Aglirta is known as the Kingless Land. Once a prosperous and peaceful river valley, it has fallen into lawlessness, and its feuding baronies are engaged in a constant state of war. But the land is kingless no more, for the Sleeping King of legend, King Kelgrael, has been reawakened by the efforts of the valiant Band of Four:
- Hawkril, a bold and brave warrior gifted with great strength and fortitude
- Craer, the crafty and clever thief
- Sarasper, the learned and wise healer and last but not least
- Lady Embra Silvertree, the mystical Lady of Jewels, a powerful sorceress
Yet peace has not returned. In The Kingless Land, high magic and wizard kings stood in the way, while in The Vacant Throne, civil wars and backstabbing barons resisted the restoration of order.
Now, a powerful warlord comes to the front to take control through military might, while the diabolic minions of the Serpent move into position for a climactic battle that will scar the Band of Four forever.
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Ed Greenwood is the bestselling author of the Band of Four series and creator of the bestselling and award-winning Forgotten Realms role-playing campaign setting. He lives in Colborne, Ontario.
A Dragon's Ascension
1Gracious Hosts of AglirtaThe breeze was all too steady.The leaves of the trees around the four riders rustled ceaselessly.Craer frowned and hunched a little lower in his high-cantled saddle.Hundreds of archers could be crouching within easy bowshot in this sun-dappled forest--Three take us, every second bowman could be felling trees for firewood, with the rest shouting encouragement!--and in all this hissing and roaring of foliage, riders on the road wouldn't know of the danger until 'twas too late, and they were all wearing rather too many arrows to ignore.These four riders in particular: the Band of Four, Aglirta's only Overdukes. Four folk Craer suspected the barons of the realm--loyal, good, and othewise--were already heartily sick of. He glanced back, collected Hawkril's calm nod, and muttered to the placid gray beneath him, "Horns of the Lady! I've lost track of where we're headed! Why can't we call on the nearest baron and then the next, in some sane sequence, instead of riding forth and back and up and down the whole blessed Vale?"Embra's chuckle sang in the air beside him, making his horse's ears twitch.Craer sighed; he'd forgotten her chatter spell. The Four could whisper and murmur and yet be heard by each other as clearly as if sitting in a quiet chamber with heads bent together, not riding through this windy forest spread out to deny archers an easy, massed target."This way," the Lady Silvertree explained with infuriating sweetness, "my fellow barons will find it just that trifle harder to play gracious hosts by thoughtfully preparing 'accidents' for us ... or stealing away the prize we seek."Ah, yes, the prize: the fourth magical Dwaer-Stone. Present whereabouts unknown, but held--at least on the day when they'd been made Overdukes and Embra's father Blackgult named Regent--in secret by one of Aglirta's barons.Finding it was why the overdukes had spent far too many days riding the roads that flanked the Silverflow, crisscrossing Aglirta to visit baron after baron.Not that Craer Delnbone had the worst task of the Four during visits. Here in the forest, as front-riding target, now ..."Thank you, Embra," he said in the most silky tones he could manage. "Now if you knew a spell to repel lurking archers instead of eavesdropping ...""Gently," Sarasper's rasping voice reproved him, as if Craer were a disobedient but indulged dog. "Gently!" Treated like an unwelcome wyrm? Be then an unwelcome wyrm.Craer growled like one of the yipping perfumed and beribboned lapdogs the Baroness Rildra so doted on, of ankle-shredding acquaintance three baronial castles back. At least he'd had the satisfaction of shaking one persistent boot-gnawing creature out a window into the moat below, under the carefully unseeing gazes of two smirking guards. What attraction even silly baronesses saw in such--"Anything amiss, Swiftfingers?" Hawkril murmured.Craer snorted. "An army could be tramping along beside us, hewing down trees to clear a road for their passage, and I'd hear them not." He peered ahead all the harder, as if his eyes were torches that could sear through ever-dancing leaves."Pray silence for the eminent Overduke Delnbone," Sarasper intoned. "Trees, attend! Winds, bow down!"A wordless but decidedly rude sound was Craer's only reply. They were at least another day's ride away from the next baron--where once again Embra would work Dwaerindim-seeking magic from the privacy of whatever chambers they were given, whilst Hawkril stood watchful guard over her, Craer made oh-so-clever talk with stewards and guardcaptainsand seneschals, and Sarasper used his spells to ward away the harm of all poisons and venoms offered to the Four in their food and flagons.So far, they'd failed to find the missing Dwaer-and survived two poisonings, choosing to smilingly ignore the attempts to slay rather than confront their hosts."We're not managing much more than to make ourselves more widely disliked and offer ourselves as ready targets, are we?" Sarasper's voice came suddenly out of the breeze nigh Craer's left ear."Now, don't forget the chance to see Aglirta's beautiful countryside," Hawkril rumbled. "I've been a target in worse places.""Far too much of Aglirta's beautiful countryside, I'd say," Craer grunted."So we spent an extra day riding the back lanes, lost and testy-tempered. A wandering that befell when one Craer Delnbone was scouting our way, if you must remind us," Embra told the backs of her fingernails idly.Sarasper chuckled. "Aye, some blundering heroes we are.""Nay, my good fellow Lord of Flowfoam, we were blundering heroes-- now we're pushy Overdukes," Craer told the old healer triumphantly. "Try to remember that, and the necessary pomposity will flow far more smoothly."Something hummed past his cheek then, so closely that it burned. Craer's horse reared with a startled sound that was almost a shriek, and the smallest of the Overdukes kicked clear of his stirrups with an alacrity that seemed suddenly far more necessary than any pomposity.The long-anticipated arrows came leaping out of the trees in a hissing storm, flaring with enchanted fire and slowing noticeably as they reached Embra's waiting shielding spell."Brigands again!" Craer snarled, clawing at reins as he snatched out a dagger and tried to see exactly where the shafts were coming from and how many bows must be sending them forth. "Clear the rats from one forest, and they scurry to another!"Embra's shielding flared into a visible glow around them as she called on her Dwaer for more strength. The arrows seeking them now hung in her spell glow by the dozens, sliding very slowly on through the air. Craer struck one aside with the edge of his dagger, freeing it from the magic--it shot away to crack and shiver among roadside stones in an instant--and ducked around the wicked point of another."A dozen?" he called, peering into the trees as he wrestled his snorting gray under control."More this side," Hawkril replied calmly. "A score, at least.""Brigands whelm in armies these days, it seems," Sarasper grunted. "Do we try to outride them?"As if their unseen attackers had been listening, grim-faced men in leathers sprang from the trees, leaping out from between dark trunks and twisted shrubs to block the road before the Four ... and behind."Twoscore, and more," Hawkril corrected himself grimly. "Fast-breeding brigands!"The armaragor bent low over his saddle to better reach the hilt of the great warsword slung across his shoulders--and then found himself wrestling the reins of his mount as the horse danced sideways in alarm. More men burst out of the trees close at hand, and a fresh volley of arrows sped out of those rustling leaves.Embra gasped in pain, and her Dwaer flared into sharp brilliance. Hawkril cursed and wheeled his horse, furiously slashing aside arrows with his warsword as he went. If his lady was hurt--The Lady Silvertree was reeling in her saddle, her face twisted, though the charging armaragor could see no arrow that had bitten to cause her that pain. Sarasper, too, was clutching his head and groaning. Unseen spell-arrows, then, that struck at those who could work magic? So--wizards in the trees, too?No matter; the Four had to get out of this, or they would be slain. The real arrows were gliding ever closer, a tightening net of glowing points drawing in around Sarasper and Embra. Hawkril growled out his rising anger and plucked at the shield bouncing behind him. It was too small to cover them all, but if he could win a few moments for Embra to hurl some mighty fire, or to snatch them out of the closing jaws of this trap, it just might befall that th-Craer abandoned his own saddle an instant before no fewer than six shafts lanced home in the flanks of his doomed gray, sweeping aside a seventh arrow as he threw himself into the road dust and rolled enthusiastically out of the gods-blessed way. In another instant his horse would come crashing down right here, rolling and screaming and kicking, and Craer did not want to be observing its painful death from right underneath it.The procurer didn't want to be observing its painful death anywhere,but the Three seemed to demand that a certain foursome of overdukes provide them with frequent and violent entertainment, and ... ."The day does draw on," Craer told the dagger in his hand, as he sent it spinning into the face of a shouting archer who'd drawn a wickedly curved sword of his own, "and we seem to have fallen behind on our bloodletting. All of this peaceful riding about and feasting and polite overgoblets chatter must be to blame! Die, horseslaying dog!"The archer gurgled, tried to reach for the dagger that sprouted in his eye, and then toppled forward without offering further reply.Arrows were striking the ground and each other, now. Thus freed from Embra's slow-shield, they shivered along the stones underfoot or thrummed away with new vigor. Craer vaulted over one shaft, snatched another dagger from a handy sheath, and then flung himself flat to avoid another arrow as he raced back towards the hooves of Hawk's charger. Choked-off cries and oaths around him told him that some of their attackers lacked his agility."Ah, I suppose they're just not fit stock to be overdukes," he muttered, racing on."Craer," Embra snarled, something that sounded horribly like a sob in her voice, "will you be silent?"Her next word might have been a scream, if she'd still had breath enough for screaming. It came out as a sort of horrid dry gasping, instead--that was promptly drowned out by Hawkril's roar: "Embra! Embra! Lass, speak t--"It was his turn to groan and gurgle, and Craer risked a look up from his own deadly game of rolling and sprinting and flicking arrow-sighting glances right and left.He was in time to see his oldest friend topple from the high dragon saddle, one armored shoulder bristling with arrows--as the huge horse under Hawkril twisted and lashed out its hooves at empty air in agony, its right flank a forest of quivering shafts.Embra's shielding was melting away. They were going to die here on this sun-dappled road amid the beautiful and be-damned-rustling trees, beset by this army out of nowhere, and with noth--Sudden purple lightings snarled and spat across the road, half-blinding him. Craer flung himself flat in a place he hoped no arrows would find, and wondered what magic was seeking their lives now. Gods, but Aglirtaseemed to hold an overabundance of folk eager to deal death. Couldn't they cleave to baronial style and provide a good feast laced with a little poison? Did their murthering attempts always have to involve road dust and searing spells and Three-be-damned arrows?"I can only conclude," the strained tones of Sarasper rasped next to his ear, "that you wish to proclaim to the listening land once more your usual complaint, procurer? Too much magic, wallowing in the dust, and arrows--have I captured the list rightly?""Fancy yourself a herald?" Craer murmured back. "So I started shouting, eh? Pray pardon ... Embra must be still aware for the farhearing to work. I'm flat on my face, still seeing purple-and-white fire whenever I try to stare at anything--care to enlighten me as to what happened?""Later," the healer told him grimly. "For now, be silent, and lie still.""Eh?""Silence, procurer!"Something in the steely fury of Sarasper's tone made Craer obey, for once. Through slitted eyes he stared at the curling dust--just visible as lazy shadows beyond the white-and-purple fire that still danced before his mazed eyes--and waited until his sight returned enough to show him something more of what had so scared Sarasper.Whatever it was must have slain or stunned the archers with those lightnings; the only sound was the muffled thudding of a downed horse twisting in its last throes. Craer waited tensely, dagger in hand, hoping he'd be able to see a foe before a sword or spear was driven through him.A boot crunched on road stones very close to his head, and he heard Embra gasp. Should he fling himself wildly away, or--?
Not all that far from the roiling dust and many sprawled bodies in the road, a cautious hand closed around a knob where once a branch had sprouted, so its owner could lean around the curve of a dark, old tree trunk and peer through the rustling leaves at the few figures still moving where battle had raged moments before.Not an arrow sang, nor did any bowman stand ready to shoot more-- yet the Overdukes of Aglirta had, it seemed, fallen far short of victorious. The thief among them lay in the road, motionless. But for a betraying ripple of tense, quivering shoulders, he might have been dead.Wincing in a half crouch on the road not far away, his arm dark and wet with blood and transfixed by many arrows, Overduke Hawkril Anharu grimaced at a lone figure walking slowly up the road towards him. Twice the hulking armaragor tried to pick up his warsword in the trembling, blood-dripping fingers of his stricken arm ... and twice he failed.Beyond the armored warrior, against the ferny bank that bounded the far side of the road, the healer and the sorceress lay huddled, the old man trying to shield the slumped, white-faced body of the woman with his own. He, too, glared his defiance at the lone approaching figure.The watcher in the trees drew back, crouching low and pressing close against the concealing trunk, yet watching still.Red mists of pain curled at the corners of Hawkril's vision. Spitting blood, he fought to hold them at bay, to keep clear sight of the man now walking towards him. Tall, slender, dark, and young. Handsome, too ... a small tattoo like a vertical drawn dagger on his left cheek, and sharp--nay, smouldering--dark eyes above. A few rings on long, slender fingers, those hands not marked by work. A dagger at belt, black hose, high boots, and a dark tunic above, richly made but bearing no device nor noble colors. Someone, Hawk knew, he'd never laid eyes on before.The newcomer stopped just out of reach of any desperate lunge a man of the armaragor's size might make, and stared down at the pain-wracked warrior. His hands hung empty at his sides, but cupped slightly. Wisps of purple smoke studded with winking white sparks still rose from his palms-sparks that crackled menacingly as he raised his hands to point at Hawkril and Sarasper."Should I slay you all, Overdukes of Aglirta?" this unfamiliar wizard asked, his voice barely more than a whisper. "Or can you give me good reason why I should let you live?"
"Lord Baron," the old seneschal said nervously, "there's a man come to see you. In full armor, with sword ready and a dozen war-ready fighting men at his back. He gives as name only 'Little Flower.'"Baron Nesmor Glarond smiled thinly and lifted one hand in a signal that stirred his guards into a brief flurry of drawing swords and stiffening into new positions, here and there about the throne room of Glarondar.Their master cast a glance up at the gilded balcony and made anothersign. His pages saw, turned, an...
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Book Description Tor Books, 2002. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110765302225
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