SHADOW & BONE


CHAPTER ONE
Standing on the edge of a crowded road, I looked down onto the rolling fields and abandoned farms of the Tula Valley and got my first glimpse of the Shadow Fold. My regiment was two weeks’ march from the military encampment at Poliznaya and the autumn sun was warm overhead, but I shivered in my coat as I eyed the haze that lay like a dirty smudge on the horizon. A heavy shoulder slammed into me from behind. I stumbled and nearly pitched face-first into the muddy road. “Hey!” shouted the soldier. “Watch yourself!” “Why don’t you watch your fat feet?” I snapped, and took some satisfaction from the surprise that came over his broad face. People, particularly big men carrying big rifles, don’t expect lip from a scrawny thing like me. They always look a bit dazed when they get it.  The soldier got over the novelty quickly and gave me a dirty look as he adjusted the pack on his back, then disappeared into the caravan of horses, men, carts and wagons streaming over the crest of the hill and into the valley below.  I quickened my steps, trying to peer through the crowd. I’d lost sight of the yellow flag of the surveyors’ cart hours ago, and I knew I was far behind. As I walked, I took in the green and gold smells of the autumn wood, the soft breeze at my back. We were on the Vy, the wide road that had once led all the way from Os Alta to the wealthy port cities on Ravka’s western coast. But that was before the Shadow Fold.  Somewhere in the crowd, someone was singing. Singing? What idiot is singing on his way into the Fold? I glanced again at that smudge on the horizon and had to suppress a shudder. I’d seen the Shadow Fold on many maps, a black slash that had severed Ravka from its only coastline and left it landlocked. Sometimes it was shown as a stain, sometimes as a bleak and shapeless cloud. And then there were the maps that just showed the Shadow Fold as a long, narrow lake and labelled it by its other name, “the Unsea”, a name intended to put soldiers and merchants at their ease and encourage crossings.  I snorted. That might fool some fat merchant, but it was little comfort to me. Ravka’s only link to the outside world - to weapons, to commerce, to the hope of survival - lay through the Fold. We would cross because we had to, because we’d been ordered to, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. I tore my attention from the sinister haze hovering in the distance and looked down onto the ruined farms of the Tula. The valley had once been home to some of Ravka’s richest estates. One day it was a place where farmers tended crops and sheep grazed in green fields. The next, a dark slash had appeared on the landscape, a swathe of nearly impenetrable darkness that grew with every passing year and crawled with horrors. Where the farmers had gone, their herds, their crops, their homes and families, no one knew. Stop it, I told myself firmly. You’re only making things worse. People have been crossing the Fold for years . . . usually with massive casualties, but all the same. I took a deep breath to steady myself. “No fainting in the middle of the road,” said a voice close to my ear as a heavy arm landed across my shoulders and gave me a squeeze. I looked up to see Mal’s familiar face, a smile in his bright blue eyes as he fell into step beside me. “C’mon,” he said. “One foot in front of the other. You know how it’s done.” “You’re interfering with my plan.” “Oh really?” “Yes. Faint, get trampled, grievous injuries all around.” “That sounds like a brilliant plan.” “Ah, but if I’m horribly maimed, I won’t be able to cross the Fold.” Mal nodded slowly. “I see. I can shove you under a cart if that would help.” “I’ll think about it,” I grumbled, but I felt my mood lifting all the same. Despite my best efforts, Mal still had that effect on me. And I wasn’t the only one. A pretty blonde girl strolled by and waved, throwing Mal a flirtatious glance over her shoulder. “Hey, Ruby,” he called. “See you later?” Ruby giggled and scampered off into the crowd. Mal grinned broadly until he caught my eye roll. “What? I thought you liked Ruby.” “As it happens, we don’t have much to talk about,” I said drily. I actually had liked Ruby - at first. When Mal and I had left the orphanage at Keramzin to train for our military service in Poliznaya, I’d been nervous about meeting new people. But lots of girls had been excited to befriend me, and Ruby had been among the most eager. Those friendships lasted as long as it took me to figure out that their only interest lay in my proximity to Mal.  Now I watched him stretch his arms expansively and turn his face up to the autumn sky, looking perfectly content. There was even, I noted with some disgust, a little bounce in his step. “What is wrong with you?” I whispered furiously. “Nothing,” he said, surprised. “I feel great.” “But how can you be so . . . so jaunty?” “Jaunty? I’ve never been jaunty. I hope never to be jaunty.” “Well, then what’s all this?” I asked, waving a hand at him. “You look as if you’re on your way to a really good dinner instead of possible death and dismemberment.” Mal laughed. “You worry too much. The King’s sent a whole group of Grisha fire-summoners to cover the skiffs, and even a few of those creepy Heartrenders. We have our rifles,” he said, patting the one on his back. “We’ll be fine.” “A rifle won’t make much difference if there’s a bad attack.” Mal shot me a bemused glance. “What’s the matter with you lately? You’re even grumpier than usual. And you look terrible.” “Thanks,” I groused. “I haven’t been sleeping well.” “What else is new?”