Sixth in our Heroes series, by our own Robert Rhodes. Art is courtesy of Leela Wagner.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews

“You’re a trueborn child of Goldspire,” his mother once said while stroking his hair. He’d fought an older boy behind the Butchers’ Market that afternoon and lost. “Quick. Tough. Clever. You’ll be a lord someday, Tan, if you use your head before your hands and heart.”

Later — seven years ago, now — he found her in a snowdrift near their home, her throat cut from ear to ear. Quick, tough, clever. A whore’s bastard and, in the wall’s shadow, his eyelashes frozen, an orphan. A child of Goldspire in the truest sense.

*  *  *

He is twenty now and a soldier in the city guard, newly promoted to the night watch. Fair enough with sword and dagger, unrivaled with a crossbow or beside a Four Dragons board — yet careful to lose some coins from time to time, to buy ale and cake for his older comrades, and to laugh at their jests. They are rungs on the ladder he is climbing. He needs them solid and stable beneath his feet.

He plans to climb as high as the Lord’s Tower in the Citadel, and tonight he is doing just that — literally. He wonders why he’s never attempted it before, until his bare foot shifts on the death-cold stone and his breath fails. He refuses to look down, instead twisting his hips and, with a final effort, hoisting himself onto the ledge. He lets his feet swing freely in the air, high above balconies and the inner courtyard. He grins and turns to lay his hand upon it — wider than the most ancient of tree trunks is the cold smooth base of the Spire.

The night is perfect, bitingly frigid like all spring nights, but moonless and dry. Louder than usual, too — music and clapping from taverns, drunken singing in the streets, a playful shriek from a brothel. The city is still celebrating Lord Uthorin’s wedding the night before. The lord and his new bride are sleeping, perhaps, in the chamber beneath him. He takes care not to disturb them.

Another such night may be long in coming, so he slides the curved knife from his belt and angles it at the base of the Spire, just above the tower’s stone. He presses down and begins.

The soft gold peels away in a heavy curl. He grins and forces the blade deeper, until it grates on the stone underneath. The city’s people take the Spire for granted now, and even if they didn’t, they’d never see his handiwork from below. Even if someone could see him, or questioned his patrol route, he has a dozen street orphans, girls, and comrades who would swear to whatever he wished.

He has a plan for the gold, of course. He’ll cut it into smaller pieces and trade them to One-Eye Bannon, over weeks, for coin. Some coin he’ll spend when the next caravan arrives, to stock apple brandy and Sistarin wine that his comrades will gratefully buy for ridiculous prices in the dead of winter. Some will earn him a seat at the Four Dragons board in the private room of The White Forest, the preferred board among merchants, mining officers, and captains of the guard. He’ll win and lose in equal measure, accepting every outcome with a guileless smile, as he discerns their thoughts and desires, the cracks in their gilded armor, the next rungs of the ladder.

Sometimes, when the quickening of his plans denies him sleep, he feels the skeletal hand of Fear on his breast. How can one man climb so high, alone? But then two silver blades flash in the darkness, and he’s a boy again, standing on tiptoes in the Arena’s roaring crowd. Spellbound.

He remembers the Ghost Fox of Sistaré and such grace as he has never seen since. A youth like himself, neither tall nor stout, with hands like lightning and eyes of sparkling ice. One man, who danced untouched amid giants and murderers. Tanion would cheer for him until his throat grew raw, and he cried when the swordsman — like so many Sistarins — proved a lying thief and was sent to die in the mines.

A child — a man — of Goldspire learns from others’ ascensions and falls. He slides the knife along the Spire and frees another shaving of gold. In the months ahead, he will rise above the savage city. Tonight is simply a foretaste. A man climbs highest when he climbs unburdened and alone.

And neither tonight, nor ever, will he fall.

Author’s note: Author’s note: Andreas, the preceding hero, and Tanion (tan-yun) are the main characters of a novel in progress, tentatively titled Goldspire.

Tanion © Robert Rhodes, 2010. All rights reserved.
art used with permission: “Jon Snow” by Leela Wagner


  • Rob Rhodes

    ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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