2017/06/23

Hymn of the Pearl Preview

I'm pleased to present you with an excerpt from my upcoming fantasy novella, The Hymn of the Pearl.
Pompeii Villa Mysteries

            Cteira would have kept her composure under threat of death. Advocate lore spoke of far worse fates. Grapt knew more than most about such exotic torments, and the livid mask of his face hinted that he intended one of them for her.
            “Husband,” Cteira said, struggling against her bonds.
            Grapt tightened the last cord binding Cteira’s left wrist to the chair. His motions stuttered in the guttering flame of a small brazier made sweet with incense. He moved toward the altar carved from one solid rock wall of the cramped room. The scraping of metal instruments on stone twisted Cteira’s stomach into an icy knotted ball.
Grapt turned back to her holding a pair of iron pincers.
“Look past the wrath that blinds you,” Cteira said. “I am still your wife.”
            Grapt paused. His dark eyes studied her as an augur might study an eviscerated dove. “I do not know you,” he said without emotion. “My bride was pure.” He grasped the pincers in his left hand.
Cteira failed to keep herself from flinching. She vowed to herself that she would not scream; then broke that promise when Grapt calmly tore the fingernails from his right hand. Small graven images of the gods stood upon the altar. He let a drop of blood from each finger fall on one of the statues. One by one, his fortune threads detached.
            Grapt took hold of Cteira’s fate threads and intoned forbidden cheiromantic formulas. Though uttered in a calm monotone, his invocations overpowered her cries. She recognized some of the names: titles of gods and spirits who traded human fate like haggling merchants.
            “The threads of blessing and woe are five,” Grapt said. “Health, Prosperity, Honor, Love, and Life. Fate’s hands hold all like a puppeteer grasping a marionette’s strings.”
            Every apprentice Advocate knows as much, thought Cteira. But it seemed that Grapt recited the familiar lecture not to her, but to himself.
            “Greater beings can intervene in the destinies of their inferiors,” Grapt went on. “Altering the fate of an equal incurs nemein. Advocates lay this divine guilt before the gods and are forgiven the price of their cheiromancy.”
            “No god will absolve you of this sacrilege!” Cteira spat.
            “Gheanon would,” said Grapt.
            Cteira flinched at the accursed name. “The god of chaos lies buried beneath a mountain of nemein. He cannot blot out your crime.”
            “It’s just as well,” Grapt said as the final knot joining their fate threads neared completion. “Absolution will soon be of no use to us.”
            Cteira desperately sought a lie to stay her husband’s hand. She found none he would believe. She almost told him the truth but knew he would believe that even less.
            Grapt laid his maimed right hand on Cteira’s left. She flinched at his touch as if his ragged fingers were writhing worms. His grim litany droned on, and Cteira realized that her husband was sacrificing the sum of their destinies; fortune and misfortune alike.
“Be loosed from your bonds.” Something reckless and feverish burned behind Grapt’s glassy eyes as he cut the cords of braided sinew that bound Cteira to the stone chair. “You severed the threads of love that joined us. See? I have done likewise to the rest, save only the life threads now twined in an endless loop. We are cut off from fate; set adrift like two pieces of flotsam lashed together.
Cteira stood and rubbed her sore wrists. She stared at the stern face that once kindled her love but now evoked pity, shame, and revulsion. She fled the underground chamber with oddly weightless steps, feeling her way upward in the dark.

            Cteira stumbled into blinding daylight like a ghost quitting her lonely crypt. That she did indeed emerge from a tomb—one of several caverns that riddled the necropolis hill—lent weight to her growing sense of displacement. What had her husband done?
            Enough. She was wasting time fearing for herself. Grapt had vented his misplaced rage upon her, but she still breathed and moved. Who knew what twisted vengeance he meant to exact from Oleth? Gathering her resolve, Cteira raced down from the necropolis toward the city of the living.
            Mura stood on the shore of the Middle Sea. Its towers and temples, markets and homes were circumscribed by a high brick wall. The guard at the north gate didn’t challenge Cteira as she cut past the line of travelers waiting to enter. She wove through the late morning crowds that filled the streets and soon reached the market. A riot of sights, scents, and sounds assaulted her still foggy mind. She didn’t see the heavy-laden oxcart until it was too late.
            Cteira watched the massive vehicle bearing down on her, resigned but cursing her failure to warn Oleth about Grapt. Her curses died on her tongue as the ox team veered right. The wagon rumbled past. An inch closer, and it would have torn off her nose.
Cteira stood marveling over her narrow escape until a feeling like a cold wind at the nape of her neck made her turn around. Grapt stood beneath the colonnaded market entrance, watching her impassively. Goaded by the hateful sight, Cteira dashed across the bustling square toward Oleth’s shop.
            Cteira hoped the physician hadn’t left his assistants to run the open-air counter fronting his practice. Coming within sight of the building’s white stone façade, she heaved a sigh of relief to see Oleth lauding the virtues of various meats and potions to a bent-backed crone. Chiseled features graced his noble head, which a vestige of light hair encircled like a victor’s crown. The sight warmed Cteira’s soul to the same degree that Grapt chilled it.
            “Oleth!” Cteira said, running up and slamming her hands down on the stone counter. “Take whatever’s to hand and flee the city. Grapt is coming. I escaped with my life, but he blames you for—”
            “Yes, madam,” Oleth said to the crone. “This poultice will banish the gout.” Cteira leaned against the counter, panting. He wasn’t even looking at her.
            “Grapt was at the south gate when I saw him last,” Cteira said, struggling to keep her words from running together. “His cheirology is beyond your medicine. Even the temple Advocates fear him. You must run. Now!”
            Oleth smiled. “That’s kind of you to say, but please take care lest you make my lover jealous.” Cteira’s mouth dropped open. Then she realized that Oleth was diverting the crone’s flirtations with no regard for his actual lover’s presence.
            Cteira swept her arm across the counter, sending stone jars and glass vials crashing to the pavement. Oleth’s head turned toward her, his brow knotted, before he continued plying the crone as though nothing had happened.
            Cteira stared at the comely physician. Her heart roiled with frustration and sorrow. A hand took gentle hold of her arm, and she spun to find Grapt standing behind her as emotionless as ever.
“Despair,” he said. “We are as phantoms to all but each other.” She jerked her arm free, smearing her sleeve with his blood, and plunged back into the teeming square.
Stifling simultaneous urges to scream, laugh, and cry, Cteira straightened her posture and strode toward the south gate. The chill pricking her neck told her that Grapt followed. He always will, an inner voice told her with the surety of death. Escape was impossible.

But that was no reason not to try.

The Hymn of the Pearl will be available soon. The award-winning Soul Cycle is available now for less than $9.00.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier

@BrianNiemeier

9 comments:

  1. Interesting. Interesting questions about world-building are shown even in this little excerpt. Look forward to the rest of it.

    For a moment, I thought you were going to have a reprise of Hypatia.

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    1. Glad you're interested. Of the world building in my published work so far, the magic system in HotP is some of my favorite.

      Sadly, the main conflict of the novella isn't an internecine feud between neo-Platonists. Perhaps next time ;)

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks. Luckily, you won't have to wait long.

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  3. Brian,
    This long excerpt has piqued my curiosity. I suspect that this is retelling of a Greek story/myth. I'll wait til it comes out to find out more :)

    xavier

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    1. The setting is definitely inspired by the Greece of late Antiquity.

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  4. Cool not many storie are set there

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