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Certain works of fantasy are immediately recognizable as monuments, towering above the rest of the category. Authors of those works, such as George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind, come immediately to mind. Add to that list David Farland, whose epic Runelords series continues now in Worldbinder. After the events of Sons of the Oak, Fallion and Jaz, the sons of the great Earth King Gaborn, are now living as fugitives in their own kingdom. Their former home has been invaded and secretly controlled by supernatural being of ultimate evil. The sons are biding their time until they can regain their rightful places in the land. Fallion seems destined to heal the world, and feels the calling to act. When he attempts to do so though, two entire worlds collapse into one, and nothing will ever be the same again.
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David Farland is an award-winning, New York Times Bestselling Author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for "Best Novel in the English Language" for his science fiction novel "On My Way to Paradise," and has won the Whitney Award for "Best Novel of the Year" for his historical novel "In the Company of Angels," and he has won the International Book Award for "best young adult novel of the year" for his fantasy thriller "Nightingale."Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
They came creeping through the woods just before dawn, four of them, weary but resolute, like hunters on the trail of a wounded stag. They halted at the edge of the trees, silently regarding summer fields thick with oats and the brooding castle beyond.
“Castle Coorm,” the leader, Fallion, whispered. “As promised.” The sight of it filled him with nostalgia and soothed his frayed nerves like mulled wine.
The pre-dawn sky still had one bright star in it, and the castle mostly lay in shadows, the limned walls looking soft blue instead of white. There were pinpricks of yellow in the tower windows, and watch-fires burned outside the city gates like blistering gems. The dancing fires, the smell of the smoke, beckoned him. But Fallion merely stood silently regarding the scene. The castle was falling into ruins, but was obviously still inhabited.
He had seen too much devastation, too many ruined cities since his return to Mystarria. The Courts of Tide had been laid waste. Its once-fair streets were now dark lanes, blockaded by gangs that fought like wild dogs to protect their few scraps of food and clothing. The women and children there had a haunted look. They had suffered too much rape, too much plunder.
The sight of it had left Fallion reeling. In a more perfect world, he told himself, the women would wear flowers in their hair, and children would not learn to fear strangers.
Upon the death of Fallion’s father, Gaborn Val Orden, assassins from a dozen lands had descended upon Mystarria, hoping to strike down Fallion and his brother. These weren’t ordinary assassins. These were powerful runelords that had taken brawn, stamina, speed, and grace from their subjects, making them warriors that no commoner could hope to withstand. And though Mystarria had been a wealthy country then, with many strong runelords of its own, it could not withstand the sustained onslaughts of such men.
Only by strengthening its forces could it hope to survive, but that required forcibles—magical branding irons that could draw out an attribute from a vassal and then imbue it upon the lord.
But there was a dearth of forcibles. The rare blood metal from which they were made was running out. Rumors said that the lords of Kartish, far to the west, were hoarding what little they found, intent on protecting their own realms in the dark times to come.
Chancellor Westhaven, who had been left in charge of Mystarria, had even taken a journey to Kartish, hoping to sway those who had once been allies.
He had never returned. Some said that his mournful spirit could be seen at night in the towers at the Courts of Tide, wandering the hallways, rummaging through the empty lock-boxes in the treasure room.
And so Mystarria had been attacked on a dozen fronts, like a great bull taken down by jackals that ripped it apart and gorged themselves while leaving their prey still only half alive. Its treasuries had been looted, its towers knocked down, its farms and cities burned, its lands divided. The Warlords of Internook held the coast, while Beldinook took the east, and Crowthen to the north split the rest.
Frankly, after the rapes, the looting, and the murder, Fallion did not see that there was much of a country left worth fighting over.
He eyed the remains of Castle Coorm, dully surprised to see it still intact.
The towers of the castle stood, but dark stands of ivy grew up them, looking like rents in the darkness. The eastern-most walls were a decrepit gray, most of the lime having washed away after years of winter storms. A lone bullfrog bellowed amid the placid reeds of the moat.
Fallion held to the shadows. He wore a gray half-cape, fastened with a silver cape pin in the form of an owl, long black hair sweeping back over his shoulders, brown eyes so full of light that they seemed a perfect mirror for the distant fires. A naked blade gleamed silver in his hand.
He studied the fires, and for an instant an image came to mind of a vast rune made of flames, encircled by flames—The Seal of the Inferno. It had been almost three years ago that he had first seen it in a dream while staring into the hearth after a midwinter’s dinner. Since then he had begun practicing his skills as a flameweaver, listening to the many tongues of fire, seeking inspiration in sunlight. He knew which direction the seal lay, deep in the Underworld. The wheel of fire haunted him, came to mind a hundred times a day. He could not so much as glance at the sun or even a silver moon without seeing the afterimage of the rune imprinted on his retina.
He had crossed the oceans to find it. Just a couple hundred more miles now, and he would descend into the Mouth of the World, hoping to locate the Seal of the Inferno and repair the damage to it. By mending its defects and binding it to the Seal of Heaven and the Seal of Earth, he hoped to restore balance to the world, to remake it in the perfect image of the One True World of legend.
Behind him came Rhianna, following so close at Fallion’s back that she touched him. Her fierce blue eyes looked troubled, and she clung to her quarterstaff as if she was lost at sea and it was the only thing that might save her from drowning.
“I remember this place,” she said, her voice shaky. “I remember . . .”
She placed a hand on Fallion’s shoulder and just stood. Her flawless face was white with shock, a grimace of pain formed by the slash of her lips.
For nearly a decade, Rhianna had blocked out her memories of this place. But now, Fallion could see, they threatened to overwhelm her.
At her back stood Fallion’s younger brother, Jaz, followed by their foster sister, Talon. Jaz carried a war bow carved from ruddy red reaver’s horn. Talon bore a light saber that some dainty gentleman might have worn for a night on the town, but in her practiced hands, the blade would never be confused for a mere adornment.
“What do you remember?” Fallion asked Rhianna.
Rhianna’s brows drew together in concentration; she recalled racing down a mountain on a force horse that had been richly endowed with runes of brawn and metabolism. Fallion sat in the saddle ahead of her, and she clung to him for dear life. Even then she realized that she was falling in love with him. She remembered thinking him strong and handsome, and she prayed that he would be able to save her. They must have been traveling at eighty miles per hour, for the pines at the margin of the road seemed to fly past. Her heart pounded as if trying to beat its way out of her chest, and in her young mind, she could not imagine that she would live until she reached the castle. Her stomach had ached, and she worried that something was eating her. A strengi-saat had placed its eggs in her womb to hatch, and the young were eating their way out. She remembered it all.
“We were being chased by monsters,” Rhianna said, suddenly planting her staff firmly in the ground. She had been a child back then, with a child’s fears. But for years she had been practicing with weapons, and she was growing dangerous. The staff that she bore now was bejeweled and covered in runes. It had once belonged to the Earth King himself. She grimaced. “Now we’re back, and we’re the monsters.”
Jaz laughed. He always seemed to be light of heart lately. Rhianna had come on this journey because she loved Fallion, because she would throw herself in death’s path to protect him. But Jaz had come because, as he’d said, “I’ve been following him around since I could crawl. I don’t see why I should stop now.”
Jaz said, “I was sure we’d blundered past this place ten leagues back. And look, there are people inside. You think if we beg nicely, they’d part with a mug of ale?”
Jaz sat down and tried pulling off a boot. It had mud inside and came free with a sucking sound.
“People will do astonishing things for money,” Fallion said, “even part with perfectly good ale.”
He turned back to the castle. The long war had taken its toll. A village had once thrived on the hill below, a place named Weeds. A few dozen cozy mud-and-wattle cottages had grown up here with roofs thatched from wheat straw. As a child, Fallion had imagined that they were living things, lounging among the herb and flower gardens, partitioned with rock walls. The homes had been shaded in the long summer by fruit trees.
He regarded the ruins of a cottage on a knoll, and suddenly had a memory from when he was a child of three. In it, his father had come home from his wanderings, and had taken him out into the village among the crowds. Fallion had ridden on his father’s shoulder, until his father stopped beneath a cherry tree on the knoll. There, Fallion pulled the red cherries from the tree, and they were so ripe that they burst at his touch, and juice ran thick down his fingers. He licked it off and picked his fill, all the while begriming his father, he was sure now.
But his father had only laughed with delight.
Fallion remembered riding upon the shoulders of a king, being taller than everyone, looking down upon men that had dwarfed him, wishing that he could be that tall forever.
He smiled. It was a good memory, and one of only a handful that he recalled of his father. The journey across the ocean had been worth making just for that.
But no cottages graced the fields anymore. Nothing was left but burned-out remains: their rocky husks down in the distance looked like dead beetles.
The folk in the castle had probably burned the houses so that the monsters would not be able to hide in them. Strengi-saats, the enemy was called in the old tongue, the “strong ones.”
And it was rumored that worse things had begun to haunt the woods. It was rumored that one of them might even haunt Castle Coorm.
“Castle Coorm has become an island, a refuge of stone besieged by a wilderness of trees,” Fallion mused. “Now there’s not a hamlet within thirty leagues.”
“We should know,” Talon groused. “We just floundered through every bog between here and the Courts of Tide.” She crouched, resting on her heels.
Fallion was more leg-sore and hungry than he had ever been. Worse, he had a bad cut on his calf. It wasn’t much, but the smell of congealed blood drew strengi-saats.
He wasn’t sure if he should try to rest here. He had heard a strange rumor of this place, the strangest that he’d heard in his life. It was said that several years past, a woman of Coorm had given birth not to a child, but to a tree—a short, stunted tree with a handful of roots and two gnarled limbs. The tree, it was said, had bark that was a ruddy gold. Fallion wondered at the tale. It was said that the woman’s flesh was green, like one of the wizardborn filled with Earth Powers, and some speculated that her offspring was a “World Tree,” like the One True Oak of legend that had spread its branches wide, giving shelter to all of mankind at the beginning of creation.
Among the peasants, the idea of a woman giving birth to a World Tree somehow did not seem beyond the realm of possibility. After all, since the coming of the Earth King, Fallion’s father, the world had changed. The children born after his coming were stronger than men in times past, wiser and more purposeful, even as the world around them grew stranger and more treacherous. Men were becoming more perfect.
So was evil.
The tree, so the tale went, had been planted in the castle green, where it could be protected and admired, but then a bandit came from the woods, Lord Hale, a man of great power.
It was said that he slaughtered the wizardess.
Many had fled from Coorm then, and for years now, there had been no news from the castle.
Suddenly, a woman screamed down below.
“What’s that?” Jaz asked. He pulled on his boot, leapt up. It was not the drawn-out wail of someone grieving past loss. It was announced first by grunts and short yelps of pain, shrieks of terror.
“Someone is fighting,” Fallion said.
“Someone is dying!” Rhianna corrected.
From across the fields, at the eastern verge of the woods, a deep snarl erupted, like the sound of thunder on the horizon, followed by the strange bell-like cry of a strengi-saat.
In the woods just up the hill, a pair of crows suddenly cried out, “Claw, claw, claw.”
Fallion glanced up. The woods here and been burned back, blackening the great oaks, searing away the brush, leaving the strengi-saats fewer places to hide, Fallion speculated. Up in the nearby trees, he spotted the crows. The birds were half asleep, but they watched the castle as if it were the sprawling carcass of a dying giant.
The woman screamed again, her voice echoing from the castle walls. Fallion, willed his heart to slow, and listened.
The sounds of the scuffle at Coorm came to him with unnatural clarity, as often happened in the mountains on a clear morning.
He wished for more, half-wished that he had taken endowments of hearing or sight from others. Some had offered when he left—the children that had served under him in the Gwardeen, there in the outposts at the Ends of the Earth. But he had declined. It was an evil thing to take an endowment from a man, for if a man gave you his strength, his heart might fail thereafter. Fallion could not bear the thought of using another person that way. Still, he had nearly three hundred forcibles in his pack as part of his inheritance, and if the need was great enough, he knew that someday he might yet have to take endowments.
There was a gruff cry, a man shouting, “Damn the wench,” followed by a smack, the sound of a fist pummeling a face. “She bit me.”
The woman’s wail went silent, though she grunted and struggled still.
“Open the gates!” the attacker cried in his deep voice. “Open the damned gates, will you?”
In the hills, strengi-saats roared.
“They’re going to give a woman to the strengi-saats,” Rhianna whispered.
The thought horrified her. She found her heart pounding so hard that she was afraid it would burst.
The strengi-saats wouldn’t simply eat the woman. Though they were fierce carnivores, with claws like reaping hooks and teeth like scythes, they didn’t simply rend one’s flesh. No, one of the females would rape the woman, inserting a long ovipositor into the woman’s womb so that it could incubate half a dozen leathery eggs.
Then the strengi-saat would drag the woman into the woods, hide her high among the limbs of a tree, and keep her, terrified but alive, until the eggs hatched, and the young ate their way from the woman’s body.
“Fools,” Fallion growled. “What are they thinking? In killing her this way, they only reinforce the numbers of their enemies.”
“Something more heinous is going on here,” Talon concluded. “Perhaps that is what they want—to increase the numbers of the strengi-saats.”
The castle’s gate began to creak open. Talon clutched her blade, which was as long as her arm and two fingers in width.
Fallion studied the sentries along the wall. He could see their shadowed forms, pacing. There were no more than half a dozen. Two were peering down inside the gates, watching whatever struggle was occurring, but the others showed better judgment, and kept their watch still.
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