For the sake of an imperiled kingdom, the line between "traitor"and "savior" must blur . . . and vanish.
Though barely a teenager, Wyl Thirsk must now assume the role he has been destined for since birth: commander of the Morgravian army an awesome responsibility that calls him to the royal palace of the crown prince Celimus. Already a cruel despot who delights in the suffering of others, Celimus enjoys forcing his new general to witness his depraved "entertainments." But a kindness to a condemned witch in her final, agonizing hours earns young Thirsk a miraculous bequest, while inflaming the wrath of his liege lord.
With war looming in the north, Wyl must obey Celimus's treacherous dictates and undertake a suicidal journey to an enemy court armed with a mysterious power that could prove both boon and curse. For unless he accepts Myrren's gift, it will surely destroy him . . . and the land he must defend.
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Myrren's GiftThe Quickening Book One
By Fiona McIntosh
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Fiona McIntosh
All right reserved.
Gueryn looked to his left at the solemn profile of the the lad who rode quietly next to him and felt another pang of concern for Wyl Thirsk, Morgravia's new General of the Legion. His father's death was as untimely as it was unexpected. Why had they all believed Fergys Thirsk would die of old age? His son was too young to take such a title and responsibility onto his shoulders. And yet he must; custom demanded it. Gueryn thanked the stars for giving the King wisdom enough to appoint a temporary commander until Wyl was of an age where men would respect him. The name of Thirsk carried much weight but no soldier would follow a near-fourteen-year-old into battle.
Hopefully, there would be no war for many years now. According to the news filtering back from the capital, Morgravia had inflicted a terrible price on Briavel's young men this time. No, Gueryn decided, there would be no fighting for a while ... long enough for Wyl to turn into the fine young man he promised to be.
Gueryn regarded the boy, with his distinctive flame-colored hair and squat frame. He so badly needed his father's guidance, the older man thought regretfully.
Wyl had taken the news of his father's death stoically in front of the household, making Gueryn proud of the boy as he watched him comfort his younger sister. But later, behind closed doors, he had held the trembling shoulders of the lad and offered what comfort he could. The youngster had worshiped his father, and who could blame him -- most of Morgravia's men had as well. It was especially sad that the boy had lost his father having not seen him in so many moons.
Ylena, at nine, was still young enough to be distracted by her loving nursemaid as well as her dolls and the new kitten Gueryn had had the foresight to grab at the local market as soon as he was delivered the news. Wyl would not be so easily diverted and Gueryn could already sense the numbing grief hardening within the boy. Wyl was a serious, complex child, and this would push him further into himself. Gueryn wondered whether being forced to the capital was such a good idea right now.
The Thirsk home in Argorn had been a happy one despite the head of the household having been absent so often. Gueryn had agreed several years back to take on what seemed the ridiculously light task of watching over the raising of the young Thirsk. But he had known from the steely gaze of the old warrior that this was a role the General considered precious and he would entrust this job only to his accomplished captain, whose mind was as sharp as the blade he wielded with such skill. Gueryn understood and with a quiet regret at leaving his beloved Legion, he had moved to live among the rolling hills of Argorn, among the lush southern counties of Morgravia.
He became Wyl's companion, military teacher, academic tutor, and close friend. As much as the boy adored his father, the General spent most of his year in the capital, and it was Gueryn who filled the gap of Fergys Thirsk's absence. It was of littl wonder then that student and mentor had become so close.
"Don't watch me like that, Gueryn. I can almost smell your anxiety."
"How are you feeling about this?" the soldier asked, ignoring the boy's rebuke.
Wyl turned in his saddle to look at his friend, regarding the handsome former captain. A flush of color to his pale, freckled face betrayed his next words. "I'm feeling fine."
"Be honest with me of all people, Wyl."
The lad looked away and they continued their steady progress toward the famed city of Pearlis. Gueryn waited, knowing his patience would win out. It had been just days since Wyl's father had died. The wound was still raw and seeping. Wyl could hide nothing from him.
"I wish I didn't have to go," Wyl finally said, and the soldier felt the tension in his body release somewhat. They could talk about it now and he could do what he could to make Wyl feel easier about his arrival in the strange, sprawling, often overwhelming capital. "But I know this was my father's dying wish," Wyl added, trying to cover his sigh.
"The King promised he would bring you to Pearlis. And he had good reason to do so. Magnus accepts that you are not ready for the role in anything but title yet but Pearlis is the only place you can learn your job and make an impression on the men you will one day command." Gueryn's tone was gentle, but the words implacable. Wyl grimaced. "You can't stamp your mark from sleepy Argorn," Gueryn added, wishing they could have had a few months -- weeks even -- just to get the boy used to the idea of having no parents.
Gueryn thought of the mother. Fragile and pretty, she had loved Fergys Thirsk and his gruff ways with a ferocity that belied her sweet, gentle nature. She had succumbed, seven years previous and after a determined fight, to the virulent coughing disease that had swept through Morgravia's south. If she had not been weakened from Ylena's long and painful birth she might have pulled through. The disease killed many in the household, mercifully sparing the children.
Although he rarely showed it outwardly, Wyl seemed to miss her in his own reserved way. For all his rough-andtumble boyishness, Gueryn thought, Wyl obviously adored women. The ladies of the household loved him back, spoiling him with their affections but often whispering pitying words about his looks.
There was no escaping the fact that Wyl Thirsk was not a handsome boy. The crown of thick orange hair did nothing to help an otherwise plain, square face, and those who remembered the boy's grandfather said that Wyl resembled the old man in uncanny fashion -- his ugliness was almost as legendary as his soldiering ability ...
Excerpted from Myrren's Gift by Fiona McIntosh Copyright © 2005 by Fiona McIntosh. Excerpted by permission.
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