The Wandering War (Sleeping King Series #3)

The Wandering War (Sleeping King Series #3)

by Cindy Dees, Bill Flippin

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765370327
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 01/30/2018
Series: Sleeping King Series , #3
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 430,257
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

CINDY DEES is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than fifty suspense and thriller novels, including Femme Fatale, Light This Candle, and The Medusa Prophecy. She also draws upon her twenty-plus years of live-action role-playing experience to write epic fantasy novels. She has participated in the Dragon Crest world since 1996.

BILL FLIPPIN is the creator of Dragon Crest, turning his fictional world into a national live-action role-playing game, with ongoing Dragon Crest events and campaigns all over the United States.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

It started with a prickle down Hemlocke's spine. Nothing much, but enough to cause the faintest spark of awareness in her sleeping mind. Something was not right.

Out of all her kind, she was the one who'd been created and empowered to act as a sentinel, exquisitely sensitive to the continent the humans called Haelos and to all its living creatures, aware even in the deepest of restorative slumbers when a threat stirred.

Slowly, slowly, blood began to seep through her veins, bringing a hint of warmth to her curled body and the beginning of thought to her dreamless mind. She'd been asleep a long time in her dark, watery lair. Her injuries at the hands of the Kothite invaders had been serious, and full healing could be measured in centuries. Her body might be nearly whole, but her spirit was still weak.

Not so weak, though, that she could not protect Haelos from its enemies. She waited patiently for her mind to come to sharp alertness, her claws to regain their deadly strength, her massive, scaled body to come to a fully active state, her great wings to unfurl. And when they did ...

Then she would fly.

* * *

"Madness! Unthinkable! Absolutely not!"

Raina gazed sympathetically at the sputtering Heart patriarch and his equally agitated fellow matriarchs and patriarchs. Outrageous though it surely was, nonetheless, she had been raised to the rank of emissary in the White Heart by Lord Goldeneye, leader of the great Dominion colony of changelings in the north of Haelos. He had no authority to do so, of course, but that had not stopped him.

High Matriarch Lenora had called this conclave of Heart leaders from across the settled lands of Haelos to discuss the matter, but the truth of it was that, no matter how much they blustered, their hands were tied. They needed the entrée to the heretofore impenetrable Dominion; hence they had no choice but to recognize her rank in the offshoot branch of the healer's guild, no matter how unorthodox it might be.

"She's a child!" a matriarch down the table spat in disgust. "The girl's hardly fit to be a White Heart initiate, let alone an emissary equal in rank to one of us."

The girl was sitting right here, hearing every word of their tirade. And she'd done a decent job of being a White Heart initiate, thank you very much. It hadn't always been easy, by the Lady. Even if she wouldn't be eighteen until springtime, age was not only measured in years but also in experience.

The Heart had three branches. The regular Heart to which most healers belonged. Then there was the White Heart, the pacifist branch of healers sworn to defend all life, to which Raina belonged, for better or worse. Lastly, there was the Royal Order of the Sun, the militaristic arm of the Heart, responsible for defending Heart chapters, their members, and the all-important resurrection Heartstones.

To Raina's vast relief, the Royal Order also took responsibility for protecting White Heart members from harm since she and her brethren were unable to protect themselves. Most of the Dominion's warriors had expressed a strong desire to kill her for being weak and spineless during her recent stint as a prisoner of that aggressive changeling army. They'd taught her to be abjectly grateful for the swords and shields that had hovered over her protectively since her return to Dupree.

At tonight's meeting, the Royal Order of the Sun was represented by Lord Justinius, knight commander of the entire order in Haelos. So far, he'd sat tense and taciturn at Lenora's right hand and not participated in the discussion. Raina suspected he saw the strategic necessity of letting her new rank stand and furthermore saw the advantage of finally having an emissary to the Dominion, her tender age notwithstanding.

Lenora patiently let the matriarchs and patriarchs bellyache their fill, which took a while. Raina had taken just about as many insults to her age, intelligence, training, and skills as she could tolerate before their complaints finally wound down to a trickle and then ceased.

The high matriarch said with admirable calm from beside Raina, "Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your candor, but here's the thing. Never in the history of the Heart has any Dominion settlement, anywhere, allowed a member of the Heart to act as an envoy to it. We simply cannot turn down this opportunity."

"Agreed!" the sputtering patriarch from before exclaimed. "Let us send a more seasoned Heart member to Goldeneye with all due haste."

It was all Raina could do not to call him a fool for even suggesting such a thing. Lord Goldeneye would not stand for a substitute. They would be lucky to get their replacement emissary back alive, let alone with his or her mind intact.

She opened her mouth to tell the man so, but Lord Justinius sent her a brief, quelling look and a small shake of his head.

The big knight leaned forward ponderously, leather gambeson creaking under his chain mail, to weigh in at last. "Ladies and gentlemen. We are in full agreement that we have been presented with a rare opportunity, and we cannot turn away from it. However, I have met Lord Goldeneye, and he is not the sort to be trifled with. If this young lady is the one he chose, I guarantee you, he will accept no other. I shall send one of my most experienced knights to guard her, and he will be fully capable of advising her should she need guidance."

She studied Justinius while the others buzzed and Lenora tried unsuccessfully to quiet them. What was his game? Did Lord Justinius wish merely to plant an observer in his enemy's stronghold, perhaps co-opting control of her mission for his order?

Or did he aim higher? Did he dare hope for a rapprochement between the Royal Order of the Sun and the Dominion itself? The idea skirted perilously near treason. The Dominion's leaders openly declared themselves sworn enemies of Koth, nearly as openly as they declared their intent to conquer all the lands of Urth for themselves.

"The enemy of my enemy?" she murmured under the hubbub for Justinius's ears only.

"Silence!" he hissed in alarm.

Lord Justinius didn't deny her implication. But he did push abruptly to his feet, towering over them all in his armor and weapons while she stared at him in shock.

The others fell mostly silent, and his voice cut across the last few protests. "It is settled. I will send Sir Lakanos to Dupree to accompany her. He is a skilled warrior who will earn the respect of the Dominion and is subtle enough to help Raina manage the nuances of this assignment. When do you leave for the Great Den, Emissary?"

"Lord Goldeneye told me to return in the summer."

"Very well. When the days lengthen and the wheat ripens, look for my knight."

She bowed her head respectfully. "Yes, my lord."

* * *

Downstairs in the big common room with its heavy-beamed ceilings and plenty of cots for the ill and injured, the Heart door opened to let in twilight's chill, and a crowd of drunken soldiers spilled inside loudly. The gypsy healer Rosana scowled as Will Cobb peeled away from his boisterous cronies, members of the elite Imperial Special Forces unit who called themselves the Talons of Koth. He wasn't a member of the unit, but they were recruiting him hard to join them. And to her chagrin, he was letting them.

"The lot of you are sloshed again?" she complained, hands planted in dragon wings of irritation on her hips.

"'Ey there, Rosie," Will called, overloud, his words slurring slightly. "We're here to get our blood purified so we can start drinking anew."

"What brilliant tactician thought up that idea?" she snapped.

"Me, of course." Will made an exaggerated bow in her general direction. "Will Cobb, tactical genius extraordinaire, at your service."

"I see your ego hasn't suffered any bruises after your training with Captain Krugar," she replied tartly.

Will had come to the Heart daily for the past two weeks for treatment of various contusions, cuts, and even a few cracked ribs after his sparring sessions with the Imperial Army officer. Unfortunately, Will's ego was growing right along with his prodigious combat skills.

Something had happened to him a few months back during the pitched fight to close a portal to the dream plane up in Dominion territory. He'd unlocked some sort of repressed memories of martial training from his childhood. He'd gone from being able to handle himself reasonably well in a fight to a highly skilled battle caster in the blink of an eye. Rumor had it he was actually beating Krugar on a semiregular basis in their weapons training now.

She ought to cut him some slack, forgive him for his abrupt surge of arrogant confidence, but it still rubbed her the wrong way. She preferred her humble cobbler's son from a tiny village in the Wylde Wold to this swaggering young man.

Maybe Will's attitude was influenced by the tree spirit trapped in the wooden disk that had grown onto his chest a year back. Bloodroot was the tree lord of death, destruction, and rage, after all. Ever since their unnatural union, Will had struggled against bouts of anger, jealousy, and quick temper.

Sometimes Rosana despaired of hanging on to the sweet lad who'd rescued her from an orc attack on a deserted road in the western woods over a year ago and won her heart in the process.

"C'mon, Rosie. Give us some potions," Will cajoled.

He opened his arms, and she scooted out of reach, swatting at his hands. "You know that is not how Heart resources are used."

Commander Thanon, leader of the Talons, threw an arm across Will's shoulder. "We'll pay for the potions. Twice — no, triple — their worth. I've got gold."

Rosana's scowl deepened. With triple the cost of the potions in gold, she could replace the ones she used on these fools with many more potions to heal the needy who poured through the Heart's front door in a never-ending stream. "Fine," she huffed. "But show me the gold first."

* * *

Raina heard a commotion downstairs and recognized the voices. Grabbing her white cloak boldly emblazoned with the royal blue symbol of the White Heart, she headed down to the big common room.

One of the men lolling about with Will spied her and peeled away from the others. She recognized the Imperial Army officer, a handsome young man entirely too cocky for his own good. He was a paxan, with a closed third eye in the middle of his forehead, and he made an exaggerated bow to her. "Greetings, my lady fair. Mine eyes rejoice at the sight of thy beauty."

She rolled her eyes. "Good evening, Commander Thanon. I see you and your friends have been celebrating again. Is there some occasion I am not aware of to warrant this revelry?"

"Merely the fact of being alive, my lovely Raina."

"I am not yours, sir," she replied a shade sharply. She turned to Will, her good friend and traveling companion of the past year. "I have some news to celebrate and was hoping you and Rosana could join me and our friends for a drink."

He frowned foggily, and she impatiently placed her glowing hand on his elbow, murmured an incant, and released magic that would purify his blood of the alcohol flowing through it.

Rosana stepped out into the main room holding a fistful of glass vials. "I've got the purification potions. Hand over the gold you promised."

"Take the gold, but keep the potions," Raina told her. "I'll take care of these louts."

"Hey!" A general cry went up from the soldiers, but they crowded around readily enough to accept her healing.

Irritated at their obnoxious behavior, Raina declined to trickle the healing slowly into the men to minimize discomfort. Rather, she slammed the healing into each man at combat speed, ensuring maximum pain as it did its work, coursing through their blood, cleansing the alcohol from it.

Thanon was last. Raina was tall, but Thanon was taller by nearly a head and smiled down at her entirely too intimately for her comfort. His attention zinged across her skin like a vibrating wire and made her more nervous than she liked to admit. He murmured low, "I shall relish the pain because it is you who causes it, my lady."

She really wished he would quit calling her that. Just to be contrary, she trickled his healing into him slowly enough not to cause the slightest discomfort. "I would not dream of hurting an important Imperial officer such as yourself, Commander. After all, I am but a lowly commoner."

He grinned broadly. "My dear, you are anything but common."

The twinkle in his eyes was hard to resist, but he was not the first handsome young man to flirt with her since her return from the Dominion lands. She stepped back and said formally, "I must go."

"Form up, men," Thanon ordered crisply, entirely sober now.

The Talons fell into a marching formation and departed the Heart with sharp efficiency.

"Shall we go find Eben, Rynn, and Sha'Li?" she asked Rosana and Will.

The three of them set out across Dupree, the capital city of the Imperial Kothite colony in Haelos, in search of their friends. Raina barely noticed the pair of Royal Order of the Sun guardians who fell in behind them, but she was still glad for their presence.

They arrived at what had been Landsgrave Hyland's residence until his permanent death. Leland's foster son and their friend, Eben, still lived there. The young jann, an elementally aligned humanoid, grabbed his cloak eagerly when he heard the plan to go out on the town and celebrate Raina's promotion in rank.

Rynn, a magnificently handsome paxan with golden hair and brilliant blue eyes — three open blue eyes, to be exact — was also pleased to join them, although his enthusiasm was more measured. He paused to don a filigree headband that covered the third eye in the middle of his forehead before sweeping on his cloak and pulling its deep hood far forward to hide his damningly illegal open eye.

All members of the paxan race had third eyes; it was just that most were permanently closed. Imperial law dictated that all open-eyed paxan were to be arrested on sight and turned over to the Empire. No one knew what happened to them once in Imperial custody, but it could not possibly be good.

The party, now numbering five, rang a great brass bell down by the dock and passed along an invitation for Sha'Li to join them to the lizardman who rose out of the water at their call. He knew who the black-scaled lizardman girl was and agreed to pass the message along to her.

Eben seemed relieved when Sha'Li didn't join them, which made Raina frown. Something had happened between him and Sha'Li in the Angor Swamp a few months back. Though they were once the best of friends, Eben refused to even speak of the lizardman girl now. It pained Raina to see two of her dearest friends so estranged.

They headed for the Hungry Horde Inn, a favorite watering hole of young artisans in Dupree. The ale was hearty, the food plentiful, and none of it too expensive. Tonight, Raina treated her friends to dinner and drinks, unaccustomed to having a bit of gold jingling around in her belt pouch. High Matriarch Lenora had given the coins to her before she left the Heart earlier, calling it her allowance as an emissary. Apparently, emissaries required spending money to conduct business in a manner commensurate with their rank.

"Look at you!" Will exclaimed. "All grown up and financially independent!"

She laughed. "I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm independent. The Heart provides me with my cash and resources. And I do have to earn it by doing a job."

Rynn looked concerned. "When must you return to the Dominion?"

"This summer. And Lord Justinius has offered to provide a knight escort for me."

"More like a babysitter," Rosana teased.

Raina rolled her eyes at the characterization but could not deny its truth.

They talked and laughed about nothing in particular through the evening. It was a welcome change after the stress and danger of the past few months. They'd sought, and ultimately found, another piece of the Sleeping King's regalia that they would need to wake the ancient elven king one day. Furthermore, they'd finally found their good friend Kendrick Hyland, who'd been kidnapped last year. Unfortunately, he'd chosen to stay with his captor, nature guardian Kerryl Moonrunner, and to retain the were-curse Kerryl had put upon him.

Raina worried about Kendrick and shared his grief at the permanent death of his father, Landsgrave Leland Hyland, who had been like a father to her since she arrived in Dupree.

Sha'Li, their lizardman friend, never showed up at the pub. Whether she didn't receive the invitation or simply chose to ignore it, Raina couldn't guess. Sha'Li spent most of her time underwater in the lizardman settlement near Dupree, rather than roaming the streets of the human city where most people eyed Sha'Li's kind with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Wandering War"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin.
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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