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The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it.
Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul.
Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee.
Return to the critically acclaimed epic by master storyteller Daniel Abraham, The Dagger and the Coin.
For more from Daniel Abraham, check out:
The Dagger and the Coin
The Dragon's Path
The King's Blood
The Tyrant's Law
The Widow's House
The Spider's War
Table of Contents
A Preview of The Widow's House
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Clara Annalise Kalliam, Formerly Baroness of Osterling Fells
Clara woke to the familiar sound of voices raised in the street below her window. The dawn had not yet transformed the darkness of her little room in the boarding house from black to grey, but it soon would. Her window was not glass, but oiled parchment that let in some light and a great deal of cold. She pulled the wool blankets close to her chin, pressed her body into the thin mattress, and listened while the married couple in the street berated one another again, as they did more mornings than not. He was a drunkard and a little boy in a man's broken body. She was a shrew who drank a man's blood and ate his freedom. He was sleeping with whores. She was giving all the coin he earned to her brother. The litany of marital strife was as common and boring as it was sad. And saddest of all, Clara thought, was that the two of them couldn't hear the love on which all their resentments were built. No one shouted and wept in the street over someone they didn't care about. She wondered what they would make of it if she sought them out and told them how very, very lucky they were.
When at last she rose, the light was enough that she could see the winter's cold turning her breath to smoke. She got quickly into her underthings, and then a dress with stays up the side where she could reach them without a servant girl's help. Under other circumstances, she would still have been wearing mourning clothes, but when one's husband is slaughtered by the Lord Regent as a traitor to the throne, the rules of grief are somewhat changed. She made do with a small twist of cloth tied around her wrist and easily covered by her sleeve. She would know it was there. That was enough.
As the light waxed, she washed her face and put up her hair. The sounds in the street changed. The rattle of carts, the shouting of carters. Dogs barked. The sounds of Camnipol in the grip of winter. Dawson had hated being in the capital city during winter. Winter business, he'd called it, and his voice had dripped with contempt. A man of his breeding should spend the winter months on his lands or else with the King's Hunt. Only now, of course, there were no lands. Lord Regent Geder Palliako had taken them back for the crown, to be doled out later as a token to someone whom he wished to reward. And Clara was living on an allowance scraped together by her two younger sons. Her eldest boy, Barriath, was gone God only knew where, and her natural daughter was busy clinging to her husband's name and praying that the court would forget she had ever been called Kalliam.
In the common room, Vincen Coe sat by the fire, waiting for her. He wore his huntsman's leathers, though there was no hunt to call in the city and the master he'd served was dead. The perfectly ridiculous love he professed for Clara shone in his eyes and in the uncertain way he held himself as she walked into the room. It wasn't at all dignified, but it was flattering, and despite herself she found it endearing.
"I've saved you a bowl of the morning oats," he said. "And I'm making fresh tea."
"Thank you," she said, sitting beside the little iron stove.
"May I be permitted to walk with you today, my lady?" It was a question he asked every day, like a child asking a favor of a beloved tutor.
"I would be quite pleased with some company, thank you," she said, as she often did. Often, but not always. "I have several errands today."
"Yes, ma'am," Vincen said, and did not ask what they were, because he knew.
She was going to overthrow the crown and, if she could, destroy Geder Palliako.
She didn't have a concrete plan yet, but she'd lived her life in court. She had seen any number of quiet campaigns of social sabotage and destruction. The secret was no secret: build friendships and connections, talk about trivialities, and listen closely to what was said. The women who failed were always the impatient, the ones who tried to force others to their own opinion or engineer a false scandal. Making opportunities rarely worked, and watching for them almost always did.
Her first stop, as it had been most days, was a baker's shop near the western edge of the Division. The baker was one of the few Yemmu to make a home in Camnipol, his body wide and thick, the tusks that rose from his lower jaw carved and inlaid with tribal markings of the Keshet. He looked like a curiosity in a show of exotics, but he spoke without an accent.
"Ah! The queen of pigeons! Come in, come in."
Clara smiled, though in truth she thought the man's pet name for her was a bit presumptuous.
"And how are you this morning, Melian? I hope your wife's feeling better."
"Much better, my lady," the baker said, hoisting a cloth bag of stale rolls and yesterday's small loaves from behind the counter. "I'll tell her you asked."
Clara's allowance was generous without being extravagant. It would have kept her in much more comfortable conditions if she'd chosen to spend it differently. The smell of fresh bread was a temptation each day she came, rich and earthy, sweet with molasses and rich with baked walnuts. She pushed two thin coins across the countertop, and the baker brushed them into his wide and waiting palm.
"The pigeons eat well again today," he said, grinning. Apart from his decorated tusks, his teeth were wide and yellowed by time and coffee.
"Perhaps this time they'll be grateful," Clara said with a smile as Vincen took up the bag and held the door open for her.
The streets were white with old ice where they weren't black with mud. Low, bright clouds dropped balls of frozen rain the size of baby's teeth, too compact to be called snowflakes and too soft for hail. The air smelled wet and cold. The great families were gone from the city for the season, but the traffic on the street was hardly less. The year that had passed had left a great deal of work to be done. The short, victorious war against Asterilhold and then the doomed, hellish revolt within the walls of the city. The process of rebuilding was evident in the streets. Carts with great timbers heading toward the north where noblemen's compounds had burned. Great slabs of marble and granite creaking toward the palaces where walls and façades had been broken or scorched past cleaning. And even now, prisoners hauling debris—old barricades or ruined carriages or sometimes still the bodies of the lowborn dead—to the middle of the great bridges and dropping the garbage into the distant chaos at the bottom of the Division. The city as it had been was gone. Busy as a kicked anthill, Camnipol struggled to remake itself. Clara didn't think much of what it was becoming.
The Prisoner's Span was the southernmost of the great bridges that crossed the Division, and the oldest. Its design was plain, and the trunks of the massive trees that had been felled to create it were dark with tar to repel insects and keep the bridge from collapse. The wind bit and made the great structure creak like a ship at sea. The condemned of the city hung in cages below, great iron chains and thick straps of woven leather the only thing between the prisoners and the long fall below them. At the center of the span—as every morning—the prisoners' families and friends gathered, trying to drop enough food and water down through the open air to keep the captives alive until their sentence ended. If a man was condemned without a wife or child who would come each day and lower down water and bread, then even a week's detention was death. The crown felt no obligation to offer care for criminals. Clara had heard stories of brotherhoods of cutthroats and thieves that collected dues like any of the great fraternities, and guaranteed sustenance should their members fall afoul of the magistrate. She'd even seen some men on the span who might have been part of such a group. For the most part, though, it was family. Dirty, small women lowering baskets on twine. Desperate-eyed men dropping bits of cheese down to the opened palms of their wives and lovers. There were tales of someone leaning out too far, and the prisoners watching, trapped, as their saviors fell through the empty air to die far beneath them.
And then there were the others. Boys, mostly, who came to piss off the edge of the span or rain dead animals and rotten fruit on the heads of the prisoners. The city guard did nothing to stop them. Encouraged them, even. There were also tales of one of those boys losing his footing, but those weren't told in the grim tones of tragedy.
Clara went from one end of the span to the other, slowly emptying her bag. Here was Shuler, the pickpocket's wife, accepting yesterday's roll for her half-frozen husband. Here Cassian the Tralgu, the tips of his doglike, mobile ears almost blue with the cold, come to visit his father in the cages. Here Berrin, whose sister had been caught withholding taxes. Here Taracali, whose son had killed a neighbor's dog. Clara gave food to them all, stopping to talk to each of them, to learn their names and their stories, to touch them on the arm or the shoulder or the hand. She came as an agent of mercy, witnessing without judgment and sympathizing without pity.
And though they did not know it, she gathered them as allies.
When the bag was empty, Vincen folded it into his belt, and they walked together to the eastern end of the bridge, then turned north, toward the Kingspire. The streets widened and the architecture grew more ornate as they went on. Soon, she and Vincen were walking among the houses of the wealthy, and not long after that, the noble. Servants had cleaned the streets here, the black cobbles free of horse shit and old ice. Laborers' carts made way for carriages and palanquins. The houses rose up three and four stories high, and the mansions had gardens and grounds of leaf-bare trees and brown hedge. Clara had spent most of her life in streets like these, riding in carriages and thinking nothing of it. It had only been months since she had been Baroness of Osterling Fells and wife of the Lord Marshal. Already, she felt like she was traveling in a foreign land. She stopped at a café and bought three chicken pies and a skin of watered wine, and the girl behind the counter pretended not to know her.
In the street again, Clara turned east. It would have been faster to go north, but the temple of the spider goddess that Geder Palliako had brought back from the Keshet stood on that street, and Clara didn't want to see its red silk banner and eightfold sigil. It was the new priesthood's influence over the throne that had driven Dawson to act, and his action that had unmade her life.
The first shout could have been anything—outrage, pleasure at seeing an old friend, a teamster scolding a horse. The second was unmistakably pain. She glanced at Vincen and he at her. Without a word, they turned down the narrow side street, moving toward a small crowd that had gathered in a private square. Vincen walked before her, leading with a gentle shoulder that permitted no refusal and gave little offense. She kept close to him, walking with her hand in his to keep the crowd from closing around him. Soon, they reached the front. Too soon.
The Timzinae girl wore the robes of a servant. The dark, chitinous scales that covered her body had been made darker by blood. She crouched on the curb, her head in her hands, and the man with the club standing behind her struck her again. He wore the gold and gilt armor of the Lord Regent's private guard, and beside him, in brown robes, stood one of the priests. Clara looked around her at the faces in the crowd. Some were pale and horrified, but more seemed hungry. Excited.
"We can't help, my lady," Vincen Coe whispered in her ear. "If we tried, it would go worse for her. We should leave."
Answer them, Clara begged the girl silently. Tell them what they want to know.
But the guardsman wasn't asking questions, and the priest looked on impassively. Clara turned away, pushing through the crowd without Vincen's help now. Her jaw ached. When they reached the main street again, her legs trembled with each step.
"Is it only me, do you think?" she asked. "Or does it seem this sort of thing is happening more often?"
"It's the Timzinae, my lady. The story is that they were behind the trouble."
"They weren't," Clara said with a mirthless laugh. "Dawson would have taken direction from a foreigner as soon as he answered to his own dogs."
"Yes, ma'am," Vincen said.
"Nothing. It's only… you said foreign, my lady. The girl back there was likely a born subject of Antea. There aren't a great many Timzinae in Camnipol, and they keep to themselves, but they're still from here."
"You know what I meant."
She had intended to be quiet then, to let her outrage turn inward and turn to something like resolve. She meant to walk down these streets that were no longer hers with head unbowed, and she meant to do it in silence. So when the words forced themselves from her throat, they had a broken sound, soft and low and unpleasant.
"What's happened to us? Simeon gone. Dawson gone. What has happened to my kingdom?"
Vincen made a small sound in the back of his throat. As much as she hadn't planned to speak, she doubly hadn't hoped for him to answer. His voice was gentle and soft, almost mournful.
"Back at the Fells, there was a dog we had. Good hunter. Good nose. When the King's Hunt came, he led the pack. Only, one time, the stag gored him. Took him in the belly and hoisted him in the air. We sewed him closed again, gave him time to heal up. He didn't die, but after that, he ate himself. Started with the paws, just chewing them until they bled. We did everything we could to stop him. Wrapped him in bandages. Put bitter salve on his paws. Kept him in muzzle until his skin could heal. He was still a good hunter, and sweetest dog you could wish for, but he wouldn't stop chewing himself raw. Sometimes shock does that."
"And you think that's what's happening? The empire's been hurt so badly that it's biting itself to death?"
"Yes," the young man said, and his tone made him sound older.
"And does that make me the tooth or the bitter salve?"
"Muzzle's my bet, ma'am," Vincen said. His smile bloomed sly. "Just haven't figured how to strap it on the bastard yet."
They passed by Lord Skestinin's little compound. Its shutters were closed against the winter, and icicles as long as swords hung from the eaves. Jorey and Sabiha—her youngest son and his wife—were following the court for the season, and Skestinin himself spent his time with the fleet in the north. She missed her son, but for the time being it was best that Jorey establish himself without reference to his disgraced parents. She wasn't so naïve as to trust the nobility of their blood to protect Jorey from being beaten in the streets if Geder Palliako's favor should turn. Not in this new Camnipol.
Beyond the houses and compounds, the Kingspire rose. The stone looked dark against the winter sky, and the flock of pigeons that circled it seemed as insubstantial and grey as the snow through which they flew. Clara stood still, letting the traffic of the street pass her by. Her cheeks felt stiff with the chill.
By the time she reached the builder's tents, the pies had cooled, but Clara didn't let it concern her. The ruins had once been a stables and an open market, both burned the night the failed coup began. The charred wooden posts had been cleared away, the ground leveled, and new paving stones and supports were being raised. Piles of white brick stood as thick as two men and tall as three, soft wooden scaffolds clinging to the sides. Men in wool and thick workmen's leather hauled handcarts filled with lime and reinforcing bars from one place to another. Their talk was rough and uneducated and nothing Clara hadn't heard a thousand times in the servants' quarters of her own house. It only took a few moments to find the face she sought.
"Benet! Here you are. I've been looking simply everywhere for you."
"L-Lady Kalliam?" the boy said. Once, he had been a gardener's assistant and plucked weeds from her flowerbeds. Now his hands were callused and his face pale with brick dust and starvation.
"Your aunt mentioned you'd taken work here, but of course the wages don't begin until after you've done the work, do they? I thought I would just bring you a bit of lunch. You don't mind, do you?"
The boy's eyes went as wide as a Southling's when Vincen put the food onto the stack of bricks at his side.
"I… that's to say… Thank you, m'lady. You're too kind."
"Just trying to keep up with the old household," Clara said, smiling. "It wasn't any of your doing that things went the way they did. It seems wrong you should suffer for it. Eat, please. Don't stand on ceremony, we're well past that now. And tell me all about this… well, this whatever it is that you're building."
The tour was short. Benet was most concerned with the pie and not offending his overseer, but Clara took the general shape. Rooms of brick and floors of paving stone. Thin windows and wide corridors. The stables and the market were gone, and they would never return. What little remained of their bones would become the next layer of ruin upon which the city was built, age after age reaching down like rings in a tree. In place, the new barracks. That's what they called it. Clara thought better.
That evening, her feet held up to the little iron stove, Clara ate one of the remaining pies and Vincen the other. Abatha Coe—Vincen's cousin and proprietor of the house—bustled about her chores with a sour expression and the smell of boiled cabbage. The young Firstblood man who'd taken a room on the lower floor near the back came and complained of a leaking window. The Cinnae girl, thin and pale as a sprout, came in from whatever she'd done with her day, took a bowl of the house stew, and retreated to eat in solitude. Clara smoked her little clay pipe and she brooded. Vincen, loyal as a hound, gave her her silence as long as she wanted it, and broke it with her when she was ready.
"That dog," she said. "The one that had the trouble biting himself. Whatever became of him?"
Vincen opened the stove's grate and dropped in a knot of pine. The firelight danced over his face. He looked melancholy and beautiful and young. A wholly inappropriate man.
"Not all dogs can be saved, ma'am," he said.
"No," she said. "I thought not. Those buildings that Benet and others are toiling at. They aren't barracks."
"Looked more like kennels to me," Vincen agreed, but Clara shook her head.
"No, not kennels," she said. And then, "Why, do you suppose, is Geder Palliako building prisons?"
Lord Regent Geder Palliako
The stag stood in a clearing, surrounded by the hunting pack. Its eyes were wide with fear, and foam dripped from its lips. The barking and baying almost drowned out the calls of the huntsmen. Beyond the dogs, the men of the hunt sat astride their horses. Snow greyed the leather hunting armor and thick wool cloaks, clinging to the noblest men of Antea like moss on a stone. All eyes were on Geder; he could feel them.
The huntsman who handed him the spear was a Jasuru, bronze scales and sharp black teeth. Geder took the spear in hand, set it. It was heavier than he'd expected it to be. It's like a joust, he told himself. Just a little practice joust with a stag for the target. I can do this.
He glanced at Aster, and the prince's gaze encouraged him. Geder forced himself to smile, then leaned forward and charged. His horse ran as smooth as a river under him, and it seemed to him that he didn't draw nearer the stag so much as the beast grew larger. The impact jarred his arm and wrenched his shoulder. He felt himself rising up out of the saddle, and for a horrified moment, falling into the chaos of dogs and churned snow and blood seemed inevitable. The stag screamed. The spear's point hadn't pierced him through, but skidded along the flank. A wide fold of skin and flesh hung down, blood pouring from it. The antlers swung toward Geder, preparing for a counterattack, and the huntsman made his call. A dozen arrows flew, striking the stag in its thick neck, its side, the meat of its leg.
The stag stumbled forward, lost its footing, and fell to its knees. Its breath came solid as smoke. Geder looked down at the black eyes, and there seemed to be an intelligence there. And a hatred. Blood gouted from the animal's mouth and it lowered its head to the snowy clearing. The cheer rose from the hunters, and Geder lifted his hand, grinning. It hadn't been an elegant kill, but he hadn't humiliated himself.
"Who takes honors?" Geder asked as the huntsmen came forward to prepare the corpse for its unmaking. "Daskellin? You were up toward the front. Who caught up to the thing first?"
Canl Daskellin, Baron of Watermarch, bowed in his saddle and gestured to his left.
"I believe it was Count Ischian, Lord Regent. I was close behind, but he outran me."
Geder shifted in his saddle. Count Ischian bowed in his saddle. He was an older man, his colors blue and gold, and he was related by blood to half a dozen houses at court. His holdings, however, were in Asterilhold. In the war just past, he had fought on the other side. His loyalty now was unquestionable. He had faced Geder's private tribunal, and the gift of the goddess had certified his honesty. But giving full honors in the King's Hunt to someone who'd been an enemy when last year's hunt had run seemed wrong.
"Even honors to you both, then," Geder said. "And well done. Now let's get back to the holding before we all turn into ice sculptures of ourselves."
Geder had rarely taken part in the hunt before he'd been in the center of it. He had risen from heir to the Viscount of Rivenhalm to Lord Regent of Antea so quickly, there hadn't been time to accustom himself to the circles of power and influence. Even now, as the most powerful man in the empire, he felt a bit outside of things. Many of the men on the hunt had been riding together since they were children younger than Aster, and while Geder might command their loyalty, he couldn't insist on their friendship. Add to that the fact that many of the great houses had risen up against Geder only months before and were now gone forever. Sir Alan Klin, Geder's nemesis, was feeding the worms at the bottom of the Division now. Lord Bannien was rumored to have been richer than the crown itself, and he was imprisoned now, his family broken, his titles stripped from him, and his private treasury funding the reconstruction of Camnipol. Dawson Kalliam, Geder's patron and father of Geder's best friend, had been the Lord Marshal of the war against Asterilhold, and then the soul and center of the uprising. Had things gone differently, it would have been Lord Kalliam who rode down the stag in that clearing, and Geder who lay in a traitor's grave. Jorey Kalliam rode with the hunt, but even after his disavowal he seemed darkened by his father's crimes. And now, with conquered Asterilhold being joined into a greater empire, there came the awkwardness of befriending those who had recently been enemies.
The death of the king, the naming of Lord Regent, a successful war, and a scarring insurrection. Imperial Antea had suffered a terrible year. And the coming spring might be no easier.
Namen Flor's lands sat nestled in a valley in the southeast of the empire, not far from the border with Sarakal. The great city of Kavinpol lay to the west with its river docks and warehouses. In summer, the rich soil of Flor was fed by two rivers, and the grain and fruit that came from that one holding would feed an army for a season. The holding itself rose like a mountain in the plain, granite and basalt hauled overland from the mountains to the south and combined into a building almost as tall as the Kingspire in Camnipol. The dragon's road ran through the heart of the structure, though at the moment ice and snow buried the eternal jade, so that it might have been any road at all until they had passed through the wide gates and under the overhanging shelter.
The cold had set Geder's nose running, and his earlobes hurt like something bitten. He gave his horse to the groom and hurried to the quarters Sir Flor had set aside for his use. And especially the tub. It was beaten copper half as deep as a man standing, and the water that fed into it from the stone dragon's mouth steamed and smelled of sandalwood. And best of all, the room that housed it was small. As Lord Regent, custom had it that his personal guard and body servants would be always in attendance. He hated it, and while he'd won the battle against the body servants, he hadn't quite had it in him yet to keep the guardsmen out when he bathed. After Dawson Kalliam's attempt on his life, Geder actually found the guards reassuring in a way. But here the private bath could be protected from without, and Geder's nakedness wouldn't be on display even to those whose duty it was to defend his life.
While he let the warm water ease the aching muscles in his back and thighs, he watched the lamp flame shift and steady and shift again. He let himself imagine what it would have been like to have a certain part-Cinnae banker woman sitting across from him, her flesh as bare as his own, her pale skin glowing in the light. When his body began to react to the thought, he made himself turn to other matters.
From without, the King's Hunt had always struck Geder as merely a vehicle for court intrigue. King Simeon would travel the realm, gracing his friends and allies with his presence, killing a few animals, and having a lot of feasts. It had looked like one of the sort of parties Geder was bad at, only stretched out over the course of weeks and punctuated by feats of manly athletics, half-drunken poetry contests, and extemporaneous speeches. Only when he'd become Lord Regent and the empire was his to command did he begin to see how the hunt was also a tool of convenience.
Not all men of court came to Camnipol. Not all facts of a landscape could be captured on a map. The hunt might seem to wander through the lands and holdings of the empire, but the path he followed was as set and certain as the dragon's roads themselves. It was not chance that had brought him here, but necessity.
He rose from the water, dried himself, and put on his undergarments before signaling to the body servants that they could enter to finish dressing him. He would have been as happy staying the rest of the day in the warmth and solitude, but the feast was coming, and now that he'd spent some time in the forests near Flor, it was time to attend to the matter that had actually brought him there.
He found Basrahip and Aster sitting together in a withdrawing room. The walls were papered in red velvet and the lamps burned with the rich scent of whale oil. The priest's voice rolled and rumbled like thunder from a distant storm. The young prince in his silk and cloth-of-gold sat looking up into the face of the massive brown-clad priest like an allegory of youth at the feet of wisdom. Geder stopped in the doorway to listen.
"Seeing that the world had fallen from his hands, Morade, in his death, was possessed by the sick pride of his kind. He released a terrible weapon. For three years, the world burned. Every forest fell to ash. Every city crumbled. The thirteen races of humanity took refuge where they could, preserving the animals in pens and the fish in clay pots against the day when they might be freed to fill the world again."
"Three years?" Aster said, awe in his voice.
- "Abraham builds on The Dragon's Path to create and sustain a rich, satisfyingly complex epic fantasy."—Publishers Weekly on The King's Blood.
- "This smart, absorbing, fascinating military fantasy, exciting and genuinely suspenseful, will keep readers on their toes."—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) on The Tyrant's Law
- "Prepare to be shocked, startled, and entertained."—Locus on The Dragon's Path
- "It's as if Clint Eastwood went to Narnia...A pleasure for Abraham's legion of fans."—Kirkus on The Dragon's Path
- "Everything I look for in a fantasy."—George R.R. Martin on The Dragon's Path
- "Abraham is fiercely talented, disturbingly human, breathtakingly original and even on his bad days kicks all sorts of literary ass."—Junot Diaz on The Long Price Quartet
- On Sale
- May 14, 2013
- Page Count
- 528 pages