For some, loss merely deprives. For others, it consumes.
Ashtadukht is a star-reckoner. The worst there’s ever been. Witness her treacherous journey through Iranian legends and ancient history.
Only a brave few storytellers still relate cautionary glimpses into the life of Ashtadukht, a woman who commanded the might of the constellations—if only just, and often unpredictably. They’ll stir the imagination with tales of her path to retribution. How, fraught with bereavement and a dogged illness, she criss-crossed Sassanian Iran in pursuit of creatures now believed mythical. Then, in hushed tones, what she wrought on that path.
Praise for A Star-Reckoner’s Lot
“I think it has a few excellent twists that will leave every reader surprised. Personally, having read fantasy for more than 20 years, I welcomed what sets this book apart from typical fantasy” – Author Daniel E. Olesen
“Without a doubt, A Star-Reckoner’s Lot is a perfect read for fans of combat and adventure. The fight scenes are realistic, and the surprises Ashtandukht meets on her way would satisfy every adventure’s enthusiast.” – Patrisya M.
Ashtadukht was waiting patiently, one hand fiddling with her sleeve while she watched the exchange from afar. She felt relieved to no longer hoard anger like some sort of philosophical dragon despoiling hamlets and bringing home rage and fury to pad its halls. But she also felt like she’d been a dragon. It’s one thing to punish a person; it’s an entirely different affair to punish a person you care for.
She put on a stern face and folded her arms when they approached, careful to keep her doubts to herself. “Well?”
“Waray says there is a city nearby,” said Tirdad.
“Oh?” Ashtadukht turned a pointedly unsympathetic stare on the half-div. “Seems like a lie.”
“Already asserted your dominance,” Waray grumbled, averting her gaze. “Don’t have to be mean.”
“There aren’t any cities nearby,” Ashtadukht rebuffed. “Not being gullible isn’t the same as being mean.” Still, Waray was right: she’d made her point, and anything further was needless cruelty.
She softened her delivery considerably and decided to indulge the half-div. “So explain how you supposedly happened upon a city all the way out here?”
“The stars?” Waray ventured uncertainly. She canted her head and smacked her lips, which were tinged with blood. “Maybe. There was this šo-miffed bird. It was pecking me, and I was trying to talk things out. Civilly, I think. Had no business being home when it was anyway. Should’ve been out.”
“Waray,” said Ashtadukht. “Get to the point.”
“. . .”
“And the city?”
“Oh, I found that šo-cheery place yesterday.” Waray shivered. “Felt like—wait. Not that. Šo-eerie. That. The walls were too long. Like they wanted to stop growing but the taskmaster wouldn’t have it. They kept going, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t—” She flexed her hands. “I couldn’t catch up. Everything just kept increasing, and it was too much. Like trying to snatch the air all at once when you can’t even get a fistful. It was too much.”
While neither cousin realized she was describing an anxiety attack, they did get the vague idea from her body language and pitch that the half-div had been genuinely unsettled by whatever she’d come across, city or no city.
“Where’s this place?” asked Ashtadukht.
“Take us there.”
“Maybe not?” Waray asked hopefully. “Maybe somewhere nice?”
“Your fault,” said Tirdad, all too familiar with what would happen next. “You should not have stirred her curiosity. Just do as she says.”
Waray surrendered with the type of defeated sigh a guide would give when well-meaning but plainly stupid adventurers insist on visiting the trap-ridden tombs of The One Most Slithered, or some other vengeful deity. “You’ll be chopped in half,” she warned, and plodded away.
She conducted them around the foot of the ridge they’d been following and into a clearing that was decidedly not a city. She came to a halt as abruptly as if she’d walked into a wall. “But.”
“Is this your city?” asked Tirdad.
Waray shook her head, at an utter loss for words.
“The Rostam Inscription,” Ashtadukht observed somewhat icily. She had a feeling Waray was up to something. “Well, inscriptions. Yeah, it’s a necropolis, but it isn’t very city-like. I thought we were farther away.”
Unlike Ashtadukht, who had visited this site twice already, and wouldn’t have appreciated it at this point in her life regardless, Tirdad awed at the monument.
Four giant inset crosses had been carved into the rock face by an empire that predated his by centuries unknown—and obscured in the time since; nevertheless, an empire that had surely laid the groundwork for the age-old nation he served. So impressive were the carvings that they appeared to Tirdad as if they’d been pressed into the stone by the stamp seal of Ohrmazd himself, which had applied embossed rock reliefs depicting kings of yore, and an entrance to a tomb too high for men to reach where those very kings were laid to rest.
Below those reliefs were more recent carvings, contemporary inscriptions that portrayed the investiture of Kings of Kings and their entourage. Some displayed triumphs over foreign powers, while others stressed the right to rule as sanctified by various divinities.
He strolled over to the rock face and ran his fingers admiringly over the nearest such relief.
“It’s all too horizontal,” Waray pondered aloud. She cocked her head and leaned to the side. “Too horizontal.”
Ashtadukht was in the process of asking what exactly Waray was getting at when the half-div swept her arm at an angle to designate what she believed to be the correct alignment, and in doing so sheared the rock relief as if her scrutiny were slicing through fabric.
The entire ridge fell away and heaped like a discarded dress around the foot of a vast wall that stretched to either side as far as the eye could see. Only patches of gypsum plaster remained, exposing the baked bricks at the core of the wall to the elements—where the bricks hadn’t left vacancies. In short, it was in disrepair.
Instead of the straight-facing gate used in many cities, the fortifications from one side reached around the other to create a funnel where invading forces could be neatly channeled into a lane. Ashtadukht nodded to herself. She wasn’t particularly military-minded, but living with a prominent general had imparted some small appreciation for these things.
“Told you so,” Waray said uneasily. She lowered her voice to a whisper and turned away from her victory. “Told you so.”
“What just happened?” asked Tirdad.
“If I were to venture a guess, Waray dispersed a powerful illusion with a mere wave of her hand,” Ashtadukht replied. “Every bit as impressive as it sounds.”
“And the Rostam Inscription?” Tirdad asked almost mournfully.
“Probably safe and sound. My initial reaction was that we’d lost our bearings, but the real thing should be farther out.”
“Good,” said Tirdad, thick with relief. “Good. Makes you wonder how many people have stumbled upon this pretender and thought they were standing in front of a national monument.”
Waray leered at the two of them, annoyed by how easily they’d written off her word, and were now going on like she hadn’t been right all along.
“There’s a šo-welcoming city here,” she hissed, though she was now beginning to wish she had been wrong. Something about her first visit had unsettled her greatly: something that was strumming her mind at this very moment. She tried to put it into words, and it came out as a muttered, “Welcoming.”
She frowned. She had not fumbled the word, yet it was nevertheless off-putting. As far as she was concerned, cities should not be welcoming. They should not wave you in. And they most definitely should not strum. “The wall,” she rambled. “Like a line of šo-desperate cheese. ‘Come in, come in,’ it’s saying. ‘Take a load off. Have a drink. The rams are out and rutting, but they’ll be back for dinner. You’ll stay, won’t you?’ And there’s a clap of horns in the distance. And the cheese is peering at you like a šo-lonely wheel. But you have to go because you’ve got a thing tomorrow. A thing. That’s what you say.”
Waray gave a brisk nod, certain she’d gotten the point across in clear terms.
Ashtadukht paid her no heed. She’d toned the half-div out the instant she’d started talking from the perspective of a wall.
“Let’s investigate,” she said.
A Star-Reckoner’s Lot releases on October 2nd, 2016.
About the Author
Darrell Drake has published four books, with A Star-Reckoner’s Lot being the latest. He often finds himself inspired by his research to take on new hobbies. Birdwatching, archery, stargazing, and a heightened interest in history have all become a welcome part of his life thanks to this habit.