot inside the compound had been lost on him at the time. He wondered if others had been admitted since then, though he knew of none for certain apart from himself and Sandy. The skraylings kept to themselves, even more so now they knew that traitors within their own people had infiltrated the English aristocracy in the past and might try to do so again.

“Sir Maliverny Catlyn and Alexander Catlyn, to see Outspeaker Adjaan,” he said to the guard. The title still sounded foolish in his own ears, but there it was. The Queen had decided his actions in Venice had deserved a knighthood, and who was he to gainsay her?

The skrayling’s tattooed face remained impassive, but he bowed politely and waved them through. Mal breathed a sigh of relief. He had not been sure they would be welcome here in the wake of Ambassador Kiiren’s death, which was why he had not visited the skraylings upon his return to England. Only the necessity of protecting his family drove him to it now, and though the skraylings were a peaceable folk for the most part and he did not fear an attack, still he could not help but glance about him, hand on rapier hilt, as they entered the compound.

The camp was much as Mal remembered it: an area of about two acres filled with domed tents of a heavy canvas patterned in cream and black triangles, zigzags and interlocking squares. In the centre a great pavilion rose amongst the smaller tents, and trees grew here and there, hung with the blown-glass spheres the skraylings used for lamps. This early in the evening the trees were dark, but already a lamp-tender was passing among them with his ladder, emptying out the spent lightwater into a bucket that glowed faintly when he passed into the shadow of a tent.

“Do you know this new outspeaker?” Mal asked his brother as they dismounted.

“Adjaan?” Sandy shook his head. “The name is not familiar to me.”

A movement in the crowd caught Mal’s eye and he shifted his grip on the rapier hilt, but it was only a young skrayling in a clerk’s brown tunic and trousers. The lad stumbled to a halt, his amber eyes wide at the sight of the visitors, then he seemed to remember himself and made a hesitant obeisance, hands raised palms outwards.

“Erishen-tuur?”

“Hä,” Sandy replied, returning the obeisance.

Mal forced a smile. Erishen was the name of the skrayling soul that had reincarnated in the twins. He supposed he should find it reassuring that at least some the skraylings still considered the Catlyn brothers near-kinsmen, but it made him uneasy nonetheless.

The clerk rattled something off in Vinlandic and beckoned to the two men.

“He says the outspeaker will see us now,” Sandy told Mal. “She is in her office.”

“She?” Mal caught his brother’s arm, slowing him down so that they were out of earshot of the young clerk. “I thought female skraylings never ventured across the ocean?”

“Times change,” Sandy replied. “Even for us.”

Mal bit back a comment. If Sandy now thought of himself as more skrayling than human, was that not Mal’s own fault as much as anyone’s? He was the one who had handed his brother over to the creatures to be “cured” of his madness.

The clerk led them along a raised wooden causeway to a cabin on the far side of the compound. It resembled the skraylings’ dome-shaped tents, except that it was roofed with a spiral of wooden tiles shaped like fish scales, and its walls were carved in simple lines to emphasise the grain of the timber. Folding doors on all sides let in the spring air and revealed its inhabitant kneeling at a low table heaped with books and papers. Turquoise-blue lamps hung from the ceiling, giving the cabin interior the appearance of an underwater cave. Sandy muttered something under his breath but Mal had no time to ask him what he meant, since Outspeaker Adjaan was already rising to greet them.

She was tall as skraylings went, though she still barely reached Mal’s chin, and broader than most. Her face was an even bluish-grey, lacking the mottled pattern that male skraylings enhanced with tattooed lines, and she wore a robe of deep lapis blue over tunic and trousers of the same colour. Mal recalled Ambassador Kiiren’s explanation of his own garb, that male outspeakers dressed as women to form a bridge between the two sexes, who normally lived apart. He wondered what had brought Adjaan here to live among her menfolk. Nothing good, he suspected.

“Gentlemen. Welcome to my humble lirraan.” Adjaan bowed, a little awkwardly. Her English however was flawless, with even less of an accent than Kiiren’s.

“Senlirren-tuur.” Sandy returned the courtesy in the skrayling fashion, palms forward and head turned to one side to expose his throat.

Mal did likewise, and Adjaan replied in Vinlandic. He racked his brains, willing the words to mean something, but unlike his brother he had limited access to Erishen’s powers and even less to his memories.

“Forgive me,” Adjaan said in English. “It was impolite of me to use the language of my kinfolk, when we are the strangers here. Please, sit.” She went over to the brazier in the rear doorway and picked up a wooden-handled jug that steamed in the cool evening air. “What brings you back to London so soon?”

“Soon?” Mal sat down cross-legged on the near side of the table. “We have been in Derbyshire all winter.”

Adjaan cleared a space on the corner of the table and set down the jug. “How old are you?”

“We will be thirty years old in November,” Mal said.

“Not these bodies. How long have you walked in the worlds? Five hundred years? Six?”

“About that,” Sandy said. “I was born in the Ninth Cycle–”

“Then a few turns of the moon is but a moment, yes?”

She took out three cups of translucent porcelain and filled them. Aniig, Mal realised, the herbal brew favoured by the skraylings, though he had never drunk it hot before. At least not in this body, as Adjaan would no doubt be quick to point out.

“To answer your question, honoured one,” Sandy said, taking a cup, “we are here with good news of our findings in the north.”

“Or lack of findings,” Mal put in.

“You found no hrrith?”

“None. If our brother Charles ever hunted the devourers, as he claimed, they are long gone.”

“They were there once,” Sandy added. “I saw his scars. But my brother is right, they are long gone.”

“Well, that is good news.” Adjaan cupped her aniig in her hands but did not drink. “I would not like to think of those creatures roaming any land, especially not the home of our good friends the English.”

“We are still good friends?” Mal asked.

“Of course.” She gestured to her cabin. “I would not have come all this way if we did not wish to continue in friendship with you.”

She smiled, showing even white teeth, but something about her expression did not convince Mal.

“And is that all your news?” she went on. “It seems a long way to come, to say you have found nothing.”

“Well, since we no longer have aught to do in the north,” Mal said, “we thought we might be of help here.”

“Indeed.” Adjaan continued to smile, but her tone was icy.

Mal put down his cup. “The guisers are our enemies as well as yours, honoured one. And I have vowed to drive them from England.”

“You? A kiaqnehet?”

The word meant broken soul, abomination. Mal ignored the insult. Their mission was more important than petty squabblings over skrayling dogma.

“My brother has been teaching me. How do you think we determined there were no devourers – no hrrith – in our lands?”

“Show me.”

“Now?”

“Why not now? It will be quiet; even your enemies are unlikely to be around at this time of day.”

She motioned to Sandy, who stood up and began closing the doors of the hut. Mal laid his hands in his lap and closed his eyes, forcing himself to breathe more slowly. No, not forcing. That would not work. He breathed again, focusing on the play of light and colour behind his eyelids, letting his imagination draw pictures. The colours rippled and flowed past him, so that he felt as if he were running down a narrow alley with high walls on either side… A moment later he stepped out onto the familiar open plain of the dreamlands, twilit and silent.

“A little clumsy,” said a voice at his side, “but better than I expected.”

He turned to see Adjaan, and Sandy beyond her. She was as tall as them both now, or perhaps they were as short as her; it was hard to judge size in this featureless place.

The dreamlands were not entirely empty, of course, not even at this hour. A scatter of golden lights on a nearby slope marked the city full of humans, and closer at hand the paler glow of skrayling dreamwalkers, some resting, some circling the compound.

“We patrol day and night,” Adjaan said. “Not a soul enters or leaves this compound without me knowing.”

“How far do they range?” Sandy asked.

“Not far. Our purpose is to guard our own people, not yours.”

Mal crouched and ran a hand through the cold, colourless grass. The earth – if such you could call it – felt different here: more alive, or perhaps less substantial.

“So, you feel it.” Adjaan nodded in approval.

“What is it?” he asked, straightening up.

“The price of staying in one place too long.”

She snapped her fingers in his face. Mal blinked – and opened his eyes to the blue-green light of the skrayling lamps. Adjaan gave a hissing laugh.

“You will need better self-control than that, Catlyn-tuur, if you wish to fight our enemies.”

Mal picked up the cup of aniig and sipped the cooling liquid. Adjaan reminded him of his fencing-master, never satisfied with his pupils’ rate of improvement. He only wishes you to reach your full potential. Easy for father to say. He wasn’t the one hobbling down the stairs like an old man, hamstrings protesting from an afternoon of naught but footwork.

“Catlyn-tuur?”

Mal blinked again, and realised Adjaan was addressing him.

“Sorry, honoured one. You are right, I need better control.”

She smiled, more kindly. “Fortunately Erishen-tuur is remarkably adept for a kiaqnehet. And the renegades are fewer than we feared.”

“You’re sure?”

“We can never be sure, but yes. By my reckoning there are no more than a handful in and around the city.”

Mal leaned forward. “Who are they?”

“Alas, that I cannot tell you. Jathekkil we know, of course, though he is as yet too weak to be a danger.”

“Prince Henry.” The Queen’s four year-old grandson hosted the soul of their old enemy Jathekkil, formerly incarnated as the late Duke of Suffolk.

“Indeed. Doubtless he has an amayi, but if so they are being very discreet; at any rate we have not been able to confirm it.”

Mal nodded. Skraylings did not marry but some took life-mates, amayiä, who watched over them during the vulnerable years before and after reincarnation. Erishen and Kiiren were just such a pair; he should not be surprised that Jathekkil had a companion too.

“There is one who spends a great deal of time at the palace and seldom leaves London,” Adjaan went on. “It could be he. And there are one or two who come and go, or perhaps several.”

“Then we have a good chance at success.” Mal was unable to suppress a grin of triumph.

“You have a chance, yes.”

“And the skraylings will help?”

“We will prevent any more of our people from joining their ranks, and our patrols here will discourage activity in your capital, but more than that I cannot promise. Our position here is fragile enough; if those in power knew what was truly occurring in their peaceful kingdom…”

“Of course, honoured one. Discretion is paramount.” Ever since the trouble in Venice there had been more and more reports of witch-hunts, some as far afield as Germany and Scotland. He had no wish to bring such horrors to his own country. “Even so, the aid you describe will be invaluable.”

They drank their aniig in silence for a few moments.

“And what will you do when the senzadheneth, the guisers, are gone?” Adjaan asked, just as the silence threatened to go on too long for courtesy.

“I had not looked that far ahead,” Mal lied, putting down his cup. “But now that you mention it… We are ourselves renegades, in a sense. We would gladly surrender to the elders’ justice, to be reborn among the skraylings if we can.”

“You and your brother are kiaqneheth. Surely you understand that this is not possible?”

“Jathekkil thought it was,” Sandy said. “By killing one of us–”

Adjaan made a dismissive gesture. “Even if it could be done, it would not avail you. The penalty for taking human form is destruction, you know that.”

“And what of our amayi, Kiiren? Must he too be condemned for our sins?”

Her topaz eyes narrowed. “Outspeaker Kiiren is not lost?”

“No, honoured one,” Mal said. “He has been reborn in human flesh, as we were–”

“Kiiren senzadh.”

The distaste in her voice made him wince, but he pressed on nonetheless.

“Yes, honoured one. We brought him back with us from Venice. That is, we took him as far as my estate in Provence, and my wife has charge of him now. But with all the trouble in France, she has decided to bring him here to England despite the dangers.”

“Oh? And what business is he of mine, this human child of yours, this…” she looked from one twin to the other “…guiser?”

“It was not his wish to break our laws, honoured one,” said Sandy, “any more than it was mine. He is young, scarcely more than a century in this world, and does not deserve exile. Please, let him go back to our homeland and rejoin our people.”

“And why should I allow this? As a favour to you, who unleashed hrrith in the streets of Venice and dashed all our hopes of an alliance with that city?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then you cannot be disappointed when I refuse.”

Mal bowed his head in submission. There was no point arguing the matter, not now. Perhaps if the outspeaker were allowed time to consider…

“Come on, Sandy.” He got to his feet. “We should be going. The Hayreddin will be arriving soon.”

Sandy opened his mouth to protest, but Mal took hold of his brother’s hand and used the skin-to-skin contact to send thoughts of reassurance and urge him to silence. Sandy’s eyes widened at this unexpected display of power. After a moment Mal felt an answering wave of agreement tinged with pride. He smiled and bade the puzzled outspeaker farewell.

“Don’t worry,” Mal said in a low voice as they led their horses out of the compound. “I haven’t given up yet.”

“But Kiiren–” Sandy looked contrite. “I mean Kit… It’s not safe for him here.”

“You think he would be any safer on Sark? Or back in Vinland? The guisers here in England aren’t our only enemies; they have Christ knows how many allies and would-be recruits among the skraylings. He’ll be safer with us, at least for now. When he is older perhaps we can petition the skraylings again.”

Sandy halted, twisting his mount’s reins absentmindedly between his hands.

“You’re right.” He looked up and gave Mal a watery smile. “I’m glad Adjaan said no.”

Mal patted his brother on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s go and bring him home.”

*****

Hope you enjoyed that little excerpt. Will aim to bring you more excellent content like this soon.

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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