Circle of the Moon


By Barbara Hambly

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Faced with an attempt by the land chiefs to oust the King, and with the efforts of her own family to re-enslave her, Raeshaldis must play a deadly guessing-game while an even more terrible threat awaits.



Murdered men and women—children, too—lay sprawled in waist-high drifts of dust and sand. A man in the red tunic of the City Guard threw himself screaming out of an open house-door, hacking with his sword. Shaldis held him back on the end of her spear, and he drove himself halfway up its shaft trying to get to her before he finally died. Sickened, trembling, it took her minutes to work the body off the spear, and as she did she could see his flesh and bones blacken and shrink.



“Perfect . . . a believable, fantastic, and colorful world with appealing characters . . . Shaldis and Summerchild are everything a reader could want in the way of heroines.”


“Hambly’s books are powerful celebrations of women realizing their own power and self-worth . . . Her best fantasies in years.”


“An enthralling fantasy series.”


“The culture that the author has created is so realistic and complicated; it’s hard to believe it doesn’t exist somewhere.”




“Demonstrates [Hambly’s] graceful storytelling style and flair for world-building . . . Highly recommended.”

—Library Journal

"The world-building is fulfilling and polished . . . [The Yellow City] is nowhere you have ever lived or visited but is somewhere you can practically taste."

—SFR Newsletter

"An excellent fantasy . . . lends itself to some deeper and unsettling thoughts."


"An exciting fantasy tale that contains a strong morality subplot . . . The story line engages the audience from the beginning."

Midwest Book Review

"Smart, thoughtful . . . keenly imagined . . . vividly convincing."

—SUZY MCKEE CHARNAS, author of The Slave and the Free

"This is Barbara Hambly at the very top of her form . . . Read this one!"

—HARRY TURTLEDOVE, author of the American Empire series


Sisters of the Raven

Available from Warner Aspect


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Hambly

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a reivew.

Warner Books and the Warner Books logo are trademarks of Time Warner Inc. or an affiliated company. Used under license by Hachette Book Group, which is not affiliated with Time Warner Inc.

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First eBook Edition: October 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-50993-0

For Allan


Someone was calling for help.

Raeshaldis, Habnit's Daughter, stirred in her sleep.

The call came spiraling up from deep within her dreams, but she knew this was no dream vision, no mental sifting of waking events or past griefs.

Our children are dying. Help us. . . .

A woman; almost certainly a woman of magical power. Even sunk in sleep, Shaldis could sense the shape and color, the taste of the woman's spells. The cry was in no language she had ever heard before—musical and rippling—but the meaning shaped itself in her mind, as words are understood in dreams.

Illness—fever— The wizards cannot help. Healing no longer flows from their hands. We the Craft women—

Here Shaldis's mind groped for the word. In the tongue spoken in the Realm of the Seven Lakes there was no word for women-who-do-magic, as there was for men. Until two years ago there had never been a need for one, for no woman had ever been born with such power in her flesh.

We command the fire and the serpents and the stinging insects, but we cannot wield the power that sends fever away.

And behind that cry, that desperation, Shaldis heard another sound that moved her as if her heart knew what it was or must be. A thick, soft booming, as regular as the beat of the Earth's heart. A rushing like the wind through the groves of date palms, building to a crash like the sound of an avalanche of sand in the dry wadis where the ancients had buried their dead.

But unlike either, and as unknown to her as the language in which the Craft woman called. Yet her dreaming mind felt its power, as it understood the meaning of the words.

Help us. Please help us. Our children are dying.

In the village of Three Wells, Bennit the king's overseer also dreamed.

He'd gone to sleep early, not that anyone in Three Wells had any reason to sit up late. The farming village lay far out on the edge of the yellow rangelands, close to the badlands where ancient kings had buried their dead. Sometimes a wandering storyteller passed through or a traveling merchant. Then everyone gathered in Bennit's big adobe house to listen to news from the other villages, or even from the Yellow City on the lake's green shores. For a night they'd marvel over the doings of the king, like a gorgeous peacock in his palace, the House of the Marvelous Tower, or of the great landchiefs of the realm or of the wizards. Poru the salt merchant had brought the astonishing news last year that wizards had indeed been gradually losing their powers all over, as had been rumored for years, and that, of all things, certain women had begun to show skill in magic. Bennit had laughed at this and declared he'd believe it when he saw it and not before.

But such festive evenings were few. Mesquite for convivial fires had to be fetched out of the badlands; sheep fat was more profitably used for cooking than for burning in a lamp. More often, Bennit made his final rounds of the village fields at sunset, checking for evidence of prowling nomads and finding mostly only the marks of jackals and coyotes. He'd count the hairy subhumans—the teyn who did the heavy work of tilling and digging—in their compound, and lock the compound gates. Then he'd return to his wife's corn cakes and beans, a few drinks of corn liquor or strong date wine, and sleep.

If last night, and the three nights before, Bennit had done his final inspections while the sun burned in the sky, well, what of that? And if, contrary to forty-three years of his custom, he found himself looking forward to sleep with the excited eagerness of a child awaiting a treat, it wasn't to be wondered at.

Was it?

He was glad his wife, Acacia Woman, for once made no comment at his change of habits. Such forbearance wasn't like her, but he barely noticed this; in fact, she seemed just as eager to seek her own side of the corn-shuck mattress as soon as supper's dishes were scoured and put away. It annoyed him that she slipped so easily into sleep, when he lay awake, watching the dove-colored twilight fade from the sky. When he trembled with eagerness, waiting . . .

Waiting for the music that heralded the coming of those exquisite dreams.

Dreams of things he'd never experienced in waking life. The songs of instruments he'd never heard, of voices in a tongue unfamiliar but teasingly like something he'd once understood. The taste on his tongue of sweets or savories that he knew in no real existence. Kisses—by the names of all the gods, what kisses!—from the mouths of women whose faces were clear and as individual as those of the daughters of his friends, women whose names he could almost have said . . .

And other things still. Deeper exhilarations: of having power, of wearing silk. Of joy so wild that he wanted to weep. He had almost struck old Acacia Woman for waking him this morning, for robbing him of the last smoky whispers of his dream.

He frowned at that memory as he began to slide over into dream. His wife had woken him because when the boys had driven the sheep out to pasture they'd found the body of Klu the teyn minder lying among the cornstalks of the village fields, hacked to death, a look of staring agony on his face. The brother who shared Klu's house was missing—a curious thing, for the brothers had been devoted to each other.

It was his duty to investigate, but curiosity about the matter was pulling Bennit back toward waking. He thrust the matter from his mind, fearful that thoughts of the waking world would somehow interfere with the coming of the dreams. As the sky outside the window darkened and the moon appeared, full and brilliant, fear touched him, as it had last night and the night before—an agony of terror that the dreams wouldn't come.

But they did. First sweet and far-off singing, unfurling like glowing ribbons in the dark. Then beauty that filled him like a bejeweled memory of unutterable sweetness. Stolen lovemaking with the woman he adored—he could see her face like a flower! A single moment encapsulating a hundred meetings, a night of frenzied passion compacted into seconds. Bennit heard himself groan in ecstasy that was half in memory, half in truth. In the next second it seemed to him that he was holding up his baby son, not any of the worthless brats Acacia Woman had given him, but one whom he knew to be the dear child of his soul, and it seemed to him that his heart must break with gladness.

Denser, stronger than ever before, joy followed joy until his heart pounded in his ears, as if someone were pouring the sweetest of liquors down his throat, drowning him.

Then he heard screaming.

Someone screaming in the real world, the waking world, the world that no longer mattered.

The sweet liquor's savor changed to the metallic gush of blood.

Bennit gasped, gagged as pain ripped his belly. A spear impaled him, hurling him to the ground. Men were running toward him, naked swords in hands. Panic darkness swooped upon him, death in agony.

He cried out and tried to jerk himself awake, but only succeeded in sitting upright. Every nerve and joint shrieked in anguish and he looked at his hands, saw them fingerless with leprosy, red-black with running sores. Like a ghost in a dream, he was aware of Acacia Woman leaping to her feet, thrashing her hands at something he couldn't see, as if she, too, were trapped in some fearful dream. She staggered around the room, screaming, fell into the hearth and crawled, her long hair burning, out through the door.

But the dreamworld shifted back into his mind. There were men in the room, soldiers. Though their arms and mail were strange to him, he knew them, knew they were there to kill him, and he leaped to his feet. He was too late. A knife tore into his chest; he felt it cleave his lungs, slice the big muscle of his heart. He was drowning in blood, falling.

Fire was all around him. Shadowy shapes whirled among the soldiers, striking at them—or at something else Bennit could not see—with a burning stick from the banked kitchen fire. The worlds of dream and waking merged, fused, as in the worst of nightmares. Fire roared up the straw mats of the house walls, devoured the woven rush rugs of the floor. Bennit ran out the door, bleeding, dying, consumed with pain and knowing that though he was aware of pieces of reality he was still asleep, unable now to wake.

Dimly he could see the streets of the village as he knew them in daytime, in the waking world that now swam in and out of existence. Men and women he knew with sudden despairing clarity ran among the burning houses, shrieking like the damned, their eyes the wide, unblinking eyes of sleepers who see only their own private shadow shows. Bennit saw his sister run past with her infant in her arms and fling herself into a burning house. Saw one of his cousins crumple, rolling, to the dusty ground, clawing and clutching at his arms, his belly, his throat as if trying to dislodge some horrible thing. Among the houses—Bennit didn't know if it was real or part of the horrors of the dream—he saw something that seemed to be a green mist floating or dimly shining clouds of greenish light.

Only it seemed to him that the clouds had eyes, had mouths—mouths that spoke his name.

The mouths converged on him, singing those beautiful songs. So great was his terror at what they would do—at what they might tell him—that he flung himself back into his own burning house.


Shaldis woke, the sound of that heavy, crashing boom whispering away from her ears.

She sat up on her narrow cot. The full moon's silver light flooded her cell, glimmered on the drifts of sand that were beginning to accumulate in the corners of the Court of the Novices outside. The dozen or more novice Sun Mages whose daily duty had been to keep the sand at bay were gone. Last spring, when the rains had not come for weeks despite all the efforts of the Sun Mages to bring them, the populace of the Yellow City had rioted and attacked their Citadel. Most of the mages, from master down to novice, had departed after that, facing the fact, at last, that no wizard was able to work magic anymore.

Healing, as the woman in the dream had cried, no longer flowed from their hands. Nor did the power to bring the rains, to ward against rats and mosquitoes, to control the hairy silent army of teyn upon whose labor the great grainfields depended.

Eventually, after everyone gave up trying, the rains had come.

Shaldis didn't know what she and the three remaining Sun Mages were going to do about the rest of it: mosquitoes, rats, teyn.

She rose from her bed, a tall skinny girl whose fair complexion and thick brown hair proclaimed her descent from one of the half-hundred upper-class clans who had settled in the Valley of the Seven Lakes centuries before. The women of these clans went veiled about their womanly duties. Until two years ago, it was as unheard-of for a girl of one of the great merchant families to go unmarried out of her father's house, as it would have been for her to discover in herself the power to work magic like a man.

Her grandfather had cast her out when she had claimed her own power. At the age of sixteen she had been the first female the Sun Mages had taken in to teach.

Now, almost thirty months later, she was still the only female. She and the three remaining masters—plus the Citadel cook and one male novice—continued to dwell in the nearly empty sandstone fortress on its bluff above the Yellow City, subsisting on donations sent them by the king. Back when the mages had been able to sing the rains out of the skies every spring and cast wards to keep rats from the granaries and grasshoppers from the fields, the great landchiefs of the realm had given them the revenues from land and mines, and thousands of teyn laborers. These had largely disappeared.

Shaldis wrapped the sheet around herself and went to fetch her white novice's robe from its peg on the wall. The predawn air held a taste of the desert's nighttime chill. Even the hundred feet or so that the Citadel was raised over the rest of the city made a difference. Down in the twisting canyons of the city's narrow streets, the air, even at this hour, would be like tepid glue. She pulled on her robe and scooped from a painted pottery bowl on the table a hunk of white crystal as long as two of her knuckles and twice as thick. Yanrid the crystalmaster had let her take it from the Citadel's scrying chamber the day before. It was old and powerful, and worked far more reliably than her own.

A Craft woman, the voice in her dreams had called itself—her mind recalled the shape of the meaning, tried to fit it into words she knew. In the Yellow City they called the women in whom the powers of magic had bloomed Ravens, or Raven sisters, from the fact that, alone among the beasts and birds of the earth, the same word was used for both the male and the female of that species and from the legend that ravens could work magic. The nomads of the deep desert called such women witches, a word that originally meant "poisoners of wells." But some in the city were beginning to call the women-who-did-magic Crafty Ones or Crafty Women, the way northern peasants had called wizards Crafty Men sometimes: "those who have a special skill." The term was beginning to be used interchangeably with "Raven." There were still men in the city who claimed to be Crafty Men.

Fewer and fewer believed them.

Carrying the white crystal in her hand, Raeshaldis crossed the Court of the Novices through luminous blue darkness, climbed the rock-cut stairs still higher up the bluff. Well above the rest of the Citadel, she came into the Circle, the open space in which the rites of the Summoning of Rain were worked each spring. It stood empty most of the year, two hundred feet above the dark maze of the city, but the magics that had been raised there every year for six hundred years seemed to rise from its stones and whisper to the overarching stars.

She knelt in the Circle's center, closed her eyes.

I'm here.

She centered her mind on the sun, the source of the power for the system followed by her order. The Sun at His Prayers, this hour was called, the time of stillness. Magics worked through the power of the sun changed from hour to hour, and at this hour sun magic was said to be strongest. Lately Shaldis had begun to wonder if the spells of the Sun Mages applied to the magic of women. Spells she wove exactly as she had been taught by them were wildly inconsistent in their effects: sometimes strong, sometimes weak, sometimes crumbling away like wet adobe—only words like children's games. She drew and released her breath, tried to put from her mind her own frustrations with her failure to control her powers. Tried not to think about her fears of what would become of her—what would become of the Realm of the Seven Lakes—if she and the other small handful of Raven Sisters could not learn to use their powers properly by the time next year's rains were due.

In the ivory light of the full moon the Lake of the Sun shimmered faintly, sunk low in its bed but still a hundred and fifty miles from end to end. If the rains did not come, those who lived along its shores still had time.

The woman calling into the dark of her dreams had none.

Illness . . . fever . . . Our children are dying.

I'm here. Shaldis opened her eyes, angled the crystal to the moonlight so that its central facet was a tiny slab of pale radiance. Whoever you are, I'm here.

But she saw no one in that slip of light, and no reply came into her mind. I'm here. . . .

For nearly a thousand years, the Sun Mages had spoken through the mirrors, the crystals, the water bowls in the scrying chamber with mages in other parts of the world, places that for the most part no one had ever journeyed to. It was ninety days by camel train to the barren, foggy villages on the edge of the sea to the northwest; and what might lie beyond that sea—or beyond the deserts that stretched in all other directions—no one knew. Even the constellations described by those alien mages were unknown. It was part of the Sun Mages' training to learn the languages spoken by the outlanders, a laborious process: the language Shaldis had heard the woman speak in her dream had sounded like none she'd studied.

And she had never heard Yanrid or anyone else describe that booming sound she had heard.

And it wasn't a dream, she told herself. It was real. A real place, a real woman crying for help.

Our children are dying. . . .

And we are dying, too, thought Shaldis, her mind aching with its efforts to focus on something of the dream that would connect her with that despairing cry.

Unless we learn how to use our powers—among other things, Shaldis had never yet managed to ensorcel either a snake or an insect and neither had any of the women she knew—we shall die.

We're on borrowed time as it is, waiting for the time of the rains to come again. Waiting for the next disaster.

We need your help, as you need ours.

The sky in the east stained unearthly blue-green above the Citadel bluff. The fat moon turned the lake waters to shimmering silver among shoals black with reeds and crocodiles. Long lines of bucket hoists stretched out from the grainfields, palmeries, and gardens to the now-distant water's edge. The canal that connected the city's southern gate with the lakeside Fishmarket and docks burned like a sword blade. In a thousand courtyards in the city, a thousand mud-built nests in the rock crags around her, birds began to sing.

Shaldis raised her eyes from the crystal, her head throbbing. The mazes of the Yellow City's streets were still pitch-dark, but the darkness was dotted everywhere now with minute lights as women, or slaves, built up the fires in the outdoor kitchens that nearly everyone used in summertime.

In an hour the three remaining Sun Mages—powerless now but still traditionally the order most closely allied with the king—would descend to the House of the Marvelous Tower, to meet with the king and with the four great landchiefs of the realm. Shaldis could see the Marvelous Tower itself, a gaudy miracle of red and gold in daylight, now a dark spike against the moon-drenched waters, its thousand mirrors twinkling wanly like the fading stars. The thought of the meeting rankled her a little, for although none of the Sun Mages possessed the slightest magic anymore, they would be given a place of honor on the council pavilion's divan, while she would probably be asked to sit behind a screen in deference to the sensibilities of the more conservative landchiefs.

On the other hand, she reflected, that would mean she could sit with Summerchild, the king's favorite and the center of the Raven sisterhood—a far more entertaining proposition than minding her manners under the disapproving gaze of the men.

The rising light showed her the stone arches of the king's aqueduct, stretching away from the city to the south and east. It would, when finished, reach the deep springs of the Oasis of Koshlar and bring water to the Lake of the Sun and to the farms and villages all along its banks: so far it had reached only a few miles beyond the Dead Hills. If it was finished—the desert beyond those parched brown badlands was a deadly place, the haunt of small bands of wild teyn as savage as animals and of nomads barely more civilized who took ill this trespass of their realm.

Once djinni had haunted the desert, too: deadly, brilliant, seldom entirely visible, creatures entirely of magic.

And being of magic, when magic had changed, they had melted away, their powers to sustain themselves gone. One of them at least, Shaldis knew, had taken refuge in a crystal statue in a ruined temple in the slum district beyond the city's eastern gate; after her single interview with it last spring it had not communicated with another human soul. She had theories about what had become of some of the others, but could prove nothing.

She had a feeling that was one of the things the king would ask her at the council—and that one or more of the landchiefs would try to bribe her for help in getting that djinn on their side.

In the mazes of the dark streets more spots of light were appearing. The Dead Hills, with their equally impenetrable mazes of dry wadis and forgotten tombs, lay dark still, save where, for an instant, Shaldis thought she saw a flicker of movement, the passing of a glowing greenish light.

When she blinked and looked again, it was gone.

It was really time to go down. She'd need a little time to scrub herself and fix her hair and get some breakfast before leaving for the council.

Yet she turned her eyes back to the white crystal one last time. The whole sky to the east flooded with light, and the crystal seemed to drink it up and throw it back, burning and pale. Shaldis closed her eyes, dipped her mind back toward trance.

I'm here. I'm Raeshaldis, Habnit's Daughter. I can help you.

And, please, you help us in turn. We need all the knowledge of magic, all the workers of magic—all the Crafty ones—on our side, if we are to survive.

I am here. Please help us.

For a moment she thought she heard, far off like the echoing memory of her dream, that sighing roar, that heavy hammer blow.

Then only stillness and from the city below the crowing of a thousand cocks.

She was definitely late, and nearly ran down the winding stairs from the Circle. Her mind raced ahead of her to what Summerchild would say about her dream, and how they might combine their strengths to scry deeper for its sender. Though she, Shaldis, had the academic training of a Sun Mage, she sensed in the king's graceful concubine a deeper power. The other Raven sisters of the city—a merchant's darkly pretty concubine named Moth, and Pebble, a contractor's big, mousy-haired, good-natured daughter—were newer to their powers and uncertain of them.

Shaldis wished her friend Pomegranate were still in the city. The half-mad beggar woman was another whose powers, she sensed, were as deep as her own. But Pomegranate had gone with the king's former tutor, a onetime Earth Wizard named Soth, to seek among the distant cities on the shores of the other lakes for word of other women who might have power. And the other three Raven sisters she knew were—

She came around the corner into the Court of the Novices, and stopped.

A man stood in the blue shadowy twilight, just outside the door of her room. Not a mage. A tall heavy-shouldered man in a civilian's loose pantaloons and light summer robe, a man whose movement, as he turned uncertainly from her door, was familiar, even before she saw his face.

Then he turned at the sound of her step and said, "Raeshaldis? Old One?"

Recognition hit her like a dagger in her chest. She stood still, unable to move or speak.


"Yes. It's me."


For over two years, Shaldis had wondered what the first words out of her mouth would be should she ever meet her father again.

Why didn't you protect me? Silly—nobody protected anybody in her grandfather's household when her grandfather went after them.

How could you let him cast me out? Anybody who'd ask that question had never met her grandfather.

I love you? She didn't know if that were true anymore, or whether, if it was, what that meant.

I don't need you


On Sale
Nov 1, 2006
Page Count
544 pages

Barbara Hambly

About the Author

Barbara Hambly (b. 1951) is a New York Times bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction, as well as historical novels set in the nineteenth century. After receiving a master’s degree in medieval history, she published The Time of the Dark, the first novel in the Darwath saga, in 1982, establishing herself as an author of serious speculative fiction. Since then she has created several series, including the Windrose Chronicles, Sun-Cross, and Sun Wolf and Starhawk, in addition to writing for the Star Wars and Star Trek universes.

Besides fantasy, Hambly has won acclaim for the James Asher vampire series, which won the Locus Award for best horror novel in 1989, and the Benjamin January mystery series, featuring a brilliant African-American surgeon in antebellum New Orleans. She lives in Los Angeles.

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