A new adventure of brotherhood and magic from beloved fantasist Dave Duncan.
In the Kingdom of Jorgary, the days of feudal chivalry are fading as national armies are formed. But Ottokar Magnus is still baron, and his host of brothers include Anton, an ambitious young soldier, and Wulfgang, an amiable teenager. Unable to seek his fortune as a knight errant, Anton has enlisted with the royal Jorgarian hussars and taken Wulf along as his servant.
There is magic in Jorgary, but it is regarded as Satanism, rituals performed by Speakers who are in contact with the Devil. The Speakers, though, believe that the Voices they hear belong to saints. Anton is not a Speaker…but Wulf is. Anxious to impress the court, Anton exhibits spectacular horsemanship at a royal hunt, with a little boost from Wulf. Two nights later he is dragged before Cardinal Zdenek, the king's chief minister.
Zdenek offers him an earldom and anything else he could dream of if he will ride at once to a strategic fortress at Cardice and take command there. The count and his son have died, victims of both treason and witchcraft. The cardinal thinks that neighboring enemies are preparing to invade, using "modern" arms to capture the fort. Mortal resources alone will not suffice, but Zdenek knows that Anton's improbable jump at the hunt was aided by supernatural power.
Anton wants nothing to do with this mission, but Wulf's Voices tell him that they should accept the charge. The result is a harrowing ride through limbo with astonishing results.
About the Author
Originally from Scotland, DAVE DUNCAN has lived all his adult life in Western Canada, having enjoyed a long career as a petroleum geologist before taking up writing. Since discovering that inventing imaginary worlds is more satisfying than poking holes in the real one, he has published forty novels, mostly in the fantasy genre, but also in young adult, science fiction, and historical.
Read an Excerpt
Speak to the Devil
By Dave Duncan
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 Dave Duncan
All rights reserved.
In the darkest hour of the night, a troop of the Palace Guard came marching along the serpentine alleys of Mauvnik, capital city of Jorgary. Arriving at the home of Baron Radovan, they pounded the door knocker. When that produced no swift response, they thundered on the panels with the butts of their pikes and shouted abuse, making enough racket to silence the cats and start dogs barking. Nosy neighbors opened shutters. When at last a terrified servant peered out through the grille, their leader bellowed for all to hear that Lancer Anton Magnus was wanted at the palace at once. The guards continued to stamp and jingle and chatter in the roadway until the lanky youngster they sought came stumbling out, his hussar uniform awry and his eyes still blurred by sleep. They formed up around him and marched him away.
Anton was not told that he was under arrest. He was not required to surrender his saber. He was not even sure that the Palace Guard had authority to arrest a lancer of the Light Hussars, although these men seemed to think they did. They refused to say who had sent for him at this ungodly hour on a Sunday morning, or what his offense might be. He had been sinning, yes, but adultery was not a criminal matter. The slut's husband might call him out on a point of honor for it, but Anton was not worried about dueling a man who was currently far away in Bavaria, being held for ransom, and thirty years his senior anyway. If not lechery, then what? His conscience was unspotted otherwise.
A worse worry was that Anton Magnus had no idea how the palace guard had known where to find him. If the sergeants-at-arms had begun by seeking him in the verminous billet down in Lower Mauvnik that he shared with Wulfgang, his brother and varlet, then Wulf could have told them only that Anton was visiting a lady; he did not know which lady, and would not have told that even if he did. How had they known that he was sleeping the sleep of the exhausted in the bed of the luscious Baroness Nadezda Radovan?
At that point the lovely baroness — who was not as lovely as she must have been the year Anton was born, but still tried to behave as if she were — had become very unlovely indeed. She, who around midnight had been kind and fond to her "Darling Anton," praising both his privates and his prowess, had become shrill and abusive. To go from wearing nothing at all to the dress uniform of a hussar without a varlet's help was a long process — breechcloth, trunk hose, puffed shirt laced to the trunk hose, fancy slashed breeches, slashed and padded doublet, garters, socks over the hose, boots — with spurs, even at a ball — sword belt, sword, dagger, short cape, tall hat with narrow brim and tall plume; and all the time the harpy in the bed had been screaming that she was ruined, that the news would be all over Mauvnik and probably the entire kingdom by morning, that Anton Magnus was an evil young deviant preying on respectable women, and if he thought she was ever going to put in that good word to the minister of the army that she had promised last night, then he had the brains of a tadpole. And so on.
He had said nothing until he had his boots on and was heading for the door. Then he had dropped a copper parvus on her dressing table and told her exactly what he thought of her worn-out body and alley-cat morals, thus demonstrating that their relationship had been terminated by mutual consent.
Now the roofs and turrets of the palace stood inky black against the autumn stars. Only two windows showed light, both in the central tower where old King Konrad lay interminably dying. Anton's escorts were taking him to the south gate, to a part of the palace he did not know. And they still refused to say why.
Boots clumped on the miry cobbles. The air was warm; bats squeaked and swirled overhead. It was going to be another fine day, although perhaps not a fine day for Anton Magnus, the most junior recruit in the Light Hussars.
At the great gate, a bell was rung, a hatch opened, a password exchanged, and then the postern door swung open. Six boots marched across a yard reeking with a familiar smell of horses, and entered a dimly lit guard room.
As he stepped inside, Anton Magnus's anger and frustration turned to freezing terror, just for a moment. Then he relaxed, seeing that he had been mistaken. The man waiting for him in the gloom was innocent enough. Indeed, he was not even a man, for his face was smooth, and his head, though close-cropped, was not yet tonsured. His brown robe was that of a novice Franciscan. Franciscans were usually harmless. In his momentary, dazzled confusion, Anton had thought he was seeing a Dominican.
Dominicans were friars of a different color, and could represent the ultimate terror: suspicion of heresy or Satanism, interrogation, the Question, the stake. That was absurd in this case, of course! Anton Magnus never dabbled in such crimes, and had he not still been half asleep he would never have confused the two orders.
Yet suddenly his conscience no longer shone like a well-honed blade. On the royal hunt two days ago, he had pulled off an insanely reckless feat of horsemanship that had been witnessed by at least a hundred people. It had made him the talk of the court. It might have started suspicious tongues wagging, arousing whispers of Speaking. But it had certainly not been remarkable enough to expose him to a formal investigation by the Holy Office. A watch might be set on him in future; no more than that.
"Lancer Anton Magnus of Company D of the Royal Light Hussars?" The boy looked bored and sleepy, not frightened or malicious.
His throat too dry for speech, Anton just nodded.
The novice lifted a lantern and adjusted the wick. "If you would be so good as to follow me, lancer?" He led the way, sandals slapping softly on the flagstones.
For the next few minutes, Anton Magnus continued to reassure himself with positive thoughts. He still hadn't been relieved of his saber. Wherever he was being taken was no dungeon. The lantern's faint glow and that of the occasional sconce shone on mosaic floors, frescoes, and wide mirrors, then a staircase wide enough to admit a coach-and-four.
"May I ask who has summoned me here at this ungodly hour?"
The boy glanced around briefly and flashed an amused smile, but did not reply.
At the top of the stairs, he led the way across a wide hall, dark as a starlit night, with only twinkles reflected from mirrors, chandeliers, cornices, and gilt picture frames, hinting at its great size. Beyond that lay another chamber, even larger, and then a third, vaster still. By then Anton Magnus had guessed the answer to his question. Very few men in the kingdom would merit such splendor, and only one of them would still be active at this hour of the night. The third doorway had been guarded by four sergeants-at-arms, who evidently knew the boy, for they had let him lead Anton Magnus past them without a word, saber and all.
Although by day the third antechamber must teem with anxious petitioners, tonight it was almost deserted. Three lamps gleamed near the far-side door, their light faintly reflected in the polished marble floor. At a desk there sat a single elderly friar, reading, guarding a door, and probably also keeping an eye on two boys nearby, who were writing on slates. He was clearly a doorman, and Anton presumed that the novices were messengers, being kept properly busy at their studies during the quiet hours when their nimble feet were not required. His guess was confirmed as his guide went to join them.
The friar looked up and nodded at the sight of the visitor. He rose and glided to the door he guarded, which must certainly lead to the inner sanctum of the most powerful man in Jorgary, the king's first minister, Cardinal Zdenek.
Anton detoured to a convenient mirror for a hasty inspection. He straightened his plume and frowned at creases in his britches and scuff marks on his riding boots. Wulf had spent an hour polishing them last night, before Anton went off to the ball, but much had happened since then. No matter; they would have to do. Whatever had caused the cardinal to summon him in the middle of the night, it had not been to inspect smears of rouge on his collar. He twirled up his mustaches and turned back to his guide, who was waiting with the door open.
Zdenek's audience chamber was ablaze with light from four huge chandeliers, reflected in the high crystal mirrors and gilded paneling. Rich brocade drapes covered the windows. Just one of those chairs of velvet and gilt would cost as much as Anton would be paid in the next five years. He felt suitably humbled.
The great man sat on a chair that was very nearly a throne, head bent to study a single sheet of paper. He was flanked on one side by a writing stand with inkwells and shelves to hold papers and on the other by a small table bearing four leather-bound folios and a goblet containing about two mouthfuls of dark ruby wine. He did not look up as his visitor came to a halt before him. Having no choice, Anton Magnus waited to be acknowledged. The door closed softly behind him.
Behold a portrait of the king's faithful servant, laboring at all hours: Zdenek himself was elderly, shrunken inside his scarlet robes. The hand steadying the paper was skeletal and the color of lichen-spotted bone. His eyes were hidden by an uncomfortable-looking set of eyeglasses clamped to a beak nose; his beard and hair were silver, in stark contrast to the brilliant hue of his robes and broad-brimmed, tasseled hat, below which his eyebrows stuck out like two pale horns. He was a study in snowy white and the deep scarlet of clotted blood, like a winter battlefield.
No true churchman, Zdenek had probably never baptized a babe or buried a corpse in his life. Few laymen could read, so most clerks were clerics of some sort. Ability and diligence had raised him in the king's service, and some political favor for the pope had bought him a cardinal's hat. He ran the kingdom now as he had run it for a generation. He was reputed to need almost no sleep. His many enemies called him the Scarlet Spider.
So the mystery of how Anton Magnus had been located was solved. The Spider knew everything — everyone knew that. Whichever young man escorted the baroness to the ball would escort her to bed later; this was understood but did not explain why the king's chief minister had summoned the most junior recruit in the Light Hussars. They inhabited different worlds. Cardinal Zdenek should not even know that Lancer Anton Magnus existed.
And apparently he didn't, for Zdenek continued to read. Lancer Anton Magnus continued to stand at attention. He dearly wished that he had stopped at some doorway in the town to empty his bladder. After what seemed an age, the old man acknowledged his visitor by laying the paper on the writing stand and looking up. Lamplight blazed on his eyeglasses, masking his eyes so that his face was a skull lantern, a macabre decoration for All Hallows' Eve.
The hussar saluted. "Anton Magnus, Your Eminence." His uniform said everything else necessary.
The cardinal studied him without any expression whatever, as if he were a piece of statuary.
The hussar felt a welcome shiver of anger replacing his apprehension. This was a test of nerve. Captain Walangoin had tried the same sort of tricks on him when he was sworn in ten days ago, but the Magnuses of Dobkov had been famed for centuries for their suicidal courage. Zdenek must have better things to do with his time than Captain Walangoin ever could. So Anton Magnus must keep his own face immobile, staring unblinking at those glowing fiery disks until the bloodless lips below them indicated a smile.
They didn't. "I see now," the cardinal said in a dry whisper, "why the fair baroness enlisted you with a speed extraordinary even for her."
Anton felt a red tide flood his face. I did not realize Your Eminence had summoned me to hear my confession. But he did not say that. Silence was the best defense.
The cardinal held out his right hand. Anton knelt to kiss his ring.
As he rose, he caught a glimpse of a fading smile, worthy of the amusement with which a man might regard a cavorting puppy. "Welcome, lancer. Pour yourself a glass of wine over there."
Anton turned in the direction indicated and went to where a bottle and crystal goblets stood on a small sideboard. He was surprised to see that there was another man present, a friar at a desk; he was behind the door, which was why Anton had not seen him earlier. He was writing something and did not look up.
Anton poured a very small amount of wine into a glass, well aware that dawn must be close and he could not have slept more than an hour. He returned to the cardinal.
"A glass, I said; not a sip. You insult His Majesty's hospitality."
Anton Magnus went back to the sideboard and topped up the goblet. If this was an attempt to make him drunk, it would not work. He had stayed very sober at the ball, having been forewarned by his messmates of the exertions the dear baroness would require of him later.
As he straightened, glass in hand, the cardinal spoke again.
"And bring that chair."
The chair was solid oak, with arms and a high back. Was this a test of strength or good judgment? Make two trips so he could use both hands, or risk taking chair and glass both? Angry at this continuing childishness, Anton decided to risk one trip. He managed to lift the monster with his left hand alone and carry it back across the room without cracking his shins or spilling his wine. He set the chair on the floor and himself on the chair.
His host raised his own glass. "To the king and your service."
He did not stand, as one should to toast the king, so neither did Anton.
"God preserve His Majesty." The wine was richly spiced Hippocras from Smyrna, caressing the mouth like a woman's kiss. It had been a favorite of Anton's father, but such luxuries had been missing in Dobkov for the last two years.
So here he was, a penniless esquire owning a uniform, a suit of armor, and two horses — he had not even received the expected and hard-earned honorarium from the baroness — being treated as an honored guest by the most powerful man in the kingdom. The world had gone insane, or he had. Perhaps he had cracked his skull at the hunt and was imagining all this.
"Tell me about yourself," Zdenek murmured. His eyes were still hiding behind reflected lamplight.
Insanity! "Your Eminence, I am the fourth son of the late Baron Patredor Magnus of Dobkov. My ancestors have held —"
"Yourself, not your ancestors. The Magnuses of Dobkov are famous in the history of Jorgary; you are not. Not yet, anyway. Start with your brothers."
"As it please Your Eminence. Male Magnuses come in two sizes. The large ones become soldiers, the small ones take holy orders. My eldest brother, Ottokar, is one of the largest. He succeeded our father five years ago." How much detail did Zdenek want? Why should he want any? Anton shivered, wondering if some family problem might lie behind this madness. "He is married and —"
"And ought to make his wife sleep in another room before her fertility bankrupts him. Next?"
"Sir Vladislav is even bigger, a knight banneret in His Majesty's Heavy Hussars. For the last two years he has been a prisoner in Bavaria."
Vlad, like Baron Radovan, had been captured at the Battle of the Boundary Stone. Jorgary's attempt to take advantage of a disputed succession in Bavaria had failed spectacularly. Court gossips disagreed on whether the cardinal had lost his touch at last or the featherbrained crown prince had talked his ailing grandfather into ordering the invasion against Zdenek's advice. The boundary itself was now a day's march closer to Mauvnik than it had been, and the kingdom was still bleeding gold to ransom its nobility. Two thousand commoners had bled to death on the field.
"Third is Marek, now Brother Marek of the Benedictine house in Koupel. And then me. His Majesty most graciously accepted my petition to enlist in his Light Hussars, and I arrived in Mauvnik about ten days ago. Of course it was Vladislav's reputation that won me this great privilege."
The cardinal was staring down at the paper again. It was completely covered in tiny, spidery writing, even along the margins. Anton could read, though he was badly out of practice, but not upside down. Was the friar behind him writing down everything he said?
"How long did it take you to ride from Dobkov to Mauvnik?" Zdenek inquired in his raspy voice.
Anton blinked. "Um — fifteen days, Your Eminence." Why ask that, for God's sake?
"Why so long?"
"It was a new experience for me, for I have never strayed far from —"
Excerpted from Speak to the Devil by Dave Duncan. Copyright © 2010 Dave Duncan. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cardinal Zdenek orders Lancer Anton Magnus to come see him immediately. Anton is fearful that he may be accused of heresy for a ruse he arranged with his brother Wulfgang pretending to use magic or trysting with married aristocrats. Anton is not a fool to leave the Cardinal waiting so he quickly leaves the warm embrace of Baroness Nadezda Radovan to ride helter smelter to see what the powerful Cardinal demands of him. Fearing an invasion from the Wends, Zdenek shocks the Lancer when he offers him an earldom Cardice through marriage to the previous late lord's daughter Madlenka if he takes charge of the strategic fortress Castle Gallant and thwarts the invaders. Ironically the opportunity was made by the Cardinal because he believes Anton is a magic practitioner. He does not correct Zdenek's misconception, but instead Anton discusses the situation with Wulfgang, who encourages him to take command of the fortress and the people; anything else would leave him with a powerful enemy rather than a powerful supporter. Although Dave Duncan places his saga on planet Dobtov, the author makes his setting appear to be medieval Europe though he imagines a new nation in the midst of a tumultuous period of dramatic change. As technology has begun to supersede magic and altering religious belief systems as a consequence, the Speakers remain hidden in plain sight and still talk with saints or the devil depending on which dogma they believe in but Wulf believes it is the Saints who help him travel through limbo and gives him certain powers that the Church believes are Satanic. The changing of the old guard refreshes the tale. Anton is the focus of the story line, but Wulfgang steals the show as a seventeen year old in love with his new sister-on-law and recognized as a powerful Speaker by many, which places his life in jeopardy. Mr. Duncan showcases his world-building, character development and plot creativity in this entertaining fantasy. Harriet Klausner
Really enjoy this author especially his SevenSwords series
Duncan has gifted us with another wonderful story, people who are as their culture made them, the culture is late medival europe with some twists, magic and religion and the ethical tensions between these forces. But and this is a giant but and a spoiler alert, this story just stops, nothing is finished, one of the bad guys is killed, and Duncan packed it up and sent it out to his publisher. I like long series, on going plot lines, continueing charactors, this one is absurd. It isn't a book, it's a very good beginning.
another great story by Dave Duncan. In my opinion he is the most enjoyable fantasy writer out there, and I read a lot of fantasy. Always has interesting plots and twists.