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In this thrilling conclusion to the epic series begun in Bloodwinter and continued in Springwar and Summerblood, Tom Deitz brings us the final chapter in the unforgettable saga of a fugitive king, a lost magic, and a revolution that will either liberate a world--or condemn it to eternal tyranny.
While the Ninth Face, a dark religious sect, consolidate their grip on the capital city of Eron, far to the north King Avall’s army attempts to rescue the king himself from imprisonment at Gem-Hold-Winter, now controlled by Zeff, a Ninth Face fanatic. But Avall is no longer there. Aided by the blind harpist Kylin, he has escaped from the hold in a blaze of improbable magic that transported the king and his closest followers to a dangerous wilderness.
As the royal armies prepare for siege and Eron’s capital seethes with growing rebellion, Avall and his comrades must retrieve the magical Lightning Sword--now lost by Avall’s sister, Merryn--and make their way back to the embattled citadel. Only when Avall has regained the Sword can he march on Eron’s capital for a final showdown with the righteous priests whose law is total obedience and whose god is total power.
From the Paperback edition.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
Read an Excerpt
(Northwestern Eron: Megon Vale--High Summer. Day Lxxiv--Early Evening)
…fire and war and a forest and a valley--and a fabulous hold hewn into a mountainside . . .
Torchlight gleamed on the smooth copper alloy that surfaced the eleven siege towers ranged in a shot-long file at the foot of what had once been a long, grassy slope--a slope now studded with neat rows of alert, though seated, warriors, each with a naked sword laid crossways across his or her mail-clad knees. That same light showed on the dozen trebuchets atop that slope, and on the dozen more of each device secreted in the woods a quarter shot behind the ridge that rimmed half that incipient battleground.
Lesser fires flared in the field before the towers, their furtive, shielded flames fixed at precise intervals along a palisade of carefully cut posts twice as tall as a man. The adversary waited behind that barrier, vigilant in the twilight--yet token resistance at best, in view of the massive hold looming at its back. Their presence there was a feint: a calculated show made solely to enforce the illusion of overwhelming opposition.
Flames smaller yet dotted the massive arcades that spangled the upper third of the hold--Gem-Hold-Winter, to be precise--from end to end, north to south: more torches, with the odd glow-globe thrown in. The effect was to wash the upper reaches of that edifice with vertical stains of crimson, as though it burned already. Its roots were white, however: white as ashes--or white as a too-hot forge--save where a span-wide crack six spans high showed like the shadow of a blasted tree just south of its center, its edges softened by the soot of recent conflagration.
Only the mountains beyond the hold were not firelit. Yet even there the last rays of a setting sun limned scarlet edges along the snowcapped peaks of Angen's Spine, whose bulk was already one vast black cutout against a sky purpling into night.
War could be beautiful, thought Vorinn syn Ferr-een, as more torchlight touched that which crowned his head: the high-domed helm of the War Commander of the Kingdom of Eron, which he had worn since this campaign had begun--though without that which now encumbered its lower rim: the narrow band of the Regent's circlet, which he had worn for less than a hand. Light glanced off Vorinn's mail, too, and off the embroidery bordering his surcoat of Warcraft crimson that soaked up firelight like water soaked up salt.
For perhaps a dozen breaths, he studied the vista before him, then turned smartly and strode back into the forest that cloaked the heights opposite the besieged hold.
It was a forest that also cloaked an army--the Royal Army of Eron, in fact, come here to Megon Vale to quell an . . . impropriety wrought by an increasingly powerful and rebellious sect within a powerful and long-established clan.
Had it only been half an eighth? Vorinn wondered, as long, strong strides carried him through a gate in his own palisade and thence past forges, armories, and clusters of four-man tents, interspersed with supply caravans and corrals well stocked with horses. There were mess tents, too, and bathing tents, and larger tents that marked the headquarters of clans, crafts, and officers of state.
In the center of the whole vast, sprawling array stood a tent only slightly larger than the rest, its canvas dyed the maroon of Clan Argen. Argen was not Vorinn's clan, however, but that of another, less martially inclined, man who also happened, though imprisoned, to be Vorinn's brother-in-law--and King. A cluster of smaller tents nestled against the larger one, these the province of what had been that Sovereign's household.
Which were now Vorinn's to do with as he would, though he had not spent even one night there, having come to the Regency a scant four fingers past.
Which was why he had demanded--and been granted by his anxious Council--half a hand alone. He was ready now. Ready to confront the future.
They were waiting for him when he ducked inside the tent: a dozen anxious warriors, half of whom were kin. He sought the latter from reflex, notably his vigorous, middle-aged uncle, Tryffon syn Ferr, Craft-Chief of Warcraft; and the Chief of Clan Ferr itself: his aged two-father, Preedor. Lady Veen was there as well: Shift-Chief of the Royal Guard; along with a few more clan- and craft-kin--mostly cousins. For the rest, there was a scatter of men and women drawn from other clans and crafts than Ferr and War--notably Nyll of Gem and Eekkar of Myrk--for it would be unwise to make what now looked to be a long-term siege seem but a single clan's endeavor.
Four of them were new anyway, because four of the faces Vorinn was accustomed to seeing around this table were moving--and not in a way that betokened a quick return. He tallied the absentees grimly: Rann syn Eemon-arr, the captive King's bond-brother, who had been Regent as recently as that afternoon; the half brothers Lykkon and Bingg syn Argen-a; Myx syn Eemon-ine; and Riff syn Ioray. He did not name them what some already did, however, which was either rebel or traitor. A decision on that awaited more information.
For now, he had to confront not one but two all-but-impossible occurrences.
"Chiefs and Commanders," he murmured in general acknowledgment, as he claimed his accustomed place to the left of the vacant King's Seat, pointedly ignoring the chair to its right, which had belonged to the King's chief adviser: that same absent Rann.
"Lord Regent," a few voices murmured back, given force by the solid rumble of Tryffon, who was an island of stability amid a sea of chaos and rumor.
Vorinn glanced around in search of a squire, expecting the ever-attentive Bingg to appear with wine and food unasked. But it wasn't that smart, sprightly thirteen-year-old who served them, but an unfamiliar young woman in Woodcraft's brown and orange. Still, wine was wine, and Vorinn accepted the well-cooled mug with courtesy, took two sips, then addressed the assembly at last.
"Have we found someone to give a clear account?" he asked with so much force to his voice that what he had intended to be a casual query came close to being a demand--a tendency he would have to watch. His gaze fixed first on Veen, then on Tryffon.
Those two exchanged glances in turn.
"I would know what happened at the hold first," Vorinn added, to break what seemed an impasse of decision.
Tryffon puffed his cheeks, looking relieved, then motioned to a solidly built man of about thirty who had been waiting patiently in a corner. He wore Lore's bronze, quartered with Argen's maroon, beneath a cloak of Warcraft crimson. "Levvin, if you would?"
The soldier rose promptly, looking competent and dour--though much of a mold with his countrymen, with black hair; clean, angular features; smooth skin; and dark blue eyes. And if that hair was shorter than the norm, well this was war, and long hair both a hindrance and a risk, especially to one unhelmed in battle.
"Lord Regent," Levvin acknowledged formally, with a tiny nod. "And Council Lords. I am here to serve you."
"Your clansmen are known for accurate observations and unprejudiced reporting," Vorinn replied in turn, with somewhat forced formality. "Therefore, please tell us what you saw transpire on Gem-Hold's lowest arcade a finger before today's sunset, more or less. Omit nothing, no matter how unlikely or difficult to believe."
Levvin took a deep breath and nodded again, this time with conviction. Typical of his clan-kin under such circumstances, he also closed his eyes, the better to confirm the images called forth by a well-trained memory.
"It was as you said," he began: "A finger before sunset, more or less, and the side of the hold facing our forces was graying into shadow. I was watching through distance lenses, as was my duty. I had been assigned the center of the lowest arcade to survey, which happened to be the one on which those in control of the hold had exposed High King Avall."
He paused. "Shall I describe that as well? I was watching when they lowered him over the side."
Vorinn glanced sideways to where a scribe in Lore's livery was taking down the account. "Briefly, for the record."
"Very well," Levvin continued promptly. "Just past sunrise of this same day, the Regent, Rann syn Eemon-arr, demanded that the usurper-Chief of Gem-Hold-Winter, Zeff of the Ninth Face, surrender himself, his armies, and the hold to the cause of Law and Justice in Eron. Rann gave him until noon to respond, and at noon Rann and many of you here--I could list them if need be--received Zeff's reply. Zeff, who had absented himself after Rann's ultimatum, appeared on the lowest arcade in full war gear appropriate to his clan and station, but also bearing the replicas of the so-called magic regalia, which he had captured when he captured the King, including, in particular, the replica of what has come to be called the Lightning Sword. Instead of relinquishing the hold, however, he motioned eight men forward, and together they lowered a circular tabletop a little more than a span in diameter over the balustrade, fixing it to the rail from behind by a means we could not determine.
This disk was draped in white fabric that appeared to be a Ninth Face winter-cloak, which was then removed. Beneath it was the King, Avall syn Argen-a, with his arms, legs, and torso clamped spread-eagled to the wood, and with his feet set on a platform so that he might not suffocate. He was naked--I assume to prove that he had not been mutilated and thereby rendered unfit to reign. Zeff then proceeded to mock our demand, and countered with a demand of his own--that we had until dawn tomorrow to withdraw our forces. In punctuation of that threat, he raised his sword--which, though it appears exactly like the sword called the Lightning Sword in form and substance, lacks that one's magical properties, so we supposed--and slashed it down in an arc from sky to earth. An explosion ensued--not quite lightning, though that is the only word that seems even vaguely appropriate--and the siege tower to the immediate right of the Regent's tower was destroyed and several soldiers killed. At that time the Regent's party withdrew."
"All of which we knew," one of the younger subchiefs noted from the far end of the table.
"It is needed for the record," Tryffon snapped. "Be silent."
Levvin nodded appreciation, took another sip of wine, and continued. "Zeff withdrew as well, but nothing else changed as the day waned. Avall remained where he was: exposed below the arcade. Three soldiers guarded him at all times, one of whom was changed every hand. A finger before sunset, three more guards returned, this time escorting a man in a plain white robe whom we identified as Kylin syn Omyrr, late the High King's harpist, and more lately prisoner in Gem-Hold by his own actions, for reasons that are still unclear. In any case, Kylin was seated and a harp set beside him, but he was not at that time asked to play. A moment later, Zeff returned, in the company of two more guards, whereupon those who had escorted Kylin departed. Kylin then played for Zeff--four songs, we think--and then Zeff appeared to offer him wine and filled a goblet for him with his own hands. The account now becomes . . . difficult. From what I could discern--for it was growing dark and no torches had yet been lit on the arcade--Kylin reached for the goblet. Instead of taking it, however, he reached past it and seized the sword Zeff had worn earlier when he called the lightning. Kylin then moved very quickly--more quickly than I would say a man could move, and certainly a blind one like Kylin--and unsheathed the sword at the same time that he reached around the side of the tabletop and grabbed Avall's wrist with his other hand. And--"
He broke off, gnawing his lip, as though he were at a loss for words. "And then," he went on at last, "he--it seemed the two of them disappeared. There was no smoke, no light, simply an absence. One moment Avall was on full display, the next, he was gone. The clamps that had held him remained, and they appeared to be closed and locked, but he was no longer in them."
"And Zeff?" From Vorinn.
"Zeff acted like a man who had been stunned--but only for a moment. He slapped at his side as though the sword were still present, then leapt forward as though to check on Avall--he had to race his guardsmen to do this--and, when he was satisfied that Avall was indeed . . . gone, stood up very straight, shivered twice, turned on his heel, and returned inside."
"I'd give a lot to hear what he said then," Tryffon chuckled, as Levvin opened his eyes again. "It's easy to maintain dignity for a dozen breaths; two dozen is four times as hard."
"I'll remember that," Vorinn observed dryly. Then, to the assembly at large: "This account is entirely consistent with what we first heard reported. Does anyone have anything to add? Or any questions?"
"Not I, at the moment," Tryffon replied. "If I think of any, I know where to find Levvin."
Vorinn waited three breaths longer, then glanced at Levvin, who still stood at full report. "You have done your duty and more. Go with our thanks and good will, off duty for the rest of the night, save as we may find need to summon you."
Once Levvin had departed, Vorinn nodded to Veen, who motioned another soldier to rise from the same bench where Levvin had been seated. "Forima," she said, to the slim, dark young woman in Glasscraft livery, "you were closest to Lykkon's tent when this transpired. Would you please tell us what you witnessed there?"
Forima looked distinctly uncomfortable, even frightened, yet when she spoke her voice was calm. "I wish I had more to report, Lady," she began, "and a clearer memory of what I did see. If any of you have questions, please feel free to ask, as I don't know what details might be important to you. In any case, what I witnessed--experienced might be a better term--was this.
"It was almost exactly sunset, and I had just left my tent to begin the trek to the front, where I was to replace my bond-sister, who was already stationed there. I was in full armor, but had not yet donned my helm. For whatever reason, my route took me directly past Lykkon's tent--I would have been no more than a span away from it, at closest. I heard voices within, but thought little of it, though I knew of the . . . disagreement within the Council that had occurred earlier in the day. Then, suddenly, I heard a noise--not so much a boom or an actual explosion, as a cracking sound, as though someone had snapped a whip or shaken a sheet of leather. At one with this, I saw the tent . . . light up from within, as though someone had dropped a glow-globe. The tent's sides bulged as well, and I heard the sounds of items falling or being thrown about.
This alarmed me, and I flinched away and fell. By the time I had found my feet again, I heard more voices, but the only words I could make out clearly were someone crying 'Avall' and another calling out, 'Kylin'--both as if surprised. Fearing that something terrible had transpired, I returned to Lykkon's tent. Perhaps I called out, I don't remember. I do recall debating whether to enter without permission, for by that time I was certain that I heard His Majesty's voice. And then I heard more sounds--it sounded like men wrestling--and then I heard metal hitting metal--and was immediately struck . . . not so much by any force, as by a wave of cold that was-- It was like a giant fist had thrust out of that tent, reached into me, and grabbed all the heat from my body. I couldn't breathe, and I think I fell again.
When I revived--it was no more than a few breaths later--I was shivering, and others were emerging from nearby tents, also shivering. I called out to Lykkon, but got no reply. I then shouted that I was coming in, but when I looked inside, the place was in complete disarray--which is when I went in search of you. The rest you know."
From the Paperback edition.