Authors: John Marco
THE DEVIL’SJOHN MARCO
For their commitment to freedom, for their courage, and for their ongoing sacrifice, this book is humbly dedicated to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces
King Lorn the Wicked knew the knives were out. In the past days – days he knew were the last of his kingship – conspiracies were everywhere, with no one to be trusted. It was the reward for a life lived in treachery, where alliances shifted like sand in the storms kicked up by war. It was how Jazana Carr wanted him to end – alone and afraid.
Tonight, darkness fell heavy on Carlion. Soldiers milled about the castle courtyard and its many towers, keeping an uneasy eye on their foes in the distant hills. Clouds obscured the moonlight. An abrasive breeze stirred Lorn’s cape. He drew his wolf-fur collar closer to his face and squinted against the dust and sand, filth that constantly tumbled through the streets of his capital out of the crumbling mountains. From atop the wall-walk King Lorn could see for miles. The turrets of Carlion provided an excellent vantage against invaders. As he had for the past three nights, he watched as Rihards’ forces waited in the hills, their many torches glowing defiantly, announcing their numbers. They had not yet advanced on Carlion, but Lorn and his men knew time was short. Perhaps the duke awaited more of Jazana Carr’s mercenaries to bolster his own forces from Rolga. Perhaps the siege would start at dawn.
Or perhaps they were waiting for one more traitor to make a move. King Lorn’s mind turned on this as he stared into the hills. There was work to be done tonight and he had very little time. If he was to escape this trap he needed to be
sharp. Jazana Carr was clever. The bitch-queen from Hanging Man had held his stones in a vice for months now. One by one she had co-opted his barons, cooing to them with her endless supply of diamonds. Lorn wondered how much Rihards had cost to turn. Not long ago, he and the duke had been close allies. They had even been friends, though Lorn had always used that term carefully. As he continued to stare out into the hills, counting up the torches of Rihards’ massed army, he was sorry the duke had betrayed him. Yet in an odd way he was also glad. It had opened his eyes to treachery. He turned away from the hills just for a moment and looked down at his soldiers. Twenty feet below, the main gate of Carlion stood in rock-solid defiance to the army in the hills, fortified with stout beams and armed with fighting men carrying bows and lances. Among these men stood Jarrin, his Captain-at-Arms and garrison commander. Jarrin was pensive as he milled about his troops in his distinctive armour, his head topped by a falcon-faced helmet with a crest of dangling feathers. A few of the men wore their helmets back, Lorn noticed. Not so with Jarrin.