The Briar King (Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone Series #1)by Greg Keyes
In the wilds of the forest, while investigating the slaughter of an innocent
- Editorial Reviews
- Product Details
- Related Subjects
- Read an Excerpt
- What People Are Saying
- Meet the author
In the kingdom of Crotheny, two young girls play in the tangled gardens of the sacred city of the dead. Fleeing an imaginary attacker, the girls -- one of whom is the reckless young daughter of the king -- discover the unknown crypt of the legendary, ancestral queen, Virgenya Dare.
In the wilds of the forest, while investigating the slaughter of an innocent family, king’s holter Aspar White weaves his way through a maze of ancient willows -- and comes face-to-face with a monstrous beast found only in folk tales and nightmares. Meanwhile, traveling the same road, a scholarly young priest begins an education in the nature of evil, found festering just beneath the surface of the seemingly peaceful land.
The royal family itself comes under siege, facing betrayal that only sorcery could accomplish. Now -- for three beautiful sisters, for a young man made suddenly into a knight, and for a woman in love with a roguish adventurer -- a rising darkness appears, shattering what was once certain, familiar, and good. These destinies and more will be linked when malevolent forces walk the land. For Crotheny, the most powerful nation in the world, is shaken at its core. And the Briar King, harbinger of death, has awakened from his slumber.
Imbuing his tale with richness, pathos, action, and passion, Greg Keyes begins an amazing new epic that takes fantasy fiction to a new level. At the heart of the story, Keyes has placed a remarkable young woman, Anne Dare, the youngest daughter of a royal family . . . and the one person upon whom the fate of this world may depend.
“STARTS OFF WITH A BANG, spinning a snare of terse imagery and compelling characters that grips tightly and never lets up. . . .
A graceful, artful tale from a master storyteller.”
Bestselling author of Prophecy: Child of Earth
“THE CHARACTERS IN THE BRIAR KING ABSOLUTELY BRIM WITH LIFE. . . . Keyes hooked me from the first page and I’ll now be eagerly anticipating sitting down with each future volume of The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series.”
Award-winning author of Forests of the Heart and The Onion Girl
“A THRILL RIDE TO THE END, WITH PLENTY OF TREACHERY, REVELATION, AND EVEN A FEW BOMBSHELL SURPRISES.”
—Monroe News-Star (LA)
Read an Excerpt
The Briar King
By Greg Keyes
Del ReyCopyright © 2004 Greg Keyes
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Holter Aspar White smelled murder. Its scent was like a handful of autumn leaves, crisped by the first frost and crushed in the palm.
Dirty Jesp, the Sefry woman who had raised him, told him once that his peculiar sense came from having been born of a dying mother below the gallows where the Raver took his sacrifices. But Jesp made her living as a liar, and the why didn't matter anyway. All Aspar cared about was that his nose was usually right. Someone was about to kill someone else, or try.
Aspar had just walked into the Sow's Teat after a week of hard going in the Walham Foothills. His muscles burned with fatigue, his mouth was grittier than sand, and for days he had been dreaming of the cool, dark, honeyed sweetness of stout. He'd had just one sip, one moment of it dancing on his tongue, one kiss of foam on his lips, when the scent came and ruined the taste.
With a sigh, he set the grainy earthenware mug on the pitted oak of his table and looked around the dark, crowded interior of the tavern, one hand straying to the planished bone grip of his dirk, wondering where death was coming from and where it was going.
He saw only the usual crowd-charcoal burners mostly, their faces smudged black by their trade, joking and laughing as they drank away the taste of soot on their tongues. Nearer the door, which had been propped open to let in the evening air, Loh-the miller's boy, in his clean, lace-trimmed shirt-gestured grandly with his mug, and his friends hooted as he drained the whole thing in one long draught. Four Hornladh merchants in checkered doublets and red hose stood near the hearth, where a spitted boar dripped sizzling into the coals, and around them gathered a clump of youths, faces eager and ruddy in the firelight, begging stories about the wide world beyond their tiny village of Colbaely.
Nothing that even looked like a brawl about to start. Aspar picked up his mug again. Maybe the beer was a little off, today.
But then he saw where murder was coming from. It came in through the open door, along with the first tentative trilling of whippoorwills and a faint, damp promise of rain.
He was just a boy, maybe fifteen. Not from Colbaely, Aspar knew for sure, and probably not even from the Greffy of Holtmarh. The newcomer swept a desperate, hurried gaze around the room, squinting, trying to adjust his eyes to the light, clearly searching for someone.
Then he saw Aspar, alone at his table, and lurched toward him. The young fellow was clad in brain-tanned elkskin breeches and a shirt of homespun that had seen better days. His brown hair was matted, caked with mud, and full of leaves. Aspar saw the apple in his throat bobble convulsively as he pulled a rather large sword from a sheath on his back and quickened his pace.
Aspar took another pull on his beer and sighed. It tasted worse than the last. In the sudden silence, the boy's buskins swish-swished on the slate-tiled floor.
"You're the holter," the boy said in a thick Almannish accent. "The kongsman."
"I'm the king's forester," Aspar agreed. "It's easily known, for I wear his colors. I'll be Aspar White. And you'd be? ..."
"H'am the man is going to slooter you," the boy said.
Aspar lifted his head just slightly, so he was looking at the lad with one eye. He held the sword clumsily. "Why?" he asked.
"You know why."
"No. If I knew why, I never would have asked."
"You know saint-buggering well-tho ya theen manns slootered meen kon-"
"Speak the king's tongue, boy."
"Grim take the king!" the boy shouted. "It's not his forest!"
"Well, you'll have to take that up with him. He thinks it is, you know, and he's the king."
"I mean to. Right after I take it up with you. This goes all the way back to Eslen before h'am done. But it starts here with you, murtherer."
Aspar sighed. He could hear it in the young man's voice, see it in the set of his shoulders. No use talking anymore. He stood quickly, stepped inside the sword point, and slammed his beer mug against the side of the boy's head. The kiln-fired clay cracked and the fellow screamed, dropping his weapon and clutching his split ear. Aspar calmly yanked out his long dirk, grabbed the boy by the collar, hauled him up easily with one large, callused hand, and pushed him down roughly onto the bench across the table from where he had been sitting.
The boy stared defiantly at him through a mask of pain and blood. The hand holding the side of his head was shiny and dark in the dim light.
"You all see!" the boy croaked. "Witness, all! He'll murther me like he slootered mine fam'ly."
"Boy, just calm down," Aspar snapped. He picked up the sword and set it next to him on his bench, with the table between it and the boy. He kept his own dirk out.
"Armann, bring me another beer."
"Y'just busted one of my mugs!" the hostler shouted, his nearly round face beet-red.
"Bring it or I'll bust something else."
Some of the charmen laughed at that, and then most of the rest of them joined in. The chatter started up again.
Aspar watched the boy while he waited for the beer. The lad's fingers were trembling, and he couldn't look up. His courage seemed to be leaking out of him with his blood.
That was often the case, Aspar found. Bleed a man a little, and he grew less heroic.
"What happened to your family, boy?"
"As eft you don't know."
"You want another cuff? Grim eat you, but I'll beat you till you come out with it. I don't take to threats, and I don't take to being called a killer unless I did the killing. And in the end I don't care what did 'r didn't happen to a bunch of squatters-except that if something ill happened in the forest, that's my job, to know about it, y'see? Because if I don't care about you, I care about the forest, and about the king's justice. So spell me it!"
"I just-I-they're dead!" And suddenly he burst out crying. As tears ran through the blood on his face and trailed down his chin, Aspar realized that even fifteen had been an overestimate. The lad was probably no more than thirteen, just big for his age.
"Sceat on this," Aspar grumbled.
"Aspar White!" He looked up to see Winna Rufoote, the hostler's daughter. She was less than half his age, just nineteen, pretty with her oval face, green eyes, and flaxen hair. Strong willed. Trouble looking for lodging. Aspar avoided her when he could.
"Don't 'Winna' me. You burst this poor boy's brains all over-and one of our mugs-and now you're just going to sit here and drink beer while he bleeds on everything?"
"I won't hear a word of it. Not from you, s'posed to be the king's man. First you'll help me get this boy to a room so I can clean him up. Then you'll put your mark on one o' them royal notes or else pay good copper for our mug. After that, y'can have another beer, and not before."
"If this weren't the only hostel in town-"
"But it is, isn't it? And if you want to stay welcome here-"
"You know you can't turn me out."
"No. Turn out the king's man? Sure I can't. But you might start finding your beer tasting like piss, if you understand me."
"It already tastes like piss," Aspar grumbled.
She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. He suddenly felt a little weak in the knees. In twenty-five years as a holter, he had faced bears, lions, more outlaws than he could even count. But he had never learned how to handle a pretty woman.
"He did come in here to kill me, the little sceat," Aspar reminded her sheepishly.
"An' how is that such a strange thing? I've been tempted myself." She pulled out a rag and handed it to the boy. "What's your name?" she asked.
"Uscaor," he mumbled. "Uscaor Fraletson."
"Your ear's just a bit cut, Uscaor. It'll be okay."
Aspar blew out a long breath and stood back up. "Come on, boy. Let's get you cleaned up, hey? So you'll look nice when you come to murther me in my bed."
But as the boy swayed to his feet, Aspar caught the scent of death again and noticed, for the first time, the boy's right hand. It was bruised purple and black, and the sight of it sent a tingle up his spine.
"What happened there, boy?" Aspar asked.
"I don't know," Uscaor said softly. "I don't remember."
"Come on, Uscaor," Winna said. "Let's find you a bed."
Aspar watched him go, frowning. The boy had meant to kill him, all right, though he hadn't come very close. But that hand-maybe that was the thing his nose was trying to tell him about all along.
Uneasily, he waited for another beer.
"He's asleep," Winna told Aspar some time later, after she'd been alone with the boy for a while. "I don't think he's eaten or slept for two or three days. And that hand-it's so swollen and hot. Not like any sort of wound I've seen before."
"Yah," Aspar said. "Me either. Maybe I ought to cut it off of 'im and take it for the apothecary in Eslen to have a look at."
"You can't fool me, Asp," Winna said. "You're rougher than an elm at the skin, but in your heart there's softer stuff."
"Don't convince yourself of that, Winn. Did he spell why he wants me dead?"
"Same as he told you. He thinks you killed his family."
"Why would he think that?"
"Hey, Winna!" someone yelled, from across the room. "Leave off the king's bear and come wet me!" He banged an empty mug on the table.
"Do as you usually do, Banf-wet yourself. You know where the tap is. I'll know what to charge you by how much you throw up later."
That got a burst of jeers at the fellow's expense as Winna sat down across from Aspar.
"He and his family put up a camp down near Taff Creek," she continued, "a few leagues from where it meets the Warlock-"
"Right. Squatters, as I reckoned."
"So they squatted in the royal forest. Lots do that. Does that mean they deserve to die?"
"I didn't kill them for that. Raver's teeth! I didn't kill them at all."
"Uscaor says he saw the king's colors on the men who did it."
"No. I don't know what he saw, but he never saw that. None of my woodsmen are within thirty leagues of here."
"Then who killed them?"
"I was not. There's plenty of room in the King's Forest for all manner of outlaws. But I suppose I'll be finding out." He took another drink of his beer. "By the Taff, you say? That's about two days. I'll be leaving at first light, so tell Paet to have my horses ready." He finished the beer in a single long swallow and rose from the table. "See you."
"Wait. Don't you want to talk to the boy some more?"
"What for? He doesn't know what happened. He probably didn't even see anybody. I'll bet the part about the king's colors is a lie."
"How do you reckon that?"
"Maunt my words, Winn. Squatters live in terror of the king's justice. They all reckon they're going to be hanged or beheaded or hunted down, and they think I'm a two-headed uttin. I don't discourage stories like that. I spread 'em, in fact. Somebody killed this boy's kin, and he didn't see who. He reckoned it was me. The rest he made up when he started feeling foolish."
"But someone killed them," she said.
"Yah. That much of his story I believe." He sighed and stood. "Night, Winn."
"You aren't going by yourself?"
"All of my men are too far away. I have to go while the trail is still warm."
"Wait for some of your men. Send word to Dongal."
"No time. Why so nervous, Winn? I know what I'm doing."
She nodded. "Just a feeling. That something's different this time. People coming up out of the forest have been ... different."
"I know the forest better than anyone. It's the same as it's always been."
She nodded reluctantly.
"Well, as I said, good night."
Her hand caught his. "Be careful, you," she murmured, and gave it a little squeeze.
"Certain," he said, hoping he turned quickly enough that she couldn't see him blush.
Aspar rose at first cockcrow, when the light out his window was still mostly starborn. By the time he'd splashed water from a crockery basin in his face and shaved the gray stubble sprouting there, cinched on his elkskin breeches and padded cotton gambeson, the east was primrose.
He considered his boiled-leather cuirass; that was going to be hot today.
He put it on anyway. Better hot than dead.
He strapped on his bone-handled dirk and settled his throwing ax into its loop on the same belt. He took his bow from its oilskin case, checked the wood and extra strings, counted his arrows. Then he recased the bow, slipped on his high boots, and went downstairs.
"First light, eh?" Winna said, as he passed through the common room.
"Getting old," Aspar grumbled.
"Well, have some breakfast as you're not too early for it."
"That reminds me. I need to buy-"
"I've packed you a week's worth of food. Paetur is loading it up for you."
She brought him a trencher of black bread with garlic sausage and fried apples. He ate every bit of it. When he was finished, Winna wasn't in sight, but he could hear her knocking about in the kitchen. For an instant, he remembered having a woman knocking about his own kitchen, in his own house.
A long time ago, and the pain was still there. Winna was young enough to be his daughter. He left quietly, so as not to attract her attention, feeling faintly cowardly. Once outside he made straight for the stables.
Paetur, Winna's younger brother, was busy with Angel and Ogre. Paet was tall, blond, and gangly. He was-what?-thirteen?
"Morning, sir," Paet said, when he saw Aspar.
"I'm not a knight, boy."
"Yah, but you're the closest we have hereabouts, except old Sir Symen."
"A knight's a knight. Sir Symen is one; I'm not." He nodded at his mounts. "They ready to go?"
"Ogre says yah, Angel says ney. I think you ought to leave Angel with me." He patted the roan on the neck.
"She said that, did she?" Aspar grunted. "Could be she's tired from the running you gave her yesterday?"
"Lie to me and I'll whip you good, and your father will thank me for it."
Paet reddened and studied his shoes. "Well ... she needed a stretch."
"Next time ask, you hear? And for pity's sake, don't try to ride Ogre."
The barred bay chose that moment to snort, as if in agreement. Paet laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"Tom tried, yesterday. To ride Ogre."
"When do they bury him?"
"He lost two front teeth, is all."
"Lucky. The boy's lucky."
"Yes, Master White."
Aspar patted Ogre's muzzle. "Looks like you packed them well. You want to arrange my quiver and bow?"
"Could I?" The boy's eyes sparkled eagerly.
"I reckon." He handed the weapon over.
"Is it true you've killed six uttins with this?"
"There's no such thing as uttins, boy. Nor greffyns, nor alvs, nor basil-nix, nor tax-counters with hearts."
"That's what I told my friths. But Rink says his uncle saw an uttin himself-"
"Got drunk and saw his own reflection, more likely."
"But you did kill the Black Wargh and his bandits, didn't you? All ten of them."
"Yah," Aspar said curtly.
"I'm going to do something like that someday."
Excerpted from The Briar King by Greg Keyes Copyright © 2004 by Greg Keyes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are saying about this
Meet the Author
Greg Keyes was born in Meridian, Mississippi, to a large, diverse, storytelling family. He received degrees in anthropology from Mississippi State and the University of Georgia before becoming a full-time writer. He is the author of the Age of Unreason tetrology and The Charnel Prince (Book II in The Kingdoms of Blood and Stone) as well as The Waterborn, The Blackgod, and the Star Wars New Jedi Order novels—Edge of Victory I: Conquest and Edge of Victory II: Rebirth. He lives in Savannah, Georgia.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
This book got me hooked and I could barely put it down! I usually bring books to work, to read on my breaks. I didn't dare with this one; I'd be sneaking away all day to read! I just picked up the next in the series and it's just as good, so far.
I picked up the book while on a search for some good sci-fi or fantasy books. although I didnt know much about the author, I am happy I picked it up. The story is absolutely arresting. The complexity of the world Keyes created can match Tolkien's LOTR. I am waiting eagerly for the next book to come. If you want to read a good fantasy book, my recommendation, pick this one.
I picked up The Briar King on a fluke at a local bookstore. And oh my was I surprised! The characters are well developed and it never ravels around so much that the reader gets confused. I was pleased with the descriptions and the plot line was at times unbearably good. Love, violence, trickery, loyalty. Its all here :-)
I thought that I could write--then I read The Briar King, by Greg Keyes. I am now more humble. From the beginning, Mr. Keyes creates a world that is similar to ours, but slightly different, maintaining plausibility the entire time. His use of English makes this book read like the most polished, well-written, and easy-to-follow epic poem ever penned. The foreign tongues that he creates to populate this world, most of them near enough to modern languages in our world to give us hints as to their meaning, makes the read that much more enjoyable (translations are provided in the text, to keep it from becoming frustrating). I can't wait to pick-up the next book in the series, The Charnal Prince!
I enjoyed the characters and the history very much. I was apprehensive at first, thinking it was going to be too much like Game of Thrones, a classic fantasy, yet tedious and long, but was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the chapters flew by. The author's prose and characters are fluid and well thought out. I particularly enjoy Anne Dare, the cornerstone of the tale for being ornery. I will continue to read the rest of the series.
In a world that is as detailed and complex as our own, the Briar King is awakening. He is a being more ancient than the humans that have claimed this world more than two thousand years ago, and more ancient than the empires and nations that these humans now rule. No one knows exactly what his coming means, only that the world will never be the same again. For most people, he is nothing but a myth, but his arrival has put into motion events that will throw a gruff holter, a rebellious princess, a prideful scholar, a virtuous knight and many other intriguing characters into one of the most fresh, lively adventures I've had the good fortune of reading. Greg Keyes weaves a stunning plot in this awesome new fantasy world he has created. With his beautiful ability of conjuring powerful images using minimal description, the story's pace never slows. This, combined with his vivid characters, his thrilling action, and his brilliantly well-crafted world, makes this book a swift, entertaining and fulfilling read.
It starts a little slow but is totally worth the wait.
Great world, character development, and awesome story. Would highly recommend.
I just finished reading this whole series and loved it! Greg Keyes twisted a fabulously enthralling plot through-out all the books and made each character have a life of their own! Read it and you wont be disappointed, I promise that.
This is a very entertaining read! I was into the book within 30 pages and it was hard for me to put down. Unfortunately, later in the book I felt like the characters were not developing. This maybe due to the lack of time to really develop the numerous characters. The last 50 pages of the book were great and I will read the second book to see where the story goes. I have read reviews saying there was too much romance in the book... There is some but it is not overwhelming.