Abby is trapped, not only between both sides of the war, but in a mortal conflict between two powerful men. For Zedd, who commands power most men can only imagine, granting Abby's request would mean forsaking his sacred duty. With the storm of the final battle about to break, both Abby and Zedd are caught in a desperate fight to save the life of a child...but neither can escape the shadow of an ancient betrayal.
With time running out, their only choice may be a debt of bones. The world-for Zedd, for Abby, for everyone-will never again be the same.
Discover why millions of readers the world over have elevated Terry Goodkind to the ranks of legend.
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About the Author
Goodkind was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, where he also attended art school. Alongside a career in wildlife art, he was also a cabinetmaker and a violin maker, and did restoration work on rare and exotic artifacts from around the world. In the 1990s he relocated to Nevada, where, when not writing novels, he was a racing-car enthusiast.
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"What do you got in the sack, dearie?"
Abby was watching a distant flock of whistling swans, graceful white specks against the dark soaring walls of the Keep, as they made their interminable journey past ramparts, bastions, towers and bridges lit by the low sun. The sinister spectre of the Keep had seemed to be staring back the whole of the day as Abby had waited. She turned to the hunched old woman in front of her.
"I'm sorry, did you ask me something?"
"I asked what you got in your sack." As the woman peered up, she licked the tip of her tongue through the slot where a tooth was missing. "Something precious?"
Abby clutched the burlap sack to herself as she shrank a little from the grinning woman. "Just some of my things, that's all."
An officer, trailed by a troop of assistants, aides, and guards, marched out from under the massive portcullis that loomed nearby. Abby and the rest of the supplicants waiting at the head of the stone bridge moved tighter to the side, even though the soldiers had ample room to pass. The officer, his grim gaze unseeing as he swept by, didn't return the salute as the bridge guards clapped fists to the armour over their hearts.
All day soldiers from different lands, as well as the Home Guard from the vast city of Aydindril below, had been coming and going from the Keep. Some had looked travel-sore. Some wore uniforms still filthy with dirt, soot, and blood from recent battles. Abby had even seen two officers from her homeland of Pendisan Reach. They had looked to her to be little more than boys, but boys with the thin veneer of youth shedding too soon, like a snake casting off its skin before its time, leaving the emerging maturity scarred.
Abby had also seen such an array of important people as she could scarcely believe; sorceresses, councillors, and even a Confessor come up from the Confessor's Palace down in the city. On her way up to the Keep, there was rarely a turn in the winding road that hadn't offered Abby a view of the sprawling splendour in white stone that was the Confessor's Palace. The alliance of the Midlands, headed by the Mother Confessor herself, held council in the palace, and there, too, lived the Confessors.
In her whole life, Abby had seen a Confessor only once before. The woman had come to see Abby's mother and Abby, not ten years at the time, had been unable to keep from staring at the Confessor's long hair. Other than her mother, no woman in Abby's small town of Coney Crossing was sufficiently important to have hair long enough to touch the shoulders. Abby's own fine, dark brown hair covered her ears but no more.
Coming through the city on the way to the Keep, it had been hard for her not to gape at noble women with hair to their shoulders and even a little beyond. But the Confessor going up to the Keep, dressed in the simple, satiny, black dress of a Confessor, had hair that reached halfway down her back.
She wished she could have had a better look at the rare sight of such long luxuriant hair and the woman important enough to possess it, but Abby had gone to a knee with the rest of the company at the bridge, and like the rest of them feared to raise her bowed head to look up lest she meet the gaze of the other. It was said that to meet the gaze of a Confessor could cost you your mind if you were lucky, and your soul if you weren't. Even though Abby's mother had said it was untrue, that only the deliberate touch of such a woman could effect such a deed, Abby feared, this day of all days, to test the stories.
The old woman in front of her, clothed in layered skirts topped with one dyed of henna and mantled with a dark draping shawl, watched the soldiers pass and then leaned closer. "Do better to bring a bone, dearie. I hear that there be those in the city who will sell a bone such as you need — for the right price. Wizards don't take no salt pork for a need. They got salt pork." She glanced past Abby to the others to see them occupied with their own interests. "Better to sell your things and hope you have enough to buy a bone. Wizards don't want what some country girl brung 'em. Favours from wizards don't come easy." She took a surreptitious glance at the backs of the soldiers as they reached the far side of the bridge. "Not even for those doing their bidding, it would seem."
"I just want to talk to them. That's all."
"Salt pork won't get you a talk, neither, as I hear tell." She eyed Abby's hand trying to cover the smooth round shape beneath the burlap. "Or a jug you made. That what it is, dearie?" Her brown eyes, set in a wrinkled leathery mask, turned up, peering with sudden, humourless intent. "A jug?"
"Yes," Abby said. "A jug I made."
The woman smiled her scepticism and fingered a lick of short grey hair back under her wool head-wrap. Her gnarled fingers closed around the smocking on the forearm of Abby's crimson dress, pulling the arm up a bit to have a look.
"Maybe you could get the price of a proper bone for your bracelet."
Abby glanced down at the bracelet made of two wires intricately twisted together in interlocking circles. "My mother gave me this. It has no value but to me."
A slow smile spread on the woman's weather-cracked lips. "The spirits believe that there is no stronger power than a mother's want to protect her child."
Abby gently pulled her arm away. "The spirits know the truth of that."
Uncomfortable under the scrutiny of the suddenly talkative woman, Abby looked away, seeking a safe refuge for her gaze. It made her dizzy to look down into the yawning chasm beneath the bridge, and she was weary of watching the Wizard's Keep, so she pretended that her attention had been caught as an excuse to turn back towards the collection of people, mostly men, waiting with her at the head of the bridge. She busied herself with nibbling on the last crust of bread from the loaf she had bought down in the market before coming up to the Keep.
Abby felt awkward talking to strangers. In her whole life she had never seen so many people, much less people she didn't know. She knew every person in Coney Crossing. The city made her apprehensive, but not as apprehensive as the Keep towering on the mountain above it, and that, not as much as her reason for being there.
She just wanted to go home. But there would be no home, at least nothing to go home to, if she didn't do this.
Their attention drawn by the rattling roar of hooves, all eyes turned toward the gaping portcullis. Huge horses, all dusky brown or black and bigger than any Abby had ever seen, came thundering towards them. Men bedecked with polished breastplates, chain-mail, and leather, and most carrying lances or poles topped with long flags of high office and rank, urged their mounts onward. They raised dust and gravel as they gathered speed crossing the bridge, a wild rush of colour and sparkles of light from metal flashing past. Sanderian lancers, from the descriptions Abby had heard. She had trouble imagining the enemy with the nerve to go up against men such as these.
Her stomach roiled. She realized she had no need to imagine and no reason to put her hope in brave men such as those lancers. Her only hope was the wizard, and that hope was slipping away with the day. There was nothing for it but to wait.
Abby turned back to the Keep just in time to see a statuesque woman in simple robes stride out through the opening in the massive stone wall. Her fair skin stood out all the more against straight dark hair parted in the middle and readily reaching her shoulders. Some of the men had been whispering about the sight of the Sanderian officers, but at the sight of the woman everyone fell to silence. The four soldiers at the head of the stone bridge made way for the woman as she approached the supplicants.
"Sorceress," the old woman whispered to Abby.
Abby hardly needed the old woman's counsel to know it was a sorceress. Abby was well acquainted with the simple flaxen robes, decorated at the neck with yellow and red beads sewn in the ancient symbols of the profession. Some of her earliest memories were of being held in her mother's arms and touching beads like those she saw now.
The sorceress bowed her head to the people and then offered a smile. "Please forgive us for keeping you waiting out here the whole of the day. It is not from lack of respect nor something we customarily do, but with the war on our hands such precautions are regrettably unavoidable. We hope none took offence at the delay."
The crowd mumbled that they didn't. Abby doubted there was one among them bold enough to claim otherwise.
"How goes the war?" a man behind asked.
The sorceress's even gaze turned to him. "With the blessings of the good spirits, it will end soon."
"May the spirits will that D'Hara is crushed," beseeched the man.
Without response, the sorceress appraised the faces watching her, waiting to see if anyone else would speak or ask a question. None did.
"Please, come with me, then. The council meeting has ended, and a couple of the wizards will take the time to see you all."
As the sorceress started toward the Keep, three men arrived. Their fine clothes made the simple garb of people at the bridge, by comparison, seem almost thread-bare. As the procession shuffled toward the Keep, the three men strode up along the supplicants and put themselves at the head of the line, right in front of the old woman. The oldest of three, dressed in rich robes of dark purple with contrasting red sewn inside the length of the slits up the sleeves, looked to be a noble with his two advisors, or perhaps guards.
The woman's expression darkened. She snatched a velvet sleeve. "Who do you think you are," she snapped, "taking a place before me, when I've been here the whole of the day?"
He scowled down at the gnarled fingers clutching his sleeve. When his eyes turned up at her, they were filled with menace.
"You don't mind, do you?"
It didn't sound at all to Abby like a question.
The old woman withdrew her hand and fell mute.
The man, the ends of his grey hair coiled on his shoulders, glanced at Abby. His hooded eyes gleamed with challenge. She swallowed and remained silent. She didn't have any objection, either, at least none she was willing to voice. For all she knew, the noble was important enough to see to it that she was denied an audience. She couldn't afford to take the chance now that she was this close.
Abby was distracted by a tingling sensation from the bracelet. Blindly, her fingers glided over the wrist of the hand holding the sack. The wire bracelet felt warm. The last time it had done that was the day her mother had died. In the presence of so much magic as was at a place such as this, it didn't really surprise her. Dust swirled around their feet as the ragged crowd followed behind the sorceress.
"Mean, they are," the woman whispered over her shoulder. "Mean as a winter night, and just as cold."
"Those men?" Abby whispered back.
"No." The woman tilted her head. "Sorceresses. Wizards, too. That's who. All those born with the gift of magic. You better have something important in that sack, or the wizards might turn you to dust for no other reason than that they'd enjoy it."
Abby pulled her sack tight in her arms. The meanest thing her mother had done in the whole of her life was to die before she could see her granddaughter.
Abby swallowed back the urge to cry and prayed to the dear spirits that the old woman was wrong about wizards, and that they were as understanding as sorceresses. She prayed fervently that this wizard would help her. She prayed for forgiveness, too — that the good spirits would understand.
Abby worked at holding a calm countenance even though her insides were in turmoil. She pressed a fist to her stomach. She prayed for strength. Even in this, she prayed for strength.
The sorceress, the three men, the old woman, Abby, and then the rest of the supplicants, passed under the fangs of the huge iron portcullis and onto the Keep grounds. Inside the massive outer wall Abby was surprised to discover the air warm. Outside it had been a chill autumn day, but inside the air was spring-fresh and warm.
The road up the mountain, the stone bridge over the chasm, and then the opening under the portcullis appeared to be the only way into the Keep, unless you were a bird. Soaring walls of dark stone with high windows surrounded the gravel courtyard inside. There were a number of doors around the courtyard, and ahead, a roadway tunnelled deeper into the Keep.
Despite the warm air, Abby was chilled to the bone by the place. She wasn't sure that the old woman wasn't right about wizards. Life in Coney Crossing was far removed from matters of wizards.
Abby had never seen a wizard before, nor did she know anyone who had, except for her mother, and her mother never spoke of them except to caution that where wizards were concerned, you couldn't trust even what you saw with your own eyes.
The sorceress led them up four granite steps worn smooth over the ages by countless footsteps, through a doorway set back under a lintel of pink-flecked black granite, and into the Keep proper. The sorceress lifted an arm into the darkness, sweeping it to the side. Lamps along the wall sprang to flame.
It had been simple magic — not a very impressive display of the gift — but several of the people behind fell to worried whispering as they passed on through the wide hall. It occurred to Abby that if this little bit of conjuring would frighten them, then they had no business going to see wizards.
They wended their way across the sunken floor of an imposing anteroom the likes of which Abby could never even have imagined. Red marble columns all around supported arches below balconies. In the centre of the room a fountain sprayed water high overhead. The water fell back to cascade down through a succession of ever larger scalloped bowls. Officers, sorceresses, and a variety of others sat about on white marble benches or huddled in small groups, all engaged in seemingly earnest conversation masked by the sound of water.
In a much smaller room beyond, the sorceress gestured for them to be seated at a line of carved oak benches along one wall. Abby was bone-weary and relieved to sit at last.
Light from windows above the benches lit three tapestries hanging on the high far wall. The three together covered nearly the entire wall and made up one scene of a grand procession through a city. Abby had never seen anything like it, but with the way her dreads careened through her thoughts, she could summon little pleasure in seeing even such a majestic tableau.
In the centre of the cream-coloured marble floor, inset in brass lines, was a circle with a square inside it, its corners touching the circle. Inside the square sat another circle just large enough to touch the insides of the square. The centre circle held an eight-pointed star. Lines radiated out from the points of the star, piercing all the way through both circles, every other line bisecting a corner of the square.
The design, called a Grace, was often drawn by those with the gift. The outer circle represented the beginnings of the infinity of the spirit world out beyond. The square represented the boundary separating the spirit world — the underworld, the world of the dead — from the inner circle, which represented the limits of the world of life. In the centre of it all was the star, representing the Light — the Creator.
It was a depiction of the continuum of the gift: from the Creator, through life, and at death crossing the boundary to eternity with the spirits in the Keeper's realm of the underworld. But it represented a hope, too — a hope to remain in the Creator's Light from birth, through life, and beyond, in the underworld.
It was said that only the spirits of those who did great wickedness in life would be denied the Creator's Light in the underworld. Abby knew she would be condemned to an eternity with the Keeper of darkness in the underworld. She had no choice.
Her posture erect, the sorceress folded her hands in a careful, elegant manner, as if the very act was an essential part of an elaborate spell. "An aide will come to get you each in turn. A wizard will see each of you. The war burns hot; please keep your petition brief." Her calm gaze glided down the line of seated people. "It is out of a sincere obligation to those we serve that the wizards see supplicants, but please try to understand that individual desires are often detrimental to the greater good. By pausing to help one, then many are denied help. Thus, denial of a request is not a denial of your need, but acceptance of greater need. In times of peace it is rare for wizards to grant the narrow wants of supplicants. At a time like this, a time of a great war, it is almost unheard-of. Please understand that it has not to do with what we would wish, but is a matter of necessity."
She watched the line of supplicants, but saw none willing to abandon their purpose. Abby certainly would not.
"Very well then. We have two wizards able to take supplicants at this time. We will bring you each to one of them."
Excerpted from "Debt of Bones"
Copyright © 2001 Terry Goodkind.
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.
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Tor Books by Terry Goodkind,
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