After their adventures on the high seas, Locke and Jean are brought back to earth with a thump. Jean is mourning the loss of his lover and Locke must live with the fallout of crossing the all-powerful magical assassins, the Bonds Magi. It is a fallout that will pit both men against Locke's own long lost love. Sabetha is Locke's childhood sweetheart, the love of Locke's life and now it is time for them to meet again. Employed on different sides of a vicious dispute between factions of the Bonds, Sabetha has just one goal - to destroy Locke for ever. The Gentleman Bastard sequence has become a literary sensation in fantasy circles and now, with the third book, Scott Lynch is set to seal that success.
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Scott Lynch was born in 1978 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and currently lives in Wisconsin. In addition to being a freelance writer for various role-playing game companies he has done all the usual jobs writers put in their bios: dishwasher, waiter, web designer, marketing writer, office manager and short-order cook.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“I CANNOT tell you now;
When the wind’s drive and whirl
Blow me along no longer,
And the wind’s a whisper at last—-
Maybe I’ll tell you then
some other time.”
from “The Great Hunt”
THINGS GET WORSE
Weak sunlight against his eyelids drew him out of sleep. The brightness intruded, grew, made him blink groggily. A window was open, letting in mild afternoon air and a freshwater smell. Not Camorr. Sound of waves lapping against a sand beach. Not Camorr
He was tangled in his sheets again, light-headed. The roof of his mouth felt like sun--dried leather. Chapped lips peeled apart as he croaked, “What are you . . .”
“Shhhh. I didn’t mean to wake you. The room needed some air.” A dark blur on the left, more or less Jean’s height. The floor creaked as the shape moved about. Soft rustle of fabric, snap of a coin purse, clink of metal. Locke pushed himself up on his elbows, prepared for the dizziness. It came on punctually.
“I was dreaming about her,” he muttered. “The times that we . . . when we first met.”
“Her. You know.”
“Ah. The canonical her.” Jean knelt beside the bed and held out a cup of water, which Locke took in his shaking left hand and sipped at gratefully. The world was slowly coming into focus.
“So vivid,” said Locke. “Thought I could touch her. Tell her . . . how sorry I am.”
“That’s the best you can manage? Dreaming of a woman like that, and all you can think to do with your time is apologize?”
“Hardly under my control—-”
“They’re your dreams. Take the reins.”
“I was just a little boy, for the gods’ sakes.”
“If she pops up again move it forward ten or fifteen years. I want to see some blushing and stammering next time you wake up.”
“Out for a bit. Making my rounds.”
“Jean, there’s no point. Quit torturing yourself.”
“Finished?” Jean took the empty cup from him.
“Not nearly. I—-”
“Won’t be gone long.” Jean set the cup on the table and gave the lapels of his coat a perfunctory brushing as he moved to the door. “Get some more rest.”
“You don’t bloody listen to reason, do you?”
“You know what they say about imitation and flattery.”
The door slid shut and Jean was gone, out into the streets of La-
Lashain was famous as a city where anything could be bought and anything could be left behind. By the grace of the regio, the city’s highest and thinnest order of nobility (where a title that could be traced back more than two generations qualified one for the old guard), just about anyone with cash in hand and enough of a pulse to maintain semiconsciousness could have their blood transmuted to a reasonable facsimile of blue.
From every corner of the Therin world they came—-merchants and criminals, mercenary captains and pirates, gamblers and adventurers and exiles. As commoners they entered the chrysalis of a countinghouse, shed vast quantities of precious metal, and as newborn peers of Lashain they emerged into daylight. The regio minted demibarons, barons, viscounts, counts, and even the occasional marquis, with styles largely of their own invention. Honors were taken from a list and cost extra; “Defender of the Twelvefold Faith” was quite popular. There were also half a dozen meaningless orders of knighthood that looked marvelous on a coat lapel.
Because of the novelty of this purchased respectability to those who brokered it for themselves, Lashain was the most violently manners--conscious city Jean Tannen had ever visited. Lacking centuries of aristocratic descent to assure them of their worth, the neophytes of Lashain overcompensated with ceremony. Their rules of precedence were like alchemical formulae, and dinner parties killed more of them each year than fevers and accidents combined. It seemed that little could be more thrilling for those who’d just bought their family names than to risk them (not to mention their mortal flesh) over minor insults.
The record, as far as Jean had heard, was three days from counting--house to dueling green to funeral cart. The regio, of course, offered no refunds to relations of the deceased.
As a result of this nonsense, it was difficult for those without titles, regardless of the color of their coin, to gain ready access to the city’s best physikers. They were made such status symbols by their noble clients that they rarely had to scamper after gold from other sources.
The taste of autumn was in the cool wind blowing off the Amathel, the Lake of Jewels—-the freshwater sea that rolled to the horizon north of Lashain. Jean was conservatively dressed by local standards, in a brown velvet frock coat and silks worth no more than, say, three months’ wages for an average tradesman. This marked him instantly as someone’s man and suited his current task. No gentleman of consequence did his own waiting at a physiker’s garden gate.
Scholar Erkemar Zodesti was regarded as the finest physiker in Lashain, a prodigy with the bone saw and the alchemist’s crucible. He’d also shown complete disinterest, for three days straight, in Jean’s requests for a consultation.
Today Jean once again approached the iron--barred gate at the rear of Zodesti’s garden, from behind which an elderly servant peered at him with reptilian insolence. In Jean’s outstretched hand was a parchment envelope and a square of white card, just like the three days previous. Jean was getting testy.
The servant reached between the bars without a word and took everything Jean offered. The envelope, containing the customary gratuity of (far too many) silver coins, vanished into the servant’s coat. The old man read or pretended to read the white card, raised his eyebrows at Jean, and walked away.
The card said exactly what it always did—-Contempla va cora frata eminenza. “Consider the request of an eminent friend,” in the Throne Therin that was the polite affectation for this sort of gesture. Rather than giving an aristocrat’s name, this message meant that someone powerful wished to pay anonymously to have someone else examined. This was a common means of bringing wealth to bear on the problem of, say, a pregnant mistress, without directly compromising the identity of anyone important.
Jean passed the long minutes of his wait by examining the physiker’s house. It was a good solid place, about the size of a smaller Alcegrante mansion back in Camorr. Newer, though, and done up in a mock Tal Verrar style that labored to proclaim the importance of its inhabitants. The roof was tiled with slats of volcanic glass, and the windows bordered with decorative carvings that would have better suited a temple.
From the heart of the garden itself, closed off from view by a ten--foot stone wall, Jean could hear the sounds of a lively party. Clinking glasses, shrieks of laughter, and behind it all the hum of a nine--stringed viol and a few other instruments.
“I regret to inform your master that the scholar is presently unable to accommodate his request for a consultation.” The servant reappeared behind the iron gate with empty hands. The envelope, a token of earnestness, was of course gone. Whether into the hands of Zodesti or this servant, Jean couldn’t say.
“Perhaps you might tell me when it would be more convenient for the scholar to receive my master’s petition,” said Jean, “the middle of the afternoon for half a week now being obviously unsuitable.”
“I couldn’t say.” The servant yawned. “The scholar is consumed with work.”
“With work.” Jean fumed as the sound of applause drifted from the garden party. “Indeed. My master has a case which requires the greatest possible skill and discretion—-”
“Your master could rely upon the scholar’s discretion at all times,” said the servant. “Unfortunately, his skill is urgently required elsewhere at the moment.”
“Gods damn you, man!” Jean’s self--control evaporated. “This is important!”
“I will not be spoken to in a vulgar fashion. Good day.”
Jean considered reaching through the iron bars and seizing the old man by the throat, but that would have been counter-productive. He wore no fighting leathers under his finery, and his decorative shoes would be worse than bare feet in a scuffle. Despite the pair of hatchets tucked away under his coat, he wasn’t equipped to storm even a garden party by choice.
“The scholar risks giving offense to a citizen of considerable importance,” growled Jean.
“The scholar is giving offense, you simple fellow.” The old man chuckled. “I tell you plainly, he has little interest in the sort of business arranged in this fashion. I don’t believe a single citizen of quality is so unfamiliar with the scholar that they need fear to be received by the front door.”
“I’ll call again tomorrow,” said Jean, straining to keep his composure. “Perhaps I might name a sum that will penetrate even your master’s indifference.”
“You are to be commended for your persistence, if not for your perception. Tomorrow you must do as your master bids. For now, I have already said good day.”
“Good day,” growled Jean. “May the gods cherish the house wherein such kindness dwells.” He bowed stiffly and left.
There was nothing else to be done at the moment, in this gods--damned city where even throwing envelopes of coins was no guarantee of attracting attention to a problem.
As he stomped back to his hired carriage, Jean cursed Maxilan Stragos for the thousandth time. The bastard had lied about so much. Why, in the end, had the damned poison been the one thing he’d chosen to tell the truth about?
Home for the time being was a rented suite in the Villa Suvela, an unadorned but scrupulously clean rooming house favored by travelers who came to Lashain to take the waters of the Amathel. Those waters were said to cure rheumatism, though Jean had yet to see a bather emerge leaping and dancing. The rooming house overlooked a black sand beach on the city’s northeast shore, and the other lodgers kept to themselves.
“The bastard,” said Jean as he threw open the door to the suite’s inner apartment. “The motherless Lashani reptile. The greedy son of a piss--bucket and a bad fart.”
“My keen grasp of subtle nuance tells me you might be frustrated,” said Locke. He was sitting up, and he looked fully awake.
“We’ve been snobbed off again,” said Jean, frowning. Despite the fresh air from the window the inner apartment still smelled of old sweat and fresh blood. “Zodesti won’t come. Not today, at least.”
“To hell with him, then, Jean.”
“He’s the only physiker of repute I haven’t got to yet. Some of the others were difficult, but he’s being impossible.”
“I’ve been pinched and bled by every gods--damned lunatic in this city who ever shoved a bolus down a throat,” said Locke. “One more hardly signifies.”
“He’s the best.” Jean flung his coat over a chair, set his hatchets down, and removed a bottle of blue wine from a cabinet. “An alchemical expert. A real smirking rat--fucker, too.”
“It’s all for the good, then,” said Locke. “What would the neighbors say if I consulted a man who screws rodents?”
“We need his opinion.”
“I’m tired of being a medical curiosity,” said Locke. “If he won’t come, he won’t come.”
“I’ll call again tomorrow.” Jean poured two half--glasses of wine and watered them until they were a pleasant afternoon--sky color. “I’ll have the self--important prick here one way or another.”
“What would you do, break his fingers if he won’t consult? Might make things ticklish for me. Especially if he wants to cut something off.”
“He might find a solution.”
“Oh, for the gods’ sake.” Locke’s frustrated sigh turned into a cough. “There is no solution.”
“Trust me. Tomorrow is going to be one of my unusually persuasive days.”
“As I see it, it’s cost us only a few pieces of gold to discover how unfashionable we are. Most social failures incur far greater expense, I should think.”
“Somewhere out there,” said Jean, “must be an illness that makes its sufferers meek, mild, and agreeable. I’ll find it someday, and see that you get the worst possible case.”
“I’m sure I was born immune. Speaking of agreeable, will that wine be arriving in my hands any time this year?”
Locke had seemed alert enough, but his voice was slurring, and weaker than it had been even the day before. Jean approached the bed uneasily, wineglasses held out like a peace offering to some unfamiliar and potentially dangerous creature.
Locke had been in this condition before, too thin and too pale, with weeks of beard on his cheeks. Only this time there was no obvious wound to tend, no cuts to bandage. Just Maxilan Stragos’ insidious legacy doing its silent work. Locke’s sheets were spotted with blood and with the dark stains of fever--sweat. His eyes gleamed in bruised sockets.
Jean pored over a pile of medical texts each night, and still he didn’t have adequate words for what was happening to Locke. He was being unknit from the inside; his veins and sinews were coming apart. Blood seeped out of him as though by some demonic whim. One hour he might cough it up, the next it would come from his eyes or nose.
“Gods damn it,” Jean whispered as Locke reached for the wineglass. Locke’s left hand was red with blood, as though his fingers had been dipped in it. “What’s this?”
“Nothing unusual.” Locke chuckled. “It started up while you were gone . . . from under my nails. Here, I can hold the glass with my other one—-”
“Were you trying to hide it from me? Who else changes your gods--damned sheets?”
Jean set the glasses down and moved to the table beneath the window, which held stacks of linen towels, a water jug, and a washing bowl. The bowl’s water was rusty with old blood.
“It doesn’t hurt, Jean,” muttered Locke.
Ignoring him, Jean picked up the bowl. The window overlooked the villa’s interior courtyard, which was fortunately deserted. Jean heaved the old bloody water out the window, refilled the bowl from the jug, and dipped a linen cloth into it.
“Hand,” said Jean. Locke sulkily complied, and Jean molded the wet cloth around his fingers. It turned pink. “Keep it elevated for a while.”
“I know it looks bad, but it’s really not that much blood.”
“You’ve little left to lose!”
“I’m also in want of wine.”
Jean fetched their glasses again and carefully placed one in Locke’s right hand. Locke’s shakes didn’t seem too bad for the moment, which was pleasing. He’d had difficulty holding things lately.
“A toast,” said Locke. “To alchemists. May they all be stricken with the screaming fire--shits.” He sipped his wine. “Or strangled in bed. Whatever’s most convenient. I’m not picky.”
At his next sip, he coughed, and a ruby--colored droplet spiraled down into his wine, leaving a purplish tail as it dissolved.
“Gods,” said Jean. He gulped the rest of his own wine and set the glass aside. “I’m going out to fetch Malcor.”
“Jean, I don’t need another damned dog--leech at the moment. He’s been here six or seven times already. Why—-”
“Something might have changed. Something might be different.” Jean grabbed his coat. “Maybe he can help the bleeding. Maybe he’ll finally find some clue—-”
“There is no clue, Jean. There’s no antidote that’s going to spring from Malcor or Kepira or Zodesti or any boil--lancing fraud in this whole tedious shitsack of a cit...
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