Battle The House War


My life has been deadline heavy in the past year, in part because turning a creative art into a professional one can be fraught. If things work relatively smoothly, the butt-in-chair school of writing works, and absent the usual writing stresses, everyone is more or less happy. When things don’t work, they have to be fixed, and if they don’t work several times, they have to be fixed several times, which leads to a sudden, rushing vacuum where all the time used to be.

So: for keeping me as sane as I generally get when things are exploding or burning down, thanks go to Ken and Tami Sagara, Thomas, and Terry; to Kristen and John Chew for feeding us all on Mondays, for Daniel and Ross who have a much more realistic and unromantic view of a writer’s life (my favorite comment was Daniel’s, “Mom, could you try to be a little more objective about your own work?” when the hair-pulling had reached epic proportions).

For sanity beyond the realm of the “Oh. My. God this is never going to fit in one book” terror, Sheila Gilbert, my long-time editor and friend at DAW, and Joshua Starr. And Jody Lee, of course, for her beautiful art.


24th of Henden, 427 A.A.

Terrean of Averda

THE TREE STOOD ALONE in the moonlight. The forest with which it had once been surrounded had withered; dead trees, trunks hollowed, shed dry branches in a circle for yards. Little grass or undergrowth survived in the lee of the tree; no insects crawled along its bark; no birds nested in its slender branches. It lived, yes, but its life was almost an elegy. Where wind dared to touch it, no leaves rustled; it gave nothing back.

Nothing but illumination. Light extruded from bark that seemed, at a distance, to be composed of ice; from branches that seemed sharp and slender, like long, narrow blades. There were leaves on those branches, and in the moon’s light, they looked silvered, their edges inexplicably dark. The tree cast a long shadow over silent ground.

Into that shadow two men walked. One wore robes that seemed to draw moonlight into its weave; one wore dusty, sweat-stained cloth. The latter was armed, although this unnatural clearing was utterly silent. Both men paused ten yards from the tree, scanning the ground that surrounded it.

“Can you hear it?” Meralonne asked softly, his gaze held by the Winter tree.

His companion closed his eyes. After a brief pause, he nodded.


“Like the others, it cannot be saved. It sings of cold, of isolation, of fear. It will devour all in its attempt to appease its hunger.” His breath sharpened as the mage approached the tree, one hand raised. “APhaniel—”

“If it cannot be saved, it must be destroyed.”

Kallandras said nothing. Meralonne APhaniel habitually guarded the tone of his words, but it had been a long six days, and even he had grown weary. The bard, not the mage, whispered a benediction to the wind, and the wind intervened. It lifted the mage off the ground a moment before the earth beneath his feet broke and roots crested its surface, moving like misshapen snakes.

“APhaniel,” he said again, cajoling the mage as he might cajole the wild wind at its most reluctant, “This tree cannot be saved.”

The mage proved more truculent than elemental air; he would not be moved. Roots coiled beneath his feet, snapping at the underside of boots they couldn’t quite reach. Like the tree they sustained, they were silver, their luminescence veiled by dirt.


The mage turned, eyes flashing as if they were diamond in clear, sunlit sky—hard, bright, cold. And beautiful. Always that. Kallandras fell silent.

Taking a step into air, the bard cleared ground, hovering above it, weapons ready. If Meralonne was unwilling to countenance the certainty of failure, the bard was not. He remained silent; the single glance had been warning enough. Even when roots erupted in a frenzy beneath his feet, piercing the air upon which he now stood, he did not speak a word—not to the mage.

He spoke to the roots, but he spoke in the silence granted any of the bard-born; only the tree itself could hear what he said, and the answer offered was the sharp thrust of those roots toward his chest; they were hard and sharpened, like long, curved knives, and their tips glittered in the radiant light of the tree’s bark. His blades cut three, and slid off three more; he leaped up to a height that the roots couldn’t easily follow. Given time, they