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Authors: J.F. Lewis

Oathkeeper

BOOK: Oathkeeper
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ALSO BY J. F. LEWIS

Grudgebearer

Published 2015 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books

Oathkeeper
. Copyright © 2015 by J. F. Lewis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Cover image © Todd Lockwood
Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke

Inquiries should be addressed to
Pyr
59 John Glenn Drive
Amherst, New York 14228
VOICE: 716–691–0133
FAX: 716–691–0137
WWW.PYRSF.COM

19 18 17 16 15   5 4 3 2 1

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

Lewis, J. F. (Jeremy F.) author.

Oathkeeper : Book two of the Grudgebearer trilogy / By J.F. Lewis.

pages cm. — (Grudgebearer trilogy; Book Two)

ISBN 978-1-63388-054-2 (paperback) — ISBN 978-1-63388-055-9 (ebook)

I. Title.

PS3612.E9648018 2015
813'.6—dc13

2015000807

Printed in the United States of America

This one is for all the moms out there and to one in particular, my wife, Janet.

CONTENTS

PART ONE: THE SACRIFICE PLAY

Chapter 1: Royal Contingencies

Chapter 2: Burn It Down

Chapter 3: The Fall of Tranduvallu

Chapter 4: A Death God's Teeth

Chapter 5: Death Walks Alone

Chapter 6: Old Dragon, New Tricks

Chapter 7: In the Shadow of Kholster

Chapter 8: Some Endings Are Beginnings

Chapter 9: Picking Sides

Chapter 10: Kings Die...

PART TWO: LEGACY OF THE LIFE FORGE

Chapter 11: Snapdragon's Fury

Chapter 12: . . . and Kings Live

Chapter 13: Docking Maneuvers

Chapter 14: Bone Finders

Chapter 15: Roadside Hazards

Chapter 16: Drops of Blood

Chapter 17: A Panoply of Scars

Chapter 18: Wylant's Memories

Chapter 19: New Scars

Chapter 20: A Number of Needles

PART THREE: A KING ARISES

Chapter 21: Wylant's New Armor

Chapter 22: Everyone Has a Plan

Chapter 23: The Test of Four

Chapter 24: Dwarven Know-How

Chapter 25: The Reptilian Negotiation

Chapter 26: Leave the Bones

Chapter 27: The Bloody Throne

Chapter 28: Doom If by Sea

PART FOUR: THE OLD SKULL LAUGHS

Chapter 29: Not So High and Mighty

Chapter 30: The Master of Elements

Chapter 31: Bay Watch

Chapter 32: Overwatch

Chapter 33: The Thing

Chapter 34: Snapdragon's Dilemma

Chapter 35: Alchemical Bonding

Chapter 36: First Breath

Chapter 37: The Thermodynamics of Dragons

Chapter 38: Paths of Least Resistance

Chapter 39: Anything to Win

Chapter 40: Gateways and Secret Passages

Acknowledgments

About the Author

PART ONE

THE SACRIFICE PLAY

“Nebulous millennia in advance of the fate-fueled blow which wrought the destruction of the Life Forge and twisted the elemental magic of all Eldrennai save the Destroyer herself and those of Villok or Uled's blood, the Test of Four had long been reduced to an empty, if grand, spectacle of coronation . . . a quaint remnant from a time before all Eldrennai youth were trained in the use of elemental magic. The Test of Four existed before construction of the Tower of Elementals and the practice of Ranked Elementalists visiting all newborn Eldrennai to test them and send them to the tower for training, to the Artificer's Guild, or other less glorious fates.

By my father's era, the Test of Four had lost all meaning as a measurement of ability, transformed into a demonstrative device each new king used to display not just his command of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, but his creativity . . . his flair for magic. My father once described it as a myopic exercise in the flaunting of birthright and superiority—an opinion held, perhaps, because neither he nor any of his bloodline could pass it spectacularly or without artificial aid.

Such a simple test: light a candle four times, extinguishing it (once each) with air, earth, and water. For those who hold sway over all four elements: child's play. Of course, the ancient rules officially require magic to be used only once in the test, coming as it did from a time before the successful merging of elemantic bloodlines. . . Not that the rules for the Test of Four were ever revised. A technicality, true, but kingdoms have fallen and mortals raised to godhood by technicalities.

They are never safe to overlook.”

From
The Kings of the Eldrennai
by Sargus

CHAPTER 1

ROYAL CONTINGENCIES

Night birds called in the outer dark, joining a chorus comprised of tent fabric shifting in the gentle breeze and the chirps, cries, and grunts of nocturnal creatures. Rivvek loved those sounds; even the sea lapping against the pier at Oot contributed to the unscripted opus.

Combined with the scent of stale air inside the tent and the snores of another person nearby, the sensorial collage conjured memories of brighter days camping with his father the king . . . even hunting trips with his younger brother before Dolvek had become so insufferable. Rivvek had hoped his brother's encounter with Kholster would be transformative.

If it had been, Rivvek couldn't see it.

Elsewhere in the ramshackle encampment, Oathkeepers and Oathbreakers alike slept soundly, dreams little disturbed by the Grand Conjunction's approaching end.

Their world is about to change in ways they cannot even imagine, he thought, blind to the turning of the gears in the great destiny machine
.

The great destiny machine.

Rivvek smirked at the thought of it. Once he'd believed the gnomes worshipped a literal device that wove the skein of mortal fates. When he'd realized numbers were the gnomish religion and their great destiny machine merely a codified method of determining likely outcomes, he'd been sorely disappointed . . . and then, years later as he lay healing under the care of the Vael, he'd learned to do the math.

The gnomes played a game with triangular tiles: trignom. Queen Kari of the Vael had given him a set during his convalescence. He had never learned to play well. Irka, Kholster's son—a perfect double called an Incarna—always beat him, but Rivvek remembered building patterns with the double-sided numbered tiles atop the stiff and pungent plaster in which the Vael healers kept most of him wrapped, and knocking them over to watch the trignoms fall.

The whole world was like those tumbling tiles if you knew how to look at it, and, eyes having been so painfully and thoroughly opened, Rivvek knew no other way.

My graduation approaches
.

Rivvek considered his true education to have begun at the Grand Conjunction a hundred and thirteen years ago. It marked his thoughts then as clearly as the scars he'd received afterward warped his flesh. Was it fair to hold the lack of such learning against his brother? An Eldrennai who still had his magic, whose body was whole and hale?

Prince Rivvek lay in the dark, incapable of slumber, stacking up the trignoms in his thoughts, looking at them from every angle and doing the math. The first tile would be flicked over soon. It was a tile he would have given almost anything to protect, to place his hand over the tile and hold it in place safe and secure. There were three ways to stop it he could accomplish alone, but then the pattern changed, and the new designs woven into the great destiny machine spelled doom for the Eldrennai.

He wasn't sure why the Zaur hadn't started burning Root Trees yet. The math said they should. Perhaps his formulae were off in that regard, but his calculations, his own personal version of the great destiny machine, was far more accurate when it came to the Eldren Plains and the politics and machinations of the Eldrennai.

Those sums spelled destruction now. He had not yet been born when Uled had created the Aern, a race of warriors to defend against the reptilian Zaur and their magic resistance. For each new problem, it now seemed, Uled had created a new race and with each race, the path to doom had become more and more difficult to avoid.

Uled had wanted to restrict the Aern's ability to breed, creating them all male, thinking he could use low-born Eldrennai women with little magic and no connections as brood mares for his warriors, but bearing Aern, with their bone-steel and unique nutritional properties, rendered an Eldrennai female barren, often after the first birth.

Nine in ten
. Rivvek saw the statistics in his head, marveling at how much cruelty could be concealed when suffering and evil were disguised as numbers.

To solve the breeding issue, Uled had created the plantlike Vael, their bodies designed to be both appealing to the Aern and easily capable of producing many Aern offspring, quite rapidly if the raw materials were available in sufficient quantities.

Two gallons of blood per infant to be awakened. . . . Words from Uled's notes haunted Rivvek, but he'd needed to know, to understand, so that he could get the numbers right. His predictive model required deadly accuracy.

On the page, everything looked like it would work, but chaos, the natural tendency for change, had not been accounted for in any of Uled's plans or designs. First came the appearance of female Aern, then male Vael.

Worse were the changes and complications brought in by individuals in power. Enslaved by Uled's magic, unable to refuse a command, or break an oath, the Aern might have remained under complete Eldrennai control forever. Given the pride and arrogance so common to Rivvek's ancestors, in fact, the entire bloodline of Villok, Rivvek was still astonished it had taken as long as it had for an Eldrennai king to break his word to Kholster, First Born of Uled's Aern, thus releasing the Aern from the spells that bound them.

From there, even Rivvek's predictions would have been wrong had he been alive to make them. In prolonged battle against a magic immune warrior race in possession of nigh unbeatable warsuits, even in limited numbers, Rivvek would have projected a complete genocide for the Eldrennai. His calculations would have failed to account for the Vael's inborn desire for peace and mediation as well as the Aern's affection and respect for them.

The six hundred years of peace they had enjoyed had been a statistical anomaly. Rivvek wondered whether other Eldrennai comprehended how lucky they had been that the uneasy truce had lasted a year, much less six hundred. Even if Dolvek, Rivvek's brother, had not so stupidly broken the truce by moving the warsuits the Aern had left behind as part of the truce, it would have ended eventually. At that time, the oath made by Kholster to slay every Eldrennai would have come into effect, and the path upon which they now walked would still be theirs. Only the date had been variable.

But, as his own scarred body told the world, there are varying levels of ruination. One can be scourged near to death, be broken, and laid waste to and still heal to emerge from the flames, if not whole, then . . . still useful.

BOOK: Oathkeeper
9.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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