The action continues fast and furious in this third installment of Elizabeth Moon's celebrated return to the fantasy world of the paladin Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter. This award-winning author has firsthand military experience and an imagination that knows no bounds. Combine those qualities with an ability to craft flesh-and-blood characters, and the result is the kind of speculative fiction that engages both heart and mind. All is not well in the Eight Kingdoms. In Lyonya, King Kieri is about to celebrate marriage to his beloved, the half-elf Arian. But uncanny whispers from the spirits of his ancestors continue to warn of treachery and murder. A finger of suspicion has been pointed toward his grandmother, the queen of the Ladysforest elves, and that suspicion has only intensified with time and the Lady's inexplicable behavior. Clearly, she is hiding something. But what? And why? Meanwhile, in Tsaia, the young king Mikeli must grapple with unrest among his own nobility over his controversial decision to grant the title and estates of a traitorous magelord to a Verrakaien who not only possesses the forbidden magic but is a woman besides: Dorrin, once one of Kieri's most trusted captains. When renegade Verrakaien attack two of Dorrin's squires, suspicion and prejudice combine to place Dorrin's life at risk-and the king's claim to the throne in peril. But even greater danger is looming. The wild offspring of a dragon are on the loose, sowing death and destruction and upsetting the ancient balance of power between dragonkind, humans, elves, and gnomes. A collision seems inevitable. Yet when it comes, it will be utterly unexpected-and all the more devastating for it. From the Hardcover edition.
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February 21, 2012
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Excerpt from Echoes of Betrayal by Elizabeth Moon
Arvid Semminson, lying naked, bound, and bruised on the cold ground somewhere in northwestern Aarenis, reflected that honor among thieves was a myth. Valdaire's Guildmaster had taken everything he had: clothes, weapons, gold, his Guildmaster symbol, and that very damning--in the Guildmaster's eyes--letter of safe passage from the Marshal-General. In return, the Guildmaster had indeed found a room for Arvid, as he'd offered: Arvid had spent several very unpleasant days in the Guildhouse cellar before his kteknik gnome companion Dattur, worried by his absence, had tried to rescue him, only to be captured himself.
After some additional time in the Guild's cellar, they'd both been dumped into the lower compartment of a trade-wagon and driven out of the city--several days out, in what direction Arvid had no notion--in the untender care of journeymen enforcers who intended to pry every detail of information from them both before killing them.
Now the journeymen tossed dice for first choice of his weapons, all the while loudly discussing what they intended to do with him. Certain tools were, they'd said, heating in the coals. He would be warm then, one jeered, throwing a hot coal that bounced off his back before he felt more than the sting.
He heard the fire crackling somewhere behind him. Smoke fragrant with the scent of roasting meat curled past his nose, but where he lay only cold wind caressed him, and his belly cramped with hunger.
He should have stayed north of the mountains once he was sure the necklace had already gone south. He should have realized that his long absence from Verella had given his second in command--Harsin, with his false smiles--a chance to seize power and proclaim him a traitor to the Guild because he had gone to do the Marshal-General's bidding.
He would have Harsin's liver roasted on skewers if he got out of this alive, which--at the moment--seemed unlikely. What he needed was a rescue, but who in all Aarenis knew or cared about him? His gnome servant, maybe, but Dattur was trussed up as tightly as Arvid himself, and gagged as well.
You could ask for help.
Arvid had heard that voice before, and it was not a voice he wanted to hear. Nor the chuckle that followed. He was not a Girdish yeoman; he had respect for the hero-saint, but . . . it was not for him. Besides, it was Gird's Marshal-General's letter in his pocket that had put him in this mess. If not for her--
You'd have been hanged long since for the thief you are.
He was not a thief--he had been a thief, but that was years ago, and anyway--all right, yes, the Marshal-General had saved him from those Girdish who were sure he'd stolen the necklace, but he hadn't. And it was being seen as too friendly with the Fellowship that had turned the others against him.
Would you have let her die?
He knew which "her" that was, of course. Paksenarrion. Of course he would not have let that vicious jealous bitch Barra kill her after all she'd suffered--
And the gods healed.
Well, yes, that was true, too. But now, here . . .
You are almost as stubborn as I was, lad.
Arvid felt a gentle hand on his bruised head and then the sting of something cold on his bare shoulder--one and then another. And another.
The fire hissed. The men swore and stood, their weapons--some of them his--clanking. "What about them?" one said. "Let 'em drown or freeze," said another. "Take the meat inside." Arvid heard the door of the hut--hardly more than a shed--creak open and then slam shut. Cold rain, the winter rain of Aarenis, pelted down on him, harder every moment. He shivered; his teeth chattered. Cold water ran into his face, melting away the blood that had glued his eyelids shut in the last beating. Under his nose he saw a stretch of dark earth speckled with pebbles glistening in the rain.
Wet leather stretched. Arvid remembered that even as his hands twisted . . . but it had to be really wet, and he was chilling faster than the leather softened. He struggled on. Hair by hair, the leather thongs stretched. Enough? It had to be enough.
You could have sent a paladin, he thought into the dark sky.
She has her task. You have yours.
It did not seem the right moment to tell that sort of voice that he was not in service to that sort of voice. It was the right moment to escape, if he could. He worked one stiff hand loose, then the other. He could scarcely move his fingers and fumbled at the thongs tying his knees, his ankles. All the time the rain pelted down, hard cold drops--some of them ice pellets now, it felt like. He needed a knife, a sharp-- His hand knocked against something, a loose rock--and he saw the glassy scalloped edge of broken flint as if outlined by the sun.
He wanted to say, You could have sent a knife, but what if the rock disappeared? By repute, the gods were big on gratitude. He clutched the flint awkwardly, sawed at the thongs, pulling and sawing together, and finally his knees were free and then his ankles. He tried to stand, but the blows he'd taken, the hunger of two days trussed and gagged in a wagon, prevented it. He crawled instead, the flint in his mouth, bruised hands splayed out on the cold mud, bruised knees gouged afresh by the stones, until he reached Dattur, who was himself struggling with his bonds, but unsuccessfully. They had bound the gnome upright to a tree, using a length of rope--and rope did not stretch in the wet, but shrank.
Arvid sawed away at the rope. One strand then another parted. The gnome finally got free and pulled the gag from his mouth.
"Shh . . ." Arvid was shuddering with cold.