Tad Williams: Shadowplay

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Tad Williams Shadowplay
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Darkness has fallen on the lands of the sun as an army of misshapen fey spill out from beyond the Shadowline. At their head is Yasammez, dark creature of nightmare. A furtive bargain was struck at the gates of Southmarch and the castle was spared, but centuries of enmity will not be so easily appeased. Meanwhile Barrick, heir to Southmarch and cursed with madness, has crossed the Shadowline into the realm of his people’s ancient enemy. There are stranger things than death here - stranger and older. Much further south, shadow is also falling over the reign of the Autarch, god-king and supreme ruler. Quinnitan, junior wife, must flee the royal household or die, her greatest secret as yet hidden even from herself. Ancient blood flows through her veins and she will become a unique weapon in the fight against her greatest terror. And beyond the ken of all but a chosen few, the gods are awakening and the world is changing …

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Tad Williams


This book like the first volume, is dedicated to our children Connor Williams and Devon Beale—who, since that first dedication, are a couple of years older and louder, but still quite fabulous. I flinch with love every time they shriek at me.


Those wishing the full story of my gratitude should inspect the “thank-you-all” page in Shadowmarch. Nothing much has changed with the second volume.

Or those who don’t have Volume One to hand: As always, many thanks to my editors Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert and everyone else at DAW Books, my wife Deborah Beale and our assistant Dena Chavez, and my agent Matt Bialer, and also my pets and children, who make every day a challenge and an adventure. (And whoever did good work without being challenged?) Last of all, another shout-out to the folks at Shadowmarch.com. You are welcome to join us there. You don’t even have to bring booze or anything. (It’s a virtual community, after all.)

Author’s Note

For those who wish to feel securely grounded in the Who, What, and Where of things, there are several maps and, at the end of the book, indexes of characters and places and other important materials.

The maps have been compiled from an exhaustive array of traveler’s tales, nearly illegible old documents, transcripts of oracular utterances, and the murmurings of dying hermits, not to mention the contents of an ancient box of land-office records discovered at a Syannese flea market. A similarly arcane and wearying process was responsible for the creation of the indexes. Use them well, remembering that many have died, or at least seriously damaged their vision and scholarly reputations, to make these aids available to you, the reader.


The older ones in the household had hunted the missing boy for an hour without result, but his sister knew where to look.

“Surprise,” she said. “It’s me.”

His dark hose and velvet tunic gray with dust and his face streaked with grime, he looked like a very sad goblin. “Auntie ’Lanna and the other women are all making a great fuss, searching for you,” she said. “I can’t believe they didn’t look here. Don’t they remember anything?”

“Go away.”

“I can’t, now, stupid. Lady Simeon and two of the maids were just behind me—I heard them coming up the corridor.” She set the candle between two paving stones in the floor. “If I go out now they’ll know where you’re hiding.” She grinned, pleased with her maneuver. “So I’m staying, and you can’t make me go.”

“Then be quiet.”

“No. Not unless I want to be. I’m a princess and you can’t give me orders. Only Father’s allowed to do that.” She settled in beside her brother, staring up at the shelves, seldom used now that the new kitchens had been built closer to the great hall. Only a few cracked pots and bowls had been left behind, as well as a half-dozen stoppered jars whose contents were so old that opening them, as Briony had once said, would be an experiment dangerous enough for Chaven of Ulos. (The children had been thrilled to learn that the household’s new physician was a man of many strange and fascinating interests.) “So why are you hiding?” “I’m not hiding. I’m thinking.”

“You’re a liar, Barrick Eddon. When you want to think you go walking on the walls, or you go to Father’s library, or...or you stay in your room like a temple-mantis saying prayers. You come here when you want to hide.”

“Oh? And what makes you so clever, strawhead?”

It was a term he used often when he was irritated with her, as though the differing color of their hair, hers golden-fair, his red as a fox’s back, made some difference—as though it made them any less twins. “I just am. Come, tell me.” Briony waited, then shrugged and changed the subject. “One of the ducks in the moat has just hatched out her eggs. The ducklings are ever so sweet. They go peeppeep-peep and follow their mother everywhere in a little line, as though they were tied to her.”

“You and your ducks.” He scowled as he rubbed his wrist. His left hand was like a claw, the fingers curled and crabbed.

“Does your arm hurt?”

“No! Lady Simeon must be gone by now—why don’t you go play with your ducks or dolls or something?”

“Because I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s wrong.” Briony was on firm ground now. She knew this negotiation as well as she knew her morning and evening prayers, as well as she knew the story of Zoria’s flight from the cruel Moonlord’s keep—her favorite tale from The Book of the Trigon. It might last a while, but in the end it would go her way. “Tell me.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” He draped his bad arm across his lap with the same care Briony lavished on lambs and fat-bellied puppies, but his expression was closer to that of a father dragging an unwanted idiot child. “Stop looking at my hand.”

“You know you’re going to tell me, redling,” she teased him. “So why fight?”

His answer was more silence—an unusual ploy at this stage of the old, familiar dance.

The silence and the struggle both continued for some time. Briony had moments of real anger as Barrick resisted her every attempt to get him to talk, but she also became more and more puzzled. Eight years old, born in the same hour, they had lived always in each other’s company, but she had seldom seen him so upset outside of the small hours of the night, when he often cried out in the grip of evil dreams.

“Very well,” he said at last. “If you’re not going to leave me alone, you have to swear not to tell.”

“Me? Swear? You pig! I never told on you for anything!” And that was true. They had each suffered several punishments for things the other twin had done without ever breaking faith. It was a pact between them so deep and natural that it had never been spoken of before now.

But the boy was adamant. He waited out his sister’s gust of anger, his pale little face set in an unhappy smirk. She surrendered at last: principle could only stretch so far, and now she was painfully curious. “So, then, pig. What do you want me to do? What shall I swear to?”

“A blood oath. It has to be a blood oath.”

“By the heads of the gods, are you mad?” She blushed at her own strong language and could not help looking around, although of course they were alone in the pantry. “Blood? What blood?”

Barrick drew a poniard from the vent of his sleeve. He extended his finger and, with only the smallest wince, made a cut on the tip. Briony stared in sickened fascination.

“You’re not supposed to carry a knife except for public ceremonies,” she said. Shaso, the master of arms, had forbidden it, fearing that Briony’s angry, headstrong brother might hurt himself or someone else.

“Oh? And what am I supposed to do if someone tries to kill me and there are no guards around? I’m a prince, after all. Should I just slap them with my glove and tell them to go away?”

“Nobody wants to kill you.” She watched the blood form a droplet, then run down into the crease of his finger. “Why would anyone want to kill you?”

He shook his head and sighed at her innocence. “Are you just going to sit there while I bleed to death?”

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