Excerpt Reveal: The Daughters’ War by Christopher Buehlman
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Excerpt Reveal: The Daughters’ War by Christopher Buehlman

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The Daughter's War

Enter the fray in this luminous new adventure from Christopher Buehlman, set during the war-torn, goblin-infested years just before The Blacktongue Thief.

The goblins have killed all of our horses and most of our men.

They have enslaved our cities, burned our fields, and still they wage war.

Now, our daughters take up arms.

Galva — Galvicha to her three brothers, two of whom the goblins will kill — has defied her family’s wishes and joined the army’s untested new unit, the Raven Knights. They march toward a once-beautiful city overrun by the goblin horde, accompanied by scores of giant war corvids. Made with the darkest magics, these fearsome black birds may hold the key to stopping the goblins in their war to make cattle of mankind.

The road to victory is bloody, and goblins are clever and merciless. The Raven Knights can take nothing for granted — not the bonds of family, nor the wisdom of their leaders, nor their own safety against the dangerous war birds at their side. But some hopes are worth any risk.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of  The Daughters’ War by Christopher Buehlman, on sale 6/25/24


CHAPTER ONE

 

I saw my first goblin the same day I saw my first shipwreck.
I was under sail, on my way to war.
On my way to fall in love with death, and with a queen.
On my way to lose all of my friends, and two of my brothers.
I would see a great city fall in blood and fire, betrayed by a
false god.
Later, I would be commanded to die on a high stone bridge,
but I would fail in this.
The rest of the First Lanza of His Majesty’s Corvid Knights
would not fail.
This is not a happy story, but it is a true one.
I have no time for lies, or for liars.

The name of the ship I sailed on was the Rain Queen’s Dagger, and it was a troopmule, packed with goblin-meat, which meant new soldiers like me. It leaked and rolled about during storms, and there was a smell you could not help but wrinkle your nose at. I tried never to wrinkle my nose because this was a haughty way to look, and it reminded me of my father’s first wife, Imelda, who is not my mother.

There had been a battle.

The sea was rough and littered with masts and beams and with sailcloth. Here and there firejelly burned below the waves as though small suns tried to shine in the deep. Here and there the body of a man or a dam, or clumps of them, or goblins, floated.

I had seen goblins dead before, we all had. They do not rot, they just shrink and dry and harden. Flies want nothing to do with them, and only birds with great hunger will peck at them. Sharks will eat them, of course, but a shark will eat a wooden oar, I have seen this. Because they do not rot, everyone was bringing home dead goblins from the last two wars. They were popular exhibits in circuses. We have used many dead goblins in training, especially to make the war corvids hate them.

And they hate them much.

But on this day, I saw my first one living.

It clung to an island of wreckage that was sinking.

One thing I can say for goblins, they look as awful as theyare. They look like they want to eat the meat from your thighs,and they do. Kynd are not always so easy to read—many of us hide cruel natures behind fair faces, or have our kindnesses over-looked because our flesh is twisted.

Goblins are honest killers.

And they are fucked-ugly.

This one looked to be perhaps four feet tall, on the larger side for them; it was a sailor, so it wore a simple hemp jerkin and leggings of kyndwool, or human hair, from the manfarms. I did not know what any of that was at the time. Its tough flesh was pink and gray, and this one was too far away for me to see its teeth, though I knew these were triangular and sharp enough for shaving; nor could I see its tongue, which was shelled. These articulated tongues help them make the buzzes and rasps that serve them for consonants.

This biter was badly injured and trapped, its larger arm caught between two sections of a ship’s hull. And it was not alone. A kynd woman clung to the same wreckage that was grinding the biter’s arm to meat. Her hair was bound in a mariner’s braid, her leather pants puffed at the thighs after the naval fashion, and she came into sight as the wreckage slowly spun. She was injured, too, her linen shirt red at one side, but she did not care about her injury.

She was watching the goblin.

“Help her,” a woman yelled at our ship’s captain. The captain was a whitehair of sixty years with a pipe full of fastleaf and a shapeless red hat; he was like an old sailor from a joke. The dam who shouted had the look of a knight, finely dressed in fine armor, and, if she did not step away from the railing on this rough sea, would soon make a fine ornament on the seabed.

“Turn this fucked thing and save her!” she said again, pointing.

The captain shook his head and puffed, letting smoke out with his words. “We cannot linger. If it was a biter juggernaut that wrecked this ship, as I have heard rumor there’s one in these waters, we’ll be the next ones they pound to kindling.”

The knightly dam saw that the captain was right and said no more about it. Three archers near the ship’s rear, however, began loosing arrows at the goblin. The first shafts missed, thanks to the distance, the motion of the troopmule, and also the spin of the wreckage the sailor and goblin clung to. At last, one arrow struck the biter in its hip, and it rasped like they do, not a sound for forgetting. The shipwrecked woman crawled over to it now. She nearly slipped off the wreckage but caught herself. It tried to bite at her but had neither speed nor strength. She held it down by its neck. She ripped the arrow from its hip and plunged this into its eye, then she stirred the arrow to be sure.

I gasped.

I knew the violence of the sword-yard well—the chipped tooth, the bloodied head, the broken finger. I was also familiar with the blood-business of a country estate—the hanging of pigs and deer, the putting down of sick livestock, the whipping of thieves, and the hanging of poachers and deserters. But this of the arrow and the eye, and the scrambling of the goblin’s brain in its skull, was so sudden and brutal that I was struck with fright.

This was no academy sparring match I went to; this was no bout of footboxing.

We were sailing for a killing field.

The soldiers on our ship cheered, and those on the ship next to us. We were many troopmules, I do not know the number, but too few warships, and only small ones. We had lost our best escort, a royal dreadnought called the Brawling Bear, when it hit a goblin seatrap and had to put in for repairs.

Only with the cheering did the woman realize we were near. To her great credit, she did not beg to be saved. Instead, she waved at us, her hand dark with the creature’s greenish blood.

The kynd on the ships cheered again, some saying “Gods bless you!” or “Mithrenor keep you.” One of the few young men on these ships filled with women yelled “Marry me!”

“I will!” she yelled back, though weakly.

A third cheer rose up, greater than the first, because we could all see that she was a woman of spirit and a good Ispanthian.

And then the little island of ruined wood and rope bobbed up once and sank below the surface of the water with great finality, taking the sailor and the goblin down with it.

The cheer died.

Everyone went silent.

I had now seen a goblin and a human die in this war, and within moments of each other; I have since thought how apt this was.

Our two species are wed in death.

━━━━━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━

2

From time to time during this long voyage, I would scan the faces on the deck of the nearest troopmule, looking for my brother, Amiel, so we might wave at one another. I took comfort from this, and I think he took even more. He is no warrior, and this voyage to occupied Gallardia scared him even more than it scared the other green youths, prisoners, and oldsters he shipped with.

I saw him soon after the business with the goblin and the dam.

He wore a good velvet doublet, dove gray and silver, and his ceremonial sword. He had failed the military proofs but, as a duke’s son, was expected to serve in some way. He would be a supernumerary, which means something extra. He would be attached to a wizard, and he would do the tasks his temporary master required.

This was not just any wizard, some starter of small fires or weaver of illusions; one for making love philters, or tattoos that might or might not protect one from minor curses. Fulvir was perhaps the most powerful magicker in the Crownlands, and almost certainly the strongest one openly fighting for us in this war. The goblins would know him, and fear him, and want him dead. My little brother may not have been a fighter, but he was going to war all the same, and I hated it.

I looked more closely at Amiel.

What was he wearing in his hair?

White natal-day ribbons!

I suppose it was the fourth of Highgrass after all.

“Some fucked eighteenth birthday,” I said.

“Whose?” the captain said. “Yours?”

“Well, certainly not yours,” I said back to him, and he laughed in that mad way of fastleaf chewers.

I was not eighteen, though.

I had just turned twenty.

Amiel stood near the prow of his ship, the Lady of Groves, and he scribbled in a writing tablet he was having pains to keep dry in the ocean spray—the seas were still quite rough. I had seen him throwing up for the first days out from Ispanthia, and I had been seasick, too, but only the first day. It is best to be abovedecks for that kind of thing. Today, though, he seemed to be in good form. I worried about him, how could I not?

He was my Chichún.

Well, ours.

We all called him Chickpea because he was the only one of the Duke of Braga’s four children to be born bald. The rest of us had come into the world with thin black hair that soon fell out and grew back thick. But he was mine. I remember struggling to carry him when he was two and I was only four, telling everyone that Chichún was my baby now.

That is the last time I remember wanting one.

Amiel was not just writing, though—he was shouting a poem at the dolphins jumping in the ship’s wake. It was a good poem, about Mithrenor, the god of the sea. Amiel’s long hair was blowing in the wind, making him look quite the romantic figure.

Whose badly fucked idea was it to put such a boy in a war?

And why with the wizard?

I knew that Fulvir, called Fulvir Lightningbinder, had helped to create the war corvids now in the hold below my feet—for this bone-mixing magic, he was also called Fulvir the Father of Abominations. He was rumored to be mad, though those of his country of Molrova all seemed half-mad, with their language of lies. Why must my Amiel be posted with such a man? He could have served our brother Pol, who was a general. It would not have been as good for him to go with our eldest brother, Migaéd, because Migaéd . . . had difficulties.

I had enlisted in an experimental unit, the First Lanza of His Majesty’s Corvid Knights, and we were going to find out how good our birds were at killing goblins. Though we did our best to train it out of them, they had already shown they were good at killing us. Obviously my birds had not yet murdered me, but I had seen a dam killed by her raven—a quick death, it must be said, but difficult to watch if you have not embraced the mysteries of the Bride.

Now I saw a couple of speardams on the Lady of Groves laughing unkindly, watching Amiel at his poetry-shouting. They began to swagger toward the prow of the ship. Clearly they intended mischief, and it seemed to me that women of their age who had not been mustered before must be prisoners.

Knowing how to whistle loudly can be useful, it is something I taught myself to do as a girl. I whistled, and many on that ship looked at me, the bravas with the spears included. I now rolled up my left sleeve to show them the tattoo of the sword wrapped in three flowers. We were perhaps too far away for them to see it clearly, but they knew what it was. They might not have been able to count the flowers, but they recognized the symbol and understood that I had spent some years studying Calar Bajat under a high master of sword. I looked at the speardams in a way to show them I would remember them. Amiel saw me now and waved. I lowered my sleeve and waved back. He then blew me an extravagant kiss, which I returned, though more discreetly. I am not given to fabulous gestures, just what is needed.

The bravas found a better direction to walk in.

Later I would try to remember the poem he shouted at dolphins, but I could not.

“Who is the pup?” Inocenta asked.

You will hear much about Inocenta, she was my best friend, if siblings do not count. Shorter than me, though I am not tall, but stout, and strong of arm and leg. Her ginger hair was what most remembered about her, it is an uncommon color in Ispanthia. I should say, her hair was what you remembered if you never fought her at practice. If you had, you would remember that she moved her axe so fast you had to watch her shoulders to see where it might go, and still you would be wrong; and even if you put your shield in the right place, she’d hit it so hard she’d numb your shield arm to the collarbone. And then of course her next blows came, as fast as clapping. Still, I mostly beat her, though less often than I beat the others. That was in training, though. I would not have wanted to fight her for blood. There was something of the
animal about Inocenta.

“That is my brother,” I said.

“Amiel.”

“Yes.”

“Had to be.”

“Why?”

“Because the other one is a general, and that boy is no more a general than my tits.”

“I have three brothers. And you have no tits, you cut them off.”

“I will cut yours off, too.”

“Maybe if you were faster.”

“I will remind you that you said that when you are picking up your tits. Is your other brother a general too?”

He was a sixt-general. This was not a general who commanded armies, but one who wore a fine suit of armor with no dents in it. This was a general of bordellos and sitting for portraits.

“Not a proper one.”

“What is he, then?”

I considered what to say about Migaéd.

“A luckless gambler,” I said.

Someone on a forward troopmule shouted, “Land, land!”

We were approaching the shores of Gallardia.

Inocenta looked at the horizon we sailed toward.

She said, “So are we all.”

Copyright © 2024 from Christopher Buehlman

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