Source by Sylvia Kelso
long novel length fantasy novel
Cover Art Caroline Husher
After their shattering departure from Amberlight, Telluir House has begun to rebuild in the mountain village of Iskarda – but even there, River politics remain a threat. When Tellurith and her consort receive the precious yet harrowing gift of a possible new form of the qherrique, only one solution offers protection for Iskarda and the qherrique both: leave Iskarda. Find the River’s Source.
The qherrique itself chooses Tellurith a company, of husbands, lovers, old friends and new, and their passage upRiver is accompanied by upheavals and catastrophe wherever they pass. Nor are things quieter downRiver, or n Iskarda itself. Before she can return, everything Tellurith has worked for threatens to crumble, as war flares along the River, among the fall and liberation of states, including Amberlight. It takes revelation, sacrifice, great loss, and an impossible hope’s fulfillment, to bring Tellurith and her company safely home from the Source, to a River that will never be the same again.
14th Day, 2nd Spring Moon.
My lady Tellurith
This is most embarrassing.
With my former—in my former position, the correct mode of address was always at my fingertips: “His Imperial Majesty, Antastes son of Thearkos, Overlord of Shirran, Riversrun, Mel’eth and Quetzistan, High King of the Sealands and Archipelagoes, Emperor of Dhasdein.” For feastday rituals, proclamations, dispatches announcing the successful closure of a campaign. “The Emperor Antastes”: for Court memoranda, official communiques.
Face to face, in audience chamber or presence room. With the exact shade of gratitude, pleasure, protest, outright anger, conveyed by the turn of voice and mouth and eyelids. As I chose.
How does one address the Head of Telluir House?
A—woman. Neither my sovereign nor my overlord, without titles, without fixed precedence. Whose folk accost her to her face as, “Tellurith,” or, at best, “Ruand.” Or, the River Lord marvel, as unceremoniously as, “’Rith” or, “Tel.” And in the open passageway.
“’Rith” is Iatha’s sole prerogative. Her Steward, Head’s right-?hand. Oldest comrade. More than friend.
As for “’Tel . . .’” A lover’s, a beloved’s impudence. That one cannot imagine suffered from any but the man who invented it.
~* * *~
Since this is clearly to be a draft, in which my pen has already run away with me, since I cannot conceive of—my ruler—reading such stuff, had I the face to inflict it on her, I may as well go on.
Very well, for the nonce—Tellurith:
I am supposed to report, from the House, for the House, on the state of affairs along the River and at home.
Here. In Iskarda.
Small. That is the most surprising thing. Oh yes, I was supposed to know that. Coming from Riversend, the Dhasdeini Court , the height of empire, the River’s greatest nation, I was supposed to find it so. But when the mules finally clambered round that last road-?bend, and the light caught on the ribboned tools and festival clothes and waiting faces—and beyond them the cup of the range-?front held the houses, sixty, seventy at most, high gables, weathered timber, faded paint, raw new blocks of rough-?cut stone, the huddle of outhouses and stock-?byres, the mud in the single uncobbled street . . .
Well. There is a view. Walk out the front-?door and the hill falls to it like a hawk’s plummet: fifty, a hundred miles of tawny ploughland, gray-?blue timber-?clots, the opulent green of newly risen grain. And the great band of the River, laid like a zone of argent and silver through the midst. If I have lost a world, I have prospect of another in exchange.
And the houses are sound. If the walls lack tapestries, and they are still struggling for any sort of running water, it is warm. There is food enough, if it has cost me a month of stomach gripes. Of all my renunciations, I never thought a decently milled poppy-?roll would be the worst loss of Dhasdein.
Work there is naturally in plenty. One confronts life’s staples bare: carry the water you wash with, chop and carry wood to heat you, cook the flour you ground, or the beast you have slain. Of that I was warned, at length, with relish stretching to the gruesome. I think they wanted to revel in it: the image of me with an axe in my hands—or my shins, no doubt—my fingernails broken and my back bent—or “pneumonia from chopping our firewood in the rain.”
In truth it took longer to settle quarters, for an unmarried, unrelated man, than it did to fathom my use. A single day found me in Zuri’s disemboweling clutches, the one thing I truly expected. What else, from the House’s chief intelligencer, with a man who had been in every secret council of Dhasdein?
Her lieutenant still turns to me at any River signal, demanding, “What’s behind this?”
And I have done my best for her. It is what earns me the water to wash, the blankets I sleep in—if there is one other thing I miss, it is linen sheets!—even the food I eat. But to fill the balance, the Craft-?heads have ruled that I should not be wasted—perhaps, entrusted?—with shovel or bucket or axe. Instead I am—
In Dhasdein’s terms, I suppose, I am a scribe.
Not a word current in Iskarda. Hanni, the only other whose value is in such skill, is the Head’s—aide? secretary? At all events, a place she has held since Amberlight. I, on the contrary, am no-?one’s adjunct. Instead, Iatha and Charras and the rest have decreed I am to go where there is writing and figuring’s need. Which has meant three days of four up at the quarry, working out tallies and weights. Whence I am fit to die of boredom, since in three days I could do it in my sleep.
Bless the days, then, when River news comes in. Couriered up on muleback, flashed by the signal towers, from up or down the River.
And most of it comes through Marbleport.
Also essential, also shrewdest good sense. There is a very good road, the way they have always packed the marble out, fifty miles of it from quarry to port, leading downstream. The way to the richest market, the quarter of greatest threat. Dhasdein.
So naturally, they have a factor to run the export business, and in their case, again only to be expected, the intelligence net. When Telluir was one of the Thirteen Houses who ruled Amberlight, the one thing they never scanted was intelligence.
Amberlight. Here, in the mountains, three years after the city’s fall, it looms above us like—an emperor. They talk about it continually, in nostalgia, in exasperation, when lack or longing overflow. “In Amberlight we had hot running water. And carpets. And coffee. And ivory, and ebony, and all the gold of the Riversrun.” And none of it is exaggeration. Amberlight was the River’s queen.
Because Amberlight had the qherrique.
~* * *~
I have touched that. With my own hands, a man’s hands, and was probably lucky to suffer no more than fingers knocked numb for five minutes or so. Everybody knows the stories, from legend to the yarns of siege-?survivors. Qherrique. Pearl-?rock. Used to rule the River. Used to power ships, and light-?guns, and horseless vehicles, used to light and warm whole Houses. Used by rulers to sway nations. Mined, shaped, tuned, sold, and worked by women alone.
That past I find wholly unimaginable. Amberlight: the city where women ruled. Where the whores are still men, and lower quarter men and women work together, and Uphill clans aspired to follow their bloodlines to the splendor of a House. Where they exposed three out of four boy babies, and married the men to four and five women together. And kept the survivors in the towers.
The Tower. When Sarth says it, you can hear the capital. But I can imagine what losing their child must mean to him. Because I know that, while he gave his other wife four daughters, he gave Tellurith three sons.
And all of them are dead.
A pity, in so many ways. A great pity. If I were to remember Court habits, I would speculate about the child they lost downriver, and whose paternity it showed. Alkhes, whose hair and eyes are blacker than Heartland ebony, slight and lithe and deadly as a Heartland tigersnake? Sarth, tall and splendid as a River-?god’s statue, with eyes as bronze as his waist-?long hair?
Probably it had the brandy-?colored eyes and sharp nose and high cheekbones that are pure Tellurith. Pure Amberlight.
Is there a demon in me, that I have ended here again?
Enough. I have a report to write. If this is a draft, let it function so.