When we left the Brothers Magnus, they had assembled in Cardice to help Anton Magnus defend the castle from attack by a neighboring state with a significant military advantage and several officers who at any moment could request help from saints-or, depending on your perspective, from the devil.
But Cardice has a secret weapon in the form of young Wulfgang Magnus, who can ask a few favors of his own from these devil-saints. The only problem is that Wulf is in love with Madlenka, the countess from Cardice who was forcibly married to Anton to explain why he's suddenly leading the country.
Even Wulf is unsure if family and political loyalty should override love. He's also beginning to realize that the magical battle he's stepped into has some serious rules that he doesn't know, and has no way to learn. And when several wild cards in every battle can tap into nearly limitless sources of magic, who knows how far and wide the battle might range?
This stunning continuation of the story begun in Speak to the Devil amps up the romance and intrigue, while letting readers spend more time with master fantasist Dave Duncan's unique, complex, and ornery-but-delightful characters.
When the Saints is a Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011 Science Fiction & Fantasy title.
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Originally from Scotland, Dave Duncan has lived all his adult life in western Canada, having enjoyed a long career as a petroleum geologist before taking up writing. Since discovering that inventing imaginary worlds is more satisfying than poking holes in the real one, he has published more than forty novels, mostly in the fantasy genre, but also in young adult, science fiction, and historical. He has at times written as Sarah B. Franklin and Ken Hood. He and his wife, Janet, have one son and two daughters.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that agreements negotiated in the dead of night rarely last as long as those signed in daylight.
The hour was late, but candles still burned in the royal palace in Mauvnik. After a long day, the king’s first minister was still in his office. Cardinal Zdenek’s working hours were legendary, even now, but age was weighing on him at last, and tonight he truly felt his years.
He had just opened critical negotiations with a wily and dangerous opponent. She went by the name of Lady Umbral. She was grandly attired in a gown of white samite, shot through with silk thread; her jewels would have ransomed a minor king. From her lofty steeple hat trailed a gossamer veil that hid her features. When Zdenek had met her eighteen years ago, she had seemed older than he; but now his hands were gnarled and obscenely marred by age spots, while hers, which were all that he could clearly see of her, were creamy and smooth. She might not even be the same woman. “Umbral” was just a title, like “pope.”
“Some wine, my lady?”
She declined, as he had expected. To drink she would have had to lift her veil, and she had not even done that when she kissed his cardinal’s ring.
Brother Daniel, Zdenek’s secretary, sat dutifully at his desk behind the door, a gangling, scrawny young man, anonymous and unimportant in his Franciscan gray robe and leather eye patch. Several Brother Daniels took turns attending the cardinal; not all were genuine friars, but all were Speakers. The two companions the lady had brought with her sat side by side near the curtained windows, counting rosaries. They were dressed as senior servants, silent and anonymous, their faces concealed by the protruding brims and lappets of their bonnets. One of them would be a Speaker, too.
“I am honored that you came in person, my lady,” he said.
“My pleasure. It is far too long since we crossed swords. Besides, I happened to be in the area.” That might mean anywhere south of Sweden or west of Cathay.
“I know you travel widely. How is Christendom?”
“Boiling with war and vice, plague and hunger, as usual.” Her voice was low-pitched and her accent intriguingly unidentifiable. They were, of course, conversing in Latin. “And how is Jorgary? Your king is still breathing sometimes, I understand. Quite a feat, that. Your crown prince continues to wallow in what all young men long to wallow in and rich ones actually do.”
“And the old condemn, forgetting their own past.”
“And yourself?” she purred. “Jorgary suffered a shattering defeat in the War of the Boundary Stone two years ago. Many bets were laid that your long reign had come to an end at last.”
“It was not on my recommendation that His Majesty decided to invade Bavaria.” Konrad had been talked into it by the meddlesome crown prince, who saw himself as Jorgary’s answer to Alexander the Great. The army had seen to it that the brat never got anywhere near the fighting, but the Bavarians had won hands down anyway.
“You got blamed for it,” Umbral said with a chuckle. “Life is so unfair, isn’t it? I suspect that the outcry still echoes, or you would not have called out to me for help. How can I assist, Your Eminence?”
Eighteen years ago, soon after Zdenek had been appointed King Konrad’s first minister, the woman had come to him, asking that a certain convicted rapist be spared the noose. The case had been odious, and Zdenek had been very reluctant to grant her wish. On the other hand, he had heard of her power and was not inclined to make an enemy of her. He set an impossible price on his cooperation by demanding a cardinal’s hat—a price to which Lady Umbral had quietly agreed.
So he arranged the royal pardon she sought, and within a month the pope had summoned him to Rome to be ordained a deacon and inducted into the College of Cardinals. That was true power! King Konrad had been so impressed that he had let Zdenek run the country for him ever since.
In all those years, Zdenek had communicated with Lady Umbral rarely, and always indirectly. This was only their second meeting, and the fact that she had come in person suggested that she might need something from him as much as he needed help from her.
“Duke Wartislaw of Pomerania has invaded Jorgarian territory,” he said.
She nodded impatiently.
“Specifically, he is moving a monster bombard, known as the Dragon, down the gorge of the Ruzena River to lay siege to Castle Gallant.”
“Brave of him to launch such a venture so late in the year,” she murmured. “He’s a cunning young rogue, Wartislaw, yet inclined to be foolhardy. Of course, Castle Gallant stands athwart the Silver Road, and has been regarded as impregnable for centuries. Alas, those days are over and done with. It will blow away like a cloud of feathers if the Wends attack it with firearms. So you must stop the gun being emplaced. You need troops, Your Eminence, not a frail little woman like me.”
“Describing you as frail, my lady, would be like calling the Danube seepage. I need troops because Wartislaw is in league with the devil.”
“Ah!” She breathed the word seductively. Satanism changed matters. Satanism was her business. “You are sure of that?”
“Very. You have heard of Havel Vranov, Count Pelrelm, lord of the march?”
“The Hound of the Hills?”
“That one. All his life he has fought the Wends like a rabid hellcat, and now he has changed sides and is engaging in treason against Jorgary. He has also apostatized, gone over to the Greek Orthodox Church. His priest is a Speaker. Of that I am confident, if not quite certain. But that priest, Father Vilhelmas, who has repeatedly been seen in Havel’s company, was leading the vanguard of the Pomeranian army the day before yesterday. They were well inside Jorgarian territory.”
Umbral laughed. “If you are aware of what happened in one of your northern marches just two days ago, Your Eminence, then I question your moral right to censure the duke for dabbling in Satanism.”
He smiled tolerantly. “Two weeks ago, Count Bukovany and his son were struck down by Satanism. That news took eight days to reach me. Our minister of the army told me that it would be a month or more before he could assemble a force and deliver it to Cardice. Meanwhile, of course, Castle Gallant and the entire county were leaderless and vulnerable.”
“How tragic for you!” Lady Umbral said with a crocodile chuckle. “You faced a second disaster in less than two years. Your life flashed before your eyes, ending with the flash of the headsman’s ax. The crown prince called in his hatter and began trying on crowns? Meanwhile, your entire team of Speakers is fully occupied keeping the old king alive and guarding you!”
Again Zdenek refused to rise to her bait. “I sent a new Speaker. He is young and inexperienced, but so far he has done a wonderful job. However, the Wends are unlikely to have limited themselves to one such helper—Hannibal took more than one elephant when he crossed the Alps. In short, my man needs to be reinforced.” And Speakers moved much faster than conventional troops.
The woman lowered her head and touched a fingertip to her lips to indicate that she was thinking. “I need to know more. Where did you find a spare falcon1 around?”
“I like to keep a few in reserve.”
“So do we all, and only the pope can ever afford to. The Saints currently supply you with five hirelings, two of whom are growing old—as we all are—and all of whom must be currently occupied.” She glanced around briefly at Brother Daniel, but if she offered a smile, her veil hid it. “The Church has five or six Speakers in Jorgary, possibly seven. So where did you find another? I won’t help unless you give me all the facts.”
Zdenek never lost his temper. “It so happened that I had become aware of a new Speaker just the previous day.” He was proud of his speedy reaction to an unexpected opportunity—the old warhorse’s mettle had not rusted yet. “A young esquire recently came to Mauvnik to enlist in His Majesty’s Light Hussars. Twenty years old, the sort of arrogant whippersnapper who breaks ladies’ hearts and men’s heads with equal abandon. A week ago, he pulled off an incredible demonstration of horsemanship before half the court, at a hunt in the royal forest.”
“My, my! How convenient. A miraculous feat?”
“At least spectacular,” Zdenek said complacently. “He was mostly trying to impress the women, of course. But he is sprung of a notable baronial family, so, with His Majesty’s permission, I sent for the lad and appointed him Count Magnus of Cardice.”
She laughed aloud. “A count at twenty? Did he pinch himself very hard?”
“No, he seemed to regard it as more or less his right. He certainly did not question his own suitability for the post. I also passed on His Majesty’s command that he marry the late count’s daughter, Madlenka Bukovany, a fabled beauty of seventeen. That seemed only fitting.”
She laughed again. “I expect he thought so.”
“I even explained that his odds of surviving to enjoy her or any of the rest of it were very slight, but by then there was no holding him. He was out of here like a ferret down a coney hole.”
“A Speaker as count?” the lady mused. “An interesting ploy.” Speakers usually operated out of the public eye. They could be instantly identified by other Speakers, and public miracles would expose them to the wrath of the Church, which was tolerant enough of its own Speakers, but condemned occult “talen...
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