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Excerpt: The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

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Seth Dickinson’s epic fantasy series which began with the “literally breathtaking” (NPR) The Traitor Baru Cormorant, returns with the third book, The Tyrant Baru Cormorant.

The hunt is over. After fifteen years of lies and sacrifice, Baru Cormorant has the power to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest that she pretends to serve. The secret society called the Cancrioth is real, and Baru is among them.

But the Cancrioth’s weapon cannot distinguish the guilty from the innocent. If it escapes quarantine, the ancient hemorrhagic plague called the Kettling will kill hundreds of millions…not just in Falcrest, but all across the world. History will end in a black bloodstain.

Is that justice? Is this really what Tain Hu hoped for when she sacrificed herself?

Baru’s enemies close in from all sides. Baru’s own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path—a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world’s riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize.

If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, on sale 8/11.


1

“Baru. Wake up.”

She wakes up but she does not know when or where. Is she on Eternal, drugged by the shadow ambassador? No, there’s no black water licking at her ankles. She cannot be in the interrogation pit.

Is she on Kyprananoke, after the red lagoon and the grove of killed children? No. She cannot smell the crab meat on Tain Shir’s fire.

Perhaps she is on Helbride, dreaming of Tain Hu, while honey trickles through her eye socket and meningitis burns up her brain. Or napping in a hammock outside her parents’ house by the River Rubiyya, as the sounds of the bazaar she invented fill the morning air.

Shouldn’t she be good at this by now? How many times has she awakened from some wound or illness, ready to revise her accounts of what she’s lost?  This, of all skills, she should have mastered.

She takes a breath, pours it out again. Fear flowing away like wash water. You will never wake up to anything worse than Sieroch. You will never wake  up to anything better than Tain Hu’s arms.

Then she sets to work.

The air smells of harsh soap and salt. So she is in a hygiene clinic, near the sea. There’s a hint of perfume, too, a man’s citrus-bitter bergamot. The man who woke her.

She lays down her own name as a cornerstone.

“Baru,” she says. “I’m Baru.”

And it is only a little bit a lie.

“Oh, thank virtue,” the man breathes.

All her faculties snap into defensive array, like a phalanx locking shields for the fight. She knows this man. He is critical. The most critical. She doesn’t trust him and he must continue to trust her.

“Baru,” the man says, anxiously, “can you understand me?”

She tries to open her eyes, and cannot. Either they are swollen shut, or covered over, or gone. “Yes,” she says, “I can understand you, Mister Farrier.”

“What do you remember?”

She remembers that this man is Cairdine Farrier, her patron and her target. He found her as a child, in the markets of Taranoke, while his Imperial Republic of Falcrest (slowly, subtly, ingeniously) devoured her home. In his own way he devoured her, too. He gave her the Iriad school and a proper Falcrest education. He gave her inoculations when the pox came. He gave her algebra, astronomy, geometric proofs and maps of the world, everything she had ever dreamt of knowing. And all he took from her, all he ever asked, was her mother, and her fathers, and her people, and her lover, and her soul.

“Mister Farrier,” she says, “you’d sent me away . . . to find something old.”

Oh, something ancient. Something he needs to win his war. He has cultivated her as his weapon; he has introduced her into the circle of cryptarchs who rule the Imperial Republic of Falcrest in secret. She has learned about his lifelong battle, a struggle of dissections and insinuations and cold talk over warm brandy, against the eugenicist Cosgrad Torrinde, who believes that her people are fit only for farming, fishing, and pleasure.

And at last she has discovered the fulcrum, the place where it all comes to crisis.

Farrier has a deadline.

His struggle will end this year, in the disposition of the Oriati problem: a final test of his methods against Cosgrad’s Torrinde. One man or the other will provide the technique that will allow the Imperial Republic of Falcrest, the Masquerade, to conquer and digest Oriati Mbo, the greatest and oldest civilization in the world.

In preparation for the endgame, Farrier sent her to recover a certain piece of information, the flint to start the fire. He did not know that piece of flint was a man, Abdumasi Abd, who had summoned the oldest power in the world to aid his revenge on Falcrest.

“What’s been done to me?” she croaks. “Where are we, Mister Farrier?”

Gloved hands stroke her temples. She smells the edge of his mint-fresh breath, respectfully averted. He is always proper with her. “You’ve been hurt. But you’re safe now. In Falcrest. With me.”

She tries on a frown, the impatience of a tested schoolgirl. “Who hurt me?”

“My enemy’s agent, Baru. Do you remember Xate Yawa?”

“Yes. I remember her.” Just as she is Farrier’s protégé, Yawa is the protégé of the enemy, Cosgrad Torrinde. As old and careful as she is young and reckless. And bound, each of them, to the shattered land of Aurdwynn: she by love of a dead woman, and Yawa by love of a hostage twin.

Maybe a better woman could have found common ground with Yawa.

Not Baru. Baru could never have made an alliance with Yawa, and Farrier knows it.

“Do you remember the man she served?” Farrier whispers.

“Cosgrad Torrinde. Hesychast. The eugenicist.” The man who would pure-breed the world. “We had to stop him, Mister Farrier.”

She smells salt again, and this time, because of the hitch in his breath, she knows that Cairdine Farrier is weeping. Is he weeping for her? She must be certain.

“Yes, Baru. The moment’s come, the Reckoning of Ways. The Oriati problem will be resolved. One of us will gain control over the other forever, and so over the future of the Republic. He has what he needs to win, and if he does . . . you know what it means.”

“Slavery,” she whispers. “The human race bred like dogs.”

“Yes.”

“Why are you crying, Mister Farrier?”

“Because they hurt you, Baru.”

“I failed you. I didn’t bring you what  you need.. ”

“No, Baru, no, no, you did brilliantly.” And she hears that traitor hitch of compassion in his breath, spoor of his hidden weakness: she finds herself salivating, because she wants so badly to get a claw into that hidden wound and tear it bloody.

He goes on, unaware, trying to soothe her with the power at his command. “Have you ever known an evil man, Baru? A criminal, a wife-beater, an incompetent or a drunk, who sits behind his desk every day, guilty in all eyes but legally untouchable? Everyone knows what he’s done but no one can prove it, no one can act. His reputation simmers but never boils. Have you ever known a man like that?”

“Yes,” she says, forcing herself not to smile, even a little, at the secret joke.

“Imagine that man is an entire nation. A confederation of nations with a knot of cancer in their old hearts. A thousand years they’ve waited for their reckoning. And I sent you, Baru, you”—his hand touches her shoulder, clasps gently—“to find that one ultimate secret which will turn the Oriati on each other. I knew what the secret must be. I just needed proof.

“There are clerks and presses all over this city waiting to tell the world what you’ve found. Little criers on street corners, rhetorics on their podiums, Tahari gamblers putting odds, Suettaring investors with wet pens waiting to write their advice columns, what to buy and what to sell. There are message rockets in their tubes, ships straining at their anchors, diplomatic bags ready for the sealed letter. All of it’s ready for you, Baru. I’ve made it all ready.” She hears the wet flicker of his lashes. “I let you sleep as long as I could, because the doctors said it would help you recover. But the time’s come. I can’t wait anymore. I have to know, please.”

He leans closer. His whisper trembles under the strain of all his hopes. “Did you find them?”

She creases her forehead in thought. It is deliberate bait, and it fishes out of Farrier a murmur of fear. He isn’t afraid that she failed. Isla Cauteria will have seen to that. Hundreds of people must have witnessed golden Eternal.

He’s afraid that she doesn’t remember the necessary details.

“The Cancrioth,” she says. “You sent me to find the Cancrioth ”

The Oriati are a nation of two hundred million neighbors. They bicker, gossip, tear down each others’ fences, suffer disaster and pandemic and sometimes, even, war. But the thousand-year glue which holds the Oriati Mbo together is unshakable belief in the intrinsic and inalienable humanity of your neighbor, an ethics they call trim. She has stopped trying to force it into logical terms: it is a morality that cannot be separated from the community that practices it, cannot be exploited or manipulated or even defined by one person alone. Giving without hope of getting, in the hope of getting without needing  to ask. You can attain good trim and everyone will know it’s yours. But you  cannot ask how to get good trim, or even claim to have it.

The Oriati Mbo, the House of Trim, is a nation of nations spanning half the known world.

There is only one thing which could destroy trim and break the Mbo, so that Falcrest can settle the porcelain of the Masquerade over their black brows. So that Farrier can put Oriati children in Falcrest schools, put Oriati families to work on land owned by Falcrest, siphon Oriati lumber and gold and ideas away to Falcrest’s ships and treasuries and universities. There is only one thing which can destroy the Oriati Mbo.

The destroyer has a name.

“The Cancrioth. Yes. I met their leaders. There was an evil woman with a triangle cut from her skull, and a good man with a stalk for an eye, and a woman with . . . something in her womb they traveled on a golden ship. I met them, Mister Farrier.”

Farrier groans in relief. “Yes! You understand what this means?”

She tells it to him exactly as he taught it to her. “The Oriati are afraid of us. They cannot understand how tiny Falcrest has challenged the vast Mbo. Some of them feel the Federal Princes and their faith in trim have failed.

“When we reveal the Cancrioth, alive and powerful after a thousand years in hiding, those doubters will look to the cancer cultists for protection against us. They will abandon trim. There will be a civil war, then. A hundred million against a hundred million. A democlysm: death like no dying the world has ever seen. And once the old ways are torn down, once the Princes are overthrown and the mbo is shattered  you can get inside whatever’s left. Digest them, make them Falcrest’s possession. The whole Ashen Sea would be united under the Masquerade. And you would at last defeat Cosgrad Torrinde and his future of eugenics.”

“Yes, Baru”—he is exultant, his prodigy at work, understanding everything just the way he wants—“yes, yes, you remember!”

“I’m your savant,” she says, slowly, as if she’s just recollecting it herself. “Of course I remember. What happened to me, Mister Farrier? What makes you so afraid that I’d forget? I haven’t been…”

She tries to raise her left hand to her face, and finds herself tied up in a straitjacket.

“Damaged?” she asks, softly.

“Never mind that. Never you worry, it’s all going to be all right, I promise, I do. Oh, Baru, you wonderful woman, you marvel”—he pauses to get his breath—“just tell me, please, if you can, if it’s not too hard, did you bring home proof of the Cancrioth?”

“Of course I did.”

“Yes!” He leans closer. “Is the information of quality?”

“I found an eyewitness who contacted the Cancrioth, obtained their money and weapons, and used that support to launch an armed attack on a province  of our Imperial Republic.” The witness is Abdumasi Abd; although, if you believe what some believe, he is more than one man, he is all the other souls that grow in the flesh of his spinal cord. “I brought him to Falcrest.”

“Oh virtue,” he says, “oh, kings, Baru.” He has to get his breath. What she has done is not like finding an eyewitness to prove a crime. She has found the criminal and all his conspirators, and obtained from them a signed promise to commit more crime, and walked out of their headquarters untouched. It is probably the greatest coup one of Farrier’s agents has ever achieved. Or she has grown very full of herself.

“What did you see?” So close, he cannot pretend patience. She tips her head forward as if responding unconsciously to his energy; his voice shifts as he pulls away. “What did you see on their ship, Baru?”

“I remember ”

Kimbune. Kimbune asking her questions, while the water rose around her down in Tubercule.

“I remember a voice,” she says.

Copyright © 2020 by Seth Dickinson

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