Rumors begin to grow of a new threat rising across the sea…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Hollow Heart, the conclusion to Marie Rutkoski’s Forgotten Gods duology—publishing September 14th with Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
At the end of The Midnight Lie, Nirrim offered up her heart to the god of thieves in order to restore her people’s memories of their city’s history. The Half Kith who once lived imprisoned behind the city’s wall now realize that many among them are powerful. Meanwhile, the person Nirrim once loved most, Sid, has returned to her home country of Herran, where she must navigate the politics of being a rogue princess who has finally agreed to do her duty.
In the Herrani court, rumors begin to grow of a new threat rising across the sea, of magic unleashed on the world, and of a cruel, black-haired queen who can push false memories into your mind, so that you believe your dearest friends to be your enemies.
Sid doesn’t know that this queen is Nirrim, who seeks her revenge against a world that has wronged her. Can Sid save Nirrim from herself? Does Nirrim even want to be saved? As blood is shed and war begins, Sid and Nirrim find that it might not matter what they want… for the gods have their own plans.
When we reach Herran’s Bay, a feeling as resonant as song fills my chest. I have not once felt homesick since I ran away, but now that I am back, homesickness floods me, belated. It is strange to feel longing for something just when I am about to get it, and when I had decided I didn’t want it. Longing thickens inside me, as though deriving its sudden strength from coming so late, so far after the fact.
Herran’s mountainous coast is lush with trees. Once the jewel in the Valorian Empire’s crown, the city grows out of the rocky cliffs that hug the bay. The newest homes, built after the war my parents won, are painted in soft pastels with bright blue shutters that must be shut when autumn comes and green storms riot up the coast. Nirrim’s island was summery, with odd bursts of icy wind that would last for a few days only, but my country has its seasons, and although the laran trees now hold their leaves like thick, green shawls, and all I smell is the sea’s brine, I know autumn is not far off. Soon, it will be Ninarrith, when my people light a hundred candles in honor of the last day the gods walked among us. I always thought the holiday a pleasant fantasy, an excuse for giving gifts, but after what I saw on Nirrim’s island, I wonder. I went searching for magic, and magic I found, but what was its source? Whatever her people could conjure was fleeting, thin, like rivulets from a nearly dry creek bed that cannot quench anyone’s thirst.
Nirrim, though, had something more. Deeper.
I try not to think about her. I think about the weather, as a true sailor would, for her life depends on it. I think about how the coming of autumn smells like honey and a lit match.
It smells like Nirrim’s hair, when I buried my face in it. My throat closes. For a moment I cannot see, my vision blurred. Then it clears.
A tall, broad figure waits at the pier. The shape of my father is instantly familiar.
I shouldn’t have hoped that the arrival of our two ships—Roshar’s an obvious Dacran vessel, skinny and long and flying his green flag, and mine one of the finest in my father’s fleet, which I commandeered the night I left Herran—would go unnoticed. A fool’s hope.
Perhaps I should be glad that my father hasn’t appeared with his entire guard. A small mercy. At least my prodigal return home isn’t public gossip. Yet.
Roshar rests a hand on my shoulder. “Best to face him sooner rather than later, princess.”
“Best you kiss my ass, prince.”
His hand tightens. “Don’t apologize to him for running away.” Surprised, I turn to him. He adds, “Never apologize for who you are or what you needed to do to be yourself.”
I almost believe my godfather. My eyes almost prickle with relieved gratitude. Even when I was small, I longed to have his self-possession, his easy-seeming way of flouting expectation. Of demanding people meet him on his terms, not theirs. I wanted this even though—or because—I knew nothing was easy for him. He shares his true feelings with few people. His mutilations keep them at bay. He has done things for which he will never forgive himself. So yes, the words sound like something he would mean. But as we disembark, I decide Roshar’s advice is a pretty-sounding lie. Be myself? Don’t apologize? I am supposed to marry Roshar’s sister’s son and inherit the realms of Herran and Dacra. He knows this. He helped arrange it. He might say understanding things— and he, who likes men just as I like women, understands me better than most—but he would never break my betrothal.
When we meet my father, the king, on the pier, he places his palm on Roshar’s cheek, and Roshar does the same: the traditional Herrani greeting between men who are friends or family. I cannot look away from this gesture, this closeness between them. I am filled with envy.
My father’s hair turned silver, they say, at my birth, so frightened was he to lose my mother, who had bled too much and was close to death. He lowers his gray eyes to meet mine. I have some of his height, but not nearly enough. He towers above people, his arms stony with muscle. His skin, a few shades darker than mine, the same light brown as Nirrim’s, is weathered by sun and wind and age, save for the shine of a long scar that cuts down from his brow and into the hollow of his left cheek. He does not wait to let me speak. He pulls me to him.
“God of life,” he says. “I thought I would lose you, too.” He holds me as if I were a child. Despite what Roshar advised, I instantly apologize, my face pressed against my father’s chest. Water seeps from my eyes into his linen tunic. “Etta,” I say, “forgive me.”
He tells me there is nothing to forgive, that I am here now. “My girl.
I was so worried. Why did you leave us?”
I cannot answer. I don’t want to blame my mother, whom he loves so fiercely. I don’t want to blame him for not protecting me from her schemes, and ignoring them. I want, for once, to be a good daughter. So I give him my silence. It is the best I can offer. He accepts it, as I knew he would. He, who was enslaved from the time he was a child until he was a young man, never likes to force an answer.
What could I say? You expected too much from me. I chose to put my pleasure first. You are an apple, Sidarine.
What I’m truly sorry for, what makes the tears still come, is that choosing myself meant hurting him, and I did it anyway. I cannot promise I won’t do it again. I am sorry for my guilt—and my anger. When I saw my father greet Roshar, anger rushed into me like a wind-fed flame, because my father will never place his hand on my cheek like that. He will never greet me the way Herrani men do. I am his only child, his beloved daughter—a girl, not his equal. I am not a man.
Excerpted from The Hollow Heart, copyright © 2021 by Marie Rutkoski.