This summer, Harper Voyager are due to publish the highly-anticipated new novel by David Wragg, The Hunters. The first novel in the Tales of the Plains fantasy series, it promises to deliver many of the great elements Wragg brought readers in his Articles of Faith duology. To celebrate the upcoming release, Wragg’s UK publisher has provided CR with an excerpt to share with you all, and hopefully whet your appetite for the new book. (Remember: pre-orders are great for authors and their books.) First, here’s the synopsis:
She’s on the run. They’re out to kill.
But what happens when you catch a hunter?
Ree is a woman with a violent past – a past she thought she’d left behind. After years of wandering, she and her niece Javani have finally built a small life for themselves at the edge of the known world.
But sometimes the past refuses to stay there, and Ree’s is about to catch up with her. This time, there will be blood.
For the land is in turmoil and professional killers have arrived in their town looking for an older woman and child, setting off a desperate chase through deserts, mountains, and mines. Ree will have to discover her former self if she is to keep them both alive.
Now, on with the excerpt — which is taken from chapter three…
Six weeks ago, far to the south
Siavash Sarosh did not like to call himself a wealthy man – he preferred to have others do it for him. Few things, however, gave him greater pleasure than wandering through the stalls and stores of the north road’s caravanserais, the travellers’ way stations, sampling their myriad delights, while his own caravan rested and reassembled.
Stallholders greeted him by name as he shuffled through, proffering their wares – roasted pistachios, dried and candied fruit, various broths and local wines. Some even displayed a surprising variety of silks and carpets, all the more impressive given the collapse of the region’s silk production a decade before. Siavash rested his hands on his pleasingly expanding paunch, the most visible signifier of his success, and nodded in benediction. He loved this caravanserai most of all: the last before the fort line, the last before the boundary of civilisation passed and there lay only the plains, the wild expanse, the land of opportunity.
Tearful farewells mingled with the honks of pack animals and traders’ calls, the delicious scents of roasting and grilling sporadically overpowered by the matted stink of camels and dung. What opportunity it had proved, gods be praised! Not many merchants of his stature made the trips all the way north in person, but he was a happy minority. The contacts he had made, the accounts he had recorded, the connections built . . . all had coalesced into a most auspicious position and the promise of ever greater riches. Who would have thought a boy from such humble beginnings as his, growing up in a remote farming community in a backwater of the protectorate, could one day—
A shadow swept over him, blocking out the punishing northern sun. Siavash blinked in the sudden darkness, squinting up at the obstacle that now blocked his path.
‘You are merchant?’
The voice was low and accented to an almost absurd degree. The thing before him was a person.
Siavash resummoned his gracious aspect. ‘Ah, ha. I would say that I employ merchants, gods be praised. Perhaps my clerk can find someone who could—’ he began.
‘You go north?’
Siavash’s eyes were adjusting to the pool of gloom that encompassed him. The figure towered over him, clad in a sweeping, thick cloak despite the day’s heat. Beneath the cloak he thought he saw armour, and a lot of straps. Eyes narrowed, he peered up at the figure’s head, haloed by the white sun it blocked. Braided cables of pale hair flowed from a large, lumpen head, its skin almost as white as the sun behind. It was not smiling.
‘You’re . . .’ Siavash swallowed. ‘You’re of the Horvaun?’
The Horvaun. Even thinking the name almost brought Siavash out in a carpet of sweat. Bloodthirsty, pale-skinned savages of astonishing cruelty from the distant south, who had raided and plundered the furthest coasts of the Sink until they had been all but abandoned by what passed for civilisation down there. From the stories he had heard on the road, the Horvaun made the hated Mawn look like temple tutors. Why in the name of all the gods would one of them be here?
‘You go north,’ the figure repeated. This time it was not a question, and Siavash found himself nodding. He had no wish to irk a mighty reaver of the distant south. He had stared long enough to deduce the Horvaun was female, but he had no idea if that made things better or worse.
‘You need . . . guards,’ she said, and relief bloomed in Siavash’s innards. Nothing more than muscle in search of work! His munificent smile returned.
‘Ah, indeed and in truth,’ Siavash said, gesturing for his aged clerk to scuttle up to join him. ‘Of course, yes, my caravan will be guarded on the road north – we could hardly transport our cargo there and back without the pitted shield of protection, eh?’ The smile widened with indulgence. ‘But, kind visitor, I am Siavash Sarosh’ – how he loved to use his name in public – ‘and my caravan is an official conveyance of the Serican protectorate. We have a veritable abundance of guards, supplied and outfitted by the Miners’ Guild.’
The giant Horvaun frowned, not in anger but in thought. Siavash was sure he could hear her armour creaking over the noise of the caravanserai. A tattoo marked her face, not a conviction but something decorative that bisected one brow and cheek. Something long and thin with a pointed end, perhaps a spear? ‘How many?’ she growled.
‘How many . . . guards.’
Siavash waved a hand at his clerk. ‘Do you consider us well-guarded, Ulfat?’
‘Incontrovertibly so, master,’ the clerk replied, his own accent still thick despite more than a decade north of the gorge. ‘Plentiful guards both mounted and on foot, with archers placed among the wagons.’
‘You see, blessed visitor?’ Siavash had recovered himself now, although he had made a mental note to keep a couple of guards with him in future when wandering the caravanserai. ‘We have no need of further help.’
‘We number five,’ the giant countered. ‘We have business in north. Important business. Urgent business. We travel with you.’
Siavash offered a tight smile. ‘A thousand apologies, gracious visitor. Guild caravans may permit no travellers by regulation. Mining equipment and supplies, too precious a cargo, you understand!’ Not to mention the crates of semi-legal weaponry and alchemical precursors he was transporting. ‘I wish you every favour of the gods in your journey.’ He began to shuffle past, the clerk at his heel.
‘My gods grant no favours,’ the woman rumbled as he passed, but she did not follow.
Siavash continued his tour of the retailers, skirting the glare of the courtyard and doing his best to stay upwind of the few camels kept in the far stalls. Camels were uncommon on the north road, but occasionally an enterprising type might bring some this way having crossed from the east. They were always kept separate; their stink upset the horses more than it did the merchants, and that was saying something.
When Siavash stopped to sample a frozen delight of syrup and saffron, declared fresh from the ice pit at the caravanserai’s rear, he looked back across the baked and bustling courtyard. The big Horvaun was on the upper balcony, leaning on the rail in the slanted shade of the gallery. She was staring right at him.
Siavash told himself that his shiver came from only the ice.
Siavash was completing his handwashing in an ornate basin when Ulfat the clerk approached at a trot. It was a little ritual he enjoyed in advance of departure, especially after eating a lot of sticky plums, and it gave him something to do while his clerk settled their levies with the gate officials. He hated to involve himself directly in the necessary backhanders, and having clean hands was pleasing in both a literal and figurative sense.
‘Ulfat! Are we all paid up and ready to leave?’
‘We are master, but there is . . . a complication.’
Siavash wiped his hands on one of the finer cottons reserved for caravan heads. ‘What is the complication, Ulfat?’
‘We are short in number, master. A number of guards have not rejoined the caravan.’
‘What? Which? How many?’
‘Denk and his brothers, and their cousin Erol.’ The clerk scratched at his collar. ‘Five in all. I have sent men to check the stalls and upper floor, but there is no sign.’
Siavash pursed his lips. ‘Possibly they have made local friends, but we cannot wait for them to sate themselves and slither back. Gods grant us favour! Five is too many to travel without.’
Something enormous blotted the sun and cast Siavash into a familiar darkness.
‘You need . . .’ came the rumble ‘. . . guards?’
David Wragg’s The Hunters is due to be published by Harper Voyager in the UK and North America, on July 20th.
Also on CR: Interview with David Wragg (2019)