King's Property (Queen of the Orcs Series #1)

King's Property (Queen of the Orcs Series #1)

by Morgan Howell

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345496508
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/31/2007
Series: Queen of the Orcs Series , #1
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,318,020
Product dimensions: 4.15(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College and the Rochester Institute of Technology, Morgan Howell is a full-time writer who lives in upstate New York.

Read an Excerpt

One

Dar walked alone down a mountain path, bent beneath a load of firewood. The trail she followed hugged steep rocky walls that blocked the morning sun, so the air and ground still held the night’s chill. Nevertheless, she walked barefoot and wore only a tattered, sleeveless shift with a rag to cushion her shoulders. Dar moved quickly to keep warm, but the sound of a distant horse stopped her short. None of her neighbors owned one, nor did anyone in the tiny village beyond the far ridge. Only strangers rode horses, and strangers often brought trouble.

Dar listened. When the hoofbeats died away, leaving only the sound of wind in bare branches, she continued homeward and arrived at a hollow devoid of trees. Its stony ground had been prepared for spring planting. At the far side of the hollow lay the only building–a rude hut, built of rocks and roofed with turf. The horse was tied nearby. Dar was considering leaving when her father’s wife emerged from the low building with a rare smile on her face. The older woman called out. “You have visitors.”

The smile heightened Dar’s wariness. “What kind of visitors?”

Dar’s stepmother didn’t respond, except to smile more broadly. She moved aside, and six armed men stepped from the dark hut followed by the village headman, whose air of self-importance was subdued by the soldiers’ presence. Dar’s father came after him. Last emerged Dar’s two little half sisters, looking frightened. All watched Dar carry her load over to the woodpile. She set it down, then asked her stepmother again, “Thess, who are these men?”

“King’s soldiers,” replied Thess.

“Why are they here?”

“There’s a levy for the army,” said the headman. “Our village must provide two.”

“Then they’ve come to the wrong place,” said Dar. “My brothers are dead, and Father’s too old.”

“It’s not men they want,” said Thess.

“I’m no fighter,” said Dar.

Thess laughed humorlessly. “Then you’ve fooled me.”

“Not all who serve the king need fight,” said the headman. He turned to one of the soldiers. “She’s the one.”

“Father, what’s going on?” asked Dar, already guessing the answer.

Her father looked away.

“This was his idea,” said the headman.

“It’s for the best,” said Dar’s father, his eyes still elsewhere.

“Best for her,” said Dar, casting her stepmother a resentful look. “She’ll be pleased enough to have me gone.”

“I’ll be glad for some peace,” retorted Thess. “Always the proud one, you.”

“Unlike some, who’d tup a man for a space by his fire.”

“You’d be a wife, too, if you weren’t so willful.”

“She’s best suited for the army,” said the headman.

I’ll determine that,” said the soldier in charge. Though he was the youngest, his helmet and arms were finely made, and his armor was metal, not leather. “Murdant, see if the girl’s fit.”

The murdant, a man half again the age of his officer, slowly circled Dar, taking in her sturdy grace. He thought her old to be unmarried, perhaps two dozen winters. Though unkempt, she had pleasant features– large dark eyes, a delicate nose, russet hair, and full lips–making him surmise it was her temperament that had kept her single. As if to confirm this, Dar stood with a defiant expression, fists clenched at her sides.

“Show me your teeth,” said the murdant.

Though Dar realized the murdant was unlike some suitor who could be scared off by a show of temper, she pressed her lips tightly together. The murdant only grinned, then roughly pinched her cheeks with his thumb and forefinger to force open her jaws. He got a quick glimpse into Dar’s mouth before she struck a blow that he easily warded off. “She’s got her teeth and the rest of her looks sound enough.”

“She’ll do,” said the officer.

The headman bowed. “Tolum, we always fulfill our duty to the king.”

The officer regarded him disdainfully. “This spinster’s no great sacrifice.”

Thess entered the hut and returned with a small bundle wrapped in a threadbare cloak. “I’ve gathered your things,” she said, handing them to Dar.

The tolum mounted his horse. “March her to our camp and be quick. I’ll be waiting.” Then he rode off.

The murdant addressed the other soldiers. “You heard the tolum. Move!” He turned to Dar, who clutched her bundle with a stunned look on her face. He had seen that expression before. Her people have given her up, he thought. She has nowhere to turn. Still, he doubted her defiance was extinguished. “You fixing to give us trouble?”

Dar shook her head.

“Then come along, we have to catch up with a horse.”

Dar turned to bid farewell, but her family had disappeared into the hut.

At first, only the tread of the soldiers’ booted feet broke the silence. Dar walked blank-faced among the men, considering what to do. To buy time, she trod as though her feet were tender, hoping to slow the pace. Dar knew the path would pass a steep slope that was covered with loose rock. They won’t expect me to scramble up it barefoot. Dar was certain she could elude the soldiers, whose armor would encumber them, and escape into the heights above.

Dar tried to imagine what she would do afterward. I can’t go home. The headman would declare her an outlaw, and Dar was certain no neighbor would risk sheltering her. She would have to go far away, and that was her dilemma. In the highlands, a woman without kin had no rights or protection. To dwell anywhere, she would have to beg some man’s leave, and Dar had no illusions what price would be exacted. She recoiled at the thought.

When the soldiers marched past the rock-covered slope, Dar made no escape attempt. Having weighed her options, she chose what seemed the lesser evil–an uncertain fate with the army. The path turned away from the tumbled rocks and headed into a valley. As Dar trudged toward a new life, she thought of the one she was leaving.

She would miss her half sisters but little else. Her relations with her father had been strained ever since her mother’s death. This day’s betrayal was only his latest. Life in the stone hut had consisted of hardship, visits from unwanted suitors, and the barbs of a spiteful stepmother. Dar tried to cheer herself with the thought that she was abandoning these afflictions; yet she already suspected they would be replaced by different ones.

As the marching warmed the soldiers, their tongues loosened. “Do ye think the tolum will get himself lost?” asked one in an accent foreign to Dar’s ears.

“Even he can follow hoofprints,” said a companion.

“And his horse has sense,” said another, “even if he lacks it.”

“At least he listened to the murdant today,” said the first soldier. “This one came easy enough.”

“That’s ’cause she’s like you,” said a soldier with a grin, “worthless.”

His companion regarded Dar. “You worthless?”

Dar’s face reddened. The soldier leered and answered his own question. “Well, you’re good for one thing.”

“Unlike you, Tham,” said the murdant. The others laughed.

“At least my mum cried when I marched off,” said Tham. “I saw only dry eyes today.”

“Not like yesterday.”

“Aye,” said the murdant. “Get one that won’t be missed–that’s what I told the tolum. Hey birdie, will you miss them?”

Dar remained silent.

“Maybe she’s happy to be gone from that dung heap,” said one of the men.

“Sure,” said another. “It’s fun being a soldier.”

A soldier laughed. “Especially if you’re a woman.”

“I’ve heard no talk of war,” said Dar. “When did it begin?”

The murdant grinned. “For sooth, you’ve lived under a rock. Kregant’s been at war since the day he was crowned. Soldiering’s been steady work.”

“What’s the king fighting over?”

“Whatever he wishes. I just follow orders.”

“And what will I be doing?” asked Dar.

“Cooking.”

“You marched all this way to get a cook?”

“The tolum’s commander wanted mountain girls. Said they’re tough.”

Dar regarded the murdant and the others. They bore the look of men who lived hard. It would take a strong woman to serve with them, she thought. Yet a glimpse at the murdant’s eyes warned Dar he wasn’t telling all the truth.

“How long will I serve?” she asked.

“Not long,” said the murdant, his gaze fixed elsewhere.

For a while, the route was familiar to Dar. It crossed the valley, climbed the far ridge, and followed it. By noon, they left the ridgeline and descended into a winding valley Dar had never visited. At the lower altitude, the trees had already leafed out. The marchers halted by a stream for a brief meal before moving on. By early afternoon, they reached camp. The tolum paced about the clearing where his horse grazed. Several soldiers stood nearby. One was tending a small fire. A short distance away, a blond-haired woman sat with her back against a tree, facing away from Dar.

“You took your time,” said the tolum.

“The girl’s barefoot, sir,” said the murdant. “She slowed us down.”

“That’s no excuse, Murdant!” The tolum shot Dar an irritated look. “By Karm’s tits! How can you not own shoes?” Then he took the murdant aside, and they talked in low tones. Afterward, the tolum returned his attention to Dar. “Lie on your back.”

“Why?”

“You don’t question orders,” said the murdant. “Soldiers who do are whipped. Now, lie down.”

Dar obeyed. The murdant nodded, and a large soldier walked over, straddled Dar, and sat upon her chest, pinning her arms with his knees. Another soldier grabbed Dar’s ankles. A third knelt down and gripped her head between his knees like a vise. From the corner of her eye, Dar spied another soldier approaching. He bore something in his hand that glowed. She fought to free her arms, but the man on her chest shifted more weight to his knees until the pressure was excruciating. “Don’t struggle,” he said.

Dar grew still, and the soldier on her chest eased up a bit. By then, the fourth soldier stood over her, and she could see that the glowing object was a brand. Its end resembled a five-pointed crown outlined in fire. As it came closer to her face, Dar closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. An instant later, she felt a searing pain on her forehead accompanied by the smell of burned flesh. Dar fought against crying out, but failed. The men released her, and she sat up. The pain was intense.

The murdant tossed her a water skin. “Pour water on it,” he said. “It helps.”

The water eased Dar’s pain just enough so she could control her voice. “I came without resisting. There was no need to do that.”

“All women in the orc regiments are branded, lest they run away.”

“Orc regiments!” said Dar, her pain momentarily forgotten as she recalled the nightmare tales.

“Correct,” said the tolum, “and a branded head bears a bounty. To keep it on your shoulders, you must stick with your regiment.”

“What do orcs want with women?”

“I have no idea,” said the tolum. “I fight alongside men, not monsters.”

“They have women wait on them,” said the murdant. “I’ve seen it often.”

“You also told me I’d not serve long,” retorted Dar. “This brand betrays that lie.”

“Aye, I spoke false,” said the murdant. “But now that you’re marked, I have no need.”

“We’re done here,” said the tolum. “Chain her to the other girl and move out. We must return by the morrow.”

A soldier went over to the tree where the woman sat and pulled her to her feet. Then Dar could see that the woman’s ankles and wrists were bound and an iron ring was locked around her neck. Attached to the ring was a long length of heavy chain from which dangled several bells. The soldier removed the woman’s bonds, but not the iron ring. Using the chain, he led her closer to Dar. At the far end of the chain was a second ring, which he locked around Dar’s neck. “You’ll wear this till you reach your regiment.”

The chain wasn’t overly burdensome, but Dar saw how it would hinder an escape. The belled links were noisy, and, off the road, they would tangle easily. She approached the stranger at the other end, who appeared several years younger. Dar’s fellow captive was well dressed by highland standards; her clothes were clean and almost new. She also wore shoes. She turned to gaze at Dar. Beneath the angry brand on her forehead, her eyes were red and puffy from weeping.

Despite her pain, Dar tried to smile. “I’m Dar.”

“Leela,” replied the woman in a nearly inaudible voice.

“Move out,” commanded the tolum, who had mounted his horse. He urged his steed forward, setting a brisk pace for the soldiers and women that followed.

Dar gathered up the links of chain so it wouldn’t snag on something and so she could walk next to Leela. When they were side by side, she saw tears flowing down Leela’s face.

“It’ll be all right,” Dar said.

Leela stared ahead, oblivious. Dar gently touched her arm without getting a response. The girl’s face was emptied of every emotion except sorrow. Its desolation made Dar wonder how Leela’s parting differed from her own. The bundle that Thess had prepared was an indication. At lunchtime, Dar had inspected it. Within the worn cloak were a spare undergarment and a shift even more ragged than the one she wore. Dar’s footwear and good shift were missing, as were the beads her mother had given her. Leela’s garments bespoke a loving send-off, one that made Dar both envy and pity her.

Soon, the tolum’s pace had Dar panting, and she gave up trying to start a conversation. She trudged along, concerned only with keeping up and her own misfortune.

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King's Property (Queen of the Orcs Series #1) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 95 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was very apprehensive when I picked this book up because it looked like a children's story. It is actually very good! It tells the story of Dar, a woman (who acts like a woman, not a girl), and how she is taken from her family to serve in the military as a cook. She redefines the social norm for the military as she refuses to go along with tradition- sleeping with a man in exchange for clothes and such. It portrays Orcs in a very different light. If anything, read it just for the Orcs because that alone will start you thinking about our own society,
spit9lvr More than 1 year ago
I found much to my surprise this story sucked me in form the first chapter. I found the story concept refreshing and well thought out but not overly complicated so it made for nice relaxing read. The characters were well developed and personable allowing me to connect with them. All and all this book was a unique reading experience I'm always exited when a normally undeveloped creature such as the orc is given voice and a more complex role in this genre we call fantasy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn' t put this book down. Will Dar overcome her fear of men through all the betrayal she's experienced? If she does will it be someone trustworthy? Kovok-mah and Dar seem to have an incredible connection, but will he be able to protect someone of a different species (human) without being exhiled from his own (Orc)? Is their connection more than just an equal want for justice and peace, or is their relationship more than a platonic agreement? Loved the pace and description of this novel and immediately bought the second installment - Clan Daughter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't expect much going in. But this book is a perfect example of a strong female heroine overcoming all odds. I finished it on one sitting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is more about Dar trying to win over the orcs, not really anything to do with magical powers or anything. The orcs are a society that revere women, so she attempts to befriend them through her gender. Most of the book is set with Dar in the slave camps or doing other chores and hanging out with the orcs. Nothing really special happens, but it is a great set up for the next book.
pither on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Absolutely fantastic, loved this book. I picked it up due to the cover, though the description didn't set me afire. I got totally caught up in it, devouring page after page as I wondered what would happen to Dar. She's an incredible strong character, full of spirit and stubbornness. The author beautifully balances Dar's strong inner determination with her realization that the world is an extremely harsh place for a woman in slavery during a military campaign. I can't wait to read the next two in the trilogy.
amf0001 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is not an unfamiliar tale - peasant girl gets into cruel army, finds terrifying orcs more honorable than the soldiers and bands with them. I liked the character of Dar, the fierce weasel. I didn't mind the cliches, they worked well enough. The writing was a bit clunky, but I will read the next 2. It read a bit like a simple fable than an indepth character development, but it worked well enough B+
SunnySD on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Dar didn't have much of a life, even before the King's soldiers appeared to conscript her, brand her forehead, and march her barefoot for miles to the Orc encampment. Nevertheless, it's her life, and she's not ready to give up what little choice she has. Initially terrifying, in comparison to the human dregs the soldiers in service to the Orc encampment show themselves to be, the Orcs are honorable, if difficult to understand. Christened Dargu, or Weasel, but the huge fighters, Dar learns their language and, as the war drags on and the marches continue, finds what safety she can among them.The rough treatment Dar and the other women receive, including rape, beatings, and the other usual problems that befall camp followers, as well as the allusions to the incest Dar suffers would make this a suitable book for adults or more mature young adults, which is a shame. In spite of the depressing circumstances, Dar is a strong, engaging heroine, and I look forward to seeing how she handles the challenges of upcoming books.
mauveberry on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I enjoyed reading this book. The heroine was smart and likable. There was enough suspense and adventure in the plot. The only part I didn't like was the way humans were portrayed. The book is about a world that is inhabited by humans and orcs. The orcs are simple and honest while the humans are greedy, cowardly, and disgusting for the most part. The men are especially bad while the women are enslaved by them and do not fight back. There were several humans besides the heroine that weren't too bad, but I felt that there were too few of them. At times the men were so evil that they seemed a bit two dimensional.
maggie1944 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I enjoyed this fantasy book although it is transparently based on medieval times: walled towns, peasants, kings and their armies, etc. The main female character is interesting and somewhat unpredictable which increased the book's value to me. The author also populates the story with minor characters who actually have some substance, not merely flat characters playing predictable places. If you like fantasy, and can tolerate orcs who are loveable, this might be a book for you. I am on to reading book 2.
Nikkles on LibraryThing 10 months ago
King's Property is an interesting story about what "humanity" and "civilized" is. The characters are very interesting and you really start to care what happens to them. The story is very quickly paced and I found I read this book very quickly, which is not always a bad thing.
jchines on LibraryThing 10 months ago
King's Property is the story of Dar, a woman whose family hands her over to the army of King Kregant to serve the human and orc soldiers. Being a rather spirited woman, Dar makes several powerful enemies among the humans. Instead of allowing herself to be used, she turns to the orcs for protection, a choice which further alienates her from her fellow humans. It's a dark and violent book, often depressing, but Dar's struggle to survive makes for a good story, as does her gradual immersion into orcish culture and beliefs. Props to Howell for taking an unflinching look at the role of women during wartime. It's not a pretty picture. The work is backbreaking and unforgiving, and the women have to choose between crawling into bed with a "protector" or risking gang rape every time the army makes camp. It's a refreshing change from the way women are typically ignored or glossed over in this sort of book. Howell focuses on Dar and the women, narrating the war from their perspective. We still see the battles and the bloodshed, but it's a very different perspective. Less honor and glory, and more of the day-to-day fear and desperation. As a result, this was definitely not a light read. The human men started to feel a little cardboard in their nastiness, and there's at least one point where things got dark enough I almost tossed the book aside. I'm glad I didn't. The book is obviously part 1 of a trilogy, not so much ending as stopping. We see hints of dark powers and foreboding omens, fight a big battle, and leave Dar and the orcs in a very tight spot. It's a gripping story about issues which have been unforgivably neglected in the genre. And I'm all about books that develop the typical monstrous races. The orcs were interesting, if a little too romantically idealized. (They reminded me a bit of the noble savage stereotype.) Overall, I'm glad I read it, and I'll almost certainly pick up the next ... but I'll keep a lighter book on the bedside table, just in case I need a break.
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Great book, excellent use of dialogue.
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