King of Ashes

For centuries, the five greatest kingdoms of North and South Tembria, twin continents on the world of Garn, have coexisted in peace. But the balance of power is destroyed when four of the kingdoms violate an ancient covenant and betray the fifth: Ithrace, the Kingdom of Flames, ruled by Steveren Langene, known as “the Firemane” for his brilliant red hair. As war engulfs the world, Ithrace is destroyed and the Greater Realms of Tembria are thrust into a dangerous struggle for supremacy.

As a Free Lord, Baron Daylon Dumarch owes allegiance to no king. When an abandoned infant is found hidden in Daylon’s pavilion, he realizes that the child must be the missing heir of the slain Steveren. The boy is valuable—and vulnerable. A cunning and patient man, Daylon decides to keep the baby’s existence secret, and sends him to be raised on the Island of Coaltachin, home of the so-called Kingdom of Night, where the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the “Hidden Warriors,” legendary assassins and spies, are trained.

Years later, another orphan of mysterious provenance, a young man named Declan, earns his Masters rank as a weapons smith. Blessed with intelligence and skill, he unlocks the secret to forging King’s Steel, the apex of a weapon maker’s trade known by very few. Yet this precious knowledge is also deadly, and Declan is forced to leave his home to safeguard his life. Landing in Lord Daylon’s provinces, he hopes to start anew.

Soon, the two young men—an unknowing rightful heir to a throne and a brilliantly talented young swordsmith—will discover that their fates, and that of Garn, are entwined. The legendary, long-ago War of Betrayal has never truly ended… and they must discover the secret of who truly threatens their world.

The first volume in Raymond E. Feist’s new epic heroic fantasy series, The Firemane Saga, King of Ashes is available May 8th from Harper Voyager.

 

 

Daylon had a dagger in his hand before he was fully conscious. He listened. It was quiet, though occasionally he made out the shout of a distant sentry or the faint sound of looters arguing over spoils. He heard a rustle in the corner and sat up, blade ready. Had the camp girl returned without bidding? As the fog of sleep lifted, he decided that a camp girl would not lurk in the corner but would have probably slipped into his bed.

Then Daylon heard a strange sound. He took up his night lamp and opened its shutter to illuminate the tent’s interior. In the corner where the girl had waited lay a bundle of cloth, and he could see it moving.

He approached it warily, as he would not be the first noble of Garn to be gifted with a venomous serpent or rabid animal. Then he recognized the noise and knew that the cloth held something far more lethal.

The Baron of Marquensas crouched and pulled aside the covers to see a tiny face looking up at him. He held the light close and saw large blue eyes in a little round face and a forehead crowned with wispy hair, silver-white in the lamplight. In that moment, Daylon was certain that this baby was the last of the Firemanes, as certain as he was of his own name. He guessed that the child’s fine silver-white hair would turn a brilliant copper when it was two or three years old, but around the baby’s neck a woven copper wire had been placed, and from it hung a gold ring set with a single ruby—the signet ring of Ithrace, the king’s ring.

Who had put this child in his tent? How had that person passed his sentries, or stolen past Balven, who slept before his threshold? He gently picked up the child to examine it in the light of his night lamp and saw it was a boy. The child looked into his eyes and Daylon was even more certain that this was the Firemane baby.

Crouching on his heels as the baby watched him silently, Daylon Dumarch, Baron of Marquensas, muttered, “Gods old and new, why me?”

Along the shore, away from the battle site, a man waited by a cluster of rocks. Daylon could see him clearly in the early morning sunlight as they rode slowly toward him.

The man wore a covering over his nose and mouth, leaving only his eyes exposed; the only clue to his identity was the age lines at their corners. Other than that, he appeared to be a common soldier without badge or tabard, but he was a member of the unseen army of Coaltachin, the legendary Invisible Nation.

Coaltachin’s rulers had never affixed their names or their seals to the Covenant, and this exclusion had made them a nation apart, yet they had honored the pact since its inception. Few nobles and fewer commoners understood the genius of Coaltachin’s secu- rity, and their success was due to their Quelli Nascosti, meaning “The Hidden.” Coaltachin had the finest spies, infiltrators, saboteurs, and assassins in the world. On the street they were known as sicari, “the dagger men.”

The Invisible Nation was publicly loathed and privately employed by every ruler with the means to pay them. They were also universally feared, for legend claimed they could walk through walls, kill with their breath, and become undetectable at will, or at least that was the myth surrounding them. In reality, they were the most effective assassins, spies, and provocateurs on Garn.

The true strength of Coaltachin lay in the extent of its net- work. It had placed agents everywhere, from the tables of nobility to the gutter gangs of the most dangerous cities across the world. Few knew exactly where the Invisible Nation lay among the thousands of islands off the eastern shore of South Tembria. Only a few, trusted, eastern traders could navigate the route to Coaltachin. All anyone else knew was that it might lie somewhere between South Tembria and Enast.

Daylon had been certain that the sicari would be at hand during a battle of this scope. A betrayal so majestic was far beyond the skills of men like Lodavico Sentarzi or Mazika Koralos. It had taken Balven a full day and a night to find someone to carry word and relay the message to arrange this meeting at dawn on the second day after the bloodshed, a time during which Daylon had been left to look after the baby. Balven found a goat with a kid among the livestock, made a makeshift nursing rag, and tore up strips of linen to keep the child clean. Daylon, who had never touched a baby in his life, managed to keep the boy hidden from view. He thanked the gods that the child seemed to want to sleep most of the time.

He did not know exactly what to expect from this meeting and spared a little time to wonder who this man might be. Before the battle he might have served in Daylon’s army or even Steveren’s, as a porter, baggage cart driver, cook, or vendor among the camp followers, faceless in a sea of faces. Daylon was certain that this man, or others of his order, had infiltrated the Ithraci army, to shout contradictory or confusing orders to paralyze Steveren Langene’s forces as he tried to organize a defense against the sudden betrayal.

Daylon smiled ruefully. Perhaps he also overestimated his own power and security, particularly now as he stood next to his brother and faced a deadly killer.

The bulk of Daylon’s army was already on the road home; only his castellans remained to protect their master, laid low by a stomach ague that kept him abed. It was unlikely that anyone would call at his pavilion since most of the combined armies had already departed for Ithra, but the excuse kept the baby from prying eyes while they waited for a reply from the man who now awaited them. Word had come after sunset and Daylon had spent a restless night in anticipation of the dawn.

Daylon rode carefully through the rocks along the shore, the ever-present roar of the breakers masking the clatter of his horse’s hooves as he made his way to the meeting point. Behind him came Balven, carrying the Firemane baby.

When they reached the man, Daylon held up his hand and asked, “Do you know me?”

“I do,” said the false soldier.

“I have a charge for you. Will you accept my gold?”

“Name your charge,” replied the man.

“This baby must travel with you to your homeland. He is to be cared for as if he were a child of your master’s household and be given a name, though I do not wish to know it. Only send word should the child perish; a message must reach me saying, The colt went lame and had to be put down. If nothing unfortunate occurs, there will be no reason for words between us ever again.

“For this charge I will pay you five weights of gold each year until the boy becomes a man.” That day was seventeen years away. Daylon gestured toward his half-brother. “This is my man, Balven. He can be known by the mark near his heart, earned in a hunting accident.” Balven moved the tiny baby to his right arm and with his left hand pulled aside the collar of his tunic to show the man his scar. “He is the only man on Garn I trust completely. Seventeen years from this day, he will be at the main gates of Marquenet. The child must be brought to the city and given over

to him at dawn.

“Should Balven meet an untimely end, I will choose another to take up his charge and send word to you. I will name his replacement using these words: The caretaker has passed, his heir is…

“Your master may treat the child as he pleases but the boy is not to be harmed or abused. He must be educated, as he is of noble birth, and trained to protect himself. The gold shall cease to be paid after his manhood day, and it is then you will bring him to the city gates to meet with Balven.”

The assassin considered the deal and finally said, “Ten weights a year.”

Daylon looked at the dark eyes above the black mask, then finally said, “Seven and we are done.”

“Seven,” agreed the assassin.

“Can you reach your homeland without the baby being seen?”

“I will require eight weights for the journey, if we must remain undetected.”

“Done,” said Daylon. He reached into a small bag hanging from his horse’s saddle and counted out small bars of gold, each as long as an average man’s hand and as wide and deep as a man’s thumb. Each one could feed a village for a year. “Here are eight, and this year’s seven: fifteen in all. Seven more will be sent each year, on this day. Send word where to deliver the gold to my barony.”

The agent of the Quelli Nascosti took the gold, then went to Balven’s side and took the baby. Balven gave his master one long look, then handed the child over.

Daylon watched the man ride away until all he could see was the rising sun burning off the morning’s fog, and all he could hear was the sound of gulls on the wing and the crashing of waves on the rocks. Turning his horse around, he motioned for Balven to walk beside him.

The body man looked up at his half brother and said, “Am I incorrect in assuming that might have been the most impulsive thing you’ve ever done?”

Daylon shrugged. Then he chuckled. “Probably.”

“If Lodavico catches any hint of your business this morning, he’ll turn his army around and march straight on to Marquenet to hang you from the first tree he finds.”

“He might try that anyway. I will have to answer for my deci- sion to forgo the plundering of Ithra, as the king of Sandura may well infer my disapproval.” Daylon chuckled as they traveled back toward the path leading to the top of the plateau. “Even Lodavico isn’t quite that impulsive. No, he’ll harbor his grudge over my going home today. I’m free to despise the king of Sandura, just so long as I do so in private.”

Wondering at his recent impulsiveness, Daylon cursed himself for not keeping his army at home, leaving the fate of Ithrace to fall on other shoulders, and the blood of a friend from his hands. Balven saw the expression on Daylon’s face and knew what he was thinking, but it was Daylon who put the thought into words.

“Perhaps I should have killed the child.”

Balven said, “While that might have been the most expedient solution, you could never bring yourself to kill a helpless baby. Killing the Firemane child was never a choice, my lord.”

Daylon knew his bastard brother was right. He would never have been able to see or hear his own child and not think of the one dead at his hand, especially that of a friend betrayed. Daylon nodded. “You are correct, as you often are.”

Balven chuckled. “Had our father left me to die…”

“I’d never have found anyone to trust in my household,” finished the Baron of Marquensas. “You might be a bastard, but we share blood.”

“How many brothers and sisters do you think we are still ignorant of?” asked Balven.

Daylon gave a cynical laugh. “The only man I’ve met who rivals Father’s appetite for pretty young women is Rodrigo.”

“And Father had no taste for pretty boys.”

Daylon nodded. “He had a few, I suspect.” He stared off into the distance, toward the sea, as they started upon the path to the battlefield above.

Balven said, “What troubles you, my lord?”

Daylon took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he urged his horse upward. “It might be years yet, but this matter is far from over.”

Balven nodded and said, “This day may prove useful. Many do not suspect the Firemane baby may be out there in the world. A few do, but we know he is. Entrusting his care to the Lords of the Unseen was an… unexpected move, but it may prove to be a great advantage.”

Daylon lost some of the tension in his features. “You always anticipate the advantage in any situation.”

“Worry not, my lord. Turn your mind to more pleasant prospects and let me worry for you.”

Daylon said, “That’s one of the reasons I keep you around, brother.” The notion that this baby would someday prove useful comforted him, but the idea of another baby, soon to be in his home, made him smile widely.

Excerpted from King of Ashes, copyright © 2018 by Raymond E. Feist

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