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Authors: Rowena Cory Daniells

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The King's Bastard

BOOK: The King's Bastard
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THE KING'S BASTARD

 

Book One of the Chronicles of King Rolen's Kin

 

Rowena Cory Daniells

 

 

SOLARIS

 

First published 2010 by Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd, Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX1 0ES, UK

 

www.solarisbooks.com

 

ISBN (.epub version): 978-1-84997-178-2

ISBN (.mobi version): 978-1-84997-179-9

 

Copyright © Rowena Cory Daniells 2010

Maps by Rowena Cory Daniells and Luke Preece

The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Designed & typeset by Rebellion Publishing

Chapter One

 

Rolencia, near Midwinter's Day

 

Byren went first, hoping to spot the Affinity beast's tracks so he could judge its size and the danger to his men. Despite the clumsy snow shoes, he ploughed on. Cold air stung his nostrils and the drifts lay deep with a crust of crisp ice crystals, glinting in the rays of the setting sun. Ah, how he loved Rolencia!

When he reached the rim of a small, treeless hollow, he searched for signs of the beast. No tracks in the smooth white snow. And they hadn't had a fall since dusk, last night.

'Slow down, Byren. Lence isn't with us this time,' Orrade called, short of breath despite the reserves of strength in his wiry frame.

Byren grinned ruefully. For as long as he could remember, he'd pushed himself to challenge Lence, but his twin had remained at the castle to welcome the Merofynian ambassador. Byren did not envy Lence. As kingsheir, his twin had to marry to consolidate Rolencia's alliance with Merofynia. While Byren...

Orrade joined him, sucking in deep breaths.

To give the others time to catch up, Byren studied the bluffs and ridges of the Dividing Mountains which formed a barrier between the rich Rolencian valley kingdom and the savage spars. Familiar peaks told him they weren't far from the border of Dovecote estate. Why, if he climbed a tree and looked east, he could probably spot the nearest warning tower looming over the snow-shrouded forest and fields.

What was Elina doing right now? Last spring he'd caught her in the cold-cellar and demanded a kiss. She'd promptly clipped him over the head with a frozen ham, almost knocking him out. Moaning convincingly, he'd let her put fresh mountain ice on the bruise. Her contrite sympathy was better than any kiss. He smiled to himself. Back in Rolencia's war-torn past she would have made a fine warrior's wife.

'Say, Orrie, when our work's done here do you want to go down to Dovecote and visit your father?'

'Visit Elina, you mean.'

Byren chuckled and went to move, but Orrade stopped him. His friend's sharp, dark eyes surveyed the hollow, and his black brows drew together to form a single line of worry.

'What?'

'Don't know.' Orrade spoke slowly. 'Something's not right.'

Byren studied the trees lining the rim. Mostly evergreens, their skirts were mantled with snow and could easily hide the beast they sought. The size of a large wolf, with the markings of a leopard, lincis were rarely sighted this close to habitation. All Affinity beasts were dangerous but a lone predator was not a great threat for a party of armed men like his. And it was a lincis the villagers had reported, not a manticore pride or a fearsome leogryf. 'Could it be the beastie?'

'Don't know... nearly midwinter so the walls between the Seen and Unseen are at their weakest.' Orrade shrugged. Byren reached for his bow, but Orrade gave himself a shake and grimaced. 'No sign of the beast and I don't have Affinity, yet -'

'Byren Kingson?' The village's Affinity warder caught up with them, red-faced and insistent.

'Monk Hedgerow,' Byren greeted him, then had to wait while the man bent double, gasping. He had seen the monk ordering the villagers about, insisting on the best of the harvest for himself. No wonder he'd grown so plump in just one summer. Halcyon's monks were renowned for their fighting skills but this one would be useless if the warlord of Cockatrice Spar sent raiders over the pass, or if they met up with the beast. Byren began to regret not bringing the village's healer as well. She had looked lean and eager, despite having seen sixty winters. Consideration for the nun's age had stopped him; that and the thought of them bickering. Rivalry between the monks of Halcyon and nuns of Sylion went as deep as the rift between summer and winter.

'So where did they see this lincis, Hedgerow?' Byren prompted.

'Not far from here,' the monk said, and frowned. 'Why haven't you strung your bows?'

Orrade raised his eyebrows, and Byren shrugged. 'There's been no sign of tracks. It could be hours before we sight the beast, if at all.'

When the monk looked blank, Orrade added, 'If we leave the bows strung, the strings will lose tension. They'd be useless when we needed them.'

The monk seemed unconvinced, but gave an ingratiating bow. 'Kingson, I ask a boon. I shouldn't be serving a rural village whose only claim to fame is discovering a tin mine by accident. I'm a scholar, not a dirt grubber. You will be seeing the mystics master this midwinter. Can you mention my name to him? I've written five times asking to be transferred back to the abbey but my messages must be going astray.'

Byren was careful not to catch Orrade's eye. If the monks back at Halcyon Abbey found Hedgerow as annoying as they did, it was not surprising his requests had been ignored.

'I can mention your name, but that's not why I'm here, you know.' No, he'd been diverted from his true purpose by the report of the lincis sighting. Originally, he had been sent to escort the Royal Ingeniator to see if it was possible to link the village to the canal network so they could transport their tin. After three hundred years of rule, his family had linked the great lakes of Rolencia with a clever network of canals that made trade so much easier. Despite its longer pedigree and its claim to a higher culture, Merofynia had nothing to compare with Rolencia's canals.

'Just remember me to Master Catillum, that's all I ask, kingson. Please?' The monk fixed slightly protuberant eyes on Byren until he nodded.

Satisfied, Hedgerow set off down the slope only to stumble over his snow shoes, sliding down into the base of the hollow amid a rush of loose snow.

'Freezing Sylion!' The monk screeched.

'That should scare off the lincis,' Orrade muttered.

'Well, we wanted to either scare it or kill it. Come on.' Byren ploughed down after the monk, who was dusting snow off his goatskin cloak. Orrade followed, muttering under his breath.

'What's wrong?' young Chandler yelled from the rim of the hollow as the others joined him.

'Keep your voice down,' Byren warned. 'You don't want to scare off the little beastie.'

They laughed, all bravado. Byren smiled grimly. Five years ago he'd been just like them, an untried warrior of fifteen, desperate to prove his worth. Today he led a hunting party of half a dozen armed men, more than enough to tackle a lincis. The last thing he wanted was to return to the castle bearing someone's dead brother or son. But five of his warriors were the inexperienced younger sons of rich merchants and Rolencian lords, eager to distinguish themselves. Even though Byren's task was only to escort the Royal Ingeniator, they'd volunteered hoping for a run-in with warlord raiders or Affinity beasts. When the Affinity warder revealed the reported sighting of a lincis, Byren had thought it the perfect chance to give the youths some experience without too much risk. But, with the racket Monk Hedgerow was making, they'd be disappointed.

Byren and Orrade reached the monk in the hollow.

'So which way is it?' Byren asked Hedgerow.

The monk lifted his hands to his face, sniffed, and drew back, his lips twisting with revulsion. He flicked the snow away convulsively and began tapping on his eyelids, ears, mouth and chest while muttering under his breath.

BOOK: The King's Bastard
13.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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