An epic fantasy from the New York Times–bestselling author of the Secret Histories, Nightside, and other beloved series.
The Great Jordan has played the finest stages in the Forest Kingdom, performing for kings and queens, earning thunderous applause, and lining his pockets at the same time. But that was a lifetime ago. At twenty-seven, Jordan is washed up, eking out a living in backwater towns whose citizens prefer tawdry magic to true theatrical talent. Jordan’s purse is nearly empty when three men approach him in an alley and offer him the role of a lifetime, which will either make his career—or end his life.
They offer ten thousand ducats if the actor will impersonate the son of the late King Malcolm, whose untimely death has caused some to whisper of poisoning. Swayed by their proposal, Jordan accompanies them to Castle Midnight, where a bit of magic makes him look like royalty. But playing a prince is risky business, and Jordan will quickly find that this is a part for which there can be no encore.
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Blood and Honor
A Forest Kingdom Novel
By Simon R. Green
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Simon Green
All rights reserved.
The demon appeared from nowhere in a puff of evil smelling smoke. The warped and twisted trees of the Darkwood loomed protectively over the crouching figure. The High Warlock stood tall and proud before the demon, his jet black cloak swirling ominously about him in the evening breeze. The stage lights gleamed brightly from the cloak's silver embroidery of stars and moons and sigils. The warlock gestured imperiously, and a sword suddenly appeared in his right hand. Gaudily colored lights shrieked and flashed around the crouching demon, and the warlock stepped back a pace. The sword was no longer in his hand. He drew himself up to his full, imposing height, and raised his arms in the stance of summoning. He chanted a spell in a deep, ringing voice. The audience watched breathlessly, and then gasped in awe as blue-white flames flared around the warlock's upraised hands. The flames danced and crackled noisily on the gusting wind, but the warlock's hands remained unburned. His voice rose to a commanding roar, and then the demon burst into flames as the warlock gestured sharply with a flame-wrapped hand. The twisted creature burned fiercely, and the audience cheered. The High Warlock turned and smiled coldly at them, and they fell silent before his unwavering gaze.
"And thus did the demons of the Darkwood fall before me, in the darkest hour of the Forest Kingdom. In that faraway land, I stood shoulder to shoulder with the noble King John, and his heroic sons Harald and Rupert, and the forces of darkness could not stand against us." The High Warlock lowered his hands to his sides, and the blue-white flames sputtered and went out. "The long night ended, the demon hordes were thrown down and destroyed, and the Forest Kingdom was saved. That was the way it had to be, for is it not written that evil cannot prevail against good, and that the darkness shall always give way to the light?"
He clapped his hands sharply, and the stage lights flared brilliantly for a moment, pushing back the shadows of the falling evening. The lights dimmed again, and the warlock folded his arms across his chest. His black cloak folded about him like great membranous wings. His gaunt face was harsh and forbidding, and his cold gray eyes stared unwaveringly out over the hushed audience. "And that, my friends, is the true history of the great and wondrous High Warlock, and his part in the destruction of the Darkwood. A tale of adventure and intrigue, honor and treachery, and the inevitable triumph of good over evil. My honored friends ... the performance is at an end."
He bowed once, and then gestured imperiously with his left hand. Smoke billowed up around him from nowhere, and then drifted away to reveal the actor standing alone in the middle of the crude wooden stage, dressed once again in his simple everyday clothes. He stepped forward and bowed deeply, and the audience beat their hands together until they ached. The Great Jordan smiled and bowed graciously, but all too quickly his audience began to drift away, and only a few of them paused to drop a coin in his offerings bowl.
Jordan waited until the last of his audience had left, and then he sat down on the edge of his stage and began wiping the makeup off his face with a piece of dirty rag. Without the carefully placed shadings and highlights, his face looked younger and softer, and nowhere near as forbidding. His shoulders slumped wearily as the tiredness of the day caught up with him, and the air of mystery and command that had surrounded him on stage vanished like the illusion it was. The sword he'd used in his act poked him unmercifully in the ribs, and he pulled it out of the concealed sheath under his clothing. Seen up close, it was battered and nicked and not at all impressive. It was just a sword that had seen too much service in its time. Jordan yawned and stretched, and then shivered suddenly. Nights were falling earlier as the summer gave way to autumn, and the rising wind had a cold edge. He glanced across at the smoldering demon, but the roughly carved prop had pretty much burned itself out. He'd have to do some more work on the demon. It still looked all right from a distance, but the spring that threw it out from behind the concealing piece of scenery must be getting rusty. This was the third time in a week that its timing had been off. Any later and the damned fireworks would have gone off first. Jordan sighed. The spring wasn't the only thing whose timing was off. He was getting too old for one-night stands in backwater towns. At twenty-seven he was hardly an old man, but he just didn't have the stamina anymore to put up with an endless round of poor food, hard travel, and never enough sleep.
He got to his feet, strapped the sword to his side, and walked unhurriedly over to the offerings bowl. For a moment he allowed himself to hope, but when he looked it was even worse than he'd expected. The dozen or so small copper coins barely covered the bottom of the bowl. Jordan emptied the coins into his purse, and glumly hefted the trifling weight in his hand. Bannerwick was only a small mill town deep in the desolate North country, but he'd still looked for better takings than this. If things didn't improve soon, he'd have to go back to cardsharping and picking pockets to make ends meet. He hadn't seen takings this bad since he first started out on the stage as a juvenile. Maybe he was losing his touch. Or maybe his material was getting old; the Demon War had ended seven years ago. Jordan shook his head, and tied his purse securely onto his belt. It wasn't him, and it wasn't his. act; if truth be told, it was simply that times were hard in the kingdom of Redhart. Money was scarce, and strolling players had become a luxury beyond the purses of most.
It wasn't just Redhart, of course. Jordan had spent most of his professional life in Hillsdown. He'd known good times there. Not once had he ever thought he might one day be forced to leave the country of his birth by poor takings. He'd appeared three times before the duke himself, and known the company of great men and their ladies. They'd been the first to name him the Great Jordan. He'd traveled widely, even to the Court of the Forest Kingdom itself, though that was some time before the Demon War. He hadn't been back since. The demons had been defeated, but not nearly as simply and easily as he made it sound in his performance as the High Warlock. The war had devastated the forest, and much of the countries that bordered it. The land was slowly recovering, but there were those who said it would take a generation and more before trade fully recovered. In the meantime, Hillsdown and Redhart and the Forest Kingdom struggled to keep their heads above water, and had little time or money to spare for the great players who had once touched the hearts of all who'd heard them.
Jordan frowned as he tried to work out if he had enough money to buy provisions and to get drunk, and if not, which of the two was the most important. The mental arithmetic took a depressingly short time, and he scowled unhappily. It would have to be provisions. Bannerwick stood alone and isolated in the middle of Redhart's moorland, and it was a good two or three days' traveling to the next town. He could always pick up a few grouse along the way, but the local margrave's men took a very dim view of poaching. When all was said and done, it might prove rather tricky trying to do his act with only the one hand ... No, it would have to be the provisions. Jordan looked about him at the squat little houses clustered around the narrow main street of Bannerwick. How had he come to this?
The stone and timber houses huddled side by side as much for comfort as support. The rough and dirty walls were all much the same to look at, like so many defeated faces. Smoke curled wearily from the narrow chimney pots, and the bitter wind tugged at the tiled roofs as it came gusting in off the moors. The last light of evening was already fading away, and the main street was deserted. Country people awoke with the first light, worked while it lasted, and went to their beds when darkness fell. It was only Jordan's show that had kept them up this late. He supposed he should be flattered. They hadn't been a bad audience, all told. They'd laughed and cheered in the right places, and even gasped in awe as his conjuring produced the illusion of magic powers. Jordan smiled slightly. He'd always believed in giving value for money. Of course, there had been a time, and not that long ago, when he'd been able to include real sorcery in his act, but that time was past. Hiring sorcerers was always expensive, and of the few spells that remained to him, most were slowly wearing out.
Still, there was no denying he'd been in excellent form tonight. The times might be hard, but he was still the Great Jordan, and the High Warlock was one of his best roles. He'd always prided himself on his choice of roles. He'd played all the best parts in his time: everyone from the fabled King Eduard, who loved the deadly Night Witch, to the heroic starlight Duke of Hillsdown, to the sad and tragic sheep minder, Old Molly Metcalf. The Great Jordan was nothing if not versatile. He'd played before lords and ladies, townspeople and villagers, and once even for a scar-faced man who claimed to be a prince in exile. Though he never actually said where he'd been exiled from. Jordan smiled, remembering. In those days, his bowl had known the heavy clunk of gold and silver and even precious jewels. His ears had rung to roars of joy and admiration from packed theaters, and tearful pleas for just one more encore. But those days were over. The times had changed, and other names had risen to prominence as his had faded, and now he had to take his offerings where he could find them.
The Great Jordan, showing his act to a few gawking peasants for a handful of coppers. There was no justice in the world. Or at least, none a man could learn to live with.
He got slowly to his feet and shook his head. It was getting too cold to sit around brooding. He threw a blanket over the smoldering demon prop to douse the last of the flames, and then set about transferring his props and scenery into the back of his small caravan. He gathered up his stage lights and counted them carefully twice, just to make sure none of them had disappeared with some unprincipled member of his audience. He stacked the lanterns and lamps in their proper places, and then went back for his stage. It was supposed to break easily into sections, but Jordan had to struggle with each square until he was red in the face and short of breath. He scowled as he slid the last section onto the floor of his caravan. He was going to have to do more work on the stage before it would come apart properly, and he hated working with wood. No matter how careful he was, he always ended up with splinters in his fingers. His scowl deepened as he laced up the caravan's back flaps. He shouldn't have to do scut work like this. He was an actor, not a carpenter.
Jordan smiled sourly. That was his past talking. Stars might not have to do scut work, but actors did. If they wanted to eat regularly. And if nothing else, exercise did help to build a healthy appetite. He set off down the main street, looking for a tavern. Late as it was by country standards, the town inn would still be open. Such inns always were. I don't care if the specialty of the house is broiled demon in a toadstool sauce, I'm still going to eat it and ask for seconds, he thought determinedly. Halfway down the narrow street, his nose detected the smell of hot cooking, and he followed it eagerly to a squat grimy building that looked no different from any of the others, save for a roughly painted sign hanging over the door: The Seven Stars. Jordan tried the door. It was locked. He banged impatiently on the stained wood with his fist. After a long moment he heard footsteps approaching, and eventually a panel slid open in the door. A dark-bearded face studied Jordan suspiciously.
"Ah, good evening, innkeeper," said Jordan pleasantly. "I find myself in need of a room and refreshment for the night, and I hope to satisfy that need at your splendid establishment. I fear my funds are somewhat depleted at the moment, but no doubt I can provide payment by entertaining your good customers with my songs and stories. How say you?"
The bearded face glowered at him, and then sniffed loudly. "We don't take theatricals."
Jordan dropped his aristocratic actor-manager voice, and tried his all-friends-together-in-adversity voice. "Listen, inn keep, I know I'm a bit short of the ready at the moment, but surely we can come to some sort of arrangement? It's going to be bitter cold tonight, friend."
The innkeeper sniffed again. "We don't take theatricals. Hop it." And the portal in the door slammed shut.
Jordan lost his temper completely. He kicked the door and hammered on it with his fist. "Open this door, you son of a bitch, or I'll use my magic to make you even uglier than you already are! I'll give you fleas, and boils, and warts, and piles! I'll give you warts on your piles! I'll shrink your manhood to an acorn, and turn your nose inside out! Now open this bloody door!"
He heard a window's shutters open above him, and looked up. He just had time to throw himself to one side, and the slops from the emptied chamber pot just missed him. The shutters slammed together, and the evening grew quiet again. Jordan slowly picked himself up off the filthy street, and brushed the worst of the mud from his clothes. Ungrateful peasants. Didn't know a class actor when they saw one. He started back down the street toward his caravan. It looked like he'd be sleeping with his props again, and that damned demon was starting to smell something fierce.
As he passed a narrow opening between two houses, Jordan thought he heard someone moving surreptitiously, deep in the gloom of the alley. He slowed to a halt just past the opening, and scratched thoughtfully at his ribs, letting his hand drift casually down to the sword at his side. Surely it was obvious to anyone with half the brains they were born with that this particular actor had nothing worth the effort of taking it, but it was best to be wary. A starving man would murder for a crust of bread. Jordan's hand idly caressed the pommel of his sword, and he eased his weight onto his left foot so he could get at the throwing knife hidden in that boot if he had to. And if all else failed, there were always the flare pellets he kept concealed in his sleeves. They might not be quite as effective as they appeared onstage, but they were dramatic enough to give most footpads pause. He swallowed dryly, and wished his hands would stop shaking. He was never any good in a crisis, particularly if there was a chance of violence. He let his gaze sweep casually over the dark alleyway, and then stiffened as his hearing brought him the rasp of boots on packed earth, and something that might have been the quiet grating of steel sliding from a scabbard. Jordan whipped his sword from its sheath, and backed away. Something stirred in the darkness.
"Easy, my dear sir," said a calm, cultured voice. "We mean you no harm. We only want to talk to you."
Jordan thought seriously about making a run for it. Whenever anyone started talking that politely, either they were intent on telling him something he didn't really want to know, or they wanted to sell him something. On the other hand, from the sound of it there had to be more than just the one man hidden in the alley darkness, and he wasn't that fast a runner at the best of times. Maybe he could bluff them ... He held his head erect, took on the warrior's stance he used when playing the ancient hero Sir Bors of Lyonsmarch, and glared into the gloom of the alley.
"Honest men do their talking in the light," he said harshly. "Not skulking in back alleys. Besides, I'm rather particular about who I talk to."
"I think you'll talk with us, Jordan," said the polite voice. "We're here to offer you an acting role—a role beyond your wildest dreams and ambitions."
Excerpted from Blood and Honor by Simon R. Green. Copyright © 1993 Simon Green. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCHAPTER 1 Hidden Faces,
CHAPTER 2 Bloody Bones,
CHAPTER 3 Real and Unreal,
CHAPTER 4 Unexpected Visitors,
CHAPTER 5 Sanctuaries and Damnations,
CHAPTER 6 Wolves At The Gate,
CHAPTER 7 Wolves in the Fold,
CHAPTER 8 A Few Last Truths,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have read every Simon R. Green authored bit of copy I could find and have been consistently rewarded with good tales about interesting people well told. It is my intention to continue doing so until I go blind, after which I shall listen to them until I am called to the Great Library we must turn all our books into in the end.
Oh i dont wanna die today. At least ill be with my family and jake