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Collected together for the first time, the exciting conclusion to New York Times bestselling author R. A. Salvatore's Saga of the First Kings series, set in the world of the DemonWars
In The Dame, Bransen Garibond, the Highwayman, believes that the two warring lairds are two sides of the same coin. But he soon learns that view is simplistic at best. Bransen's road becomes a quest for the truth, of Honce and of himself, a quest to put right over wrong.
In The Bear, the war of Honce drags on, and Bransen rejoins his solo quest to extricate himself from the selfish goals of all combatants. But in an odd twist of fate and crossed loyalties, Bransen sees in his old nemesis, Bannagranthe Bear of Honce and the man who slew his adoptive fathera darker image of his own heart. Allies and battle lines become tangled, motives indistinguishable as old friends become enemies, and old enemies become allies.
The Highwayman comes full circle to learn the truth of his journey and the responsibilities of his great power.
About the Author
R. A. SALVATORE is one of fantasy's most popular authors, with his books frequently appearing on the New York Times bestseller list and more than 10 million copies of his books, including The Dame, The Bear, The Highwayman and The Ancient, sold. He lives in Massachusetts.
Date of Birth:January 20, 1959
Place of Birth:Leominster, MA
Read an Excerpt
The First King
By R. A. Salvatore
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 R. A. Salvatore
All rights reserved.
Six Cogs One
She felt his calloused but gentle touch on her shoulders and neck, rubbing the stress away with oft-practiced perfection. Dame Gwydre sat staring out her window in Castle Pellinor, looking to the cold north. She had cut her brown hair quite short, but there was nothing mannish about her appearance, for the cut only accentuated her fine, thin neck and slender shoulders. And even under all the duress of the recent months, and even well into middle age, Dame Gwydre's face featured an eternal youth and vigor and sensuousness that belied the icy strength and determination ever in her eyes.
"We'll know soon enough," Dawson McKeege, the only man in the world who could be massaging Dame Gwydre, said to her.
She craned her neck to glance back at him, gray stubble prominent on his grizzled leathery face. Dawson was only a few years Gwydre's senior, but, having spent most of his life at sea, he looked much older. How well Dawson knew her!
"What makes you believe that I am thinking of them?" Gwydre asked.
"Because ye haven't been thinking of anything else since you sent that band after Ancient Badden," Dawson said with a laugh, and he kneaded Gwydre's shoulder as he spoke, bringing a wince of both pain and pleasure from the woman. "And you're all in knots under your skin."
It was true enough and he had seen right through her attempted dodge. Gwydre led Vanguard, and that vast wilderness holding was enmeshed in a brutal war, one that was taking a terrible toll on Gwydre's hearty subjects. Desperate times had forced a desperate gambit, and so Gwydre had enlisted some of the elite warriors of her land and sent them north to behead the beast that had arisen against her, the priest leader of an ancient and brutal religion.
"Why do we fight, Dawson?" she asked her dear friend.
"I've got no fight with you."
"Not us," Gwydre replied in exasperation. "We, men and women, all of us. Why do we fight?"
"Now or all the time?"
Gwydre half turned as her friend backed away and offered him a shrug.
"Now we fight because Ancient Badden's afraid that his Samhaist Church is being pushed aside, and so it is. He can't let go of that power without a fight, as we're seeing. He'll do anything to hold it."
"And so he has inflicted misery across Vanguard," said Gwydre. "To those loyal to me, and to those loyal to him. Great misery."
"They're calling that 'war,' I'm told," came the sarcastic reply.
"And why is the rest of Honce, all the holdings south of the Gulf of Corona, now in the grips of war?" Gwydre asked.
Dawson chuckled, seeing where this was going and having no answers.
Gwydre, too, gave a helpless laugh. Up here, the folk of Vanguard were embroiled in a brutal war with the monstrous minions Ancient Badden and the Samhaists had enlisted as mercenaries. Down south, across the far more populous holdings of Honce proper, it was brother against brother, laird against neighboring laird, as the two most prominent rulers battled to unite the land under one king for the first time in known history.
"They fight for the same reason we fight," Dawson said quietly, and in all seriousness (which was a rarity for Dawson McKeege). "They fight because one man, or two men, decided they should fight."
"Or one man and one woman?" Gwydre asked, clearly implicating herself in Vanguard's troubles.
"Nah," the sailor said with a shake of his head. "You didn't start this. This is Badden's folly and fury, and you've no choice but to defend."
"Thank you for that," Gwydre replied, and she patted her hand atop Dawson's, which was still on her shoulder. "In the southlands, Laird Delaval and Laird Ethelbert have decided that one and only one should rule over all the holdings, and because of that rivalry, thousands and thousands of men and women have been trampled under the march of armies. So is it just them, Dawson? Just those two men? Or do the armies marching for them want to fight?"
Dawson's face screwed up with puzzlement. "Many are believing in their leader, not to doubt," he said.
"But do they want to go to war?"
"Milady, I doubt any man's looking for more war after he's tasted war. It's an ugly thing, to watch your friend writhing on the muddy ground after his guts have been opened by a sword."
"So it is the pride and ambition of two men driving the insanity," said Gwydre.
Dawson shrugged and nodded. "As up here, it's the pride and ambition and anger of one, Ancient Badden."
With another sigh, Dame Gwydre turned back to stare out her northern window, and Dawson immediately moved nearer to her and began rubbing her neck once more — not because he had to, but because, as a friend, he wanted to.
"My father would not have gone to such a war," Gwydre remarked offhandedly.
"That's why the people of Vanguard loved Laird Gendron," said Dawson. "That's why the whole of Vanguard cried with you when he fell from his horse that day and didn't recover. And Pieter wouldn't have thought to fight such a war, either," he added, referring to Gwydre's husband, whom she had married while still a teenager, after Laird Gendron's death. "You picked a good one there."
"I miss him, Dawson. It's been more than a decade and a half, and still I miss him."
"You miss him more when Ancient Badden's pushing you, I'm thinking."
"I hate this," Gwydre admitted. "The suffering and the blood and the simple worthlessness of it all."
"There's nothing worthless about defending Vanguard against Ancient Badden and his monster hordes."
Gwydre patted his hand again. "And in the south?"
Dawson snorted derisively. "Who can be saying? Tough days in Vanguard, to be sure, but when we win — and we're to do that, don't doubt! — I'll be glad that we're a hundred miles of water or a hundred miles of wilderness away from those armies."
"I pray you are right," Gwydre said softly, and she stared to the north, the empty north.
I ain't a'feared o' fighting," said the tough little powrie Mcwigik. He plopped his bloodred beret on top of his wildly bushy orange hair and rubbed it into place as if he was adjusting a helmet. "In truth, I'm liking it, and likin' it more when we're talking o' fighting trolls. But if ye're asking me and Bikelbrin to go down there to fight that mob, and ye're thinkin' o' keeping one back here to watch over no-eyes there, then ye're thinking wrong. We're just five, ye dopes!"
"Six," corrected Brother Jond, the man Mcwigik had called "no-eyes." Dressed in his brown woolen Abellican robe and weather-beaten sandals with cloth wrapped inside their black straps to keep his feet warm, the monk shifted in his sitting posture to better face the sound of the dwarf's voice. He did nothing to hide his torn face, both eyes and the bridge of his nose lost as a prisoner of the wretched Ancient Badden; indeed, Brother Jond strained his neck to better demonstrate the wound to his companions.
"Bah, ye're a blind fool, and that's not a mix I'm wanting to fight beside," Mcwigik argued.
"I can use gemstones!" Brother Jond retorted.
"And put a lightning bolt up me arse!" roared Bikelbrin, Mcwigik's powrie companion. The two looked like bookends as they stood bobbing side by side. Both were tall for powries, five feet at least, and seemed as solid as the stones upon which they stood. And both had never met a blade suitable for trimming either hair or beard, it seemed, which gave their heads an enormous appearance.
"The soul stone!" Brother Jond argued. "I can send healing energy."
"To the trolls, ye twit!" said Mcwigik.
Similarly dressed in Abellican robes, though he had fallen from the order, and a powrie beret won in a fight with one of Mcwigik's former clan's dwarves, Cormack cast a nervous glance at his wife, Milkeila.
"If you do not lower your voices, the fight will come to us," Milkeila warned them all. The weight of the tall woman's words was not lost on any of the three arguing. She stood as tall as Brother Jond, a foot above the powries; there was nothing delicate about Milkeila. She had been raised among the shamans of Yan Ossum, a barbarian tribe on the Lake Mithranidoon. She had seen battle both magical and physical since her early days and had lived a life of discipline and dedication — and her defined and strong muscles bore testament to the fact. By any measure, human or powrie, she was handsome, even beautiful, her wide and round face showing a range from feminine wiles to warrior ferocity. The sparkle in her dark eyes promised passion or battle, and anyone engaging in either with this formidable woman would enter the fray tentatively, to be sure. She kept much of her brown hair braided, but it was obvious that she didn't fret with it for the sake of vanity.
All of that — her size, her obvious strength, her sheer intensity — brought gravity to Milkeila's words. Even the stubborn powries lowered their volume as they continued their argument, which again wound along the same path to Bikelbrin claiming emphatically, "Ye'll put a lightning bolt up me arse!"
"No, he won't," said the sixth of the party, a smallish man wearing an exotic outfit of black silk, a wide farmer's hat, and a fabulous and intricately detailed sword on his hip.
"Then he'll heal the damned trolls!" Bikelbrin fumed.
"No, he won't," the man, Bransen Garibond, said with a confident grin and a wink at the blind Jond — a wink that brought a chuckle to the blind brother's lips. What a ragtag group they were, Bransen thought. Outcasts all, except for Jond, they had banded together in common purpose to bring about the end of Ancient Badden. For the others, it had been a personal battle — the powries, Milkeila, and Cormack were defending their, and one another's, communities on the warm Lake Mithranidoon below Ancient Badden's glacier, and Jond had come north with Bransen at the behest of Dame Gwydre of Vanguard, in an attempt to decapitate the enemy by killing the vile leader. Bransen considered himself the biggest mercenary here, when he thought about it. He was not personally invested in the Mithranidoon communities, or in Vanguard, a land to which he was a stranger, and he had been tricked into the service of Dame Gwydre. He had come hunting Badden to earn freedom, for himself and for his wife and mother-in-law, reparation for his actions as the Highwayman that had outraged many of the Honce lairds. Now they were all traveling south from the defeated Ancient Badden's fortress, back to Dame Gwydre with their gruesome trophy. There was nothing left up here for the powries, Cormack, and Milkeila, and wounded Jond wanted to go home to Chapel Pellinor, and Bransen just wanted to get back to Cadayle and Callen.
Bikelbrin and Mcwigik both started arguing with Bransen, but Milkeila interrupted, and all turned to her to see her looking from Bransen to Jond curiously. "How did you see that?" she asked the blind monk.
"I saw nothing. I see nothing."
"I agree with Bransen."
"To the wink," Milkeila insisted.
Jond's smile widened. "I felt it."
Both powries, Cormack, and Milkeila stared long and hard at the blind man.
"Ye felt the wink?" Mcwigik said with obvious doubt. "I got a great fart coming — ye feelin' that, are ye?"
Bransen drew his sword suddenly, pulling all attention his way. With a shrug, he poked its fine tip into his palm, drawing blood. "I am wounded!" he said to Jond, and before the monk could react, the agile Bransen silently shifted around to the other side of the group, behind the powries.
Brother Jond lowered his head and lifted a hand from his pouch, his fist clenched around a small hematite, a soul stone, which Milkeila had given him from her necklace of various magical gems.
Bransen, remaining perfectly silent, held his hand up for all to see, and sure enough, a wave of magical energy from Jond sealed the small wound.
"How is that possible?" asked Cormack, formerly Brother Cormack, who knew well the properties of the Abellican stones. "How did you anticipate his move?"
"We are all joined, connected," Bransen explained.
"Only a great shaman can sense such movements through the earth," Milkeila protested.
"Or a Jhesta Tu," said Bransen. "Brother Jond and I have formed a bond. He can heal me, and will heal me, unerringly, as we do battle with the trolls we spied on the road ahead. He will not heal the trolls by mistake."
"And I'll cast no bolts of lightning, I promise," said Brother Jond.
"And how're ye to keep the trolls off yer torn face?" Mcwigik asked. "I'll not be looking over me shoulder to protect yer arse when I'm fighting for me own!"
"Nor would I ask you to," said Jond.
"We'll find a place for him, near the fighting," said Bransen. "Near enough to throw a healing spell, at me or at any of you who can find a similar bond."
Cormack was nodding with obvious appreciation, and so was Milkeila, and after a moment of looking at each other, both dwarves said, "Well, all's the better then!" and the issue was settled.
"Six cogs one!" Mcwigik proclaimed, an old powrie expression of a team of warriors working in unison toward a single goal. "Now, let's go kill us some trolls, just because it's a fine day and there's no better way in all the world to spend it."
Bransen held his breath as he watched the approach of the troll mob, some dozen or so of the creatures pushing and shoving and growling as they made their way along the path, windblown free of snow, that served as the main road into Vanguard from southern Alpinador. The young warrior couldn't help but remember the last time he had been in a situation just like this, when he and a few friends had attacked a troll caravan in an attempt to free the humans they held as prisoner. Crait, a warrior of great legend and stature, had died in that fight, and Bransen and the remaining of his band had been taken captive.
The trolls had surprised them with their tenacity and with sudden reinforcements.
That would not happen again, Bransen, the Highwayman, had decided, and so, before he and his new friends had come to this point, he had circumvented the troll mob and ensured that this time there would be no reinforcements following closely along the road.
Still, the Highwayman could not deny the nervous sweat that made his sword less tight in his grip. He glanced back to Brother Jond and Cormack, to see them engaged in the same type of bonding that he and Jond had used to allow the blind monk to sense Bransen's proximity. Milkeila had already done so, but the stubborn powries would have none of it.
Bransen had seen Mcwigik and Bikelbrin in battle. He flashed a much-needed grin their way and figured that those two wouldn't need any help from Brother Jond.
Mcwigik noted his glance with a nod, then held up six fingers, clenched his hands together, and then held up one finger.
Six cogs one.
Excerpted from Demon Wars by R. A. Salvatore. Copyright © 2014 R. A. Salvatore. 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.
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Table of Contents
PART ONE: Aftermath,
CHAPTER 1: Six Cogs One,
CHAPTER 2: The Center of Gravity,
CHAPTER 3: Out of Their Element,
CHAPTER 4: Throwing Down the Torch,
CHAPTER 5: Six Cogs Scattered,
CHAPTER 6: The Opportune Moment,
CHAPTER 7: Abelle's Win,
CHAPTER 8: Writ and Rebuttal,
CHAPTER 9: Stubbornly Entrenched,
CHAPTER 10: A Church on Trial,
PART TWO: The Wider World,
CHAPTER 11: Just As the King Had Planned,
CHAPTER 12: Moral Outrage,
CHAPTER 13: Cornering a Snake,
CHAPTER 14: Aimlessly Wandering,
CHAPTER 15: That Which Is Right,
CHAPTER 16: Moments of Private Clarity,
CHAPTER 17: Saving Future Allies,
CHAPTER 18: In the Arms of My Loving Mother,
CHAPTER 19: The Impetulant,
CHAPTER 20: Focusing Purpose,
PART THREE: The Meaning of His Gift,
CHAPTER 21: Let the Word Go Forth,
CHAPTER 22: The Wake of War,
CHAPTER 23: From the Depths,
CHAPTER 24: The Center, the Flank,
CHAPTER 25: Worthy,
CHAPTER 26: A Shiver of Sharks,
CHAPTER 27: By Their Rules,
CHAPTER 28: Bloodletting,
CHAPTER 29: Darkness Rising,
CHAPTER 30: No!,
PART ONE: Despair,
CHAPTER 1: Coward, You!,
CHAPTER 2: The Inevitable Spiral,
CHAPTER 3: Promises and Puzzles,
CHAPTER 4: Stark,
CHAPTER 5: Visions of Graveyards,
CHAPTER 6: Dealing at Heaven's Door,
CHAPTER 7: The Conscience Pangs of Pragmatism,
CHAPTER 8: The Heart of the Matter,
PART TWO: The Three Roads of Jameston Sequin,
CHAPTER 9: The Moment of Courage,
CHAPTER 10: The First Road,
CHAPTER 11: The Restless Dame,
CHAPTER 12: The Second Road,
CHAPTER 13: A Glimmer,
CHAPTER 14: United Against the Other,
CHAPTER 15: The Third Road,
PART THREE: The Forward Crawl of Humanity,
CHAPTER 16: Body, Mind, and Soul,
CHAPTER 17: The Angry Young Laird,
CHAPTER 18: Daring the Consequences,
CHAPTER 19: King's Favor,
CHAPTER 20: The Art of Compromise,
CHAPTER 21: Scout and Speed,
CHAPTER 22: King Yeslnik's Long, Hot Summer,
CHAPTER 23: Full Circle,
CHAPTER 24: Loyalties,
CHAPTER 25: De Guilbe's Epiphany,
CHAPTER 26: Convergence,
CHAPTER 27: Blenden Coe,
CHAPTER 28: The Swirling Tides of Battle,
CHAPTER 29: The Royal Procession,
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Was a well rounded out story that I thoroughly enjoyed