The Daniel Hood Bookshelf








A sample chapter from my second book, "Wizard's Heir" originally published by Ace in 1995. Pointless historical fact: The name Scaevola I took from an old Roman myth about a guy named, of all things, Mucus, who in time of war was captured and tortured to reveal the weaknesses of the city of Rome. A staunch patriot, Mucus endured horrible tortures, including having his left hand burned off. When he returned to Rome he was honored, etc., etc., and given the nickname Scaevola, which my classics professor roughly translated as "Lefty." I decided not to use the name Mucus.

The cover art is by Bob Eggleton.



WIZARD'S HEIR



Chapter One



The goddess Bellona had only recently sprung upon Taralon, her worship at first heralded only in Caernarvon, a mountain city well-suited to her grim pursuit of the martial arts. But there were wealthy men in Caernarvon, and when they decided to share their goddess with the rest of the kingdom, they spent the money necessary to do it in style.

From the outside, the temple they had purchased in Southwark was undistinguished, a square block of plain masonry at the end of Temple Street, wedged closely between the crenelated home of the old and well-established worship of Strife and the appropriately dark one of Laomedon. The three formed a cul-de-sac, graced by a simple fountain, and the only thing Bellona's temple added to the scene was a modest cupola and a row of small circular windows.

The inside was different. The decoration of the newly-dedicated temple - it had once housed a sect long dispersed, whose name and god Liam did not know - belied its drab exterior, and revealed the wealth of the goddess' followers. There was no statue of the goddess herself, but there were expensive suits of armor and stands of weapons in the niches between the half-columns that lined the walls. Light from the windows in the cupola glanced off hauberks rendered useless by elaborate gold scrolling, swords encrusted with gems and sheaths of rare silk bound with silver wire.

Liam Rhenford, standing in a dark corner by the door, his breath smoking in the cold air, wondered why they had not built an entirely new temple, instead of renovating an abandoned one, then shrugged the question away. Temple Street's crowded as it is, he thought, and shifted his gaze from the expensive arms to the middle of the large chamber, to the empty fire pit. He pointed discreetly at it and whispered to the man beside him.

"No fire?"

"No burnt offerings for Bellona," his companion, the Aedile Coeccias, answered. "Only that straight from smoking execution, if you take me."

Liam refrained from even smiling. It was all well for Coeccias to make puns - he was Aedile, and had been invited to view the temple because of his position as the Duke's representative in Southwark - but Liam was only a guest, brought along at his friend's request. He did not want to appear disrespectful, though there were only two acolytes in the temple. They stood to either side of the altar, tall young men in chain mail suitable to battle service, broad-bladed spears grounded firmly at their sides. They had not moved since Liam and Coeccias entered the temple.

The altar itself was rather dull, a simple block of stone fit with a shallow bowl and blood gutters for sacrifices. The real heart of Bellona's temple lay behind it, on a shelf cut into the stone of the wall: a war chest of dark oak, bound in iron. It was a plain piece of furniture, as functional as the altar or the mail worn by the acolytes, but rumor in Southwark held that it contained a greater treasury than all the city's temples put together.

Liam studied it for a moment, imagining the wealth supposedly inside. Rumor had elaborated on itself, and mentioned not just gold and jewels, but unsigned drafts-of-hand on the great Lowestoft mines in Caernarvon. He thought of the parchment, foot-wide squares representing the labor that dug treasure from the heart of distant mountains.

A passing ray of light played on the surface of the chest but could draw no glimmer; the oak was old, the iron blacked. The light moved on a little, up and behind the chest, and reflected off a chain bolted to the wall. Liam followed the chain up to a staple near the base of the cupola, then at an angle to the center of the cupola, where it slid through another staple and down to a cage.

It was plain, like the chest, the bars set close together, but Liam's eyes were keen enough to make out the figure inside, the lion's body, the broad wings, the eagle's head.

Gods, it's a gryphon! Where did they get a gryphon?

The creature stirred, setting the barred perch swinging. The chain clanked dully. The faint sound of its wings rustling reached the ground, and Liam frowned. He pitied the beast; confined as it was, it could not even stretch its wings. He had seen a gryphon once, free in the air in the far north, and he could still remember the excitement and beauty of it. The gryphon in the cage looked grey in the poor light, like a figure cast in lead. He shook his head, and decided he had looked enough.

"I'll be outside," he whispered to Coeccias, and made to leave.

"Attend a moment," the Aedile whispered back, catching his arm. He gave Liam a stern glance. "We'd do well to show our respects. And I needs must thank that Alastor." He was referring to the priest who had welcomed them to the temple and, after a very brief description of Bellona, had left them alone to inspect the building. Liam was not sure if their being unsupervised was a mark of indifference on Alastor's part, or a sign of tact. He could not tell; he had never understood priests very well.

Liam nodded briefly, and along with Coeccias bent his knee toward the altar. He did not bow his head, though, as the other man did, letting his eyes wander over the temple again, resting at last on the gryphon's cage. After a few long moments, it began to seem as if the Aedile would never break the obeisance.

When Coeccias finally rose, Liam jumped to his feet and went out the large wooden doors, leaving his friend to find and thank the priest for the visit.

It was cold in the cul-de-sac at the end of Temple Street, and stray winds, baffled by the closeness of the buildings, battered themselves back and forth across the square. Liam paused on the steps to pull his cloak close around him.

There was no one in the street, though he could hear voices from Strife's establishment. Someone was shouting orders in the courtyard that lay between the outer wall and the temple proper, which sat like a castle keep at the rear of the compound.

The building to the left was silent, a silence Liam imagined was ominous. The black walls hid the rites of Laomedon, whose special domain was death and the Gray Lands. Rumor - an older rumor than the one about the wealth of Bellona - said that there was a book inside each of Laomedon's shrines, in which was written the exact time of every man's death. Liam shuddered; though he prayed occasionally, he would never be able to reverence the gods of Taralon the way his friend did - and he was conscious that his seeming lack of respect might have annoyed the Aedile.

When Coeccias came out onto the steps, Liam tore his eyes away from the dark temple and gestured vaguely.

"It'll snow soon," he said. The sky was a uniform gray from horizon to horizon.

"Faith," Coeccias said, frowning now, "have you no conceptions of what's proper, Rhenford?"

They made a strange pair, stopped on the shallow steps of the new temple: Liam tall and thin, cleanshaven, his blond hair cropped close, a long weatherproof cloak hanging to his ankles, and the Aedile shorter, much broader in muscle and bulk, wearing a (for once) clean jacket of quilted grey wool.

Liam gulped, a little surprised at his friend's vehemence, and the strange, considering look the shorter man was directing at him.

"Are you so careless of your gods in the Midlands, then? As to leave to a temple with no obeisance?"

"I'm sorry," Liam apologized, "I meant no disrespect."

"Here I'm invited to view the temple," Coeccias went on, barely mollified, "invited ere it's even been consecrated, and I cart y'along, as a thing of interest to a scholar, and you want to part without even a glance at the altar!"

"I'm sorry," Liam repeated, meaning it, "I saw the altar. I was impressed. I just...."

He could not really explain what he had been thinking. He had long been separated from the gods of his youth in the Midlands, which were mostly similar to those of Southwark. In long travels he had encountered a thousand strange gods, with stranger rites, and had become insensitive to what they meant to those who believed. But he could not say that to the Aedile. There was no way to explain that, to him, one god was much the same as another.

"It was the gryphon," he said finally, by way of a lame excuse. "It shouldn't be caged like that."

Coeccias grunted and offered a wry smile. "It likes you not, eh? Sacrifice? Do Midlanders have no custom of it?"

"No," Liam said slowly, recalling the occasional deer offered to the Black Hunter, or farm animals given up to the Harvest Queen. "No, they do - but nothing like that. Gryphons are...special. Not like a steer or a cock. And they shouldn't be caged like that. They can fly, you know. Their wings work."

Starting down the steps, the Aedile barked a laugh. "Truth, Rhenford, y'are passing soft. What is it if their wings work? All the better for them to wing their way to the Gray Lands, and bring message to the gods."

They strode across the square, Liam shaking his head but making no comment. The fountain was dry, and the trapped wind scoured its stone with a whispering sound. Temple Street was almost deserted as they walked west; one or two acolytes sweeping steps and porticos, a number of beggars. It was not Godsday and, with winter upon the city, there were no sailors in search of blessings.

Liam was silent until they passed the temple of Uris, when he ventured a comment on the plainness of Bellona's treasury.

"Aye," Coeccias said, "a right old warchest. But as I told you, rumor vouchsafes a high stack of drafts, direct to the Lowestoft mines. Old Bothmer Lowestoft is high with the new goddess, they say, a passionate convert."

"That'll make trouble with the others - a new banker in town. And with drafts on the mine, it won't matter that Bellona hasn't many temples." Ordinary drafts could only be redeemed at a temple of the same god that had originated it, while one from Lowestoft would be honored anywhere in Taralon, or even in the Freeports. The wealth of the Caernarvon mining family was legendary.

Stroking his beard, Coeccias considered this. "That's the right of it. You've nosed it out, Rhenford. It'll make for fierceness in the spring, when the merchants are drawing funds." He chuckled to himself, amused in advance at the competition among temples for the lending business. "Trust you t'ignore the proper ceremonies, but strike the heart of a different matter."

"I didn't mean to ignore it," Liam protested again, but the Aedile was not listening.

"We'll have snow this night," he said, cocking his head and squinting one eye at the sky. Then he recalled something, and put a hand on Liam's arm, stopping him in the street. "Faith, I forgot! Did see the messenger last night?"

"Messenger?" Over the past few months Liam had grown more used to the southern dialect, but he missed this word.

"The messenger," Coeccias repeated, "the bearded star!"

"A comet?"

"Aye, a comet! Did see it?"

"No," Liam admitted, "I didn't. When was it?"

Coeccias' face grew childish with wonder, an expression Liam found funny. "Last night, an hour, perhaps two, after dusk. It blazed out of the north, like a rule across the city to the sea. Did you truly not see it?"

"No. I was inside at the time."

For a moment the Aedile frowned, realizing that most people would have been indoors at that hour. "I was posting the Guard, and saw't with these very eyes, like a torch across the sky. I swear, Rhenford, such a thing I've never seen!" He looked again at the sky, as if the trace of the comet still lingered behind the clouds. Liam looked as well, smiling lightly. He had never seen his friend so excited.

"I wonder what news it brings," he said.

"As for that," Coeccias said, walking on again, "for myself I have no faith in that. We term it a messenger, but sure the gods have better ways of revealing their news to us. Why else have temples, and all the omen-readers and foretellers?"

"Still," Liam persisted, "what if it did mean something?"

"Pray it doesn't," Coeccias said, crossing his fingers. It was a gesture common in Southwark, and it had taken Liam a while to understand that it was what southerners used to ward off ill fortune. They used a different sign in the Midlands, where he had grown up. "I've no need of new things breeding in Southwark. With a new fane to welcome and the winter, I've enough to worry on. Winter's worst for me, I tell you, Rhenford. I'd rather the summer, even with all the tars ashore, kicking up demons in the wineshops. With the cold and the confinement, people are fractious, like to murder and such. There're three corses already this week. No, it'd little like me to have a new wonder."

They walked the rest of the way to Coeccias' house without speaking. Liam thought on his friend's position in Southwark, impressed anew by the range of responsibilities entrusted to the rough-seeming man. As Aedile, he was like the captain of a ship, entrusted with the helm of the city - but he had little of the autocratic power normal at sea.

He worries over it, Liam thought, like a mother hen. And yet Southwark ran well, particularly when compared with any number of the larger cities Liam had seen.

The Aedile lived in a small house on the fringes of the Point, the rich section of the city. They stopped outside the door.

"Will you not come in? Burrus'll make a quick cup, hot, something to warm you."

"No," Liam said, looking again at the sky. The clouds had darkened perceptibly. "I think I'll ride out now, before the snow starts. It looks like it'll come sooner than we thought. Thank you, though."

"No mention," Coeccias assured him. "Burrus'd be happy to do't."

"No, thanks. And thanks for taking me to the temple. I really meant no disrespect."

The Aedile smiled. "I know't, Rhenford. Y'are just stranger and stranger, the more I know you."

They parted with a handshake, Coeccias going inside and Liam around to the back to fetch his horse.


* * *



He was glad to get out of the city, though it was colder. The wind howled straight off the sea, stinging his cheeks, tearing at his cloak like a clumsy thief. But the countryside, though grey and lifeless, was less oppressive than the narrow streets of Southwark. The cold seemed to leech the color from the buildings, and made the cobbles seem more like metal than stone; Diamond's hooves had rung on them like clashing swords. Beyond the city gates, at least, they thudded normally.

Giving the horse its head, Liam hunched himself against the wind and thought back to the look Coeccias had given him outside Bellona's temple. It had reminded him of something, though exactly what eluded him. The answer came to him as the roan settled into an easy lope, and his body relaxed naturally to the rhythm.

The two men had met only a few months before, in connection with the murder of an acquaintance of Liam's, a wizard named Tarquin Tanaquil. Their friendship had grown out of the search for the murderer - but at first it had been only a partnership, and a not-entirely-willing one at that. Liam knew the details of the wizard's life, but Coeccias knew Southwark, and had the official standing to pursue the investigation.

The look reminded him of the one Coeccias had given him while they were searching Tarquin's house, the day after Liam had discovered the body.

When he thought I'd done it, Liam realized. He looked at me like I was guilty of something.

He brooded on that for a moment, and then shook his head with a laugh at himself.

As I was - guilty of disrespect to his goddess.

Though Bellona could hardly be considered Coeccias' goddess, yet. It would be years, Liam knew, before she was fully accepted into the Taralonian pantheon. Years, and miracles, and a gradual accretion of followers.

There was more, though, of which Liam thought himself guilty. "Soft," the Aedile had called him, which he did not honestly think he was. He was not against sacrifices in principle or in fact, and the blood did not make him squeamish. But he had not corrected the Aedile, as he had not corrected him on the day they looked at Tarquin's corpse, when the officer assumed he had never seen a dead body before. Coeccias entertained a number of misconceptions about him, Liam knew; some he had let flourish because they smoothed the course of the search for Tarquin's murderer, and others he had simply been powerless to stop.

And I never told him about Fanuilh, Liam thought, adding the wizard's familiar to the list. As his ride went on, the list grew longer, things about his past - battles fought, places visited, crimes considered and committed - and even some of the details of the investigation into Tarquin's death. Though he had found the killer, it had mostly through luck - but the Aedile believed him to be a kind of human bloodhound.

Diamond's easy lope shifted, and the movement jarred him from his musings. They were on the edge of a high cliff, the sea below them, and a small cove reached by a narrow path.

In the cove was his home, a small villa in the southern style, low and long with white plastered walls and a red tile roof. From the top of the cliff he could not see the front of the house, but light spilled from its many windows, warm and welcoming on the sand and the breakwater and the grey, choppy waves beyond.

He started Diamond down the path, watching the house the whole way, trusting the horse. It was still strange to him, to think of the house as his own. Often, on returning to the cove from the city, he expected to discover that it had vanished in his absence.

It never had, of course, but he was still unaccustomed to the idea of a permanent home.

Sharp wind picked up sand from the beach, and Diamond's hooves flung up more as he urged the roan to a quick sprint from the end of the path, and then reigned it in sharp in front of the patio.

Smiling at the quick stop, he jumped briskly from the saddle and led the horse to its stall, a small shed to the side of the main house. It was cold inside, but while he unsaddled the roan and brushed it down, the shed grew warmer, magic responding to their presence.

With the horse fed and bedded down, Liam left the shed and walked around the house to the patio, and the front door, a glass-paned affair that slid along wooden grooves.

He paused there, rubbing his hands and blowing on them, and thought.

I'm home.

He closed his eyes, concentrating on the thought, forming it into a block and pushing it out and away. Suddenly the thought vanished, and a similar block filled his head.

Welcome, master.

He formed another thought, molding it more carefully, crafting the interrogative.

How was that?

Excellent, came the return thought. It was easy to pick up.

"Good," Liam said aloud, "then I'm coming in, because it's freezing out here."

The door slid open easily, and a blast of warmth struck him. He stepped in quickly and shut the door, though he knew the magic of the house would keep out the wind, as well as any sand the wind might care to bring with it. His boots, though, were another matter, and he took them off by the door, so as not to track wet sand across the shining wooden floors.

Walking down the corridor to the right of the entrance hall, Liam hung his cloak on a convenient peg, and revelled in the warmth of the enchanted house. He turned into the second door, and smiled down at Fanuilh, his familiar.

The creature lay in a small basket on the floor, underneath the first of the three worktables that filled the room. It was a dragon, complete with leathery wings and a wedge-like snout filled with sharp teeth, but it was tiny, the size of large cat, or a small dog.

"Like a puppy hound," Liam said aloud, and laughed when the dragon reared back its head.

I am not a puppy, it thought at him.

"You might as well be," Liam joked, indicating the basket, with its padding and blanket. Fanuilh's reaction pleased him; for a long time after their meeting, he had wondered if the dragon had felt any emotions at all. And while there was no emphasis in the thought that followed, there was no way he could avoid thinking of it as indignant:

I have eaten puppies, Fanuilh thought. And you should practice with your mind.

"I've told you before," Liam said, squatting down and scratching the dull black scales of the dragon's back, "I think that's silly. There's no point making the effort to think at you when you're right in the room." The dragon rolled over, exposing its dull gold belly for scratching, but its thought seemed reproving.

Master Tanaquil always did.

Before the murder, Fanuilh had been the wizard's familiar. It had joined its current master by a process Liam preferred not to remember - a painful bite and an even more painful splitting of his soul, so that part resided in the tiny form he was scratching.

"Well, I am not him. Get used to it, familiar mine. And while you're at it, think about when you're going to teach me how to keep you out of my head."

One of the drawbacks to having a familiar, Liam had learned early on, was that it had access to his mind whenever it wanted. The dragon had promised to show him how to cut it off, but they had not yet reached that point in the lessons it was giving him.

You are not ready. You can barely project a thought to me from the top of the cliff. You must practice.

"But if you can read my thoughts, why do I have to project?"

To cut me off, you have to be able to project. And you have not yet seen the silver cord.

Liam frowned, but continued scratching. "You and your silver cord. I'm not sure it exists."

It does, the dragon insisted. It is the ethereal bond that joins us. You must practice seeing that, as well. Master Tanaquil could see it effortlessly.

"Fanuilh," Liam said sharply, "understand this." He poked the dragon in the belly for emphasis. "Tarquin is not your master anymore. I am - and I am not a wizard. But you promised to teach me this, and you will."

It stared at him for a moment, no readable expression in its cat's pupils, and then ducked its head once, low, in submission.

Of course, master.

Liam nodded severely and stood up. "Now, I'm going to eat. Do you want anything?"

The dragon nodded, bobbing its head on its long neck.

"Raw meat again?"

Its head moved rapidly up and down.

"Come along, then. Though you really should be hunting, I think. You're going to get fat, lounging around the house all the time."

I fly every day, the dragon thought, trotting after him, out of the workroom, across the entrance hall, and down another corridor to the kitchen. Its claws clicked on the wood as it walked, the noise shifting slightly as it crossed onto the flagstones of the kitchen.

"Fat," Liam repeated.

There was a large baker's oven set into one wall, and he stood by it with closed eyes, imagining the food he and Fanuilh wanted. From experiment, he knew there was no need to close his eyes. He found it easier, however, to envision a meal that way - and it seemed appropriate, in any case, like he was wishing and having the wish granted.

The oven was magical, a small part of the magic that pervaded the house. It was a strange sort of magic, one Liam had never considered before - a very practical wizardry that took into consideration small things like keeping sand out of the front hall, or heating Diamond's shed, or preparing meals. It even kept the small privy by the bedroom clean and sweet-smelling, an amenity which never ceased to delight Liam.

The house was his, but it had been built by Tarquin. The wizard had left it to him, in a will signed and registered only a few weeks before his death. When Liam thought of it - which he tried not to do - the legacy bothered him. He had only known the wizard for a few months before his death, and only as a passing acquaintance. It was an extravagant legacy, entirely out of proportion to their relationship. But then, Tarquin had been the perfect model of an eccentric old wizard, with his long white beard, his sigyl-sewn robes and impenetrable, often pompous conversation. Liam occasionally missed their meandering talks.

Opening the oven, he removed the two platters he had imagined, and set them on the table. He hooked a stool with his foot and drew it over, while Fanuilh crouched and sprang up, landing lightly in front of its meal.

This had become something of a ritual for the two of them over the past two months, eating dinner together, the dragon crouched over a platter of raw meat and Liam tucking into some dimly-remembered dish from his long travels. The oven could produce whatever he could imagine, and he made a practice of calling forth things that had never been made in Taralon. Some, indeed, like the one he ate that night, could not have been made there, because the rice and vegetables in it only grew in lands far to the south.

Where is that from? the dragon inquired, at the same time as it delicately tore a chunk from its cut of meat, and snapped the piece down whole.

"Originally, I'm not sure. I first had it in a place called Mahdi."

A Freeporter colony?

"No, though the Freeporters trade there. It's about two month's sail west of Rushcutters' Bay."

Far.

"Hm."

What was the new temple like?

Liam described it briefly. It was a polite fiction he had enforced on Fanuilh - the pretence that the dragon could not just search his memory at will.

The gryphon was gray?

"It looked that way, though the light was bad. The cupola is strange - the light angles down, and leaves the dome shadowy. Gryphons aren't gray."

No.

It had finished its meal and, after a quick stretch, clicked across the table to Liam's plate, watching him. When he was done, he pushed the plate away and smiled.

Are you finished?

"Yes. Go ahead."

This, too, was a ritual. The dragon wanted to try whatever he called up from the oven, and now it ducked its head into the stew of rice and vegetables.

"I'm going to read," Liam said, standing.

Do you wish to practice? Fanuilh asked, its head deep in rice.

"No, not tonight. Tomorrow."

Too wet, it commented, as he left the kitchen.

"You wouldn't like it dry," Liam called over his shoulder, with a laugh.

Too cooked.

He did not go to the library, despite his announced intention. He lingered in the entrance hall, looking out at the dark beach, and then entered a room on the same side of the house as the workroom.

Magic, sourceless light swelled up as he came in, revealing a series of waist-high wooden cases with glass tops. Assorted jewelry and wands lay inside, bedded in black velvet. There was a hanging on one wall with a stylized eagle on it, rising powerfully in flight over purple mountains; on another were a sword, a shield and a horn that would have fit in Bellona's temple, as well as a stringless lute hung by its neck.

Fanuilh called it the trophy room, and assured him that all the items were enchanted, though it had yet to explain exactly what each did. Liam had found that he was not particularly interested - they were all Tarquin's, as far as he was concerned.

In fact, most of the things in the house were Tarquin's. Liam owned few personal possessions, and had left most of the wizard's things where they were. He had only thrown away the stock in the workroom, which was all things needed for casting magical spells: herbs and roots, countless glass jars and flasks containing stranger things (including the severed head of a dog and a human hand), for which he had no use. They were the 'material components' of spells, Fanuilh had told him, and he could not cast spells. As it was, he had felt guilty about throwing them away, and had actually gone and apologized over Tarquin's grave. He had buried the wizard himself, in the heavier soil where the beach met the cliff.

After a few minutes he grew bored of the trophy room. Until Fanuilh explained them, they were little more than curiosities.

The dragon emerged from the kitchen as he returned from the entrance hall.

I will fly tonight, if you do not mind, master.

"Go right ahead," Liam said, feeling magnanimous, and a little ridiculous. He could not imagine a reason to mind. "Though it's going to snow."

It will not bother me.

"Good. You need the exercise."

I am not fat.

"Yet."

Fanuilh made a little sniffing sound and slid the front door open with its paws. Liam closed the door when the dragon was out, and laughed to himself.

I really shouldn't make fun of him, he thought. He doesn't understand my humor.

Which, he realized as he went to the kitchen, was why it was fun to joke with the little dragon.

In the weeks when he first moved into the house, platters and plates and cups from the oven had accumulated around the kitchen, piling up until there was no room to eat. In despair, he had asked Fanuilh what to do with them, and the dragon nonchalantly suggested he put them back in the oven, which was what Tarquin had always done. Since then, dirty dishes had not been a problem - they simply disappeared in the oven between meals - but Liam had been strongly tempted to strangle his familiar for weeks afterward, whenever he cleared the table.

He thought of that as he put the empty dishes into the now-cold oven, and then went to Tarquin's library.

The wizard had been a man of wide interests, and his library reflected it - an eclectic selection of texts, from convoluted discussions of the esoterica of magic to equally convoluted philosophical texts, with collections of poetry, fiction and history in between, as well as a number of volumes of travelers' tales. There were three different bestiaries and, thinking of the sad creature in Bellona's temple, Liam pulled down the thickest.

The entry on gryphons began with an intricately illuminated capital G and an elaborate picture of a group - Pride? Liam wondered, Flock? - of the magical animals. It told him little he did not already know: that they were rare, most often found in the north of Taralon, in the King's Range. That they grew rarer the further south one went, that they were unknown in the Freeports. That they were fierce and proud, that they were beautiful. He had not known that their hearts were useful in a number of powerful spells, but it did not interest him. That they had a language of their own he had heard.

The last paragraph of the entry, however, was entirely new to him. Written in red ink, as opposed to the black used for the rest of the text, it began with the heading: STONE GRYPHONS.

'Though bearing a distinct physical resemblance to the creature described above in all particulars except color,' the paragraph read, 'STONE GRYPHONS should not be confused with their earth-bound kin. Of a slate-gray color, these beasts are magical creatures of an entirely different complexion. They haunt battlefields and graveyards, and eat the souls of the dead, as opposed to the fresh meat favored by the common gryphon. It is also held that they can walk the Gray Lands, and move freely through the ethereal, astral, earthly and heavenly planes. Little else is known of them, though no living man has ever recorded receiving a hurt from them.'

Liam frowned over the page. Could Bellona's acolytes be holding a stone gryphon for sacrifice? He paged through the other two bestiaries; one had no entry even for normal gryphons, and the third mentioned the normal kind, but not their gray cousins.

With a dissatisfied humph he replaced all the books on the appropriate shelf, and drew out the book of philosophy he had been working on.

While he tried to puzzle out the strange arguments the book presented, it began to snow, softly at first, then harder. He looked up in the middle of a particularly inane digression and noticed that the library's skylight was covered with a light dusting. Putting aside the book, he went out to the entrance hall and slid open the door.

The patio had a dusting of snow on it as well, and the light from the house made it glitter prettily. He breathed deep, enjoying the salt cold in his lungs.

"Fanuilh!" he called. There was no answer. He called again, then bent down, made a snowball, and lobbed it out towards the sea.

He was wearing only stockings, and the snow quickly soaked them. He hopped back in, stripping them off and dropping them on his boots by the door.

He can let himself in, Liam thought, and went to bed.

There was a bedroom down the hall on the right, but he did not sleep there - it was where he had discovered Tarquin's corpse. Though two months had passed, and he had buried the wizard in the bedclothes and bought a new mattress filled with cotton ticking, he could not bring himself to sleep there.

Instead, he went into the library, where there was a divan long enough to hold him. The room darkened as he took off his clothes and wrapped himself in a light sheet, and he fell into blackness quite comfortably.

And the excitement continues in the following chapters!