The Guardians return to their reality, ill-equipped to fend off Farrenheil's invading soldiers, which have saturated the kingdom. Daniel and Seth must vanquish ancient ghosts to claim the powers of their birthrights even as Cat MacDonnell fights to retain her husband against a kingdom that would rather see Callum wed to Chryslantha Godwynn.
Their fellowship broken, Seth, Catherine, Callum, and Daniel must deftly navigate the dangers of Aandor or face oblivion at the hands of their enemies.
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THE BOY IN THE BOX
Daniel Hauer balanced along the edge of the half-pipe ramp staring down the fourteen-foot vert. His truck kept catching the edge, and he'd tumbled to the flat in his last two roll-ins, cursing like an angry drunk and blaming everything from the brand of skateboard to the quality of the Masonite for the failure. Though he'd never fully embraced skate culture back in Glen Burnie, he knew he was at least better than this.
"Your Grace ... our lesson," Allyn Grey said somberly. He stood behind the teen with placards denoting Aandor's various noble families and their banner men — a long hierarchy that stretched down to the humblest country squire. Daniel wanted to tell the reverend to bug off, but bit his tongue. Grey tapped his wristwatch, peering judgmentally at Daniel over glasses perched at the tip of his nose.
It was one of those days, Daniel thought — the one where the iPhone shuffled one wrong song after another, and you suspected Steve Jobs of putting impish AIs in those little fuckers just for shits and giggles; the kind where no number of four-leaf clovers, rabbits' feet, or Saint Christopher medallions could change the dice from coming up craps. Daniel tuned out the reverend, just as he tuned out his etiquette lessons, histories of Aandor, geopolitics of the Twelve Kingdoms, songs of Udiné, dances of Bradaan, sword fighting, hand to hand, battle tactics, and several other disciplines Callum MacDonnell had tried to cram into his beleaguered fourteen-year-old brain the past five months. He couldn't care less about who his great-great-grandfathers were. Luanne Gillie was what he cared about.
They'd been physically kept apart for "security reasons," their rapport limited to social media — but recently, their conversations had turned awkward. Last week, a day before her seventeenth birthday, she'd blocked him on Facebook. Colby said she'd moved to Buckhead — an Atlanta neighborhood she could never afford. Daniel suspected his "guardians." A generous bribe seemed to be Malcolm Robbe's style. What right had they to mess with his paltry social life? Reverend Grey cleared his throat and continued to tap his watch.
Spring's full vibrancy was in effect at Malcolm's vast Dutchess County compound, beckoning him to frolic after a cooped-up winter. On the helicopter field rose the standing stones of a henge, which Reverend Grey had just completed to draw magical energy from Rosencrantz's lay line at the meadow several miles away. This estate was home base for the retaking of Aandor. Rosencrantz and Lelani perpetually refined the return spell, keeping it at the ready, so when to execute really was up to the guardians. Callum and Mal continuously argued over timing. At the rate with which they bought soldiers of fortune and equipment, they might bankrupt the billionaire. This caused Daniel some guilt, as, unlike the others, he had mixed feelings about returning to the universe of his birth. He wanted to meet his real parents, of course ... but Aandor had dominated his life lately to the point where it wasn't his life any longer. They offered him a kingdom — sort of. Daniel would only ever be prince regent. He had the blood of ten kings, but he fell two kings short of a quorum that would allow him to become the king of Aandor and emperor of a re-formed empire. That honor would go to his progeny depending on whom he married. To his handlers, Daniel was a chess piece — a sperm bank.
He was lured by money, magic, and a helicopter that day they found him in North Carolina ... and fear of assassins hunting him for belonging to the wrong family. It'd been USDA prime cuts and Idaho potatoes ever since, but he realized he had accepted the guardians far too easily. Living with Luanne off the grid in normalcy appealed to him more each day.
Malcolm Robbe's generosity was a formidable leash; and yet Cal warned him of it, telling Daniel that dwarvs were miserly by nature and expected their favors repaid for the smallest of boons. Daniel didn't know how he could ever repay Malcolm, but he appreciated the skate park immensely, even though it riled Callum to no end (which Malcolm appeared to enjoy). But nothing that the billionaire could buy would abate his lonesomeness. Cal's family was the exception — Catherine treated him like a younger brother. But they could come and go from the compound at will while he was perpetually "under protection." They even balked at Adrian and Katie visiting. The isolation was depressing. Tilcook had offered him a professional escort as a distraction; Daniel was deeply offended, though he made no show of it because the mobster was being sincere. No one understood; when his face was plastered on the evening news and everyone under the sky hunted Daniel for the reward, Luanne stood by him. She had been Daniel's only loyal friend, even lying to her own uncle. Her rejection stung more than Daniel wanted to admit — more than Katie Millar's just friends speech.
Before the guardians, before Clyde's death, the future had been an open slate. Daniel could have become an artist or writer, joined NASA, or married the girl of his dreams. Now his handlers laid out his future like a toddler's Sunday clothes. If not for the chance to meet his parents (and the skateboard park), Daniel might already have run off.
He pushed off, cleared the edge of the ramp, and surfed down, across, and up the other vert. Instead of catching air, he ground the coping, held it for a second, and reversed direction. He continued, navigating the half-pipe with rediscovered dexterity. When he came to a sweaty, exhilarated stop, life had become a smidgeon less claustrophobic.
"Got it out of your system?" the reverend asked.
"Need to work on my fakies," Daniel said.
From the reverend's expression, it was a sure bet he didn't know a fakie from a doughnut. "Do you give MacDonnell this much sass at sword practice?" Grey asked.
"Swordplay is actually fun, Rev."
"Says the boy who has never been to war."
"You'd never know it from my bruises."
"And Cal's only pretending to try to kill you."
Daniel wondered about that ... Callum always seemed disappointed with him. He excelled at his studies, at fencing, horseback riding ... but something was missing. Maybe Daniel was just Cal's job, and a friendship was asking for too much.
"Can I ask you something, Padre?"
"You may ask me anything, Your Grace."
"Why did Luanne quit me?"
If the reverend knew of some nefarious plot, he didn't tip his hand. He scratched his tight salt-and-pepper hair and gave the matter serious thought.
"You'll find many writings on the fickleness of teenagers," Grey answered.
"But we were good ..."
"You knew her but a few days. The excitement and attention around you perhaps was an aphrodisiac. Relationships need interaction, and you two are always apart. As your first love, she resides in a special place in your heart, but remember ... you were not her first. Think of Luanne's perspective, and try not to judge her harshly."
"So Mal and Cal didn't do anything?"
A flurry of whistles and shouts across the compound cut off the reverend's response. At first, Daniel thought it was Cal's training drills for the mercs, but when MacDonnell emerged from the maple trees flanked by his top mercenary lieutenants, Francois Ladue and Graeme Van Rooyen, Daniel knew there was more going on. All three wore relieved expressions at seeing the prince safe.
"The schedule says you have a lesson," Cal said. His distaste for the skate park was written on his face. "Why aren't you in the mansion?"
"It's stuffy in there. I needed to catch some air."
"There are no skate parks in Aandor."
"There are in America!" Daniel sniped. "People invent things here — like SKATEBOARDS!"
"You have too many obligations to be wasting —"
"Gentlemen!" Reverend Grey cut in. "What's going on?"
Callum recalled his purpose and said, "Our wayward court jester, Balzac Cruz, and the frost giant, Hesz ... they just showed up at our front door."CHAPTER 2
Seth sat against Rosencrantz's broad trunk under the isolating pall of his Beats headphones, disconnected from everyone who increasingly asked more of him than he thought he could give. He skimmed through notes on general magic that Lelani had prepared for him. A glint of the waning sun ran along the top edge of the small aluminum camping trailer parked just yards from the tree. The tree itself was the bull's-eye of a four-acre meadow protected by a forest and hills in Dutchess County, New York. The haunting melody of Radiohead's "Creep" harmonized with Seth's mood. The coming war dogged his mind. The guardians expected much of Seth, especially after his stellar performance against Lord Dorn in New York. And therein lay the problem.
Seth had been spectacular in Manhattan, harnessing elemental forces that had taken man thousands of years to master through science ... but he had done it with Rosencrantz's guidance. The tree wizard sent Seth complex spells through a lay line, one of the many that crisscrossed the earth. But because Seth had never truly learned the spells, earned them through practice and perseverance, he did not retain them in his memory. In fact, all new spells Seth learned disappeared from his memory after he cast them, limiting his repertoire to a handful that he had memorized his first year at school, and even those with questionable control. Without Rosencrantz's symbiotic connection, Seth stumbled through wizardry.
Deciphering magic was like a stubborn safety cap on a medicine bottle — he could just feel the tabs and catches, hear the clicks, and still fail to open after twisting and turning. Seth wished the protection spell that had insulated him from magic most of his life had never come down. Then the guardians could expect nothing from him.
Lelani tutored him, if one could call condescension and castigation methods of teaching, and she chastised him relentlessly about using Rosencrantz as a crutch. She regarded his pledge to repair the damage he had done to people in his life a distraction. Seth did not disagree with her objective ... he had to get his shit together, or else the next challenge from a wizard could be his last.
The song ran continuously on a loop; it was his anthem:
But I'm a creep,
I'm a weirdo,
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here ...
Seth had been twelve when his mother, Jessica, sent him away to study at Proust's Academy in Aandor City. She, along with his aunt Belle and older cousin Pipa, ran the Grog and Grubb two days east of Aandor City. Seth hadn't appreciated how hard his family had worked to create a good home. Jessica had been a vivacious tavern girl — smart and comely with a penchant for fun after long shifts. Nine months after some debonair "traveler" had visited the inn, Seth arrived in the world. She acquired the Grog from its former owner (with what money being a source of much speculation). The running theory was that Archduke Athelstan himself was Seth's father, and helped her out of guilt, or for confirming his virility with a spanking new bastard. But life had been idyllic at the inn: stabling horses, bussing tables, but especially the frolicking around the banks of the Sevren and countryside glades. His mischievous nature had been good-humored then, pranking friends with silent steps and a good supply of spry bullfrogs.
Seth had resented Jessica for exiling him, as he perceived it. He turned angry and challenged even his most patient teachers. But his mother had not exiled him — she recognized his rare talent for magic, and Jessica wanted more for Seth than their Podunk hamlet could ever provide; he was too young at the time to understand. Thinking of his daughter, Caitlin, how he wanted to see her thrive, Seth finally understood the sacrifices his mother made on his behalf, how hard it must have been to watch her son ride away. Nostalgia dogged him ... that humdrum inn was constantly in his thoughts. There was, however, the war — and the matter of putting the prince back on his throne.
Daniel was a good kid who deserved his birthright. Aandor was a great place to live under the old status quo, prosperous, magical, and just as fiefdoms went — but propping up a king cost a lot, usually paid in blood by simple folk like Seth's family. Seth's place during war should be at the Grog and Grubb. At the very least, he should retrieve his family and bring them back here.
The multiverse had an ironic sense of humor to entrust a man of Seth's sins with the care of so many women. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but barely half a year had passed since he exploited girls for porn companies. The universe had a long memory, and apparently so did his daughter's mother, one of his models. He'd tried to heal his hurt by putting Caitlin and Darcy on a better path. But Darcy's initial gratitude gave way to resentment. Her rehab counselors and her parents did not trust his epiphany. They could not see the extent to which Seth would have gone to earn Darcy's forgiveness.
Darcy cut him out, agreeing to take his money for Caitlin's sake in exchange for the occasional email on their progress. Seth accepted her conditions, taking some solace in their success. Caitlin was doing gangbusters at her new charter school in Forest Hills, and Darcy was finally finishing college. As hard as it was for Seth to accept, these were good problems — the problems of the living. Tristan and Timian and Ben Reyes did not have such concerns anymore.
A tap on his shoulder startled him.
"Sorry," said Helen Reyes with a playful smile and a tray of fresh pastilles. "I called to you twice." Ben's widow was in her seventies and had assumed the role of caretaker of Rosencrantz's meadow. She had far more energy than when they'd first met, a benefit of Rosencrantz's healing arts.
The meadow's tranquility belied its history of carnage. Buried a few feet away was Ben himself along with the other men and women who'd taken care of Rosencrantz over the years. Seth had known Reyes for just a short time, but the old man had had a profound impact on his life. The sky changed to match Seth's gray mood; clouds rolled in, the wind began to whip.
"Oh my, where did this gale come from all of a sudden?" asked Helen.
It was more than sudden ... it was damned unnatural. Did I do this? Seth wondered, having no true sense of his power's subconscious limits. The sky darkened further; a cold rain fell. Thunder rumbled within the clouds. Seth recognized this storm ... he had been in one like it fourteen years ago.
He escorted Helen back to the trailer, driving his wizard's staff into the muddy earth to brace them against the wind. They entered just as golf ball–sized hail began dinging the aluminum roof. Darkness enveloped the meadow, and Seth worried about Lelani out there in the woods.
Through rain-streaked windows, he searched for her, mistaking some piece of animated brush along the forest edge for human activity. It had gotten so dark, his reflection was opaque; hazel eyes like crescents balanced on their tips — the eyes of an older soul. Just when he'd written off all the outside movements to the undulations of boughs and branches, some new activity, a flicker at the far edge of the meadow, renewed his attention. The atmosphere outside was thick with water, refracting what little illumination the weather offered. He thought it might have been the local college kids who often camped to drink and smoke, until a crack of lightning lit the meadow. What he saw chilled him.
"Who are they?" Helen asked, peeking through the window beside him.
People emerged from a thin black gash as though the air were giving birth. The gash pulsed and wormed like a suspended black lightning bolt slowed to a millionth of its speed. Black threads emanated from the edges of the opening like frayed silk. Seth had never seen blackness like this — so deep and absolute, blackness that was brighter than light. The world around it appeared a low-resolution image by comparison.
"Helen, get back to Puerto Rico and lock the door behind you," Seth ordered. Without hesitation, she left through the back door portal of the trailer, and cut the junction to the meadow.
Seth communed with Rosencrantz and, with a gesture not unlike a Catholic priest's blessing, erected a protective umbrella of shimmering hyper-dense air above him. Seth walked out toward the travelers, who numbered almost a dozen, all wearing hooded cloaks and boots of leather or suede and sword belts. A tall lanky man in a dark gray robe and hood carried a torch. Half the party wore the gold dress cloaks of Aandor's Dukesguarde. Rescue party? was Seth's first thought.
The rip in space sealed itself behind the last traveler. The rain abated and the clouds started to dissipate. Seth was thirty yards away when he sensed Rosencrantz's discomfort, which caused him to exhale a soft, "Oh!" The men in black raised their crossbows toward Seth in unison.
"Wait!" Seth cried. He held his arms up in as peaceful a gesture as he could muster. "Friend! Friend of Aandor."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Blood of Ten Kings"
Copyright © 2018 Edward Lazellari.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
What has Gone on Before,
Chapter 1: The Boy in the Box,
Chapter 2: Creep,
Chapter 3: Hoofprints on the Empire State,
Chapter 4: Svengali of Westchester,
Chapter 5: Twisted Sister,
Chapter 6: Jester Minute,
Chapter 7: Bugout,
Chapter 8: Breathe,
Chapter 9: A Prince Among Men,
Chapter 10: The Gilded Cage,
Chapter 11: Lay of the Land,
Chapter 12: Horse Sense,
Chapter 13: Mum Dearest,
Chapter 14: This Old Man ...,
Chapter 15: If a Tree Falls in a Forest ...,
Chapter 16: The Prince of Aandor,
Chapter 17: Role Playing,
Chapter 18: Bridge of Sorrows,
Chapter 19: A Queen's Gambit,
Chapter 20: Crossroads,
Chapter 21: ... Bad Cop,
Chapter 22: Home Front,
Chapter 23: The Crawl,
Chapter 24: Old Acquaintances,
Chapter 25: Fool Against Love,
Chapter 26: Forge Ahead,
Chapter 27: Wormholes 'R' Us,
Chapter 28: A Grand Magus's Last Trick,
Chapter 29: How to Move a Tunnel in Fifty-Four Easy Steps,
Chapter 30: Frozen Sorrows,
Chapter 31: The Phoenix Nest,
Chapter 32: Tunnel of Love,
Chapter 33: You Can't Go Home Again,
Chapter 34: Kissy Face,
Chapter 35: My Husband's Beautiful Girlfriend,
Chapter 36: Parley,
Chapter 37: Ott and Matz,
Chapter 38: The God of War,
Chapter 39: Noble Women,
Chapter 40: Queen Beeyatch,
Chapter 41: There Must be some Kind of Way Out of Here ...,
Chapter 42: The Lady is the Tiger,
Chapter 43: Endgame,
Chapter 44: Flourish,
Also by Edward Lazellari,
About the Author,