By J. V. Jones
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THE BAKER’S BOY
At vast Castle Harvell, Where King Lesketh lies dying, two fates collide. In her regal suite, young Melliandra, the daughter of an influential lord, rebels against her forced betrothal to the sinister Prince Kylock. In the kitchens, an apprentice named Jack is terrified by his sudden, uncontrolled power to work miracles. Together they flee the castle, stalked by a sorcer who has connived for decades to control the crown, committing supernatural murder to advance his schemes.
Meanwhile, a young knight begins a quest leaving behind his home and family to seek out the treacherous Isle of Larn, where lies a clue to his desperate search for the truth.
And a wondrous epic of darkness and beauty begins…
A MAN BETRAYED
At Castle Harvell demented Prince Kylock grabs the reins of power and hate by murdering his father. Harvell’s two young refugees are torn apart by the storms of war:
Headstrong young Melliandra is captured by brutal slavers and Jack, whose wild power works miracles, falls prey to a smuggler’s lying charms and a woman’s seductive schemes. Meanwhile, in the distant stronghold of Bren, Kylock’s betrothed, beautiful, mad Catherine, dabbles with darkest sorceries.
A knight’s shattered destiny is about to lead from death-sport pits to the blood-strewn creation of an empire–and a wondrous epic of grandeur and magic continues…
MASTER AND FOOL
The Known Lands are teetering on the brink of war. Desperate to avert worldwide catastrophe, Jack, the baker’s boy, must learn to harness the full strength of his magic to face his ultimate destiny–a final confrontation with the murderously evil Kylock.
Lord Maybor awoke late and immediately felt a deep happiness. A man who has been saved from a certain death has reason to be happy. Maybor had yet another reason: his daughter would be queen.
Once he was king—no, he corrected himself, when his son-in-law was king—things would be very different around the court at Harvell. The Known Lands were in a state of unease—those damned knights of Valdis, with their high ideals and low tolerances, were busy making trouble. Having lost out on trade to Rorn in the south, they were trying to gain a foothold in the north. He wasn't going to have any of that. He heard the knights were ridiculously honest, and everyone knew honesty was a dangerous habit in a trading partner. Bren was another place that bore watching: he wouldn't be against the idea of forming a peaceful alliance with some of the other northern powers just to keep ideas of conquest out of the duke of Bren's ambitious head. Yes, there would be much for him to do behind the throne.
Maybor dressed quickly, careful not to step on his dead servant. He felt like wearing one of his more ostentatious robes on this fine morning, so chose a beautiful silk in deep red. One never knew when one might be called upon to entertain foreign dignitaries. On most days there was usually someone interesting or influential applying for entry at the castle gates.
Maybor was beginning to feel a little guilty for having slapped his daughter the other evening. Now that he knew the future was certain, he would be kinder to her; she would eventually come round. He would buy her a gift. That was it: buy her a beautiful and hugely expensive gift. He had recently heard tell of a rare and exquisite gemstone that came from beyond the Drylands—what was it called? Isslt, that was it. It was supposed to flicker with an inner light. He had been told it was a deep, sea blue—the color of Melliandra's eyes. Even better. He would spare no expense. She would have the biggest one he could find, big as a fist. He would make the arrangements for acquiring it this very day.
As he was admiring his portly figure in the mirror, there was a knock on his door.
"Come." He was surprised to see his daughter's maid Lynni enter the room. Then his spirits picked up; perhaps the young chit fancied a tumble.
"What is it, my pretty one?" The girl looked frightened. "Speak up, girl. There is no need to be shy, many women take a fancy to an older man." Lynni turned as red as Maybor's robe.
"Sir, it's not that." She hesitated, her eyes narrowing. "But you are an uncommonly handsome man, sir."
"Yes, the mirror tells me that every day. But come along, girl. Spit out what you have come to tell me, and maybe then we can take a quick tumble if you are willing."
"Well, sir, I'd be willing for a tumble myself, but I fear my news might wilt your swell."
"What is it? Hasn't Lady Melliandra got a clean dress to wear?" Maybor smiled indulgently. Such were the nature of women's problems: a lost comb, a broken locket, a shoe so tight it pinched.
The girl looked down at the floor. "Lady Melliandra has gone."
A cold dread stole over Maybor. "What do you mean, gone? Where has she gone?"
The girl could not meet his eye. She played nervously with her fingers. "Well, sir, I came to her room this morning, same as usual, and she was not there."
"Could she have gone for a walk, or to see a friend?"
"She would have told me, sir."
Maybor felt the quick flare of anger. He took the girl's thin shoulders in his hands and shook her. "Does she have a lover?" he demanded.
"No, sir." The girl's voice trembled with fear.
"If you are lying to me, I will have your tongue pulled out."
"No, sir, she is a virgin. I'm positive."
Maybor changed his line of questioning, "Has her bed been slept in?"
"Well, sir, the covers were ruffled somewhat, but I have a feeling she had not slept there."
"Come with me." He grasped Lynni by the arm and marched her to Melli's bedchamber. Baralis! If that demon had a hand in this, he would be dead before the day was finished.
By the time they arrived at his daughter's chambers, Maybor had worked himself into a fury. There was no sign of his daughter. His eye alighted on the ivory box in which she was allowed to keep her less valuable jewels. It was empty!
"Find out if any of her clothes are missing . . . now!" he boomed loudly when the girl hesitated. As Maybor waited, he held the fragile box in his hands, shaking his head.
The girl ran from the dressing room. "One of her woollen dresses and her heavy riding cloak are missing."
Maybor was frantic—what had become of her? A thousand dangers could befall a young girl outside the castle walls. Melliandra had no idea of the real world, no idea at all. She was a lamb to the slaughter. "Damn." Maybor flung the box across the room, where it shattered against the wall. "She is only a child!" The rage left him as he looked upon his handiwork. Fragments of ivory lay scattered upon the floor. He spoke quietly, more to himself than the girl. "She has to be brought back. She cannot have gone far.
"You," he said, turning to Lynni, "had better hope she is found, for I will hold you responsible if she is not. You were supposed to watch her." Lynni was shaking from head to foot. "Do you know where she might be headed? Think hard, girl."
"No, sir, nowhere."
Maybor scrutinized the girl. She was too stupid to be hiding anything from him. As an afterthought he said: "Visit me in my chamber this night." He hurried from the room, not bothering to wait for her assent.
His daughter had run away! The willful, headstrong girl, more like himself than any of his sons, his most cherished possession and his greatest asset, had fled the castle. He would need to mount a search party. He would call his sons to him and they could head the search. After all, he thought, it is in their interest to find her. He stopped in his tracks. The queen! He could not let the queen find out Melliandra had fled. She was a proud woman and liable to call off the match if she thought his daughter wasn't willing. He would have to proceed carefully. He wouldn't call out the guards after all; he would use only his own men.
As he dashed down through the castle, he caught sight of Baralis' fool, Crope. Maybor bowed in mock politeness. "Be sure to give my regards to your master." If nothing else today, he would have the comfort of knowing his were not the only plans that had gone awry.
"Here, have a little mulled holk. It will make you feel better." Megan handed Tawl a cup of pungent, steaming liquid. As he drank the holk, he seemed to remember being given a drink in the past that promised to make him feel better. He tried to remember the name, it was on the tip of his tongue. "Lacus," he said out loud.
Megan gave him a querying look, and then asked, "Is that where you are from?" Tawl managed a smile and a weak laugh.
"No, the lacus was a drink I was given years back by a wise old man. He said it cured most ailments."
"It's a pity you haven't got any of that here." She smiled brightly, her green eyes twinkling. Tawl saw for the first time how pretty she was.
"Why did you help me last night? It would have been easier for you to have left me to die."
Megan shrugged. "Who can say? I'm not sure myself. Maybe it was your golden hair. You don't see much hair that color around here." The girl seemed a little embarrassed and Tawl let the matter drop.
The holk was easing the pain in his arms a little. With the pain letting up, he could begin to try and remember what had happened to him. "What city am I in?"
"Why, Rorn, of course. The greatest city in the east." Tawl smiled indulgently at her pride. Rorn, he thought. What on earth am I doing in Rorn?
When Megan had brought him to her meager room last night, she had bathed and hand-fed him with the tenderest of care. She rubbed curative oils into his sore flesh and wrapped him in warm blankets.
Tawl felt bare skin under the covers and discovered he was naked beneath them. Megan caught the action and smiled cheekily. "Come now, surely you are not modest." Tawl was in fact very modest, and he was about to say so when Megan continued, "Besides, in my line of work, you get to see that kind of thing all the time." She looked directly at him, challenging him to say something. When he was silent, she continued, "I can see you are shocked."
Tawl shook his head. "I'm more concerned than shocked."
"Well, I don't need your concern, thank you!" Megan's pretty lips tightened and she spoke with the bite of irony. "I'd be more concerned if I'd been left for dead down a dark alleyway." Her face softened into contrition. "I'm sorry, Tawl. I know you meant no offense." With that she pulled on her cloak. "I'm off out for a bit to pick up some food, and you'll need some new clothes. I threw your old ones out in the street. I'll be back before too long. Good day." One flick of her chestnut curls and she was gone.
Tawl sipped on his drink. The holk soothed his aching body and helped clear his head. He began to remember how he had come to be here. He was a knight of Valdis and had been sent to the wiseman Bevlin, who in turn had sent him to look for a boy. Memories flooded back. Five years spent searching for someone with no name and no face. All the cities he'd visited, all the people he'd talked to, all the years he'd spent pursuing the dream of an old man in a small cottage.
He recalled the night he was picked up. He had been drinking in a darkened tavern. Four men set upon him. They had dragged him outside and beaten him, and then, even before his blood was dry, they chained him up. He'd hated being chained at first, but once they began to torture him, he found himself longing to be strung up once more. Tawl shuddered. He had no desire to remember the torture. Through it all he'd been asked a question, one that was not within his power to answer: "Who is the boy you seek?" Countless times he'd been asked, countless times he had no answer.
He wondered how long he had been kept chained. He had no memory of the time leading up to his release. Why had they released him? He had not told them what they wanted to know; indeed, he could not. So why set him free now?
Tawl remembered a fleshy, overweight figure, a man who often lurked in the shadows while he was being tortured. The fat man had reeked of exotic fragrances and his voice was rich with privilege. He was the one who was in charge. It would have been his decision to let him go. How long had he been kept there? How much time had he lost?
There was something else to remember, something hidden deeper. He strained for the memory. It came to him with sickening clarity, bringing in its wake the familiar wave of despair. With its remembrance, Tawl felt complete. It was his burden, and he was so used to its weight that without it he felt insubstantial. It defined who he was and what he must be.
It had been a hot summer the year he'd turned thirteen. Mosquitoes rose from the marshes like smoke from a fire. The world hummed to their tune. The only time of day worth leaving the shade for was early morning. Tawl would make his way along the marsh tracks and down to the ever-shrinking fishing hole. Fixing his line in place by jamming the rod between two stones, he'd settle down for a couple of hours to give the fish chance to bite. Only today he couldn't rest. His thoughts, which normally dwelt on dreams of combat and glory, were taken up with pictures of the sickroom.
The birth wasn't going well. The midwife had halved the candles before lighting them, and Tawl, like everyone who came from the Great Marshes, knew what that meant. Not that he needed a ritual to tell him what his eyes could see: his mother was dying. The labor was too long. The house was too hot. Half the night he'd been awake, tossing and turning in sheets damp with sweat. His mother's breath drew the mosquitoes. The smell of urine drew the flies.
He was ashamed to feel relief when morning finally came, for it provided an excuse to be out of the house. The midwife had to be paid whatever the birthing might bring, and fish were the only currency they had to offer. Tawl shook off his sisters; they were too young to keep up with him, and he needed to be alone. The fish were slow to bite and it was mid-afternoon before he'd caught what was needed: three for the midwife, two for his mother, one for each of his sisters and himself, and one extra in case the baby had arrived. His father could see to his own.
The midwife met him at the door. "She's too weak to birth. Should I cut her open and at least save the child?"
Tawl beat his fist against the wall. The pain brought him back to the present. How could she do that! How could she put the decision to end his mother's life into his hands? He, a boy just past his twelfth year. No one of any age should have such a responsibility placed upon them. Tawl's pain crystallized into anger. Where had his father been? His useless, drunken father. With anger came release. Anger made everything bearable; it was how he coped. And, as long as he didn't think about what had happened later—much later—coping was enough.
Megan burst into the room, her brightness was a useful distraction. "Here we are. I wasn't too long, was I? I've got all sorts of goodies." Her arms were filled with packages. "Look, I've got some hot eel pie, and some jellied goose livers, and even some fresh figs!" She duly unpacked these items, holding them up for Tawl to admire. Tawl smiled, approving the purchases. He was glad of her presence. It kept his demons at bay.
"I think I'll have a few figs. I haven't the courage for eels." As soon as he spoke, he regretted it, for the look on Megan's face turned from joy to disappointment. He was quick to mend his error. "Maybe I could manage a few of the jellied livers, though."
Megan smiled brightly, "Oh, I am pleased. Tawl, I bought them specially for you. I'll have the eel pie myself. I nearly forgot! I bought you some clothes, as well." She unwrapped the largest of her bundles. "I'm sorry they're not new, but they're not bad. Look." She held up a canary yellow tunic and a pair of striped breeches. "Oh, and I bought you a cloak, too—real goat's wool. Here, feel it." She held it out. Tawl admired the quality to gratify her, the twinkle in her green eyes being more than worth the effort.
After they had eaten, Megan poured them both glasses of honey-colored cider. "Ever since the war in the northwest, this nestor cider is mighty difficult to come across. The price of it has tripled these past years." Tawl drank the golden liquid, appreciating its subtle, fruity flavor. He was beginning to feel a little light-headed.
"I think you should go out tomorrow and take a little fresh air." Megan smiled prettily. "Besides, tomorrow is the parade, and there will be great sights to see. There will be singing and dancing and jugglers from Isro." Tawl nodded, but he wasn't sure if he would feel up to it.
Megan looked at him thoughtfully and then moved across the room muttering something about getting changed. She undressed in a gloomy corner and Tawl tried to do what was expected of any knight: look away. Megan's skin glowed like summer peaches and he could not help but look.
"It's perfectly all right for you to look. I don't mind." Tawl blushed deeply.
"I am sorry, my lady." Megan's face grew grave as she came toward him: she was naked and her body was beautiful in the soft light.
She said gently, "I am no lady, Tawl, but I thank you for your courtesy." She knelt and kissed him on the lips.
"I don't think I'm in any condition to pleasure a lady this day."
"But you are in a condition to be pleasured by a lady." She smiled sweetly, pulling the blanket from his body and moving her head lower. Desire, long lost to Tawl, came to him with its welcome blankness. To love was to forget, and coupling with a stranger by a dimming fire was enough to ease the pain for a while.
Melli was beginning to wish she had never left the castle. The first few hours had been like an exciting adventure, stealing out in the dark of night with her hood drawn over her face, evading the guards. But it had been cold outside and she had begun to suspect that she was woefully unprepared. She had spent the night sleeping against the castle's outer wall. She had decided not to take a room at a tavern in the town, for she couldn't risk being recognized, and besides, she had no money.
She felt utterly miserable. She was hungry and cold, and although it had not rained, she had still somehow managed to get wet. She wanted nothing better than a hot meal and some mulled holk to soothe her aching bones. Sleeping outside on the hard ground, she discovered, was a most unpleasant experience. Hunger won over caution and she headed into Harvell.
Harvell was more a large town than a city. Most of the people made a living serving the needs of the hundreds of courtiers and thousands of servants and soldiers who lived in the castle or on its grounds. The town was just half a league to the west of the castle, a pleasant place with neatly timbered buildings.
Melli had visited it many times to buy ribbons or posies. Buy! she thought, she had never been allowed to buy anything. She would say to the storekeepers, "Lord Maybor will honor this," and they had let her take anything she wanted. Melli suddenly drew her hand to her face. That was it! Of course, why hadn't she thought of it sooner? She could go to the market, purchase anything she might need, and leave her father with the bill! It was perfect: her father would be financing her escape. She could not help but smile. Maybor would be furious when he received the charges.
Her step grew lighter as she made a mental list of things she would buy: she would need food, there was that little bake shop that served hot pastries and rolls, and she could buy a cup of cider and maybe even a custard tart.
Melli slowed down her pace. She was not on a pleasure-outing. This was no idle trip to market. She was running away from the only life she had ever known, heading to a city that lay far beyond the battlefields of the Halcus.
She breathed in the cold air of early morning, feeling alone and afraid. A shadow crossed her path and she looked up to see a gray swan in the sky. The noble bird was heading south for the winter. It was a sign. A gray swan formed part of her family's coat of arms. Determination hardened on her smooth brow: was she not Lord Maybor's daughter? Bravery and Resolution was her family motto; she would be the first woman to prove the maxim true. She walked into the village deciding that she would have a custard tart after all.
An hour later, Melli was well fed and in the process of buying some travel supplies. She carefully considered the wares. "My brother Kedrac assured me that you would be able to supply me with what he needs for his hunting expedition. He specifically said to ask for . . . Melli found she could not remember the name over the door.
"Master Trout, m'lady."
"Yes, Master Trout. What would my brother need?"
"Well, it depends on where he's going and how long for."
Melli struggled for a plausible lie. "He's going west."
"West, m'lady? There's no hunting to the west at this time of year."
Melli decided to change her tactics. "Look, Master Trout, I really couldn't care less about the hunting or lack of it in the west. I am purely here as a favor to my brother. If you feel you can not supply me with what he needs, then I will go elsewhere." She made as if to leave.
"M'lady, please don't be so hasty. I will find you what you want. It's probably the fishing that he's going for. Does he have a good pole for a rod?"
"He has a rod, Master Trout. Now hurry, please!" She watched as he loaded a sack with all sorts of strange-looking dry food. He then went in the back and came out with an empty water flask and some miscellaneous cooking pots.
"Yes, and a good warm cloak." Melli had found the one she was wearing to be most inadequate.
"If I know Lord Kedrac, he'll be wanting some snatch. I'll throw a tin in should I?"
"If you please." She was beginning to get very impatient. This whole operation was taking longer than she had hoped. Finally the shopkeeper handed her the sack.
"It's a mite heavy for you, miss. Shall I have my boy carry it back to the castle?"
"That will not be necessary, Master Trout. I have my own boy outside. Lord Maybor will honor the bill."
"Of course, m'lady. I wish you joy of the day."
Melliandra carried the heavy sack outside and quickly donned the heavy cloak. She decided on impulse not to throw away her old cloak—it was not too heavy and the nights would be cold. She turned toward the inn. She dared not stretch her father's credit as far as a horse, so she would have to purchase one with her jewels.
She had waited outside the inn for several minutes when a boy approached leading a rather tired, old-looking horse. It was not what she was used to, but she was in a hurry.
"Boy! How much for the horse?"
The boy looked up slyly. "This horse is powerful fast and strong, miss."
"I didn't ask you that, boy. I said how much." Melli looked around nervously; the sun was growing higher and the morning was almost over.
"I couldn't take less than two gold pieces for it." Melli knew it was an outrageous price for such an old horse. She turned away from the boy and fished in her purse for her gold bracelet.
"Here, take this." She watched as his face grew ugly with greed.
"That will do right nice. Right nice indeed." He handed her the reins of the horse and watched cunningly as she led it away.
Melliandra stroked the horse's muzzle. "I never asked your name, did I, boy?" she said. "I'm going to need a saddle for you, too." For a brief moment she hugged the horse, placing her arms around its back and belly, resting her head on its flank. "What will become of you and me?" she whispered softly.
Baralis ignored Crope as he entered his chambers, but was forced to turn around when Crope loudly cleared his throat. "What is it, you great oaf? Is the boy found?"
"No, sir, but I know he's not in the castle."
"How do you know this?" demanded Baralis.
"One of the guards saw him leave early this morning—said he was heading for the woods."
"Ah, the woods." Baralis mused over this fact for a few minutes. "Go now, Crope, and tell the guards to search the woods. I must think a while on what to do."
Crope hovered uneasily, not making any move to leave. "There's one other thing, my lord," he said sheepishly.
Baralis looked up, annoyed. "Be gone, you imbecile."
"Very well, but I thought you might like to know Lord Maybor sent you his regards."
Baralis stood up. "He what!"
"He sent his regards. It was probably for the gift of wine you sent him last evening."
"You mean to tell me that you have seen Lord Maybor up and about in the castle this day?"
"Yes, sir, just a few hours back. He smiled most pleasantly."
- On Sale
- Jan 30, 2001
- Page Count
- 300 pages
- Grand Central Publishing