Praise for Terry Goodkind
“Mr. Goodkind’s compelling prose weaves a magic spell over readers.”
—RT Book Reviews on Faith of the Fallen
From the beginning, with Wizard's First Rule, Terry Goodkind set a new standard for epic storytelling. Now he returns with a powerful new tale from Richard and Kahlan's world.
Praise for Terry Goodkind
“Mr. Goodkind’s compelling prose weaves a magic spell over readers.”
—RT Book Reviews on Faith of the Fallen
Terry Goodkind is a #1 New York Times bestselling author. His books include the eleven-volume Sword of Truth series, beginning with Wizard's First Rule, the basis for the television show Legend of the Seeker. Goodkind was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, where he also attended art school. Alongside a career in wildlife art, he has also been a cabinetmaker and a violin maker, and he has done restoration work on rare and exotic artifacts from around the world each with its own story to tell, he says. While continuing to maintain the northeastern home he built with his own hands, in recent years he and his wife Jeri have created a second home in the desert Southwest, where he now spends the majority of his time.
"There is darkness," the boy said.
Richard frowned, not sure that he had understood the whispered words. He glanced back over his shoulder at the concern on Kahlan's face. She didn't look to have understood the meaning any more than he had.
The boy lay on a tattered carpet placed on the bare ground just outside a tent covered with strings of colorful beads. The tightly packed market outside the palace had become a small city made up of thousands of tents, wagons, and stands. Throngs of people who had come from near and far for the grand wedding the day before flocked to the marketplace, buying everything from souvenirs and jewelry to fresh bread and cooked meats, to exotic drinks and potions, to colorful beads.
The boy's chest rose a little with each shallow breath, but his eyes remained closed. Richard leaned down closer to the frail child. "Darkness?"
The boy nodded weakly. "There is darkness all around."
There was, of course, no darkness. Streamers of morning sunlight played over the crowds of people coursing by the thousands through the haphazard streets between the tents and wagons. Richard didn't think that the boy saw anything of the festive atmosphere all around.
The child's words, on the surface so soft, carried some other meaning, something more, something grim, about another place entirely.
From the corner of his eye, Richard saw people slow as they passed, watching the Lord Rahl and the Mother Confessor stopped to see an ill boy and his mother. The market out beyond was filled with lilting music, conversation, laughter, and animated bargaining. For most of the people passing nearby, seeing the Lord Rahl and the Mother Confessor was a once-in-a-lifetime event, one of many over the last few days, that would be recounted back in their homelands for years to come.
Guards of the First File stood not far away, also watching attentively, but they mostly watched the nearby crowds shuffling through the market. The soldiers wanted to make sure that those crowds didn't close in too tightly, even though there was no real reason to expect any sort of trouble.
Everyone was, after all, in a good mood. The years of war had ended. There was peace and growing prosperity. The wedding the day before seemed to mark a new beginning, a celebration of a world of possibilities never before imagined.
Set amid that sunlit exuberance, the boy's words felt to Richard like a shadow that didn't belong.
Kahlan squatted down beside him. Her satiny white dress, the iconic symbol of her standing as the Mother Confessor, seemed to glow under the early-spring sky, as if she were a good spirit come among them. Richard slipped his hand under the boy's bony shoulders and sat him up a little as Kahlan lifted a waterskin up to the boy's lips.
"Can you take just a sip?"
The boy didn't seem to hear her. He ignored her offer and the waterskin. "I'm alone," he said in a frail voice. "So alone."
The words sounded so forlorn that they moved Kahlan to reach out in silent compassion and touch the boy's knobby shoulder.
"You're not alone," Richard assured the boy in a voice meant to dispel the gloom of such words. "There are people here with you. Your mother is here."
Behind closed eyelids, the boy's eyes rolled and darted, as if looking for something in the darkness.
"Why have they all left me?"
Kahlan laid a hand gently on the boy's heaving chest. "Left you?"
The boy, lost in some inner vision, moaned and whined. His head tossed from side to side. "Why have they left me alone in the cold and dark?"
"Who left you?" Richard asked, concentrating in an effort to be sure he could hear the boy's soft words. "Where did they leave you?"
"I have had dreams," the boy said, his voice a little brighter.
Richard frowned at the odd change of subject. "What kind of dreams?"
Disoriented confusion returned to haunt the boy's words. "Why have I had dreams?"
The question sounded to Richard like it was directed inward and didn't call for an answer. Kahlan tried anyway.
"We don't —"
"Is the sky still blue?"
Kahlan shared a look with Richard. "Quite blue," she assured the boy. He didn't appear to hear that answer, either.
Richard didn't think that there was any point in continuing to pester the boy for answers. He was obviously sick and didn't know what he was saying. It was pointless to try to question the product of delirium.
The boy's small hand suddenly grabbed Richard's forearm.
Richard heard the sound of steel being drawn from scabbards. Without turning, he lifted his other hand in a silent command to the soldiers behind him to stand down.
"Why have they all left me?" the boy asked again.
Richard leaned in a little closer, hoping to calm him at least. "Where did they leave you?"
The boy's eyes opened so abruptly that it startled both Richard and Kahlan. His gaze was fixed on Richard, as if trying to see into his soul. The grip of the thin fingers on Richard's forearm was powerful beyond what Richard would have believed the boy capable of.
"There is darkness in the palace."
A chill, fed by a cold breath of breeze, shivered across Richard's flesh.
The boy's eyelids slid closed as he sagged back.
Despite his intent to be gentle with the boy, Richard's voice took on an edge.
"What are you talking about? What darkness in the palace?"
"Darkness ... is seeking darkness," he whispered as he drifted down into incoherent mumbling.
Richard's brow drew tight as he tried to make some kind of sense of it. "What do you mean, darkness is seeking darkness?"
"He will find me, I know he will."
The boy's hand, as if too heavy to hold up, slipped off Richard's arm. It was replaced by Kahlan's as the two of them waited a moment to see if the boy would say any more. He seemed to finally have fallen silent for good.
They needed to get back to the palace. People would be waiting for them.
Besides, Richard didn't think, even if the boy did say more, that it would be any more meaningful. He looked up at the boy's mother, standing above him, dry-washing her hands.
The woman swallowed. "He scares me, he does, when he gets like this. I'm sorry, Lord Rahl, I didn't mean to distract you from your business." She looked to be a woman aged prematurely by worries.
"This is my business," Richard said. "I came down here today to be among people who couldn't make it up to the palace yesterday for the ceremony. Many of you have traveled a great distance. The Mother Confessor and I wanted to have a chance to show our appreciation to everyone who came for our friends' wedding.
"I don't like to see anyone in such obvious distress as you and your boy. We'll see if we can get a healer to find out what's wrong. Maybe they can give him something to help him."
The woman was shaking her head. "I've tried healers. Healers can't help him."
"Are you sure?" Kahlan asked. "There are very talented people here who might be able to help."
"I already took him to a woman of great powers, a Hedge Maid, all the way to Kharga Trace."
Kahlan's brow creased. "A Hedge Maid? What kind of healer is that?"
The woman hesitated, her gaze darting away. "Well, she's a woman of remarkable abilities as I hear told. Hedge Maids ... have talents, so I thought she might be able to help. But Jit — that's her name, Jit — said that Henrik was special, not sick."
"Does this happen with your son often, then?" Kahlan asked.
The woman worked some of the cloth of her simple dress into her fist. "Not often. But it happens. He sees things. Sees things through the eyes of others, I think."
Kahlan pressed her hand to the boy's forehead a moment and then ran her fingers back through his hair. "I think maybe it's fevered dreams, that's all," she said. "He's burning up."
The woman was nodding knowingly. "He gets like that, all fevered and such, when he sees things through the eyes of others." She met Richard's gaze. "Some kind of telling, I think. I think that's what he does when he gets like this. Some kind of foretelling."
Richard, like Kahlan, didn't think the boy saw anything more than fevered visions, but he didn't say so. The woman already looked distressed enough.
Richard also didn't hold much favor with prophecy. He liked prophecy even less than he liked riddles and he didn't like riddles at all. He thought people made far more of prophecy than was justified.
"Doesn't sound at all specific," Richard said. "I don't think it's anything more than a childhood fever."
The woman didn't look to believe one word of it, but she also didn't look inclined to contradict the Lord Rahl. It wasn't all that long ago that the Lord Rahl was a greatly feared figure in the land of D'Hara, and with good reason.
Old fears, like old grudges, lived long lives.
"Maybe he ate something that was bad," Kahlan suggested.
"No, nothing bad," the woman insisted. "He eats the same things I eat." She studied their faces for a moment before adding, "But the hounds have come around bothering him."
Richard frowned up at the woman. "What do you mean, the hounds have come around bothering him?"
Her tongue darted out to wet her lips. "Well, hounds — wild hounds I think — came sniffing around here last night. I had just run out to get us a loaf of bread. Henrik was watching our bead wares. He was scared when the hounds showed up so he hid inside. When I got back they were sniffing and growling around the doorway of our tent, the hair on their backs standing up all stiff and such. I grabbed a stick and chased them off. This morning he was like this."
Richard was about to say something when the boy abruptly twisted wildly. He lashed out with clawed fingers at both Richard and Kahlan as if he were a cornered animal.
Richard jumped up, pulling Kahlan back out of the boy's reach as soldiers brought swords out.
Quick as a rabbit, the boy darted away toward the confusion of tents and crowds. Two soldiers immediately raced after him. The boy dove under a low wagon and popped up on the other side. The men were too big to follow and had to go around the wagon, giving the boy a head start of a dozen strides. Richard didn't think his lead would last long.
In an instant the boy, with the soldiers hot on his heels, vanished among the wagons, tents, and people. It was a mistake to run from men of the First File.
Richard saw that the scratch on the back of Kahlan's hand had drawn blood.
"It's just a little scratch, Richard," she assured him when she saw the look in his eyes. "I'm fine. It just startled me."
Richard glanced down at the lines oozing blood on the back of his own hand and let out a sigh of frustration. "Me too."
The captain of the guards, sword in hand, stepped forward. "We'll find him, Lord Rahl. Out here on the Azrith Plain there's no real place to hide. He won't get far. We'll find him." The man didn't look at all pleased that someone, even a boy, had drawn the Lord Rahl's blood.
"Like the Mother Confessor said, it's just a scratch. But I'd like you to find the boy."
A dozen men of the guard detail clapped fists to their hearts.
"We'll find him, Lord Rahl," the captain said, "you can count on that."
Richard nodded. "Good. When you do, see to it that he gets safely back here to his mother. There are healers among the people selling their wares and services. Bring one here when you find the boy and see if they can help him."
As the captain detailed additional guards to search for the boy, Kahlan leaned closer to Richard. "We had better get back up to the palace. We have a lot of guests."
Richard nodded. "I hope your boy is well soon," he said to the woman before starting out toward the immense plateau atop which sat the People's Palace, the place he had inherited when he had inherited the rule of D'Hara, a land that he had never even known existed as he'd grown up. In many ways D'Hara, the empire he ruled, was still a complete mystery to him.CHAPTER 2
"A penny for your future, sir?"
Richard paused to look down at the old woman sitting cross-legged out of the way at the side of one of the many grand halls of the People's Palace. She leaned back against the wall beside the base of a marble arch that soared several stories overhead as she waited to see if she had won herself a new customer. A brown cloth bag with her belongings along with a thin cane lay close up against her hip. She was dressed in a simple but neat long gray woolen dress. A cream-colored shawl lay draped over her shoulders as protection against the occasional bite of departing winter. Spring had arrived, but so far it had proven to be more promise than substance.
The woman smoothed back stray strands of brown and gray hair at her temple, apparently wanting to look presentable for potential customers. By the milky film over her eyes, the way her head tilted up without facing anyone accurately, and her searching movements, Richard knew that the woman couldn't see him or Kahlan. Only her hearing would be of any help in taking in the grandeur all around her.
Out beyond where the woman sat, one of the many bridges in the palace crossed the hall at a second-floor level. Clutches of people engaged in conversation strolled across the bridge while others stood at the marble balusters, gazing down on the vast passageway below, some watching Richard and Kahlan and their accompanying contingent of guards. Many in the thick crowds of people strolling the expansive corridors of the palace were visitors who had come for the festivities of the day before.
Though the People's Palace was more or less under one roof, it was really a city tightly clustered atop a lone, immense plateau rising up out of the Azrith Plain. Since the palace was the ancestral home of the Lord Rahl, parts of it were off-limits to the public, but most of the expansive complex was home to thousands of others. There were living quarters for people of every sort, from officials to merchants, to craftsmen, to workers, with other areas set aside for visitors. The sprawling public corridors linked the city palace together and provided access to it all.
Not far from the woman sitting against the wall, a shop window displayed bolts of cloth. Throughout the palace there were shops of every sort. Down inside the plateau hundreds more rooms provided everything from quarters for soldiers to yet more shops for residents and visitors alike.
The narrow road rising along the side of the plateau that Richard and Kahlan had ridden up after visiting the market was the fastest way up to the People's Palace, but it was narrow and in places treacherous, so the public was not allowed to use it. The main route for visitors, merchants, and workers of every sort was through the great inner doors and up the passageways inside the plateau. Many people never ventured all the way up to the palace at the top, but came to shop at the market that in peaceful times sprang up down on the plain, or to visit some of the hundreds of shops along the way up inside the plateau.
The sheer inaccessibility of the city palace, if the drawbridge on the road was raised and the great inner doors were closed, made assaults futile. Throughout history sieges of the palace withered out on the inhospitable Azrith Plain long before the strength of those in the palace began to wane. Many had tried, but there was no practical way to attack the People's Palace.
The old woman would have had a hard time making the climb all the way up the inner passageways to the palace proper. Because she was blind, it must have been especially difficult for her. Although there were always people wanting to know what the future held, Richard supposed that she probably found more customers up top willing to pay for her simple fortunes, and that made the climb worth the effort.
Richard gazed out at the seemingly endless corridor filled with people and the ever-present whisper of footsteps and conversation. He supposed that the woman, being blind, would be attuned to all the sounds of the people in the corridors and by that judge the enormity of the place.
Excerpted from The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind. Copyright © 2011 Terry Goodkind. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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