Read THE (tlpq-4) Online

Authors: Daniel Abraham

Tags: #sf_fantasy

THE (tlpq-4)

BOOK: THE (tlpq-4)
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
THE
( The Long Price Quartet - 4 )
Daniel Abraham

Daniel Abraham

THE

PRICE OF

SPRING

 

Books by Abraham

(The Long Price Quartet):

A Shadow in Summer

A Betrayal in Winter

An Autumn War

The Price of Spring

 

 

THE PRICE OF SPRING

 

Daniel Abraham

 

 

To Scarlet Abraham

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

For the last time on this project, I reflect on the people who have

helped me get to the end of it. I owe debts of service and gratitude to

Walter Jon Williams, Melinda Snodgrass, Emily Mah, S. M. Stirling, Ian

Tregillis, Ty Franck, George R. R. Martin, Terry England, and all the

members of the New Mexico Critical Mass Workshop. I owe thanks to Connie

Willis and the Clarion West '98 class for starting the story off a

decade ago. Also to my agents Shawna McCarthy, who kept me on the

project, and Danny Bator, who has sold these books in foreign lands and

beyond my wildest dreams; to James Frenkel for his patience, faith, and

uncanny ability to improve a manuscript; to Tom Doherty and the staff at

Tor, who have made these into books with which I am deeply pleased.

 

Thank you all.

 

 

THE

 

PRICE OF

SPRING

 

 

PROLOG

 

Eiah Machi, physician and daughter of the Emperor, pressed her fingers

gently on the woman's belly. The swollen flesh was tight, veins marbling

the skin blue within brown. The woman appeared for all the world to be

in the seventh month of a pregnancy. She was not.

 

"It's because my mother's father was a Westlander," the woman on the

table said. "I'm a quarter Westlander, so when it came, it didn't affect

me like it did other girls. Even at the time, I wasn't as sick as

everyone else. You can't tell because I have my father's eyes, but my

mother's were paler and almost round."

 

Eiah nodded, running practiced fingertips across the flesh, feeling

where the skin was hot and where it was cool. She took the woman's hand,

bending it gently at the wrist to see how tight her tendons were. She

reached inside the woman's sex, probing where only lovers had gone

before. The man who stood at his wife's side looked uncomfortable, but

Eiah ignored him. He was likely the least important person in the room.

 

"Eiah-cha," Parit, the regular physician, said, "if there is anything I

can do..."

 

Eiah took a pose that both thanked and refused. Parit bowed slightly.

 

"I was very young, too," the woman said. "When it happened. Just six

summers old."

 

"I was fourteen," Eiah said. "How many months has it been since you bled?"

 

"Six," the woman said as if it were a badge of honor. Eiah forced

herself to smile.

 

"Is the baby well?" the man asked. Eiah considered how his hand wrapped

his wife's. How his gaze bored into her own. Desperation was as thick a

scent in the room as the vinegar and herb smoke.

 

"It's hard to say," Eiah said. "I haven't had the luck to see very many

pregnancies. Few of us have these days. But even if things are well so

far, birthing is a tricky business. Many things can go wrong."

 

"He'll be fine," the woman on the table asserted; the hand not being

squeezed bloodless by her man caressed the slight pooch of her belly.

"It's a boy," she went on. "We're going to name him Loniit."

 

Eiah placed a hand on the woman's arm. The woman's eyes burned with

something like joy, something like fever. The smile faltered for less

than a heartbeat, less than the time it took to blink. So at least some

part of the woman knew the truth.

 

"Thank you for letting me make the examination," Eiah said. "You're very

kind. And I wish the best of luck to you both."

 

"All three," the woman corrected.

 

"All three," Eiah said.

 

She walked from the room while Parit arranged his patient. The

antechamber glowed by the light of a small lantern. Worked stone and

carved wood made the room seem more spacious than it was. Two bowls, one

of old wine and another of fresh water, stood waiting. Eiah washed her

hands in the wine first. The chill against her fingers helped wash away

the warmth of the woman's flesh. The sooner she could forget that, the

better.

 

Voices came from the examining room like echoes. Eiah didn't listen.

When she put her hands into the water, the wine turned it pink. She

dried herself with a cloth laid by for the purpose, moving slowly to be

sure both the husband and wife were gone before she returned.

 

Parit was washing down the slate table with vinegar and a stiff brush.

It was something Eiah had done often when she'd first apprenticed to the

physicians, all those years ago. There were fewer apprentices now, and

Parit didn't complain.

 

"Well?" he asked.

 

"There's no child in her," Eiah said.

 

"Of course not," he said. "But the signs she does show. The pooled

blood, the swelling. The loss of her monthly flow. And yet there's no

slackening in her joints, no shielding in her sex. It's a strange mix."

 

"I've seen it before," Eiah said.

 

Parit stopped. His hands took a pose of query. Eiah sighed and leaned

against one of the high stools.

 

"Desire," Eiah said. "That's all. Want something that you can't have

badly enough, and the longing becomes a disease."

 

Her fellow physician and onetime lover paused for a moment, considering

Eiah's words, then looked down and continued his cleaning.

 

"I suppose we should have said something," he said.

 

"There's nothing to say," Eiah said. "They're happy now, and they'll be

sad later. What good would it do us to hurry that?"

 

Parit gave the half-smile she'd known on him years before, but didn't

look up to meet her gaze.

 

"There is something to be said in favor of truth," he said.

 

"And there's something to be said for letting her keep her husband for

another few weeks," Eiah said.

 

"You don't know that he'll turn her out," he said.

 

Eiah took a pose that accepted correction. They both knew it was a

gentle sarcasm. Parit chuckled and poured a last rinse over the slate

table: the rush of the water like a fountain trailed off to small, sharp

drips that reminded Eiah of wet leaves at the end of a storm. Parit

pulled out a stool and sat, his hands clasped in his lap. Eiah felt a

sudden awkwardness that hadn't been there before. She was always better

when she could inhabit her role. If Parit had been bleeding from the

neck, she would have been sure of herself. That he was only looking at

her made her aware of the sharpness of her face, the gray in her hair

that she'd had since her eighteenth summer, and the emptiness of the

house. She took a formal pose that offered gratitude. Perhaps a degree

more formal than was needed.

 

"Thank you for sending for me," Eiah said. "It's late, and I should be

getting back."

 

"To the palaces," he said. There was warmth and humor in his voice.

There always had been. "You could also stay here."

 

Eiah knew she should have been tempted at least. The glow of old love

and half-recalled sex should have wafted in her nostrils like mulled

wine. He was still lovely. She was still alone.

 

"I don't think I could, Parit-kya," she said, switching from the formal

to the intimate to pull the sting from it.

 

"Why not?" he asked, making it sound as if he was playing.

 

"There are a hundred reasons," Eiah said, keeping her tone as light as

his. "Don't make me list them."

 

He chuckled and took a pose that surrendered the game. Eiah felt herself

relax a degree, and smiled. She found her bag by the door and slung its

strap over her shoulder.

 

"You still hide behind that," Parit said.

 

Eiah looked down at the battered leather satchel, and then up at him,

the question in her eyes.

 

"There's too much to fit in my sleeves," she said. "I'd clank like a

toolshed every time I waved."

 

"That's not why you carry it," he said. "It's so that people see a

physician and not your father's daughter. You've always been like that."

 

It was his little punishment for her return to her own rooms. There had

been a time when she'd have resented the criticism. That time had passed.

 

"Good night, Parit-kya," she said. "It was good to see you again."

 

He took a pose of farewell, and then walked with her to the door. In the

courtyard of his house, the autumn moon was full and bright and heavy.

The air smelled of wood smoke and the ocean. Warmth so late in the

season still surprised her. In the north, where she'd spent her

girlhood, the chill would have been deadly by now. Here, she hardly

needed a heavy robe.

 

Parit stopped in the shadows beneath a wide shade tree, its golden

leaves lined with silver by the moonlight. Eiah had her hand on the gate

before he spoke.

 

"Was that what you were looking for?" he asked.

 

She looked back, paused, and took a pose that asked for clarification.

There were too many things he might have meant.

 

"When you wrote, you said to watch for unusual cases," Parit said. "Was

she what you had in mind?"

 

"No," Eiah said. "That wasn't it." She passed from the garden to the street.

 

A decade and a half had passed since the power of the andat had left the

world. For generations before that, the cities of the Khaiem had been

protected by the poets-men who had dedicated their lives to binding one

of the spirits, the thoughts made flesh. Stone-Made-Soft, whom Eiah had

known as a child with its wide shoulders and amiable smile, was one of

them. It had made the mines around the northern city of Machi the

greatest in the world. Water-Moving-Down, who generations ago had

commanded the rains to come or else to cease, the rivers to flow or else

run dry. Removing-the-Part-That-Continues, called Seedless, who had

plucked the seeds from the cotton harvests of Saraykeht and discreetly

ended pregnancies.

 

Each of the cities had had one, and each city had shaped its trade and

commerce to exploit the power of its particular andat to the advantage

of its citizens. War had never come to the cities of the Khaiem. No one

dared to face an enemy who might make the mountains flow like rivers,

who might flood your cities or cause your crops to fail or your women to

miscarry. For almost ten generations, the cities of the Khaiem had stood

above the world like adults over children.

 

And then the Galtic general Balasar Gice had made his terrible wager and

won. The andat left the world, and left it in ruins. For a blood-soaked

spring, summer, and autumn, the armies of Galt had washed over the

cities like a wave over sandcastles. Nantani, Udun, Yalakeht,

Chaburi-Tan. The great cities fell to the foreign swords. The Khaiem

died. The Dai-kvo and his poets were put to the sword and their

libraries burned. Eiah still remembered being fourteen summers old and

waiting for death to come. She had been only the daughter of the Khai

Machi then, but that had been enough. The Galts, who had taken every

other city, were advancing on them. And their only hope had been Uncle

Maati, the disgraced poet, and his bid to bind one last andat.

 

She had been present in the warehouse when he'd attempted the binding.

She'd seen it go wrong. She had felt it in her body. She and every other

woman in the cities of the Khaiem. And every man of Galt.

Corruptingthe-Generative, the last andat had been named.

 

Sterile.

 

Since that day, no woman of the cities of the Khaiem had borne a child.

No man of Galt had fathered one. It was a dark joke. Enemy nations

locked in war afflicted with complementary curses. Yourhistory will be

written by half-breeds, Sterile had said, or it won't be written. Eiah

knew the words because she had been in the room when the world had been

broken. Her own father had taken the name Emperor when he sued for

peace, and Emperor he had become. Emperor of a fallen world.

 

Perhaps Parit was right. Perhaps she had taken to her vocation as

single-mindedly as she had because she wanted to be something else.

Something besides her father's daughter. As the princess of the new

empire, she would have been a marriage to some foreign ward or king or

lord incapable of bearing children. The degraded currency of her body

would have been her definition.

 

Physician and healer were better roles to play. Walking through the

darkened streets of Saraykeht, her robes and her satchel afforded her a

BOOK: THE (tlpq-4)
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Unholy Alliance by Don Gutteridge
The Dark Lady by Dawn Chandler
Besieged by L.P. Lovell
Gold Fever by Vicki Delany
Into the Shadow by Christina Dodd
Double Blind by Vanessa Waltz
The Snow Vampire by Michael G. Cornelius
The Shadow Project by Herbie Brennan
Bums on Seats by Tom Davies