GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ Spotlight: A Dance with Fate (Warrior Bards) by Juliet Marillier + excerpt | I Smell Sheep

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Spotlight: A Dance with Fate (Warrior Bards) by Juliet Marillier + excerpt

by Juliet Marillier
September 1, 2020
512 pages
Genre: Norse & Viking Myth & Legend, Historical Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery
Publisher: Ace
A young woman who is both a bard--and a warrior--seeks to repay her debts and settle scores in this thrilling historical fantasy series.
The young warrior and bard Liobhan has lost her brother to the Otherworld. Even more determined to gain a place as an elite fighter, she returns to Swan Island to continue her training. But Liobhan is devastated when her comrade Dau is injured and loses his sight in their final display bout. Blamed by Dau's family for the accident, she agrees to go to Dau's home as a bond servant for the span of one year.

There, she soon learns that Oakhill is a place of dark secrets. The vicious Crow Folk still threaten both worlds. And Dau, battling the demon of despair, is not an easy man to help.

When Liobhan and Dau start to expose the rot at the center of Oakhill, they place themselves in deadly danger. For their enemy wields great power and will stop at nothing to get his way. It will take all the skills of a Swan Island warrior and a touch of the uncanny to give them a hope of survival. . . .

Praise for the Warrior Bards series by Juliet Marillier
“This big-hearted novel completely transported me to the wonder and enchantment of ancient Ireland--and its resonance lingered long after the final page.”
—Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land
“Breathtaking, often heartbreaking. . . . This lush fantasy is sure to win Marillier many new fans.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A tale that draws on some haunting fairy tale elements while telling an exciting adventure all its own.”—Locus

It's a glorious day. The sun is warm, the clouds are high puffs of white, the sea is as calm as it ever gets around Swan Island. We're sitting on the bench seats at the combat area, tingling with anticipation, knowing today's celebration marks the end of many months of grueling work. Work that we've loved and hated. Work that has tried us to the edge of our endurance and stretched us to the furthest bounds of our ability-though, as Archu has told us, in a crisis you can always find a bit more to give. Work that has forged not only four warriors fit to join the island's permanent force, but also four true friends.

They don't choose many. When we started training there were twenty in our group. Fifteen went home. My brother Brocc was lost on our first mission. Not dead; gone to the Otherworld, in a strange and baffling series of events. I miss him every day. I think of him every time I sing. I'm afraid he will never come back.

"All right?" murmurs Dau, who's sitting beside me.

"Fine." I sound sharp, but I can't help it. I so wish Brocc was here with us, enjoying this day, sharing our success. "Look, there they are!"

We jump to our feet, shouting encouragement as our fellow trainees walk out onto the combat ground, staves in hand. They have the next display bout, then it's Dau and me. We're well warmed up, ready to go, but we're not going to miss watching Hrothgar and Yann show their talents. A great noise goes up, the voices of every resident of Swan Island cheering the combatants. There's nobody off on a mission at present, so there's a crowd of nearly sixty watching: fighters, trainers, the folk who support the work of the island, and the elders: Cionnaola, our leader; Archu, our chief combat trainer; Brigid and Eabha and Haki and the others. They're the best of the best. Those lucky enough-and talented enough-to be trained here are highly sought after when kings and chieftains need a task completed that's beyond the ability of their own men-at-arms. Or their own spies, if they have them. Sometimes our missions fall somewhat outside the rules of law. We do covert work. Secret work. That's why we live and train in such an isolated place. It's why few outsiders come here. And it's why the training period is so long. They've not only been testing our physical skills, they've been making sure we're trustworthy. Making sure we won't crack under torture. And making sure we can think for ourselves. It's unusual for them to take four new fighters at once. We know how lucky we are. And we know we've earned it.

Hrothgar and Yann enter the combat space. The field edge is marked by a circle of rope laid on the ground. The combatants halt, facing the elders, and with staves held upright they bow. Cionnaola gives a grave nod of acknowledgment. The crowd is quiet now.

"Three coppers on Hrothgar," whispers Dau in my ear.

"Done." Hrothgar, a Norseman, is taller and broader than Yann. But the Armorican has a talent for deception. That makes him dangerous. Yann's beaten me once or twice, using that skill, and I know it's a mistake to underestimate him.

The two turn to face each other and bow again. They assume a fighting pose, staves gripped in both hands, one near the end, one partway up the shaft. They move about, backward and forward, jabbing in turn, each looking for an opening. Both men wear protective leather helms-those things get hot as an oven and you end up with sweat obscuring your vision, but for this sort of fight you need them-and padded jerkins over their trousers and tunics.

"Wait for it, wait for it," murmurs Dau. "Ah!" as Yann loses patience and rushes forward. His intention is clear: to knock aside Hrothgar's staff, then jab his own toward the other man's midriff. But he's not quick enough; the end of Hrothgar's weapon strikes Yann's arm hard. I know what that does: your fingers go numb for long, precious moments. Yann skips back out of reach, winces, shaking his hand, flexing his fingers.

"Playactor," mutters Dau.

I can't argue. When Yann grips his staff again, he's moved his hands; now they're a handspan further along. This will place the staff slightly further away from Hrothgar than before. Yann's used his own error to his advantage. And now, under cover of a momentary hesitation, he puts one foot forward but leans his upper body back. "Clever," I murmur.

Hrothgar thrusts high to low, aiming for his opponent's chest. If Yann hadn't tricked him, this would be a bout-ending move. But Yann is closer than Hrothgar expected. The Armorican shifts his weight to the front foot and slides his staff through his front hand straight into Hrothgar's chest, between the lower ribs. Hrothgar folds. He can't breathe. His hand goes up in the gesture, I yield.

The crowd roars. Yann steps back, waits for his opponent to catch his breath-it takes a while-then stands beside Hrothgar again as they acknowledge the applause.

Dau and I don't wait to see them walk off. It's our bout now. The last of the day; an unarmed combat, best of three rounds.

"Can't bet on this one," says Dau with a crooked smile as we make our way down to the combat area, where someone is raking the ground, getting it ready for us. Folk do have a habit of throwing things when they get excited. Dust rises around the rake.

"But if you could, you'd bet on yourself to win, no doubt."

"No doubt. I'd wish you good luck, but I want Bran's Blade, so I won't."

"Skill beats luck," I tell him, pausing to put on my helm. Gods, I hate these things! They get even hotter when you have a lot of hair to squash in, as I do. I've been tempted to cut my hair short, but when I'm not fighting I'm a musician, and the long hair feels right when I dress up to perform. And useful when I'm working under cover and needing to look more like an ordinary woman and less like a Swan Island warrior.

At a gesture from Archu, Dau and I walk together into the combat space, where all is now in readiness. Folk cheer and shout as we go; this is a joyful day not only for us but for the whole community. A special day. Bran's Blade is displayed on a cushion, next to Cionnaola. It will be awarded to the most outstanding fighter, not only of today but of the whole training period. It's an old, well-kept dagger, beautifully balanced, of plain design apart from the tiny image of a bee in flight carved on the oak hilt. This weapon is said to have belonged to the man who founded Swan Island long ago, a man who was called an outlaw but who showed great heart, spirit, and generosity to his fighting team. His son and his grandson were in their turn part of the island community, and there are descendants of that original crew still among us. Nobody gets to keep Bran's Blade forever. One of us will be given it today, to look after and to use until a new custodian earns the privilege through some act of outstanding valor or skill. A training and testing period such as the one that saw me and my three comrades win places on the island happens only rarely. It's more usual for fighters to join the community one at a time, each coming here by his or her own path. You have to be capable. You have to be skilled. And you need the right attitude. I thought Dau lacked that when I first met him. His manner was arrogant, scornful, aloof, as you might expect from a chieftain's son. The mission changed my opinion. It changed both of us. But the old rivalry still remains. We both want Bran's Blade. We both want to be the best.

We salute the elders, bow to Cionnaola, position ourselves within the rope guideline.

"Three rounds," calls out Archu, informing the crowd of what we already know. "Win two and you're the victor. Set foot outside the boundary and you lose that round immediately. No eye gouging. No groin strikes. Remember it's a display bout, not a fight to the death. Break those rules and you'll not only forfeit the fight, you'll be emptying privies and hauling goods up from the ferry for a good long while. Understood?"

This is probably meant for me. I do have a reputation for using dirty tricks to win if the situation requires it. But I know better than to try that today of all days. Dau and I both nod and murmur, "Understood."

"Begin," calls Archu.

by Juliet Marillier
September 3, 2019
512 pages
Genre: Norse & Viking Myth & Legend, Historical Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery
Publisher: Ace
A young woman is both a bard--and a warrior--in this thrilling historical fantasy from the author of the Sevenwaters novels.

Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan's burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . . .

About the Author:
Juliet Marillier is a member of the druid order OBOD and is the author of the Blackthorn & Grim novels and the Sevenwaters series. Her historical fantasy novels and short stories are published internationally and have won a number of awards.

No comments:

Post a Comment