So, I’ve finished the first revision of the first draft of DOOR INTO LIGHT, the sequel to HOUSE OF SHADOWS. Of it goes to Caitlin! I’m sure she will have suggestions, I’m sure they will be more extensive suggestions than I would really prefer, and I’m sure they will be pretty much on target.
But for the next month or two, I’ll be thinking about other projects. For example, the whole plot of another Black Dog short story suddenly worked itself out for me, so I will probably write that over the next couple of days. Then, of course, I had better get back into THE WHITE ROAD, which is (in case you are keeping track) due in September.
Meanwhile, though, I thought you all might like to see the first ten or so pages of DOOR INTO LIGHT. So, here. Warning: it’s kind of a teaser.
Three weeks before the spring solstice, a new door appeared in the long hallway at the front of the house.
That alone was not particularly surprising. Such things happened in this house, which long ago a mage had built as much of magic as of the stone of the surrounding mountains. It had been made to contain doorways visible and invisible, as Taudde had certainly known when he agreed to reside in it. Even after more than two months living in and studying this house, it still seemed to him that the house was not so much unpredictable as possessed of a strong sense of whimsy. Doors appeared and disappeared; or hallways that yesterday had led to the library now unexpectedly opened out directly onto the shale beach below the Laodd; or stairways that had always turned right suddenly turned left and led one to an entire floor whose existence one had not suspected. Taudde certainly would not claim to understand this house. It stood, he was suspected, beneath the shadow of more than one mountain, just as its doors opened to more than one country.
Nevertheless, he had more than half expected this particular new door to appear. He had almost been waiting for it. Despite this, he still found himself surprised when it arrived, or when the house revealed it. Taudde had anticipated the appearance of this door and dreaded it, both at once. But he had tended to look for it to appear on some day safely tucked into the future. Not now. Not today. Not this precise moment.
And now it was here, as solid and obvious as though it had been built right into this hallway from the beginning.
Nemienne had been the first to notice it, but fortunately she had been wise enough to stop with a mere glance through this newest whimsy of the house. She had not set foot on the other side of the door, but instead had run to find Taudde. Taudde was glad of her caution. He had not quite known whether he was pleased at the news or not, but he knew with clear certainty he did not want Nemienne stepping through this particular doorway to explore the land beyond. She was too obviously a girl of Lonne, and he knew where this door must lead, at least broadly, which was . . . not to any place near Lonne.
Nemienne had been plainly fascinated by the new door, but she had also obviously been torn – she had been on her way to visit her sister when she had found it. Taudde had sent her on, with a message for Leilis. He would have no choice but to venture this door soon, for the solstice loomed ahead of them all. He dared not delay very long, but he rather hoped Leilis might be willing to accompany him when he did.
The new door was not quite in line with any of the ones that were already there. It stood nearly across from the door that led to the beech wood, offset from the door that led into the dark beneath the mountains. Yesterday that whole expanse of polished wooden paneling had held nothing more interesting than a hook for a lantern. An empty hook; a lantern had not even hung there. Now there was this entirely new door between dawn and noon, tight-closed but fraught with the possibility that it might open.
It stood between two high, narrow windows. Brilliant sunlight blazed through the nearer of the two; silver moonlight glimmered through the other. Between day and dark stood this door: solid, weathered, and ordinary, exactly as though it was a normal door and had always waited there for a hand to fling it wide. Though it did not match any other door in the house, somehow it did not look out of place. Its frame had been hewn roughly out of granite. The door itself was of common pine, the wood neither stained nor painted nor carved with any decorative figures nor even planed entirely smooth. If Taudde opened that door . . . if he opened it, he knew exactly the wind, fragrant with pine forests and woodsmoke and the cold, clean scent of the winter lingering in the heights, that would skirl out of the distant mountains and into this house.
“Well? Will you open it, or do you merely mean to admire it as it stands?” inquired a light, quick voice at his shoulder. It was a voice that, to Taudde, was unmistakably underlain with an echo of the dragon’s voice. When ordinary men called Prince Tepres the Dragon’s heir, they were generally thinking merely of the king, Geriodde Nerenne ken Seriantes, the infamous Dragon of Lirionne. But ordinary men neither knew of the true dragon beneath the mountain nor possessed Taudde’s trained ear.
Taudde glanced back. He had, in gazing at the new door, almost forgotten that he was not alone in this house. Now he began to answer, but hesitated.
Prince Tepres stepped past him, closer to the door, glancing sidelong at Taudde as he moved. “It is very plain,” the prince observed. “Stark, perhaps. Very like the mountains of Kalches, perhaps. I do not give you leave to step through, mind,” he added. “But you surely wish to look. Or I might lay my hand to it, if you are not inclined to open it.”
Behind Taudde, Jeres Geliadde, the prince’s companion and bodyguard, cleared his throat.
“Or, then, perhaps not,” Prince Tepres conceded, tilting a straw-pale eyebrow at Jeres. He did not touch the door, but half turned to give his bodyguard an ironic look. The prince’s thin, arrogant mouth seemed made for irony. He said drily, “I am aware that some doors are not meant to be opened.”
“Not by you, at least, eminence,” murmured Jeres. “Nor by Chontas Taudde ser Omientes ken Lariodde – or assuredly not without your father’s leave.”
Taudde said nothing, feeling considerably more off balance than he had expected.
The prince gave him a sharp look and said more gently, “Of course I, or my father, shall give you leave to go. But in a day, perhaps. Or two, if you will delay so long. There is time. The solstice is close, yes, but it is not yet. You may surely take a day to . . .” he paused.
“Prepare for the journey? Consider how I will greet my grandfather?” Taudde steadied himself with an effort of will and gave the prince an ironic look of his own. “I am prepared now. I have hardly considered any other matter this past spring, I assure you.” Though he had never yet seized a moment to ask Leilis if she might be willing to accompany him, which perhaps revealed a lack of enthusiasm for the proposed journey. He longed to return to Kalches, land of music and sorcery and the high winds that both cut like knives and sang like harps . . . his home. But he dreaded his return, too. Though he did look forward to introducing Leilis to his grandfather; he wanted to watch the old man try the edge of his tongue against her wit and unshakable composure.
But he had not asked her. He knew this was because he had not been certain how she would answer. Suddenly Taudde felt profoundly underprepared.
“Then perhaps you will take one last day to consider how you will take your leave of my father,” Prince Tepres said, still almost gently. And added, at Taudde’s slight, involuntary flinch, “He will assuredly give you leave to go. Surely you do not doubt it?”
“No,” said Taudde. He did not, generally, except occasionally late at night when he could not sleep and found all possible worries for the future crowding into his mind, until he didn’t know which he should fear or which he might reasonably dismiss. There were so many, and so many hinged on the solstice. He took a slow breath, but let it out again without speaking.
“No,” repeated the prince. “Indeed. He will be sorry to lose you, but glad to see you go. Indeed, you have left it rather late. I think we may all be confident that he should be glad to give you leave now.”
Taudde began to answer, but was startled by a sudden hammering on the door – not the new one; that would have been far beyond startling, but the ordinary door that simply opened out onto the Lane of Shadows. All through Lonne’s spring and early summer, he had found that door always in the same place, and always opened it to find nothing but the expected city street. And he had had these months to become accustomed to people of Lonne coming and going from this house: young mages, who came to study bardic sorcery; or the occasional tradesman unafraid to venture the Lane of Shadows. Prince Tepres, of course, or one or another of the young men who were his companions. Now and again, on a few memorable occasions, the king himself.
None of them had a knock quite of this sort. There was a disconcerting violence in it. Jeres Geliadde, the prince’s bodyguard, did not knock like that. Nor did the guardsmen who accompanied the king. Some of the mages were angry to be set to studying bardic sorcery . . . angrier, sometimes, to be commanded to teach a bardic sorcerer their magecraft in return. But that offended pride was not what he heard in this knock.
Prince Tepres, quirking a pale eyebrow at the intrusion, stepped forward to answer that hammering. It was not his place to do so, but he might have meant to reprimand whomever was there for so rude a summons. Certainly whoever pounded roughly on the door would be embarrassed to find he had summoned not a mere foreigner but the Dragon’s own heir.
Taudde, moved by an alarm he did not entirely understand, said sharply, “Wait!” just as the prince reached the door.
The prince, startled, turned his head, to look back at Taudde.
Jeres Geliadde, responding perhaps to the alarm in Taudde’s voice, strode suddenly forward, his hand dropping to the hilt of his sword.
The prince’s hand fell on the latch. The latch dropped and turned under the pressure of that touch.
The door slammed open.
For a heartbeat, that was all. There were men there, poised on the weathered gray stone of the porch, a crowd of men: a few in the black of the King’s Own and a handful in the flat red and gray of the army; two men in the black and white robes of mages, and, most fraught of all, two men in black and slate and sapphire, but with those darker colors touched with the saffron-gold that no one in Lonne but those of royal blood had any right to wear. The one in the forefront was a man nearing middle years, heavyset and hard-featured, powerful and angry. The man a step behind was younger and more elegant, with a narrow mouth and small chin; his angular eyes cold with bitter triumph.
Taudde had never met either man, but he knew at once who they must be: the younger must be Prince Telis, whom the folk of Lonne called Sa-Telis, the serpent, even to his face. He had a serpent’s look to him: a cold look. He was said to be mage-gifted and clever and dangerous to cross.
And the one in front had to be Prince Sehonnes, eldest of the king’s left-hand sons, but keiso-born and thus not his father’s heir.
Not the king’s heir so long as Prince Tepres lived.
For a long, reverberating moment, not one man in that crowd moved or spoke. There were drawn swords in all their hands, but not one man moved to strike at Prince Tepres. Taudde did not know what held them. He did not imagine it would hold them long. His flute, recently carved of driftwood he had gathered himself from the broken shore below the Laodd, was in his hand. It had come there as automatically as Jeres Geliadde had drawn his own sword. But it was not the same as his old flute, which Taudde missed suddenly and acutely.
Jeres would have leaped forward, he had his hand on his prince’s arm, ready to snatch him back from danger. But Prince Tepres flung up a hand to check him and by that seemed to check them all; he did not move, and no one else moved, and so the moment drew out, tension singing in the air until it became all but audible.
Prince Sehonnes, too, held up his hand. He, as Tepres, might have meant to restrain his men. But there was something else in the gesture. Something ostentatious, something that was meant for display: Look at me, like a vain boy showing off a new and expensive bauble to his friends.
Prince Tepres was staring at Sehonnes, at his hand . . . at the ring he wore: a heavy iron ring in the shape of a dragon, with twin rubies for eyes. Their father’s ring. The ring of the Dragon of Lirionne.
Tepres had paled. His thin mouth set hard and stern, and he put his shoulders back and stood very straight. He looked, in that moment, very like his father.
“Brother,” said Prince Sehonnes, grimly, and Sa-Telis added, sharp and urgent, “I want the sorcerer alive!”
Tepres tried to swing the door closed. The heavy gauntleted hand of one of the soldiers caught it, a booted foot came down to brace it open, a sword went up . . . Jeres jerked his prince back and caught that descending blade with his own shorter blade, closing with the other man to counteract the advantage of reach the longer sword gave the soldier, shoving the man back out onto the porch with his weight and the sheer force of his will. But Jeres was only one man, and the door was still open.
Tepres, unarmed, reached after a sword he did not have.
Taudde lifted his flute, meaning to get those men off his porch and sweep the left-hand princes after them – perhaps he would fling them all into the dark under the mountain; he thought he could and was frightened and angry enough to try. But the mages blocked him, Sa-Telis stepping to the side to get a clear view of Taudde. Of course the mage-prince and his allies had known Taudde would be here. Both those mages had actually studied with him – he recognized them now – they knew very little sorcery and pretended to scorn what little they knew, but they knew him a little, and they had plainly come prepared to counter his sorcery.
And Taudde, who had devoted considerable thought during the past winter to ways in which a bardic sorcerer might avoid being caught in a magecrafted net of silence, found himself, in the moment in which it mattered, unprepared to meet them. He had more or less trusted the Dragon of Lirionne; he had not expected the door of this house to open onto enemies and sudden battle.
So he was not quick enough to answer the attack when the mageworking set itself against him, binding him into silence so that his flute uttered no sound, so that his shout of frustration fell into silence and was utterly lost. Taudde found himself unable to unravel that mageworking as fast and as powerfully as the two mages set it.
Out on the porch men struggled, but Taudde, caught by a web of magecrafted silence, could not hear them. Jeres had killed one man. Another of his attackers, slashed across the belly, folded slowly down over his terrible wound. The man’s mouth was open, but if he was screaming, Taudde could not hear him, either. Prince Sehonnes’ mouth was open as well, but he seemed to be shouting rather than screaming. He was pressing straight forward through the melee, toward Prince Tepres. One soldier had gotten around Jeres – there were too many men, far too many, they were getting in each other’s way, but that wouldn’t last and anyone could see how this particular battle must end. But Tepres, unarmed save for a short belt knife, was actually stepping forward to face his attackers. Taudde started forward, meaning to grab his arm and haul him bodily back farther into the house, which after all was not an ordinary house – there was no need, even now, for heroic last stands, but with the silence on him he could not even say so.
Jeres Geliadde faced two more armed men, but another man, behind him, kicked him behind the knee, and Jeres collapsed to one knee. The man drew back his sword for a killing thrust . . . and Jeres, his face blank, lunged upward and sideways and whirled his sword around in a short, vicious arc. Prince Sehonnes’ hand leaped up away from his arm, seemingly of its own accord, blood spraying across the gray stone. The left-hand prince staggered, his expression one of disbelief and anger rather than pain. At the same time, the man behind Jeres completed his thrust, and Jeres, his body fully extended in his own smooth attack, could not even attempt to counter that blow. He did not counter it, and the sword slid into him, stabbing from back to front so that several inches of the blade emerged from his chest.
Despite that terrible blow, Jeres, in a smooth continuation of his own movements, as though stepping through the choreographed movements of a dance, caught Sehonnes’ amputated hand as it descended and flung it with deadly accuracy past half a dozen startled soldiers and through the door of the house. Where Prince Tepres, as though the move had been practiced in advance, put up his own hand and caught it.
For a moment that seemed caught out of time, everyone stopped. Prince Sehonnes, face twisted, clutched at his arm. Even the serpent-prince hesitated, his dark eyes narrowed, to all appearances unmoved, but his attention momentarily fixed on his stricken brother.
Taudde, feeling as though he had been somehow caught in a play, was seized now by a wild desire to laugh. He seized Tepres’ arm in a hard grip and pulled him, resist though he would, back down the hall, and the pause shattered. In perfect silence their enemies came after them, rushing forward – too many and too well armed and nothing to laugh at, so that Prince Tepres yielded at last and backed up willingly, but too late, anyone could see they would not be able to get clear.
In that instant, without thought, Taudde seized the knob he found ready under his hand, flung open the door, and snatched Prince Tepres sideways out of the house and out of Lonne entirely, into sudden dazzling cold.