- Tor hardcover published November 1997
- Tor paperback published December 1998
- Ebook editions published October 2011
- Misenchanted Press edition published November 2012
- Copyright 1997 by Lawrence Watt-Evans
- Cover art by Tristan Elwell
The gods had chosen the Domdur to rule the world, and had chosen Malledd to be their champion among the Domdur.
They had not asked Malledd whether he wanted the job.
Selected Quotes from Reviews:
- "This novel is great fun, with intrigue, adventure, magic and horror..." --Publishers Weekly
- "Definitely entertaining...worth an extra look." -- Carolyn Cushman, Locus
- "...a fantasy of high quality and considerable interest." -- Booklist
- One of the two best fantasy novels of 1997: "A very effective adventure story..." -- Don D'Ammassa, Science Fiction Chronicle, February 1998
- "...a fine story of battling armies, palace intrigue and high adventure..." -- Don D'Ammassa, Science Fiction Chronicle, April 1998
- "Books like Touched by the Gods are one reason that Watt-Evans enjoys -- and deserves -- such a wide following." -- Michael Wolff, Starlog
Touched by the Gods is a stand-alone fantasy novel, not part of a series -- you don't see a lot of those these days. It can probably be ordered through bookstores in the U.S. and Canada, and may still be available online from the usual suspects.
Although Touched By the Gods is not part of an existing series, nor are there any plans to make it part of a new series, I'm not ruling out the possibility of someday writing prequels or sequels.
The manuscript was due by June 1, 1996; in an early version of this page I said, "I haven't blown a deadline since 1989, and I don't expect to blow this one." I was wrong; I blew it by almost six months. That was the worst I'd ever blown a deadline back then; now my record is at least fifteen months.
This was the longest book I'd ever written up to that point; the manuscript ran 757 pages. The finished book was 380 in hardcover -- Tor used a smaller typeface than the norm. The paperback clocked in at a more reasonable 528 pages, making it something of a brick. When I republished it in trade paperback I wound up with 624 pages; I could maybe have made it less, but I wanted it to look good.
I note in passing that the completed manuscript of Dragon Weather ran 792 pages, which is even longer.
All editions use the same cover art by Tristan Elwell, whose other work includes the covers for King and Raven, by Cary James, and The Willing Spirit, by Piers Anthony and Alfred Tella. His style's very different from most of the cover art I'd had previously, but I like it. (In fact, I like it enough that not only did I buy reprint rights for the Misenchanted Press edition, I bought the original painting; it's hanging in my dining room.)
Touched by the Gods got a pretty good review in Publishers Weekly -- I'd link to that if it were on-line, but it isn't, so far as I can find.
It also got good reviews in LOCUS and STARLOG, and was chosen by Don D'Ammassa in Science Fiction Chronicle as one of the two best fantasy novels of 1997. Not bad!
There's a Writers Write interview with me, from December 1997 but still available online, that has some stuff about Touched by the Gods.
I sold the Russian rights to AST for a pleasant amount of money.
And... that's about it.
(The version here is second or perhaps third draft; the published version is roughly the seventh draft of this, and somewhat different.)
Touched By the Gods
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
he priest walked neither fast nor slow, but at a steady, relentless pace that drew the eye of other travelers on the Yildau road. Dust stained the hem of his white robe a golden brown, but he paid no attention; he stared ahead and marched on, arms swinging with each stride. He was plainly a man with a purpose, and those he passed along the road stared after him and wondered aloud what that purpose might be. Priests were rarely seen outside their shrines and temples.
Some of the older observers speculated that he was on some errand for the gods, but the younger and more cynical generally dismissed that with a laugh and a crude jest, suggesting that the priest more likely sought to ease some worldly ill--such as a lover's itch.
The priest paid no attention; he walked on, as he had been directed. The heat of Midsummer's Day, when Ba'el stoked the sun's furnace, did not seem to bother him.
In the village of Grozerodz he hesitated momentarily, looking about, then turned from the high road, across the square and down the lane, past the graveyard with its flower-bound iron gate to the blacksmith's shop. He did not stop at the forge, but pushed on to the little house beyond, where a small crowd of villagers had gathered. They were chatting cheerfully amongst themselves, but fell silent when they saw the priest approaching.
The priest stopped at last at the door, and waited.
The big man blocking the entrance turned and stared at the sight of the white-robed stranger.
"May I enter?" the priest asked.
The big man hesitated, and glanced in.
"I don't know," he said. "There's women's business here."
"A child has been born?" the priest asked. "A boy?"
The big man blinked. "Now, how'd you know that?" he asked warily.
"Must've asked an oracle," someone called.
"Why would he ask about that?" someone else demanded.
The priest did not answer; instead, he repeated, "May I enter?"
The big man shrugged, and called, "Ho, Dara! There's a fellow here in a priest's robe wants to come in!"
That caused a flurry of activity within, and a moment later a plump woman with her hair bound back beneath a kerchief emerged to confront the stranger. She looked him up and down, pursing her lips as she considered him.
"Don't see many priests here," she said. "As there's no shrine or temple in Grozerodz, we don't usually get anyone but some stuttering novice stopping by once every winter to pray over the graveyard."
That was stating the obvious, and the priest ignored it. "You are the midwife?" he asked.
"That's right," the kerchiefed woman replied. She gestured toward the big man. "And this fellow here is Sparrak, the babe's uncle, and I've asked him to keep strangers out. This is a private business, not some temple spectacle."
"I must see the child and his parents," the priest said. "I assure you that I will not harm him, or them, nor am I unacquainted with the mysteries of birth--I have presided at our temple's deliveries. I underwent a ritual cleansing before I departed to come here; I carry no disease, nor need I touch the child."
"Got all your answers ready, I see," the midwife remarked. "Who sent you, then? One of the gods?"
"No, not directly," the priest replied. "Dolkout, the high priest at Biekedau, sent me."
"I can't say I ever heard the name."
That started a discussion among the gathered villagers; after some debate, it was generally agreed that yes, the high priest at Biekedau was named Dolkout, or at least he might be.
The priest waited silently for the conversation to die down again.
When it had, the midwife eyed him carefully, then shrugged. "Well, it's not my house," she said, stepping aside, "and I doubt Hmar is going to object to anything just at the moment. Come on in, but wipe your feet."
The priest conscientiously obeyed, and a moment later he was ushered past half a dozen grinning women into a bedroom.
There a woman lay in bed, her husband at her right hand, and five girls of varying ages clustered about as she held her newborn son to her breast. She looked up, startled, as the priest entered; the five girls stepped back and stared. The husband, a man even larger than Sparrak, watched the priest warily.
"May I see the child's face?" the priest asked gently.
Puzzled but obliging, the woman shifted, turning the infant without removing his mouth from her nipple. A red birthmark cut across his face like a bleeding wound.
"That'll fade," the midwife said from the bedroom door.
"I know," the priest said. "That is why I hurried."
The mother looked up questioningly.
"My lady," the priest said, "your son has been touched by the gods. Their mark is on his face, and though it will fade, as this good woman says, he will always, so long as he lives, be their chosen champion, to be called upon when the need arises." He reached his right hand into his left sleeve and drew out an ivory case, a cylinder roughly eight inches long and three inches in diameter; he handed it to the man standing by the bed.
"Sir," he said, "this is for your son, when he is ready."
The big man accepted it silently, too surprised to speak.
The priest bowed, and turned to go. Everyone watched in silent astonishment as he hurried out of the smith's house without further ado.
The midwife was the first to regain her voice.
"Well, whatever was that about?" she asked no one in particular.
"Superstitious nonsense," Hmar the smith rumbled. He looked down at the ivory case, then shrugged and set it carefully on a shelf. He smiled down at his exhausted wife and newborn son.
"It'll make a good story for the boy, though," he said.
Note: Ba'el is the Domdur god of war and battle. The Domdur believe that each of their gods takes a turn of three days each year stoking the furnace of the sun; the more powerful the god, the hotter and brighter the sun and the longer the day during that god's stint. That Ba'el's turn comes at midsummer tells you... well, you figure it out.
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