Child of a mad god, p.1
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       Child of a Mad God, p.1

         Part #1 of Coven series by R. A. Salvatore
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Child of a Mad God


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  Table of Contents

  About the Author

  Copyright Page

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  Writing is my journey,

  It is how I make sense of the world.

  These people I come to know in the books show me.

  They speak to me. They lead me to my truth.

  They give to me my sight.

  So this is to Aoleyn,

  Who made me look at the world from a different angle

  And in a different light.

  THE LAKEMAN’S LAMENT

  On the fireach deamhain sit

  Curses muttered, fire spits;

  Hunting people, their delight

  Spilling blood and making fright.

  Better fear than praise of men

  The deamhain strike with spear not pen;

  For the bounty they will take

  Food and furs and bones to break.

  Deamhan footfalls leave no mark

  Coming silent, can’no hark;

  Come in fury and in shade

  Come with magic in the blade.

  Glit’ring spear alit with fire

  Lightning speaks with deamhan ire;

  Throwing stones without a sling

  Fly away without a wing!

  Oftentimes a lakeman strays

  Into fireach deamhan’s way;

  Oftentimes the deamhan’s smile

  Bleeds the kill for all the while.

  Usgar deamhan, why such joy

  To break the smile of a boy;

  Usgar deamhan, why delight

  In spilling blood and making fright?

  PROLOGUE

  The moon called it forth, the summons of blood. Long and sleek and low to the ground, the fossa crept across the underground crawl space, some areas with no more than a foot of clearance. The demon creature felt every jag and bump in the stones, for it had little fur left on its six-foot-long body, with only occasional tufts across its reddish, angry skin of welts and boils. Its tail extended back three feet, perfectly straight, and was flattened and hardened, with its edges scraped keen like a scythe.

  It walked on four padded paws, moving catlike, killing claws retracted, and perfectly silent, save the occasional scrape of that hard tail on stone.

  The demon creature came through the narrow and rolling crawl space into a taller corridor, and there it paused and inhaled, smelling the scent of life on the mountain, and hearing the song of the mountain’s magic, a sensation that drove the beast mad with hatred.

  So many months, it was trapped in its lair of murder, in the darkness, that maddening song echoing about the stones. But it could not go out and kill the singers. It could not release its rage upon an animal, or a man, or a sidhe. For under the light of the sun, or the stars, or the normal moon, the song was too strong, and would drive the fossa back into the cave.

  But not tonight. Tonight, the moon was red, the Blood Moon, and so the fossa could come forth.

  And taste blood.

  And devour magic.

  And silence the singers.

  Faster it loped, through the corridor and into the small cave, then to the mouth, and there the fossa paused and looked up to the night sky, to the huge full moon, hanging red.

  Promising food.

  What would it kill this night? What creature’s bones would add to the litter of the deep den beyond the long crawl? What singer’s throat would crush beneath the press of its maw?

  It came out into the open air, under the red moon. Hunger called it to the hunt.

  Perhaps a deer. Perhaps a bear, or a warthog, or a great roc, or a giant mountain ram, or one of the ugly sidhe humanoids. None of them gave the demon fossa pause. None could stand against its savagery. None, though, were savory, and gave the demon the pleasure it truly desired.

  A sensation froze the creature just outside its bone-littered cave. At first, the vibration drifted on the night breeze as just a tingling, teasing and tickling, but then those sparks became something more, something that stung, something unpleasant. The creature let forth a feral growl that reverberated about the mountain stones, a warning, a protest, against the painful intrusion, the maddening resonance of magic.

  And that was the rub—not the pain, for the fossa was ever in pain, but the vibration of magic, an incessant burr the creature could not scratch away.

  How the demon fossa hated magic! The song of it played as an endless voice, a pervasive and incessant ringing, just a single, maddening note in its ears and vibrating throughout the creature’s body with a singular message: murder.

  But the growling stopped very quickly.

  The fossa sensed the pulse of magic.

  A human was out on the mountain this night, under the Blood Moon. And that human carried magic, and that magic had been called and so it was singing now.

  The demon fossa set off, silent as the shadows. The animals of Fireach Speuer could rest easy this Blood Moon night.

  Aye, for the fossa’s favorite meal was served.

  Ravines did not slow it, nor high slabs of stone, for the creature traversed ledges with sure-footed ease and could leap straight up a score of feet, two score, and with claws that could catch hold in the stone as readily as a cat might climb a tree.

  Down the mountainside it went, down and around to the west, where the plateau rolled out wide before it and the red moon reflected in the waters of the great lake, far below. There was no pause to take in the grand vista, though, for the song grew louder and more focused as the fossa neared.

  So much louder, then, and the fossa slowed.

  Over one rise went the fossa, through a tangle of trees and into the brush at the edge of a field of chokeberry bushes. There the creature hunched and watched and waited.

  The man came over an angled stone across the way. He carried a long spear, its tip glowing with magical energies, singing brilliantly. He moved down slowly into the low brush and stepped his way to the middle of the patch.

  He was hunting, the fossa understood. He was hunting the demon fossa.

  He was a fool.

  The man stood amidst the chokeberry bushes and whispered something the creature could not understand, but the sounds gave the fossa pause. It hunched further and from the concealment of the taller brush scanned all around, ensuring that this one was alone.

  The human spoke again, as if not alone, but the fossa saw no others.

  There were no others.

  The fossa issued a low growl, then silently circled as the man turned toward the sound.

  The man sniffed. He could smell the demon and the demon fossa could smell his fear.

  The man set himself, that horrid, magical spear tip forward, toward the place where the fossa had growled, as if expecting a charge.

  But the fossa wasn’t there anymore, th
ere upwind from the human so that he could still smell its lingering scent. No, the fossa was already across the way, watching the human from behind.

  The breeze gusted, the chokeberries shivered, and the human shifted left and right, but with his focus still to the spot where the fossa had been.

  Belly to the ground, the fossa moved, gaining speed, readying a killing leap.

  But somehow the human knew! And he spun about, that spear flashing across!

  The fossa burst from the chokeberries and cut fast to the right, then back across to the left, too swiftly for the man to keep up with his lumbering sweeps. The spear tip chased, but could not catch up, and right by the man rushed the fossa, and out the other way.

  But as the creature passed, its tail, a sword of bone, slashed across to take the man’s legs out from under him, and to take the man’s feet from his legs.

  A short distance away, the fossa skidded to a stop and spun about, to see the man struggling to his knees, bringing his spear around defensively. He seemed excited, elated even, ready for battle, and he moved as if to stand.

  The fool didn’t even know.

  Only when he extended his leg as if to stand did he scream out in pain and then—and oh, it sounded as the sweetest music of all to the fossa!—in fear. Only then, the fossa understood, did the human even realize that he had no feet, that both of his legs had been severed at the ankles!

  The human looked all about frantically, even reached for a severed foot, sitting atop a nearby chokeberry bush.

  Amused now, the demon fossa watched the human regain some measure of courage, stubbornly using his spear for balance as he forced himself to his knees. Then he took up his spear in both hands and shouted a challenge.

  The fossa calmly stalked a perimeter about him. Time was not on the human’s side, not with his lifeblood pouring from his severed ankles.

  The man spoke again, as if in conversation with some unseen other human. “My daughter will not be shamed!” he yelled.

  The fossa stalked before him and stood staring.

  “Come on!” the human yelled, waving his spear.

  The fossa sat down and let him bleed.

  But then he hugged his spear, that crystalline tip glowing with magic, and whispered again, as if to the spear, and the magic intensified suddenly, the song assailing the demon creature, particularly so, for it was a song of warmth and healing! The human closed his eyes and seemed to bask in that healing.

  The fossa ran to the side. It could smell the lessening of the blood flow; it could hear the song of healing magic.

  “Where are you?” the human cried, seeming stronger again, invigorated, healed somewhat.

  “Coward!” he taunted, or tried to, for the word came out with a giant exhale as the demon fossa slammed into his back, its fangs closing fast onto the back of his neck. The fossa knew that he wanted to turn and strike, but knew, too, that its fangs had cracked through the neckbone, that the human’s body would no longer answer commands.

  Down they went together, the fossa smashing him down face-first through the chokeberries.

  The fossa didn’t finish him. Not then. It would drag the human to its lair and eat him slowly, while he was alive.

  But first … that spear! The magical crystal!

  The fossa released the human’s shattered neck and sprang for the spear, its powerful maw clamping on the spear tip, cracking it, shattering it.

  And the demon knew that it was not alone, that the human had indeed not been alone. For through this magical spear tip, there loomed a spiritual connection to another human, the true singer of the magic!

  And she was there, in the spirit realm, joined to the man in his hunt.

  And the fossa heard her song and felt her trying to strengthen the flow of magic into the doomed man who lay in the chokeberries.

  But the fossa was more than a physical being. So much more. And the spirit world was its truest domain.

  Into the darkness it went, and it found her.

  And it knew her then: Elara.

  She tried to flee, to send her spirit flying back to her own corporeal form far away. But the spirit of the fossa saw her and followed her.

  She could not escape.

  The fossa couldn’t bite her neck or her mortal coil at all, of course, but it didn’t have to. It could eat her soul. It could shatter her mind!

  This kill was less substantial, perhaps, but to the fossa proved far more satisfying.

  To its surprise, the magic singer spun back and returned to the man, and found him there, and he, her.

  And the fossa found them both, their spirits huddled, embracing as the demon closed.

  And it knew him then, too: Fionlagh.

  The human spirits drew comfort from each other, but the fossa was amused, knowing such comfort a fleeting thing. The demon creature mocked them as it dragged its victim to the dark hole in the dark cave. It watched them as it consumed the man’s corporeal body, watched his spirit flitter away.

  The woman’s spirit flew away, but it could not escape, the fossa knew.

  It sat in its hole, atop a pile of bones, the torn carcass before it. But part of the demon creature went with the woman, too, back to her tent, where she lay on her back, staring blankly, seeing only darkness, her magic consumed, her life force diminished, her mind shattered by the horror.

  The horror.

  PART 1

  CURIOUS CHILD

  Do I believe in redemption?

  I suppose I must. For how can I forgive myself my own sins if not in the belief that I can, and must, atone? Are my crimes so monstrous that I can never return the balance of justice? So heinous that no matter what I do with the rest of my life, I will never lie in peace on my deathbed confident that in the end I left this world a better place than I found it?

  I can only shrug, for that is not for me to judge, nor is it why I believe in redemption, nor is it, in the end, the measure of redemption. For such reparation is first and foremost an internal truth, a realization toward the proper and just course.

  You told me of Brother Francis, so long a thrall to the evil Father Abbot Markwart, who was responsible for the death of your own brother, Grady. You spoke of how Francis, in the end, found repentance in tending to the suffering peasants who had been caught by the rosie plague. Francis, this man, your enemy, gave his life in service to them, willingly, joyously, because he found the light of goodness and it swelled his heart.

  And in the end, in the moment of his death, you stood with him and felt generosity in your heart, and felt sadness at his passing. And against your own anger in his last revelations of his part in the death of Grady, you threw aside your pain and anger and forgave him, and even wanted to save him.

  How can I know the tale of Jilseponie and Brother Francis and not believe in redemption?

  So many times since my defeat and exile have I been told that I was tainted in the womb, that the demon dactyl, in battling my mother, had found a way to paint my heart with its darkness. I do not doubt that there is some truth to this, for those who have made the claim, from Lady Dasslerond of the Touel’alfar to my mother herself, who lies forever still beneath this freshly tilled ground, knew well the evils of her great foe.

  But the demon I harbored from my past, the stain of Bestesbulzibar that infected my soul when I was a babe in the womb, is no excuse. The dark influences that weighed upon me, whether by Marcalo De’Unnero or the dactyl demon itself, do not exempt me from blame, do not diminish the truth that it was I, Aydrian, who ultimately made the choices. It was I who exacted suffering upon others for the sake of personal gain and glory.

  We are not trapped by heritage or by childhood. When we come of age and discover the ability to see the world as it is around us, the choices we make, whatever our demons, are our own.

  The love my mother held for me was lasting and generous, and so many times those who love us will offer such excuses, blaming friends and peers for taking us down a dangerous and dark path.


  No, I say.

  Simply no.

  I reject your excuses, beloved mother, even as I weep for losing you. Whether or not the demon dactyl did as you believed, and so cursed me with blackness in my heart, I long ago accepted the responsibility for my actions.

  That acceptance has not broken me—far from it! And that darkness, whatever its root, does not remain within the heart of Aydrian Wyndon. I have passed my third decade of life now, my heart is clear, my mind uncluttered, my course vivid in my mind.

  I believe in redemption, but only because I believe that I must redeem myself. Not for any personal gain, not even for some ephemeral concept of honor—except as doing so would honor you, and Elbryan my father, and the work you both undertook and the good you both accomplished.

  I have forgiven myself and dismissed my shame at my failures, and the dark reflection I cast upon Elbryan and Jilseponie, the heroes of Honce.

  But only because I know that that darkness is now no more.

  We cannot change our past, and denying it serves no good end. For changing how we speak about it might deceive others, but not ourselves. Those chapters are written, the words are clear, the ink dried. But the book is not complete so long as we draw breath.

  This, then, is my vow to you, Jilseponie, my mother. I will write better chapters.

  Aydrian Wyndon, Jilseponie’s graveside eulogy

  1

  THE WORLD BEYOND THE WORLD

  (The last day of the ninth month, Parvespers, God’s’Year 839)

  The long arms of the strong and lanky boatman reached far ahead, slowly and silently dipping the paddle through the glassy surface of the giant mountain lake. He had never been formally trained, but still, the clever frontiersman moved the paddle so gracefully and smoothly, barely disturbing the water, and thus, not disturbing the huge and ferocious monsters that lived in the deep waters of Loch Beag.

  Talmadge wore his hair long and beard thick and both showed a deep mix of red and dark brown. He kept his hair pulled back, sometimes tied and sometimes loose, but always with a thin braid pulled aside and hanging from beside his left ear and over his left shoulder. “Something to chew on,” he often said, and often did, using the braid as a constant reminder to pay attention to every detail, to watch for every sign and potential threat. Talmadge had lost track of his own age, but he knew that he had passed his twentieth year. That simple fact proved to any who knew this dangerous land that he still had much to learn, for though he had spent the entirety of his adult life and even much of his midteen years on his own out here in the western wilds, beyond even the Wilderlands, and far, far from the borders of the civilized kingdom known as Honce-the-Bear, Talmadge was still green compared with the other trappers and traders, still of the age where it was expected that he would meet a terrific and horrific ending. The gatherings of the frontiersmen were full of such stories.

 

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