The Summer Palace: Volume Three of the Annals of the Chosen

The Summer Palace: Volume Three of the Annals of the Chosen

by Lawrence Watt-Evans

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429950572
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 06/10/2008
Series: The Annals of the Chosen , #3
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 727,666
File size: 455 KB

About the Author

Lawrence Watt-Evans has written more than a dozen fantasy novels. He lives in Maryland.


Born and raised in Massachusetts, Lawrence Watt-Evans has been a full-time writer and editor for more than twenty years. The author of more than thirty novels, over one hundred short stories, and more than one hundred and fifty published articles, Watt-Evans writes primarily in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comic books. His short fiction has won the Hugo Award as well as twice winning the Asimov's Readers Award. His fiction has been published in England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Poland, France, Hungary, and Russia
He served as president of the Horror Writers Association from 1994 to 1996 and after leaving that office was the recipient of HWA's first service award ever. He is also a member of Novelists Inc., and the Science Fiction Writers of America. Married with two children, he and his wife Julie live in Maryland.

Read an Excerpt

The Summer Palace

Volume Three of the Annals of the Chosen


By Lawrence Watt-Evans

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2008 Lawrence Watt-Evans
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5057-2


CHAPTER 1

The only land route out of Barokan was that path up the cliff to the Uplands. Escape by sea might be possible, but Sword was no sailor, and knew nothing of where he might find a ship, or where it might take him; he preferred to stay on solid ground. He had doubled back to Winterhome because it was the last place the Wizard Lord's men would expect to find him, and because it was the only way to the Uplands.

Slipping into the town had been surprisingly easy.

It shouldn't have been.

After all, Artil im Salthir, Lord of Winterhome, surely knew that Sword intended to kill him. He had ordered the deaths of six of the eight Chosen, and he had taken the other two prisoner. It would be plain to anyone that Sword and any of the others who were still alive and free would now want to kill the Wizard Lord.

There had been half a dozen of the Wizard Lord's guards posted on each of the two roads into town that Sword investigated, and presumably on the other three entry roads as well, but there had been no visible attempt to guard the long border with the wilderness, even though the Wizard Lord knew that the Chosen could travel safely outside the towns, without need of roads. Sword guessed there were two factors at work in leaving the boundaries unmanned — that the Wizard Lord did not think any of the Chosen would be fool enough, having once escaped, to try to reenter Winterhome; and that he simply didn't have enough men to patrol every part of the border.

Whatever the reason, Sword had found it easy to slip across the boundary well away from any guards, and to creep along behind the guesthouses, into the heart of the town, where he made his way up an alley onto the streets.

From there, he had worked slowly and carefully toward the central plaza.

He was not there yet; he had paused here because ahead the crowds were too thick. He could not hope to cross the plaza by daylight without being spotted. He still wore the concealing black garb of the Host People, and could blend in fairly well if he avoided passing too close to anyone else, but even with the hood up and his sword strapped to his back, hidden under the loose black tunic, there was a chance someone might recognize him.

And if anyone spoke to him — well, he had never learned to speak with the lilt of the Winterhome dialect.

He would have to wait until dark.

He wished he could stop in somewhere for something to eat, but the risk of being recognized was too great.

For that matter, standing here staring at the cliff might well draw attention; he lowered his gaze and ambled away, trying to look unconcerned.

The crowds were starting to thin as people headed home for supper, so he risked continuing on to the north, toward the plaza. He made his way safely almost to the edge and looked out at the crowd, and at the front of the Winter Palace.

There in the palace wall was the archway that led to the foot of the trail up the cliffs, and there, also, was a more serious obstacle than the mere possibility of being recognized. Four spearmen stood at the opening, guarding it.

Sword knew he could easily defeat four spearmen. However, he wanted not merely to get to the Uplands, but to do so undetected.

If the Wizard Lord knew where he had gone, it would defeat the whole purpose of going there.

He turned his attention to a merchant's wagon a few steps into the plaza, and began poking through the collection of cutlery and weapons displayed thereon; the proprietor was busy with another customer and merely threw him a quick nod, acknowledging his presence and his right to look through the merchandise.

Studying the blades, holding them up to catch the sinking sun, allowed him plenty of time to think, and an opportunity to get a good look at the guarded gate.

There was no obvious way past the spearmen, who were clustered directly before the arch. He wondered, though, why it was guarded at all. The Uplanders would not be descending for at least another two months, and in any case, to the best of Sword's knowledge they were no threat to anyone or anything the Wizard Lord cared about.

It seemed more likely, given that the guards were facing out into the plaza, that the Wizard Lord did not want any of the people of Barokan slipping through that gate. Had he somehow guessed what Sword intended?

Sword did not see how Artil could have guessed.

He looked at the gate, and then up at the cliffs, the upper reaches still brightly lit by the setting sun, and a possibility came to him.

He had noticed when he climbed up once before that from the first diagonal stretch of the trail it would be fairly easy to drop large heavy objects, such as rocks, onto the roof of the Winter Palace. It might be possible to clamber down and lower oneself onto the roof, as well — and just a few days ago Bow, the Chosen Archer, had demonstrated how effective rooftop archery could be.

That was probably what concerned the Wizard Lord, and prompted him to post guards.

It also suggested another possibility to Sword, though. If he could get on the palace roof by some other route, he could slip down onto the loose stone on the other side of the gate, and then go up to the path.

Sword immediately knew what that other route would be; Snatcher, the Chosen Thief, had shown him a way to get onto the palace roof by climbing up a low wall to the north of the palace, jumping across to the roof of a shed, and working upward from there. Sword and Snatcher had used that method to get to the high windows overlooking the Wizard Lord's throne room, and had watched from that unsuspected vantage point as Boss and Lore confronted the Wizard Lord and brought on the open conflict that had ended with the two of them in the dungeons, Azir and Babble dead in the street, and the four remaining Chosen scattered.

Sword had not seen a route across to the back of the palace and down to the stony slope beyond, but surely one could be found, once the roof was gained. He dropped the knife he had been pretending to study, and wandered off, back out of the plaza.

He took his time circling around, through the back streets and alleys; after all, he was not going anywhere until after nightfall. He and Snatcher had climbed the palace roof in broad daylight once without being seen, but Sword saw no reason to assume he would be so fortunate again, and in any case he certainly couldn't climb that exposed trail up the cliffs until darkness had fallen.

That climb had had its frightening moments even in daylight; the prospect of making his way up the narrow path in the dark, without so much as a candle, working largely by touch, was not an attractive one.

But what choice did he have?

By the time the sun's light finally climbed up the cliffs and vanished, and the western sky faded from blue to red to indigo, he had rounded the plaza at a safe distance and then slipped back in toward the north end. There he turned east into a familiar alley.

An ordinary man might have had some difficulty going any farther than that, but Sword was not an ordinary man. He was the world's greatest swordsman, and that meant he was stronger, faster, and more agile than an ordinary man. He was able to vault up the stone barrier, then turn and fling himself up to the top of the palace wall.

When he had come this way before, the Thief had provided a grapple and rope, but Sword managed without them, catching the edge and pulling himself up.

From there he clambered up a window frame, launched himself upward to grab the eaves, and swung himself up onto the edge of the roof; it was more difficult alone and without tools than it had been with Snatcher and his ropes and his enchanted rat, but it was certainly possible.

Once on the roof he crouched down to reduce his visibility, and ran across the tiles, keeping his knees bent and his feet low to minimize the sound of his passage. He made his way from roof to roof and wall to wall until he came to the eastern edge, where the windowless back wall of the palace dropped twenty feet down to the crumbled, mossy gray stone.

But he did not immediately drop down onto the rocks in the shadows side of the palace. There was no hurry. He knew that anyone on the zigzag path up the cliff would be plainly visible to hundreds of people below, especially as the last rays of the setting sun still lit the cliffs while the town below sank into shadow.

He had to wait until dark. He settled carefully to the tile behind a chimney and sat with his back against the masonry, waiting as the light faded from the sky and night fell.

As he waited he listened to the sounds from below, the voices of the people in the plaza, and the sounds from inside the palace itself. He could not make out words, but he caught faint snatches of shouting voices, doors slamming, and other noises loud enough to echo up the chimneys or percolate through the tiles.

As night deepened, though, these sounds faded away, and at last he heard nothing but the wind. That was when he crossed the final few yards of tile and dropped down into the blackness east of the palace.

His landing on the loose stone made more noise than he liked; he froze and waited to see whether any guards would come to investigate the sound.

None did.

After several minutes of silence he felt safe enough to move again; he rose from his crouch and oriented himself.

For the most part, the cliffs were invisible in the blackness, but faint light spilled through the gate from the plaza, enough to make sure he was pointed in the right direction. He aimed himself toward the bit of trail he could see, and began walking — or climbing, as the slope he was on was steep right from the start.

He stumbled almost immediately, but caught himself before falling flat on his face, righted himself and continued, almost creeping. The steep slope and near-total darkness made the climb difficult, but he did not dare wait for daylight — he did not want to be seen. He hoped to reach the canyon at the top of the cliffs before daylight, so that no one in Winterhome would spot him.

He was not worried that he would be recognized at such a distance, but at this time of year, with the Wizard Lord and his retinue settled back into the Winter Palace and the Uplanders still on the plateau, nobody would have legitimate business ascending this route. If he was spotted, someone might well be sent to investigate.

With that in mind he moved as swiftly as he dared, feeling his way where necessary, and at last found the packed dirt and smoothed stone of the path. He breathed a sigh of relief as he stood on the trail, looking back down at the arch that led to the plaza, and the backs of the spearmen who still guarded it.

He had reached the path, and from here on, once he was around the first bend and out of sight of the guards, he did not expect to see another human being until he was out on the high plateau.

Of course, he would have to make the long climb in the dark, but he was comforted by the knowledge that so many people had walked this path so often that there were unlikely to be any loose stones to send clattering, or spots where the ground beneath his feet could not be trusted.

In fact, the trail was so well-worn that even in the dark he could follow it without any great difficulty, especially once it curved around to parallel the cliffs and zigzag its way up; at that point it was simply a matter of not falling off the edge and tumbling back down into Winterhome. The town's lights made it easy to see the western edge of the path.

It was still a long and wearisome climb, though, and by the time he finally turned eastward into the triangular canyon, the sky above and ahead was starting to lighten.

And at that point it was as if he had walked smack into a wall. He staggered and fell, catching himself before he could tumble back over the edge.

His hands were twitching, his knees buckling, and he could feel the talisman in his pocket, the talisman that bound him to the ler of muscle and steel and gave him the magic of the Chosen Swordsman, as if it were burning hot. He had forgotten, once again, how strong that magic was that tied him to his homeland, and how great the difference was between Barokan and the rest of the world.

"O ler," he whispered, "I must do this. I am going to slay a Dark Lord by approaching him where his magic cannot help him. I know I must yield you up to do this, but I see no other way."

You will have no magic past this point, something chided him.

"I know," he murmured. "I know. But am I not the world's greatest swordsman? Have I not been practicing every day for years so that I can fight on my own, without magical aid?"

We cannot guide you.

"I understand that. I ask no guidance, no assistance. I must face the Wizard Lord without magic. He is too well guarded in Barokan, but in his Summer Palace he will think himself safe from me."

We cannot protect you.

"I know." Sword swallowed. "His guards will probably kill me — but I hope I can kill him before they do, to free Barokan and avenge my companions. I'll use whatever stealth I can, and try to surprise them."

Go.

And the ler were gone. Strength returned to his legs, his hands were steady once again — but he could feel a yawning, terrible emptiness in his heart and soul as he staggered past the boundary marker. The land around him felt dead and somehow less real than it had just a moment before.

He could also feel a horrible weariness; he no longer had any magical reserves of endurance or strength, and he had had a very long day indeed. He had awakened in Morning Calm, decoyed several of the Wizard Lord's men into the clutches of the ler of Morning Calm's earth, then marched swiftly cross-country back to Winter-home; he had spent an hour or two prowling the streets without rest, then had climbed the wall, crossed the roof, and climbed the cliffs. His magic had given him the strength to do all this without pain, without succumbing to exhaustion, but now his magic was gone.

A cold wind blew down from the east, from the plateau, and he shivered. He stumbled on, up the triangular canyon, toward the light of dawn, then paused and looked back. He could see nothing of Winterhome now; all he saw was the star-spattered western sky over Barokan.

And that meant, he thought, that no one in Barokan could see him.

There was no need to go farther tonight. He could rest here. He curled up at the side of the canyon, against the rocky wall, and fell instantly asleep.

CHAPTER 2

A few hours later Sword awoke, stiff from sleeping on the stony ground as he had, and immediately cursed himself for a fool. He should never have yielded to exhaustion as he had. The sun was more than halfway up the eastern sky, filling the canyon with daylight; he had been sleeping here in the open for hours. What if someone had passed by and found him here? Yes, it had been several days since the Wizard Lord left the Summer Palace, but there had presumably been servants left behind to finish closing it up, and he was unsure whether all of them had yet descended to Winterhome.

For that matter, despite what he had told himself the day before, Sword was not really sure what schedule the Uplanders followed. They might already be on their way to Winterhome, as well, though he did not really think it likely. The stories said that they came down the cliffs only at the first snowfall, which was surely at least a month or two away.

He shuddered, stretched, and then got slowly to his feet.

He had gotten this far on half-formed ideas and desperation, but he knew he should formulate some real plans before going farther. He had decided that the Uplands were the only place he could go where the Wizard Lord would not find him, and he still believed that, but he had not really worked out any details beyond getting himself atop the cliffs. At the boundary he had told the ler that he intended to ambush the Wizard Lord when he came back up to the Summer Palace, but first he would have to survive until spring.

He would need food and water and shelter. He knew that the Summer Palace could provide shelter, if he could get inside, but there was no reason to think any food or water had been left there.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Summer Palace by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Copyright © 2008 Lawrence Watt-Evans. 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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