I’m so excited to announce that I’m the third stop on the Smoke and Iron blog tour! If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m addicted to the Great Library series by Rachel Caine. So I couldn’t believe it when I got picked to be a part of the tour! If you haven’t read my review of Smoke and Iron yet, check it out here.
To celebrate the release, I’ve been given the great honor of showing you an excerpt of a chapter from Wolfe’s point of view! Fans of the series are probably sitting in shock right now – what? We’re not following Jess? Well, in book four we get to explore multiple points of view and it’s amazingly exciting. Check out the other stops on the blog tour to see other chapters from other beloved characters!
And at the end, check out the TWO giveaways for a chance to win a signed copy of Smoke and Iron… and the entire series as a whole!
It was the smell, in the end, that was the worst of it. Not that the Great Library kept a filthy prison, but the stench of terror and de¬spair was harder to wash away than more organic stains. This facility used stones that had been quarried for similar purposes five thousand years ago, long enough that the walls had been well soaked in pain and horror, and exhaled it constantly.
And he knew the miasma of it so intimately, horribly well.
He could ignore the darkness, the bars, the discomfort. But not the smell. And so, after the bars had closed around him, Christopher Wolfe had gone a little mad. A day of shuddering, flinching, imagining that every noise was a torturer coming for him again. A night when he wouldn’t close his eyes, for fear the past would smother him.
The morning of the second day—which he calculated not by sunrise, which was invisible down here, but by the changing of the guard watch—he had grown more accustomed to the stench of the place, and the darkness and the confinement, or at least he’d mastered his dread of those things a bit. He reminded himself that if he was right, his job here was not to wallow in useless self- pity, but to do something more.
If he was right, of course. If this was some plan that Jess and his miserable twin had conjured up. If this was not simply betrayal, but betrayal to a purpose.
The question then was what he was expected to accomplish, locked up here. Morgan, he could understand. But if this was a plan, by rights one of them should have whispered at least a hint to him before it was too late.
Then why would it profit any scheme—and he sensed Dario San¬tiago’s Machiavellian hand behind it—to send him back to a hell he’d never have agreed to return to? Wolfe had worked hard to keep his trauma silent and secret from the younger members of their little band, but Jess, in particular, had been privy to details. The young man knew at least the edges of that particular knife, if not the terrible wounds it had left.
No way to solve this puzzle without information, he told himself, and concentrated on the one he could solve: the security of this prison.
Here in this passage, he saw more of the dull metallic gleam of moving sphinxes than he did human High Garda. An overdependence upon automation, he thought. The sphinxes could be gotten around. Jess had worked out how. Even Dario had managed it.
Human guards were more difficult, if less lethal. They adapted. The sphinxes at least operated upon a set of rigid orders.
But surely his feckless students hadn’t put him here just to escape; no point in that. No, there was a purpose behind it, just as there was behind putting Morgan back in the Iron Tower.
That was when he heard the murmurs from another cell. He rec¬ognized the words, and they were echoed from other locations—one farther to his right, and one almost directly to his left. Prisoners at morning prayers.
And suddenly, Wolfe knew precisely why he’d been placed here. It started with those prayers but would hardly end there.
He sat cross-legged on his narrow bunk and ran through where, precisely, these prisons were located. They’d not taken the precau¬tion this time of moving him to another city. He was in Alexandria, in the cells buried far beneath the Serapeum. Holding pens for those sentenced to death. Ignore that, Wolfe thought, as he felt a small crack run through his resolve. Just another problem to be solved.
He listened. Sat for the better part of an hour and simply listened, pinpointing coughs, shuffles, rustles, the distant sounds of moans and sobs. This place is full of dissidents. Normally, it would not be; the Li¬brary’s opponents ranged from Burners—who normally killed them¬selves rather than end up here—to smugglers, who were usually killed quickly.
This prison, he realized, had been packed with individuals the Archivist thought might go against him. We did this, he thought. Our small act of rebellion, rescuing Thomas from Rome, echoing across the entire Library system . . . it forced him to tighten his grip, eliminate those who could do him harm. He had no doubt that the individuals jailed near him were Library sworn . . . Scholars, librarians, High Garda soldiers.
The core of the Library, now seen as its enemies. Tyrants turned on their own, in the end; it was the only way to keep power.
The prayers ceased, and Wolfe stood up and went to the bars of his cell. They were heavy, cold iron, and he thought of a thousand ways to break them. All required things he didn’t currently possess, but that had never stopped him for long. “My friend next door,” he said. “Are you by any chance a relative of Khalila Seif?”
There was a moment of silence, and then a guarded reply. “Why do you ask?”
“Because I know her well,” Wolfe said. “And a more brilliant, clever student I’ve never taught. She’s that rare combination of a great mind and an even better heart.”
He heart the release of a breath. It sounded shaken. “That’s my sister,” the man said. “My younger sister. I’m Saleh. She’s well?” The young man—he was young, perhaps a few years older than Khalila—sounded shaken. “She’s not here?”
“Safe I can’t guarantee, but last I saw her, she was well, and far away from here.”
“I pray she stays far away, too.” He hesitated a moment, then said, “My apologies. I’ve given you my name and not asked yours.”
“The rebel Scholar.” Saleh’s voice had turned brittle. “The one who brought all this on us.”
“Blame can wait. Survival first,” Wolfe said. He had no patience for fools, now or ever; the only thing he’d ever done to deserve the blame was to invent a machine the Library didn’t want. Everything, everything, followed from that. His imprisonment. His release, and erasure from Library records. His penance as lowly instructor. His determination to never allow the Archivist to destroy another bright mind. “Tell me who’s here with us.”
“My father, uncle, and older brother are farther down the row,” Saleh said. “Arrested on suspicion of treason against the Great Library. Which is nonsense, of course. We were arrested to force Khalila to come back.”
“Who else is here?”
“A Scholar Artifex, Marcus Johnson. Le Dinh, Scholar Medica. Captain Ahmed Khan, High Garda. Two or three Scholars from the Literature ranks, one a beloed author whose recent works are considered heretical. A host of librarians, for various crimes including concealment of original works, and Burner sympathies.” Saleh paused to think. “There’s one at the end of this corridor I don’t know. He never speaks. My father tried sign, but there was no response. But that only accounts for this one hallway.”
“How many other High Garda confined in here?”
“Six more. Ahmed’s the only one of significant rank, though.”
Wolfe had forgotten about the bars around him now, the chill in the stones, the evil smell of the place. He found a small chip of stone and used it to begin scratching out a list on the wall. “Start method¬ically,” he said. “Are you at the end of the hallway?”
“Then tell me who is next to you.”
When he was done with Saleh, he engaged the woman to his right, Ariane, who’d been listening. She was High Garda and deliv¬ered her account in a crisp, calm voice that he quite liked. It re¬minded him for a terrifying second of Nic, and he had to pause and push that need away. Niccolo is safe, he told himself. And on his way. Your job is to be ready when he arrives.
The word spread slowly down the hall, and passed back to him, as he drew a complete map of the prison hall, with names attached. By the time the meager ration of lunch arrived, he’d memorized the placements and rubbed away the map.
“Eat it, don’t throw it,” advised the High Garda soldier who handed him the tray of food. Meat, bread, cheese, figs, a small por¬tion of sour beer and a larger one of water. “Throw it, you get noth¬ing else today or tomorrow. Doesn’t take long for people to learn the lesson.”
Wolfe glanced up at him and had a second of doubt. Did he know this man? Recognize him? It was possible, but he couldn’t be sure, and the soldier gave no indication at all of knowing him.
“I’ll throw it when I’m tired of the food,” he said.
That got him a bare thread of a smile, and the young man—he was young, nearly as young as Wolfe’s students—tapped fingers to his forehead in a mock salute. “That’s why you’re a Scholar,” he said. “You get right to the bottom of things.”
I do know him, Wolfe thought. He couldn’t place the boy in proper context; surely they wouldn’t put one of Santi’s people on duty here? Unless, of course, there was more going on in Alexandria than he’d previously suspected—eminently possible, considering the shocking number of Scholars and librarians imprisoned. Perhaps the strong¬hold of the Great Library was no longer holding quite as strongly. An interesting theory to chase.
Wolfe ate his food slowly, not to savor its taste—it had little—but because he was involved in assessing the residents of this prison for their potential value in any escape attempt. The Artifex Scholar would certainly be useful. The writers could certainly come up with distractions. He was most concerned about Khalila’s father, who suf¬fered from a delicate heart, which these conditions certainly hadn’t improved.
He was still deep in thought when he scraped the last of the wa¬tery meat from the bottom of the bowl.
There was a message written on it, barely visible now and disap¬pearing fast. It said, Lieutenant Zara sent me.
Wolfe paused, closed his eyes a moment, and took in a deep, slow breath. Brightwell had not, after all, abandoned him here without a word, without a plan. Santi’s lieutenant—not a woman he cared for a great deal, but competent nonetheless—had been alerted to his plight. And knowing Zara, she had plans.
Now he had a messenger, and possibly even an extra ally.
Wolfe used his thumb to scrub the rest of the message from the bowl and put the tray through the slot outside the bars after down¬ing the ale and most of the water, which he desperately needed.
When the young man came back to collect the dishes, Wolfe fi¬nally placed him in his proper context. A lieutenant, one who’d been in charge of the Blue Dogs in Santi’s squad. Troll. His nickname was Troll. A competent young man, and fearless, which would be an as¬set here. Wolfe nodded. Troll glanced down in the bowl, gave that thread-thin smile again, and left without a word.
Wolfe sat back on his bunk and began to methodically catalogue every item in this bare, depressing cell for its usefulness.
Because soon, he’d need every possible asset to find a way out of this.
Good luck! Massive thank you to Rachel Caine for not only creating such an amazing series, but for sharing the love with her fans.