I am excited to welcome author Aidan Harte, who is sharing an exclusive excerpt from his novel, Irenicon.
The river Irenicon is a feat of ancient Concordian engineering. Blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347, using Wave technology, it divided the only city strong enough to defeat the Concordian Empire. But no one could have predicted the river would become sentient—and hostile. Sofia Scaligeri, the soon-to-be Contessa of Rasenna, has inherited a city tearing itself apart from the inside. And try as she might, she can see no way of stopping the culture of vendetta that has the city in its grasp. Until a Concordian engineer arrives to build a bridge over the Irenicon, clarifying everything: the feuding factions of Rasenna can either continue to fight each other or they can unite against their shared enemy. And they will surely need to stand together—for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again.
The following is excerpted from Irenicon by Aidan Harte; published by Jo Fletcher Books, an imprint of Quercus. United Kingdom ©2012, United States ©2014. All rights reserved.
Irenicon: Chapter 18
Sofia needed to clear her head, but the alley air was stubbornly stag- nant despite the wind, and there was always the chance of bumping into couples tussling amorously or violently. She drained the bottle, threw it over her shoulder, and vaulted up the walls.
Topside, a cold wind swept off the Irenicon, waking her like a splash of water on the face. She wrapped her scarf tighter and looked south. Sometimes, when she forgot the duty to hate it, the river’s solemn beauty could startle her.
Earlier that evening, Secondo had stormed into the workshop to tell the Doctor about the accident, along with his theory that Captain Giovanni was conspiring against them. Frog’s rather different version of events surprised her. She wasn’t naive enough to believe the engineer cared; it was obviously about control—and a happy crew was a productive crew—but it was far better than the standard brutalist tactics. There was no doubt about it, he was different.
Sofia skipped onto the roof of a higher tower and sat smiling on its gable; it was pleasant to think of families inside, soundly sleep- ing, oblivious to night visitors. Then she caught sight of light shining from the narrow windows of Tower Vaccarelli; evidently somebody else was awake, probably old Guercho, writing more windy oratory.
She looked over the rooftops, which were rust-bleached in the moonlight, and imagined other nights and better times, chasing Gaetano, him chasing her: children, innocent of simmering feuds soon to boil over. She did not feel young anymore. Once she had looked forward to turning seventeen, but lately she only worried about the responsibility it would bring.
She yawned and caught an acrid smell on the air. She leaped up, her head spinning—that light in the window!
She crossed the rooftops dangerously fast. Up close, she could see the lower stories of Tower Vaccarelli already burning. A win- dow on the fifth floor was open. She paused to wrap her scarf more firmly around her face, then dived. She landed inside, rolling, her knife out of her belt before she’d even stopped.
A masked man looked up in the act of pulling a dagger from Guercho Vaccarelli’s chest. He picked up his torch and came for her; Sofia had no time to rise before the blow came. She blocked it with her forearm. As she flinched from the sparks, the man kicked her in the chest. When she fell back, her scarf came open.
Figuring she’d get only one chance to strike from this position, she feigned unconsciousness. When she finally opened her eyes, he’d turned his back on her and was climbing to the sixth floor. She swore and threw her knife without aiming. It grazed the back of his neck, a flesh wound, but painful, she hoped.
Sofia was about to give chase when she heard a cry from below. “Cazzo!” she swore again, and bounded down to the third story. Towers would crack and crumble before they burned, but they quickly became ovens for those trapped inside.
The family chamber was in disarray, and smoke was already rising. In the center there was a mound, covered by the family banner. Several feet stuck out pathetically.
Sofia, shuddering, pulled it back.
Donna Vaccarelli was lying dead with her sons. Their throats were cut, and they were sprawled as if they were still trying to defend her, even in death. They were just boys but good fighting stock. A knife against three flags! Whoever the southsider was, he could fight.
Sofia heard a shifting sound from the pile of blankets in the corner. She pulled the knife from Donna Vaccarelli’s chest and crept toward the noise.
The little girl leaped at her with a feral scream, but Sofia caught her by the wrist and held it until she dropped her knife.
“Isabella!” she shouted. “You know me, don’t you?”
Tears and soot smeared the girl’s freckled cheeks. At last she mumbled, “Contessa?”
Sofia lifted her up. “Come with me now,” she said, keeping the child’s face buried in her shoulder. Her tangled black curls stank of smoke already. “They’re just sleeping.”
“They’re dead,” the little girl said with chilling calm.
Sofia considered her next move. Up or down? Jumping from the second floor to the ground was their best bet, damn the height, damn the heat.
She climbed down the next flight of steps. The center of the floor was smoldering; the room below must be an inferno. She pressed Isabella tighter to her shoulder, trying to protect her from the smoke that was filling the great room. She kicked at the door, and when nothing gave, she put the little girl down, telling her to wait, and ran at it with her shoulder.
The pain from her broken arm was intense, but she willed herself to ignore it. They had blocked the door, so this was no ordinary raid; it was planned. Somebody had marked the Vaccarelli family to burn tonight.
“We’re going to die too, aren’t we?” Isabella said as Sofia lifted her in her arms again.
“Someone will see the flames and help,” Sofia said, but that wasn’t true either. They’d raided on a night when everyone was too drunk to notice.
Sofia flung herself to the wall as the burning beam just missed them and crashed though the weakened floor, starting a general collapse. She dived for the stairs and started running up as everything else fell into the fire below. With more air to burn, the flames suddenly grew higher.
She put Isabella down on the fourth-floor steps.
“Don’t leave me!” the little girl cried, looking terrified.
Sofia slapped her hard, so it stung. “Listen, Isabella, I lied. No one’s coming—it’s just you and me, understand? If we panic, we die, and if you die, who’ll avenge your family?”
The child stopped crying.
“That’s more like it. Now, I can’t move as fast carrying you, so if I get into trouble, you’ll have to start climbing yourself. You need to jump from the top floor to the nearest tower. You can do that, can’t you?”
She nodded, calm now.
“Ready?” said Sofia, looking up, calculating.
Suddenly the girl broke free and ran down the stairs into the smoke.
“No, Isabella! They’re all dead!” Sofia cried, but a moment later the girl had returned.
“Ready,” she whispered. She had a bundle under her arm: the Vaccarelli banner.
They reached the fifth floor, but the window was blocked by burning debris. Below it, old Vaccarelli’s body was smoldering black. Sofia prayed the masked man wasn’t waiting on the floor above; she could hardly walk now, let alone fight. But when they climbed up, they found the upper part of the stairs being eaten away by flames and a hole in the roof where beams had fallen in. The bastard had tried to cook them from both ends.
Halfway up, the staircase began to crumble. Sofia hoisted Isabella through the gap, then leaped after her. Thankfully, there was little to burn on the top story. The night sky beckoned tantalizingly through a skylight. Sofia looked around and saw a locker in the corner, about the right height. She pushed it as close to the hole in the center as she could get and, praying the floor would hold long enough, lifted Isabella onto it before clambering up awkwardly after her.
She was breathing smoke now and gasping. “Get on my shoulder and jump,” she rasped.
“You’ll follow me?” Isabella said anxiously.
“Yes—hurry!” She doubted she could even stay on her feet much longer.
Isabella crawled onto her shoulders and sprang up through the flames and into the night.
“Thank you, Madonna,” Sofia said, sinking to her knees.
There was a loud creak: the floor, sagging beneath the locker’s weight. This is it, she thought.
She looked up and saw the Vaccarelli banner being lowered toward her.
“It’s tied off!” the little girl cried. “Hurry!”
Meet Aidan Harte!
Aidan Harte was born in Kilkenny, studied sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art, and currently works as a sculptor in Dublin. His bronzes are currently on display in prestigious art galleries in Mayfair and Dublin. He has also worked in animation and TV, and in 2006 created the show Skunk Fu, which has appeared on several channels around the world, including the Cartoon Channel. Irenicon will be published in April 2014 by Jo Fletcher Books (an imprint of Quercus). It is the first book in The Wave Trilogy.
Want to purchase Aidan’s novels?
- The Warring States (April 7, 2015)
- Spira Mirabilis (2015)