The son and heir of High King Henred Conrad has survived his Herald’s Declaration. Will the fame he wished to avoid grant him a tactical advantage, or simply mire him in politics? As competing strategies vie for Hugh’s approval, he finds himself increasingly alienated from dovish Ilina Lightkeeper, and aligned with bellicose Forkbeard. But even with the aid of a surprisingly powerful sword, what can a mere Knight of the Kram do to challenge the invincible Tunnoltan Imperium? Hugh may not live long enough to find out.
Too soon. Hugh’s legs pumped as his breath chugged in ragged cadence. Stonework blurred about him; a rushing river of rock. He skidded around a corner, caught a flagstone with his toe, and careened into a wall. Crunch. With a lurch and a shove he was back on his feet and pelting down the street. Doors were opening, disgorging onlookers, casting shafts of golden light into the rain. Hugh kept to the middle of the street, but even so was forced to shove and dodge. We aren’t ready. He broke from a warren of overhung alleys into the courtyard’s vast expanse. Ahead of him, torches clustered at the gatehouse: scavengers swarming a derelict on some long-deserted shore. Too few. We are all of us too few. I need more time.
The Heir of the Herald, having discharged her Declaration, discovers duty has further demands. Torn now between loyalty to her heritage and the pledge she made to her fiancée, Ilina grapples with the religious implications of a rightful king who doesn’t know right from wrong. Her unwelcome quest to break the tightening alliance between Hugh and Forkbeard becomes an uphill battle made even more impossible by revelations which shatter her credibility. To what may she cling when even her own mind betrays her? The fate of Arlam may hang upon her answer.
Ilina paused and turned beneath the sky as her bodyguard swept up from behind. The vault of heaven, the domain of Harlith, once a familiar expanse, now loomed overhead like a vast opening, a blind spot, a void. Is there no place to flee from his presence? Ilina felt herself shrinking, drawing back, and with effort stiffened her stance. Don’t think; do. She turned on her heel and, cloak flaring, took off toward Council Hall.
Once a servant and now an incongruously monastic ward, the former denizen of House Harn who fled her terror of the breathing dark will find reason to return. Whether the Wheel of Fate will speed or crush her in her quest is just another one of those little questions that makes the game of life delightful.
The sight made Rhinya sad, though she couldn’t quite tell why. Something about the small bright city standing alone before a vast dark cloud seemed … well, fragile. Like the figurine of Harn Bright-Eyes that’d sat upon her windowsill—a watchful knight, golden in the night—until she’d accidentally knocked it over and heard it shatter in the street. Beautiful things were like that, weren’t they? It seemed everything lovely was always in danger.
Now deposed, the son and heir of Highlord Hansel Harnish must come to terms with a populace which no longer trusts his leadership. Problem is, he knows he’s right. The collapse of his father’s conspiracy has simultaneously endeared him to and alienated him from his fiancée, so there’s still a chance for love, but the fate of his nation outweighs personal happiness. Will Rikard have the strength to do what’s necessary even if it destroys him?
“You see, Ilina,” he continued in a hiss equally loud, “here’s what I’ve learned since then. Here’s what I now know that you still don’t. Sometimes, no good can be achieved without a terrible payment. Sometimes, a leader must sacrifice even his conscience in order to save his people. For what am I without my people? Nothing. A man in a wasteland. Lord of an echoing void.”
They say wizards keep their own council, but Lhewen Mahru—alias Forkbeard—has made his opinions no secret. In the seemingly-random aggression of the natural world the Councilor sees the malice of Omri, and in the Councilor’s forceful prescriptions Hugh Conrad sees the wisdom gained from hard-won victories on Earth. But this is Arlam, a place even lifelong natives may misapprehend.
Forkbeard leaned forward, placing both hands on the table. Ilina felt the others in the circle fall away. It was here and now, between the two of them—old man and young woman, white hair and burnt red, winter and autumn—that an outcome would take shape. The Council around them was rapt. Forkbeard raked them with his gaze.
A half-Jaar native of Tejilim, correspondent of Ilina, and odd woman out on the Council of Kram, Sanja, like Hugh, must navigate multiple worlds. Unlike Hugh, she has mastered the art of hopping between them. Will her opportunism hinder Kramarack’s new alien champion, or punch his ticket to power?
Though she kept her own features studiously blank, Sanja’s eyes were flicking from face to face with the intensity of a magnet swung between metals. Hugh watched with narrowed eyes, trying in vain to decipher her mood. Suddenly her gaze connected with his own. Hugh sat up. Had the woman just winked at him? She was looking away now as though nothing had happened.
A Kramish Lord and member of the Council in Harnaral. Infamous for paranoid showboating, he is nonetheless a dogged advocate for the welfare of the Kramish state.
“Lorschichen!” interrupted the heavyset man, his huge mitt thumping the red wood as though tenderizing a side of beef. Hugh noted that while the section of tabletop absorbing this abuse was visibly depressed—its reflected sheen falling off in shallow pocks—not the slightest shiver found its way through the wood to where Hugh’s own hands rested on its surface. Do these people keep a massive Arthurian table in every house and hovel?
A shrewd politician and Councilor, Lord Kormah’s suspicions turn against the Lady Lightkeeper. What can be done in so short a time to allay his well-founded cynicism?
“It is not a limitation to rely on the words of one’s forebears,” groused Kormah. “You would have us doubt every foreign policy decision of the past five hundred years! It will be as though we had mistaken fireflies for the northern stars.”
Ursine in appearance and temperament, Lord Met isn’t known for his oratory in the Well of the Council. But when he does speak, it may just prove decisive.
To Hugh’s right, Forkbeard sat with furrowed brow. Beyond him hunched a bear of a man, Lord Arthonolith Met, whose face seemed set in grim agreement. He was nodding slightly, his black beard bending against his chest. That’s bad … I think.
BRIGORD & TAKLA
Soldiers of Kramarack. Despite heated affirmations that their blood runs in the hills, they were unable to reach the highlord in time to prevent catastrophe when Forkbeard and Ilina came to call on that fateful evening over a year ago. Whether in recognition of their untapped merits or in payment for their sins, the Wheel of Fate will require more of them. Much more.
Echoes ran up the passage behind her—cursing and clattering, and then a thumping of footfalls. Brigord and Takla. Good. One of them might have a plan that isn’t as crazy as a cat-chummy rat. They caught up with her at the exit to the square, where lamplight gave way to the sun’s frigidity. Brigord, breathing heavily, grabbed Rhinya by an arm and yanked her back around. “Wait, Rhin,” he said, “you can’t just run out there! If they’re searching, you’ll get nabbed. You need a plan.”
She looked at him expectantly.
His face soured. “Gods damn it,” he muttered.
A Broanoshi monk, font of oral knowledge, and culinary patrician holding court in the kitchens of Bald Tor, Brother Tal didn’t know what he was in for when he offered shelter to a bedraggled runaway girl one storm-wracked night last year.
Sometimes Rhinya imagined Tal had once been a Habridi himself before joining the Broanoshi Order. He knew so much about the world, it only made sense for him to have traveled it himself. His insistence that he’d simply read a lot of books had to be a cover. Books were boring—especially the runic primers she was forced to blindly memorize. Tal’s stories were anything but.
The chief Broanoshi nephologist has charted a respectable career out of interpreting the shape of the clouds. He’s not the guy you’d expect to announce the sky is falling down. But weather can catch even the savviest observer off guard. Brother Hommel may soon find his dogmatic certainty floating away on the wind.
Out in the corridor, a door slammed open. The Tumblik brothers dashed past the kitchen, uncovered heads streaming water, cloak-bundled paraphernalia clutched to their bosoms like swaddled infants. Perash Hommel was at their heels but paused in the archway, bent double, and hacked into his arm. When he looked up, his face was a mask of raw white horror.
Rhinya squeaked and fell off her stool.
The Lord of Blushu. Regionally famous as a trader, and now under investigation as a traitor, this hard-bitten man will prove either a staunch ally or a vicious enemy—there is no middle ground. Hugh will try for the former, but must beware: Elmatok moves fast and makes judgements even faster.
Hugh swung his horse around, dancing it to the side. The Lord of Blushu turned with Hugh, and their stare remained unbroken. Though outwardly the other man’s face stayed expressionless, Hugh detected the faintest rearward spasm in his eyes. Yes, Your Lordship, see how little I care for my safety. See how I disdain the men at your back, your implicit threat of force. Above all, see me, alone. Those people on the hilltop can’t tell me what to do. You thought you were dealing with them, but you’re not. It’s me you have to placate now, Elmatok. Let that sink in.
He’s way up in the mountains now, doing some kind of weird blood-anointing ritual with a squad of fanatical subordinates. It’s probably nothing. I wouldn’t worry about it.
With a rush of wind and flurry of flapping cloth, Silvus Relisham stepped out upon the ledge. He paid the wind no heed, for its chill had permeated this place. The air here was less an agent than a condition, a pressure, a solid mass which encompassed all, and in whose embrace all were moved. Silvus relaxed into it, shutting his eyes, letting it waft him forward. Ever forward.
Wrath and Crimson Rime — Intro
Wrath and Crimson Rime — Locations