From the enchanting and brave quest in The Song Her Heart Sang, to the ingenious and powerful Odalisque, the dark powers of Night of Falling Stars and the mournful Ghosts of Love, here is a collection of finely wrought tales with a strong sense of their shared world. This is heroic fantasy. These are epic tales of swords and sorcery.
"Lukas Mey is in love. Unfortunately, men in love don't always make the brightest decisions which Lukas learns firsthand when a miracle gift becomes instead a curse. To right the wrong, Lukas sets out on a fool's quest into the haunted remnants of Sahnglain in search of a fabled treasure that would win back Lili's heart. What he finds there is much more than he ever bargained for… Blending elements of romance, horror and fantasy, "The Song Her Heart Sang" was a bittersweet love story that stayed with me long after I finished reading it…"– Fantasy Book Critic
"Reading Steven Savile has always been a pleasure, and "Night of Falling Stars," the first story in issue #6 of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, is no exception. With lines like "the red sky bleeding to death for another day" Savile wraps not just the story around the reader, but the language itself…"– The Fix
The troubadours sang their songs, painting the world and its beauty in wonderful colours.
In truth the music did little to mask the twin shadows of doubt and anxiety that hung over a lover's shoulder.
Lukas Meya walked in those shadows, head down, heart on fire. Her name was Lili. He thought about her as he dragged his feet. It ought to have been the greatest feeling in the world, to be lost in love. But it wasn't.
It had been, but that was before the miracle.
Now fear hid between the silences when he was alone, in the moments between heartbeats, in the fragments of time between inhaling and exhaling. That was when it whispered to his soul the thing he had always known: it was all going to end.
The song of their love was fleeting.
To some Lili's beauty might have been flawed, her eyes milk-white with blindness, but to Lukas she was perfect. Lukas had known in that first moment. She was framed by the window as she leaned out over the street, breathing in every scent Aksandria had to offer. He knew it was love.
He brought gifts, budding flowers, freshly baked pastries and essences from the perfumery, gifts with scents so strong they came alive in the darkness of her mind's eye. He talked to her, describing everything, every last little detail, drawing the world with words for her – and she laughed, delighting in his turn of phrase and the odd ways he chose to describe things.
Words brought them together, images tore them apart.
He found her lying curled up on the floor, clutching her knees to her chest and sobbing. Her eyes were closed tight and she refused to look at him. Even as he took her face in his hands, he knew. It was all he could manage to kiss her tenderly, once on each upturned eye. She tried to smile as she opened her eyes and he saw that the film of milk had fallen from them.
That was when she saw him for the first time; her expression tore at his heart. He so desperately wanted to see love and devotion but the only emotion in her eyes was fear. Even though some small part of him knew that her fear was caused by the sudden intimacy of the world pressing in all around her, bright and vibrant where it had been an endless winter night, that knowledge couldn't silence the tiny voices of doubt that rose up to remind him he had been a fool to think himself worthy of her beauty. It was always going to end, they crooned, because every beginning has its end, every life succumbs to sweet oblivion, every song trails off in its final note.
She didn't come to the window anymore because she couldn't bear to see.
Lukas had stopped bringing his little fragrant gifts; with her sight returned what need had Lili of a rose or a scrap of silk bearing a single drop of white lotus? They ceased being gateways to the world of possibility, becoming instead the mundane things that they were, a scrap of cloth, the head of a dying blossom.
Worse, they stopped talking.
He couldn't remember the last time he had sat with his back pressed against the wall of Lili's bed chamber describing the patchwork of colours that were the rooftops of Aksandria for her to imagine, the white-washed walls of the minarets that rose to accuse the sky like angry fingers, and the red clay tiles baked beneath the sun's heat, or the ebb and flow life bustling through the streets, market traders, street hawkers, the rich and the poor. It was as though Lili's learning to see had somehow robbed him of his own sight and made the world so much more subdued, flatter as the colour and wonder leached out of it.
And it was all his fault.
He came to Lili full of the miracle he had just witnessed, unable to contain himself: Versara, the young woman they called the White Rose, had healed Arden, the shoemaker's son. She had taken his clubbed foot in her delicate hands and smoothed the bones beneath the skin. The lad's screams had been hideous to behold as the bone was reshaped and set, the heat from Versara's hands was enough to fuse the bone. With tears still streaking down his grubby cheeks Arden had run out of the market square, no hint of the limp he had been trying to mask for most of his young life.
Lukas had begged the White Rose to visit Lili, knowing even as he did that there was a chance that Versara's touch might give Lili her sight. The irony was that he couldn't see the implications of the gift, only that it was the greatest gift he could think to give. He saw soon enough though; he made himself mundane, just like the scrap of material and the dead flower. What need did Lili have of his words now that she could see the world for herself? What wonder could he explain that she could not see?
She could see his faults now, all of them laid plain: his too sallow skin, his pocked complexion, his crooked nose where he had broken it years before. He couldn't hide any of them behind clever words and witty banter now, and suddenly they seemed insurmountable.
The ghost of Versara's touch lingered still on his cheek, even as her words haunted his sleep. "She will not be the same, you do understand that, don't you, sweet Lukas? She will never be the same again." He had said yes, but how could he have possibly known the extent to which Lili would change? That his gift would ultimately be a curse?
He remembered the last time he saw Lili, her face wrapped in bandages, too frightened to face the world that had come alive for her.
And that was why Lukas Meya walked in the shadow of love now, grim, determined as he strode through the low ways of Aksandria, out of the safety of the known streets and into the living wilderness that closed in on all sides of the great city, as all great lovers willing do to something stupid to earn his lady's heart. He would be worthy of her love and she would love him, completely and utterly, body and soul. He would give her a gift greater than sight. He would do something that truly embraced the irrational. Love was worth that moment of sheer abandonment, it had to be or it wasn't truly love.
That was his pledge to Lili – and to himself. From it, he devised a scheme, nothing grand, more desperate in truth, but it was a scheme nonetheless.
It didn't matter what it cost him.
Lukas scuffed his feet and looked back over his shoulder. He was alone in the street; the last of the washerwomen had finished scrubbing her stoop and gone inside. He hadn't ventured out of the Marin Gate since the first reports of oddness in the forests had begun to drift through, embellished no doubt with the every new coming and going of the vagabonds who traded in gossip. It did not matter that they were wholly unreliable, nor that they were braggarts and charlatans to a man, Lukas had seen enough with his own two eyes to know that more than a little of what they claimed was true, and that little was more than enough to keep him behind the safety of the city wall.
The gate guard raised an eyebrow at the young man but didn't bar his leaving.
Lukas fancied the air beyond the wall was different, sweeter than the air within the city. It was ludicrous, of course, to think that such purity could be inhaled let alone tasted. But it did; the air tasted of hope. He stopped on the edge of the living forest to look back at the spires of Aksandria. A curious sensation swept over him then. He brushed it off, more determined than ever to pursue his folly, and disappeared into the forest the locals still knew as Chapfallen.
It was an oppressive place, the thickness of the trees stifling all other sounds. Too soon he was alone with his own footfalls, the snap and crack of deadfall beneath his boots, and his ragged breathing.
Lukas leant against the lichen-smeared side of an ancient oak for support. Through the interlaced leaves he saw that the day was ageing fast. It was another sign of the lunacy of his plan; no traveller would ever be foolish enough to begin his journey at dusk, yet here he was, pushing on into the gathering dark. Somewhere close by, a stream broke over a weir, the fresh water dancing to its own haunting tune. A few speckles of sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves scattering gold coins of light across the ground. The wind rose, an angry voice moving through the trees.
Lukas didn't need to imagine moving shadows or lurking horrors. Chapfallen was a place of fairy tales spun to scare children half out of their wits, a few lies to build a legend upon, and a few truths. Within its green heart, the source of all those stories: Sahnglain.
Before the fall the cavernous subterranean complex had served the scholars of Aksandria well, as a library of sorts, but more importantly to Lukas now, as a repository for the more esoteric treasures of antiquity.
Lukas remembered stories of a precious stone his mother called Lahdioli, which loosely translated from the Old Tongue to mean: the song her heart sang. It was said to have both fallen from the sky and been surrendered by the sea, depending on which story you believed – which though impossible had amused young Lukas enough for the tales to stay with him. It was an apt gift for love, when love itself was a song that filled every ounce of his being. She would understand when he gave her the stone, because theirs was a love for the songs. In his head it really was that simple.
A quarter mile into the thickening forest Lukas finally forfeited the safety of the path and ventured deeper into the trees. He scanned the brambles strangling the rows of thick trunks, looking for a break in the tangle, something barely wide enough for him to wriggle through. The branches were like a constant battery of wings against his body, forcing him deeper into the woods, away from the stream, away from the sounds of Aksandria. He caught the thought, knowing that he was still experiencing the world in words, storing them to share later with Lili, the story itself another part of the gift. The earth took on a new hardness beneath his feet. Lukas knelt, scratching away the thin dusting of dirt to reveal the chipped and broken cobbles of a causeway. Lukas raised his eyes from the ground, trying to see through the dense foliage. He was on the right path. The forest might have reclaimed this road for its own, but without doubt he was kneeling on what had once been the Pilgrim's Road.
He snapped off a thin branch and used it to feel out the buried cobbles, working his way slowly forward until Sahnglain rose like a vision before him; its crumbling walls and empty windows half-glimpsed between the climbers and trees. Red stones cried mortar tears, and splinters of broken glass lay half buried in the black earth. The walls, Lukas saw as he neared, had been scorched with fire but the damage had been done long enough ago for the forest to have grown back hungrily over the blackened stones. A candletree lay in the black soil at his feet, left where it had fallen. Threads of collared wax, red and purple, still clung to its rusted iron stem. Lukas nudged it with his boot. Beneath it, a shard of glass wore the painted face of a dead saint. The place reeked of death gone stale. He turned slowly in a circle, the reality of the sight sinking in; Sahnglain had been sacked and burned, and whatever was worth stealing had almost certainly been spirited out of Chapfallen - the gold and silver of the sacred relics melted down for ingots, the vellum scrolls and books sold off. Superstitious gossip in Aksandria named the place a mausoleum.
Even so, he had to be sure.
He worked his way carefully toward the huge timber door hanging drunkenly on broken hinges across the darkness.
Lukas pushed the door aside and stepped out of the light.