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Excerpt from Knifesworn by Mazarkis Williams (and giveaway)

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Excerpt from Knifesworn by Mazarkis Williams (and giveaway)


KNIFESWORN

By Mazarkis Williams

§

Thrashing churned the water, white foam, tinged brown with river mud. Grada knelt on a broad stone bedded in the shoreline, her arms elbow deep, wringing as she had wrung out the robes of the wealthy many times before.

Muscles bunched across her shoulders. Jenna had always said she was strong. Ox-strong, head-strong.

Further out the river slid past, green-brown, placid. Somewhere a widderil called out its three-note song with all its heart.

§

They had come from the thickness of the pomegranate grove, two of them sticky with sweat, laying down their pruning hooks as they saw her. Both of them old enough for wives, young enough for wickedness, stripped to loincloth and sandals, white-orange blossom from the second crop clinging to their chests and arms. The men had angled Grada’s way as she walked in the shade at the margins, where trees gave way to the river road.

‘Hey, girl!’ The taller of the two, both of them wiry with white teeth behind their grins.


Sometimes trouble sneaks up on you, but most of the time it comes waving a flag for any with eyes to see. Jenna, she’d never had the eyes the gods gave her – she had been blinded by too much trust. Happy though. A friend to the world, right until the day it upped and killed her.

‘Where are you off to?’ The second man, trouble right behind him swinging that flag.

‘I’ve business downriver,’ Grada had said. She backed pace by pace toward the obelisk set to mark the orchard’s boundary, some temple slab brought in from the desert. Its shadow reached out to touch her shoulders.

‘Have a pomegranate.’ The first man gestured back into the greenery, so lush it looked wrong, like sickness.

Had she been the one to offer fruit neither of them would take it from her, not from an Untouchable. But they would touch her.

‘Come and help yourself.’ His friend. ‘We’ve been plucking all day.’ He savoured ‘plucking’.

She stepped deeper into the shadow, wondering why they would want her. They would have wives at home, babies perhaps, girls in the Maze who might very well take their lust for a reed-net of pomegranates.

‘Don’t play games, now.’ The shorter one, friendly entreaties gone from his eyes. An old scar across his chest caught the sunlight, a thin white line.

Both came closer, taking turns to nibble away the distance, egging each other on. Don’t play games, now.

Grada’s hands went to the belt that cinched her robe. A simple length of knotted rope, slipped through a loop at one end, the final knot larger and set through with a heavy ring of iron.

‘I need to be on my way. I can’t stay.’ But she didn’t leave, didn’t step away from the stone at her back, rising above her. That would be foolish.

‘And we need you to stay.’ They brought the perfume of the trees with them, sweet and heady. The man grinned, an ugly thing that dropped away as he moved into the shadow.

Jenna called her strong like the ox, but it wasn’t a man’s strength. She could outwork a man, out endure one, but in the quick violence of a struggle the strength of men would tell against her. Grada pulled the rope from around her hips and her robes fell open. They had been white when she took them from Henma at the wash stones; now they carried a week of road dust.

‘Clever girl,’ said the shorter man with the scarred chest. Girl, he said, though he hadn’t any years on her.

‘I want to leave.’ She knew herself no beauty, a broad face sculpted without delicacy, a solid frame. They wanted her because they enjoyed taking. Men like to take more often than they like to be given.

She should have been scared. She wanted to know why she wasn’t scared. Just something else she had lost? Another part of her broken?

The tall man lunged and she swung. The iron ring hit his cheekbone. Grada heard bone break. He staggered away, both hands clamped to his eye, howling. His friend watched her, amazed.

‘Why did you do that?’ He didn’t seem able to grasp it.

‘Two against one isn’t fair,’ she said, wondering as she spoke them if the words were hers, or something left behind, something dropped by the Many in the shadows of her mind.She looped the rope back into its place, watching the men. The tall one walked into a tree, staggered, and sat down, blood leaking from under his hands. His friend didn’t seem to care, still wrestling with the injustice of it all.

‘We were just playing.’ He even seemed to believe it.

‘You would have let me go when you’d finished?’

She turned, knowing it wasn’t over, and walked toward the river.

‘Yes.’

A voice whispered that they would have buried her among the trees. Not a true voice, just an echo. Those hooks are meant for cutting, another whisperer, one that sounded eager enough to cut. A keen edge must be used, sooner not later. Sharpness is a challenge.

Grada heard scar-chest coming, feet pounding the hard-baked soil past the marker stone. Stupid. She had known he lacked the wit to creep. She had almost reached the point, the point beyond which he would have let her go, almost surprised herself. But he came, as she knew he would.

She ran too, skipping down the riverbank, barefoot, stone to stone. The look on his face – determination, eagerness, anger – all of it gone when she turned at the water’s edge and set her shoulder to receive him. He flew high as she took the impact and straightened, landing with a splash as wide as his surprise. Grada followed into the river and pulled her attacker into the shallows where she could drown him.

Thrashing churned the water, white foam, tinged brown with river mud. Grada knelt on a broad stone bedded in the shoreline, her arms elbow deep, wringing as she had wrung out the robes of the wealthy many times before.

And now, as the water calmed, as the thrashing of limbs surrendered to the cold and placid flow of the river, his face kept only a hint of surprise. She knelt on the rock, the river swirling cold about her arms, hands about his neck.

Somewhere in her a tongue remembered pomegranate. Hers? Had she eaten one? Imagined the pale jewels inside to be riches that might take her from the Maze? Had that been her?

His eyes on hers, the water sliding between their faces, streaming his hair. This nameless man.

She had throttled chickens with more emotion. Twisted their heads off and set the bodies still twitching in the basket, scaly legs still jerking as if to escape the hands that had plucked them from the yard.

Don’t play games now.

Grada stepped into the water and hauled him out, grunting with the effort. He lay half over her as she fell back onto the hot rock, a touch of the intimacy he’d been seeking. ‘Gods.’ She sucked in a breath. Men became so heavy when the life ran out of them, as if it had buoyed them all their days. She lay gasping, then pushed him off, slapped his face, made him cough. The fear that had hidden away all that time in the orchard now crept back in, hunched in the pit of her stomach, putting a tremble in her hands that was about more than wet robes. She stood up.

‘So I saved you.’ She looked down at the man, black hair plastered to the rock. Had it been Grada that saved him? Once her choices had been hers, spread out like Kento sticks – pick one, they’re all yours, but pick one. Every choice felt like a step away now, each one leading to a different person. The Many had left her, but their paths remained, tracks worn in the empty lands, a thousand cross-roads without sign or post.

And she walked on, water dripping to the dust, marking her trail like so many drops of blood.

§

Giveaway



The giveaway is open worldwide. Two winners will receive one signed trade paperback of The Emperor's Knife. You must be 18 years of age or older to participate. Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway rules are subject to change.

How to participate:
  • To enter the giveaway, e-mail me at staffersmusings@gmail.com, with the subject TEK and declare intention to participate.
    • You must include a valid mailing address in the e-mail. Failure to do so will result in disqualification.
    • One entry per person, or face disqualification.
    • Entries accepted until 11:59pm ET on August 12, 2012
    • Winners will be chosen by random sorting entries, and then using a random number generator.
    • There will be 2 winners who will receive 1 book each.
    Although not required, it sure would be nice if you:
    Good luck!

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    5 Comments:

    At July 24, 2012 at 9:59 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

    Well now *that* was an interesting encounter. Thanks for sharing, Maz. :)

     
    At July 24, 2012 at 10:50 AM , Blogger Gillian Swart said...

    I was chuckling ... until I wasn't anymore. Good job.

     
    At July 24, 2012 at 1:14 PM , Anonymous Courtney Schafer said...

    And here we have proof that KnifeSworn turned out awesome. :)

     
    At July 24, 2012 at 4:01 PM , Blogger Teresa said...

    I love Maz's voice and the whole theme with the patterns. The story moves on so many levels but is told so eloquently. I can't wait to read it! ;-)

     
    At July 30, 2012 at 2:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I can hardly wait for the second book -- and I'm still hoping to see both in a movie(s)!!!

     

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