Authors: Hilari Bell
The Farsala Trilogy
Read the Farsala Trilogy
Fall of a Kingdom
Rise of a Hero
Forging the Sword
Published by Simon & Schuster
SIMON & SCHUSTER BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
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This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2006 by Hilari Bell
Map on pages viii-ix drawn by Russ Charpentier
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Book design by Greg Stadnyk
The text for this book is set in Cochin.
Manufactured in the United States of America
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CIP data for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
This book is dedicated to my A-team: my excellent agent, Irene Kraas, and my extraordinary editor, Julia Richardson. Without both these women, the book you’re looking at would never have existed.
LL OF MY BOOKS
owe a huge debt to my writers’ groups, the Denver Science Fiction Writers Guild, and the Wild Women Writers of the West. I would also like to offer my deep thanks to Simon Tasker of Simon & Schuster. If you’re reading this book now, there’s a good chance that it’s because of him—whether you know it or not. And finally, thanks to my family for their support—always.
destroying the deghan army that defended it, they rejoiced. They thought, as victors will, that the gods favored them, and that they always would. Perhaps it was that arrogant assumption that angered Azura. Perhaps it was something else about the Hrum that displeased him. Who can claim to know the mind of a god?
But displeased Azura must have been, for the spirit of the ancient champion Sorahb was reborn into the body of a deghan youth, who raised an army of peasants to resist their Hrum conquerors. Then Azura sent to Sorahb three tests—not tests of courage, which any brute may have, but tests of his divine farr, his worthiness to rule as well as to command.
Sorahb passed these tests, and learned from them too. He resolved to not only lead his peasant army, but to work with them, and with others,
too, that he might find new ways to defeat the Hrum, since the deghans’ ways had failed. Yes, Sorahb had passed Azura’s tests and won the god’s favor.
But the tests that the Hrum would set him were still to come.
T WON’T WORK
,” said Hama, looking down the road that ran through the rolling foothills. “It’s too complicated.”
“No, it’s not.” Kavi spoke absently, for most of his attention was fixed on the empty road as well—or, more exactly, on the bend in the road where the Hrum soldiers should be appearing before long. “As soon as the siege towers are in front of us, Commander Jiaan and his luna … his troops will ride in for a brief raid and draw off most of the Hrum guards. Then our archers will pepper the towers with fire arrows and they’ll all go up in smoke. Dead simple.”
“And if it’s not,” said the lady Soraya’s icy voice behind him, “then you will be. Dead, that is.”
Kavi grimaced, but he didn’t bother to look back at her, though
Hama cast her an uneasy glance. What Flame-begotten whim had possessed him to agree to work with Soraya and Jiaan, who had plainly stated their intention of killing him if anything went wrong—and, once the Hrum were gone, of killing him even if everything went right! He must have been mad. Not to agree, for that was the only way they’d have let him live past the moment, but it was truly crazy for him to be seriously intending to help them.
He peered through the screen of gold and brown leaves that protected the archers from sight and stifled a sigh. He knew why he’d agreed—and it wasn’t just because that was the only way they’d let him live. He needed their help to defeat the Hrum as badly as they needed his. He couldn’t even blame them for their desire to kill him, since he had, even if indirectly, contributed to the loss of the battle that had resulted in their father’s death.
Their relationship was a strange one, to Kavi’s way of thinking. Both of them knew they were brother and sister, but Kavi had never heard either of them acknowledge it aloud. Jiaan called his half sister “Lady,” as if he were still a page in his father’s household, and the lady referred to her bastard half brother as if he were a servant. Yet they were perfectly united in their determination to free Farsala from the Hrum, and in their desire to kill him. Kavi understood that desire, though that didn’t mean he intended to lie down and let them cut his throat when the time came—and it made dealing with them on a day-to-day basis a major pain in the ass!
“He had to go and arrange for the paint,” Hama told the lady Soraya indignantly. “You sent him!”
They’d had no choice but to send him, and Kavi had taken a grim pleasure in how much it had galled the suspicious pair to let him out of their sight—not just for a few marks, either. It had taken him several weeks to arrange for an accelerant to be mixed in with the three barrels of imperial scarlet paint a Hrum officer had ordered, in the town nearest to the hidden camp where the siege towers were being built.
It was Hama who had brought word to Kavi that the peasants who supported the resistance had finally located the Hrum’s construction site. Brought word to
, for though Jiaan commanded the army, it was Kavi who had formed the peasant resistance. Kavi the peddler, who had visited their small villages for years, selling them knives and ironmongery, was the one they trusted.
So it had to be Kavi who went to convince the lads who were mixing the paint that they should change their formula a bit. And to arrange a faked burglary of the Hrum supply depot where the paint was stored, so that when the siege towers went up like tinder, the blame would fall on the anonymous burglars and not the paint mixer. He’d also arranged for the peasants who farmed the fields along the shortest road to Mazad to send him warning when the Hrum brought their towers along, which was how they all came to be sitting here on this sunny autumn morning.
He’d understood Soraya and Jiaan’s reluctance to let him go off on his own. He’d scoffed at their vague threat to use Hama as a hostage; no matter how much they hated him, neither of them would harm a sixteen-year-old girl just to get him back. He’d even felt a bit smug over their astonishment when he’d turned up again of his own free will, mission accomplished, and the plan—his plan!—ready to run.
It hadn’t occurred to him that they would respond by placing the lady Soraya and two loyal men from Jiaan’s army behind him, with orders to kill him instantly if anything should even start to go wrong.
And no plan wad that good.
He wished Hama hadn’t insisted on staying to see how it worked out, even after she’d heard how he had worked with the Hrum to destroy the deghan army. She hadn’t entirely forgiven him herself—or she’d have been arguing a lot more with the lady-bitch behind him—but at least she understood why he’d done it. He only hoped her mother would feel the—
“They’re coming!” Hama hissed.
Kavi had already seen the first rank of Hrum soldiers marching around the bend in the road. They were only five abreast on this narrow track, but their scarlet cloaks were almost as bright as their helmets and breastplates in the sunshine. A mounted soldier passed the troop, cantering up the road, his head turning back and forth as he looked for signs of ambush.
The archers, under the lady Soraya’s direction, had chosen their clothing to match the colors of the autumn leaves and dying grass, and she’d made Kavi change his clothes twice before she’d been satisfied. At least his hair wasn’t a problem, peasant-brown and curly, like Hama’s and most of the archers’, as well. The straight black hair—short, since Kavi had cut it—that showed Soraya’s deghan blood was concealed by a rough cap that went with the rough boy’s clothes she wore, so the lot of them blended nicely into the brush of the hillside. It must have been something the Suud tribesmen taught her, Kavi thought, for deghans hunted from horseback, in silks and jewels, with a great deal of noise.
Crouching motionless in the brush, he could almost feel her stillness behind him.