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The Crown Tower
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 6, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Hadrian Blackwater, a warrior with nothing to fight for, is paired with Royce Melborn, a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Hired by an old wizard, they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm’s most prized possessions. But it isn’t gold or jewels that the wizard is after, and if he can just keep them from killing each other, they just might succeed.
Table of Contents
A Preview of The Rose and the Thorn
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Welcome to The Riyria Chronicles.
If you're new to the world of Elan, you might want to read this introduction to help determine where to start, because it might not be here. Even veterans of The Riyria Revelations might want to read this to learn a bit about how this series came into being and what to expect going forward.
The Riyria Chronicles are prequels to my debut series, The Riyria Revelations (originally published by Orbit starting with Theft of Swords in November 2011 and concluding with Heir of Novron in January 2012). If you prefer your tales in chronological order, start with this book, as I've taken great care to keep the Chronicles spoiler free. Also, no prior knowledge from Revelations is required. I wanted to accommodate readers from both camps (chronological or order of publication). That being said, the Chronicles were actually designed to be read after The Riyria Revelations, and veteran readers will be treated to hidden surprises made possible by having the inside scoop on the entire story arc. These won't be significant plot points, just little extra bonuses for those in the know. The bottom line is that readers can begin their adventures in Elan starting with either The Crown Tower or Theft of Swords.
I'd like to take just a moment to talk about the difference in structure between these two series. For those who don't know, I wrote all six books of The Riyria Revelations before publishing any of them. This was absolutely necessary for that particular series. While I gave each book its own conflict and resolution, there were a number of threads interwoven across the entire series. Mysteries were hinted at, geese needed chasing, and everything was built to support the grand finale where all the secrets were… well… revealed. Because it was a first work, I could afford such luxury; after all, no one was waiting on the next installment.
My approach to The Riyria Chronicles is quite different. I have no idea how many there will be, so I'm designing this as an open-ended series rather than a single tale divided into episodes. The stories are more like stand-alone novels with less integration from one book to another. By doing this I'll be able to stop writing Riyria tales at any time without leaving open questions or unresolved conflicts. There are several reasons for doing this. First and foremost is because I'm incredibly protective of Riyria. I'm very proud of what I've accomplished, and we've all seen series that were once great but ended up going on longer than they should. Second, I have no idea if people will want any more stories with these characters. All told, I've written and published eight novels, and that just might prove to be enough.
So exactly what are The Riyria Chronicles? And why did I opt to write a prequel rather than a sequel? Well, many people already know that Riyria is elvish for two; it's also the name adopted by Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn to refer to their thieves-for-hire enterprise. Not surprisingly, then, The Riyria Chronicles will prominently feature the pair. As a carefully designed series, Revelations concludes with the end of an era, and I'm extremely pleased with how the events wrapped up. After working so hard to find the perfect ending, I was concerned that any continuation could be seen as "tacked on" and could have the very real possibility of destroying something I consider precious. So the obvious choice was to explore the opposite end.
Chronicles is in essence the origin story of Riyria. In the opening scene of Revelations, Royce and Hadrian were already the best of friends. Having worked together for twelve years, they demonstrate a bond that endears them to many readers. What was most interesting to me, as the author, was to explore how these two very different men influenced each other and how they came to develop the unquestioning trust that exists between them. It occurred to me that upon first meeting, they really wouldn't have liked each other or, more precisely, they would probably have hated each other. The challenge for me was to realistically show how their union came into being, and there is nothing I love more when writing than a good challenge.
Some have suggested that Chronicles was created at the urging of my publisher, who wanted me to return to an established commodity. This is not so. Anyone familiar with me knows that no amount of money could entice me to write something I'm not interested in. So if Orbit wasn't responsible for Chronicles, who was? Well, in large part it was the readers, who insisted that 685,000 words just weren't enough. It is your support that keeps food on my table and a roof over my head. In many ways I feel like an artist of the Renaissance and you are my patrons. But there is another person, and probably the only one, who can actually make me do something. This person plotted to bring Chronicles to life. I was taken in by this mastermind, and how her devious manipulations ensnared me is a tale in itself.
It's the classic story of a husband whose wife falls for another man—a more dashing and charming gent. It sounds tragic, but this tale is a bit different because the love affair is between a real woman and a fictional man. My wife—let's call her Robin (because that's her name)—has developed an infatuation for Hadrian Blackwater. I'm not sure how I feel about enabling my wife's relationship with another man, but at least I know this guy is trustworthy. After finishing the Revelations series, Robin became depressed at having to say goodbye to the world of Elan and especially at having to bid farewell to Hadrian—until she realized I could bring both him and Royce back in the form of prequels. This realization set in motion her diabolical plan to resurrect the pair.
It started when she persuaded me to write a short story so that I would have something for readers during the transition from self-to traditional publishing. Preorder pages for Orbit's editions of Revelations had been posted (but the books were not yet released) and my earlier versions had been removed to make way. For the first time in years, I had nothing "out there," and since my contract allowed me to produce non-book-length works, and because short stories are… well… short, Robin asked me to create an early story starring Royce and Hadrian.
The thing is, I'm not very good at short stories. So I decided to approach the task like a chapter—the first chapter of a novel. I went back in time and wrote a simple little tale about Royce and Hadrian meeting Viscount Albert Winslow. This would have occurred about a year after the duo first met. I published this for free under the title The Viscount and the Witch and readers appear to have liked it. Once I had written that story, a seed had been planted, and while I worked on other projects it began to grow. When it became apparent that Revelations had enough momentum, I started what would become The Rose and the Thorn.
As I neared that book's end, I realized I had a problem. I couldn't publish a novel about the second year of Royce and Hadrian's relationship. What was I thinking? Going back in time begged the question, How did it all start? What good is a legend without the origin story? The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to write how Royce and Hadrian first met. When I told my wife, she feigned her support: "Well, whatever you think is best, dear." After leaving the room, I heard the muffled "Yes!" and imagined her doing a fist pump, as if she had just scored a winning touchdown. And so The Crown Tower was born.
Having accidently written the books spaced a year apart in Elan time, I am now envisioning the possibility of a twelve-book series—one novel for each year prior to the events in Revelations. Will those other stories be written? It's impossible to say until I see how these two books go. But as with all things writerly, I've opened the door and ideas keep walking through. For now, I'm collecting them like pretty shells while I work on other projects.
And so there you have it. A happy accident born from a conniving wife's passion for a fictional man and a legion of readers who wanted to read more. If you are a veteran of The Riyria Revelations, I hope you will enjoy these books as much as you did my others. If you are new to my writing, you might just make some new friends, and if you do, there are six more books just waiting for you to jump into.
Finally, please consider dropping me a line at email@example.com after reading to give me your impressions. It is exactly this kind of feedback that got Chronicles written in the first place. So if you do end up wanting more, speaking up is the best way to ensure that.
|CHRONICLE ORDER||PUBLISHED ORDER|
|The Crown Tower||Theft of Swords|
|The Rose and the Thorn||Rise of Empire|
|Theft of Swords||Heir of Novron|
|Rise of Empire||The Crown Tower|
|Heir of Novron||The Rose and the Thorn|
Hadrian Blackwater hadn't gone more than five steps off the ship before he was robbed.
The bag—his only bag—was torn from his hand. He never even saw the thief. Hadrian couldn't see much of anything in the lantern-lit chaos surrounding the pier, just a mass of faces, people shoving to get away from the gangway or get nearer to the ship. Used to the rhythms of a pitching deck, he struggled to keep his feet on the stationary dock amidst the jostling scramble. The newly arrived moved hesitantly, causing congestion. Many onshore searched for friends and relatives, yelling, jumping, waving arms—chasing the attention of someone. Others were more professional, holding torches and shouting offers for lodging and jobs. One bald man with a voice like a war trumpet stood on a crate, promising that The Black Cat Tavern offered the strongest ale at the cheapest prices. Twenty feet away, his competition balanced on a wobbly barrel and proclaimed the bald man a liar. He further insisted The Lucky Hat was the only local tavern that didn't substitute dog meat for mutton. Hadrian didn't care. He wanted to get out of the crowd and find the thief who stole his bag. After only a few minutes, he realized that wasn't going to happen. He settled for protecting his purse and considered himself lucky. At least nothing of value was lost—just clothing, but given how cold Avryn was in autumn, that might be a problem.
Hadrian followed the flow of bodies, not that he had much choice. Adrift in the strong current, he bobbed along with his head just above the surface. The dock creaked and moaned under the weight of escaping passengers who hurried away from what had been their cramped home for more than a month. Weeks breathing clean salt air had been replaced by the pungent smells of fish, smoke, and tar. Rising far above the dimly lit docks, the city's lights appeared as brighter points in a starlit world.
Hadrian followed four dark-skinned Calian men hauling crates packed with colorful birds, which squawked and rattled their cages. Behind him walked a poorly dressed man and woman. The man carried two bags, one over a shoulder and the other tucked under an arm. Apparently no one was interested in their belongings. Hadrian realized he should have worn something else. His eastern attire was not only uselessly thin, but in a land of leather and wool, the bleached white linen thawb and the gold-trimmed cloak screamed wealth.
"Here! Over here!" The barely distinguishable voice was one more sound in the maelstrom of shouts, wagon wheels, bells, and whistles. "This way. Yes, you, come. Come!"
Reaching the end of the ramp and clearing most of the congestion, Hadrian spotted an adolescent boy. Dressed in tattered clothes, he waited beneath the fiery glow of a swaying lantern. The wiry youth held Hadrian's bag and beamed an enormous smile. "Yes, yes, you there. Please come. Right over here," he called, waving with his free hand.
"That's my bag!" Hadrian shouted, struggling to reach him and stymied by the remaining crowd blocking the narrow pier.
"Yes! Yes!" The lad grinned wider, his eyes bright with enthusiasm. "You are very lucky I took it from you or someone would have surely stolen it."
"You stole it!"
"No. No. Not at all. I have been faithfully protecting your most valued property." The youth straightened his willowy back such that Hadrian thought he might salute. "Someone like you should not be carrying your own bag."
Hadrian squeezed around three women who'd paused to comfort a crying child, only to be halted by an elderly man dragging an incredibly large trunk. The old guy, wraith thin with bright white hair, blocked the narrow isthmus already cluttered by the mountain of bags being recklessly thrown to the pier from the ship.
"What do you mean someone like me?" Hadrian shouted over the trunk as the old man struggled in front of him.
"You are a great knight, yes?"
"No, I'm not."
The boy pointed at him. "You must be. Look how big you are and you carry swords—three swords. And that one on your back is huge. Only a knight carries such things."
Hadrian sighed when the old man's trunk became wedged in the gap between the decking and the ramp. He reached down and lifted it free, receiving several vows of gratitude in an unfamiliar language.
"See," the boy said, "only a knight would help a stranger in need like that."
More bags crashed down on the pile beside him. One tumbled off, rolling into the harbor's dark water with a plunk! Hadrian pressed forward, both to avoid being hit from above and to retrieve his stolen property. "I'm not a knight. Now give me back my bag."
"I will carry it for you. My name is Pickles, but we must be going. Quickly now." The boy hugged Hadrian's bag and trotted off on dirty bare feet.
"Quickly, quickly! We should not linger here."
"What's the rush? What are you talking about? And come back here with my bag!"
"You are very lucky to have me. I am an excellent guide. Anything you want, I know where to look. With me you can get the best of everything and all for the least amounts."
Hadrian finally caught up and grabbed his bag. He pulled and got the boy with it, his arms still tightly wrapped around the canvas.
"Ha! See?" The boy grinned. "No one is pulling your bag out of my hands!"
"Listen"—Hadrian took a moment to catch his breath—"I don't need a guide. I'm not staying here."
"Where are you going?"
"Up north. Way up north. A place called Sheridan."
"Ah! The university."
This surprised Hadrian. Pickles didn't look like the worldly type. The kid resembled an abandoned dog. The kind that might have once worn a collar but now possessed only fleas, visible ribs, and an overdeveloped sense for survival.
"You are studying to be a scholar? I should have known. My apologies for any insult. You are most smart—so, of course, you will make a great scholar. You should not tip me for making such a mistake. But that is even better. I know just where we must go. There is a barge that travels up the Bernum River. Yes, the barge will be perfect and one leaves tonight. There will not be another for days, and you do not want to stay in an awful city like this. We will be in Sheridan in no time."
"We?" Hadrian smirked.
"You will want me with you, yes? I am not just familiar with Vernes. I am an expert on all of Avryn—I have traveled far. I can help you, a steward who can see to your needs and watch your belongings to keep them safe from thieves while you study. A job I am most good at, yes?"
"I'm not a student, not going to be one either. Just visiting someone, and I don't need a steward."
"Of course you do not need a steward—if you are not going to be a scholar—but as the son of a noble lord just back from the east, you definitely need a houseboy, and I will make a fine houseboy. I will make sure your chamber pot is always emptied, your fire well stoked in winter, and fan you in the summer to keep the flies away."
"Pickles," Hadrian said firmly. "I'm not a lord's son, and I don't need a servant. I—" He stopped after noticing the boy's attention had been drawn away, and his gleeful expression turned fearful. "What's wrong?"
"I told you we needed to hurry. We need to get away from the dock right now!"
Hadrian turned to see men with clubs marching up the pier, their heavy feet causing the dock to bounce.
"Press-gang," Pickles said. "They are always near when ships come in. Newcomers like you can get caught and wake up in the belly of a ship already at sea. Oh no!" Pickles gasped as one spotted them.
After a quick whistle and shoulder tap, four men headed their way. Pickles flinched. The boy's legs flexed, his weight shifting as if to bolt, but he looked at Hadrian, bit his lip, and didn't move.
The clubmen charged but slowed and came to a stop after spotting Hadrian's swords. The four could have been brothers. Each had almost-beards, oily hair, sunbaked skin, and angry faces. The expression must have been popular, as it left permanent creases in their brows.
They studied him for a second, puzzled. Then the foremost thug, wearing a stained tunic with one torn sleeve, asked, "You a knight?"
"No, I'm not a knight." Hadrian rolled his eyes.
Another laughed and gave the one with the torn sleeve a rough shove. "Daft fool—he's not much older than the boy next to him."
"Don't bleedin' shove me on this slimy dock, ya stupid sod." The man looked back at Hadrian. "He's not that young."
"It's possible," one of the others said. "Kings do stupid things. Heard one knighted his dog once. Sir Spot they called him."
The four laughed. Hadrian was tempted to join in, but he was sobered by the terrified look on Pickles's face.
The one with the torn sleeve took a step closer. "He's got to be at least a squire. Look at all that steel, for Maribor's sake. Where's yer master, boy? He around?"
"I'm not a squire either," Hadrian replied.
"No? What's with all the steel, then?"
"None of your business."
The men laughed. "Oh, you're a tough one, are ya?"
They spread out, taking firmer holds on their sticks. One had a strap of leather run through a hole in the handle and wrapped around his wrist. Probably figured that was a good idea, Hadrian thought.
"You better leave us alone," Pickles said, voice wavering. "Do you not know who this is?" He pointed at Hadrian. "He is a famous swordsman—a born killer."
Laughter. "Is that so?" the nearest said, and paused to spit between yellow teeth.
"Oh yes!" Pickles insisted. "He's vicious—an animal—and very touchy, very dangerous."
"A young colt like him, eh?" The man gazed at Hadrian and pushed out his lips in judgment. "Big enough—I'll grant ya that—but it looks to me like he still has his mother's milk dripping down his chin." He focused on Pickles. "And you're no vicious killer, are ya, little lad? You're the dirty alley rat I saw yesterday under the alehouse boardwalks trying to catch crumbs. You, my boy, are about to embark on a new career at sea. Best thing for ya really. You'll get food and learn to work—work real hard. It'll make a man out of ya."
Pickles tried to dodge, but the thug grabbed him by the hair.
"Let him go," Hadrian said.
"How did ya put it?" The guy holding Pickles chuckled. "None of your business?"
"He's my squire," Hadrian declared.
The men laughed again. "You said you ain't a knight, remember?"
"He works for me—that's good enough."
"No it ain't, 'cause this one works for the maritime industry now." He threw a muscled arm around Pickles's neck and bent the boy over as another moved behind with a length of rope pulled from his belt.
"I said, let him go." Hadrian raised his voice.
"Hey!" the man with the torn sleeve barked. "Don't give us no orders, boy. We ain't taking you, 'cause you're somebody's property, someone who has you hauling three swords, someone who might miss you. That's problems we don't need, see? But don't push it. Push it and we'll break bones. Push us more and we'll drop you in a boat anyway. Push us too far, and you won't even get a boat."
"I really hate people like you," Hadrian said, shaking his head. "I just got here. I was at sea for a month—a month! That's how long I've traveled to get away from this kind of thing." He shook his head in disgust. "And here you are—you too." Hadrian pointed at Pickles as they worked at tying the boy's wrists behind his back. "I didn't ask for your help. I didn't ask for a guide, or a steward, or a houseboy. I was just fine on my own. But no, you had to take my bag and be so good-humored about everything. Worst of all, you didn't run. Maybe you're stupid—I don't know. But I can't help thinking you stuck around to help me."
"I'm sorry I didn't do a better job." Pickles looked up at him with sad eyes.
Hadrian sighed. "Damn it. There you go again." He looked back at the clubmen, already knowing how it would turn out—how it always turned out—but he'd to try anyway. "Look, I'm not a knight. I'm not a squire either, but these swords are mine, and while Pickles thought he was bluffing, I—"
"Oh, just shut up." The one with the torn sleeve took a step and thrust his club to shove Hadrian. On the slippery pier it was easy for Hadrian to put him off balance. He caught the man's arm, twisted the wrist and elbow around, and snapped the bone. The crack sounded like a walnut opening. He gave the screaming clubman a shove, which was followed by a splash as he went into the harbor.
Hadrian could have drawn his swords then—almost did out of reflex—but he'd promised himself things would be different. Besides, he stole the man's club before sending him over the side, a solid bit of hickory about an inch in diameter and a little longer than a foot. The grip had been polished smooth from years of use, the other end stained brown from blood that seeped into the wood grain.
The remaining men gave up trying to tie Pickles, but one continued to hold him in a headlock while the other two rushed Hadrian. He read their feet, noting their weight and momentum. Dodging his first attacker's swing, Hadrian tripped the second and struck him in the back of the head as he went down. The sound of club on skull made a hollow thud like slapping a pumpkin, and when the guy hit the deck, he stayed there. The other swung at him again. Hadrian parried with the hickory stick, striking fingers. The man cried out and lost his grip, the club left dangling from the leather strap around his wrist. Hadrian grabbed the weapon, twisted it tight, bent the man's arm back, and pulled hard. The bone didn't break, but the shoulder popped. The man's quivering legs signaled the fight had left him, and Hadrian sent him over the side to join his friend.
By the time Hadrian turned to face the last of the four, Pickles was standing alone and rubbing his neck. His would-be captor sprinted into the distance.
"Is he going to come back with friends, you think?" Hadrian asked.
Pickles didn't say anything. He just stared at Hadrian, his mouth open.
"No sense lingering to find out, I suppose," Hadrian answered himself. "So where's this barge you were talking about?"
Away from the seaside pier, the city of Vernes was still choked and stifling. Narrow brick roads formed a maze overshadowed by balconies that nearly touched. Lanterns and moonlight were equally scarce, and down some lonely pathways there was no light at all. Hadrian was thankful to have Pickles. Recovered from his fright, the "alley rat" acted more like a hunting dog. He trotted through the city's corridors, leaping puddles that stank of waste and ducking wash lines and scaffolding with practiced ease.
"That's the living quarters for most of the shipwrights, and over there is the dormitory for the dockworkers." Pickles pointed to a grim building near the wharf with three stories, one door, and few windows. "Most of the men around this ward live there or at the sister building on the south end. So much here is shipping. Now, up there, high on that hill—see it? That is the citadel."
Hadrian lifted his head and made out the dark silhouette of a fortress illuminated by torches.
"Not really a castle, more like a counting house for traders and merchants. Walls have to be high and thick for all the gold it is they stuff up there. This is where all the money from the sea goes. Everything else runs downhill—but gold flows up."
Pickles sidestepped a toppled bucket and spooked a pair of cat-sized rats that ran for deeper shadows. Halfway past a doorway Hadrian realized a pile of discarded rags was actually an ancient-looking man seated on a stoop. With a frazzled gray beard and a face thick with folds, he never moved, not even to blink. Hadrian only noticed him after his smoking pipe's bowl glowed bright orange.
"It is a filthy city," Pickles called back to him. "I am pleased we are leaving. Too many foreigners here—too many easterners—many probably arrived with you. Strange folk, the Calians. Their women practice witchcraft and tell fortunes, but I say it is best not to know too much about one's future. We will not have to worry about such things in the north. In Warric, they burn witches in the winter to keep warm. At least that is what I have heard." Pickles stopped abruptly and spun. "What is your name?"
"Finally decided to ask, eh?" Hadrian chuckled.
"I will need to know if I am going to book you passage."
"I can take care of that myself. Assuming, of course, you are actually taking me to a barge and not just to some dark corner where you'll clunk me on the head and do a more thorough job of robbing me."
Pickles looked hurt. "I would do no such thing. Do you think me such a fool? First, I have seen what you do to people who try to clunk you on the head. Second, we have already passed a dozen perfectly dark corners." Pickles beamed his big smile, which Hadrian took to be one part mischief, one part pride, and two parts just-plain-happy-to-be-alive joy. He couldn't argue with that. He also couldn't remember the last time he felt the way Pickles looked.
The press-gang leader was right. Pickles could only be four or five years younger than Hadrian. Five, he thought. He's five years younger than I am. He's me before I left. Did I smile like that back then?
- "Filled with adventure and clever dialog and featuring a pair of not-quite-heroes whose loyalties to each other provide them with their greatest strength, this epic fantasy showcases the arrival of a master storyteller... A winning debut for fantasy lovers."—Library Journal on Theft of Swords
- "Hair-raising escapes, flashy sword fights, and faithful friendship complete the formula for good old-fashioned escapist fun."—Publishers Weekly on Theft of Swords
- "A whirlwind of twists, earth-shattering surprises and deadly betrayal."—Literary Magic
- "Mr. Sullivan continues to impress. In Royce and Hadrian he has created some of the best characters the genre has seen in some time, and in Avempartha he shows that he knows what to do with them. These books should be in every bookstore and I really hope that they are someday."—Speculative Fiction Junkie
- On Sale
- Aug 6, 2013
- Page Count
- 320 pages