The Daniel Hood Bookshelf
A sample chapter from my first book, "Fanuilh," originally published by Ace in 1994. Pointless fact of the week: When I wrote it, the book was called "Southwark's Teeth," but the editors at Ace thought "Fanuilh" worked better.
The cover art is by Bob Eggleton.
The feast was a thing Liam Rhenford had never thought to see in Taralon and because of that, and a general feeling of being an outsider, he allowed himself a little too much of the hot, spiced wine.
Of course, the merchant Necquer was not really Taralonian; he was an expatriated Freeporter, and their sensibilities were less easily offended. Liam had spent a fair amount of time in the Freeports and was not offended himself, but he found himself wondering if the any of Southwark's other merchants, Necquer's competitors, would have ever considered such a feast with anything other than disgust.
Clerks and overseers in their rough best drank noisily in Necquer's home; stevedores and sailors, shorn to the ears in the traditional haircut of Taralon's lower classes, ate his food and sang dirty chanteys in his hall; spinning and weaving girls danced, giggling, to the minstrels Necquer had hired. Even in Southwark, the southernmost city of Taralon's southern duchies, position and the bounds of class distinction were well-observed, if not as rigidly as in more northern parts. The merchant, however, had thrown propriety to the wind.
In his own home, Liam could hear other merchants saying. He let them dance in his own home, he thought, and smiled to himself over the social outrage.
Necquer's home was beautiful in its cramped way, a high, narrow wooden building nestled in the Point, Southwark's tiny rich quarter. Gleaming parquet floors shone under vibrant, imported rugs; light and warmth radiated from countless silver candelabra and roaring fireplaces. Fine food piled high on trestle tables disappeared almost as soon as it was served, and wine and ale flowed in silver and pewter mugs. Freihett Necquer was entertaining his low-born workers in a style normally reserved for his social equals as if it were nothing and his workers, in turn, accepted it without question. Glass-paned doors at the rear of the house opened onto a rain-dark stone porch overlooking the harbor; a group of sailors formed a circle there, encouraging two wrestling men with catcalls and shouts. A trio of musicians played loudly, and the sound of Necquer's employees dancing, eating and celebrating was louder than the rain or the surf crashing below.
I had no idea he was so rich, Liam thought, casting admiring eyes about the merchant's home; I should have charged him more for those maps.
Ostensibly the feast was in honor of the upcoming Uris-tide, but the real reason was that Necquer was alive and well, and in a mood to celebrate. He had survived one of the worst storms in Southwark's memory and - by a miracle - come home with a cargo of immense value.
When Necquer's workers talked, which they did only rarely between laughing and eating and dancing breathlessly, they talked of the miracle, and many slyly hinted that Necquer had never kept a Uris-tide before, and probably did not know who Uris was.
The miracle was the disappearance of Southwark's Teeth, the towering, jagged rocks that guarded the city's harbor. Rising black and ominous from beneath the sea like the spine of a submerged sea-dragon, they stretched for miles from the west to close off most of the harbor, leaving only a small entrance to the placid roadstead. They took greedy toll for the protection, however, in the form of ships smashed against their unyielding sides, keeping many safe in return for the occasional wreck sent down to the Storm King. A week before, another merchant's caravel, bearing a fortune home from Alyecir, had been crushed into the Teeth. Four men out of a crew of sixty had escaped. And then, four days later, Southwark woke, blinked its eyes, and saw the Teeth gone. The sea rolled unstopped into the roadstead, and the coast looked barren, for all the world like an old man without his natural teeth. A day after that, Necquer had led four merchantmen limping into port. Experienced seamen declared it a miracle: battered as the ships were by the late season storms, they could never have negotiated the Teeth. And that morning, the day after Necquer's safe arrival, Southwark woke to find that the unknown thief had repented, and the Teeth were back, resuming their posts as if they had never left.
Necquer had more than enough reason to celebrate, and his employees - common sailors, poor clerks, burly stevedores and longshoremen, the girls who spun and wove his trade goods - accepted it wholeheartedly.
Liam listened to everything he could, circulating aimlessly around the noisy, crowded house, taking long sips of wine. He spoke to no one, because he knew no one, and thought more than once of the invitation extended to him by Necquer's wife.
He had arrived almost an hour after sunset, delayed as much by the fact that he would not know any of Necquer's employees as by the rain. The house was already full of people celebrating, and though the music had not started yet, the noise was deafening. He took a deep breath and shouldered his way into the feast.
Necquer had spotted him after a few minutes and jostled his way over.
"Rhenford! It was good of you to come!" The merchant was almost as tall as Liam, but far broader. Almost forty years old, in many ways he was a typical Freeporter, dark of hair and skin, easygoing and unpretentious. He clasped Liam's hand and shoulder, smiling broadly. Over his shoulder, he called out: "Poppae! Poppae! Come over here! There's someone you should meet!"
An expensively-dressed young woman separated herself from an obviously painful conversation with a weaving girl and threaded her way through the press. She was beautiful in a quiet way, finely-formed, porcelain features framed with a mass of curling, glossy black hair. She was young, barely into her twenties, and she looked almost childlike compared to her husband. Necquer watched her make her way towards them, and it struck Liam as he bowed over her hand that the merchant was carefully scrutinizing their introduction.
"Poppae, this is Liam Rhenford, the gentleman who drew the maps that have made us rich! Rhenford, my wife Poppae."
"Sir Liam," Poppae murmured, a slight smile playing over her lips.
"I'm afraid I'm not a knight, Lady Necquer," Liam corrected politely. He had grown used to the southern habit of indiscriminately applying titles of respect. In the north, where he was raised, the degrees of rank were carefully delineated and scrupulously denoted with countless specific names, each signifying a slight difference in class. Southerners, on the other hand, tended to use whatever title came to mind, as long as it broadly approximated the subject's position.
Necquer suddenly breathed hard, as though disappointed in the conversation, and turned away abruptly. Liam watched him go, slightly surprised. Lady Necquer showed no interest in leaving. In fact, she gazed at him curiously.
"I suppose I owe you my husband's long absences, Sir Liam?"
He let the honorific pass this time. She spoke the southern dialect, but not as thickly as most he had met in Southwark, and her eyes were disturbingly enormous, sad and blue.
"I am afraid you are correct, madam. I did draw some maps for your husband, but had I known they would cause you pain through his absence, I'd never have done it." He had, in fact, given her husband a secret few others knew about. Alyecir and the Freeports, the main trading destinations of ships from Taralon, lay to the west. But to the east and south a number of cities existed on coasts undreamed of by Southwark's merchants, unvisited because of a Taralonian superstition about sailing the Cauliff Ocean. Liam had reached them by traveling overland, but he knew they could be reached from the sea. Late in the summer, it had occurred to him to sell the maps he had made, and he had chosen Necquer primarily because he was a Freeporter, and might not share Taralonian superstitions.
As hoped, Necquer had no objections to trying the Cauliff, and on Liam's assurance that the journey would be short, had departed as soon as he could ready four ships, even though the fall storms were approaching. That had been a little over six weeks before, and already he was back, and if the size of his feast was any indication, the trip had been very successful.
Lady Necquer looked at him with new respect, and edged a little closer, giving in to pressure from the ever-growing crowd.
Liam let his eyes rove over the crowd, nervously refusing to meet her eyes. It had been a long time since he had had to deal with anyone of even Lady Necquer's station, and the social pitfalls their conversation presented loomed large in his mind. On the other hand, he had noticed the discomfort with which she spoke to Necquer's more common employees. He supposed that, clean-shaven and well-dressed as he was, he represented a far more interesting companion than longshoremen and tars straight off a three-month voyage. And bowing over her hand had probably not hurt his image.
"You speak passing fair, Sir Liam, and with a Midlands tongue, 'less I'm mistaken."
"You are not, madam. I was born in the Midlands." He could not help but feel that he sounded stiff and stilted to her, but it had been a long while since his breeding had been required of him.
"My husband's tongue was schooled Midlands," she said with a smile, "though a very Freeporter he is. He learned in Harcourt and the other western ports. But tell, how does a Midlands tongue come to speak so far south? And to draw maps of lands even further south?"
Liam dropped his gaze to his boots, taking in the tooled leather, uncomfortable speaking about himself. "When I was a youth, certain...family problems forced my departure from home. I have travelled widely since," he finished lamely.
"No first son's legacy for you, then?" she said sympathetically. "You were a second son?"
"Yes," he lied. It was far easier to claim the anonymity of a lesser position than to explain to the curious woman that he was an only child, and that his birthright had been stripped from him in war. And far less painful.
"And so you travelled. But not as a sailor?" she asked, and he detected a note of hope in her soft voice.
"No, madam. Sometimes as a surgeon, or navigator, and twice as captain. Most often merely as a passenger. The charts I drew your husband were taken from my notes."
"Navigator, captain, surgeon, e'en? You are a man of several parts, Sir Liam, though you are no knight." She laughed brightly. Liam caught on only after a moment, and then laughed with her.
"It would very much agree with me to hear further of your travels, Sir Liam."
"Even in a Midlands tongue?" he asked with mock humility, beginning to warm to Lady Necquer's sad eyes and gentle manner. She smiled at him.
Necquer suddenly loomed up behind his wife, smiling as though he had heard the joke.
"Eh, Poppae, we seem to be ready for the minstrels, don't you think?"
The question was asked without any detectable overtones, but Lady Necquer paled slightly, and caught her breath.
"Faith, I suppose we are, lord." She made to move away, but Necquer took hold of her tiny waist and kissed her soundly on the cheek. She snuggled against him, raising one hand absently to his sea-roughened cheek. He smiled at Liam over her shoulder.
"Has Rhenford been regaling you with tales of his journeys, my dear?"
"Boring her, I'm afraid," Liam said with a slight bow.
"Nonsense, Rhenford. You're the most interesting man I've met in a long time, and I'm sure Poppae agrees. Don't you, sweet?"
Lady Necquer nodded eagerly. "I was just asking Sir Liam to tell me more of his travels, lord, but he is a fierce keeper of secrets."
"Well, we'll have to change that, eh Rhenford? Why not come some night to dinner? You can tell me where to trade next season, and then entertain Poppae. I'm leaving for Warinsford tomorrow, or I'd ask you then, but I'll be back in a few days. You'll dine with us then, eh?"
"Must you leave so soon?" Lady Necquer seemed genuinely upset, but her husband's answer sounded rehearsed, as if they had had the same discussion earlier.
"The snows won't start for another month, and a great deal of what I brought back may spoil, sweet. It must be soon." He kissed her again, and Liam shifted uncomfortably, as though intruding on a private moment.
Lady Necquer returned his kiss absently. "But could not Sir Liam come and entertain me while you are gone? Mayhap just to wile away an afternoon?" There was a freight of meaning behind her words, and a plea that Necquer caught, though it flew past Liam.
"Certainly, certainly," Necquer said after a moment's thought. "He shall come tomorrow, then? What do you say, Rhenford? Will you entertain my wife tomorrow afternoon?"
"I...of course, of course."
Lady Necquer smiled gratefully at her husband, who admonished Liam to remember his appointment, and whisked her away. Liam stood, confused but strangely happy. He had been in Southwark for over four months, but until then he had spoken - spoken for no purpose other than pleasure - with only one other person.
He smiled to himself and shouldered gently through the throng of celebrating workers to find himself a cup of wine. He drank six more before the end of the evening, eating little, talking no more, and watching a great deal.
Necquer's employees enjoyed themselves thoroughly. They shouted and danced the large group dances favored in the south, encouraging each other with whistles and clapping. The three minstrels kept pace, playing louder and more wildly as the evening wore on. Liam looked on, listening to snatches of conversation about the miracle, and watched Lady Necquer.
As close as they seemed, something was not right between the merchant and his wife. He recalled a comment he had not understood. A clerk at the buffet had told a companion that there might be more than one reason why Necquer had hurried home, and received a wink and a snicker in return. Liam guessed now that they were referring to a mistress. It might explain the strangeness he had detected in the merchant's manner, but he found it hard to believe anyone would be disloyal to a woman as young and beautiful as Poppae Necquer.
Tall as he was, Liam found it easy to keep track of the diminutive beauty as she moved around her home; and it was easy to catch Necquer watching her too, with slitted eyes and an expression that occasionally grew grim. She seemed aware of it, but not disturbed. It was as if she were waiting to show him something, but could not find it in the crowded room.
Towards the bottom of his seventh cup of wine, Liam realized that the room was stiflingly close, and that the feeling was gone in the tip of his long nose. Recognizing an old sign, he prepared himself to go, looking around for his host. He shoved less gently than before through the crowd towards the back of the house; his misjudgement of the gaps in the milling crowd justifying his decision to leave.
Necquer was not to be found in the rear of the narrow house, though several drunken sailors were taking turns walking the length of the rain-slick balustrade that rimmed the porch, ignoring the long drop to the harbor below. Someone should stop them, Liam thought hazily, but not me. He turned and began threading his unsteady way back through the crowd.
He saw Necquer in the middle of the hall, pressed to one wall by the thick, rowdy crowd. His face was taut and grim, and he was staring across the hall at his wife, who was behind one of the tables that had once been covered with food and now held crumbs and bones. She was staring, pale and unhappy, towards the street door, where a young man stood framed by the lintel. He was brushing rain from long, ash-blond hair, his handsome face swinging to and fro, looking for someone. Necquer followed his wife's gaze, and Liam saw him mouth a curse and begin pushing through the crowd toward the door.
Stung by curiosity, Liam followed after, losing sight of Necquer in the crowd. He did, however, see the young man's eyes suddenly widen, and pushed harder against the crowd when the man spun quickly and dashed out into the rain.
The crowd and his own unsteadiness slowed him, and by the time he reached the door and stepped out into the street, the youth was gone. Necquer stood on the cobbles, his fists bunched by his sides, and Liam almost lurched into him. One fist raised, the merchant spun on him, and lowered his arm reluctantly.
"Rhenford," he said, rain trickling down his face into his beard like tears.
"I thought I should thank you before I left," Liam slurred, wiping rain out of his face with a hand that felt unnaturally hot.
"Rhenford, you're drunk!" Necquer gave a laugh, loud and heartily out of proportion, Liam felt, to how drunk he was, but he said nothing. The merchant seemed to need to laugh.
"Who would have thought a few cups of wine could undo a man who'd travelled the world over?" Necquer laughed, immensely amused and immensely relieved by something.
"I thought I should thank you before I left," Liam repeated, very uncomfortable and feeling very serious.
"You're not leaving yet, Rhenford, not in this rain. At least let me send a servant with you. You'll fall in a gutter and catch your death! Wait in the hall, I'll send a servant for you."
Liam let the merchant guide him back into the house, where he leaned against a wall. Necquer started away, then turned back, looking seriously at Liam.
"You will come tomorrow, won't you?" There was an earnestness in Necquer's voice, but Liam was feeling unnaturally hot all over now, and waved the question away.
"Of course, of course," he mumbled.
"Wait here. I'll send a servant."
Necquer strode off into the crowd and almost immediately, Liam pulled himself away from the wall and walked, stumbling slightly, into the rain.
* * *
It was a cold, light rain, and went a long way toward sobering Liam up. He wove only slightly back and forth across the narrow streets, turning his face up to the rain to try and clear his head. By the time he had wound his way down out of the rich quarter, further inland to the neighborhood where his rooms were, his head was far clearer, the haze mostly driven out by a piercing headache like a spike driven into his forehead.
When he had arrived in Southwark during the spring, he had not looked far for lodging, taking directions from the first longshoreman he met. He had been directed to an establishment run by a captain's widow, and she had been glad to offer him her attic garret, the largest room she had.
Climbing the five flights of rickety stairs, he cursed the choice, and when he slammed his head into one of the room's low-hanging beams, he cursed again, loudly. The room ran the whole length of the house, with a low ceiling and one window at the front, where he had placed a cheap table. Apart from a straw pallet and an iron-bound chest, the table and its attendant chair were the only furnishings. Several books and stacks of papers littered the rest of the room, and Liam remembered how impressed his landlady had been.
"A very scholar, aren't you, sir? Never had no scholar here before," she had said, respect like cloying sugar in her voice.
Most of the sheets of paper were blank, but she had not noticed that. He had wondered if Mistress Dorcas could read, and decided that she was probably illiterate.
He managed to light a candle after several attempts, and finally sat down on the chair, which creaked ominously at his weight. He thought of writing, but dismissed the idea almost immediately, the pain in his head a warning against any attempt at serious work. Instead, he stared out the glass-paned window at the rain and offered a blanket prayer to whichever gods kept the attic roof from leaking, and to those who had kept him from throwing up on his way home.
"No more wine," he muttered, scratching with a thumbnail at the spine of one of the books on the table. "Not for a long time."
The candle guttered, disturbed by a crafty draft that had found a chink in the window. Liam shifted slightly and blew the candle out. He undressed in the dark, tossing his soaked breeches, boots and tunic away, and crawled beneath his two soft blankets. It was cold in the garret, and the smell of mold curled lightly into his nose. Rain pattered heavily on the roof for a while, and he thought he might fall asleep to it, but it tapered off, leaving him with a loud silence.
Restless and uncomfortable, thinking of nothing for over an hour, he finally got off the pallet and searched in the dark for his candle. When it was lit, he opened his chest with the key hung around his neck, and dressed anew, in dry clothes. He started for the door and then, as an afterthought, returned to spread his wet clothes on the chair.
The rain had stopped, but water still gurgled in the gutters, and the clouds had not broken. He hesitated in the street, unsure where he wanted to go. He could simply wander the city, but the Guard frowned on that, and there was nothing in Southwark he had not already seen.
He thought of visiting his only friend in Southwark, and then rejected the idea because it was late.
Then again, he thought, Tarquin's a weird one, and a wizard; perhaps he's still awake. And it's somewhere to go.
Tarquin Tanaquil was really more of an acquaintance than a friend, but he seemed to tolerate Liam, and the two got along well enough. The wizard lived outside of Southwark, beyond a belt of farms and pasturage on a beach to the west of the city, fifteen minutes ride away.
Liam set off purposefully through the rain-glistening streets, thinking better of whistling.
It took him almost an hour to reach Tarquin's beach on foot, and his headache was gone by the time he arrived. Happily, lights still burned in the house.
The wizard's home occupied a bend in the high seacliffs where sand had gathered, forming a long, secluded beach. A narrow path cut into the cliffs led down to the waterfront, and Liam stood at its bottom for a minute, admiring the view.
Far out over the sea, the clouds had broken, and the moon turned the horizon silver. Closer in, all was dark, the massive breakwater a looming shadow, the sand black. Only the wizard's home was lit, a warm and cheery presence. It was a villa, a rich-looking house: one-storeyed but long and deep, white plaster and red tile roof with only a slight peak. A broad, stone-paved patio lined the front with steps leading right onto the sand. The wall of the house facing the sea was almost entirely glass, more glass than Liam had ever before seen in one place. Warm yellow light spilled out onto the patio.
Liam sprinted across the sand, packed down with the rain, and sprang up on the breakwater. Broad as a roadway, it led him along the beachfront to a spot directly in front of Tarquin's door.
It was the breakwater and the beach that had led him to meet the wizard. The coastline near Southwark was almost entirely high cliffs, larger, more stolid cousins to the Teeth. In his early explorations, Liam had learned that there were almost no places where one could swim in the sea, except for Tarquin's cove. Mistress Dorcas had told him about the magician, spouting the normal warnings and superstitions, but one day he had gone down the path, strolled up to the door, and asked if he might swim from the wizard's beach.
The white-haired old man grudgingly gave permission, and from there a sort of suspicious acquaintance began. As the summer wore on and the weather grew hotter, Liam's visits to the beach grew more frequent, and the occasions when the busy wizard recognized his presence grew as well. One time he invited Liam to sit on the patio with him, and they had spoken briefly. From there, it had only been a short while before he was invited in, and their conversations had grown longer.
Standing on the breakwater, alternately looking out to sea and back at the villa, Liam thought that he would never have woke the wizard up merely to tell how he had gotten drunk and could not sleep. But since the house was lit, he felt it would be no imposition.
He hopped off the breakwater and strolled across the sand to the patio and the glass-fronted house. He rapped once on one of the thick panes, and waited. There was no reply, so he opened the door, more of a window that slid aside in grooved wooden tracks, and stepped inside.
Though it was chilly outside, the house was warm. Sourceless light filled the entrance hall, bringing out soft highlights in the polished wood of the floor. Corridors and more sliding doors, these of solid wood, led off the room.
"Tarquin?" Liam asked softly, and a shudder ran through him. He had never been further than the entrance hall and one small room off it, a sort of parlor overlooking the beach.
"Tarquin?" he called again. The sound of the waves lapping against the breakwater sounded louder inside than out.
Boldly, he strode down one of the corridors leading towards the rear of the house, and found himself in a stone-paved kitchen, with a huge wooden table and a cavernous baker's oven. No wizard. He noticed that the table was unscarred, the sanded planks unmarked by use.
"Tarquin?" he called again, raising his voice. No response.
He left the kitchen and returned to the entrance hall, choosing the second corridor. Two doors opened off it, one open. More of the sourceless light spilled out, and Liam saw the foot of a bed.
Filled with a dread as sourceless as the light, he approached the door slowly. Then he plunged into the room, awaiting a shock, something loud and frightening. Nothing happened, and he breathed a sigh. Tarquin was in his bed, his hands clasped on his chest. His full white beard spread luxuriously over his scrawny chest.
The room was small, meant to hold nothing more than the bed, which was broad and canopied, carved with dancing figures and covered with a red blanket. There was nothing on the walls, no rugs or rushes on the floor. Only the bed, and its solitary occupant.
"I'm sorry, Tarquin, I didn't know you were asleep."
Liam paused, his relief dissipating. Tarquin had not moved, though his eyes, sunken in the mass of wrinkles that served the wizard for a face, were open, and Liam would have sworn they were not when he first came in.
"Tarquin?" He tentatively put a hand to the wizard's shoulder and pushed. Even through the blue cloth of the robe, Liam could feel the chill.
A trance, he hoped, let it be a trance.
He pushed again, this time at the wizard's hands. They fell away to either side in what might have been a gesture of supplication. The palms were stained red. The hilt of a small knife jutted from his chest. The blue robe was dark with blood, and the ends of Tarquin's beard were red, like the bristles of a brush barely dipped in paint.
Liam's eyes narrowed and he leaned over the bed, looking at nothing in particular, taking in the whole. Tarquin looked like he had been laid out for burial, legs decorously together, robe smoothed. The red blanket barely registered his presence, neatly hanging over the edge of the bed, unwrinkled.
The sound of waves slapping the breakwater suddenly intruded on Liam's thoughts, brought into focus by another noise closer at hand. A thin, dry coughing whispered from out in the corridor.
"Fanuilh," Liam whispered. He was thinking of Tarquin's familiar, a miniature dragon. Where was it?
Without a thought, he rushed from the bedroom. Another whispered cough came from behind the second door in the corridor. He pushed open the door and stepped in.
He had a glimpse of a workroom, three long tables, a wall lined with books, another lined with jars of murky fluids and dried things. Another cough.
Then there was a sharp pain in his leg, and a jolt that travelled the length of his body. The pain swelled like blossoming light, flooding to his head. Something within him was being stretched, racked beyond its limits. Pressure built and built, pulling the thing, cracks appearing in its smooth surface. Frozen upright by the pain, he felt the thing in him finally begin to split, torn in two. Absurdly, he thought part of it slipped through him and out the leg where the pain began.
Soul?, he thought, and fell.
And the excitement continues in the following chapters!
Say, if you like it, why don't you buy it?