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The Kingless Land is kingless no more, for the Sleeping King of legend, King Kelgrael, has been awakened by the efforts of the 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. With the aid of the magical powers of the Dwaerindim Stones, the king's curse has been lifted. But it will take more than the power of a single Dwaerindim to allow him to occupy the long-vacant throne of the land, for there are ambitious and devious barons ready to challenge him for his royal dominion. While inhuman and dark forces lurk, the Band of Four must set out again on an arduous quest for the secret that will allow the kingdom to return to the safety and prosperity of its former glory.
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Ed Greenwood is the bestselling author of hundreds of novels, game products, and articles. His most recent novel for Wizards of the Coast is The City of Splendors, a collaboration with Elaine Cunningham. He is also the author of the Band of Four novels, and creator of the Forgotten Realms setting.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
No Shield Like Loyalty
Birds whirred, called, and shed droppings copiously in the ruined, riven place that had until recently been a high-domed library (though it had been a very long time since its shelves had known books, and its aisles the tread of folk intending to read them).
The deep wood had closed its green grip again around the ruins of abandoned Indraevyn almost uneasily, as if expecting more warriors and wizards to boil up out of the overgrown stones at any moment and split the soft forest sounds with the ringing of blade on blade and the ear-shattering cracks of striking battle spells.
But days and nights had passed, and no more such combatants had come. The carrion-eaters had plucked and crawled and gnawed at the sprawled bodies of the fallen, cracking and scattering bones, and no new alarum arose.
The creepers had advanced their patient tendrils, and things that squeaked and slithered had done so, and the Loaurimm had closed its hand over Indraevyn again. The forest had stood unbroken before men had come to Silverflow Vale to hew and burn and plough--and if the day came that all the men were gone, it would as slowly and surely reclaim the cleared banks of the Silverflow, and in the end swallow every last road and tower.
Soon after bloody battle and the hewing and burning that had preceded it, laying bare so many walls and doors, Indraevyn looked more like a forest-cloaked rockpile than something men had built. The casual eye would have seen raw nature, not the failing hand of man.
Except for six eerie shafts of glowing light that hung in a silent, vertical row in the heart of the riven library, a book floating immobile in each.
Something moved among those pillars of glowing nothingness. It shuffled often into the nether reaches of the shafts, to stand looking up vainly for silent hours before lurching over cracked and scorched flagstones to the next shaft, and the next. It was something that might once have been a man, though it looked more like the mottled brown reassembled remnants of a bad and once-shattered sculpture of one, with spindly arms of differing lengths, lopsided shoulders, and a head that was too long, thin, and jagged.
None of which kept it from lurching and shuffling its slow, eerie way around the ruins, returning always to the library, and those six silent shafts of light--just as it was shuffling into the northernmost column of glowing air now.
To stand as always, head turned up to the books floating beyond reach, the books impervious to its small magics...just as they were "not there" to every rock and branch it had contrived to throw up, at--and through--them.
Yet it had nowhere else to go, no other magic to sustain it but the endless glow at the heart of Indraevyn, and little magic at its command when it moved out of the library--so here it stood again, waiting with a patience that owed less to sanity than to burning hunger.
The rags of robes not its own hung from its shoulders, as tattered as the flesh beneath. Withered flesh and sinew as brown and as dry as old fallen leaves clung to its shattered bones, though someone who'd known the wizard in life would have had to stare long and hard at the withered brown skeletal thing to recognize Phalagh of Ornentar--though he was closer to his old vigor now than when he'd died, torn to glistening gobbets pattering bloodily down into the pit that had held the Stone of Life for so long. Time enough to leave behind weird weavings that had reshaped a man with agonizing slowness, building bone and rotting flesh together in a rising heap that had one day stood, and lifted arms, and climbed.
Up into the shattered hall above the pit where Phalagh had died the silent thing came, to endlessly, almost mindlessly, stumble around its gloomy rubble, exploring. Examining every crack and corner, every fallen stone and collapsed shelf, for days upon days it shuffled, until it knew them.
Basking betimes in uncovered magics as if they were warming pools of sunlight, it stretched forth sudden hands to work faltering magics, raising a wall here and the fallen rubble, like a shower of rock in reverse, springing upward in an eerie flow, to restore an arc of the dome there.
It was rebuilding the place where it had met its death, as if raising its own mausoleum. And all without a word uttered, and no sound but the lurchings and shufflings of its lopsided journeying.
That silent something now turned its head suddenly, stiffening like a dog that has scented something.
Two cold and tiny points of light kindled in empty eyesockets. Something was coming--something had disturbed its warding spells. The deathless skeleton that had been Phalagh shuffled forward a few paces, and then drew back into the nearest shadows like a thief disturbed by returning owners.
Two men stepped into the roofless library, their cautious strides almost as soundless as those of the skeletal thing whose eyes now glittered watchfully in the gloom. One was a short, slender, graceful man, the other a hulking warrior as tall and wide as many a door, the sword in his hand almost as long as his companion stood tall. Two others followed these fore-farers, and all four moved warily, looking around at ruined walls and tumbled shelves as they came.
All of the Band of Four remembered well their last visit to this place. As they came to where they could at last see the shafts of light clearly, Craer even murmured, "Almost getting ourselves slain last time wasn't enough, Lady? You've brought us back to try again, until we do it properly?"
Even as the lone woman in the group twisted wry lips to frame a reply, the deathless wizard in the shadows raised clawlike hands, the radiance of a building spell flickering around them. Dark red and black were those glows, hues that betokened nothing good. As their angry leapings flared, the glittering eyes behind them flickered red and black too. The undying thing that had been Phalagh seemed to grow, standing taller as destroying magics raged up and down its arms, and skeletal fingers spread to point at the four intruders....
* * *
"Your Majesty," the Tersept of Helvand said, almost snapping his words, "I cannot speak for the continued loyalty of the merchants of Helvand if royal assent is not given to our--their--plans to launch new trading barges. With every day Helvand waits, coins slip away!"
"Yet" the Tersept of Yarsimbra snarled, from the other side of the River Throne, "Your Majesty can hardly fail to have noticed that fires struck the barges of Yarsimbra at their docks on three successive nights. Lightning strikes, Helvand claims--yet no storms rode the sky on those nights. Lightnings out of a clear sky? When Helvand just happens to have opened a new shipyard? Me, I doubt the Risen King is quite so stupid as Helvand seems to think he is!"
"Majesty," the Tersept of Helvand hissed, "must we listen to the unbridled lies this man speaks? Does his title give him leave to impugn and sneer and slander freely?"
King Snowsar kept his face as blank and calmly patient as stone, moving only his eyes to fix a dark and level gaze on each of the two wrangling tersepts in turn. Anger and the desire to yawn rose together behind his face, but he let that inward roiling touch only his eyes.
Helvand took no notice of such subtle warnings. Like the men he served, Ul--Ulgund, that was the man's name!--strode straight forward through life, trampling or thrusting aside anyone who stood in the way. Helvand was the north shore of the Silverflow just upriver of Sirlptar, a succession of wooded estates owned by merchants rich enough to rise out of the crowding of the Glittering City and build secure castles of their own. Not that such pursuits meant they were retiring from the slap-and-dagger ways of Sirlptar...or bending their knees overmuch to a king who stepped out of legend to sit on a dusty throne far upriver. "What Helvand wants, Helvand gets," this strutting tersept had warned the king a few breaths ago, his tone adding the unspoken threat or else loudly enough for some of the surrounding courtiers to wince visibly.
Yarsimbra was hardly better. The long-independent point of land that jutted north from Sart to force the Silverflow into one last pair of bends ere it reached the sea had years ago attained the wealth and sophistication the merchants of Helvand were now so eagerly seizing--and it seemed Yarsimbra would do just about anything to keep not only its abundant coins, but its dominance over lower river trade. Poisonings and the summoning of hireswords had already befallen--and the king could well believe no one had paused for an instant to consider the danger such things brought to Aglirta.
Not caring about consequences: a problem for a king when almost all of his appointed rulers, as well as every last swaggering one of the nobility, suffered from this disease. These two tersepts had probably forgotten that he could dismiss them at will--or were prepared to ignore any dismissal he might order, according him all the authority granted to the flapping mouth of a dowager aunt shut up somewhere alone to rail at servants where once she'd lectured a baron daily.
Abruptly he was very tired of it all. King Kelgrael Snowsar rose like a rearing lion, in a single graceful bound, and spread his hands, flat and palms down, in a vicious chopping motion that brought sudden silence to the room.
This, at least, he was able to do: dominate his court by sheer presence and the heavy threat of his displeasure. A hundred eyes were locked on him now, seeking to read meaning into his smallest movement, gesture, utterance, or shift in expression.
He left them little room for sly interpretations. "Both of you have raised valid points, lords--points a wise ruler needs time to ponder, so as to dispense justice as fair and farsighted as it is royal. Blustering will not bring me to decisions any the faster, my Lord of Yarsimbra--"
He bent a colder gaze than before on the older, shorter tersept, who met it with an impassive stare that held far too little fear...or respect.
"Nor, my Lord of Helvand, is threatening your king likely to force his tongue into wagging the way you want it to."
The younger tersept was seething with boiling rage, and looked it; the king had expected no shame or deference in those glittering eyes, and found none.
He continued on, his voice calmer than he felt. "You may protest that you intended neither to bluster nor threaten, and that I misjudge you. Be reminded that misjudging is a royal prerogative--and more: that both of you are my Lords, to appoint or dismiss at my pleasure. Barons may claim to have some blood right to watch over, and fight for, that part of Aglirta that knew the rule of their fathers, and forefathers; you, Lords, do not. Be my agent in your demesne, not its advocate before me. Be that-or be nothing."
"But--" The Tersept of Yarsimbra saw his straying into overboldness the instant he'd launched himself, and fell firmly silent, bowing his head in apology or genuflection. His rival tersept was not so prudent.
"My father was Lord in Helvand before me," the younger tersept snarled, bis face white with anger and his voice trembling, "and his father was Lord before that--while Aglirta had no king, and barons and brigands alike did as they pleased. We did what we had to do, for our people, and asked no one for 'royal permission' about anything. So now, before you demand that I plead and crawl before your throne, King of Aglirta, tell me this: just what do I, and the good people of Helvand who stand behind me, gain from having someone sitting on the River Throne again? What good is a king to me?"
Those last words echoed around a room that had otherwise fallen utterly silent. The tense silence of warriors waiting, with hands near sword hilts, for battle soon to come. A young boy among them--a boy with jet-black eyes, now grown large and awed--seemed to be trembling on the edge of tears.
All eyes were on the king, watching and waiting. Kelgrael Snowsar slowly raised himself to his full height, towering over the tersept a step below him--the Lord of Helvand who'd drawn back one wary pace, but who now stood with his hand at his own belt...on the pommel of the long knife scabbarded there. Ready for a fight.
The king smiled into the heavy, deepening silence, and said, "You ask a very good question, Ulgund of Helvand: what good is a king to the folk of Aglirta now? This is a question the entire realm deserves an answer to--but you ask it of the wrong man. I am king, as I was king before the grandsire you speak of was tersept over Helvand--"
The Risen King gave the young tersept a look that had quiet steel in it before he lifted his eyes to gaze around the throne room.
"--and my answer can't be seen, by most of you, as anything better than self-serving. You are the proper folk to answer this...for who better than the people of Aglirta to say what good a king is to them now?"
He set the Scepter of Aglirta in the crook of his arm and strode to the edge of the throne dais, arms crossed, to stand looking down on them all, as tall and menacing as a drawn sword. "Wherefore you shall have your time to think on this, from now until the turning of the year. At that time a recoronation shall be held in this chamber. I hope that all Aglirtans who've thought about it, and decided they do need a king, will attend. On that day I shall expect all barons and tersepts of the realm to swear fresh oaths of fealty to me. Those who choose not to, or choose not to attend, may well be replaced."
King Snowsar let his calm, level gaze travel slowly from face to face among the throngs of dumbfounded courtiers, and added, "Of course, if sufficient Aglirtans of rank choose to stand against me rather than to reaffirm their loyalties to the rightful king, it shall be my duty, for the good of the realm, to both stand aside from the River Throne--and to name my successor. To do anything else would be to plunge fair Aglirta into war. Those who would have no king, or no king of my choosing, would do well to think on this last point, and decide how well they could defend the realm if they cast it forth into the hazard of lawlessness. Or rather, the wild 'law' of barons, brigands, and wizards that arose during my long slumber"
What might have been the beginnings of a smile tugged at one corner of the king's mouth as he looked around his royal court. The same busily whispering men whose soft tongues and heartless schemings had so beset him with intrigues were--for just a few moments more, he was sure--united in their stunned silence. He had surprised--shocked--everyone.
One of the two tersepts who stood closest to the throne stirred, opened his mouth as if to say something, and then fell silent again, a puzzled frown large upon his features.
"Yes, Pelard of Yarsimbra?" King Snowsar asked gently, letting a real smile onto his face for the first time.
As the courtier shook his head, not able to frame the words mat would be politic amid his racing thoughts, the smile on the face of the Risen King grew and grew, until it shone as brightly as any of the many clusters of gems worn by the splendidly garbed courtiers of Flowfoam Isle.
* * *
"An eerie place, to be sure," Hawkril murmured, taking a step back and waving at his co...
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Book Description Blackstone Pub, 2002. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0786123079
Book Description Blackstone Audiobooks, 2002. Audio Cassette. Condition: Brand New. unabridged edition. 9.50x6.70x2.20 inches. In Stock. Seller Inventory # 0786123079