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Lord of the Fire Lands

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The grim school of Ironhall takes in unwanted, rebellious boys and five years later sends forth the finest swordsmen in the world, the King of Chivial‘s Blades. Bound to absolute loyalty by a magical sword-stroke through their hearts, they stand ready to defend the King or whomever else he designates against all perils, whether human or sorcerous. Each book in this trilogy stands alone, but together they make a larger story. Lord of the Fire Lands is neither a sequel nor a prequel. Because most of the action overlaps the first book in time, I call it a "paraquel". King Ambrose and Durendal make brief appearances, but the main characters are two young men we first meet in Ironhall as Candidate Wasp and Candidate Raider. Neither quite fits the pattern for a would-be Blade, and when the King arrives to harvest the latest crop of seniors and proposes to bind those two to his service, the traditions break down. Ancient secrets are revealed and suddenly danger threatens, right there in Ironhall.

Review

" istinguished by its sophisticated structure and themes, Duncan's exceptional sequel to The Gilded Chain will satisfy both fantasy fans looking for high adventure and those more interested in rich characterizations... Duncan can swashbuckle with the best, but his characters feel more deeply and think more clearly than most, making his novels, especially this one, suitable for a particularly wide readership. " - Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

" Duncan is an exceedingly finished stylist and a master of world building and characterization, and with those strengths rather than great originality in plotting he fashions another eminently satisfactory King's Blades adventure. " - Booklist

" Distinctive and markedly superior to most of the competition." - Kirkus Reviews

" Yorick changes his guise dramatically as he moves from Shakespeare to Duncan, but there's much of Hamlet's mixture of japery, deceit, and ghosts in this new tale as well... you'll be well rewarded. " - Locus

" There's plenty of thrilling adventure, some surprising twists and turns, and a well realized fantasy world. Duncan continues to deliver quality fantasy fiction. " - Science Fiction Chronicle

" Great swordfights and interesting background aren't all you get. The story is also peopled with fascinating and complex characters who will hold your interest throughout this compelling tale. Don't miss it. " - Writers Write

" A fully fleshed out, totally realized word of fantasy. Of the King's Blades novels thus far, this is the best yet. " - B & N Explorations

Sample Chapter

Ambleport was a town of about a thousand souls on the southwest coast of Chivial. It thrived on trade, fishing, a little whaling in the spring, and more than a little smuggling. By day its inhabitants bustled about in its crowded little harbor and by night they slept unworried within its walls of honey-colored stone.

One foggy dawn in the spring of 337, four dragon ships floated into the mouth of the Amble River. They advanced with muffled oars, silent as trout in a pool, gray as ashes in the murk. The cold watchmen in their shack at the end of the breakwater rang no warning bell, because their throats had been cut a few minutes earlier by three wet naked men who had climbed up the stonework with knives in their teeth. The hunters passed unchallenged into the harbor and tied up alongside the fishing boats. Two hundred well-trained raiders swarmed ashore without a word.

Brawny arms hurled grapnels, and these made some slight scraping noises as their teeth gripped the edges of the honey-colored walls, but nothing loud enough to alert the town watch. The first men over opened the gates for the rest.

Everyone knew about Baels. Everyone had heard of the mindless havoc, women raped in the streets, and screaming naked berserkers slaying every living thing. What happened in Ambleport was very different--well trained troops following a plan with steely discipline. A band would smash in the door and rush through the house, looking for opposition. If they found none, one or two would remain, demanding loot, while the remainder continue to the next house. Many of the raiders spoke fluent Chivian and the rest could parrot, "Do not resist and you will not be hurt." If the residents quickly handed over some jewelry, a few gold coins, perhaps a silver candlestick, the raiders would grin politely and depart, taking anything else that caught their fancy--weapons, good textiles, metal pots. Only if they met resistance or found nothing of value did they resort to violence, and then they could be as nasty as the legends said.

Dealings were less civilized when youngsters were present. Adolescents and older children were ordered outside and herded down to the harbor for future consideration. In much less than an hour, Ambleport was stripped bare of valuables and its young people stood in a terrified huddle on the quay. There had been almost no resistance.

Almost none. Gerard had been fast asleep in the Green Man, blissfully dreaming of Charlotte. He was wakened by someone kicking in the door of the room next to his, and had just enough time to leap out of bed and snatch up his rapier. When his own door was smashed open by a red-bearded raider, he attacked.

He had never been in a fight in his life and had never expected to be. But he was a gentleman, and gentlemen sported either rapier or short sword. To gird on a weapon one could not use was folly, so he had taken lessons at a very respected school in Grandon--not many lessons, for his means were limited, but he was nimble and accurate. Alas, in this instance, also rash. The only crazy naked berserker in Ambleport that morning was Gerard of Waygarth. His victim looked more surprised than hurt when the steel point went through his beard and up into his brain, but he folded down to his knees and collapsed on his shield and ax in a entirely appropriate manner.

Another Bael filled the doorway behind him--younger, shorter, and broader. With a blood-chilling scream he leaped over his fallen comrade. His shield brushed Gerard‘s rapier aside like a twig and slammed its owner back into the wall hard enough to stun. The fight was over even before the raider brought up his knee. This technique was not taught in the gentlemen‘s fencing schools.

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By the time Gerard had stopped retching long enough to start breathing again, the Bael had stripped his fallen comrade, piling ax, shield, dagger, helmet and other equipment on the bed--even the man‘s boots. He had also searched the room and found the pouch containing Lord Candlefen‘s gold.

"This?" he demanded incredulously. "You killed a man for four crowns? A thegn‘s wergild is twelve hundred!"

Gerard could only moan and hope for a quick death. To his blurred vision the monster was just a vague impression of broadsword, breeches, boots, steel helmet, close-cropped copper beard, and a truly murderous green stare. And a voice that said, "Put on warm clothes. You‘re coming with me."

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As an added indignity, Gerard had to carry the blanket containing the dead man‘s gear plus his own rapier and document case, although he would have walked doubled over even without that load. The inn was put to the torch because a Bael had died in it. No other buildings were burning, but as he staggered down the muddy track down to the harbor gate, he saw he had not been the only would-be hero. Four or five men had tried to defend their loved ones; their bodies had been thrown out of windows to discourage any further resistance.

The raid being over, the raiders returned to the waterfront to load their booty. A large part of that booty consisted of the young people of Ambleport, huddled into a terrorized flock within a ring of glittering steel, but the first shock was starting to wear off. As the horror of their plight registered, they were growing restless and milling around, girls easing into the center and the older boys moving to the outside. The slavers selected one of the largest and ordered him to lead the way aboard a ship. He refused and was hacked down on the spot; then the rest did not argue. The astonishing discipline still prevailed--no raping, no wholesale arson, just clockwork perfection.

As the sun burned off the mist, the dragon ships spread their oars and departed on the ebb tide. They rounded the headland and were gone. They took Gerard with them, because he had slain one of their own and must suffer for it.