The Saints of the Sword (Tyrants and Kings Series #3)

( 4 )

Overview

ONE

Dakel the Inquisitor danced across the marble floor, his satin robes alive with candlelight. A dozen candelabra tossed shadows around him, making him look taller than his six feet. In his hand was a gilded scroll, which he declined to read until the most dramatic moment. His ebony hair writhed around his shoulders as he moved with practiced grace before the hundred gathered eyes, and his voice filled the chamber. The crowd was silent as he...

See more details below
Available through our Marketplace sellers.
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (21) from $1.99   
  • Used (21) from $1.99   
Close
Sort by
Page 1 of 3
Showing 1 – 10 of 21 (3 pages)
Note: Marketplace items are not eligible for any BN.com coupons and promotions
$1.99
Seller since 2008

Feedback rating:

(16102)

Condition:

New — never opened or used in original packaging.

Like New — packaging may have been opened. A "Like New" item is suitable to give as a gift.

Very Good — may have minor signs of wear on packaging but item works perfectly and has no damage.

Good — item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Acceptable — item is in working order but may show signs of wear such as scratches or torn packaging. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Used — An item that has been opened and may show signs of wear. All specific defects should be noted in the Comments section associated with each item.

Refurbished — A used item that has been renewed or updated and verified to be in proper working condition. Not necessarily completed by the original manufacturer.

Good
Good condition.

Ships from: Frederick, MD

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(57)

Condition: Very Good
0553380230 Excellent customer service - FAST SHIPPING

Ships from: Jersey City, NJ

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2009

Feedback rating:

(970)

Condition: Very Good
0553380230 Clearing Inventory! New Book, but has minor flaw, like bent or scratched cover. Total Satisfaction Guarantee! Quick shipping.

Ships from: Brattleboro, VT

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2009

Feedback rating:

(10987)

Condition: Good
Book shows minor use. Cover and Binding have minimal wear and the pages have only minimal creases. A tradition of southern quality and service. All books guaranteed at the Atlanta ... Book Company. Our mailers are 100% recyclable. Read more Show Less

Ships from: Atlanta, GA

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2005

Feedback rating:

(2596)

Condition: Good
2001 Paperback Our goal with every sale is customer satisfaction, so please buy with confidence. Every order is shipped the same day or the next day. This is a used book in good ... condition and may show some signs of use or wear. Read more Show Less

Ships from: Tontitown, AR

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2009

Feedback rating:

(7658)

Condition: Good
Light shelving wear with minimal damage to cover and bindings. Pages show minor use. Help save a tree. Buy all your used books from Green Earth Books. Read. Recycle and Reuse.

Ships from: Portland, OR

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(2678)

Condition: Good
Book has some visible wear on the binding, cover, pages. Biggest little used bookstore in the world.

Ships from: Reno, NV

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2008

Feedback rating:

(16102)

Condition: Good
Spectra, 01/30/2001, Paperback, Good condition.

Ships from: Frederick, MD

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • International
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$1.99
Seller since 2009

Feedback rating:

(7647)

Condition: Good
Minimal damage to cover and binding. Pages show light use. With pride from Motor City. All books guaranteed. Best Service, Best Prices.

Ships from: Brownstown, MI

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Canadian
  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
$4.86
Seller since 2014

Feedback rating:

(1)

Condition: Good
2001 Paperback Good Connecting readers with great books since 1972. Used books may not include companion materials, some shelf wear, may contain highlighting/notes, may not ... include cdrom or access codes. Customer service is our top priority! Read more Show Less

Ships from: Austin, TX

Usually ships in 1-2 business days

  • Standard, 48 States
  • Standard (AK, HI)
  • Express, 48 States
  • Express (AK, HI)
Page 1 of 3
Showing 1 – 10 of 21 (3 pages)
Close
Sort by
The Saints of the Sword

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$7.99
BN.com price

Overview

ONE

Dakel the Inquisitor danced across the marble floor, his satin robes alive with candlelight. A dozen candelabra tossed shadows around him, making him look taller than his six feet. In his hand was a gilded scroll, which he declined to read until the most dramatic moment. His ebony hair writhed around his shoulders as he moved with practiced grace before the hundred gathered eyes, and his voice filled the chamber. The crowd was silent as he spoke, their gazes alternating between his compelling countenance and the man on the dais. Dakel pointed an accusing finger at the man as he spoke.

“I have charges, citizens of Nar,” he declared. “Appalling evidence of the duke’s crimes.” He held up the scroll for effect. “Enough to shock you good people, I’m sure.”

From his chair atop the marble dais, Duke Angoris of Dragon’s Beak stared in horror at the Inquisitor, his face a sickly white. He had already endured half an hour of Dakel’s rhetoric, and the barrage was taking its toll. He licked his lips constantly, anxious for a glass of water that was conspicuously kept from him. He looked about to faint.

“Now, I’m not a man of vendettas,” the Inquisitor declared. “You all know me. I’m a humble servant of the emperor. All I seek is justice.”

There was skeptical chuckling from the crowd. Dakel took it good-naturedly.

“’Tis true,” he said. “Justice is the sole commandment of this court. So I don’t read these charges with any relish or malice. I read them with great regret for the duke’s offenses. Through thethings he has done, we are all diminished.”

An expectant murmur bubbled up. Dakel let it dissipate before continuing. He whirled on the duke.

“Duke Angoris, you are called before these good people of Nar for crimes against humankind, for sedition, for treason, for barbarity, and for genocide. These are the facts in my ledger. Shall I read them for you?”

Duke Angoris began to croak an answer but the Inquisitor silenced him with a flourish of his sleeves.

“People,” he said, turning again toward the crowd. “Worthy citizens.” He smiled. “Friends. When you hear the charges against Duke Angoris, you will have no doubt as to the rightness of this tribunal. I know there are those among you who doubt what we do here. Do not doubt. Listen. And keep your ears open for the most appalling tales.”

Angoris grit his teeth. He had no barrister to defend him, only his own wits and the infrequent opportunities Dakel gave him to speak. The Inquisitor glided closer to the dais and unrolled the scroll in his spidery hands. He read it to himself, shaking his head in disgust.

“Duke Angoris,” he began. “On the first day of winter you usurped the throne of the south fork of Dragon’s Beak. You killed the surviving members of Duke Enli’s household and took control from the ruling magistrate, who had been sent there by our own emperor. Is that so?”

“The throne was empty,” Angoris said. “The emperor’s to blame for that.”

“And in your killing spree the magistrate and his wife were murdered also, correct?”

Angoris was silent.

“You impaled them, did you not?”

The duke groped for an answer. Every word in Dakel’s ledger was true, but admitting it came hard. Angoris was a stubborn man, with a head like granite and a fiery streak of independence. He had declared himself duke of the south fork of Dragon’s Beak after the death of Enli, the rightful duke. Then he had set out for the ruined north fork.

“Answer the question,” rumbled Dakel. “Did you not order the magistrate and his wife impaled?”

The duke answered, “I did.”

“And upon murdering the magistrate and taking Grey Tower, you found an unused cannister of poison in the keep. The illegal gas called Formula B, isn’t that also correct?”

The Inquisitor hovered over the duke, waiting for an answer. Duke Angoris shifted, his eyes darting around the vast chamber.

“No answer?” Dakel’s immortally blue eyes watched his victim like a cobra’s. “The poison, Duke? Have you a recollection?”

“I ... I found the poison in the castle, yes. It was left there by legionnaires of the Black City. I didn’t put it there.”

“And what did you do with the poison once you discovered it?”

“I’ll not answer that,” spat Angoris. “Not to this court, and not to you. You have already judged me.”

Dakel the Inquisitor, the very soul of the Protectorate, grinned wildly at the duke. “That’s fine, Duke Angoris. I’ll tell the story myself.” He turned like an actor toward the spectators in the candlelight. They were citizens of Nar who had come to the Tower of Truth for a show, and the master of the house would not disappoint them.

“Good Narens,” he sang. “Let me tell you what this self-proclaimed duke has done. He has used the grievous and criminal poison called Formula B against the people of the north fork of Dragon’s Beak. These are people just like himself, you see, but Angoris is a man of boundless prejudice, and he is from the south fork, after all. This tyrant thinks of his northern brethren as beasts. He has systematically been exterminating them. He has burned out the eyes of young children with his ill-gotten poison, he has suffocated pregnant women, and he has put his own sword into the hearts of innocent men. And all for the crime of living just north of him.”

Angoris rose to his feet. “Biagio has done worse!”

“Yes, yes,” laughed Dakel. “Go on, dig your own grave.”

“It’s true,” said the duke again. This time he pointed to a darkened alcove away from the candlelight, a place where one man sat, far apart from the spectators. “Biagio knows it’s true! Don’t you, butcher?”

From his place in the shadows, Renato Biagio steepled his fingers and gave a tired sigh. He knew that neither Angoris nor the citizens could see him, and the veil of darkness served as a comforting cloak. He had expected Angoris’ outburst. Biagio settled into the plushness of his chair, reaching for a nearby brandy and sipping it thoughtfully. Dakel was in control, as always, and the Emperor of Nar wasn’t ruffled at all.

“Emperor Biagio is not on trial here, Duke,” said the Inquisitor. “And I would strongly suggest you sit back down in your chair. You are the accused.”

There was nowhere for Angoris to go, so the northerner sat back, enduring the growing snickers of the crowd. They loved a show, Biagio knew, and it was circus time in Nar. Angoris’ face turned an unpleasant shade of grey. Obviously, he was feeling the noose tighten.

Biagio was tired from the long day and Dakel’s endless speeches, and it was only afternoon. Beyond the wall of the tower he still had a city to govern, and an empire beyond that. There were always so many pressing needs, so many questions to answer, so many hands to shake and deals to make. Biagio closed eyes that had lost their immortal radiance, and pictured his enormous bed back in the palace.

To sleep, he thought dreamily. For a week, or a month...

He could have slept for a year if it weren’t for the constant interruptions. He drained his glass of brandy and put the goblet down on the table beside him, then rose. The candelabra did a good job of blinding Angoris. Dakel had placed them perfectly, without needing Biagio’s guidance. Dakel was excellent at his work. And a loyal member of the Roshann, one of the few men in the Black City Biagio trusted at all these days. Angoris wasn’t the first of Biagio’s enemies to face the dancing antics of Dakel. Nor would he be the last.

Biagio backed away from the stage, giving Angoris a final unseen look before departing through a private door. The Tower of Truth had dozens of hidden corridors where the members of the Roshann could escape the curious eyes of the Naren citizens that gathered for the entertainment. Dakel was master of the tower. Since Biagio’s ascension to emperor, the sharp-minded Inquisitor had become head of the Roshann. There had already been two attempts on the Inquisitor’s life. And Biagio himself had been the target of countless schemes. These days, Biagio often stayed in the shadows.

Out in the hall he found his pair of Shadow Angels, his private guards, waiting for him, silent behind their implacable silver skull masks. He walked past his men who followed directly on his heels, and left behind the thundering voice of Dakel, still ringing in the amphi-chamber.

Biagio’s head was pounding and his eyes drooped from lack of sleep. He longed to return to the Black Palace, to escape the thousand pressures plaguing him. Lost in a fog, he moved through the tower’s marble halls and soon found himself at the gate where his carriage awaited. The elaborate conveyance was carved from mahogany and pulled by a team of black horses. Besides the driver, there were a dozen more Shadow Angels on horseback around the vehicle, ready to protect their master. A slave bowed to Biagio as he stepped through the gate and approached his carriage, then rushed to open its door. He was fair-haired, barely seventeen, with a pretty face and a lean body that sent the emperor’s heart racing. But Biagio was too tired to pay the boy more notice, so he merely stepped into the carriage and collapsed into its leather cushions, watch- ing with relief as the slave sealed him inside, blessedly alone. For the first time in hours, silence engulfed him. He watched through the carriage windows as his bodyguards mounted their horses and the vehicle lurched into motion.

A thousand sky-scraping towers soared around him. Nar the Magnificent. The Black City.

Biagio smiled. Home. And what a thankless battle it had been to return. Only a little more than a year had passed since he’d become emperor, but the memory of his bloody coup remained. He remembered it each time his food tasted off and he feared poisoning, or whenever word reached him of another civil war. A year ago he had set a chain of events into motion and now he was struggling to stop the reaction. Renato Biagio tilted his head against the window and watched the city pass by. The Black Palace dominated the distance like a giant’s many-fingered hand. A familiar pall of smoke obscured the sun, setting the horizon aflame with Nar’s peculiar glow, and the countless smokestacks of the foundries and incinerators rumbled up their noxious gases, spitting them high into the sky.

It was all so familiar, and yet it was somehow different. Nar City had been happier when Arkus was emperor. It had been more stable, more predictable. Everyone accepted that Arkus’ rule would last forever. But not so for this new emperor. Biagio’s rule was tenuous, and everyone in the Empire knew it. It was why there were civil wars and genocide in Nar, why little men like Angoris were able to do such big things. Each week a new report of atrocities reached Biagio in his palace, new breakouts of unrest, new assassinations of kings. Nar had gone mad in the last year, a result of Biagio’s miscalculations. He had predicted trouble upon his return from exile, but not on the grand scale that was plaguing Nar now.

Biagio winced as his carriage passed the rubble where the Cathedral of the Martyrs had stood. The empty site was a symbol of all he’d done wrong. The backlash from destroying the cathedral had been far worse than he’d anticipated. He had guessed that Herrith’s minions would flock to him for protection against Liss. But they were a loyal lot, almost as zealous as Herrith himself. And the archbishop’s loyalists had long memories. They knew it was Biagio who had gelded their religion. It was he who had killed the bishop. It was he who had ordered the cathedral blown apart. And it was he who had murdered eleven Naren lords to steal the Iron Throne. Now no one trusted him.

He closed his eyes, shutting out the cathedral’s ruins. The rubble was a constant, nagging reminder of all the work still ahead of him. He was no longer the same man that had masterminded the explosion, but he still had to prove that.

“I have changed,” he whispered to himself. It was a mantra he chanted, a self-hypnosis to keep himself focused. Once, there had been Bovadin’s narcotic to keep his mind keen, but he had given up that drug in favor of sanity. Still, the cravings never really left him. And the withdrawal from the elixir had been hell itself. It had nearly killed him. But only nearly.

“I yet live,” he said, laughing. No assassin had reached him, and if the Protectorate worked, no assassin ever would. Dakel and his long arm would pluck out all the cancers in the Empire, and Biagio would be safe. Nar would be at peace. There would be no more genocidal tyrants like Angoris, no more civil wars. And all of Nar would see that their emperor had changed, that now he was a man of justice and vision. A man worthy of the title.

“I’m not insane anymore,” Biagio whispered. His eyes were still closed and his head still rested against the glass; the rhythmic swaying of the carriage was lulling.

“Not insane...”

Dyana Vantran had said he was mad, and she had been right. Years of imbibing Bovadin’s life-sustaining drug had turned his mind to slush. But he was slowly reclaiming himself. He had made great progress in the past year. And the Protectorate had so far worked wonderfully. The tribunal proved that he was a man of strength, despite the chaos rocking Nar. Though the fragments of the church and the legions of Nar distrusted him, Biagio still had his Roshann, and the Roshann still had their gallows. He could still engender fear when needed.

Not everyone who came before the Protectorate was executed. Biagio insisted on proof before taking such actions. And it had to be politically expedient. Angoris was a tyrant, and the people of Dragon’s Beak hated him. Executing him would be a popular move. And popularity was important to Biagio these days. Soon all the nations that hated him would accept his rule. Even Talistan.

He wondered if Elrad Leth was nearing the city, and how soon he could get the schemer before Dakel. But there would be time enough to deal with Talistan.

Exhausted, Biagio let himself daydream and he didn’t think of Talistan or its sinister king, or of dark-robed Dakel lit by candlelight. Instead, his mind turned to Crote. His former island homeland would be bursting into spring, and the bittersweet image made the emperor smile. It was a long road back to the palace. Biagio seized on the image of golden beaches and, for a while, forgot his troubles.

But before long the carriage stopped before the gates of the Black Palace. Biagio rubbed his eyes and straightened his garments, which had fallen sloppily around his body. The slave that had closed his carriage door now opened it, again bowing as he bid the emperor to step out. They were in the private courtyard around the palace, the first of many tiers surrounding the dizzying structure. A network of roads and stone stairways connected each tier to its successor, and the yard was scattered with horses, bodyguards, and servants. High above, Naren noblemen hung over balconies, watching their ruler return. The tallest spires disappeared into Nar’s perpetual haze.

As he stepped out of the carriage, Biagio noticed two figures coming quickly toward him. One was small and dark with wild eyes. The other was tall and burly, more like a wall than a man. No one would ever have believed the two were brothers. They approached their emperor and sank to their knees, greeting him with practiced respect.

“Welcome home, my lord,” said the smaller man. He raised his head and smiled at Biagio, who knew at once that he was hiding something.

“Get that ridiculous grin off your face and tell me what’s on your tiny mind, Malthrak,” Biagio ordered.

Malthrak of Isgar and his brother Donhedris both got to their feet. Donhedris was typically silent, letting his sibling do the talking.

“Can you not guess, my lord?” said Malthrak mischievously. He was in Biagio’s good graces, and so took annoying chances. “You haven’t seen, have you?”

“Seen what?” rumbled Biagio. “Tell me, Malthrak, or I shall have your liver for dinner.”

“There,” said Malthrak, pointing over the emperor’s shoulder. “In the harbor.”

Biagio’s eyes followed his underling’s finger. They were high enough to see the city’s harbor, choked as always with trading ships. But today there was something else in the inlet, a vast, black ship with armor plating and towering masts that flew the flag of Nar.

“The Fearless,” Biagio whispered. “Damn ...”

The Fearless dwarfed the ships around it, smothering them beneath its dominating shadow. Its sails were furled and its twin anchors were plunged into the depths. Biagio’s head began to thunder, and he put a hand to his temple to massage away the pressure. This was a surprise he didn’t need.

“Is he ashore yet?” he asked.

“Unfortunately, yes. He’s waiting for you inside your reading parlor.”

“Has he said anything?”

“No, my lord,” replied Malthrak. Then his nose crinkled and he added, “Well, that’s not precisely true. He did mumble something about Liss.”

“Oh, yes,” laughed Biagio. “I’m sure he did. Very well. Go and tell him I’ll be in directly. Get him something to drink and eat. Something expensive. Try to ... ,” the emperor shrugged, “make him comfortable.”

Malthrak nodded and scurried away, his big, wordless brother following close behind. Biagio watched them disappear into the palace, then took his time following. He wanted to think before meeting Nicabar, but he didn’t want to keep the admiral waiting too long, either. Surely his friend would be enraged. And Biagio had half-expected the visit anyway. But now he needed to summon the old Crotan charm and diplomacy. Nicabar was a very old, very dear friend. Surely he would be able to handle him.

The “parlor,” as Malthrak called it, was a private reading room Biagio kept for himself on the first of the palace’s many floors. It was a comfortable room housing the collection of rare books and manuscripts Biagio had assembled from around the Empire. Because of its location, Biagio often greeted dignitaries there. Nicabar had known exactly where to go.

Once inside the palace, Biagio doffed his cape, handing it to another of the ubiquitous slaves, then headed off toward the parlor to meet his old ally. These had been difficult days for the two of them. Since helping his friend win the Iron Throne, Nicabar had turned his attention back to Liss. The admiral had spent the past year in a bloody campaign against the seafarers, a protracted waste of blood and energy that had gained him few victories. Now Biagio needed peace with Liss — especially with ambitious Talistan nipping at his heels.

Biagio slowed a little as he neared the parlor. The collection of statues lining the hall stared at him. Suddenly he was afraid to face Nicabar. He was emperor, but that didn’t make things easier. What he was about to do frightened him.

Outside the parlor, two of Nicabar’s officers waited, guarding the door. Not surprisingly, Malthrak and Donhedris were there as well. Next to them were a pair of Shadow Angels, keeping a conspicuous eye on the men from the Fearless. The Shadow Angels were everywhere now. Biagio preferred them to the legionnaires, who no longer served the emperor unquestionably since the murder of their general, Vorto. The two skull helms turned toward Biagio, then to the sailors. Nicabar’s men bowed courteously and stepped aside.

Biagio pushed open the door and stepped into the parlor. The drapes were opened wide letting sunlight pour inside. At the far end of the chamber, his back turned toward the door as he stared out over the city, was Admiral Danar Nicabar. The officer had a glass of wine in his hand and was swirling it absently, lost in thought. Biagio could almost feel the fury rising off him. He put on a smile and closed the door behind him. Nicabar did not turn around. There was a long, uncomfortable pause before either of them spoke.

“Renato,” said Nicabar at last, “I’m very angry.”

“Indeed, my friend? Too angry to greet me properly?”

“Too angry to call you friend,” sneered Nicabar. He turned from the window, slamming his glass down on the sill. The glass slipped and shattered on the floor, but Nicabar ignored it as he stalked toward Biagio. “Why did you order the war labs to curtail my shipments of fuel?”

Biagio folded his arms over his chest. “Do not presume to bark at me, Danar,” he warned. “I’ve not the character for it. You’re here to discuss this matter. Fine. I expected you to come. But do not shout at me like a cabin boy. I am your emperor.”

“I put you here!” Nicabar growled. He was taller than Biagio by at least a foot, and the imposing figure would have made a lesser man cower. But Biagio did not cower. He locked eyes with the admiral and returned his steely gaze.

“How dare you keep that fuel from me!” Nicabar continued. “If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be emperor. I need that fuel for my cannons!”

“Danar,” cautioned Biagio. “Sit down. And try to calm yourself. I have my reasons for stopping shipment of your fuel. I will tell you why in my own time and manner. But you will sit.”

There was enough edge to the command to make Nicabar’s face soften. He took a deep, unsteady breath, found a chair, and collapsed into it with an angry grunt. “I didn’t come here for word games, Renato,” he said impatiently. “I want answers. Why were my shipments of fuel stopped? And don’t tell me it’s because you still want peace with those Lissen devils. I swear, if you say that I’ll scream.”

“Hmm, then perhaps I should cover my ears.”

“Goddamn it, no!” Nicabar made a fist and slammed it into the armrest. “You promised me!”

“I did promise you,” Biagio admitted. “What can I say? Things change.”

“So, you’re not as good as your word then, eh? You forget too quickly, old friend. My navy put you on the throne. And I did it for a price. You knew the bargain. I won’t let you change it. I am going after Liss.”

“You cannot,” said Biagio. He took a step closer to the admiral, deciding on a softer tack. “Danar, look around. Open your eyes. Your obsession with Liss is costing us too dearly. We must have peace with them. The Empire is tearing itself apart and you’re off on some mad vendetta. I need you here in Nar. I need you to keep me strong.”

Nicabar laughed bitterly. “My God, you do forgive easily, don’t you? It’s not just my vendetta, Renato. It’s supposed to be yours, too. The Lissens have your homeland. How can you not care?”

“I do care,” Biagio countered. “But it was the price of winning the throne. Everyone needs to make sacrifices, Danar. Even you.”

Nicabar shook his head. “I’m done with that. I’ve sacrificed enough of my honor already. Ten years. That’s a long bloody time to fight. Now you’re asking me to wait even more? Forget it. Jelena’s still building her forces, Renato. Have you considered that?”

Biagio had considered it heavily. The child queen of Liss was far more resilient than he’d anticipated, and her forces were growing stronger. It was just one more of his miscalculations. But it didn’t change the equation.

“Peace,” Biagio said. “That’s the only answer.” He went down to one knee beside the admiral’s chair. “Be my friend, Danar. Do this thing for me.”

Nicabar turned away, suddenly uncomfortable, but Biagio seized his hand. It was deathly cold, like his own had once been.

“Look at me,” Biagio commanded.

Nicabar complied and Biagio gazed into his comrade’s unnaturally blue eyes, seeing the same narcotic madness that had once stared back at him from mirrors. But how could he reach him? It was nigh impossible to break the bonds of Bovadin’s elixir. That desire had to come from deep within, and Nicabar seemed not to possess it. Biagio smiled at his friend, pitying his insatiable rage.

“We’ve been friends a long time, Danar,” he said. “I owe you a lot. I know that. But it will all be for nothing if you keep pursuing Liss. We will lose the Empire and everything we’ve fought for. You’ve seen the chaos. You know I’m right.”

Nicabar was unreachable. “All I know is your promise to me. You said I could destroy Liss once you took the throne. Well, it’s been a year now. Will you break your pledge to me? Or will you reinstate my cannon fuel?”

“Danar...”

“That’s your choice, Renato. It’s bleak, but there it is.”

“Danar, Talistan — ”

“Burn Talistan,” spat Nicabar. “Burn and blast it! Blast Dragon’s Beak and Doria and Casarhoon, too. I don’t give a damn about any of them. Liss is what I live for, Renato. I will have them, and I will crush them.” He snatched his hand away from Biagio. “And you won’t stop me, old friend.”

It was a poorly veiled threat, and it stunned Biagio. He got to his feet.

“You will fight me, then?” he asked, struggling to control his resentment. “You’ll join in the chorus for my head? Why don’t you just sail your navy to Talistan, Danar? Join with the rest of my enemies?”

“Your promise,” Nicabar insisted. “All I want is for you to make good on it.”

“I can’t, you fool!” roared Biagio. “I am Emperor of Nar! I have more important things than your petty revenge.” He stalked around the room like a tiger, enraged and frustrated at Nicabar’s stupidity. “God help me, I can’t make war with Liss. I can’t even win back my homeland, because Nar needs me. We’ll have war if we don’t stop Talistan, Danar. Worldwide war. And if you’re off battling Liss, who will be here to stand against them?”

The admiral merely shrugged. “Give me the fuel,” he said calmly, “and I won’t oppose you. I will fight my own war and win back Crote for you. That I promise. Just give me the fuel.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then I will take the navy away from you, Renato. I will fight the Lissens without cannons and you will be weaker than you are now, with no navy.” The admiral grinned. “And no army.”

Checkmate, thought Biagio blackly. He turned slowly toward the window, stalling as he groped through the political maze. Nicabar was right. He had no army. The legionnaires wouldn’t follow him because he’d murdered their general. He was emperor in name only because he had the threat of Nicabar’s fleet behind him. Without that, his hold on the throne might crumble in a day.

Yet Nicabar had forced his hand, forgetting that the emperor was the Roshann and the Roshann was everywhere. Biagio had made a life out of contingencies. The emperor sighed. He had loved Nicabar like a brother once.

“That’s final, is it?” he asked over his shoulder. He saw Nicabar nod in the window’s reflection.

“It is. Just keep your promise, and you’ll have no trouble from me. Order the war labs to release the fuel.”

“I’m not wrong about Talistan, Danar. Gayle is planning something.”

“The fuel, Renato.”

“Very well,” agreed the emperor. “I will speak to Bovadin about it. He’ll order the war labs to provide your flame cannon fuel. You will have it by tomorrow.”

“Then that’s when we’ll set sail,” Nicabar said, springing from his chair.

“But you’re not going to Crote, are you?” said Biagio. “You’re planning to attack Liss.”

Nicabar blanched. “How did you know?”

“Oh, please, Danar. I still have some sources.” Biagio rubbed his hands together. “Well, that does sound promising. Liss itself! My, you are confident, eh?”

“I can beat them this time, Renato,” rumbled Nicabar. “Once I’ve gathered the intelligence I need, find a weak spot to attack ...”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re right, Danar. Good luck to you, then. But keep in touch, all right?”

“Don’t be sarcastic, Renato. I am right this time. I will beat them.”

You’ve been saying that for years, you fool, thought Biagio.

“Of course you’ll beat them,” he said. “I wish you all the luck in the world. And you wish me luck, don’t you, Danar? I mean, when Talistan rolls its horsemen into the Black City and all the nations of Nar clamor for my skin, I will have your best wishes, won’t I?”

The two men shared a charged glance, then Admiral Nicabar backed away, shaking his head. Biagio thought of stopping his comrade before he left, but it was too late and Biagio wasn’t in the mood to apologize. Nicabar left the door open as he exited the parlor and stormed off down the hall, his two sailors falling in step behind him. Quick-thinking Malthrak shut the door again, guessing correctly that his master wanted to be alone.

“Goddamn it,” groaned Biagio. He went to the chair that Nicabar had vacated and fell into it, exhausted and angry. All his efforts had been for nothing. Nicabar was obsessed with Liss and would never forsake that struggle. Nicabar didn’t care if Tassis Gayle and his henchman Leth were plotting against the throne, and he didn’t care if tyrants like Angoris murdered people by the thousands. He just wanted Liss. Biagio laughed. Once he himself had bargained away his humanity for power. It was what the drug did to men.

“Malthrak!” shouted Biagio suddenly. “Get in here!”

Within a moment the parlor door opened and Malthrak stuck his swarthy head inside. “My lord?” he queried. “Are you all right?”

“Find me Captain Kasrin, Malthrak. Find out where he is and bring him.”

Malthrak looked puzzled. “Kasrin?”

“Of the ship Dread Sovereign. He’s in a harbor somewhere north of the city. I want to see him. And I don’t want anyone finding out about it, understand? Secret things, Malthrak.”

Malthrak grinned. Secret things were what he was best at. “I understand, my lord. I’ll find him.”

“Go quickly,” said Biagio. “And shut the door.”

The little Roshann agent sealed his emperor into the parlor. Outside, Biagio could hear him murmuring to his brother. Malthrak would find Kasrin quickly and bring him to the Black City. And Donhedris had an errand of his own. According to Dakel, Elrad Leth’s ship had been sighted nearing the city.

The emperor took a deep breath. He thought of Nicabar and all the good times they had enjoyed together. But that was the past. A year ago, when Biagio was still addicted to the drug, killing had been easy for him. He never felt anxious or afraid, and he never felt remorse over any of his orders, no matter how bloody. Withdrawing from the narcotic had changed all that, and sometimes he yearned for the old harshness again.

“Forgive me, my friend,” he whispered. “I will miss you.”

Copyright 2001 by John Marco
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

VOYA
In the third book of the Tyrants and Kings series following The Jackal of Nar (Bantam Spectra, 1999/VOYA August 1999) and The Grand Design (Bantam, 2000/VOYA August 2000), a new and improved Emperor Renato Biagio struggles to bring peace and keep his fragile hold on the Iron Throne. Supported by renegade naval captain Blair Kasrin and Alazrian Leth, the fey bastard son of the brutal Elrad Leth, Biagio must use all his courage and wiles to prevent a world war and secure a tenuous peace for his embattled subjects. This competently written military fantasy is full of intrigue, conflicting loyalties, and personal vendettas. Characterization is weak with personalities never fleshed out deeply—no doubt in part the effect of the author's tendency to tell about motivations rather than to show them. The lack of strong female characters is slightly problematic as well. Regardless, the brisk plotting and occasionally exquisite world building—Marco has a real feel for landscape—exert a pull, and readers of the first two books will certainly want to read this one. Those looking for higher-quality military fantasy, however, would do well to stick with George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series (Bantam, 1996-2000). VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2001, Bantam Spectra, 545p, $14.95. Ages 11 to Adult. Reviewer: Ann Welton SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
KLIATT
In this long-awaited and convoluted but ultimately satisfying conclusion to The Jackal of Nar and The Grand Design, Marco pulls out all the stops. The players again shift allegiances drastically. Biagio is now working to unite the kingdom of Nar with help from his arch-enemy, Richius Vantran, from the Highlanders (who ride elk into battle), from Alarian, the heir to Tharn's healing powers and the grandson of Tassis Gayle, and from Jelena, Queen of the Isle of Liss. Suspense and intrigue build right up to the final confrontation in the Highlands. This is sure to please those who enjoyed the previous volumes. It is necessary to have read the first two books to understand the relationships of all the characters here. And again, although the ending is foreshadowed, the means to the end are never predictable. Excellent military intrigue as well as a cracking good tale. (Book 3 of the Tyrants and Kings series) KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Bantam, Spectra, 545p. map. 24cm. 00-059868., $14.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Sherry S. Hoy; Libn., Tuscarora Jr. H.S., Mifflintown, PA , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
From The Critics
Nar Emperor Biago vows he wants peace, but all rational thinking person knows the monarch's reputation as a brutal lunatic and nobody believes one word of it. Rather than wait for the expected Biago invasion, one of his governors Elrad of Aramoor joins forces with neighboring King Gayle of Talistan intending to throw Biago off the throne.Although he seeks peace, Biago remains a Machiavellian strategist tossing a "Hail Mary" pass to save his position and his nation. He persuades Elrad's "son", teenager Alazrian, to go on a quest to find the legendary outlawed Saints Of The Sword so that the sect can locate the exiled ruler of Aramoor and the Triin in a united battle to save Nar from the invaders. The odds of success are decimally close to zero, as each step appears impossible to achieve.The third and final novel in John Marco's "Tyrant and Kings" trilogy is fantasy at its sword and magical best. The story line is fast-paced and filled with intrigue due to the machinations of the leaders who make republicans and democrats look like elementary school children (then again, many politicos do that quite nicely on their own). Alazrian makes this novel work as he brings youthful innocence and compassion to a realm led by treachery and cynicism. Revenge still remains a key theme as it did in the previous tales. Bottom line is that this entire series (see The Jackal Of Nar and The Grand Deign) is some of the best the genre has offered over the past few years.
From the Publisher
“John Marco has now joined the ranks of Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Stephen Donaldson, and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien.”
BookPage

Don’t miss the first two books in this thrilling fantasy series from master storyteller John Marco

The Jackal of Nar
The Grand Design

Available wherever Bantam Books are sold

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553380231
  • Publisher: Bantam Books
  • Publication date: 1/30/2001
  • Series: Tyrants and Kings Series , #3
  • Pages: 560
  • Product dimensions: 6.09 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

John Marco lives with his wife in Kings Park, New York.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

ONE

Dakel the Inquisitor danced across the marble floor, his satin robes alive with candlelight. A dozen candelabra tossed shadows around him, making him look taller than his six feet. In his hand was a gilded scroll, which he declined to read until the most dramatic moment. His ebony hair writhed around his shoulders as he moved with practiced grace before the hundred gathered eyes, and his voice filled the chamber. The crowd was silent as he spoke, their gazes alternating between his compelling countenance and the man on the dais. Dakel pointed an accusing finger at the man as he spoke.

“I have charges, citizens of Nar,” he declared. “Appalling evidence of the duke’s crimes.” He held up the scroll for effect. “Enough to shock you good people, I’m sure.”

From his chair atop the marble dais, Duke Angoris of Dragon’s Beak stared in horror at the Inquisitor, his face a sickly white. He had already endured half an hour of Dakel’s rhetoric, and the barrage was taking its toll. He licked his lips constantly, anxious for a glass of water that was conspicuously kept from him. He looked about to faint.

“Now, I’m not a man of vendettas,” the Inquisitor declared. “You all know me. I’m a humble servant of the emperor. All I seek is justice.”

There was skeptical chuckling from the crowd. Dakel took it good-naturedly.

“’Tis true,” he said. “Justice is the sole commandment of this court. So I don’t read these charges with any relish or malice. I read them with great regret for the duke’s offenses. Through the things hehas done, we are all diminished.”

An expectant murmur bubbled up. Dakel let it dissipate before continuing. He whirled on the duke.

“Duke Angoris, you are called before these good people of Nar for crimes against humankind, for sedition, for treason, for barbarity, and for genocide. These are the facts in my ledger. Shall I read them for you?”

Duke Angoris began to croak an answer but the Inquisitor silenced him with a flourish of his sleeves.

“People,” he said, turning again toward the crowd. “Worthy citizens.” He smiled. “Friends. When you hear the charges against Duke Angoris, you will have no doubt as to the rightness of this tribunal. I know there are those among you who doubt what we do here. Do not doubt. Listen. And keep your ears open for the most appalling tales.”

Angoris grit his teeth. He had no barrister to defend him, only his own wits and the infrequent opportunities Dakel gave him to speak. The Inquisitor glided closer to the dais and unrolled the scroll in his spidery hands. He read it to himself, shaking his head in disgust.

“Duke Angoris,” he began. “On the first day of winter you usurped the throne of the south fork of Dragon’s Beak. You killed the surviving members of Duke Enli’s household and took control from the ruling magistrate, who had been sent there by our own emperor. Is that so?”

“The throne was empty,” Angoris said. “The emperor’s to blame for that.”

“And in your killing spree the magistrate and his wife were murdered also, correct?”

Angoris was silent.

“You impaled them, did you not?”

The duke groped for an answer. Every word in Dakel’s ledger was true, but admitting it came hard. Angoris was a stubborn man, with a head like granite and a fiery streak of independence. He had declared himself duke of the south fork of Dragon’s Beak after the death of Enli, the rightful duke. Then he had set out for the ruined north fork.

“Answer the question,” rumbled Dakel. “Did you not order the magistrate and his wife impaled?”

The duke answered, “I did.”

“And upon murdering the magistrate and taking Grey Tower, you found an unused cannister of poison in the keep. The illegal gas called Formula B, isn’t that also correct?”

The Inquisitor hovered over the duke, waiting for an answer. Duke Angoris shifted, his eyes darting around the vast chamber.

“No answer?” Dakel’s immortally blue eyes watched his victim like a cobra’s. “The poison, Duke? Have you a recollection?”

“I ... I found the poison in the castle, yes. It was left there by legionnaires of the Black City. I didn’t put it there.”

“And what did you do with the poison once you discovered it?”

“I’ll not answer that,” spat Angoris. “Not to this court, and not to you. You have already judged me.”

Dakel the Inquisitor, the very soul of the Protectorate, grinned wildly at the duke. “That’s fine, Duke Angoris. I’ll tell the story myself.” He turned like an actor toward the spectators in the candlelight. They were citizens of Nar who had come to the Tower of Truth for a show, and the master of the house would not disappoint them.

“Good Narens,” he sang. “Let me tell you what this self-proclaimed duke has done. He has used the grievous and criminal poison called Formula B against the people of the north fork of Dragon’s Beak. These are people just like himself, you see, but Angoris is a man of boundless prejudice, and he is from the south fork, after all. This tyrant thinks of his northern brethren as beasts. He has systematically been exterminating them. He has burned out the eyes of young children with his ill-gotten poison, he has suffocated pregnant women, and he has put his own sword into the hearts of innocent men. And all for the crime of living just north of him.”

Angoris rose to his feet. “Biagio has done worse!”

“Yes, yes,” laughed Dakel. “Go on, dig your own grave.”

“It’s true,” said the duke again. This time he pointed to a darkened alcove away from the candlelight, a place where one man sat, far apart from the spectators. “Biagio knows it’s true! Don’t you, butcher?”

From his place in the shadows, Renato Biagio steepled his fingers and gave a tired sigh. He knew that neither Angoris nor the citizens could see him, and the veil of darkness served as a comforting cloak. He had expected Angoris’ outburst. Biagio settled into the plushness of his chair, reaching for a nearby brandy and sipping it thoughtfully. Dakel was in control, as always, and the Emperor of Nar wasn’t ruffled at all.

“Emperor Biagio is not on trial here, Duke,” said the Inquisitor. “And I would strongly suggest you sit back down in your chair. You are the accused.”

There was nowhere for Angoris to go, so the northerner sat back, enduring the growing snickers of the crowd. They loved a show, Biagio knew, and it was circus time in Nar. Angoris’ face turned an unpleasant shade of grey. Obviously, he was feeling the noose tighten.

Biagio was tired from the long day and Dakel’s endless speeches, and it was only afternoon. Beyond the wall of the tower he still had a city to govern, and an empire beyond that. There were always so many pressing needs, so many questions to answer, so many hands to shake and deals to make. Biagio closed eyes that had lost their immortal radiance, and pictured his enormous bed back in the palace.

To sleep, he thought dreamily. For a week, or a month...

He could have slept for a year if it weren’t for the constant interruptions. He drained his glass of brandy and put the goblet down on the table beside him, then rose. The candelabra did a good job of blinding Angoris. Dakel had placed them perfectly, without needing Biagio’s guidance. Dakel was excellent at his work. And a loyal member of the Roshann, one of the few men in the Black City Biagio trusted at all these days. Angoris wasn’t the first of Biagio’s enemies to face the dancing antics of Dakel. Nor would he be the last.

Biagio backed away from the stage, giving Angoris a final unseen look before departing through a private door. The Tower of Truth had dozens of hidden corridors where the members of the Roshann could escape the curious eyes of the Naren citizens that gathered for the entertainment. Dakel was master of the tower. Since Biagio’s ascension to emperor, the sharp-minded Inquisitor had become head of the Roshann. There had already been two attempts on the Inquisitor’s life. And Biagio himself had been the target of countless schemes. These days, Biagio often stayed in the shadows.

Out in the hall he found his pair of Shadow Angels, his private guards, waiting for him, silent behind their implacable silver skull masks. He walked past his men who followed directly on his heels, and left behind the thundering voice of Dakel, still ringing in the amphi-chamber.

Biagio’s head was pounding and his eyes drooped from lack of sleep. He longed to return to the Black Palace, to escape the thousand pressures plaguing him. Lost in a fog, he moved through the tower’s marble halls and soon found himself at the gate where his carriage awaited. The elaborate conveyance was carved from mahogany and pulled by a team of black horses. Besides the driver, there were a dozen more Shadow Angels on horseback around the vehicle, ready to protect their master. A slave bowed to Biagio as he stepped through the gate and approached his carriage, then rushed to open its door. He was fair-haired, barely seventeen, with a pretty face and a lean body that sent the emperor’s heart racing. But Biagio was too tired to pay the boy more notice, so he merely stepped into the carriage and collapsed into its leather cushions, watch- ing with relief as the slave sealed him inside, blessedly alone. For the first time in hours, silence engulfed him. He watched through the carriage windows as his bodyguards mounted their horses and the vehicle lurched into motion.

A thousand sky-scraping towers soared around him. Nar the Magnificent. The Black City.

Biagio smiled. Home. And what a thankless battle it had been to return. Only a little more than a year had passed since he’d become emperor, but the memory of his bloody coup remained. He remembered it each time his food tasted off and he feared poisoning, or whenever word reached him of another civil war. A year ago he had set a chain of events into motion and now he was struggling to stop the reaction. Renato Biagio tilted his head against the window and watched the city pass by. The Black Palace dominated the distance like a giant’s many-fingered hand. A familiar pall of smoke obscured the sun, setting the horizon aflame with Nar’s peculiar glow, and the countless smokestacks of the foundries and incinerators rumbled up their noxious gases, spitting them high into the sky.

It was all so familiar, and yet it was somehow different. Nar City had been happier when Arkus was emperor. It had been more stable, more predictable. Everyone accepted that Arkus’ rule would last forever. But not so for this new emperor. Biagio’s rule was tenuous, and everyone in the Empire knew it. It was why there were civil wars and genocide in Nar, why little men like Angoris were able to do such big things. Each week a new report of atrocities reached Biagio in his palace, new breakouts of unrest, new assassinations of kings. Nar had gone mad in the last year, a result of Biagio’s miscalculations. He had predicted trouble upon his return from exile, but not on the grand scale that was plaguing Nar now.

Biagio winced as his carriage passed the rubble where the Cathedral of the Martyrs had stood. The empty site was a symbol of all he’d done wrong. The backlash from destroying the cathedral had been far worse than he’d anticipated. He had guessed that Herrith’s minions would flock to him for protection against Liss. But they were a loyal lot, almost as zealous as Herrith himself. And the archbishop’s loyalists had long memories. They knew it was Biagio who had gelded their religion. It was he who had killed the bishop. It was he who had ordered the cathedral blown apart. And it was he who had murdered eleven Naren lords to steal the Iron Throne. Now no one trusted him.

He closed his eyes, shutting out the cathedral’s ruins. The rubble was a constant, nagging reminder of all the work still ahead of him. He was no longer the same man that had masterminded the explosion, but he still had to prove that.

“I have changed,” he whispered to himself. It was a mantra he chanted, a self-hypnosis to keep himself focused. Once, there had been Bovadin’s narcotic to keep his mind keen, but he had given up that drug in favor of sanity. Still, the cravings never really left him. And the withdrawal from the elixir had been hell itself. It had nearly killed him. But only nearly.

“I yet live,” he said, laughing. No assassin had reached him, and if the Protectorate worked, no assassin ever would. Dakel and his long arm would pluck out all the cancers in the Empire, and Biagio would be safe. Nar would be at peace. There would be no more genocidal tyrants like Angoris, no more civil wars. And all of Nar would see that their emperor had changed, that now he was a man of justice and vision. A man worthy of the title.

“I’m not insane anymore,” Biagio whispered. His eyes were still closed and his head still rested against the glass; the rhythmic swaying of the carriage was lulling.

“Not insane...”

Dyana Vantran had said he was mad, and she had been right. Years of imbibing Bovadin’s life-sustaining drug had turned his mind to slush. But he was slowly reclaiming himself. He had made great progress in the past year. And the Protectorate had so far worked wonderfully. The tribunal proved that he was a man of strength, despite the chaos rocking Nar. Though the fragments of the church and the legions of Nar distrusted him, Biagio still had his Roshann, and the Roshann still had their gallows. He could still engender fear when needed.

Not everyone who came before the Protectorate was executed. Biagio insisted on proof before taking such actions. And it had to be politically expedient. Angoris was a tyrant, and the people of Dragon’s Beak hated him. Executing him would be a popular move. And popularity was important to Biagio these days. Soon all the nations that hated him would accept his rule. Even Talistan.

He wondered if Elrad Leth was nearing the city, and how soon he could get the schemer before Dakel. But there would be time enough to deal with Talistan.

Exhausted, Biagio let himself daydream and he didn’t think of Talistan or its sinister king, or of dark-robed Dakel lit by candlelight. Instead, his mind turned to Crote. His former island homeland would be bursting into spring, and the bittersweet image made the emperor smile. It was a long road back to the palace. Biagio seized on the image of golden beaches and, for a while, forgot his troubles.

But before long the carriage stopped before the gates of the Black Palace. Biagio rubbed his eyes and straightened his garments, which had fallen sloppily around his body. The slave that had closed his carriage door now opened it, again bowing as he bid the emperor to step out. They were in the private courtyard around the palace, the first of many tiers surrounding the dizzying structure. A network of roads and stone stairways connected each tier to its successor, and the yard was scattered with horses, bodyguards, and servants. High above, Naren noblemen hung over balconies, watching their ruler return. The tallest spires disappeared into Nar’s perpetual haze.

As he stepped out of the carriage, Biagio noticed two figures coming quickly toward him. One was small and dark with wild eyes. The other was tall and burly, more like a wall than a man. No one would ever have believed the two were brothers. They approached their emperor and sank to their knees, greeting him with practiced respect.

“Welcome home, my lord,” said the smaller man. He raised his head and smiled at Biagio, who knew at once that he was hiding something.

“Get that ridiculous grin off your face and tell me what’s on your tiny mind, Malthrak,” Biagio ordered.

Malthrak of Isgar and his brother Donhedris both got to their feet. Donhedris was typically silent, letting his sibling do the talking.

“Can you not guess, my lord?” said Malthrak mischievously. He was in Biagio’s good graces, and so took annoying chances. “You haven’t seen, have you?”

“Seen what?” rumbled Biagio. “Tell me, Malthrak, or I shall have your liver for dinner.”

“There,” said Malthrak, pointing over the emperor’s shoulder. “In the harbor.”

Biagio’s eyes followed his underling’s finger. They were high enough to see the city’s harbor, choked as always with trading ships. But today there was something else in the inlet, a vast, black ship with armor plating and towering masts that flew the flag of Nar.

“The Fearless,” Biagio whispered. “Damn ...”

The Fearless dwarfed the ships around it, smothering them beneath its dominating shadow. Its sails were furled and its twin anchors were plunged into the depths. Biagio’s head began to thunder, and he put a hand to his temple to massage away the pressure. This was a surprise he didn’t need.

“Is he ashore yet?” he asked.

“Unfortunately, yes. He’s waiting for you inside your reading parlor.”

“Has he said anything?”

“No, my lord,” replied Malthrak. Then his nose crinkled and he added, “Well, that’s not precisely true. He did mumble something about Liss.”

“Oh, yes,” laughed Biagio. “I’m sure he did. Very well. Go and tell him I’ll be in directly. Get him something to drink and eat. Something expensive. Try to ... ,” the emperor shrugged, “make him comfortable.”

Malthrak nodded and scurried away, his big, wordless brother following close behind. Biagio watched them disappear into the palace, then took his time following. He wanted to think before meeting Nicabar, but he didn’t want to keep the admiral waiting too long, either. Surely his friend would be enraged. And Biagio had half-expected the visit anyway. But now he needed to summon the old Crotan charm and diplomacy. Nicabar was a very old, very dear friend. Surely he would be able to handle him.

The “parlor,” as Malthrak called it, was a private reading room Biagio kept for himself on the first of the palace’s many floors. It was a comfortable room housing the collection of rare books and manuscripts Biagio had assembled from around the Empire. Because of its location, Biagio often greeted dignitaries there. Nicabar had known exactly where to go.

Once inside the palace, Biagio doffed his cape, handing it to another of the ubiquitous slaves, then headed off toward the parlor to meet his old ally. These had been difficult days for the two of them. Since helping his friend win the Iron Throne, Nicabar had turned his attention back to Liss. The admiral had spent the past year in a bloody campaign against the seafarers, a protracted waste of blood and energy that had gained him few victories. Now Biagio needed peace with Liss — especially with ambitious Talistan nipping at his heels.

Biagio slowed a little as he neared the parlor. The collection of statues lining the hall stared at him. Suddenly he was afraid to face Nicabar. He was emperor, but that didn’t make things easier. What he was about to do frightened him.

Outside the parlor, two of Nicabar’s officers waited, guarding the door. Not surprisingly, Malthrak and Donhedris were there as well. Next to them were a pair of Shadow Angels, keeping a conspicuous eye on the men from the Fearless. The Shadow Angels were everywhere now. Biagio preferred them to the legionnaires, who no longer served the emperor unquestionably since the murder of their general, Vorto. The two skull helms turned toward Biagio, then to the sailors. Nicabar’s men bowed courteously and stepped aside.

Biagio pushed open the door and stepped into the parlor. The drapes were opened wide letting sunlight pour inside. At the far end of the chamber, his back turned toward the door as he stared out over the city, was Admiral Danar Nicabar. The officer had a glass of wine in his hand and was swirling it absently, lost in thought. Biagio could almost feel the fury rising off him. He put on a smile and closed the door behind him. Nicabar did not turn around. There was a long, uncomfortable pause before either of them spoke.

“Renato,” said Nicabar at last, “I’m very angry.”

“Indeed, my friend? Too angry to greet me properly?”

“Too angry to call you friend,” sneered Nicabar. He turned from the window, slamming his glass down on the sill. The glass slipped and shattered on the floor, but Nicabar ignored it as he stalked toward Biagio. “Why did you order the war labs to curtail my shipments of fuel?”

Biagio folded his arms over his chest. “Do not presume to bark at me, Danar,” he warned. “I’ve not the character for it. You’re here to discuss this matter. Fine. I expected you to come. But do not shout at me like a cabin boy. I am your emperor.”

“I put you here!” Nicabar growled. He was taller than Biagio by at least a foot, and the imposing figure would have made a lesser man cower. But Biagio did not cower. He locked eyes with the admiral and returned his steely gaze.

“How dare you keep that fuel from me!” Nicabar continued. “If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be emperor. I need that fuel for my cannons!”

“Danar,” cautioned Biagio. “Sit down. And try to calm yourself. I have my reasons for stopping shipment of your fuel. I will tell you why in my own time and manner. But you will sit.”

There was enough edge to the command to make Nicabar’s face soften. He took a deep, unsteady breath, found a chair, and collapsed into it with an angry grunt. “I didn’t come here for word games, Renato,” he said impatiently. “I want answers. Why were my shipments of fuel stopped? And don’t tell me it’s because you still want peace with those Lissen devils. I swear, if you say that I’ll scream.”

“Hmm, then perhaps I should cover my ears.”

“Goddamn it, no!” Nicabar made a fist and slammed it into the armrest. “You promised me!”

“I did promise you,” Biagio admitted. “What can I say? Things change.”

“So, you’re not as good as your word then, eh? You forget too quickly, old friend. My navy put you on the throne. And I did it for a price. You knew the bargain. I won’t let you change it. I am going after Liss.”

“You cannot,” said Biagio. He took a step closer to the admiral, deciding on a softer tack. “Danar, look around. Open your eyes. Your obsession with Liss is costing us too dearly. We must have peace with them. The Empire is tearing itself apart and you’re off on some mad vendetta. I need you here in Nar. I need you to keep me strong.”

Nicabar laughed bitterly. “My God, you do forgive easily, don’t you? It’s not just my vendetta, Renato. It’s supposed to be yours, too. The Lissens have your homeland. How can you not care?”

“I do care,” Biagio countered. “But it was the price of winning the throne. Everyone needs to make sacrifices, Danar. Even you.”

Nicabar shook his head. “I’m done with that. I’ve sacrificed enough of my honor already. Ten years. That’s a long bloody time to fight. Now you’re asking me to wait even more? Forget it. Jelena’s still building her forces, Renato. Have you considered that?”

Biagio had considered it heavily. The child queen of Liss was far more resilient than he’d anticipated, and her forces were growing stronger. It was just one more of his miscalculations. But it didn’t change the equation.

“Peace,” Biagio said. “That’s the only answer.” He went down to one knee beside the admiral’s chair. “Be my friend, Danar. Do this thing for me.”

Nicabar turned away, suddenly uncomfortable, but Biagio seized his hand. It was deathly cold, like his own had once been.

“Look at me,” Biagio commanded.

Nicabar complied and Biagio gazed into his comrade’s unnaturally blue eyes, seeing the same narcotic madness that had once stared back at him from mirrors. But how could he reach him? It was nigh impossible to break the bonds of Bovadin’s elixir. That desire had to come from deep within, and Nicabar seemed not to possess it. Biagio smiled at his friend, pitying his insatiable rage.

“We’ve been friends a long time, Danar,” he said. “I owe you a lot. I know that. But it will all be for nothing if you keep pursuing Liss. We will lose the Empire and everything we’ve fought for. You’ve seen the chaos. You know I’m right.”

Nicabar was unreachable. “All I know is your promise to me. You said I could destroy Liss once you took the throne. Well, it’s been a year now. Will you break your pledge to me? Or will you reinstate my cannon fuel?”

“Danar...”

“That’s your choice, Renato. It’s bleak, but there it is.”

“Danar, Talistan — ”

“Burn Talistan,” spat Nicabar. “Burn and blast it! Blast Dragon’s Beak and Doria and Casarhoon, too. I don’t give a damn about any of them. Liss is what I live for, Renato. I will have them, and I will crush them.” He snatched his hand away from Biagio. “And you won’t stop me, old friend.”

It was a poorly veiled threat, and it stunned Biagio. He got to his feet.

“You will fight me, then?” he asked, struggling to control his resentment. “You’ll join in the chorus for my head? Why don’t you just sail your navy to Talistan, Danar? Join with the rest of my enemies?”

“Your promise,” Nicabar insisted. “All I want is for you to make good on it.”

“I can’t, you fool!” roared Biagio. “I am Emperor of Nar! I have more important things than your petty revenge.” He stalked around the room like a tiger, enraged and frustrated at Nicabar’s stupidity. “God help me, I can’t make war with Liss. I can’t even win back my homeland, because Nar needs me. We’ll have war if we don’t stop Talistan, Danar. Worldwide war. And if you’re off battling Liss, who will be here to stand against them?”

The admiral merely shrugged. “Give me the fuel,” he said calmly, “and I won’t oppose you. I will fight my own war and win back Crote for you. That I promise. Just give me the fuel.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then I will take the navy away from you, Renato. I will fight the Lissens without cannons and you will be weaker than you are now, with no navy.” The admiral grinned. “And no army.”

Checkmate, thought Biagio blackly. He turned slowly toward the window, stalling as he groped through the political maze. Nicabar was right. He had no army. The legionnaires wouldn’t follow him because he’d murdered their general. He was emperor in name only because he had the threat of Nicabar’s fleet behind him. Without that, his hold on the throne might crumble in a day.

Yet Nicabar had forced his hand, forgetting that the emperor was the Roshann and the Roshann was everywhere. Biagio had made a life out of contingencies. The emperor sighed. He had loved Nicabar like a brother once.

“That’s final, is it?” he asked over his shoulder. He saw Nicabar nod in the window’s reflection.

“It is. Just keep your promise, and you’ll have no trouble from me. Order the war labs to release the fuel.”

“I’m not wrong about Talistan, Danar. Gayle is planning something.”

“The fuel, Renato.”

“Very well,” agreed the emperor. “I will speak to Bovadin about it. He’ll order the war labs to provide your flame cannon fuel. You will have it by tomorrow.”

“Then that’s when we’ll set sail,” Nicabar said, springing from his chair.

“But you’re not going to Crote, are you?” said Biagio. “You’re planning to attack Liss.”

Nicabar blanched. “How did you know?”

“Oh, please, Danar. I still have some sources.” Biagio rubbed his hands together. “Well, that does sound promising. Liss itself! My, you are confident, eh?”

“I can beat them this time, Renato,” rumbled Nicabar. “Once I’ve gathered the intelligence I need, find a weak spot to attack ...”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re right, Danar. Good luck to you, then. But keep in touch, all right?”

“Don’t be sarcastic, Renato. I am right this time. I will beat them.”

You’ve been saying that for years, you fool, thought Biagio.

“Of course you’ll beat them,” he said. “I wish you all the luck in the world. And you wish me luck, don’t you, Danar? I mean, when Talistan rolls its horsemen into the Black City and all the nations of Nar clamor for my skin, I will have your best wishes, won’t I?”

The two men shared a charged glance, then Admiral Nicabar backed away, shaking his head. Biagio thought of stopping his comrade before he left, but it was too late and Biagio wasn’t in the mood to apologize. Nicabar left the door open as he exited the parlor and stormed off down the hall, his two sailors falling in step behind him. Quick-thinking Malthrak shut the door again, guessing correctly that his master wanted to be alone.

“Goddamn it,” groaned Biagio. He went to the chair that Nicabar had vacated and fell into it, exhausted and angry. All his efforts had been for nothing. Nicabar was obsessed with Liss and would never forsake that struggle. Nicabar didn’t care if Tassis Gayle and his henchman Leth were plotting against the throne, and he didn’t care if tyrants like Angoris murdered people by the thousands. He just wanted Liss. Biagio laughed. Once he himself had bargained away his humanity for power. It was what the drug did to men.

“Malthrak!” shouted Biagio suddenly. “Get in here!”

Within a moment the parlor door opened and Malthrak stuck his swarthy head inside. “My lord?” he queried. “Are you all right?”

“Find me Captain Kasrin, Malthrak. Find out where he is and bring him.”

Malthrak looked puzzled. “Kasrin?”

“Of the ship Dread Sovereign. He’s in a harbor somewhere north of the city. I want to see him. And I don’t want anyone finding out about it, understand? Secret things, Malthrak.”

Malthrak grinned. Secret things were what he was best at. “I understand, my lord. I’ll find him.”

“Go quickly,” said Biagio. “And shut the door.”

The little Roshann agent sealed his emperor into the parlor. Outside, Biagio could hear him murmuring to his brother. Malthrak would find Kasrin quickly and bring him to the Black City. And Donhedris had an errand of his own. According to Dakel, Elrad Leth’s ship had been sighted nearing the city.

The emperor took a deep breath. He thought of Nicabar and all the good times they had enjoyed together. But that was the past. A year ago, when Biagio was still addicted to the drug, killing had been easy for him. He never felt anxious or afraid, and he never felt remorse over any of his orders, no matter how bloody. Withdrawing from the narcotic had changed all that, and sometimes he yearned for the old harshness again.

“Forgive me, my friend,” he whispered. “I will miss you.”

Copyright 2001 by John Marco
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(3)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2007

    Outstanding!

    This is an outstanding book. John Marco is one of the best authors ever! He writes such compelling and detailed books that you can never put it down once you've started. He is definitely one of my very top authors.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Tremendous fantasy

    Nar Emperor Biago vows he wants peace, but all rational thinking person knows the monarch¿s reputation as a brutal lunatic and nobody believes one word of it. Rather than wait for the expected Biago invasion, one of his governors Elrad of Aramoor joins forces with neighboring King Gayle of Talistan intending to throw Biago off the throne. <P>Although he seeks peace, Biago remains a Machiavellian strategist tossing a ¿Hail Mary¿ pass to save his position and his nation. He persuades Elrad¿s 'son', teenager Alazrian, to go on a quest to find the legendary outlawed SAINTS OF THE SWORD so that the sect can locate the exiled ruler of Aramoor and the Triin in a united battle to save Nar from the invaders. The odds of success are decimally close to zero, as each step appears impossible to achieve. <P> The third and final novel in John Marco¿s ¿Tyrant and Kings¿ trilogy is fantasy at its sword and magical best. The story line is fast-paced and filled with intrigue due to the machinations of the leaders who make republicans and democrats look like elementary school children (then again, many politicos do that quite nicely on their own). Alazrian makes this novel work as he brings youthful innocence and compassion to a realm led by treachery and cynicism. Revenge still remains a key theme as it did in the previous tales. Bottom line is that this entire series (see THE JACKAL OF NAR and THE GRAND DEIGN) is some of the best the genre has offered over the past few years. <P>Harriet Klausner

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2001

    Great Series as Whole!

    The Saints of the Sword was a very entertaining book, though it does not measure up to its predecessor The Grand Design, which was an excellent book. The plot is exciting certainly, but characterization slips a bit. Biagio, Richius, Nicabar, etc. don't always maintain a consistency in character (particularly Biagio and Nicabar), though Mr. Marco tries to explain the radical shift in personalities from previous books. This shortcoming detracts from the solid characterization of previous books and also hampers the plot. Still, the book was exciting and the pages turned fast. If you read the first two books, I do recommend you read this one. Mr. Marco is one of the better writers out there and one waits with bated breath for his next book (which will not be about Nar - sadly). But he does leave the possibility of other books taking place in Nar, though he has 'other things on the burner right now.' His words, not mine.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)