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“The seeds of death are in you, Leures Vethna, son of Laran king of Thesl. Have you felt them rooting?”GATES THE HOURS KEEP
As an apprentice priest to the god Aplu, Leures Vethna has learned to read omens in myriad objects and events. The moment he sees Diomedes of Thebes, he knows the Greek mercenary has been sent to take him from his Etruscan homeland to a greater destiny. He does not foresee that fate will lead him to the farthermost regions of the known world, where he and Diomedes will sell their services to Darius III against Alexander the Great. But, no matter how far he travels, Leures cannot escape the curse he has carried from his youth, and he is constantly aware of death dogging his heels. Broken in battle and dwelling in a camp where men are dying nightly, he feels life’s joy seeping away until a strange, willful woman resurrects him. When Diomedes senses she is not what she seems, Leures must choose between his beloved friend and the woman who holds his future.
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“The Door of Rath,” he’d told me, “is opened only in times of great peril when all other hopes are failing. What lies beneath is dangerous.”
The altar was limestone, its edges round and soft as if made of melting wax. The stone’s pocked gray face had the greenish cast of putrid flesh. The symbols carved on its sides were too shallow to read and, even if they were less time-worn, they looked like no letters I’d learned.
Atop the altar was a slab of the same green gray, imperfectly fitted and rough-cut, undecorated and hastily made from the look of it. The slab covered a hole broad enough to fit a small child or lamb, and in the years when Thesl had no wall or palace or temple high atop its hill, many such sacrifices had slaked Rath’s hunger. But, Rath is a tempestuous god, and his hunger ever-grows when he’s tasted blood.
“Only if Thesl faces destruction,” Velthr had explained. “Only if our enemies are too many and too strong and plentiful enough to feed his need. Only then should a priest open the door and call on Rath.”
I knew I was doing a great wrong when I slid the slab from the altar-top. I knew all other gods might forsake me for opening that door, but I felt already abandoned.
I stripped off my tunic, the wheat-hued wool striped and splattered with my blood, and I wiped the oozing mess of my face with it. I soaked that wool scarlet with my own un-dammed soul and shivered, staring down into the hole’s endless blackness.
I bargained my blood for Ati’s life and my father’s damnation. “Leures Vethna Laranisa lauchum Thesl tur Rathl svalsul mis. Tesum mal Ucresia ativu Leuresal thui, etnam trina mis apa Laran hinthial hech.”
An odor of rotting leaves and stale water rose from the hole. The air from within, hitting my face, seemed warmer than the chill at my back.
No gift binds a god’s promise better than blood, and to give Rath my own was to offer myself wholly. I only wished I had something sharp to carve the promise into the slab and seal the bargain, unbreakable, with written words.
I could see the shirt only a moment as it plummeted through grayness to blackness. I didn’t hear it land and imagined the shaft stretched down to Eita’s hall, where Vanth and Charu would take my father when Rath snatched away his life.
Behind me a raven’s call knifed the stillness. Loud and hoarse, it repeated and faded as he flew overhead. A poor omen–he was flying north.
I left Rath’s door open, but only a few steps away the unease crawling up my spine turned me back. The limestone lid scraped the altar like the grind of gritted teeth. It was heavier than when I’d shoved it open–as if some force fought to keep the cover off.
Outside the grove the air and sky had grown as thick and gray as within. Sea fog slid up the shore and caressed the hills with low, languid tentacles of mist.
I shivered, shirtless, and let my heavy head dip toward my chest. Now and again a drop of blood landed on the path, and, with it, lazy rain speckled the packed earth in a dull mosaic of damp and parched browns. By the time I neared the city gate, the sky was the green of Charu’s face and retching hailstones the size of finch eggs. I scarcely felt the pelting hail, such petty pain compared to the throb of my face.
I stopped before the gate and turned back to study the storm. A broad white bolt flashed up from the grove and exploded across the northern sky, a fist of light bursting open to spread a dozen crooked fingers. A single breath of blackness, a shadow of smoke, floated from the treetops and vanished, slowly bleeding into the gray.
In all my training I hadn’t encountered such a sign. Watching it fade into the mist, I couldn’t fill my lungs. Only the shallowest breath came, and, that, I fought for as if the vapor had seeped inside me and hardened.
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Tales Of Malstria
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Every rocking wave buoyed us a little farther from Thesl and closer to freedom. I’d tasted more privilege and opportunity than any slave-born boys I’d known. As Laran’s son, I was special, and yet, I wasn’t free. No one asked if I wanted to be priest or miner; merchant or guardsmen or dancing boy. Willful as I was, I knew little of making choices. I was bidden and I obeyed more-or-less, and that might make me apt to become a soldier, but it didn’t make me a whole-minded man.GATES THE HOURS KEEP
Characters Of ‘Gates The Hours Keep’
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Q Gates the Hours Keep covers a lot of geographic territory. Was it hard keeping the sense of place when it changed so frequently?
Q Leures loves sweet foods. Is there a hint of you in his character?
Q There’s an underlying sadness to Leures. Do you think he’ll ever be truly happy?
Q Did Greeks really fight for the Persians against Alexander the Great?
Q What was your inspiration for Mahamari’s character?
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