Brian Staveley’s The Providence of Fire on Tor.com

The Providence of Fire: Chapter Six (Excerpt)

The Providence of Fire, the second volume in Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, sees the heirs of the assassinated Emperor of Annur fighting one another as well as the forces that conspired against their father.

Adare has learned the identity of her father’s killer, but she has few allies to challenge the coup against her family. While she rallies the people—who believe her touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire—to help her retake the city, she must face her brother Valyn’s rebel forces. Having allied with nomad forces, he brings war to the Annurian Empire.

Caught in the middle is Adare and Valyn’s brother Kaden, rightful heir to the throne. He has infiltrated the capital with the help of two strange companions, who possess knowledge that may save Annur… or destroy it.

The Providence of Fire publishes January 13, 2015 from Tor Books and Tor Books UK. Read chapter six below, and be sure to check the seires page for additional excerpts!

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

 

The bones spoke clearly enough. Skeletons littered the wide hallways and narrow rooms of the orphanage, skeletons of children, hundreds and hundreds, some on the cusp of adulthood, others no more than infants, their ribs narrower than Kaden’s fingers. The grinding passage of years had dismembered most, but enough of the tiny forms remained intact—huddled in corners, collapsed in hallways, clutching one another beneath the stairs—to speak of some horror sweeping down upon them, sudden and unimagined.

Kaden had tried to ask Tan about the city, but Valyn was pushing hard for them to get upstairs, and the older monk, after the strange diversion at the entrance, seemed just as determined to reach the topmost floor and the kenta that waited there. When Kaden posed a question as they climbed, Tan had turned that implacable glare upon him.

“Focus on the present,” he’d said, “or join the past.”

Kaden tried to follow the advice as they mounted the stairs, tried to watch for hidden dangers and unexpected threats, to float on the moment like a leaf on a stream, but his eyes kept drifting back to the skeletons.

Half-remembered stories of the Atmani bubbled up in his mind, of the bright empire founded by the leach-lords, then shattered by their insanity and greed. According to the tales, they had razed entire cities as they descended into madness, but if Kaden’s childhood memories served, their empire had been almost entirely confined to Eridroa. It hadn’t come within a thousand miles of the Bone Mountains, and besides, the Atmani had ruled millennia after the Csestriim. He stepped over another sprawled skeleton, staring at the tiny, grasping hands.

It could have been a sickness, he told himself, some sort of plague.

Only, victims of plague did not retreat into closets or try to barricade doors. Victims of plague did not have their small skulls hacked in two. The bones were ancient, but as Kaden stepped over skeleton after skeleton, he could read the story. There had been no attempt to move the bodies, no effort to lay them out for burning and burial as one would expect if anyone had survived the slaughter. Even across the still chasm of time, he could read the shock and panic of the dead.

The memory of Pater filled his mind, of the small boy held aloft in Ut’s armored fist, calling out for Kaden to flee even as the Aedolian’s broadblade cut the life from him. Kaden’s jaw ached, and he realized he was clenching it. He drained the tension into his lungs, breathed it out with his next breath, and replaced the awful image of Pater’s death with memories of the boy as he had been in life—darting through the rocks around Ashk’lan’s refectory, diving into Umber’s Pool and coming up sputtering. He allowed the scenes to play across his memory for a while, then extinguished them, returning his attention to the flickering light of the lantern where it slid across the crumbling walls and brittle bones.

Fortunately, Valyn and Tan agreed on their ultimate destination—the top floor of the orphanage—though they had different reasons for their urgency. Valyn seemed to think it would make for the best defensive position, but it was also, according to the monk, where they would find the kenta. Kaden didn’t much care why they agreed just so long as he didn’t have to pull on his imperial mantle to adjudicate another dispute. He was exhausted—exhausted from running, from fighting, from flying, and something about this dead city weighed on him. He was curious about the kenta, curious about whatever history Tan finally decided to provide for the place, but at the moment he was content to stump along behind as they wound their way up the wide staircase.

The four members of Valyn’s Wing caught up with them in the central corridor of the topmost story. All had weapons drawn.

“Threats?” Valyn asked, glancing over his shoulder. There was something tight and urgent in his voice.

“Depends what you mean by ‘threat,’ ” the flier replied. Laith reminded Kaden of Akiil—the irreverence, even the grin. “I saw a rat the size of Annick. Not that Annick’s very big, but still…”

“The whole place is about to fall over,” Gwenna said, cutting through Laith’s words.

“Tonight?” Valyn asked.

She scowled, though whether at Valyn or the building itself, Kaden couldn’t say. “Probably not tonight,” she conceded finally.

“Provided no one jumps up and down,” Laith added.

“Or descends the stairs,” the Wing’s leach added.

“What’s wrong with the stairs?” Kaden asked.

“I rigged the last flight on the way up,” Gwenna replied, smiling grimly. “Two flickwicks and a modified starshatter. Anything tries to come up, we’re going to need a broom to sweep up what’s left of the bodies.”

“Was that wise?” Kaden asked, glancing around at the gaping cracks in the masonry.

“Look…” Gwenna began, raising a finger.

“Gwenna,” Valyn growled. “You are speaking to the Emperor.”

For a moment it seemed as though the girl was going to bull ahead despite the warning, but finally she pulled back the accusatory finger, twisting the gesture into a half salute. “Well, tell the Emperor,” she said, turning to Valyn, “that if he’ll manage the emperoring, I’ll take care of the demolitions.”

Valyn tensed, but Kaden put a hand on his shoulder. It was hard to know just how fiercely to assert his new title and authority. Clearly, he would never convince Annur of his legitimacy if a handful of soldiers led by his own brother treated him with contempt. On the other hand, he was, aside from Triste, the least capable member of their small group. The fact galled him, but it was there all the same. Before people saw him as an emperor, he would have to act as an emperor. He had little enough idea how to manage that, but it didn’t seem as though pitching a fit in a hallway would be a step in the right direction.

“You have a deal,” he said, nodding to Gwenna. “I’ll stay out of your way, but maybe when we’re settled you could explain something about your munitions; normally I’d stick to emperoring, but there doesn’t seem to be all that much here that needs my attention.”

The woman narrowed her eyes, as though she suspected a joke, but when Kaden held her gaze she finally snorted something that might have been a laugh.

“I can show you something,” she said. “Enough you don’t blow us all up. You couldn’t be much worse at it than your brother,” she added, jerking her head at Valyn.

Kaden smiled.

“Thanks for the confidence, Gwenna,” Valyn said. “Anything else to report from down below? Anything moving?”

“Aside from Annick’s rat sibling?” Laith replied. “Not a thing.”

Valyn’s shoulders relaxed fractionally.

“All right. Everyone to the front of the building except Laith. You check all the empty rooms on this floor.”

“For more rats?” the flier asked.

“Yes,” Valyn replied, voice hardening. “For more rats.”

 

The room fronting the top story was larger than the rest, spanning the full width of the building and opening through several tall windows out onto the night. Wide hearths stood at either end, though they were choked by debris that had fallen from the chimneys above, plaster and chunks of stone spilling out onto the floor. Wind and weather had torn away a corner of the roof—Kaden could make out the great sweep of the cliff a few paces above—and night air gusted through the gap, chill and sharp.

For a moment he stared around in perplexity, searching for the kenta. He had formed an image in his head of something massive, grand, like the Godsgate of the Dawn Palace—marble, maybe, or polished bloodstone, or onyx—but nothing massive or magnificent waited in the middle of the room. He squinted in the meager lamplight. Nothing at all stood in the middle of the room.

“Talal,” Valyn said, gesturing curtly, “center window. I want eyes on the ledge before full dark. Gwenna, see what you can do about rigging a chunk of this floor to drop out.”

“I could kick a hole in the ’Kent-kissing floor,” the woman replied, digging at the crumbling mortar with her boot, “and you want me to rig it? I seem to remember someone back at the Eyrie teaching us something about not sleeping on top of our own explosives.”

Valyn turned to face his demolitions master. His jaw was tight, but his voice level when he responded. “And I remember something about having two ways out of any defensive position. You rigged the stairs, which keeps the bad guys out, which is good. It also keeps us in, which is less good.”

“If they can’t get in, why do we need to get out?”

“Gwenna,” Valyn said, pointing at the floor, “just do it. If you blow us all up, I’ll make sure I don’t die until you have a chance to punch me.”

“Yes, Oh Light of the Empire,” she said, bowing to Valyn as she yanked the charges out of her pack. “At once, My Noble Leader.” The words were sharp, but Kaden noticed some of the acid had gone out of her challenge. The whole thing sounded like sparring now, rather than actual fighting.

The Providence of Fire UKValyn shook his head. “You can’t pull that shit anymore, Gwenna,” he said, jerking a thumb at Kaden. “He’s the Light of the Empire. We’re just here to make sure no one puts him out. Speaking of which,” he went on, turning to Tan and spreading his hands, “where’s the gate?”

Tan gestured toward the wall. Kaden squinted, then took a few steps closer. The kenta was there, he realized, almost as tall as the ceiling, but built, if built was the right word, flush with the masonry behind it. The arch was surprisingly slender, no more than a hand’s width in diameter, and made of something Kaden had never seen, a smooth gray substance that might have been part steel, part stone. The graceful span looked spun rather than carved, and the light came off of it strangely, as though it were illuminated, not by Valyn’s lantern, but some other, invisible source.

“What is the point,” Valyn asked, “of building a gate right into a wall?”

“The other side is not the wall,” Tan replied. “It is not here.”

“That clarifies a lot,” Valyn said, stooping to pick up a chunk of stone. He bounced it on his hand a few times, then tossed it underhand toward the kenta. It flipped lazily end over end and then, just as it passed beneath the arch… ceased.

Kaden could think of no other word to describe the passage. There was no splash, no echo, no sudden winking out. He knew what to expect, but some part of his mind, something deeper and older than rational thought, quailed at the sight of something, a hard, real part of the world, becoming nothing.

If Valyn was discomfited, he didn’t show it. “Looks like it works.”

Tan ignored him. He had acquired a lantern of his own from one of the Kettral, and was holding it aloft, running a finger along the outside of the arch slowly, as though searching for cracks.

“Where did it go?” Valyn asked.

“Nowhere,” the older monk replied.

“How useful.”

“The Blank God claimed it,” Kaden said, shaking his head. “The stone is nothing now, nowhere.” And pretty soon, he reminded himself silently, a chill spreading through him, I’m going to be following that stone.

“What would happen if I jumped in?”

“Nothing.”

“Then you fail to appreciate nothingness,” Tan replied, straightening from his examination of the ground in front of the gate. “It is clean on this side.”

“Clean?” Kaden asked.

The monk turned to him. “Like all gates, the kenta can be blocked or barbed. Since those of us who step through are forced to step through blind, there is a danger.”

“Ambush,” Valyn said, nodding. “Makes sense. You want to set a trap, you do it at a choke point.”

“But who would be setting traps?” Kaden asked. “Only a few people even know they exist.”

“Few is not none,” Tan replied, turning to the gate. “I will check the other side.”

“Is that safe?” Valyn asked, shaking his head.

“No. But it is necessary. If I do not return before the Bear Star rises, the kenta is compromised. Abandon this course, and quickly.”

Kaden nodded. He wanted to ask more, about the gates, the traps, about the strange city in which they found themselves, a city that appeared on no maps, but Tan’s eyes had already emptied, and before Kaden could speak, the older monk was stepping through the kenta.

For a few heartbeats after he disappeared no one spoke. Wind whipped through the holes in the ceiling, chasing dust and dirt across the uneven floor. Kaden stared at the gate, forcing his heart to beat slowly, steadily.

Pyrre raised an eyebrow finally. “That was interesting.” The Skullsworn had been making a slow circuit of the room, peering up the chimneys, examining the masonry, running her fingers along the window casings. She paused to consider the gate. “I can’t imagine my god approves.”

“Why not?” Kaden asked. “Dead is dead.”

She smiled. “But it makes a difference who does the killing.”

Valyn ignored the conversation, gesturing instead to the spot where Tan had disappeared. “We’ve got some real bastards back on the Islands, but that guy…” He shook his head, turning to Kaden. “I’ve just got to say it one more time: riding a bird sure has its risks, but it seems ten times safer than that thing.”

“That thing,” Kaden said again, trying to force some confidence into his voice, “is what I trained for.” If he couldn’t use the kenta, then all his years with the Shin had been for nothing. His father had used the gates; all the Malkeenian emperors used the gates. If he failed here, well, maybe he wasn’t cut from the right cloth. “I have few enough advantages as it is,” he added. “I can’t afford to go tossing them away.”

Worry creased Valyn’s brow, but after a moment he nodded, then turned to Talal.

“What’s happening on the ledge?”

“Night,” the leach replied. “Wind.”

Valyn crossed to the window, glanced out, then turned back, scanning the room.

“All right, we’re not going to be here long—one night for everyone to rest up. The monks leave in the morning. We’re gone right after them, hopefully before dawn. In the meantime, let’s do what we can to button the place up.”

The sniper glanced skeptically at the gaping windows, at the hole in the roof. “Unlikely,” she said.

“I don’t love it either,” Valyn said. “But it’s the best defensive position we’ve got and we do need rest, all of us. I want crossed cord on each window, and while we’re at it, a belled horizon line straight across the outside face of the building.…”

“That’s you, Annick,” Gwenna said. “I’m not climbing around on the wall of this wreck.”

“How’s the cord supposed to protect us?” Kaden asked.

“It doesn’t,” Valyn replied. “Not really. But if someone climbing trips the bells, we’ll know they’re here, and the cord on the window will slow them down.”

Kaden crossed to the window and leaned out. He couldn’t see much in the darkness, but the wall of the orphanage dropped away forty feet or so to the broad ledge below. The masonry was crumbling, leaving gaps between the stones, but it hardly looked like something a human being could climb.

Annick studied Valyn for a heartbeat or two, then nodded, slipping out the window. If she felt uncomfortable hanging from her fingertips while standing on the tiny ledges, she didn’t show it. In fact, she moved smoothly and efficiently over the stone, pausing every so often to free a hand and spool out the cord, then moving on. It was a simple solution, almost laughably simple, but when she was finished, Kaden could see how the thin line might tangle a climber or provide some warning.

“If it’s other Kettral who are after us,” Annick observed, dusting off her hands and reclaiming her bow from where it leaned against the wall, “they’ll expect the cord.”

Valyn nodded. “They’ll expect everything we do. That’s no reason to make it easier on them.”

“The sturdiest section of floor is over there,” Gwenna said, gesturing without looking up from her work stringing charges. “If you’re going to hunker down in one spot, that’s where I’d do it.”

Annick crossed to the area the demolitions master had indicated, then nudged at a pile of debris with the toe of her boot.

“Anything interesting?” Valyn asked.

“More bones,” she replied.

He shook his head. “Any sense of what killed these poor bastards?”

he sniper knelt, running a finger along the pitted surfaces.

“Stabbed,” she replied after a moment. “Blade nicked the third and fourth ribs in each case, probably ruptured the heart.”

She might have been talking about shearing goats, those blue eyes of hers glacially cold in the dim lamplight. Kaden watched as she went about her work, trying to read her curt movements, to see the sniper’s mind in the constant sweep of her gaze, in her tendons as they flexed with the motion of her wrists, in the angle of her head as she turned from one rib cage to the next. What did she think, looking at those old, brittle bones? What did she feel?

The monks had taught Kaden to observe—he could paint any member of his brother’s Wing with his eyes closed—but to understand, that was another matter. After so many years surrounded by the stone of the mountains and by men who might have been carved from that stone, he had little sense of how to translate words and actions into emotions; no idea, even, if his own attenuated emotions bore any resemblance to those of others.

He still felt fear, and hope, and despair, but the sudden arrival of the Aedolians and Kettral, the arrival of people who were not Shin, made him realize just how far he had traveled along the monks’ path, how fully, in the course of those long, cold mountain years, he had filed smooth his own feelings. He was Emperor now—or would be if he survived—the ostensible leader of millions, and yet all those millions were animated by feelings he could no longer understand.

“What about down below?” Valyn asked, jerking a thumb back over his shoulder.

“Same,” Annick replied. “Most of the bones have gone to dust, but it’s clear enough what happened. Quick work, efficient—no cuts to the arms or legs, no doubling up, every strike a kill. Whoever did this, they were good.”

She rose to her feet and shrugged as though that settled the matter.

Triste, however, was standing a few paces away, mouth open, staring. She had been silent since reading the script on the lintel, lost in her own thoughts or exhaustion as she followed the rest of the group up the stairs and down the long hallway. Annick’s words seemed to jar her back into the present.

“Good?” she asked, her voice cracking as she spoke. “Good? What about this is good?” She spread her hands helplessly, gesturing to the small skulls, to the gaping doors leading back the way they had come. “Who would murder children?”

“Someone thorough,” Pyrre observed. The assassin was leaning against one of the window frames, arms crossed, tapping her foot idly, as though waiting for the rest of them to quit dithering.

“Thorough?” Triste demanded, aghast. “Someone goes through an orphanage stabbing kids in their sleep and you call it good? You call it thorough?”

Annick ignored the outburst, but Valyn put a hand on Triste’s shoulder. “Annick was just making a professional assessment,” he began. “She doesn’t mean that it was good.…”

“Oh, a professional assessment,” Triste spat, shrugging away from Valyn’s touch. She was trembling, slender hands clenching and unclenching. “They murdered all these children and you want to make a professional assessment.”

“It’s what we do,” Valyn said. His voice was level, but something raw and untrammeled ran beneath those words, something savage kept savagely in check. His irises swallowed the light. “It’s how we stay alive.”

“But we could sing dirges,” Pyrre suggested. The assassin held a perfectly straight face, but amusement ghosted around her eyes. “Would you like to sing a dirge, Triste? Or maybe we could all just link hands and cry.”

Triste locked eyes with the older woman, and, to Kaden’s surprise, managed to hold the gaze.

“You’re loathsome,” she said finally, casting her glance over Annick, Valyn, and the rest. “Skullsworn, Kettral, Aedolians, you’re all loathsome. You’re all killers.”

“Well, we can’t all be whores,” Gwenna snapped, glancing up from her charges.

Despite the size of the room, despite the gaping windows and shattered roof open to the sky, the space was suddenly too small, too full, bursting with the heat of raised voices and the blind straining of untrammeled emotion. Kaden struggled to watch it all without letting it overwhelm him. Was this how people lived? How they spoke? How could they see anything clearly in the midst of that raging torrent?

Triste opened her mouth, but no words came out. After a mute moment, she shoved her way past Annick, out into the hallway, back the way they had come.

“Watch out for the stairs,” Pyrre called after her cheerfully.

 

Triste returned sooner than Kaden expected, tears dry, one hand hugging herself around the waist, the other holding a sword. Kaden remembered impressive weapons from his childhood—jewel-crusted ceremonial swords; the long, wide blades of the Aedolians; businesslike sabers carried by the palace guard—but nothing like this. This sword was made from steel so clear it might not have been steel at all but some sliver of winter sky hammered into a perfect shallow arc, then polished to a silent gloss. It was right.

“What,” Valyn asked, turning from the darkness beyond the window as Triste’s too-large boots scuffed the stone, “is that?”

“Sweet ’Shael, Val,” Laith said. He and Talal had returned to the front chamber after checking the whole floor. “I think you’re a good Wing leader and all, but it worries me when you don’t recognize a sword.”

Valyn ignored the flier. “Where did you find it?” he asked, crossing to Triste.

She waved a vague hand toward the hallway. “In one of the rooms. It was covered up with rubble, but I saw the glint off it. It looks new. Is it one of ours?”

Valyn shook his head grimly.

“So we’re not the only ones flying around the ass end of nowhere,” Laith observed. The words were casual, but Kaden noticed that the flier drifted away from the open doorway, eyes flitting to the shadows in the corners.

Valyn put a hand in front of Kaden, drawing him away from the sword, as though even unwielded the weapon could cut, could kill.

“Annick,” he said, “back on the window. Gwenna and Talal, when we’re finished here, I want another sweep of this floor.”

“They just swept the floor,” the demolitions master observed.

“Sweep it again,” Valyn said, “eyes out for rigged falls and double binds.”

“What about bad men hiding in the corners?” Laith asked.

Valyn ignored him.

None of it meant anything to Kaden, and after a moment he turned back to the sword. “Does that style of blade look familiar?” He asked. There might be a clue in the provenance of the sword, but he didn’t know enough about weapons to say.

“I’ve seen things similar,” Valyn replied, frowning. “Some of the Manjari use a single-sided blade.”

“It’s not Manjari,” Pyrre said. She hadn’t moved, but she had stopped sharpening.

“Maybe something from somewhere in Menkiddoc?” Talal suggested. “We know practically nothing about the entire continent.”

“We’re in the Bone Mountains,” Valyn pointed out. “Menkiddoc is thousands of miles to the south.”

“It’s not from Menkiddoc,” Pyrre added.

“Anthera is close,” Kaden pointed out.

“Antherans like broadblades,” Valyn replied, shaking his head curtly. “And clubs, for some inexplicable reason.”

“It is not Antheran.” This time, however, it was not Pyrre who spoke.

Kaden turned to find Tan in front of the kenta, a robed shadow against the darker shadows beyond, the naczal glinting in his right hand. For all his size, the monk moved silently, and none of them had heard him as he reentered the room. He stepped forward. “It is Csestriim.”

For what seemed like a long time a tight, cold silence filled the room.

“I guess you didn’t die on the other side of the gate,” Gwenna observed finally.

“No,” Tan replied. “I did not.”

“Want to tell us what you found?”

“No. I do not. Where did you find the blade?”

Valyn gestured down the hall as Kaden tried to put the pieces together in his mind.

Tan had said earlier that the script above the door was human, but ancient. This was a human building, a human city, but the Csestriim had created the kenta, created one here, in the center of a city filled with bones. The sword looked new, but then, so did Tan’s naczal. It could be thousands of years old, one of the weapons used when…

“The Csestriim killed them,” Kaden said slowly. “They opened a gate right here in the middle of the city, bypassing the walls, bypassing all the defenses.” His thought leapt outside of itself, into the emotionless minds of the attackers. Through the beshra’an it was all so clear, so rational.

“They came through, probably at night, killing the children first because the children were humanity’s best weapon against them. They started here, at the top.…” The memory of the small skeletons on the stairs flared up in his mind. “Or some of them did,” he amended. “The Csestriim set the trap first, then drove the children down, stabbing them as they fled, cutting them down on the stairs or in the hallways, then doubling back to kill those who had hidden behind doors or under beds.” He slipped from the mind of the hunters into the fear of the hunted. “Most of the children would have been too terrified to do anything, but even those who tried to escape…” He gestured helplessly. “Where would they go? We’re halfway up the cliff.” He glanced to the window, living the screaming, the slaughter. “Some would have jumped,” he said, his heart hammering at the thought. “It was hopeless, but some would have jumped anyway.”

Trembling with the borrowed terror of children millennia dead, he slipped out of the beshra’an to find half a dozen pairs of eyes fixed upon him.

“What is this place?” Talal asked finally, gazing about the room.

“I told you earlier,” Tan replied. “It is Assare.”

Valyn shook his head. “Why haven’t we heard of it?”

“Rivers have changed their course since people last drew breath here.”

“Why is it here?” Kaden asked. He tried to dredge up what little he’d overheard about urban development during his childhood in the Dawn Palace. “There’s no port, no road.”

“That was the point,” Tan replied, seating himself cross-legged beside the sword. The monk considered it for several heartbeats, but made no move to reach out. Kaden waited for him to continue, but after a moment the monk closed his eyes.

Laith stared at Tan, looked over to Kaden, then back again before spreading his hands. “That’s the end of the story? Csestriim came. They killed everyone. Dropped a sword… time for a nice rest?”

If the gibe bothered Tan, he didn’t show it. His eyes remained closed. His chest rose and fell in even, steady breaths.

To Kaden’s surprise, it was Triste who broke the silence.

“Assare,” she said, the word leaving her tongue with a slightly different lilt than Tan had given it. She, too, had sunk to the floor beside the blade, her eyes wide in the lamplight, as though staring at a vision none of them could see. “ ‘Refuge.’ ”

“More leina training?” Pyrre asked.

Triste didn’t respond, didn’t even glance over at the woman. “Assare,” she said again. Then, “Ni kokhomelunen, tandria. Na sviata, laema. Na kiena-ekkodomidrion, aksh.”

Tan’s eyes slammed silently open. His body didn’t so much as twitch, but there was something different about it, something… Kaden searched for the right word. Wary. Ready.

Triste just stared at the blade, those perfect eyes wide and abstracted. She didn’t seem to realize she had spoken.

“Where,” Tan said finally, “did you hear that?”

Triste shuddered, then turned to the monk. “I don’t… probably at the temple, as part of my studies.”

“What does it mean?” Kaden asked. Something about the phrase had set Tan on edge, and he wasn’t accustomed to seeing the older monk on edge.

“No,” Tan said, ignoring Kaden’s question. “You didn’t learn it in a temple. Not any temple still standing.”

“She knew the language down below,” Valyn pointed out.

“She read the words down below,” Tan corrected him, rising smoothly to his feet. “It was unlikely, but possible. There are plenty of scholars who read Csestriim texts.”

“So what’s the problem?” Valyn pressed.

“She didn’t read this. She pulled it from memory.”

Laith shrugged. “Good for her. Jaw-dropping beauty and a brain to go with it.”

“Where,” Tan pressed, eyes boring into the girl, “did you come across that phrase?”

She shook her head. “Probably in a book.”

“It is not in the books.”

“This is all very dramatic,” Pyrre interjected from her post by the window, “but I could probably get more invested in the drama if I knew what the secret words meant.”

Triste bit her lip. “In growing…” she began uncertainly. “In a flooding black…” She grimaced, shook her head in frustration, then started once more, this time shifting into the somber cadence of prayer or invocation: “A light in the gathering darkness. A roof for the weary. A forge for the blade of vengeance.”

 

Excerpted from The Providence of Fire © Brian Staveley, 2015

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