New York Times-bestselling Tad Williams’ ground-breaking epic fantasy saga of Osten Ard begins an exciting new cycle! • Volume One of The Last King of Osten Ard
The Dragonbone Chair, the first volume of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, was published in hardcover in October, 1988, launching the series that was to become one of the seminal works of modern epic fantasy. Many of today’s top-selling fantasy authors, from Patrick Rothfuss to George R. R. Martin to Christopher Paolini credit Tad with being the inspiration for their own series.
Now, twenty-four years after the conclusion of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad returns to his beloved universe and characters with The Witchwood Crown, the first novel in the long-awaited sequel trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard.
More than thirty years have passed since the events of the earlier novels, and the world has reached a critical turning point once again. The realm is threatened by divisive forces, even as old allies are lost, and others are lured down darker paths. Perhaps most terrifying of all, the Norns—the long-vanquished elvish foe—are stirring once again, preparing to reclaim the mortal-ruled lands that once were theirs....
About the Author
Tad Williams has held more jobs than any sane person should admit to—singing in a band, selling shoes, managing a financial institution, throwing newspapers, and designing military manuals, to name just a few. He also hosted a syndicated radio show for ten years, worked in theater and television production, taught both grade-school and college classes, and worked in multimedia for a major computer firm. He is cofounder of an interactive television company, and is currently writing comic books and film and television scripts as well. Tad and his family live in London and the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find Tad Williams at tadwilliams.com.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
The pavilion walls billowed and snapped as the winds rose. Tiamak thought it was like being inside a large drum. Many people in the tent were trying to be heard, but the clear voice of a young minstrel floated above it all, singing a song of heroism:
“Sing ye loud his royal name
Seoman the Glorious!
Spread it far, his royal fame
Seoman the Glorious!”
The king did not look glorious. He looked tired. Tiamak could see it in the lines of Simon’s face, the way his shoulders hunched as if he awaited a blow. But that blow had already fallen. Today was only the grim anniversary.
Limping more than usual because of the cold day, little Tiamak made his way among all the larger men. These courtiers and important officials were gathered around the king, who sat on one of two high-backed wooden chairs at the center of the tent, both draped in the royal colors. A banner with the twin drakes, the red and the white, hung above them. The other chair was empty.
As a makeshift throne room in the middle of a Hernystir field, Tiamak thought, it was more than adequate, but it was also clearly the one place King Seoman did not want to be. Not today.
“With hero’s sword in his right hand
And nought but courage in his heart
Did Seoman make his gallant stand
Though cowards fled apart
“When the hellspawned Norns did bring
Foul war upon the innocent
And giants beat upon the gates
And Norn sails filled the Gleniwent . . .”
“I don’t understand,” said the king loudly to one of the courtiers. “In truth, my good man, I haven’t understood a thing you’ve said, what with all this shouting and caterwauling. Why should they have to lime the bridges? Do they think we are birds that need catching?”
“Line the bridges, sire.”
The king scowled. “I know, Sir Murtach. It was meant as a jest. But it still doesn’t make any sense.”
The courtier’s determined smile faltered. “It is the tradition for the people to line up along the bridges as well as the roads, but King Hugh is concerned that the bridges might not stand under the weight of so many.”
“And so we must give up our wagons and come on foot? All of us?”
Sir Murtach flinched. “It is what King Hugh requests, Your Majesty.”
“When armies of the Stormlord came
Unto the very Swertclif plain
Who stood on Hayholt’s battlements
And bade them all turn back again?
“Sing ye loud his royal name
Seoman the Glorious!
Spread it far, his royal fame
Seoman the Glorious!”
King Simon’s head had tipped to one side. It was not the side from which he was being urgently addressed by another messenger, who had finally worked his way to a place beside the makeshift throne. Something had distracted Simon. Tiamak thought that seeing the king’s temper fray was like watching a swamp flatboat beginning to draw water. It was plain that if someone didn’t do something soon, the whole craft would sink.
“He slew the dragon fierce and cold
And banished winter by his hand
He tamed the Sithi proud and old
And saved the blighted, threatened land . . .”
Murtach was still talking in one royal ear, and the other messenger had started his speech for the third time when Simon suddenly stood. The courtiers fell back swiftly, like hunting hounds when the bear turns at bay. The king’s beard was still partly red, but he had enough gray in it now, as well as the broad white stripe where he had once been splashed by dragon’s blood, that when his anger was up he looked a bit like an Aedonite prophet from the old days.
“That! That!” Simon shouted. “It’s bad enough that I cannot hear myself think, that every man in camp wants me to do something or . . . or not do something . . . but must I listen to such terrible lies and exaggerations as well?” He turned and pointed his finger at the miscreant. “Well? Must I?”
At the far end of the king’s finger, the young minstrel stared back with the round eyes of a quiet, nighttime grazer caught in the sudden glare of a torch. He swallowed. It seemed to take a long time. “Beg pardon, Majesty?” he squeaked.
“That song! That preposterous song! ‘He slew the dragon fierce and cold’—a palpable lie!” The king strode forward until he towered over the thin, dark-haired singer, who seemed to be melting and shrinking like a snowflake caught in a warm hand. “By the Bloody Tree, I never killed that dragon, I just wounded it a bit. I was terrified. And I didn’t tame the Sithi either, for the love of our lord Usires!”
The minstrel looked at up at him, mouth working but without sound.
“And the rest of the song is even more mad. Banished the winter? You might as well say I make the sun rise every day!”
“B-But . . . but it is only a song, Majesty,” the minstrel finally said. “It is a well-known and well-loved one—all the people sing it . . .”
“Pfah.” But Simon was no longer shouting. His anger was like a swift storm—the thunder had boomed, now all that was left was cold rain. “Then go sing it to all the people. Or better yet, when we return to the Hayholt, ask old Sangfugol what really happened. Ask him what it was truly like when the Storm King’s darkness came down on us and we all pissed ourselves in fear.”
A moment of confused bravery showed itself on the young man’s face. “But it was Sangfugol who made that song, Your Majesty. And he was the one who taught it to me.”
Simon growled. “So, then all bards are liars. Go on, boy. Get away from me.”
The minstrel looked quite forlorn as he pushed his way toward the door of the pavilion. Tiamak caught at his sleeve as he went by. “Wait outside,” he told the singer. “Wait for me.”
The young man was so full of anguish he had not truly heard. “I beg pardon?”
“Just wait outside for a few moments. I will come for you.”
The youth looked at the little Wrannaman oddly, but everyone in the court knew Tiamak and how close he was to the king and queen. The harper blinked his eyes, doing his best to compose himself. “If you say so, my lord.”
Simon was already driving the rest of the courtiers from the pavilion. “Enough! Leave me be now, all of you. I cannot do everything, and certainly not in one day! Give me peace!”
Tiamak waited until the wave of humanity had swept past him and out of the tent, then he waited a bit longer until the king finished pacing and dropped back onto his chair. Simon looked up at his councilor and his face sagged with unhappiness and useless anger. “Don’t look at me that way, Tiamak.”
The king seldom lost his temper with those who served him, and was much loved for it. Back home in Erkynland many called him “the Commoner King” or even “the Scullion King” because of his youthful days as a Hayholt dogsbody. Generally Simon remembered very well indeed what it felt like to be ignored or blamed by those with power. But sometimes, especially when he was in the grip of such heartache as he was today, he fell into foul moods.
Tiamak, of course, knew that the moods seldom lasted long and were followed quickly by regret. “I am not looking at you in any particular way, Majesty.”
“Don’t mock me. You are. It’s that sad, wise expression you put on when you’re thinking about what a dunderhead one of your monarchs is. And that monarch is nearly always me.”
“You need rest, Majesty.” It was a privilege to speak as old friends, one that Tiamak would never have presumed on with others in the room. “You are weary and your temper is short.”
The king opened his mouth, then shook his head. “This is a bad day,” he said at last. “A very bad day. Where is Miriamele?”
“The queen declined any audiences today. She is out walking.”
“I am glad for her. I hope she is being left alone.”
“As much as she wishes to be. Her ladies are with her. She likes company more than you do on days like this.”
“Days like this, I would like to be on the top of a mountain in the Trollfells with Binabik and his folk, with nothing but snow to look at and nothing but wind to hear.”
“We have plenty of wind for you here in this meadow,” Tiamak said. “But not too much snow, considering that there is still almost a fortnight of winter left.”
“Oh, I know what day it is, what month,” Simon said. “I need no reminding.”
Tiamak cleared his throat. “Of course not. But will you take my advice? Rest yourself for a while. Let your unhappiness cool.”
“It was just . . . hearing that nonsense, over and over . . . Simon the hero, all of that. I did not seem such a hero when my son . . .”
“But I should not have taken it out on the harper.” Again, the storm had blown over quickly, and now Simon was shaking his head. “He has given me many a sweet hour of song before. It is not his fault that lies become history so quickly. Perhaps I should tell him that I was unfair, and I am sorry.”
Tiamak hid his smile. A king who apologized! No wonder he was tied to his two monarchs with bonds stronger than iron. “I will confess, it was not like you, Majesty.”
“Well, find him for me, would you?”
“In truth, I think he is just outside the tent, Majesty.”
“Oh, for the love of St. Tunath and St. Rhiap, Tiamak, would you please stop calling me ‘Majesty’ when we’re alone? You said he was nearby?”
“I’ll go see, Simon.”
The minstrel was indeed near, cowering from the brisk Marris winds in a fold of tent wall beside the doorway. He followed Tiamak back into the pavilion like a man expecting a death sentence.
“There you are,” the king said. “Come. Your name is Rinan, yes?”
The eyes, already wide, grew wider still. “Yes, Majesty.”
“I was harsh to you, Rinan. Today . . . I am not a happy man today.”
Tiamak thought that the harper, like everyone else in the royal court, knew only too well what day it was, but was wise enough to stay quiet while the king struggled to find words.
“In any case, I am sorry for it,” the king said. “Come back to me tomorrow, and I will be in a better humor for songs. But have that old scoundrel Sangfugol teach you a few lays that at least approach the truth, if not actually wrestle with it.”
“Go on then. You have a fine voice. Remember that music is a noble charge, even a dangerous charge, because it can pierce a man’s heart when a spear or arrow cannot.”
As the young man hurried out of the pavilion, Simon looked up at his old friend. “I suppose now I must bring back all the others and make amends to them as well?”
“I see no reason why you should,” Tiamak told him. “You have already given them all the hours since you broke your fast. I think it might be good for you to eat and rest.”
“But I have to reply to King Hugh and his damned ‘suggestions,’ as he calls them.” Simon tugged at his beard. “What is he about, Tiamak? You would think with all these nonsensical conditions, he would rather not have us come to Hernysadharc at all. Does he resent having to feed and house even this fairly small royal progress?”
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not so. The Hernystiri are always finicky with their rituals.” But secretly Tiamak did not like it either. It was one thing to insist on proper arrangements, another thing to keep the High King and High Queen waiting in a field for two days over issues of ceremony that should have been settled weeks ago. After all, the king of Hernystir would not have a throne at all were it not for the High Ward that Simon and Miriamele represented. Hernystir only had a king because Miri’s grandfather, King John, had permitted it under his own overarching rule. Still, Tiamak thought, Hugh was a comparatively young king: perhaps this rudeness was nothing more than a new monarch’s inexperience. “I am certain Sir Murtach, Count Eolair, and I will have everything set to rights soon,” he said aloud.
“Well, I hope you’re right, Tiamak. Tell them we agree to everything and to send us the be-damned invitation tomorrow morning. It’s a sad errand that brings us this way in the first place, and today is a sad anniversary. It seems pointless to dicker about such things—how many banners, how high the thrones, the procession route . . .” He wagged his hand in disgust. “If Hugh wishes to make himself look important, let him. He can act like a child if he wants, but Miri and I don’t need to.”
“You may be doing the king of Hernystir a disservice,” said Tiamak mildly, but in his heart of hearts he didn’t think so. He truly didn’t think so.
Excerpted from "The Witchwood Crown"
Copyright © 2018 Tad Williams.
Excerpted by permission of DAW.
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