Unformatted text preview: The Dark Defiles is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events,
locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Richard Morgan All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing
Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
DEL REY is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House,
Published in hardcover in Great Britain by Gollancz, a division of The Orion Publishing
Book design © Karin Battent
v3.2 Contents Cover
h Book I
Chapter 16 Chapter 17
Chapter 40 Chapter 41
Chapter 64 Chapter 65
Other Books by This
Author About the
Author Dinnae ask me how majic works … but wun way or
the uthir it canny be oll its craked up tae be or ah
suppose the wurld woold be toatally fukin wunderffil
an happy an aw that an folk woold live in peece an
harminy an so on; thatill be the day, if ye ask me.
Enyway its no like that ataw, so it isnay, an just as
well to, say I, coz utherwyse thay wooldnae need
peepil like me (an itid be ded fukin boarin to).
Naw, ahm doin no to bad these days; servises mutch in
The Bridge Call for justice or explanation, and the sea will
thunder back with its mute clamour. Men’s accounts
with the gods do not balance.
The Death of Tragedy BOOK I
Arse End of the World
Once there was a High Quest to Northern Lands, a Bright
Fellowship led out in Sunlit Glory by three Heroes from the Great
War, companied with the Finest Warriors and Wise Men of Empire,
and guided by an Angel fallen from On High …
The Grand Chronicle of Yhelteth
Court bard edition CHAPTER 1 “ ell, that’s that, I suppose.” Ringil
Eskiath weighed the desiccated human jawbone
glumly in the palm of his hand. He crouched on the edge of
the opened grave, fighting off a vague urge to jump down into it.
Looks cozy down there. Out of the wind, dark and warm …
He rubbed at his unshaven chin instead. Three days of stubble, rasping
on calloused fingers, itching on hollow cheeks. His cloak, puddled
about him where he crouched, was soiled at the border and soaking up
water from the rain-drenched grass. The shoulder of his sword arm
nagged from the unrelenting damp.
He shut out the ache and brooded on what lay below him in the grave.
They’d come a long way for this.
There wasn’t much—shards of wood that might once have formed a
casket, a few long strips of leather, cured stiff and crumbling. A mess
of small bone fragments, like the leavings of some overenthusiastic
soothsayer on the scry …
Gil sighed and levered himself back to his feet. Tossed the jawbone
back in with the rest.
“Fucking waste of five months.”
Shahn, the marine sergeant, who’d climbed back out of the grave and
now waited close by the mounds of earth his men had dug out. Behind
him, the work party stood around, soil- and sweat-streaked,
entrenching tools in hand, scowling against the weather. Whoever dug
this plot all those centuries ago, they’d chosen a spot close to the cliffs,
and right now there was a blustery wind coming in off the
ocean, laced with fistfuls of sleet and the promise of another storm.
The three Hironish guides they’d hired back in Ornley already had
their hoods up—they stood farther from the grave, watching the sky
and conversing in low tones.
Ringil brushed the traces of dirt off his hands.
“We’re all done here,” he announced loudly. “If this is the Illwrack
Changeling, the worms sorted him out for us awhile back. Stow tools,
let’s get back to the boats.”
A tremor of hesitation—hands working at tool handles, feet shifting.
The sergeant cleared his throat. Gestured halfheartedly at the softmounded earth beside the grave.
“Sire, should we not … ?”
“Fill that in?” Ringil grinned harshly. “Listen, if those bones stand up
and follow us down to the beach, I’ll be very surprised. But you know
what—if they do, I’ll deal with it.”
His words carved out their own patch of quiet in the rising wind.
Among the men, a touching of talismans. Some muttering.
Ringil cut them a surreptitious glance, counting faces without seeming
to. A couple of those he saw had been around when he took down the
kraken, but most were on the other ships at the time; or they were
aboard Dragon’s Demise but in their bunks. It had been a filthy
night anyway—rain and howling wind, bandlight muffled up in thick,
scudding cloud, and the encounter was over almost as soon as it began.
All but a handful missed the action.
They had reports from their comrades, of course, but Ringil couldn’t
blame them for doubting it. Killing a kraken, at the height and heart
an ocean storm by night—yeah, right. It was a stock scene out of myth, a
lantern-light story to frighten the cabin boy with. It was a fucking tale.
It was five weeks now, and no one was calling him Krakenbane that
He supposed it was for the best. He’d held enough commands in the
past to know how it went. Best not to disabuse your men of their tightheld notions, whatever those might be. That went in equal measure for
those who doubted him and those who told tales of his prowess. The actual truth would probably scare both parties out of
their wits, and that, right here and now, was going to be
They were twitchy enough as it was.
He faced them. Put one booted foot on the forlorn, shin-high chunk of
mossed-over granite that served the grave as marker. He pitched his
voice for them all to hear—pearls of dark wisdom from the swordsman
sorcerer in your midst.
“All right, people, listen up. Anyone wants to sprinkle salt, go right
ahead, get it done. But if we stay here to fill this hole in, we’re going to
He nodded westward, out to sea. It was not long past noon, but the sour
afternoon light was already closing down. Clouds raced in from the
north, boiling up like ink poured in a glass of water. Overhead, the sky
was turning the black of a hanged man’s face.
Yeah—be calling that an omen before you know it.
took point on the
meandering sheep track that brought them down off the cliffs. Set a
punishing pace over the yielding, peaty ground. No one made the
mistake of trying to stay abreast or talk to him.
HIS MOOD DIDN’T IMPROVE MUCH ON THE WAY BACK TO THE BOATS. HE By way of contrast, there was raucous good cheer at his back. The
marines had loosened up with the permission to lay wards. Now they
tramped boisterously along behind him, good-natured bickering and
jeering in the ranks. It was as if they’d poured out their misgivings
with the salt from their tooled leather bags, left it all behind them in the
tiny white traceries they’d made.
Which, Ringil supposed, they had, and wasn’t that the whole point of
But he was honest enough to recognize his own released tension as
well. Because, despite all the other pointless, empty graves, despite his
own increasingly solid conviction that they were wasting their time,
he, too, had gone up to those cliffs expecting a fight.
Wanting a fight.
Little vestiges of the feeling still quivered at the nape of his neck and
in his hands. Enough to know it had been there, even if he hadn’t spotted it at the time.
Last resting place of the Illwrack
This being the ninth last resting place to date. The ninth grave of the
legendary Dark King they’d dug up, only to find the detritus of
common mortality beneath.
Has to be an easier way to do this shit.
Really, though, there wasn’t, and he knew it. They were all strangers
here, himself included. Oh, he’d read about the Hironish isles in his
father’s library as a boy, learned the arid almanac facts from his tutors.
And growing up in Trelayne he’d known a handful of people who’d
spent time there in exile. But this was not knowledge with practical
application, and anyway it was decades out of date. Fluent Naomic
aside, he had no useful advantage over his fellow expedition members.
Meanwhile, Anasharal the Helmsman, full of ancient unhuman
knowing when they planned the expedition back in Yhelteth last year,
was now proving remarkably cagey about specifics. The Kiriath
demon was either unwilling or unable to point them with any clarity
to the Changeling’s grave, and instead suggested—somewhat haughtily—
that they do the legwork themselves and inquire of the locals. I fell
from on high for your benefit, went the habitual gist of the lecture.
Is it my fault that I no longer have the vision I gave up in
order to bring my message to you? I have steered you to
journey’s end. Let human tongues do the rest.
But the Hironish islanders were a notoriously closed-mouth bunch
—even Gil’s dull-as-dishwater tutors had mentioned that. Historically,
they’d been know to harbor popular pirates and tax evaders despite
anything the League’s heavy-handed customs officers could do about
it. To lie with impassive calm in the face of threats, to spit with
contempt at drawn steel, and to die under torture rather than give up a
So they certainly weren’t about to spill the secrets of settled
generations to some bunch of poncey imperials who showed up from
the alien south and started asking oh, hey, we hear there’s this dark
lord out of legend buried around here somewhere. Any chance
you could take us to him?
Not just like that, anyway.
It took a week of careful diplomacy in and out of the taverns in Ornley
and then out to the hamlets and crofts beyond, just to find a handful of
locals who would talk to them. It took soft words and coin and endless
rounds of drinks. And even then, what these men had to say was sparse
—the Illwrack Changeling, hmm, yes, that’d be the one from
the dwenda legend. But he was never buried up here, the
dwenda took him away in a shining longship, to where the
band meets the ocean …
—crucified him on Sirk beach for a betrayer, was what I
heard, facing the setting sun as he died. His followers took
him down three days later and buried him. It’s that grave up
behind the old whaler’s temple.
—the Illwrack Betrayer was brought to the Last Isle, to the
Chain’s Last Link, just as the legends say. But the isle only
manifests to mortal eyes at spring solstice, and even then,
only with much purifying prayer. To land there would require
an act of great piety. You should ask at the monastery on Glin
cliffs, perhaps they can make offerings for you when you
return next year.
Yeah, that’s right—jeers from further down the tavern bar—you
should ask his brother out at Glin. Never known him turn
down a request for intercession if it came weighted with
enough coin …
You know, I’ve had about enough out of you whelps. My
brother’s a righteous man, not like some worthless bastard
sons I could—
They’d had to break that one up with fists. Start all over again.
—the grave you seek is on a promontory of the Gray Gull
peninsula, no more than a day’s march north of here. On
approach, Gray Gull may seem a separate island, but do not
be deceived. Certain currents cause the inlets to fill enough at
certain times to make it so—but you can always cross, at
worst you might have to wade waist deep. And most of the time,
you won’t even get your boots wet.
Hagh!—a graybeard fishing skipper hawks and spits something
unpleasantly yellow onto the tavern’s sawdust floor, rather close to Ringil’s boot—not going to find that grave this side of hell!
That’s where the Aldrain demons took that one—screaming
to hell! No, no, my lords, forgive him, this is just fisherfolk
superstition. The last human son of Illwrack is buried at the
compass crossroads, on a rise just south of here. Some say
the hill itself is the Changeling’s barrow.
—the truth, my lords, is that the dwenda hero was laid to rest
in the stone circle at Selkin, where his retainers …
It was a lot of digging.
But in the absence of the imperial expedition’s other main prize— the
legendary floating city of An-Kirilnar, which they also couldn’t seem
to find right now—there really wasn’t much else to do but tramp out to
site after site and dig until disappointed.
DISAPPOINTMENT IS A SLOW POISON. Initially, and for some of the closer sites, practically every figure of note
on the expedition tagged along. There was still a palpable air of journey’s
end hanging over them all at that point—a sense that after
planning, all those sea miles covered, this was it. And whatever it was,
no one wanted to miss it.
True above all for Mahmal Shanta—he went out of sheer academic
curiosity and at the cost of some substantial personal discomfort. Really
too old for a voyage into such cold climes anyway, Shanta was still getting
over flu and had to be carried on a covered litter by six servants, which
was awkward over rough ground and slowed everybody else down. Gil
rolled his eyes at Archeth, but in the end what were you going to do?
The naval engineer was a primary sponsor of the expedition; his
family’s shipyards had built two of the three vessels they sailed in and
reconditioned the third, and even in illness he held onto stubborn and
canny command of the flagship Pride of Yhelteth.
If anyone had earned the right, it was Shanta.
Archeth’s reasons for riding along were twofold, and a little more
pragmatic. She went because she was overall expedition leader and it
was expected of her. But more than that, she badly needed something
to take her mind off the lack of any Kiriath architecture standing above
the waves offshore. Not finding An-Kirilnar had hit her hard.
Marine commander Senger Hald went ostensibly to supervise those of his men detailed to the search, but really to put an unquestionable
marine boot on the proceedings. And Noyal Rakan went beside him, to
show the Throne Eternal flag and remind everyone who was supposed
to be in charge. The two men were coolly amicable, but the
interservice rivalry was never far beneath the surface, in them or in the
men they commanded.
Lal Nyanar, captain of the Dragon’s Demise mostly on account of
Shab Nyanar’s substantial investment in the expedition, went along
even when the prospecting was done overland, apparently out of some
belief that he was representing his absent father’s interests in the quest.
Gil didn’t really begrudge him; Nyanar wasn’t much of a sea captain—
the sinecure commands his father had secured for him back in Yhelteth
were largely ceremonial or involved river vessels—but he did at least
know how to follow orders. Out of sight of his ship, he deferred to the
expedition leaders and kept his head down.
The same could not be said of the others.
Of the expedition’s other investors who’d actually made the trip north,
Klarn Shendanak stuck close to the action because he didn’t trust
Empire men any further than you could throw one, and that included
Archeth Indamaninarmal, jet-skinned half-human imperial cypher that
she was. Menith Tand followed suit and stuck close to Shendanak
because he harbored a standard Empire nobleman’s distaste for the
Majak’s rough-and-ready immigrant manners and would not be oneupped. And Yilmar Kaptal went along because he mistrusted both
Shendanak and Tand in about equal measure. The three of them didn’t
quite spit at each other outright, but having them at your back was like
leading a procession of alley cats. Shendanak never went anywhere
without an eight-strong honor guard of thuggish-looking second
cousins fresh down from the steppes, which in turn meant that Tand
brought along a handful of his own mercenary crew to balance the
equation, and Kaptal flat-out demanded that Rakan muster a squad of
Throne Eternal just in case …
Egar usually tagged along at Gil’s shoulder just to see if there’d be any
kind of fight.
would prove to
contain nothing but the skeleton of a badly deformed sheep, Ringil
ONE GRAY MORNING, ON THE WAY TO A TALISMAN-WARDED GRAVE THAT stopped and looked back from the top of a low rise, squinting against
the rain. The whole bedraggled entourage spilled up the trail behind
him like the survivors of a shipwreck. He reckoned sourly that he
hadn’t seen such a mess since he led the expeditionary retreat back to
Gallows Gap eleven years ago.
Bit harsh, was Egar’s considered opinion. On the expeditionary, I
mean. That was an army we had. You imagine trying to lead
this lot into a battle and out the other side? We’ll be lucky if
they’re not all at each other’s throats before noon.
Don’t, Ringil told him wearily. Just—don’t.
They went. They dug. Found nothing and came back, mostly in the
But—to the Dragonbane’s evident disappointment—there never was a
Instead, Gil’s train of gawkers and minders slowly began to whittle
away in the face of repeated letdown and the godawful weather. Each
found other, more compelling matters to occupy them. Archeth
withdrew into brooding isolation aboard Sea Eagle’s Daughter,
and could occasionally be heard right across the harbor, yelling abuse
at Anasharal in the High Kir tongue. Nyanar went back to residence
aboard Dragon’s Demise, where he instructed and supervised an
endless series of small deck repairs and wrote self-importantly about it
in the captain’s log. On the shore side of things, Yilmar Kaptal took to
his rooms at the inn on Gull’s Flight wynd and asked Rakan for a brace
of Throne Eternal to guard his door. Shendanak and Tand stomped
about the streets of Ornley, shadowed by their men, glaring at the
locals and each other whenever they crossed paths. Desperate to bring
the temperature down, Hald and Rakan both habitually stayed in town
with the bulk of their respective commands, put their men through
punishing work schedules, held exhaustive training sessions, and did
anything they could to head off the simmering sense of boredom and
Egar found himself some local whores.
And Mahmal Shanta sat with a racking cough in his stateroom aboard
the flagship Pride of Yhelteth, spitting up phlegm, drinking hot herbal
infusions, and poring over charts, all the while trying to pretend he
was not planning their empty-handed return home. The search went on, pared back to Ringil and a marine detachment
under Hald’s occasional command to do the digging. The unspoken
understanding—Gil was the sharp end. He had the spells and the alien
iron blade; if the Illwrack Changeling popped up out of the next grave
in fighting temper, Ringil was the man to put him down. As they
exhausted the more promising fragments of legend and hearsay closer
to town, Nyanar and Dragon’s Demise were detailed to carry them
whenever a site was—or was reputed to be—sailing distance away.
Which was all the time these days.
It was starting to feel like clutching at straws. Like going through the
motions. Gil’s patience, never his strong suit, was frayed down to
shreds. The itch to kill something stalked him day and night. What he
wouldn’t give for the Illwrack Changeling to erupt from the damp
earth and grass right in front of him right now, sword in hand, undead
He’d cut the fucker down like barley.
The sheep track wound its unhurried way across the shoulder of the
hill, dropping by hairpin increments into the valley below. A couple of
ruined crofts showed hearth...
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