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The Horsemen's Gambit (Blood of the Southlands Series #2)
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The Horsemen's Gambit (Blood of the Southlands Series #2)

4.2 5
by David B. Coe

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David B. Coe created a richly textured, unique world in his Winds of the Forelands, and topped himself with The Sorcerer's Plague, his first novel set in the Southlands of the same world. Divided by clan rivalries and ancient feuds, suspicious of magics wielded by longtime enemies, the folk of the South have lived in a state of truce for generations. But


David B. Coe created a richly textured, unique world in his Winds of the Forelands, and topped himself with The Sorcerer's Plague, his first novel set in the Southlands of the same world. Divided by clan rivalries and ancient feuds, suspicious of magics wielded by longtime enemies, the folk of the South have lived in a state of truce for generations. But peace is shattered when a woman looses a deadly plague on the magical Qirsi people.

While some people seek to prevent the spread of the plague, others see in this disaster a unique opportunity. With the magical folk weakened by the decimation of the plague, their unmagical enemies might be able to defeat them and take back lands lost in an ancient war. Haunted by the specter of what would be a tragic and devastating new war, the Southlands are aflame with rumors of violence, pestilence, and treachery.

Coe weaves together engagingly complex characters, unique, unusual magic, political intrigue and a compelling, unpredictable story into a captivating epic that will enthrall fantasy readers. A potent brew conjured by a masterful storyteller.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this intense and appealing sequel to 2007's The Sorcerer's Plague, clan rivalry continues apace. The plague-cursed baskets that Lici of the Mettai wove in revenge against the marauding Qirsi have traveled far, razing entire villages. The unsuspecting and unaffected Eandi peddlers who carried the baskets are now the focus of anger, fear and hatred. When news of the epidemic reaches the Forelands, Capt. Tirnya Onjaef decides to take advantage of the chaos and march south with a small Eandi army. Series hero Grinsa the Weaver, still a prisoner of the Fal'Borna, tries to find Lici and halt the plague, only to learn that he and his captors are susceptible to it. Coe steps up the tension and raises the stakes, leaving readers quivering in anticipation of book three. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
Praise for The Sorcerer's Plague:

"The Sorcerer's Plague satisfies with sharply-drawn characters and an intense, intelligent plot. I eagerly await the next book of the Southlands." —Kate Elliott, bestselling author of Spirit Gate

"Coe’s new series is his best yet: appealing characters, twisty plot, and absorbing world."—Sherwood Smith on The Sorcerer’s Plague

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Blood of the Southlands Series , #2
Product dimensions:
4.23(w) x 6.67(h) x 1.22(d)

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Chapter 1

Qalsyn, Stelpana, on Ravens Wash, Hunter’s Moon waxing, year 1211

First blood, the rules said. Beyond that, they didn’t specify. A nick of the skin, the severing of a limb, a fatal strike to the breast; any of these would do. First blood. That was all a warrior needed to win.

.nament worked. From the youngest child, dreaming of the day when she might step into the ring and bow to His Lordship, to the oldest man, his memory of that first bow to the lord governor a fading memory, they all knew. A battle could turn with a single thrust, be it the desperate last lunge of a weary guard or the methodical advance of .giving as steel, as merciless as the Growing sun. One mistake, one momentary lapse of concentration. First blood.

Even as she circled her opponent, watching for his next .ing and stamping all around the arena. She had watched enough matches as a child to understand the rituals of those in the boxes: the wagers, the exchange of coin at the end of each match, the constant shifting of fortune among men and women hoping to profit from each new wound. But while the spectators made sport of the contests, there could be no doubt: the tournament was a matter deadly serious to all who watched.

And yet, the earnestness of those in the boxes was nothing compared with the gravity of those in the ring. Each contest began the same way. The two combatants entered through the doors at opposite sides of the ring, walked to the center, and turned to face His Lordship, who sat in the main box. Each warrior bowed to the lord .head in salute. Then they bowed to each other. And then they began to fight.

Tirnya had fought dozens of battles in the ring, and had watched more than she could count. Some began and ended with a single devastating assault or in a blindingly .ing of blood. Other matches began slowly, as this one had, the warriors turning slow circles, eyeing each other, looking for any advantage. Attacks in such contests came in quick bursts; swords dancing suddenly, fitfully, bright blurs in the sunlight, chiming like sanctuary bells each time they clashed, whistling dully as they carved through air.

Standard Qalsyn army blades and Aelean bastard swords; Tordjanni broad blades and the famed shillads of .gers and narrow-bladed knives concealed in a sleeve or a boot: Tirnya had faced all sorts of steel in the ring. She herself might use three or four different swords and as many short blades in the course of a single tournament. But every warrior knew that the weapon itself meant nothing; it was the hand wielding the blade that mattered. There was a saying that was heard quite often this time of .neath, where the combatants awaited their turn. “You can arm a fool with the finest Aelean steel, and at the end of the day he’ll still end up bloodied.”

Like all sayings of its sort, this one carried the weight of truth. Tirnya remembered a battle tournament from her tenth or eleventh year, when she still sat in the boxes with her mother and brothers, watching with the women and children and the men who had grown too old to fight.

.member seeing before. His coat of mail, the only armor the combatants were allowed, was dull and fit poorly. .tered and travel- stained. And, most memorably, his sword was rusted and notched, a weapon barely adequate for a road brigand, much less someone who hoped to be .ment and take home the crystal blade and twenty gold sovereigns.

No one who saw him step into the ring for the first time thought the stranger would last more than a round or two.

“Even the Tordjanni army would turn away a man who .ting behind Tirnya and her family.

His companion agreed. “One round with a Qalsyn .longs.”

.ing his first opponent with elegant ease. His swordwork .trolled blow to the neck that drew blood, but caused the vanquished man no serious injury.

“The first man was no one,” the older man assured himself and his companion. “I’d never seen him before, either.”

His companion might have nodded his agreement. Tirnya wasn’t certain. She knew only that he said nothing.

When next the stranger entered the ring, it was to face a soldier from the Qalsyn army. Coaf Vantol wasn’t the finest swordsman in His Lordship’s force, but he was a good fighter, a big, strong, genial man, and a favorite among the city people. Surely the stranger would fall to Coaf. But no. With astonishing speed this man no one knew, this so-called warrior, who looked more like a troubadour desperate for coin than a fighter, had Coaf on his heels. In mere moments, the city’s man was bleeding from a cut on his cheek. First blood; second victory. No one cheered, until at last His Lordship himself stood and .plause spread through the arena, growing louder and louder.

After that the man became the favored warrior in the tournament. And he didn’t disappoint. Nine more times he stepped into the ring, and nine more times he raised his rusted blade in victory, bowing graciously, first to the central box and then to the rest. Even the old man began to cheer for him, cataloging in a loud voice the man’s fine attributes as a fighter: his agile footwork, his skilled use of the long-handled dagger in his off hand, the fluid grace of his sword arm. One might have thought that the old .gant was his praise.

Eventually the stranger did lose, to Tirnya’s father, as it happened. Her father was a marshal in His Lordship’s army, and one of the finest swordsmen in all of Stelpana. He was also well liked in many parts of the city; usually a victory for Jenoe Onjaef would have elicited a mighty roar. But on this day, the defeat of the stranger left the arena strangely quiet. The men and women in the boxes cheered for her father as he raised his blade, but even Tirnya could sense their disappointment. This once, they had been pulling not for Jenoe, but for the other man. Tirnya couldn’t deny that even she had felt the briefest pang of regret at the stranger’s loss.

Her father won the tournament that year, the last of his seven championships. He could have fought for several years more; there were some who said he could still fight in the ring to this day and compete for the crystal dagger. But his duties in His Lordship’s army had begun to lie heavy on his shoulders and he had grown bored with the ring. Besides, a few years later Tirnya was ready to take her place in the tournament, and only one member of any family could enter the ring in a given year. Still, though that was Jenoe’s last year as champion, forever after that .ance in Qalsyn. Stri had since become a captain in her father’s battalion and one of the city’s most renowned soldiers.

But for Tirnya, it was the warning inherent in Stri’s success that remained freshest in her mind. Never again would she look at any warrior and underestimate his or .nished armor. Nor would she assume that a man or woman couldn’t fight simply because he or she didn’t look the part of a warrior.

Others in the Qalsyn tournament had been slower to take this lesson to heart, and she had benefited from their .nament, the year she came of age, the other combatants looked at her and saw the daughter of a great warrior, beautiful, graceful, but too weak and too lovely to be a swordswoman of any consequence. Like Stri, she proved ..nament. In fact, she bore scars from every tournament she had entered, for though she had established herself as one of the best fighters in all the land, she had yet to win the crystal blade.

The last two years she had made it to the final match, only to be beaten on both occasions by Enly Tolm, son of Maisaak, the lord governor. Tirnya fully expected that they would meet again this year, though with a different result.

First, though, she had to defeat this giant of a man stalking her in the center of the ring. She had never learned his name; like most of the other fighters she knew him only as the Aelean. But she had seen him fight several times, and she knew that this was not a victory she could take for granted.

The Aelean was a full head taller than she, with huge shoulders and long, muscular arms. For a man of his size, he was fairly nimble: he moved his feet well and reacted quickly to his opponents’ attacks. Usually, against so powerful an opponent, she would have circled continually toward his off hand and the smaller blade. But the Aelean had won more than a few of his matches with the dirk he carried in his left hand, which lashed out like a serpent at any foe too concerned with his great sword.

His greatest asset as a warrior, though, was his strength. One stroke of his bastard sword, it was said, could hew through an oak tree two hands wide. Tirnya wasn’t certain that she believed this, but there could be no denying the power of the man’s sword stroke. If she tried to parry more than one or two of his attacks, her arm would end up numb, or broken.

Best, then, to keep moving. Not toward his dirk, but to her left, his right. She took care to keep outside of his sword hand, so that any blow he landed with the bastard sword would be backhanded. He eyed her warily as they turned their slow circle in the dirt. He might have been twice her size, but he knew as well as she that Tirnya had her own advantages in the ring.

She was strong for one so little, though not nearly as powerful as the Aelean. But she was quicker and more skilled with her shillad, the long, thin blade used by the horsemen of Naqbae. It wasn’t the weapon she used when leading her soldiers; it wasn’t even the sword she usually carried into the ring. But she always brought it with her to the tournament, knowing that it would be the perfect weapon against an opponent like the Aelean. The blade was light and perfectly balanced, and its length allowed her to keep her distance, to dance at the edges of her opponent’s reach. She was tall and long-armed. With the shillad she became elusive as well.

In her off hand she carried a second sword—shortbladed, but longer than the dagger she usually used. Anything to keep her distance. Some of the more powerful combatants in the tournament could fight the Aelean on his terms; she didn’t dare. “A clever warrior guards against his opponent’s strengths,” her father had once told her, “and watches for his weaknesses. More often than not, the clever ones live to fight another day.”

The Aelean struck at her and she parried with the short blade. It wasn’t a particularly hard blow, but still it made her arm sting from her wrist to her shoulder. She swiped back at him with the shillad, but he jumped away and she missed. Once more they began to circle. The crowd had been loud a moment before, but with the man’s attack they had grown quiet and restive. Even His Lordship seemed intent on their battle. He leaned forward in his chair, his chin resting in his hand, his eyes narrowed.

Perhaps sensing that she had allowed herself to be distracted for the briefest instant, the man suddenly lunged at her, leveling another backhanded blow at her head. She parried this one as well, but nearly left herself open to the dirk, which flicked out at her side, like silver lightning. The crowd gasped. Tirnya spun away, unmarked. Two blows she had parried, and already her arm was beginning to ache.

The Aelean began to stalk her once more, and again Tirnya circled, trying to stay outside his sword arm. She waved her blade at him, trying to reach the side of his neck, but he knocked it away disdainfully with the bastard sword.

“Fight him!” someone shouted from behind her. Others murmured their agreement. She was losing them.

Early in one of her first tournaments, several years before, she had won a contest against a larger opponent by drawing blood at the knee. Whistles and shouts of “coward” chased her from the ring that day, and she never did such a thing again. Nor did she have any intention of doing so today. She wondered, though, if those shouting at her now remembered that day as clearly as she did.

“I hope you learned something,” her father had said to her that evening, after the tournament was over.

She had been dejected and humiliated, stung far more by the reaction from the boxes than by her loss in the next round. “I won’t go for someone’s leg again, if that’s what

you mean.”

“It’s not.”

She looked at him.

“People often liken the ring to a real battlefield,” he said. “What you experienced today should make it clear to you that they actually have very little in common.”

Tirnya frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“When you’re fighting in a war, your object is to win. It’s that simple. You win for your sovereign, you win for your people, you win for the soldiers under your command. Nothing else matters. But here, in the ring, there are times when the cost of victory is higher than that of defeat. You lost the respect of a good many people today. You’ll have to earn that back, even if it means losing contests that trickery might let you win.”

It was another lesson she’d never forgotten. If she couldn’t defeat the Aelean fairly, warrior to warrior, she would take pride in the manner of her losing. She smiled to herself. But I have no intention of losing.

He aimed another blow at her head and for the third time she parried. This time, however, she didn’t dance away, nor did she circle to the outside of his sword hand. Instead she remained in front of him. The man’s eyes widened and he raised his bastard sword again to deliver a chopping strike that might well have sundered her short blade. Before he could hammer at her, however, she delivered a sideways blow of her own with the shillad. The Aelean blocked it with his dirk, but by then Tirnya had struck at him with her short blade, coming in under his raised sword to cut him just below the ear.

The Aelean winced, closing his eyes, knowing that she had baited him, and that he had fallen for the ruse. But it all happened so quickly that the people in the boxes didn’t seem to understand until the Aelean lowered his blades and turned to face the center box. Seeing the blood on his neck, the spectators began to cry out Tirnya’s name again and again, the timidity of her earlier attacks now forgotten.

Over the years many in the city had grown to love her. She was, after all, the daughter of Jenoe, the Eagle of the Ring, as he had once been known, for his long reach and the swiftness with which he pounced when seeing a weakness in his foe. In recent years, as she had become more skilled with her blades and more successful in the tournaments, they had given her a name as well: the Falcon. Not as formidable as her father, but faster, more agile.

She heard that name now, amid the cries of her given name. They would be pulling for her to win the final match.

She turned to the lord governor, bowed with the Aelean, and then left the ring, though not before glancing up at her father, who smiled at her as he applauded with the others.

Once in the chambers beneath the boxes, Tirnya didn’t wander far from the doorway. She assumed that Enly would make short work of his next opponent. Instead, she checked her shillad for notches, and exchanged her short sword for a dagger. Enly was not nearly as big as the Aelean, nor was his reach as long, but he was as quick as she, perhaps quicker. The short sword would slow her down.

Satisfied that she had the right weapons for the final match, she sat on the floor a short distance from the entrance to the ring, closed her eyes, and cleared her mind of thoughts of her match with the Aelean. Instead, she reflected on her past encounters with His Lordship’s son, scouring her memory for any pattern in his attacks, any tendencies on his part that she might use against him this time.

In truth, though, Enly was too good to be predictable. He never fought the same way twice. He was as creative as he was skilled, as clever as he was swift of hand. The first time they fought he overwhelmed her with the speed and intensity of his attacks, defeating her in mere moments. Their second battle, in last year’s final match, he fought more cautiously, confounding her with feints and counterassaults. It was a longer fight, but it ended the same way.

Not this year.

Tirnya heard the roar of the crowd and then sustained applause, and she knew that Enly’s match had ended. She stood and made her way back toward the door. She glanced down to make certain that her coat of mail hung correctly, though of course it did. She examined her blades yet again, though both were polished and honed. She looked at her boots, her belt, and her gloves to see that they were properly fastened, though she had no doubt that they were. Habits, all; they calmed her, steadied her breathing, slowed her pulse.

“Onjaef!” called the old guard by the doorway.

She stepped forward, stopping just beside the man, waiting for the door to open. Padar, the guard, said nothing to her, as was proper. He had once served under her father, and for the past six years he had stood by these doors and ushered her into the ring. But he was bound by the rules of the tournament to treat all combatants the same way.

She stood for several moments, listening to the cheers of the crowd, waiting. At last, the door opened, flooding the chamber with brilliant sunlight, so that Tirnya had to shield her eyes. A tall Qosantian soldier stepped past her, scowling bitterly, blood running from a cut along his jaw-line. Enly had won, as if there had ever been any doubt. The warrior paused and glanced back at her.

“Ya’d do us all a favor if ya beat ’im, ya know. Jest this once.”

“I’ll try,” she said mildly.

He stared at her another moment before shaking his head and walking away. “Ya’ll lose,” he muttered. “Jest as ya did last year. No one can beat ’im.”

Tirnya smiled faintly. The Qosantian wasn’t alone. Those looking to wager on this last match would have a hard time; there couldn’t have been more than a few dozen

Excerpted from The Horsemen's Gambit by David B. Coe.

Copyright © 2009 by David B. Coe.

Published in February 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and

reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in

any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

David B. Coe is the author of the Winds of the Forelands and Blood of the Southlands series. Children of Amarid and The Outlanders, the first two novels of his LonTobyn Chronicle trilogy, won the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy or Fantasy Series. He also wrote the novelization of the Ridley Scott production of Robin Hood. Coe grew up in the suburbs around New York City. He received his undergrad degree from Brown University and his Ph.D. in history from Stanford University. In his free time, he is an avid birdwatcher and nature photographer. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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The Horsemen's Gambit (Blood of the Southlands Series #2) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
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The Horsemen¿s Gambit
David B. Coe
Tor, Jan 2009, $26.95
ISBN 9780765316394

The Southlands are populated by three groups who distrust one another. The Oirsi practice a life stealing magic; the Mettai use blood mixed with the earth to cast spells; and the Eandi do not use any form of magic. Over six decades ago a SORCERER¿S PLAGUE destroyed a Mettai village; more recently that same plague devastated Kirayde, the hometown of Lici. She vowed vengeance against the Qirisi raiders whom she blamed and succeeded much more than she could have imagined when she interwove the SORCERER¿S PLAGUE into baskets.

The Eandi peddlers sell her infected baskets to the unsuspecting Qirsi without relaizing that they are cursing the villagers they leave behind with a nasty death from their in demand product. With many villages eradicated as the epidemic spreads, the survivors believe the Eandi peddlers are killing them as they seem immune to the curse. Meanwhile from the Forelands, Eandi Captain Tirnya Onjaef leads a force south to conquer the stunned Qirsi while Grinsa the Weaver tries to escape incarceration by the Fal¿Borna so that he can locate Lici and persuade her to end the plague. There is two problems for him and his allies; first escaping will not be easy and second they are susceptible to the customized lethal disease.

The second book of the Blood of the Southlands is a superb fantasy tale that not only avoids the mid book set up syndrome, but enhances the tension between the clans as each blames the other for their problems. Lici is a bit more off stage this time as her efforts have proven fruitful. Fans will relish this entry for its deep look into the social, political, economic and military interactions between the three distrusting groups; ignorance and racism are the norm with the hostilities turning the Southlands into a large killing field.

Harriet Klausner