The King's Blood


By Daniel Abraham

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War and madness cast shadows over the lands dragons once ruled.

Geder Palliako's star is rising. He is a hero of Antea, protector to the crown prince, and darling of the court. But storms from his past are gathering, and with them, a war that will change everything.

Cithrin bel Sarcour founded a powerful bank on stolen wealth, forged papers, and ready blades. Now every move she makes is observed, recorded, and controlled. Unless Cithrin can free herself from her gilded cage, the life she made will be for naught; war may provide just the opportunity she needs.

An apostate priest sees the hidden hand behind all: a long-buried secret of the dragon empire threatens everything humanity has built. An age of madness and death approaches, with only a few doomed heroes to stand in its way.

For more from Daniel Abraham, check out:
The Dagger and the Coin
The Dragon's Path
The King's Blood
The Tyrant's Law
The Widow's House
The Spider's War


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Master Kit

The apostate, called Kitap rol Keshmet among other things, stood in the soft city rain, the taint in his blood pressing at him, goading him, but being ignored. Fear and dread welled up in his throat.

In any of the cities and villages of the Keshet or Borja or Pût, the temple would have been the central fact of the community, a point of pride and honor, and the axis about which all life turned. In the vast glory of Camnipol, it was only another of a thousand such structures, awe-inspiring in its scope, beauty, and grandeur, and rendered unremarkable by its company.

The city was the heart of Imperial Antea as Imperial Antea was the heart of Firstblood power in the world, but Camnipol was older than the kingdom it ruled. Every age had left its mark here, every generation growing on the ruins of the old until the earth below the dark-cobbled streets was not soil, but the wreckage of what had come before. It was a city of black and gold, of wealth and desperate poverty. Its walls rose around it like a boast of invulnerability, and its noble quarters displayed great mansions and towers and temples casually, as if the grandeur was trivial, normal, and mundane. Had Camnipol been a knight, he would have worn black-enameled armor and a cloak of fine-worked wool. Had it been a woman, she would have been too handsome to look away from and too intimidating to speak with. Instead, it was a city, and it was Camnipol.

Soft rain darkened the stone walls and high columns. Wide steps rose from street to landing and then again to the shadowed colonnade. The great spider-silk banner—the red of blood with the eightfold sigil of the goddess at its center—hung beneath the overhanging roof, dark at the bottom from the rain and at the top from the shadows, and the breeze sent ripples across it. The carriages and palanquins of the highest noble families of Antea filled the narrow road, each trying to reach a more prestigious place on the smooth-cobbled street and none willing to retreat a step that might give a rival some opportunity. And it was still hardly past first thaw. When summer and the court season came, the place would be unnavigable. To the north, the great tower of the Kingspire was greyed by mist, its top shrouded so that it appeared to grow up into the spreading cloud: the Severed Throne reaching out in all directions and weighing down the world.

The apostate pulled the hood of his cloak forward to hide his face and conceal his hair. Tiny spheres of rain beaded his beard like web-caught flies. He waited.

At the top of the steps, the hero of Antea stood, smiling and nodding to the few grandees who had come early to the city as they passed into the dimness of the temple. Geder Palliako, newly Baron of Ebbingbaugh and Protector of Prince Aster who was the only son of King Simeon and heir to the Severed Throne. Geder Palliako who had saved the kingdom from the conspiracies of the courts of Asterilhold. Geder wasn't the image of a national hero. His face was round and pale, his hair slicked back. The black leather cloak he wore was cut for a thicker man's frame, pooling around him like an ornate curtain. He stood under the great red banner like a new actor freshly on a stage. The apostate could almost see him repeating lines to himself, straining his ears toward his cue.

This was the man who had brought back the cult of the goddess, long forgotten, and dropped it into the center of the greatest empire outside Far Syramys. In a more pious age, the temple might have struggled to take root, but the priests of Antea had long ago become political spokesmen and champions of the expedient. The voice of the goddess, impossible to resist for long, had found willing ears here, and the nobility streamed in like children before a puppet show, excited by the hint of the exotic, the decadent, and the strange.

They were dead. Their city, their empire, the truths they had learned at their nurses' breasts. Like the first pale mark of leprosy, the rot had touched their city, and none of them could see it for what it was. Nor, in all likelihood would they ever, even as the madness took them. They would die and never understand what they had become.

"Hoy! Old man!"

The apostate turned. The armsman was Jasuru, bronze-scaled and black-tongued. He wore boiled leather and the sigil of a serpent on a field of orange. Behind him, a young woman was stepping down from a gilt carriage with the help of a footman in matching colors. The woman herself wore a black leather cloak, cut too generously. Fashion in all things.

"What's your business here?" the Jasuru demanded, his hand on his sword's pommel.

"Nothing pressing," the apostate said. "Didn't see I was in the way. Quite sorry."

The guard growled low in his throat and looked away. The apostate turned his back and walked. Behind him, the high, rattling sound of the tin gongs began. He hadn't heard the call to prayer since he was a boy and a priest in a mountain temple half a continent away. For a moment, he could smell the dust and sweet wellwater, could hear the scrape of lizards across the stone and taste the curried goat that no one else in the world made the way they had in the village of his youth. A deep voice began the call to prayer, and the power in the apostate's blood thrilled to the half-forgotten syllables. He paused, ignored the wisdom of a thousand children's tales, and looked back.

The bull-huge man wore the green and gold of a high priest preparing the low rites, but he was no one the apostate recognized. The high priest he had known was dead, then. Well, the spider goddess promised many things, but physical immortality wasn't one. Her priests could die. The thought was a comfort. The apostate pulled his cheap wools closer around him and disappeared into the wet labyrinth of broadways and alleys.

The Division split Camnipol down its center like God's knife wound. Half a dozen true bridges spanned the abyss from its rim, standing high above the empty air, massive webworks of stone and iron. Any number of improvised chain-and-rope constructions reached across it lower down where the walls came closer together. If one were sitting near its edge, the history of the city was laid bare, ruin laid upon ruin laid upon ruin until the ancient architecture vanished, indistinguishable from stone apart from the occasional archway or green-bleeding bronzework. Since the age of dragons and before, there had been a city where Camnipol stood, growing upon and out of the ruins of the city before it. Even now, poor men and women of the thirteen races lived deep in the flesh of the city, inhabiting lightless caves that had been the storehouses and ballrooms and palaces of their ancestors.

"You never really think about drainage," Smit said, looking out into the grey air.

"I don't believe I do," the apostate said, shrugging off his cloak. "Was there a reason you felt I should?"

The troupe had taken shelter in a common yard at the Division's edge. The cart's thin doors were open, but they hadn't lowered the stage. Cary sat cross-legged with her back against the wide wheel, sewing beads to the blue gown. They were going to play The Bride's Folly that night, and the role of Lady Partia called for a bit more frippery. Sandr and Hornet were at the back of the high shelter with sticks in their hands, walking the choreography of the final battle where Anson Arranson exposed the treachery of his commander. Charlit Soon, their newest actor, sat with her hands under her thighs, her lips moving as if in prayer. It was her first night playing in The Bride's Folly, and her anxiety was endearing. Mikel was nowhere to be seen, likely off to the market and haggling for meat and river fish. There would be plenty of time for him to return and make ready. It was only the gloomy weather that made everything seem late.

"Well, you think about it," Smit said, nodding at the rain, "the things that really make a city are about controlling nature, aren't they? This here rain may not look like much, but Camnipol's a big city. It all adds up. Right now, just looking at it, it's like God upended a river on the place. All that water's got to go somewhere."

"The sea, the sea, the endless sea," the apostate said, quoting a play they'd done two years before. "As all water finds the salt waves, so all men end in death."

"Well sure," Smit said, rubbing his chin, "but the important thing's how it gets from here to there, isn't it?"

The apostate smiled.

"Smit, my dear, I believe you've just committed metaphor."

The actor blinked a false innocence.

"Did I? And here I thought we were talking about gutters."

The apostate smiled. For fifteen years now, he had traveled the world with his little band of players. They had sung for kings and brutish mobs. He'd taught players from eight of the thirteen human races, and taken lovers from three. Master Kit, he'd been. Kitap rol Keshmet. It was a name he'd given himself even before that, when he had delivered himself into the world out of a womb of desert stone and madness. He'd played a thousand roles. And now, God help him, there was time for one more.

One last.

"Cary?" the apostate said. "A word?"

The long-haired woman nodded, slipped her needle into her sleeve, and laid the handful of beads carefully into a cupping fold of the gown's cloth. It looked casual and unthinking, but not one bead would escape that little nest. The apostate nodded, smiling, and strolled toward the next shelter in the common yard, empty apart from a cold iron brazier and a stone bench. The brick paving was wet where the rain struck, the subtle red and green deepened and enriched until they seemed enameled. He sat on the little bench and Cary sat at his side.

Now that the time had come, he couldn't ignore the sorrow any longer. It had been there for weeks. The fear was an old companion by now; a fire lit in a common house in Porte Oliva months before when he had first heard word that a banner of the goddess flew in Antea. Sorrow had only come later, and he had put it aside as long as he could, telling himself that the thickness in his throat, the weight in his breast, would keep. They would keep no more.

"Master Kit?" Cary said. "Are you crying?"

"Of course not," he said. "Men weep. We find crying undignified."

She put her arm around his shoulder. Like a sailor sipping his last freshwater before a voyage, he tried to drink in the feeling of her beside him—the bend of her elbow at the back of his neck, the solid weight of her muscles, the smell of verbena and soap. He took a deep, shuddering breath, and nodded his assent. It took a long moment before he could speak.

"I believe we will need to find another player," he said. "Older man with a certain gravity. Someone who can take the paternal roles and the villains. Lord Fox. Orcus the Demon King. Those."

"Your roles," Cary said.


Raindrops as small as pinpricks tapped the thatching above them, the bricks before. The practiced blows of false swords and the grunts of the boys swinging them. Hornet had been with the company longer than Cary. Smit played more roles. But Cary would guide them. She would hold the little family of the road together after he was gone, if anyone would.

"What's happened?" she asked.

"There's something I feel I have to do," he said.

"We'd help."

"I believe you would try. But…"


He shifted to look her in the eyes. Her arm slid away from him. Her eyes were as dark as her hair, and large enough to make her seem younger than she was. He could see her now as she had been that first night, seven years before in the free city of Maccia, dancing in the public square for coin. She'd hardly been a girl then, feral and hungry and distrustful of anything masculine. Talent and ambition had burned off her like heat from a fire. Opal had warned him that the girl would be trouble and agreed that the price would be justified. Now Cary was a woman full-grown. He wondered if this was what it would feel like to have a daughter.

"I am afraid I wouldn't be able to do what was called for if I was also protecting all of you," he said. "You are the family I've made. If I can imagine you safe and content, I think I can sacrifice whatever else is needed."

"You're expecting a high price, it sounds like," she said.

"I am."

Cary sighed, and the wry smile that haunted her lips in times of trouble came to her. Remember this, he told himself. Remember the way her lips twist and her eyebrow rises. Keep it close. Pay attention.

"Well, piss," she said.

"For what it carries, I am truly sorry to go."

"Do you have anybody in mind to take the roles?" she asked.

He could see the pain in her. He was betraying her, abandoning them all, and she would no more blame him for it than cut off her toes. He wished he could take her hand in his, but she'd chosen the tone for their conversation, and he didn't have the right to overrule her. Not any longer.

"There's a group that makes the northern circuit. Paldrin Leh and Sebast Berrin. Three years ago, they had two fighting for the same roles. Find them, and you might get someone who already knows the lines. Paldrin's a Haaverkin, but that might add a touch of the exotic if you take him south."

"I'll ask around, then," she said. "When are you leaving?"

"Tonight," he said.

"Do you have to go alone?"

The apostate hesitated. It was a question he hadn't decided yet. The task before him was impossible. As doomed as it was inevitable. His sacrifice was his own, which made it curiously easy. To ask someone else to walk willingly to death beside him was no favor. And yet if it made the difference between success and failure, a world redeemed or lost…

"Perhaps not," he said. "There is one other who might help. But not from the troupe."

"And I suppose it would be entirely too much to ask what this mysterious errand is that's calling you away?" she asked. And then, contradicting herself, "You owe us that much."

The apostate licked his lips, searching for words he hadn't used, even to himself. When he found them, he chuckled.

"This may sound a bit grandiose," he said, scratching at his beard with one long finger.

"Try me."

"I'm off to kill a goddess."

Cithrin bel Sarcour,
Voice and Agent of the
Medean Bank in Porte Oliva

Cithrin bel Sarcour, voice of the Medean bank in Porte Oliva, stepped out of the bank's office with her head high, her features composed, and rage burning in her breast. Around her, Porte Oliva was entering its springtime. The bright cloth banners and glittering paste jewels of the First Thaw celebrations still lay in the streets and alleyways, slowly decaying into grime. Snow haunted the shadows where the midday sun couldn't reach. Cithrin's breath plumed before her as if her heart were a furnace belching pale smoke, and she felt the bite of the air as a distant thing.

Men and women of several races bustled on the cobbles before her. Kurtadam with their slick, beaded pelts; thin-faced, pale Cinnae; brass-and-gold-scaled Jasuru; black-chitined Timzinae; and fleshy, rose-cheeked Firstblood. Some nodded to her, some stepped out of her way, most ignored her. She might represent one of the greatest banks in the world, but as far as the hazy sky over Porte Oliva cared, she was just another half-Cinnae girl in a well-tailored dress.

When she stepped into the taproom, the warm air caressed her. The related, yeasty scents of beer and bread tried to gentle her, and she felt some of the knot in her gut begin to ease. The anger slipped, showing itself only a mask for the despair and frustration beneath. A young Cinnae man came forward to take her shawl, and she managed a tight-lipped smile as she relinquished it.

"The usual table, Magistra?" he asked.

"Thank you, Verril," she said. "That would be kind."

Grinning, he made an exaggerated bow, and gestured her on. Another day, she might have found it charming. The table was at the back, half hidden from the main room by a draped cloth. It cost a few coins more. When she felt capable of civil conversation, she would sometimes sit at the common benches, striking up conversation with whoever was there. There were more sailors and gossip of travelers farther south at the docks, more word of overland trade north where the dragon's road opened to the main square and the cathedral and the governor's palace, but the taproom was nearest to her bank—her bank, by God—and not every conversation needed to be a bid for advantage.

The Kurtadam girl who most often served in the daytimes brought a plate of cheese and brown bread with a tiny carved-wood bowl full of black raisins. More to the point, she brought a tankard of good beer. Cithrin nodded sharply and tried to make her smile genuine. If the girl saw anything odd in her, the soft fur of her face covered it. Kurtadam would make good card players, Cithrin thought as she drank. All of them wearing masks all the time.

The front door opened, light spilling into the main room. A shadow moved into it. Without seeing a single detail of face or body, without so much as a cleared throat, Cithrin recognized Yardem Hane. He was the second in command of her guardsmen—her guardsmen—and one of two men who had known her since her flight from Vanai. With that city burned and all its residents dead, that made him someone who'd known her longer than anyone alive.

The Tralgu walked gently across the floor. For so large a race, the Tralgu could be uncannily quiet. He sat down on the bench beside her. His high, doglike ears pointed forward. He smelled like old leather and sword oil. His sigh was long and deep.

"Went poorly, then?" he said.

"Did," Cithrin said, trying to match the laconic banter Yardem and Captain Wester employed. But the words wouldn't stop coming. "She barely even heard me out. I spent all winter negotiating that deal. Yes, there are risks, but they're good risks."

"Pyk didn't think so."

"Apparently not," Cithrin said. "God damn, but I hate that woman."

Cithrin had known from the moment the deal was made that answering to her notary would chafe. For months, Cithrin had exercised total control over the wealth of her branch of the Medean bank. Any loan she'd thought worthy, she'd made. Any partnership she'd felt wise, she'd entered. She'd cut thumbs on dozens of agreements and contracts, and she'd made good profits overall. Only, of course, the foundation documents of the bank had been forged and the contracts she'd signed illegal. It was still four months before she reached majority, inherited her parents' holdings in the bank, and became fully adult in the eyes of the law. But even after that, the role she'd taken on of an older woman and only a quarter Firstblood would remain hers. The bank was built on lies and fraud, and her discretion would be needed for years before the suspect agreements could all be purged. She fantasized about throwing it all to the wind just to spite the notary sent from the holding company in Carse. Pyk Usterhall.

You'll sign nothing. All agreements are signed by the notary. And the notary alone. Negotiations don't happen without the notary present. If you're overruled, you accept it. Control rests with the holding company. You're a figurehead. Nothing more.

Those were the terms she'd been offered, and she had agreed to them. At the time she'd been half drunk with relief that she'd kept any hold at all. She'd felt certain that once the notary was in place, it would be a matter of time before she could maneuver herself back into real power. The period in between would be a necessary test of her patience, but nothing worse than that. In the weeks before the notary's arrival, she'd fallen asleep every night imagining herself playing meek before some well-seasoned member of the bank, offering insights that would catch the new man's attention, building up her reputation with him until he trusted her judgment. From there, she told herself, it would be a short leap to making policy for her bank again. Her work was only to win over one man. Even if it was difficult, it was possible.

It had been a pretty story.

Pyk Usterhall arrived in the dead of winter. Cithrin had been in the café across from the Grand Market where she paid Maestro Asanpur a few coins for the use of a private room at the back. Winter's dark came early, even so far south as Porte Oliva, and there was little to do in the dark, cold afternoons besides play tiles and drink down the ancient, half-blind Cinnae's stock of coffee beans. That day, there had been four Firstblood queensmen resting after their patrol in the café trading jokes and stories with a Timzinae merchant. The Timzinae had been wintering in Birancour before heading back to Elassae in the spring, and Cithrin had been laughing at his jokes for days, waiting to see if some news of that nation might slip from him. The six of them had pushed two of the tables together and were playing a complex round of tiles when the door had swung open and a cold draught had washed away the warmth of the room, literally and figuratively.

At first, Cithrin thought the woman was an enormously fat Firstblood. She was huge, wide across the hips and shoulders both, fat and strong both. She stepped into the room, her tread heavy on the floorboards, and unwound the black wool scarf from around her head. Her hair was grey where it wasn't black. Heavy jowls and full lips gave her a fishlike expression. When she pursed her lips, the gaps where her tusks had been filed off came clear. A Yemmu.

"You'll be Cithrin bel Sarcour then," the woman had said. "I'm your notary. You have somewhere we can speak?"

Cithrin rose at once, leading Pyk back to the private room. Once the door was closed, Pyk lowered herself to the little table, scowling.

"Playing games with the city guard? That's how you run this place? I'd have thought Komme Medean's voice would be at the Governor's Palace or dining with someone important."

Cithrin still felt the thickness in her throat when she remembered the words and the scorn that soured them.

"There's little going on in the coldest months," Cithrin had said, cursing herself silently for the apology in her tone.

"For you, I'd guess that's truth," Pyk said. "I've got work to do. You want to bring me the books here, or is there someplace you do the real business?"

Every day since had been another minor humiliation, another opportunity for the notary to remind Cithrin that she controlled nothing, another scathing comment. For weeks, Cithrin had swallowed it all with a smile. And for months after that, she'd at least borne it. If there had been even a pause in the assault, a crack in the dismissive façade, she'd have counted it a victory.

There had been nothing.

"Did she say why?" Yardem asked.

"She won't deal with Southlings," Cithrin said. "Apparently a pod of them killed some part of her family in Pût nine or ten generations ago."

Yardem turned to her, his ears shifted to lie back almost flat against his skull. Cithrin drank deeply from her beer.

"I know," she said. "But what am I supposed to do about it? No negotiations without the notary present. I'm not permitted to sign, even. And if she doesn't cut thumbs on it, it doesn't happen."

As part of her bargain, Cithrin had surrendered all the leverage she had over the bank. If Pyk sent a message back to Carse saying that Cithrin was a liability to the bank, Cithrin had nothing that would keep them from separating her from the business. She broke off a crust of bread, chewing on it absently. It could have been spiced with dirt for all the pleasure she took in it. Yardem pointed at the plate, and she pushed it toward him. He pinched a corner from the cheese and popped it into his mouth. They chewed in silence for a long moment. The fire murmured in its grate. From the alley, a dog yelped.

"I have to go tell him," Cithrin said, then took another long drink.

"Company? I'm stood down for the day."

"He won't get violent," Cithrin said. "He isn't like that."

"Could offer moral support. Encouragement."

Cithrin laughed once, mirthless.

"That's why I'm drinking," she said.

"I know."

She looked over at him. His eyes were deep brown, his head broad. He had a scar just under his left ear she'd never noticed before. Yardem had been a priest once, before he'd been a sellsword. The beer sat in its tankard. One wouldn't do much. Two would leave her feeling looser and less upset. But it would also tempt her to reach for a third, and by the fourth she'd be ready to postpone the unpleasant until tomorrow. Better, she thought, to end it quickly and sleep without dreading it in the morning.

She pushed the tankard back, and Yardem stood to let her up.

The boarding house was in the middle of the salt quarter, not far from the little rooms Cithrin, Yardem, and Marcus Wester had hidden in during their first days in the city. The salt quarter streets were narrow and twisted. In some places, the streets were so narrow that Cithrin's fingertips could have brushed the buildings on both sides. Everything stank of raw sewage and brine. By the time they reached the whitewashed walls and faded blue windows of the house, the hem of her dress was black and her feet cold and aching. She pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders and went up the two low steps to the common door. Yardem leaned against the wall, his expression empty but his ears high. Cithrin knocked.

She had hoped that someone else would answer. One of the other boarders or the man who kept the house. Something that would postpone the actual conversation for another minute or two. Luck wasn't with her. Or, more likely, he'd been perched by the door, waiting for word from her. His ash-grey skin and the oversized black eyes of his race made him seem childlike. His smile was bright and tentative at the same time.

"Magistra Cithrin," he said, as if her appearance were a delightful surprise. Her heart thickened. "Please come in. I was just making tea. Have some, have some. And your Tralgu friend."

Cithrin looked back at Yardem. She thought there was pity in his expression and she wasn't certain who it belonged to.

"I'll be right back," she said.

"I'll be right here," he rumbled.

The common sitting room smelled damp despite the little stove that kept the air almost uncomfortably warm. The high, wailing voice of a colicky child forced its way from somewhere in the back, even when the doors were shut. Cithrin sat on a cushioned bench with lank tassels of red and orange that had probably been beautiful once.

"I'm pleased to see you," the Southling man said. "I've been writing to my son in Lyoneia, and I just got a message back. He said that he could—"

"Before we—"

"—have a full shipment as early as midsummer. Last year's nuts are dried and ready to grind. He said they smell like flowers and smoke. He was always good with words that way. Flowers and smoke. Don't you think?"

He knew then. Or guessed. The words flowed out of him, pushing hers back. As if he could keep the inevitable at bay. Cithrin remembered being at the seashore sometime when she'd been very young. Maybe even before her parents had died. She knew what it was like to try stopping a wave with your hands.


  • "Abraham builds on The Dragon's Path to create and sustain a rich, satisfyingly complex epic fantasy." -- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) on The King's Blood.
  • "[Daniel] Abraham just keeps getting better and better... [He] belongs in the first rank of today's fantasists."—George R.R. Martin, New York Times bestselling author of A Game of Thrones
  • "You have to admire ace storyteller Abraham's skill at building plausible alternate worlds, a trade much practiced, but not often so well, ever since the days of Tolkien and the Shire ... One of the many strengths of Abraham's storytelling is that he allows a little moral ambiguity to curl around the toes of his characters ... Another trademark romp in the otherworld, and a lot of fun."

    Kirkus Reviews
  • "Well worthwhile; curl up with this one!"—RT Book Reviews

On Sale
May 22, 2012
Page Count
528 pages

Daniel Abraham

About the Author

Daniel Abraham is the author of the critically-acclaimed Long Price Quartet and The Dagger and the Coinseries. He has been nominated for the Nebula and World Fantasy awards, and won the Hugo award and International Horror Guild award. He also writes as James S. A. Corey (with Ty Franck) and MLN Hanover. He lives in New Mexico.

Learn more about this author