In thanks, then, I’d like to present to you a brief sneak peek at the sequel, the second book in The Arcist Chronicles. Fair warning, this has been smoothed out and cleaned up some, but it is still in a fundamental way a rough draft. I do not know when I will have the novel fully revised and ready to send to beta readers or my publisher Guardbridge Books. I do not know when it might be published.
The novel is tentatively titled The Roots of Betrayal, and one of the threads of the story is a growing doubt in the accepted story of the land’s past. The first few chapters would all require a spoiler warning for book 1, but chapter 5 introduces us to a new character—Harkala is a middle-aged scholar with a reputation for eccentricity. Her latest discovery could put her rivals to shame and prove her standing as one of the valley’s great scholars. Or may only lead to her own embarrassment.
So here is the opening scene of chapter 5. Enjoy!
The sea wind shook the paper in Harkala’s hands so she could scarcely read it. But no matter, she knew it by heart, the old words, the oddly structured description that no one had been able to decipher. No one until she had.
Six hundred and fifty years ago, the first people of Eghsal had fled the Forgotten South. Had come to Eghsal. Even the name they’d given the valley was an old version of the word exile, if she was correct. They’d arrived in their boats here, not far from the mouth of the Eghsal River.
Was it a thousand people who’d come through those terrible waters to land here? Two thousand? Most scholars placed it somewhere between those numbers. Shouldn’t it be even higher, though? By her calculations there must have been more than ten thousand, and even then those first settlers would have been extraordinarily fertile.
And that meant, what, fifty huge ships at least. But a smaller ship might have made it through the rough seas more easily, from what she knew of modern fishing boats, anyway. So probably hundreds of ships arriving.
Then where had so many ships ended up? They couldn’t have all been buried in the silt of the river mouth or turned into the first buildings of Jarnur. Somewhere there must be remains of the ships.
The only clue was in a silk paper record from a century or more after the fact. No one had been able to figure out what it meant, though, not until she had the chance to study that scrap of ancient silk.
She scrambled up a rise, pausing halfway to the top to examine the soil. She gestured to her student Nakhil, a would-be scholar from a low caste nefli family.
“See this?” The rock had a characteristic white line rippling along its surface for a ways. “This was a riverbank once. The Eghsal River shifted from here to its current bed.”
Nakhil bent down to see. “When, tisrah? Aren’t these rocks far older?”
“Thousands of years, that’s what the other scholars say.” Harkala waved them away with her empty hand. “Is that what you were going to suggest? Well, what if it wasn’t so long ago? The salty sea wind ages everything faster, buildings and boats but soil and rock as well. The river flowed through here far more recently than anyone realizes.”
But six hundred years ago? Seeing the rocks, Harkala felt a voice of doubt. What if it wasn’t the age of the rocks she should question but the time since the ancestors arrived. Add a thousand years to that, and the story required far fewer settlers, far fewer ships. No. She shook her head to clear the thought away. Now was not the time to stumble after some new errant idea, not when she was so close to proving herself as a true scholar.
Nakhil straightened and studied the line of where the river must have gone down toward the sea. No one born to scholarship would have submitted to being mentored by such an eccentric teacher, so she often drew students who were outside the normal. In the case of Nakhil she’d lucked out. The young man was quick to listen and eager to follow her lead. Those were the key skills she required. He could think for himself, too, which was a pleasant bonus.
“And if the river mouth was along here instead of its current location, then this description makes far more sense.” She waved the paper in her hand, her own copy of the scrap of silk. Knowing the ancient path of the river alone didn’t explain everything in the paper. She’d also had to translate an archaic measurement the settlers had used, and their compasses must have all been shifted slightly off true, perhaps by the iron of the mountains.
She sighted her compass, making the adjustment for the ancient error, and set off along what had once been riverbank.
Farming had altered the land, even after the river’s course changed. Rows of gourds and shell beans lined the ancient ridge, and grape vineyards stood closer to the current river, where the air was warmer.
The ancestors would have brought the ships up the river this far, the paper suggested.
Perhaps they wanted to salvage some of the timber or perhaps they hoped to protect them from the storms of the shoreline, as if they might find a way to go back into that unforgiving sea and return to the Forgotten South. Whatever the reason, the remains of the ships should be a short way in from where the banks had been.
At least, she hoped to prove as much. Then let the other scholars laugh.
“Right here,” she told Nakhil, scanning the ground ahead. The dirt was especially rich here, so that a fair-sized bowl of a valley, shallow but clearing lower than the surrounding land, grew an abundance of crops. “There would have been an oxbow of some kind, or other stagnant offshoot of water. You can see the shape of it in the fields themselves.”
“Did they sink the ships, then? Do we have to dig beneath the fields?”
Harkala shook her head. “Not if I read this scrap right. It seems to indicate that they pulled the ships out of the water and stored them in a protected...area of some kind. I can’t make that out. What do you see nearby?”
Nakhil strode in among the mounds of carrots and cabbage and peered across. Harkala focused on a rougher patch of ground to the southeast of the fields. The remains of the ships could have stayed undiscovered there, as it looked like land that had never been excavated. It didn’t exactly match her recreation of the silk paper, but perhaps she’d misunderstood part of it.
Nakhil pointed at a different location, a flat-topped ridge that marched down to the field.
“If this looked like I imagine it did, wouldn’t that be a better, more protected space?”
It did fit the description in the silk paper better. She looked down at her copy and back at the ridge. The location was a better fit, at least, but the ridge was much too small. “For the number of ships we’re talking, it had to be a bigger area.” Another glance between paper and ridge. “But we should check it out, at least. Let’s take a look straight across here first. If we get stuck, we’ll head over that way.”
Stuck? Stuck was a mild word for the morass they found themselves in where Harkala had hoped to find her evidence. An early plow blade had been the first evidence that it was less pristine than she had hoped. Some early settlers had planted terraces around the massive boulders that surely hadn’t moved in thousands of years. Whether they’d managed to grow anything, Harkala doubted, unless the change in the river’s course had swept most of the fertile soil away. What soil remained blew away with a simply brush of the tools the servants carried. Beneath was only solid rock.
No stray timber left behind by rotting ships. No indication at all that the ships had ever been anywhere near the area.
The laughter of her fellow scholars echoed hollowly in her mind. She could already see the covered smiles of those who’d never liked her and the embarrassed way her few one-time allies turned away upon seeing her.
No, there were more sections to examine. She mustn’t give in.
Will she give in? Will she find the evidence of long lost ships from a distant land? What does her story have to do with the surviving characters from The Silk Betrayal? What is the connection to arcist magic? The answers are in the sequel, The Roots of Betrayal.