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Excerpt: The Fiends of Nightmaria by Steven Erikson

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The Fiends of Nightmaria is a new novella from New York Times bestselling author Steven Erikson, set in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

The king is dead, long live King Bauchelain the First, crowned by the Grand Bishop Korbal Broach. Both are, of course, ably assisted in the running of the Kingdom of Farrog by their slowly unravelling servant, Emancipor Reese. However, tensions are mounting between Farrog and the neighboring country of Nightmaria, the mysterious home of the Fiends. Their ambassador, Ophal D Neeth Flatroq, seeks an audience with King Bauchelain, who has thus far rebuffed his overtures. But the necromancer has some other things on his plate.

To quell potential rebellion nearly all the artists, poets, and bards in the city have been put to death. A few survivors languish in the dungeons, bemoaning their fates. Well, just moaning in general really…and maybe plotting escape and revenge.

Please enjoy this excerpt of The Fiends of Nightmaria by Steven Erikson, on sale 03/16/2021.


Part One

ONE NIGHT IN FARROG

Beetle praata’s horse collapsed under him just outside the embassy’s stables, making it easier to dismount. He stepped to one side to regard the fallen beast, and then gave one tentative kick to its lathered haunch, eliciting no response.

Puny Sploor, the groundskeeper and stabler, edged into view from the sentry cubicle, holding one flickering candle, his rheumy eyes blinking.

Beetle Praata gestured at the horse. ‘Brush this down and drag it close to some hay.’

Puny rubbed at one skinny arm, as if the effort of holding up the candle had exhausted it. ‘It’s dead,’ he observed.

Beetle frowned and then shrugged. ‘You never know.’

Leaving the stabler and the horse in the small yard, the Imperial Courier of Nightmaria made his way into the embassy. Just outside the heavy bronze door he paused and squinted up into the night sky. The stars seemed to swim in a vast pool of black water, as if he had sunk to unimaginable depths, swallowed by a diluvean dream from which no awakening was possible. He drew a deep, cleansing breath, and then lifted the heavy iron ring, turned it until it clicked, pulled open the massive door, and strode inside.

The air within was redolent, thick with the pungent reek of decay. Offering bowls of green, slimy copper occupied flanking niches at eye-level to either side of the formal entranceway, filled with moss from which parasitic flowers spilled down to snake across the narrow ledges. A thick, loose rug underfoot made wet sounds beneath his boots, and from it arose the cloying smell of rot.

He unclipped his scaled leather highway cloak, shaking the dust from it before setting it on a hook. He plucked from his belt a pair of kid-skin gloves and methodically pulled them on, ensuring that each finger was snug. Satisfied, he continued on, exiting the entranceway to find himself in the vast audience chamber that had never known a foreign guest. The lush padding of the settees to either side of the Ambassador’s Chair were now lumpy, the filling spilled out from rotted holes here and there, and in places where small creatures nested the humps in the fabric moved up and down every now and then. Overhead, a chandelier of roseate crystal was mostly obscured beneath frayed braids of moss and lichens, its hundred candles long since eaten by mice and whatnot. From somewhere nearby, water trickled.

Beetle Praata strode to one side and tugged on a ratty cord, somewhat gingerly lest it part, and upon hearing a distant chime, he nodded to himself and settled in to wait.

Motion from beneath one of the settees drew his eye and he observed as a slow-worm, with a blunt maw big enough to swallow the head of a small dog, slithered into view. Lifting its sightless muzzle, it quested from one side to the next, and then set out sliding directly towards Beetle.

From somewhere nearby, deeper into the sanctum, came a muted dragging sound, along with faint, meaty flops, and the hint of something scaly sliding across the damp tiles.

Beetle crouched when the slow-worm finally reached him. He patted its blunt head, lightly enough to keep the stains to his gloves to a minimum. The slow-worm circled him, its knobby tail twitching. As the other sounds drew closer, he straightened and turned into time to see a hunched, uneven form creep into view from a narrow passageway hidden behind a mouldy curtain.

Clad in green silks, Ambassador Ophal D’Neeth Flatroq seemed to hover a moment, and then began a rhythmic swaying, similar to a cobra with hood unfurled. The robe Ophal wore was high-cowled, framing a bald pate of glistening scales, strangely curled ears that ended at vague, possibly chewed points, eyes of murky green, pallid brows and cheeks the hue of a serpent’s belly, and a toothless mouth of thick, flabby lips. One hand held up an open oil lamp, flames flickering, revealing fingers without nails and heavy scales upon the back of the hand.

A thin tongue slipped out and darted for a moment before retreating again.

Beetle Praata bowed. ‘Ambassador.’

‘Hissip svlah, thlup?’

‘Alas, yes. As expected, I’m afraid.’ The Imperial Courier reached beneath his tunic and drew out a wooden tube, its ends sealed in wax, the seals bearing the stamp of the Royal Signet Ring.

‘Prrlll obbel lell,’ Ophal sighed, placing the oil lamp on a nearby ledge and then accepting the king’s command. Twisting one end of the tube broke a seal and the ambassador probed with a greenish finger until he was able to pull out the vellum. Unfurling it, Ophal peered close, eyes tracking the script. His tongue slithered out again, this time from one corner of his mouth, then retreated once more. ‘Ahh, prrlll. Flluth villl rrrh na.’

Beetle’s brows lifted. ‘This very night? Very well. Shall I await the reply?’

Ophal nodded, and then sighed again. ‘Mah yull thelff hathome.’

The courier bowed a second time.

The ambassador gestured down at the slow-worm, ‘Eemlee, prrlll come!’

Ophal retreated from whence he came, the slow-worm slithering after him.

Beetle walked over to one of the settees and carefully sat down, ensuring that he crushed nothing. It was going to be a long night. He watched a spider chase a mouse across the floor.

‘We do it tonight,’ said Plaintly Grasp, leaning over the ale-stained table, the one always reserved for her at the very back of Pink’s Tavern. She ran a finger through a pool of ale, making a stream to the table’s edge, and watched it drain.

‘Hey,’ growled Barunko, ‘something’s wet my crotch.’ He straightened slightly, glaring about.

‘You’re always saying that,’ observed Symondenalian Niksos – known to many as The Knife. He was playing with one of his daggers, the blade slipping back and forth and under and over his scarred, cut-up hand. The blade twisted and he winced, but continued his manipulations. ‘Tonight, is it? I’m ready. I’ve been ready for a week.’

Scowling across at him, Plaintly said, ‘She was arrested only two nights ago, you idiot. And stop that, you’re dripping blood all over the table again.’ She looked to the others. In addition to Barunko – their muscle – and Symondenalian Niksos, who couldn’t recall seeing a back he didn’t want to stab, there was Lurma Spilibus, who’d never met a lock she couldn’t pick or a purse she couldn’t snatch, her red tangle of curly hair piled high and wayward, her triangular face bulging at one cheek with a wad of pulped Prazzn, her eyes perpetually crossed as she squinted at the tankard cradled in her hands.

Beside Lurma and huddled together, Mortari and Le Groutt, master burglars who’d yet to meet a wall they couldn’t scale. Mortari was the smaller of the two, with a pinched face and the manic eyes of a terrier needing to piss. He was panting slightly in the fug of the tavern. Leaning hard against his left shoulder was Le Groutt, swarthy and snaggle-toothed, showing his broad and possibly witless yellow grin, his head bobbing as he looked about, habitually assessing walls, railings, ledges and whatever else a man might climb.

She studied them all, gauging, and then nodded. ‘So we’re back together,’ she said.

Le Groutt showed her his smile. ‘The Famous Party of Five.’

‘Infamous,’ drawled Symon The Knife. He flinched and the knife clattered to the tabletop. Sucking at his thumb, he glowered at Plaintly but said nothing more.

‘The Royal Palace,’ mused Lurma. ‘That won’t be easy. Who knows what that insane necromancer’s let loose in the crypts.’ She snapped up her crazed squint, shifted the wad in her mouth until it bulged the other cheek, and then said, ‘Barunko, you up to this? Could be demons. Revenants. Giant snakes.’

‘Unsubstantiated,’ cut in Plaintly. ‘He’s a usurper. That and nothing more. And the new Grand Bishop is a drooling simpleton. All this talk of sorcery and necromancy is just propaganda, to keep away people like us.’

‘Did I pee on myself?’ Barunko asked.

‘He’s arrested the Head of the Thieves’ Guild,’ Plaintly went on. ‘Our Mistress. Now maybe it’s been a few years since we all worked together, but we ain’t lost a step, not one of us. There’s nobody better in Farrog, and now the usurper’s declared war on our guild. We’re getting her out and we’re doing it tonight. One more time, the finest adventuring band of thieves this world has ever seen. So,’ she leaned back baring her teeth. ‘Is everyone ready for this?’

‘I’ve been ready for a week,’ said Symon The Knife, collecting up his blade and twirling it one-handed, until it slipped from his grasp and embedded itself in Barunko’s meaty thigh.

The huge man sat up straighter, looking around. ‘We in a fight? Is this a fight? Let me at ’im!’

The broad, blustery face of Grand General Pin Dollop, Commander of the Royal Farrogal Army, beamed. ‘Say what you like about this new king,’ he said in a voice that should have been low and throaty, perhaps even a growl, but was instead thin and reedy, ‘he understands the importance of protecting our borders.’

Seneschal Shartorial Infelance paced before the General in the cluttered Strategy Room, her silk robes swirling with restless motion. ‘I think you need to explain this to me one more time, Dollop. How is it that raiding beyond those borders constitutes a defensive gesture? Think well on your answer. These are the Imperial caravans of Nightmaria your troops are savaging. Granted, we don’t know much about the Fiends but all that we’ve heard bodes ill. Stirring up that nest seems precipitous.’

‘Nonsense,’ Pin Dollop replied. ‘It’s been too long we let those inhuman spawn squat nice and cozy in those mountain keeps, watching our every move from on high. The old king flinched at his own shadow. It was all appease this and placate that. Concessions on the tolls and tithes, all that merchantware skipping right past poor Farrog, making the Fiends filthy rich and us scraping the coffers year after year.’ His small eyes tracked Shartorial Infelance. ‘Now, this new king of ours, he’s got spine. And the Grand Bishop’s just this evening signed the Proclamation of Holy War against the Fiends of Nightmaria.’ He made a fist and ground it into the cup of his other hand. ‘Scour the scum from their caves! Roast their lizard hides on spits!’

Shartorial sighed. ‘They’ve always respected the closed borders between us, General, and have made a point of hiding their hideousness through intermediaries –’

‘Barring that slimy Ambassador of theirs!’ Pin Dollop shivered. ‘Makes my skin crawl and creep. Well, enough of that. We got us a real king now and I don’t care how he got to the throne – tell me, are you mourning the old king? Honestly?’

Frowning, she shook her head. ‘Not much, granted. But,’ and she halted her pacing to face Pin Dollop, ‘something about this new one…’

‘Give him time. Besides,’ the General rubbed at his jowls, ‘the man sports a very fine beard. Very fine indeed.’

Shartorial’s frown deepened as she studied the man. ‘Well,’ she allowed in a neutral tone, ‘there is that.’

‘Precisely. Anyway, the army’s chewing at the bit. We’ll field the whole complement. Five Legions, four thousand soldiers who’ve been training for this for months.’ He made stepping motions with one hand. ‘Up into the mountains, killing every damned Fiend we come across! Investing the keeps, burning them out and if that doesn’t work, starving them out! I’ve waited my whole life for this! Conquest!’

She cleared her throat. ‘Our defensive strategy.’

‘In the name of security,’ Pin Dollop said, wagging a finger, ‘all measures are justified. Fiends skulking in shrubbery. Unacceptable. You don’t tolerate a viper’s nest in your backyard, do you? No, you burn it out, scour it clean, make the world a better place.’

‘The citizens are certainly fired up,’ Shartorial allowed.

‘Exactly. Have we ever been so unified? No. Do recall, we came very near a civil war only three months ago! If not for the new king enforcing order, this city would be a shambles – and you can swear to the Indifferent God himself that the Fiends would have pounced!’

‘General,’ Shartorial Infelance said, ‘I’d hardly call dissension over this year’s Artist of the Century a civil war.’

‘Anarchy in the streets, Seneschal! The new king’s first act was decisive.’

‘He arrested all the artists.’

‘A brilliant move! Enough of these stupid festivals and all those sniveling poets! They didn’t have much to sing about writhing on spikes on the city walls, oh no, hah!’

Shartorial sighed again. ‘It’s late. When do you march?’

‘Soon,’ Pin Dollop promised. ‘Let the Fiends quiver and shake in their slimy holes!’

‘Indeed,’ she replied. She left the General at his map-table, his fist grinding rhythmically in the cup of his other hand.

‘The world is so unfair,’ moaned Brash Phluster, trying to loosen his shoulders, but with the rack on the third notch there was little give. He whimpered. ‘What time is it? Where’s that Royal Torturer? He’s late! Why’s he always late? He’s forgotten me! How could he do that? Whose turn is it? Who’s next? Someone bribed the bastard, didn’t they? Which one of you? You disgusting pieces of filth! Every one of you! Oh, it hurts!’

‘You’ve been there for less than half a bell,’ said Apto Canavalian.

‘It was you!’ Brash accused, twisting about on the rack, turning his head in an effort to glare at the man chained to the wall to his right, but the angle was too sharp and spasms of agony lanced through his neck. ‘Ow, you bastard!’

‘I won’t change my vote,’ Apto taunted, rattling the chains. ‘That’s why I’m still alive. I’m too sane to kill, you see. For all the usurper’s faults, he knows enough to admire a rational compatriot –’

‘Shut your face,’ growled Tiny Chanter. ‘There ain’t nothing rational about the Nehemoth. Tiny knows rational and this ain’t it, they ain’t it, you ain’t it. Isn’t that so, Midge?’

‘It’s so,’ agreed Midge.

‘Flea?’

‘Yeah. So.’

‘So shut your face, y’damned weasel. Besides, you know you’re next on the rack, so it’s not like you got no stake, is it? I know you’re next cause I’m right after you –’

‘No you’re not,’ said Midge. ‘I am.’

‘What? No, brother, I’m sure it’s me. The fucking poet and then the fucking critic, and then Tiny Chanter.’

‘I’m on the rack after Apto,’ said Midge stubbornly. ‘Then you, Tiny, and then Tulgord Vise –’

‘What about me?’ Flea demanded.

‘You’re after Steck Marynd, Flea, and he’s not there long on account of his broke leg and all his screaming, and then it’s back to the Century’s Greatest Artist.’

‘That title’s a curse!’ Brash Phluster hissed. ‘Oh, this is what being an artist is all about, isn’t it? You paying attention, critic? It’s suffering, misery, torture! It’s grief and pain and agony, all at the hands of people too dim-witted to appreciate talent, much less understand the sacrifices us poets make –’

‘He hasn’t killed you yet because he likes the joke,’ cut in Apto Canavalian.

‘What joke?’ Brash screamed. ‘Ow, it hurts to scream! Ow!’

‘The joke,’ the critic and short-lived guest judge in the Festival of Flowers and Sunny Days explained, ‘that is you, of all people, winning the contest. Thief of talent, imposter and charlatan. This is the curse of awards. Their essential meaninglessness, their potential for absurdity and idiocy and crass nepotism –’

‘Listen to you!’ crowed Brash Phluster. ‘Took so many bribes you bought a villa on the river-side!’

‘That’s right. I took them all, which in turn cancelled them all out, freeing me to judge on merit alone –’

‘They arrested you before the vote! Before that necromancer murdered the king and took the throne!’

‘And look at the hypocrisy of that fiasco!’ Apto retorted. ‘The same people calling for my head were the ones who bribed me in the first place!’ He let out a long breath. ‘Of course, it’s my newfound wealth that permitted me to buy a day off from the rack. You’ve been doubled up, Poet. And why not? Like you said, artists suffer and so they should. Leeches on the ass of society, every one of you!’

‘I knew it! Listen to him! Mister Bitter! Mister Envy!’

‘Keep it up and I’ll buy you another notch, Phluster.’

‘You disgusting piece of filth! Death to the critic! Death to all the critics!’

‘All of you,’ grated Steck Marynd from across the chamber, ‘be quiet. I’m trying to get some sleep here.’

Tulgord Vise cursed under his breath and then said, ‘And so I am betrayed. By all of you! We should be planning our escape, not bickering about this and that. The Nehemoth now sits on the throne of this city, luxuriating in his evilness. We need to be devising our vengeance!’

‘Tiny’s got a plan,’ said Tiny. ‘Tiny goes on the rack all meek and nice. The Royal Torturer likes Tiny Chanter. It’s all part of Tiny’s plan.’

‘Tiny’s a nitwit,’ said Apto Canavalian.

‘When Tiny escapes,’ growled Tiny, ‘he leaves the critic behind.’

‘Yes!’ cried Brash Phluster.

‘And the poet.’

‘What? What have I ever done to you, Tiny? That’s not fair!’

‘We should’ve eaten you first on the trail,’ said Tiny Chanter, shifting in his chains. ‘Not those others. Instead, we’ll just tighten things up another ten or so notches, ripping you apart. Pop! Pop, pop! Hah hah! Right, Midge?’

‘Hah hah,’ laughed Midge.

‘Flea?’

‘Why am I before the poet? I thought I was last!’

Emancipor Reese watched the headless corpse shuffle into the throne room bearing the gilded broken circle that symbolized the Holy Church of the Indifferent God, and a moment later the Grand Bishop strode in, dressed in heavy brocaded robes of vermillion and rose. He paused then, frowning as if ambushed by a sudden thought.

Clearing his throat, Bauchelain went on from his seat on the throne, ‘Tyranny, as I was saying, Mister Reese, is a delicate balance between the surety of violence and the inculcation of passive apathy. The latter is presented as an invitation permitting a safe haven from the former. In short, keep your head down and your mouth shut, and you’ll be safe. By this means once pacifies an entire population.’

Grunting, the Grand Bishop turned around and departed the chamber, the headless sigil-bearer turning and following.

Emancipor plucked a grape from the laden bowl beside his stool. He bit lightly and sucked out the juices before casting the wrinkled pulp into a spittoon at his feet. ‘I get all that, Master. I was just saying how things have gotten kind of quiet, even boring, now that all the poets and singers and musicians and dancers are gone.’

‘Art worthy of the name, Mister Reese, is the voice of subversion. Oh to be sure, there is a place for its lesser manifestations in the ideal civilization, as a source of mindless entertainment and indeed, eager escapism. One can appreciate the insidious denial promulgated by such efforts. Dance and sing whilst everything falls to pieces and the like. Have you ever perused – carefully and with diligence – the face of an ecstatic dancer or reveler? In some, Mister Reese, you will find the bliss of a trance state, an elevation of sorts you might say. But in most, you can see the glimmer of fear. Revelry is a flight, a frenzied fleeing from the misery of daily existence. Hence the desperate plunge into alcohol and drugs, to aid that escape.’

Emancipor squinted up at Bauchelain, eyes narrow. ‘Is that so?’ he said, reaching quickly for his goblet of wine.

‘Maintaining a state of pensive terror of course has its limits,’ the new king of Farrog went on. ‘Hence the identification and demonization of an external threat. At its core, Mister Reese, the notion of “us” and “them” is an essential component in social control.’

Draining the goblet dry, Emancipor reached for his pipe and began tamping it with rustleaf and d’bayang. ‘The Fiends,’ he said.

‘Just so. Convenient, wouldn’t you say, that our kingdom borders a xenophobic but wealthy mountain empire of unhuman lizard people? Such an enemy obviates the convoluted abuse of logic required to differentiate and demonize neighbors who are in fact little different from the rest of us. Hair color? Skin tone? Religious beliefs? Blue eyes? Yellow trousers? All patently absurd, of course. But unhuman lizard people? Why, could it be any easier?’

Emancipor lit his pipe and drew hard. ‘No, Master, I suppose not.’ He blew out a cloud of smoke. ‘Mind you, sir, I’ve got some experience when it comes to peering at maps and whatnot.’

‘Your point?’

‘Well, Master, it’s this, you see. Blank patches, on maps, make me nervous. The Unknown Territory and all that. I’ve sailed plenty of seas, come up on those patches, and well, usually they’re blank for a reason, right? Not that they’re unexplored – there ain’t nothing in this world that ain’t seen some adventurer creeping in to see what there is to see. So, blank patches, sir, are usually blank because whoever went in never came back out.’

‘You certainly become voluble, Mister Reese, once the d’bayang floods your brain, diminishing, one presumes, its normal addled state. Very well, I do concede your point.’

Emancipor glanced again at Bauchelain. ‘Aye? You do?’

‘Let it not be said that I am unreasonable. We have traveled in step for some time now, haven’t we? Clearly we have come to know one another very well indeed.’

‘Aye, Master,’ said Emancipor, quickly reaching for the carafe of wine and topping up his goblet again. He downed three quick mouthfuls and then resumed puffing the pipe. ‘Very well, uh, indeed.’

‘General Pin Dollop, however, being a native of Farrog, speaks with certain familiarity regarding the Fiends.’

‘Aye, Master, he’s a man full of opinions, all right.’

Bauchelain smiled from his throne. ‘Ah, do I sense some resentment, Mister Reese? That he should have ventured so close in my confidence? Are you feeling somewhat crowded?’

‘Well, Master, it’s only that I share the Seneschal’s caution.’

‘Ah, the lovely Shartorial Infelance. Of course, caution is an essential virtue given her responsibilities.’

‘Caution,’ Emancipor said. ‘Aye.’

‘Mister Reese, the Royal Treasury is somewhat bare.’

‘Well, sir, that’s because we’ve looted it.’

‘True. However, tax revenues are down.’

‘Aye, we’ve squeezed them dry.’

‘Just so. Hence the pressing need for an influx of wealth. Tyrannies are expensive, assuming the central motive of being a tyrant king is, of course, the rapid accumulation of vast wealth at the expense of the common folk, not to mention the beleaguered nobility, such as it is.’

‘I thought it was all about power, Master. And control. And the freedom to frighten everyone into submission.’

‘Well, those too,’ Bauchelain conceded. ‘But these are only means to an end, the end being personal wealth. Granted, there is a certain pleasure to be found in terrorizing lesser folk. In unleashing a torrent of fear, suffering and misery. And let it not be said that I have been remiss in addressing such pleasures.’

‘No, Master, not at all. Who’d ever say something like that?’

‘Precisely. In fact, I would proclaim such bloodlust a potent symbol of my essential humanity.’

‘Well, Master, let’s hope those lizards don’t share that particular trait.’

The headless sigil-bearer returned, and behind it the Grand Bishop. ‘Bauchelain,’ said Korbal Broach in his high, thin voice, ‘I just remembered what I was coming here to tell you.’

‘Most excellent, Korbal. Out with it, then.’

‘That ferryman, Bauchelain. The one we put in the deepest dungeon.’

‘Our possessed prisoner, yes, what of him?’

‘He’s dead.’

Bauchelain frowned. ‘Dead? How did that happen?’

‘I think,’ said Korbal Broach, ‘death by masturbation.’

Emancipor rubbed at his face. ‘Well, of all the ways to go…’

‘Very well,’ said Bauchelain. ‘I see. Ah, of course.’

Korbal Broach nodded. ‘Not possessed any more, Bauchelain.’

‘In other words, old friend, the Indifferent God has escaped his mortal prison, and now runs free.’

Korbal Broach nodded a second time. ‘That’s bad.’

‘Indeed, very bad. Hmm.’ Abruptly Bauchelain rose to his feet. ‘Mister Reese, attend me. We shall retire to my Conjuration Chamber. It seems that on this gentle night, we must summon and unleash a veritable host of demons. Korbal Broach, do you sense the god’s presence in the crypts?’

‘I think so. Wandering.’

‘Then a most lively hunt awaits us, how delightful! Mister Reese, come along now.’

Trembling where he sat, Emancipor Reese tapped out his pipe. ‘Master, you wish me to help you raise demons? You never asked that of me before, sir. I think –’

‘Granted, Mister Reese, I may have been remiss in neglecting to mention the possibility in our employment contract. That said, however, these are most unusual circumstances, would you not agree? Fear not, if by some mischance you are rent limb from limb, be assured it will be a quick death.’

‘Ah, thank you, Master. That is…’

‘Of some comfort? Happy to set you at ease, as ever, Mister Reese.’

Korbal Broach said, ‘I’ll raise the rest of my undead, Bauchelain.’

Bauchelain paused and studied his old friend. ‘Any risk that one might be suborned?’

‘No, Bauchelain. None of them have any heads.’

‘Very good then. Well, on a hunt such the one awaiting us, the more the merrier. Mister Reese? Time’s wasting!’

Mortari crouched in the shadows of the alley mouth, Le Groutt crowding his side. He peered at the high wall of Royal Palace. ‘I see handholds,’ he whispered.

‘I see footholds,’ Le Groutt whispered back.

‘So, we got handholds and footholds.’

‘Handholds and footholds.’

‘Can’t be done.’

‘Not a chance.’

Together, they turned about and crept back to where waited the others. Mortari edged up close to Plaintly Grasp. He rubbed at his terrier face, scratched behind an ear, licked his lips and then said, ‘Not a chance.’

‘Not a chance,’ chimed in Le Groutt, his large teeth gleaming.

‘Unless Barunko can throw us high, up near one of the spikes,’ Mortari said.

‘Grab hold of the corpse’s leg and hope it don’t tear off,’ added Le Groutt.

‘Up past that…’

‘Handholds and footholds.’

Sighing, Plaintly Grasp turned to Barunko. ‘Well?’

‘Throwing? I can throw. Give me something to throw.’

‘You’ll be throwing Mortari,’ explained Plaintly. ‘Up to one of those spikes.’

‘Spikes?’

‘The ones on the wall.’

‘Wall?’

‘Over there.’ She pointed.

Barunko looked about. ‘Wall,’ he said, grunting. ‘Show me.’

Copyright © Steven Erikson 2021

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