The world of the Runelords has been combined by magic with another parallel world to form a new one, the beginning of a process that may unify all worlds into the one true world.
This story picks up after the events of The Wyrmling Horde and follows two of Farland's well-known heroes, Borenson and Myrrima, on a quest to save their devastated land and the people of the new world from certain destruction. But the land is not the only thing that has been altered forever: in the change, Borenson has merged with a mighty and monstrous creature from the other world, Aaath Ulber.
He begins to be a different person, a berserker warrior, as well as having a huge new body because of the transformation of worlds. Thousands have died, lands have sunk below the sea and, elsewhere, risen from it. The supernatural rulers of the world are part of a universal evil, yet play a Byzantine game of dark power politics among themselves. And Aaath Ulber is now the most significant pawn in that game.
About the Author
David Farland is the author of the bestselling Runelords series, including The Wyrmling Horde and Worldbinder. He also writes science-fiction as David Wolverton. He won the 1987 Writers of the Future contest, and has been nominated for a Nebula Award and a Hugo Award. Farland also works as a video game designer, and has taught writing seminars around the U.S. and Canada. He lives in Saint George, Utah.
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The Eighth Book of the Runelords
By David Farland
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2009 David Farland
All rights reserved.
SIR BORENSON AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Great are the healing powers of the earth. There is nothing that has been destroyed that cannot be mended ...
— The Wizard Binnesman
At the end of a long summer's day, the last few beams of sunlight slanted through the ancient apple orchard outside the ruins of Barrensfort, creating golden streams among the twigs and branches of the trees.
Though the horizon was a fiery glowering, sullen and peaceful, from the deadwood linnets had already begun to rise upon their red and waxen wings, eager to greet the coming night.
Sir Borenson leaned upon the ruins of an old castle wall and watched his daughters Sage and Erin work amid the tallest branches of an apple tree. It was a hoary thing, seeming as old as the ruins themselves, with lichen-covered boughs that had grown to be as thick as many another tree.
The wind had knocked the grand old tree over two summers ago, so that it leaned at a slant. Most of its limbs had fallen into ruin, and now the termites feasted upon them. But the tree still had some roots in the soil, and one great branch thrived.
Borenson had found that the fruit of that bough was the sweetest to grow upon his farm. Not only were the golden apples sweeter than all of the others, they ripened a good four weeks early and grew huge and full. These apples would fetch a hefty price at tomorrow's fair.
This was not the common hawk's-day fair that came once a week. This was the High Summer Festival, and the whole district would likely turn out up at Mill Creek, for trading ships had come to Garion's Port in the past few weeks, bringing spices and cloth from faraway Rofehavan.
The fallen tree left a hole in the canopy of the orchard, creating a small glade. The grass grew lush here. Bees hummed and circled, while linnets' wings shimmered like garnets amid streams of sunlight. Sweet apples scented the air.
There can be beauty in death, Sir Borenson thought, as he watched the scene.
Erin climbed out on a thin limb, as graceful as a dancer, and held the handle of her pail in her mouth as she gently laid an apple in.
"Careful," Sir Borenson warned, "that limb you're on may be full of rot."
Erin hung the bucket on a broken twig. "It's all right, Daddy. This limb is still healthy."
"How can you tell?"
She bounced a bit. "See? It has some spring in it still. The rotten ones don't."
Smart girl, for a nine-year-old. She was not the prettiest of his brood, but Borenson suspected that she had the quickest wit, and she was the most thoughtful of his children, the first to notice if someone was sad or ill, and she was the most protective.
You could see it in her eyes. Borenson's older offspring all had a fierceness that showed in their flashing blue eyes and dark red hair. They took after him.
But though Erin had Borenson's penetrating blue eyes, she had her mother's luxurious hair, and her mother's broad face and thoughtful expression. It seemed to Borenson that the girl was born to be a healer, or perhaps a midwife.
She'll be the one to nurse me through my old age, he mused.
"Careful with those apples," he warned. "No bruises!" Erin was always careful, but Sage was not. The girl seemed more interested in getting the job done quickly than in doing it well.
Borenson had wadded some dry grass and put it in the buckets, so that the girls could pack the apples carefully. The grass had tea-berry leaves in it, to sweeten the scent. Yet he could tell that Sage wasn't packing the apples properly.
Probably dreaming of boys, he thought. Sage was nearly thirteen, and her body was gaining a woman's curves. It wasn't uncommon here in Landesfallen for a girl to marry at fifteen. Among the young men at the Festival, Sage could draw as much attention as a joust.
I'll be losing her soon, too, Borenson thought. All of my children are growing up and leaving me.
Talon, his oldest, was gone. She'd sailed off to Rofehavan more than three months past, with her foster siblings Fallion, Jaz, and Rhianna.
Borenson couldn't help but wonder how they had fared on the journey. By now they should have made landfall on the far continent. If all was going as planned, they were crossing Mystarria, seeking out the Mouth of the World, beginning their descent into darkness, daring the reavers' lair.
Long ago, according to legend, there had been one true world, bright and perfect, shining in the heavens. All of mankind had lived in joy and peace, there in the shade of the One True Tree. But an ancient enemy had tried to seize control of the Seals of Creation, and in the battle that ensued, the world shattered, breaking into millions and millions of shadow worlds, each less perfect, each less whole, than that one world had been.
Fallion, a young flameweaver, said that he knew how to heal the worlds, bind them all into one. Borenson's older children were accompanying him to the underworld, to the Seals of Creation, to help in his task.
Borenson wrenched his thoughts away. He didn't want to consider the perils that his children faced. There were reavers in the underworld, monstrously large and powerful. Best not to think of that.
Yet he found it hard lately to think of much else. His children should have landed in Rofehavan. If their ship had made good time, they might soon reach the Seals of Creation.
A new day could be dawning.
"Father," Erin called, "Look at this apple!" She held up a huge one, flashed her winning smile. "It's perfect!"
"Beautiful!" he said.
You're beautiful, he thought, as he stood back and watched. It was his job to take down those buckets that were full.
There was a time a few years ago when he would have been up in the tree with her. But he was getting too fat to climb rotting trees. Besides, the arthritis in his right shoulder hurt. He wasn't sure if it was the long years of practice with the war hammer or some old wound, but his right arm was practically useless.
"I'm growing, I'm growing old.
My hair is falling and my feet are cold."
It was a silly rhyme that he'd learned as a child. An old gaffer with long silver hair used to sing it as he puttered down the lanes in the market, doing his shopping.
Borenson heard a sound behind him, a suspicious rustling of leaves.
Barrensfort was not much more than a pile of gray rocks. Two walls still rose sixty feet from some old lord's tower, a broken finger pointing accusingly to the sky. Once it had been a great fortress, and Fallion the Bold had slept here sixteen hundred years ago. But most of the rocks for the outer wall had been carted off long ago. Borenson's fine chimney was made from the rounded stones of the old wall.
So the courtyard in the old fortress was open to the sky. In a hundred years the rest of the walls might fall in, and a forest would likely grow over the spot.
But for now, there was only one large tree here, an odd tree called an encampment tree. It looked nothing like the white gums common to the area, but was perhaps a closer relative to the stonewood trees down by the sea. It was large, with rubbery gray bark and tiny spade-shaped leaves. Its limbs were thick with fronds that hung like curtains, creating an impenetrable canopy, and its branches spread out like an umbrella. A good-sized tree could shelter a dozen people.
When settlers had first come to Landesfallen, nearly a thousand years earlier, they had used such trees as shelter during the summers while building their homes.
Unfortunately, Sir Borenson had three such trees on his property, and for the past several years he'd had problems with squatters coming to his land and living in them — particularly during the harvest season. They'd steal his fruit, raid his vegetable garden, and snatch shirts from his clothesline.
Borenson didn't hate the squatters. There were wars and rumors of wars all across Rofehavan. But he couldn't allow them to stay on his land, either.
He whirled and crept toward the tree.
It's probably nothing, he thought. Probably just some rangit or a sleepy old burrow bear.
Rangits were large rabbitlike creatures that fed on grass. They often sought shade during the heat of the day.
A burrow bear was a gentle beast that ate grass and vegetables. It had no fear of mankind whatsoever, and if Borenson found one, he'd be able to walk right up to it and scratch its head.
He went to the tree, swatted aside the long trailing fronds, and stepped beneath the canopy.
There was a burrow bear — its carcass sitting upon a spit, just waiting for someone to light a fire beneath it.
Inside the shadowed enclosure, entire families squatted: mothers, fathers, children — lots of young children between the ages of three and six. There couldn't have been fewer than twenty people in all.
They crouched, the children with wide eyes and dirty faces peering up at him in terror. The stench of poverty was thick on them.
Borenson's hand went to his dagger. He couldn't be too careful around such people. Squatters had attacked farmers before. The road to Sand Hollow had been treacherous all summer.
He half-expected someone to try to creep up on him from behind. Borenson was vastly outnumbered, but he was an expert with the dagger. Though he was old, if it came to a fight, he would gut them to a man.
One little girl who could not have been eight pleaded, "Please, sir, don't hurt us!"
Borenson glanced at one of the fathers. He was a young man in his mid-twenties with a wife and three little children clinging to him for protection.
By the powers, what can I do? Borenson wondered. He hated to throw them off his property, but he couldn't afford to let them remain, thieving.
If he'd had the money, he'd have hired the men to work. But he couldn't support these people.
He said, "I thought it was the borrowbirds that ate my cherries, fool that I am."
"Please, sir," the young man apologized. "We didn't steal anything."
Borenson shook his head. "So, you've just been hunkering down here in my fields, drinking my water and helping get rid of the excess burrow bears?"
Back in the shadows Borenson spotted a young man clinging to a pretty lass. His jaw dropped as he recognized his youngest son, Draken, holding some girl as skinny as a doe.
Draken was only fifteen. For weeks now he had been shucking his chores, going "hunting" each afternoon. Borenson had imagined that it was wanderlust. Now he saw that it was only common lust.
"Draken?" Sir Borenson demanded. Immediately he knew what had happened. Draken was hiding this girl, hiding her whole family.
"It's true, Father," Draken said. "They didn't steal the cherries. They've been living off of wild mushrooms and garlic and trout from the river, whatever they could get — but they didn't eat from our crops!"
Borenson doubted that. Even if these folks spared his crops, he lived on the borders of a small town called Sweetgrass. Surely the neighbors would be missing something.
Draken was clutching his girl with great familiarity, a slim little thing with a narrow waist and hair as yellow as sunlight. Borenson knew that romance was involved, but one glance at the poor clothing of the squatters, the desperation in their faces, and he knew that they were not the caliber of people that he would want in his family.
Draken had been trained in the Gwardeen to be a skyrider, patrolling Landesfallen on the backs of giant graaks. Borenson himself had taught Draken the use of the bow and ax. Draken was warrior-born, a young man of great discipline, not some oaf of a farm boy to sow his seed in the first pretty girl who was willing.
"I thought I taught you better," Borenson growled in disgust. "The same discipline that a man uses on the battlefield, he should use in bed."
"Father," Draken said protectively, leaping to his feet, "she's to be my wife!"
"Funny," Borenson said. "No one told me or your mother of a wedding. ... You'll not sleep with this tart."
"I was trying to think of how to tell you —"
Borenson didn't want to hear Draken's excuses. He glared at the squatters, and then dismissed them. "You'll be off my property in five minutes." He let them imagine the penalty for failure.
"Father," Draken said fiercely. "They're good people — from Mystarria. This is Baron Owen Walkin and his family — his wife Greta, his daughter Rain, his sons and their kin."
Borenson knew the Walkin name. He'd even met a Baron Walkin twenty years ago, an elderly man of good report. The Walkins had been staunch supporters of the king and came from a long line of stout warriors. But these starvelings looked nothing like warriors. There was no muscle on them. The patriarch of the family looked to be at least ten years Borenson's junior, a thin man with a widow's peak and fiery red hair.
Could times really be so hard in Mystarria, Borenson wondered, to turn true men into starvelings? If all that he heard was true, the barbaric warlords of Internook had invaded the coasts after the death of the Earth King.
Ten years back, Borenson's family had been among the very first wave of refugees from Mystarria. He was out of touch with his homeland.
But the latest rumors said that the new overlords were harsh on their vassals, demanding outlandish taxes, abusing women.
Those who back-talked or stood up to the abuse would find themselves burned out of their homes — or worse.
As a baron loyal to the Earth King, Walkin and his kin would have been singled out for retribution.
Borenson suddenly realized just how desperate these people really might be.
"I ..." Draken fumbled. "Rain here will be a good wife!"
Rain. Borenson made a mental note. His own wife Myrrima was a wizardess who served Water. Borenson thought it no coincidence that his son would fall for a girl named Rain.
He sought for words to voice his disappointment, and one of the poor folk in the group — the matriarch Greta — warned, "Beware what you say about my daughter. She loves your son. You'll be eating your words for the rest of your life!"
What a confounded mess, Borenson thought. He dared not let these people stay on his land, yet he couldn't in good conscience send them off.
If he sent them off, they'd have to make their way into the interior of Landesfallen, into the desert. Even if they found a place to homestead, it was too late to plant crops. The Walkin family had come a long way — just to starve.
Outside in the orchard, Erin called, "Father, I need another bucket!"
"Where are you, Father?" Sage called.
That's when he was struck.
Something hit Borenson — harder than he'd ever been hit in his life. The blow seemed to land on the back of his head and then continue on through his whole body, rattling every fiber of his being.
White lights flashed in his eyes and a roaring filled his ears. He tried to turn and glance behind him, but he saw no one as he fell. He hit the ground and struggled to cling to consciousness, but he felt as if he'd been bashed by a reaver's glory hammer.
He heard the squatters all cry out in alarm, and then he was spinning, spinning ...
* * *
Borenson had a dream unlike any other. He dreamt that he was a man, a giant on a world different from his own, and in the space of a heartbeat this man's life flashed before his eyes.
Borenson dreamt of simple things — a heavy-boned wife whose face was not quite human, for she had horny nubs upon her temples and heavy jaws, and canine teeth that were far too large. Yet he loved her as if she were beautiful, for she bore him stout sons who were destined to be warriors.
In his dream, he was a warrior himself — Aaath Ulber, the leader of the High Guard, the king's elite forces. His name was a title that meant Berserker Prime, or Greatest of All Berserkers, and like his wife, he was not quite human, for his people had been breeding warriors for two hundred generations, and he was the culmination of their efforts.
He dreamt of nights spent on guard duty on a lonely mountain with only a spear for company, and days hunting for fell enemies in the dank forests, thick with morning fog. He dreamt of raids on wyrmlings: pale manlike monsters that were larger even than he, monsters that fed on human flesh and hid from the sun by day in dank holes. He dreamt of more blood and horror than any man should see in a lifetime.
Excerpted from Chaosbound by David Farland. Copyright © 2009 David Farland. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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