The Hawkwood War

The Hawkwood War


The Hawkwood War is the second book of the Requite duology. It’s a science fiction romance featuring more courtesans, more programmers, more revolutionaries, the same number of genderqueer bodyguards and technological tinkerers, more swordfights, more explosions, more arguments, more assassins and slightly fewer eels.

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Read an excerpt below. Warning: The Maker’s Mask and The Hawkwood War started out as one book, and whilst I’ve taken a couple of paragraphs of major plot spoilers for The Maker’s Mask out of this excerpt, if you’re the sort of person who has an eidetic memory for small plot details or you’re a spoilerphobe (and I have nothing against spoilerphobes! I married one) you may not want to read this.

6-1 Crystal, 432 S.F, Shainault

Kjarten Helm took a long breath, then another. He could feel his chin tucked down against his chest. He could feel his drawn-up knees. He could feel his arms wrapped protectively about himself. He wriggled his toes experimentally. He tapped his fingers against the opposite shoulders, first to one side, then to the other. Not dead, then, nor scrambled into small and only notionally animate twitching bits. He opened his eyes.

It was still dark. Or possibly he had been assembled correctly except for the mechanism of his eyelids. He pressed his eyes with his fingers, found his own eyelashes and felt a wobbly and enraging relief.

Kjarten scrambled to his feet, finding a handhold that felt like a wooden shelf. So, he wasn’t in the iceworks, then, not unless the shambling beasts that inhabited the place had had the decorators in. But this could still be Civitavecchia.

If it was Civitavecchia, it might be a relief. He could leave the various tangles he was enmeshed in at Shainault behind. There would be a Courtesanat niece-house; and where there was a niece-house, there would be people willing to do a favour for the Courtesan-General’s nephew. His fingers skittered along the shelf, hoping for a bag of coin, or better yet, a lacquer materia-box. Failing that, he’d settle for a bowl of cold half-eaten noodles, or even a cup of water.

Instead, his questing fingers skidded across something that felt horribly like withered skin. He jerked his hand back and cradled it against his chest, his heart beating double-triple time; and realised belatedly that what he had touched was the leather-bound spine of a book.

He pivoted on his feet, smelling leather and resin and glue. A book in a bookshelf in the back room of a bookshop, curse his hammering heart, and curse him, too, for a fool.

That didn’t prove anything. They had bookshops in Civitavecchia.

Wherever he was, it smelt like Shainault, but for all he knew all Spires did. He had been born in Venexia, but he didn’t remember any smells from the place except for milk and his mother’s perfume.

Kjarten felt his way round the room. Just as his fingertips stumbled onto a doorframe, he felt a great sucking silence in his ears, as if he were flying on a suncloth glider and had dived too sharply. The floor shook under his feet. Kjarten reached for the wall to steady himself. Was the Spire Walking? If it was, surely the air should be full of sirens and safety exhortations…

The silence gave way to noise. The floor bucked under him. It reminded him of the first time he’d been put on a vrykol’s back. He had been two years old, and it was a big, ill-tempered vrykol. He fell against the door, caught his hip on the handle, and fell on through the doorway into a bigger, slightly less gloomy space.

Kjarten lay still until he was sure the floor wasn’t going to start moving again. He could hear sirens hammering far away. At least that meant that whatever had happened to him was real, and not just an after-effect of the way he’d just travelled here.

The front of the bookshop wasn’t as dark. Light found its way up around the edges of a trap door and into the dusty air like a squared-off halo. Kjarten made his best company-manners bow and namaste to it; thank you kindly, St. Trap Door, z’nyor, for your honourable blessing. The smell of books fought the smell of dank stone, and then made a truce and signed it in mildew.

Kjarten stared around the room. What in the Prophet’s name had happened? It looked as if the place had been visited by his brother Majed in one of his rare but cataclysmic tempers.

One of the shelves had toppled over altogether, and the long chains that held the books in place on another had snapped, sending a cascade of books to the floor. A desk lay on its side in one corner, moored in a little sea of detritus including a cashbox, a pile of flims on a spike and a bone teacup.

Kjarten heard running feet on the level above. He let out his breath slowly, acknowledging a fear that he hadn’t let himself consciously feel; that the infernal portable had flung him loose in time or some other dimension, and that he was the only person left in the world.

He possessed himself of the spike and carried it over to the trapdoor and the light. He knew that flims were white over at Belyaevo, because Philip-August had said so once, but he had no idea about Civitavecchia, and in any case, the dim light turned all colours ashy and made it impossible to tell.

After some experimentation, he realised that by lying prone on the floor beside the trapdoor he could just about make out the writing on the flim.

To the tiavod of Yuzhny Mainstairs; this is to inform you that from 2-3 Roses 431 the paper salvage will be collected on the afternoon of the first and third quarter of each longday rather than the morning of the fourth as was previously the custom. By order of Melati Helm de Mirandola, Chief Technician. God save and keep Kapellan Prime.

Kjarten closed his eyes and crumpled the flim in his hand. Not Civitavecchia, after all. Shainault. He put his hands flat on his thighs and leaned forward, drinking in the gorgeous Spire-smell, now that he knew it was home.


The bookshop door opened. A slice of lantern-light swung in through the doorway, pushing wings of shadow out in front of its path. Kjarten flung himself back through the gloom to the fallen desk and hid behind it. It was an ignominious way to behave, he thought, but no worse than being tricked by Sorszenna Hawkwood, and no one knew about that yet so it didn’t count. Delicately precise footsteps crossed to the centre of the floor; paused, turned, walked again, stopped again.

Kjarten hugged one arm round his knees, barely daring to breathe. With his other hand, he reached for his boot-knife.

His hand met the boot-scabbard’s empty shell. The boot-knife, he belatedly remembered, had gone into the Hawkwood chief technician’s pocket back on the land-barge. He remembered the older man’s appreciative nod as he drew the knife free, and a smile that almost had Kjarten smiling back.

“First place I look,” the man had said, half comradely, half apologetic. Kjarten thought that from now on it would be the first place he looked, too. If he lived long enough to get out of this.

The footsteps weren’t moving any more. The desk moved a little, shaking and lifting off the ground. Kjarten only knew one person who could do that. Coincidentally, it was a person who, if he felt like it, could move without any sound of footsteps.

He felt sick with relief. He scrambled out from under the desk, dusting himself down as best he could as he came to his feet, and made his most respectful bow. “Uncle!”

Looking upwards in the hope of meeting his tall uncle’s eye – profoundly unamused, most likely, but still, far and away the best hope for the Spire’s rescue – he found himself instead facing someone else altogether.

Copyright © 2010 Ankaret Wells.

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4 thoughts on “The Hawkwood War

  1. Oh, another intriguing titbit 🙂 I do love your turn of phrase, the smell of books fought the smell of dank stone, and then made a truce and signed it in mildew is a particular gem.

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