ShortRead of 6th August
Author: Robin Hobb
What's the story:
"Fantasy as it ought to be written" is a pretty handy quote to have on the dust cover of your new fantasy novel. To have such praise uttered by George R. R. Martin? You know Robin Hobb is doing something right.
A master of 'epic' fantasy (like normal fantasy, just much longer), Hobb's latest work follows the tale of Tom Badgerlock. Having served the crown for many years, Tom is finally enjoying the quiet life at the manor house of Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly - but their peaceful existence is shattered by the appearance of a messenger who knows something of his past. Mysteriously disappearing, the stranger leaves behind nothing but a blood-trail, causing Tom's world to erupt into a violence he thought he'd left behind.
For a chance to see Hobb talk of her latest work and all things fantasy alongside George R. R. Martin, check out HarperVoyager's exclusive event at the Freemason’s Hall in London on 19th August.
Release date: 12th August
A tap at the door startled me. I sat up straight and instinctively looked about the room, wondering if there was anything I should hastily conceal. Silly. ‘Who is it?’ Who but Molly, Nettle or Riddle would know I was here? And none of them would have tapped first.
‘It’s Revel, sir!’ His voice sounded shaky.
I stood. ‘Come in! What is it?’
He was out of breath and pale as he pushed open the door and stood framed in it. ‘I don’t know. Riddle sent me running. He says, “Come, come right now, to your estate study”. Where I left the messenger. Oh, sir. There’s blood on the floor there, and no sign of her.’ He gasped in a shuddering breath. ‘Oh, sir, I’m so sorry. I offered a room, but she said no and—’
‘With me, Revel,’ I said, as if he were a guardsman and mine to command. He went paler at my snapped command but then stood a bit straighter, glad to cede all decisions to me. My hands moved instinctively, confirming a few small concealed weapons that never left my person. Then we were off at a run through the corridors of Withywoods. Blood spilled in my home. Blood spilled by someone besides me, and not Riddle, or he would have quietly cleaned it away, not summoned me. Violence in my home, against a guest. I fought the blind fury that rose in me, quenched it with icy anger. They would die. Whoever had done this would die.
I led him by a roundabout path that avoided passages where we might encounter guests and reached the estate study after interrupting only one indiscreet young couple and scaring one drunken youngster looking for a place to doze. I berated myself for how many people I had let into my home, how many I knew only by face or name.
And Molly was sleeping alone and unguarded.
I skidded to a halt by the study door. My voice was hoarse with anger as I took a nasty knife that had been strapped to my forearm and shoved it at Revel. He staggered back a step in fear. ‘Take it,’ I barked at him. ‘Go to my bedchamber. Look in on my lady, be sure she sleeps undisturbed. Then stand outside the door and kill anyone who seeks to come in. Do you understand me?’
‘Sir.’ He coughed and then gulped, ‘I have a knife already, sir. Riddle made me take it.’ Awkwardly he drew it from inside his immaculate jacket. It was twice the length of the one I’d offered, an honourable weapon rather than an assassin’s little friend.
‘Go, then,’ I told him, and he did.
I drummed on the door with my fingertips, knowing Riddle would recognise me by that, and then slipped in. Riddle straight¬ened slowly from where he had crouched. ‘Nettle sent me to find a bottle of the good brandy she said you had here. She wanted to offer some to Lord Canterby. When I saw the papers on the floor, and then the blood, I sent Revel for you. Look here.’
Revel had brought the messenger food and wine and served it at my desk. Why had she declined to go to a guest room or join us in the great hall? Had she known she was in danger? She’d eaten at least some of the food, I judged, before the tray had been dashed to the floor along with a few papers from my desk. The falling wine glass had not shattered but had left a half-moon of spilled wine on the polished dark stone of the floor. And around that moon was a constellation of blood stars. A swung blade had flung those scattered red drops.
I stood up and swept my gaze across the study. And that was all. No rifled drawers, nothing moved or taken. Not a thing out of place at all. Not enough blood for her to have died here, but there was no sign of any further struggle. We exchanged a silent look and, as one, moved to the heavily-curtained doors… My messenger and her message were gone. Dead? Or fled? Had someone gone out of the door, or had she let someone in? Was it her blood on the floor, or someone else’s? The fury I had felt earlier at the idea that someone might do violence to a guest in my home flared in me again. I suppressed it. Later, I might indulge it. When I had a target.
Find the target.
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(Image: Flickr/Kate Hiscock)