In this Author's Cut edition of BEYOND SANCTUARY, the first novel in Janet Morris' Sacred Band of Stepsons: Beyond Trilogy, venture beyond the Thieves World™ fantasy universe to the heights of Wizardwall where gods and heroes war with sorcerers and demons, trampling unwary humans underfoot.
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By Janet Morris
Perseid PressCopyright © 2016 Janet Morris
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Book One: Wizard Weather
In the archmage's sumptuous purple bedroom, the woman astride him took two pins from her silver-shot hair. It was dark — his choice; and damp with cloying shadows — his romanticism. A conjured moon in a spellbound sky was being swallowed by effigy-clouds where the vaulted roof indubitably yet arced, even as he shuddered under the tutored and inexorable attentions of the girl Lastel had brought to his party. She had refused to tell him her name because he would not give his, but had told him what she would do for him so eloquently with her eyes and her body that he had spent the entire evening figuring out a way the two of them might slip up here unnoticed. Not that he feared her escort's jealousy — though the drug dealer might conceivably entertain such a sentiment, Lastel no longer had the courage (or the contractual protective wardings) to dare a reprisal against a Hazard-class mage.
Of all the enchanters in wizard-ridden Sanctuary, only three were archmages, nameless adepts beyond summoning or responsibility, and this Hazard was one. In fact, he was the very strongest of those three.
When he had been young, he had had a name, but he will forget it, and everything else, quite promptly. The domed and spired estuary of venality which is Sanctuary, nadir of the empire called Ranke; the unmitigated evil he had fielded for decades from his swamp-encircled Mageguild fortress; the compromises he had made to hold sway over curmudgeon, courtesan and criminal (so audacious that even the bounds of magics and plane-worlds had been eroded by his efforts and his fellow adepts felled on occasion by demons roused from forbidden defiles to do his bidding here at the end of creation where no balance remains between logic and faith, law and nature, or heaven and hell); the disingenuous methods through which he worked his will, plan by tortuous plan, upon a town so hateful and immoral that both the flaunted gods and magicians' devils agreed that its inhabitants deserved no less dastardly a fate: all of this, and more, will fade from him in the time it takes a star to burn out, falling from the sky.
Now the First Hazard glimpses her movement, though he is close to climax, sputtering with sensations that for years he has assumed he had outgrown or forgotten how to feel. Senility creeps upon the finest flesh when a body is maintained for millennia; and into the deepest mind, over thousands of years. He doesn't look his age or tend to think of it. The years are his, mandated. Only a very special kind of enemy could defeat him, and those were few and far between. Simple death, morbidity or the spells of his brothers were like gnats he kept away by the perfume of his sweat: merely the proper diet, herbs and spells and consummated will, had long ago vanquished them as far as he was concerned.
So strange to lust, to desire a particular woman; he was amused, joyous; he had not felt so good in years. A tiny thrill of caution had horripilated his nape early on, when he noticed the silvering of her night-black hair, but this girl was not old enough to be — "Ahhhh!" Her premeditated rippling takes him over passion's edge and he is falling, place and provenance forgotten, not a terrible adept wrenching the world about to suit his whim and comfort, but just a man.
In that instant, eyes defocused, he sees but does not note the diamond sparkle of the rods poised above him. His ears are filled with his own breathing. The song of entrapment she sings softly has him before he thinks to think, or thinks to fear, or thinks to move.
By then her rods, their sharp fine points touching his arched throat, owned him. He could not move; not his body nor his soul responded; his mind could not control his tongue.
Thinking bitterly of the indignity of being frozen like a rearing stallion, he hoped his flesh would slump once life had fled. As he felt the points enter into his skin and begin to suck at the thread binding him to life, his mortification marshaled his talents: he cleared his vision, forcing his eyes to obey his mind's command.
Though he was a great sorcerer, he was not omnipotent: he could not manage to make his lips frame a curse to cast upon her, only watched the free agent Cime (who had slipped, disguised, into so many mages' beds of late) sip the life from him relishingly. So slow she was about it he had time to be thankful she did not take him through his eyes. The song she sings has cost her much to learn, and the death she staves off will not be so kind as his.
Could he have spoken then, resigned to it, he would have thanked her: it is no shame to be brought down by an opponent so worthy. They paid their prices to the same host. He set about composing his exit, seeking his meadow, oval-shaped and green, where he did his work when meditation whisked him into finer awarenesses than flesh could ever share. If he could seat himself there, in his established place of power, then his death was nothing; his flesh a fingernail, overlong and ready to be pared.
He did manage that. Cime saw to it that he had the time. It does not do to anger certain kinds of powers, the sort which, having dispensed with names, dispense with discorporation. Some awful day, she would face this one, and others whom she had guided out of life, in an afterlife which she had helped populate. Shades tended to be unforgiving.
When his chest neither rose nor fell, she slid off him and ceased singing. She licked the tips of her wands and wound them back up in her thick black hair. She soothed his body down, arranged it decorously, donned her party clothes, and kissed him once on the tip of his nose before heading, humming, back down the stairs to where Lastel and the revel still waited. As she passed the bar, she snatched a piece of citrus and crushed it in her palms, dripping the juice upon her wrists, smearing it behind her ears and in the hollow of her throat. Some of these folk might be clumsy necromancers and thrice-cursed merchants with store-bought charms-to-ward-off-charms bleeding them dry of soul and purse, but there was nothing wrong with their noses.
Lastel's bald head and wrestler's shoulders, impeccable in custom silk velvet, were easy to spot. He didn't even glance down at her, but continued chatting with one of Prince/Governor Kadakithis' functionaries, Molin Something-or-other, Vashanka's official priest. It was New Year's holiday and the week was bursting with festivities which the Rankan overlords must observe, and appear to sanction: since (though they had conquered and subjugated Ilsig lands and Ilsig peoples so that some Rankans dared call Ilsigs "Wrigglies" to their faces) they had failed to suppress the worship of the god Ils and his self-begotten pantheon, word had come down from the emperor himself that Rankans must endure with grace the Wrigglies' celebration of Ils' creation of the world and renewal of the year. Now especially, with Ranke pressed into a war of attrition in the north, was no time to allow dissension to develop on her flanks from so paltry a matter as the perquisites of obscure and weakling gods.
This uprising among the buffer states upon Upper Ranke's northernmost frontier and the inflated rumors of slaughter coming back from Wizardwall's mountainous skirts (all out of proportion to reasonable numbers) dominated Molin's monologue: "And what say you, esteemed lady? Could it be that Nisibisi magicians have made their peace with Mygdon's barbarian lord, and found him a path through Wizardwall's fastness? You are well traveled, it is obvious. Could it be true that the border insurrection is Mygdonia's doing, and their hordes so fearsome as we have been led to believe? Or is it the Rankan treasury that is suffering, and a northern incursion the cure for our economic ills?"
Lastel flickered puffy lids down at her from ravaged cheeks as his tumid arm slid around her waist. She smiled up at her escort reassuringly, then favored the priest: "Your Holiness, sadly I must confess that the Mygdonian threat is very real. I have studied realms and magics, in Ranke and beyond. If you wish a consultation, and Lastel permits" — she batted the thickest lashes in Sanctuary? — "I shall gladly attend you, some day when we both are fit for 'solemn' discourse. But now I am too filled with wine and revel and must interrupt you (your pardon please) so that my escort may bear me home to bed." She cast her glance to the ballroom floor, demure and concentrating on her slippered feet poking out under amber skirts. "Lastel, I must have the night air, or faint away. Where is our host? We must thank him for a more complete hospitality than I had thought to find...."
The habitually pompous priest was simpering with undisguised delight, causing Lastel to raise an eyebrow (although Cime tugged coquettishly at his sleeve) and inquire as to its source: "Lord Molin?"
"It is nothing, dear man, nothing. Just so long since I have heard court Rankene — and from the mouth of a real lady ..." The Rankan priest, knowing well that his wife's reputation bore no mitigation, chose to make sport of her, and of his town, before the foreign noblewoman did. And to make it more obvious to Lastel that the joke was on him and Lastel, the two Sanctuarites, and for the amusement of the voluptuous gray-eyed woman, the priest bowed low and never did answer her genteel query as to the whereabouts of the First Hazard.
By the time the priest had promised to give their thanks and regards to their absent host when he saw him, the lady was gone and Molin Torchholder was left wishing he knew what it was that she saw in Lastel. Certainly it was not the dogs he raised. Or his fortune, which was modest. Or his business ... Well, yes, it might have been just that: drugs. Some who knew swore that the best krrf, black and Caronne-stamped, came from Lastel's connections.
Molin sighed, hearing his wife's twitter among the crowd's buzz. Where was that Hazard? The damn Mageguild was getting too arrogant. No one could throw a bash as star-studded as this one and then walk away from it as if the luminaries in attendance were nonentities. He was glad he had not prevailed on the prince to come along.
What a woman! And what was her name? He had been told, he was sure, but just forgot....
Outside, torchlit, breath steaming white through the cold-sharpened night as they waited for their ivory-screened wagon, Cime and Lastel giggled over the distinction between "serious" and "solemn": The First Hazard had been serious, Molin was solemn; Tempus the Hell Hound was serious, Prince Kadakithis solemn. The destabilization campaign they two were undertaking in Sanctuary under the auspices of a Mygdonian-funded Nisibisi witch (who had come to Lastel, alias One-Thumb, in the guise of a comely caravan mistress hawking Caronne drugs) was serious; the threat of northern invasion, down-country at the Empire's anus, was most solemn.
As Cime's laughter tinkled, Lastel nuzzled her: "Did you manage to ...?"
"Oh, yes. I had a perfectly lovely time. What a wonderful idea of yours this was," she whispered, still speaking court Rankene, a dialect she had been using exclusively in public ever since the two of them — the Maze-dweller One-Thumb and the escaped sorcerer-slayer Cime — had decided that the best cover for them was that which her skills provided: they need not do more. Her brother Tempus knew that Lastel was actually One-Thumb, and that she was with him, but would hesitate to reveal them: he had given his silence, if not his blessing, to their union. Within reasonable limits, they considered themselves safe to bargain lives and information to both sides in the coming crisis. Even now, with the war barely under way, they had already started. This night's work was her pleasure and his profit. When they reached his modest east-side estate, she showed him the portion of what she had done to the First Hazard which he would like best — and most probably survive, if his heart was strong. For her service, she demanded a Rankan soldat's worth of black krrf, given her before the act. When he had paid her and watched her melt it with water over a flame, cool it and bring it to him on the bed, her fingers stirring the viscous liquid, he was glad he had not argued about her price, or about her practice of always charging one.
* * *
Wizard weather blew in off the sea later that night, as fast as one of Sanctuary's whores could blow a client a kiss or a pair of Stepsons disperse an unruly crowd. Everyone in the suddenly mist-enshrouded streets of the Maze ran for cover: adepts huddled under beds with their best warding spells wrapped tighter than blankets around shivering shoulders; eastsiders bade their jesters perform and their musicians play louder. Dogs howled; cats yowled; horses screamed in the palace stables and tried to batter their stallboards down.
Some unlucky ones did not make it to safety before a dry thunder roared and lightning flashed and in the streets, the mist began to glitter, thicken, chill. It rolled head-high along byway and alley, claws of ice scrabbling at shuttered windows, barred doors. Where it found life, it shredded bodies, lacerating limbs, stealing away warmth and souls and leaving only flayed carcasses frozen in the streets.
A pair of Stepsons — mercenary special forces whom the prince's marshal, Tempus, commanded — was caught out in the storm, but it could not be said that the weather killed one: the team had been investigating uncorroborated reports that a warehouse conveniently situated at a juncture of three major sewers was being used by an alchemist to concoct and store incendiaries. The surviving partner guessed that his teammate must have lit a torch, despite the cautions of research: human wastes, flour, sulphur and more had gone in through those now-nonexistent doors. Though the problem the team had been dispatched to investigate was solved by a concussive fireball that threw the second Stepson, Nikodemos, through a window into an intersection, singeing his beard and brows and eyelashes, the young Sacred Band member relived the circumstances leading to his partner's death repeatedly, agonizing throughout the night, alone in the pair's billet, over the possibility that he was to blame. So consumed was he with grief at the death of his mate, he did not even realize that his friend had saved his life: the fireball and ensuing conflagration had blown back the mist and made an oven of the wharfside; Wideway was freed from the vicious fog for half its length.
Nikodemos had ridden at a devil's pace out of Sanctuary, home to the Stepsons' barracks which once had been a slaver's estate and thus had rooms enough for Tempus to allow his hard-won mercenaries the luxury of privacy: ten pairs plus thirty single fighters comprised the team's core group? — ?until this evening past....
Sun was trying to beat back the night; Niko could see it through his window. He had not even been able to return with a body. His beloved spirit-twin would be denied the honor of a hero's fiery bier. He couldn't weep. He simply sat, huddled, amputated, diminished and cold upon his bed, watching a sunray inch its way toward one of his sandaled feet.
Thus he did not see Tempus approaching with the first light of day haloing his just-bathed form, as if he were some god's own avatar, which at times — despite his better judgment — his curse and his battle with it forced him to become. The tall, autumnal figure stooped and peered in the window, sun gilding his yarrow-honey hair and his vast bronze limbs where they were free of his army-issue woolen chiton. He wore no arms or armor, no cloak or shoes; furrows deepened on his brow, and a sere frown tightened his willful mouth. Sometimes, the expression in his long, slitted eyes grew readable: this was such a time. The pain he was about to face was a pain he had known too well, too often. It brought to features not brutal enough by half for their history or profession the slight, defensive smile which would empty out his eyes.
When he could, Tempus knocked. Hearing no reply, he called softly, "Niko?" And again ...
Having let himself in, he waited for the Stepson, who looked younger than the quarter-century he claimed, to raise his head. Tempus met a gaze as blank as his own and bared his teeth.
The youth nodded slowly, made to rise, sank back when Tempus motioned "stay" and joined him on his wood-framed cot in blessed shadow. Both sat silent as day filled up the room, stealing away their hiding place. Elbows on knees, Niko thanked him for coming. Tempus suggested that under the circumstances a pyre could still be made and funerary games would not be out of order. When he got no response, the mercenary's commander sighed rattlingly and allowed that he himself would be honored to perform the rites.
Excerpted from Beyond Sanctuary by Janet Morris. Copyright © 2016 Janet Morris. Excerpted by permission of Perseid Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsBook One: Wizard Weather,
Book Two: High Moon,
Book Three: Mage Blood,
Book Four: Peace Falls,
Book Five: Up Wizardwall,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Janet E. Morris' Beyond Sanctuary is a splendid mashup of Dark Fantasy and ancient grandeur. Read this and you'll be transported into the Baroque masterpiece cover, joining the battlefield alongside gods and champions: Life to you, Reader, and everlasting glory! The Cover: This Author's Cut version features Peter Paul Rubens' 1618 painting "The Death of Decius Mus in Battle"(translated title); this extends Perseid Press' cover art approach. This represents the book very well; it promises to drag you into epic, divine combat rooted in history. It delivers. Expect fantastic magic, doses of horror, stealth military sorties, and mature themes. Tempus and Niko: The book follows many characters, but focuses on Tempus and Niko; the story arc leans toward Niko's plight, though Tempus is ever present. Tempus begins living a curse in which those who love him get hurt, and Niko recovers from losing his sacred partner (only to have his mind vied for by a god and sorceress). These are deeply motivated characters who parley directly with gods as contemporary immortals . A Mature Read: Having not read the Thieve's World Series from which this novel evolved, I entered this with a blank slate. This is ostensibly the best starting point to delve into the Tempus & Niko series (see the reading list below). Here is what you can expect: • History-Informed Magic & Culture: Foremost, Beyond Sanctuary blends fantasy with historical elements so seamlessly, that history-deficient-folk like myself cannot easily differentiate pure-fiction from history-informed fantasy. Whether it's Niko's attraction to young women (which creeped me out despite being common in many cultures long ago and even today) , the intimate pairing of elite warriors (~the Sacred Band of Thebes), or the landscape of Nisibis and Mygdonia (those were real territories)... heck, even the gods and spiritual concepts are informed from ancient beliefs (i.e. Enil, Maat). The immortal characters and magic are presumably fiction. This mashup of fantasy/history yields a rich world for the characters to navigate. An informative Wikipedia posting on the Sacred Band of Stepsons explains more. • Mature Scenes: Adult-appropriate sexual scenes are abundant, though not gratuitous (they reflect the milieu informed by history). • Style: Expect intricate sentences with a panoply of vocabulary (and even parenthetical asides). • Names/Forms: Each character has multiple names (Stealth/Niko...Riddler/Tempus… Datan/Osprey … Roxanne/Cybele; and these folk assume various forms (they use illusions to become imposters, they shape shift into animals...) • Factions: There is a large portfolio of guilds, states, and cultures (Stepsons, Sacred Banders, Successors, Gods, Hazard Class Wizards, Wizard Wall Wizards, Rankans, ...); the characters each have multiple allegiances (to men and gods, or just men, or just men of certain region, or men and wizards…). • Conflict: Given so many characters with allied & competing factions, there are as many conflicts as there are combinations (Tempus vs. his sister, Cyme; Cyme vs. Wizards, Tempus vs. Gods, Tempus vs. Wizards, Tempus vs. Roxanne, Niko vs. Gods, free Nisibis vs. Wizards, Mygdonia vs. Tyse vs Nisibis…) Series Reading List: Such depth requires more books! This first installment prepares readers for the series. Any fan of the Thieve's World would no doubt devour this novel; in fact, any fan of alternate histories or epic fantasy would enjoy it. For me,
Beyond Sanctuary (Sacred Band of Stepsons: Beyond Trilogy, Author's Cut Editions Book 1) by Janet Morris Plot twists and turns will rip through the reader's thoughts! A very strong and superbly written book by Morris. The tale is a fantastical tale of war and fantasy, reaping the pleasures of death and destruction. Blood, danger and sanctuary awaits the reader of this dark and magical blood-splattered but beautiful inspiring work. Plot twists and turns will rip through the reader's thoughts as they flip through these well-written pages of Beyond Sanctuary. Depth, discretion and emotion seep from the author's words. An spectacular adventure and highly recommended 5*****
Beyond Sanctuary by Janet Morris is the first of the authorized Thieves' World novels, but it is much more: it's #2 in the Sacred Band series, following directly on "Tempus," the novelized anthology containing all the earliest Sacred Band tales that appeared in Thieves' World, one that predates the series, and some available nowhere else. In Beyond Sanctuary (which kicks off with two of the stories, revised, expanded, and novelized, that appeared in Tempus so that you're immediately oriented), the Riddler takes his Sacred Band north to war against the sorcerers who control Wizardwall. And war they do, first in the town of Peace Falls, and then up Wizardwall itself. This novel is closely followed by Beyond the Veil and Beyond Wizardwall, so that they comprise a trilogy within the larger Sacred Band series. You'll love and hate these characters, from the seductive but twisted witch Roxane, who stalks the Stepsons unremittingly, to Stealth called Nikodemos, her favorite prey. Seldom is fantasy so deep and satisfying, I recommend reading Beyond Sanctuary, and the other two in the trilogy as well, in order. The love scenes and battle scenes alone are worth the price of admission to the trilogy and the greater Sacred Band series. Morris' understanding of government, military, and cavalry in particular, gives these books a realistic flavor that's matched nowhere but in ancient heroic fiction. You'll think you're really there, fighting beside the Stepsons. Highly recommended.