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Prince of the Blood

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Prince of the Blood

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Author: Raymond E. Feist
Publisher: Doubleday, 1989
Series: Krondors Sons: Book 1

1. Prince of the Blood
2. The King's Buccaneer

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: High Fantasy
Heroic Fantasy
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Synopsis

If there were two more impetuous and carefree men in the Kingdom of the Isles, they had yet to be found. Twins Borric and Erland wore that mantle proudly, much to the chagrin of their father, Prince Arutha of Krondor. But their blissful youth has come to an end. Their uncle, the King, has produced no male children. Bypassing himself, Arutha names Borric, the eldest twin by seconds, the Royal Heir. As his brother, Erland will have his own great responsibilities to shoulder. To drive home their future roles, Arutha sends them as ambassadors to Kesh, the most feared nation in the world. Borric and Erland will be presented to the Queen of Kesh-the single most powerful ruler in the known world-at her Seventy-fifth Jubilee Anniversary.

But they have not even left Krondor when an assassination attempt on Borric is thwarted. Aware that he is being provoked into war, Arutha does not rise to the bait. His sons' journey will not be deterred, for nothing less than peace is riding on it. Yet there is to be no peace for the young princes. When their traveling party is ambushed, Borric disappears and is presumed dead-sending Erland into spirals of rage and grief as he is forced to navigate alone the court intrigues at Kesh. But unbeknownst to anyone, Borric lives and has escaped his captors. In a strange land, with a price on his head, Borric must use all his wits and stamina to find his way back to his brother.

On separate paths, the two men-one a fugitive and one a future king-make their journey toward maturity, honor, and duty. For every step they take could sway the fragile peace of the land, as those who crave war rally against them-and become ever more daring.


Excerpt

Chapter one

HOMECOMING

THE INN WAS QUIET.

Walls darkened with years of fireplace soot drank in the lanternlight, reflecting dim illumination. The dying fire in the hearth offered scant warmth and, from the demeanor of those who chose to sit before it, less cheer. In contrast to the mood of most establishments of its ilk, this inn was nearly somber. In murky corners, men spoke in hushed tones, discussing things best not overheard by the uninvolved. A grunt of agreement to a whispered proposal or a bitter laugh from a woman of negotiable virtue were the only sounds to intrude upon the silence. The majority of the denizens of the inn called the Sleeping Dockman were closely watching the game.

The game was pokiir, common to the Empire of Great Kesh to the south and now replacing lin-lan and pashawa as the gambler's choice in the inns and taverns of the Western Realm of the Kingdom. One player held his five cards before him, his eyes narrowed in concentration. An off-duty soldier, he kept alert for any sign of trouble in the room, and trouble was rapidly approaching. He made a display of studying his cards, while discreetly inspecting the five men who played at the table with him.

The first two on his left were rough men. Both were sunburned, and the hands holding their cards were heavily callused; faded linen shirts and cotton trousers hung loosely on lank but muscular frames. Neither wore boots or even sandals, barefoot despite the cool night air--a certain sign they were sailors waiting for a new berth. Usually such men quickly lost their pay and were bound again for sea, but from the way they had bet all night, the soldier was certain they were working for the man who sat to his right.

That man sat patiently, waiting to see if the soldier would match his bet or fold his cards, forfeiting his chance to buy up to three new cards. The soldier had seen his sort many times before; a rich merchant's son, or a younger son of a minor noble, with too much time on his hands and too little sense. He was fashionably attired in the latest rage among the young men of Krondor: a short pair of breeches tucked into hose, allowing the pant legs above the calf to balloon out. A simple white shirt was embroidered with pearls and semiprecious stones, and the jacket was the new cutaway design, a rather garish yellow, with white-and-silver brocade at the wrists and collar. He was a typical dandy. And from the look of the Rodezian slamanca hanging from the loose baldric across his shoulder, a dangerous man. It was a sword only used by a master or someone seeking a quick death--in the hands of an expert it was a fearsome weapon; in the hands of the inexperienced it was suicide.

The man had probably lost large sums of money before and now sought to recoup his previous losses by cheating at cards. One or the other of the sailors would win an occasional hand, but the soldier was certain this was planned to keep suspicion from falling upon the young dandy. The soldier sighed, as if troubled by what choice to make. The other two players waited patiently for him to make his play.

They were twin brothers, tall--two inches over six feet he judged--and fit in appearance. Both came to the table armed with rapiers, again the choice of experts or fools. Since Prince Arutha had come to the throne of Krondor twenty years before, rapiers had become the choice of men who wore weapons as a consideration of fashion rather than survival. But these two didn't look the type to sport weapons as decorative baubles. They were dressed as common mercenaries, just in from caravan duty from the look of them. Dust still clung to their tunics and leather vests, while their red-brown hair was lightly matted. Both needed a shave. Yet while their clothing was common and dirty, there was nothing that looked neglected about their armor or arms; they might not pause to bathe after weeks on a caravan, but they would take an hour to oil their leather and polish their steel. They looked genuine in their part, save for a feeling of vague familiarity that caused the soldier slight discomfort: both spoke with none of the rough speech common to mercenaries, but rather with the educated crispness of those used to spending their days in court, not fighting bandits. And they were young, little more than boys.

The brothers had commenced the game with glee, ordering tan- kard after tankard of ale, letting losses delight them as much as wins, but now that the stakes of the game were rising, they had become somber. They glanced at each other from time to time, and the soldier was certain they shared silent communication the way twins often did.

The soldier shook his head. "Not me." He threw down his cards, one of them flipping completely over for an instant before it came to rest upon the table. "I've got duty in an hour; I'd best be back to the barracks."

What he really knew was that trouble was imminent, and if he were still around when it arrived, he'd never make muster. And the duty sergeant was a man not given to receiving excuses kindly.

Now the dandy's eyes turned to the first of the two brothers. "Play?"

As the soldier reached the door of the inn, he took note of two men standing quietly in the corner. They stood in great cloaks, faces obscured slightly by the shadows of their hoods, despite the night being warm. Both made a show of quietly watching the game, but they were taking in every detail of the inn. They also looked familiar to the soldier, but he couldn't place them. And there was something about the way they stood, as if ready to leap to action, that reaffirmed his determination to reach the city barracks early. He opened the door to the inn and stepped through, closing it behind.

The man closest to the door turned to his companion, his face only partially illuminated by the light from the lantern above. "You'd better get outside. It's about to break loose."

His companion nodded. In the twenty years they'd been friends, he had learned never to second-guess his companion's ability to sense trouble in the city. He quickly stepped through the door after the soldier.

At the table, the betting reached the first of the two brothers. He made a face, as if perplexed by the play of the cards. The dandy said, "Are you staying or folding?"

"Well," answered the young man, "this is something of a poser." He looked at his brother. "Erland, I would have sworn an oath to Astalon the Judge that I saw a Blue Lady flip when that soldier tossed in his hand."

"Why," answered his twin with a twisted smile, "does that pose a problem, Borric?"

"Because I also have a Blue Lady in my hand."

Men began to back away from the table as the tone of conversation shifted. Discussion of what cards one held was not the norm. "I still see no problem," observed Erland, "as there are two Blue Ladies in the deck."

With a malicious grin, Borric said, "But you see, our friend over here"--he indicated the dandy--"also has a Blue Lady tucked just not quite far enough back in his sleeve."

Instantly the room erupted into motion as men put as much distance as possible between the combatants and themselves. Borric leaped from his seat, gripping the edge of the table and overturning it, forcing the dandy and his two henchmen back. Erland had his rapier and a long dirk out as the dandy drew his slamanca.

One of the two sailors lost his footing and fell forward. As he tried to rise, he found his chin met by the toe of Borric's boot. He collapsed into a heap at the young mercenary's feet. The dandy leaped forward, executing a vicious cut at Erland's head. Erland deftly parried with his dirk and returned a vicious thrust his opponent barely dodged.

Both men knew they faced an opponent worthy of wariness. The innkeeper was circling the room, armed with a large cudgel, threatening anyone who sought to enlarge the fray. As he neared the door, the man in the hood stepped out with startling speed and gripped his wrist. He spoke briefly, and the innkeeper's face drained of color. The proprietor briskly nodded once and quickly slipped out the door.

Borric disposed of the second sailor with little trouble and turned to discover Erland in a close struggle with the dandy. "Erland! Could you use a hand?"

Erland shouted, "I think not. Besides, you always say I need the practice."

"True," answered his brother with a grin. "But don't let him kill you. I'd have to avenge you."

The dandy tried a combination attack, a high, low, then high series of chops, and Erland was forced to back away. In the night the sound of whistles could be heard.

"Erland," said Borric.

The hard-pressed younger twin said, "What?" as he dodged another masterfully executed combination attack.

"The watch is coming. You'd better kill him quickly."

"I'm trying," said Erland, "but this fellow isn't being very cooperative." As he spoke, his bootheel struck a pool of spilled ale and he lost his footing. Suddenly he was falling backward, his defense gone.

Borric was moving as the dandy lunged at his brother. Erland twisted upon the floor, but the dandy's sword struck his side. Hot pain erupted along his ribs. And at the same instant the man had opened his left side to a counterthrust. Sitting upon the floor, Erland thrust upward with his rapier, catching the man in the stomach. The dandy stiffened and gasped as a red stain began to spread upon his yellow tunic. Then Borric struck him from behind, using the hilt of his sword to render the man unconscious.

From outside the sound of rushing men could be heard...

Copyright © 1989 by Raymond E. Feist


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