Authors: Simon Brown
Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction, #Action & Adventure
Book Three of the
Keys of Power
Concluding volume in the Keys of Power fantasy trilogy.Prince Lynan was ignored by his family until he inherited the magical Key of Union. Betrayed and driven from his rightful position at court, he was forced into exile. But after war and hardship, Lynan is no longer that callow prince-he will allow nothing to stand between him and his return to the capital...and the throne.
For the scattered band
Keith Dencio, Martin Hemsley, Peter Kramer,
Peter Livingston, Paul Passant, and John Reid.
As always, I owe a great debt to my first readers, Alison Tokley and Sean Williams, whose patience and perseverance are legendary.
My editors, Julia Stiles and Stephanie Smith, performed miracles with the text. Any remaining faults are due entirely to my own efforts.
My agents, Garth Nix and Russell Galen, have performed wonders on my behalf.
Thank you all.
Sited sorgcearig, saelum bidaeled
on sefan sweorcedd, sylfum pinced
paet sy endeleas earfod a dael.
When each gladness has gone, gathering sorrow
may cloud the brain; and in his breast a man
can not then see how his sorrows shall end.
(trans. Michael Alexander) [early 8th Century Saxon poem]
In the hour before first light, Lynan Rosetheme, outlaw prince of Grenda Lear, stood alone in the chill morning air. His face was turned up to the sky, but his eyes were closed. He could smell the newly turned earth of many graves and, a little further, the dryer, more pungent smell of horses. Some distance away he could smell humans, thousands and thousands of them—his own Chetts within a league or two, his enemy perhaps fifteen leagues south, and a large number unexpectedly north of his position.
He felt the softest of winds blow around him, a cool westerly, and the wind brought the sound of something else he was not expecting. Cavalry. His eyes blinked open and for a moment he felt dizzy. The stars above wheeled in the sky and he had to spread his feet to remain steady. He brought his gaze down and saw the dark shape of Jenrosa sitting at the head of Kumul's grave. He heard someone behind him and turned quickly. It was Korigan, the tall queen of the Chetts. 'You are mourning your friend,' she said. Lynan shook his head. 'No.' He looked back, then, at Kumul's grave and Jenrosa. It still seemed unbelievable to him that his friend's body was under that mound; mere earth—mere death, for that matter—could not vanquish the giant warrior, the most famous soldier in all of Grenda Lear and Lynan's teacher and guardian.
'I hear riders coming from the west,' he told Korigan. 'Many hundreds.'
'Areava's knights?' she hissed urgently. 'Again? How did they get around us?'
'Not knights. Chetts.' He handled the Key of the Sword that hung around his neck, still dark with the blood of Sendarus. It felt absurdly light.
'Eynon?' Korigan asked, her eyes widening.
'Possibly. If so, he is still many hours away.'
'I will rouse the banners—'
'No,' Lynan told her.
'If it is Eynon he does not come to make war,' Lynan said with certainty. 'At least not against us.'
Korigan shook her head, but did not voice the objection that rose in her throat. She had never trusted Eynon, her most determined opponent among the Chetts.
'But send out some scouts,' Lynan added.
'Just to be sure,' Korigan said, smiling.
'Send most south to check on the Kingdom's army and send the rest north,' Lynan told her.
'There is a third army hereabouts, and I want to know its strength, who it belongs to and in what direction they are travelling.'
'The Haxus king? Salokan?'
'Probably, and still in retreat.' Lynan smiled mirthlessly. 'Like us.'
Korigan nodded and turned to leave. She hesitated, feeling the need to say more, to let him know she understood the pain he was going through.
, she told herself.
Later, when he has had time to accept the death of Kumul
. She left.
Alone again, Lynan once more closed his eyes and concentrated on his other senses. The wind from the west dissipated and soon a warmer, more vigorous wind started from the east, carrying with it the smells of farmland and rivers and towns and, deep underneath, the tang of the sea.
The memory of Kumul's death haunted Ager all through his sleep. He woke with a start at first light. He stood up, beating his arms around him to get the blood going, then absently strapped on his sword. He glanced down at Morfast, still asleep under their combined horse blankets. She was breathing slowly and evenly, and for a moment some warmth crept back into his heart. Then, unexpectedly and like a biting wound, memories of the battle three days before flooded back into his memory. It was the first time since that terrible day he really felt his friend's death. Ager had to stop himself from groaning. He wanted to sink back down and hide himself under his arms, not wanting to face a world without Kumul Alarn striding through it.
He shook his head to clear it. Thinking like that was too much like a death wish, and Kumul would have despised him for it. He looked eastward, saw that sunrise was still a while off, and then saw Lynan standing against the horizon, not far from the graves of the Chetts who had fallen in the battle against Queen Areava's army.
But Lynan, there is no time to grieve
, he thought to himself.
We lost the battle and the enemy will be after us even though you did kill its captain
He watched the young prince for a moment before approaching him. When he got close enough to see Lynan's expression he saw he was not grieving; instead, he seemed absorbed in himself and deep in thought. Ager did not want to disturb him and turned to leave.
'Don't go,' Lynan said quietly.
Lynan snorted. 'Even you call me that now.'
Ager nodded. 'You will be king.'
'Even after our defeat?'
Ager studied Lynan closely. 'You don't look like someone who thinks they have suffered a defeat.'
'Oh, we were defeated alright.' He blinked. 'And we lost Kumul. I think I would rather have lost my army than him.'
And still, to Ager, it did not look as if Lynan truly was grieving the loss. He felt in his bones that something was not quite right, but he could not put his finger on it. Lynan was saying the right words, but there was little emotion behind them, as if the combination of losing Kumul and fighting an army loyal to his sister had overwhelmed his feelings.
'Possibilities are presenting themselves,' Lynan continued.
'So will the enemy soon enough. They must be organised by now and cannot be far behind.'
Lynan closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them said: 'Areava's army is still in camp.'
'How can you possibly know—?'
'But there is another force to our north. They are moving away from us.'
'Salokan,' Ager said without doubt.
'Korigan is sending out scouts to make sure.'
'It must be Salokan,' Ager insisted. 'Areava sent her army up here to deal with Salokan, not us. And Jenrosa's magik showed the Haxan army was beaten and in retreat.'
'I want to be sure. I don't want to be trapped between two forces. Our mobility is our greatest advantage.'
For a moment neither man said anything. Ager then noticed Jenrosa sitting by Kumul's grave. 'Have you talked to her in the last three days?'
'No,' Lynan said quietly, not needing to ask who he was talking about. 'I'm not sure… perhaps it would be best if you…'
'I think you need to go to her,' Ager said with more certainty than he felt. He was as worried by Lynan's seeming indifference as he was about Jenrosa being alone with her grief.
Lynan nodded abruptly and left. Ager watched, resisting the urge to go with him.
He's no longer a boy
, he told himself.
Jenrosa stared at her hands, unwashed since the day of the battle and still gory with Kumul's blood. It was all she had left of him, except unreliable memories. As the sky lightened she started to see patterns in the tracery of the blood; at first nothing definable, just glimpses of landscapes, unknown faces, mythical animals; but then it formed something like a map, and in her imagination she watched armies marching to and fro across her hands, watched great battles and watched great dying. A single tear fell from her eye and splashed onto her palm. Blood turned red again and whorled before coalescing into a face she recognised.
'Lynan,' she whispered, and even as she said the name his shadow fell across her. She looked up at him, and for a moment thought his pale skin had turned the colour of blood. She put her hands to her face and looked away, gasping.
Lynan gazed down on her with concern. 'Jenrosa?'
She looked up at him and saw that his skin was pale again, as pale as dawn. She let out a deep sigh that made her whole body shudder. 'I thought…' she started, but could not finish.
He squatted beside her and took her hands in his own. She could not believe how cold they were, colder even than hers. A hundred things to say passed through her mind, but she did not want to say any of them.
'What will you do now?' he asked. She could tell from his tone that he was trying to be gentle, but there was a dryness about it that made him sound uncaring.
'Carry on, of course,' she said, surprised by the sound of her own voice. She had expected it to be filled with emotion, but there was something of Lynan's dispassion about it, and she understood then that inside he must be feeling as desolate as she. 'I am a magiker. I am a Chett magiker. I will stay with you and Ager and Gudon and the rest.' She drew a deep breath. 'I will avenge Kumul's death. Somehow.'
'Then come,' Lynan said. 'We will have need of you before long.' He stood up, bringing her with him.
Jenrosa felt suddenly cold and shivered. Lynan took off his poncho and draped it around her shoulders, then signalled to Ager who hurried towards them.
'Take her to Lasthear,' he told Ager. 'She should be with other magikers. They will know how to make sure she rests.'
Ager nodded and left with Jenrosa, his arm around her shoulders. Lynan thought his two friends looked terribly small then, and quite frail, so different from the confidence and strength they had all seemed to share when Kumul was alive. He wanted to shout out that he would protect them, that everything was alright, but remembered he was standing beside Kumul's grave and realised it was a lie. He could protect none of them, and did not believe for a moment that everything was going to be alright.
The scouting groups Korigan sent out before sunrise returned halfway through the morning. They reported directly to Korigan, who then went to find Lynan. She found him with Gudon and his personal bodyguard, the Red Hands, already mounted as if they had only been waiting for word from her.
'Areava's army still has not moved,' Korigan said. 'They are waiting to see what we do first.'
'And the force to our north?'
'Salokan,' Korigan confirmed. 'He is moving as quickly as he can, but he has a lot of infantry and a lot of wounded with him and his progress is slow. He is heading due north, for the Haxus border.'