The prince of ravens, p.1
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       The Prince of Ravens, p.1

           Hal Emerson
The Prince of Ravens

  The Prince of Ravens

  Book One of the Exile Series

  Hal Emerson

  Copyright © 2012 Bradley Van Satterwhite

  This book is dedicated to:

  The Kings and Queens of Fantasy,

  Who trapped me with their magic;

  And the Wonderful Satterwhite Parents

  Who financed my addiction.

  Table of Contents

  Prologue: The Seventh Child

  Chapter One: Nameless

  Chapter Two: Summoned

  Chapter Three: The Girl and the Giant

  Chapter Four: The First Ray of Sunlight

  Chapter Five: The Death Watch

  Chapter Six: Trust

  Chapter Seven: Knowing Death

  Chapter Eight: Banelyn

  Chapter Nine: The Path of Light

  Chapter Ten: Seek and Ye Shall Find

  Chapter Eleven: The Crucible

  Chapter Twelve: Out of Banelyn

  Chapter Thirteen: The Most Loyal Friend

  Chapter Fourteen: What You Use it For

  Chapter Fifteen: Aftermath

  Chapter Sixteen: Choices

  Chapter Seventeen: The Lands of the Kindred

  Chapter Eighteen: Decision

  Chapter Nineteen: The Chosen Path

  Chapter Twenty: The Pass of Cartuom

  Chapter Twenty-One: Aemon’s Stand

  Chapter Twenty-Two: The Prince of Oxen

  Chapter Twenty-Three: Aspect of Strength

  Epilogue: Prophecies Fulfilled


  About the Author

  Prologue: The Seventh Child

  In the fourth month of the one thousand and twentieth year of the reign of the Diamond Empress of Lucien, a son was born.

  He was the seventh living son of the Empress – and there was much hope that he would remain so. On the day of his birth, as was customary for children born of the Empress and the Most High, he was examined by a council of twelve clockwork men known as the Visigony. Their purpose was to ascertain the child’s future: theirs was the choice whether he would live or die.

  Almost seven hundred children of the Empress had passed through their hands, as well as several thousand of those born to the women of the Most High. Defects were not tolerated – if the child had been disproportionate, if he had been sick or weak, if his skin had exhibited the smallest blot or sign of mortality, they would have cast him off the edge of the highest tower, there to meet his death as a disgrace to the Empress and an unfit heir. But he passed their scrutiny, and it was whispered that this child, born as the seven hundredth, was the true seventh child, the one to inherit the Seventh Principality.

  The boy was sent to live with the Visigony for seven days, as was customary. He was fed nothing, given nothing to drink, and left to die.

  On the first day, he cried – but this was not uncommon. The Visigony reserved judgment.

  On the second day, he cried still more, but from time to time was silent. The hunger was beginning to affect him, to sap his strength at the moment of life when he needed it most.

  On the third day, he whimpered through the morning hours, begging wordlessly for help and strength from his absent Mother. But he would not find help from Her, the Visigony thought with ruthless, mechanical smiles; that Woman would never help him.

  On the fourth day, there was no noise – and the Visigony began to move about the Fortress anxiously as they always did when sensing the nearness of a Death. Those servants who worked in the Fortress spread the word, and soon most of the inhabitants of the capital city of Lucien knew that the child was soon to die – that the seventh heir was yet to appear, that the child was Baseborn after all.

  On the fifth day, the child began to whimper once more – and word blazed through the Fortress, this time reaching the Ear of the Empress Herself. But the Visigony was cautious. Some of the Most High had strains of power from early bloodlines that allowed them to last the first five days; indeed, that was the foundation of the Bloodmages. No, the child must survive the full seven days. They waited.

  Terrible things began to happen in the capital city. Sandral Putnam woke to find her cat Solem dead as if she’d been gone a week, skin sloughed off her body and maggots bursting from her stomach. Across town Bellamy Jones walked out of his house the morning of the sixth day and felt something crunch under his foot. He looked down to see twelve vultures lying in a perfect circle in the middle of the street, having dropped from the sky in mid-flight, dead. Tim Hightower, a man in perfect health, was found in his bed, eyes wide and staring at nothing, all meaningful signs of life gone from him, left as nothing more than an empty shell. The Visigony saw and recorded these signs, and waited for the next dawn with whatever sense of anticipation their dusty, dry veins were capable of containing.

  On the seventh day, the child still lived – and not only did he live, but he had grown, as if he were seventh months old not just seven days. He moved more easily than any child the Visigony had ever examined: his arms and legs were strong, his eyes bright and intelligent. His reactions were perfectly preserved, showing no sign of nerve or brain damage. He made no sound now – but his eyes recognized them, and they, who were once men in an age long gone, felt a supernatural chill run through their dried up hearts as they contemplated this child with their clockwork eyes and were inexplicably reminded of their own mortality despite the steps they’d taken; the boy was filled with such an abundance of life that they were almost blinded.

  The Visigony reported their findings to the Empress as she sat on the Diamond Throne. The boy had passed their test: he had survived the seven days and was therefore a true son if the Empress would have him. So the Empress gathered together her Children, the six sons and daughters among the seven hundred she had born that had proved to be of the Imperial Blood, and so had been allowed to live.

  The Children were a spiteful lot, full of all the vices of humanity: they were proud, greedy, lustful, and full of rage, as was their Great Mother the Immortal Empress. Like their Mother, they too were unaffected by the passage of time, and over the years they fought each other for their Mother’s approval and love, winning and losing petty battles that destroyed the lives of thousands of citizens of the Empire. Their Mother pitted them one against the other, and they lived like hunted and wounded animals, all the while loving her and hoping for nothing more than the chance to do Her Will.

  It was to these creatures that the baby was brought.

  Rikard, the Prince of Lions and eldest son, tested the boy’s courage and with great reluctance found him satisfactory. Geofred, the Prince of Eagles, tested his intuitive sight and mental alacrity, which he found adequate. Symanta, the Prince of Snakes, tested his cunning and perception, which she grudgingly agreed were acceptable. Ramael, the Prince of Oxen, tested his strength and determination and angrily growled his approval. Dysuna, the Prince of Wolves, tested his endurance and loyalty, which she confirmed as meeting their Mother’s standard. And finally Tiffenal, the Prince of Foxes, tested his luck and ties to the strings of fate, and sardonically pronounced him fit.

  When the boy had passed each of their tests, the Empress herself took him into Her arms. It was Her place to judge the boy’s ambition. She laid a single finger, long and cruel, on the boy’s forehead, and reached into his soul for the final test.

  He failed.

  With a hissing cry, she flung the child from her; the boy began to cry in pain and fear, and the Empress, a hateful expression of disgust and contempt marring the perfect features of her ancient beauty, motioned sharply to the waiting Guardians. The hulking men drew their swords and approached the child, ready to rend him limb from limb and display his body on the palace walls.

  But Geofred, the Prince of Eagles, stepped in front of them.

  The Empress spit out a single word, her crown burst into dazzling light, and the Prince of Eagles flew across the throne room, straight for one of the Blackstone walls. With a muffled thump, he crashed into the hard stone and fell to the floor. But despite this blow, he came immediately back to his feet, and without hesitation dashed forward, placing himself on his knees in front of his Mother.

  The light from Her crown grew even brighter, a light that made the world seem harsh and terrible, but before she could speak another word of power, he began to talk in a voice pitched so only she could hear, gesturing toward his newborn brother, his eyes on his Mother’s feet.

  Slowly her anger subsided as the Child spoke. A smile crept across her face.

  This child had failed the Empress’ test, the final test, and by all means should be killed and removed from her sight immediately. And yet … there was the matter of the Seventh Principality, the one that must be filled in order for the Empress’ rule to endure for another thousand years, and for her to ensure the Return. The Chamber of Seers, led by the ancient Prophet, had read the auguries at the beginning of her rule, and though the die had been cast and the sacrifices given almost a millennium ago, the Words still rang clearly in her ears:

  There will be a seventh child, a child not worthy of your line - Keep him! Do not cast him out, but around his arms bind your power; raise him as your own until his seventeenth name day, in which year he shall be both key and lock to your ambition. Upon that day, and not till then, take his life: for if he lives, so comes the rise of Light; should he die, so comes the fall of Night. That living Seventh Child shall seek to inherit the Kingdom of the Veil, and should he claim his right, all your strength shall fail. But if, before the year is out, the child is dead beyond a doubt, you shall reign forever on –

  For all who might oppose you shall be gone.

  The Empress once more took the child in Her arms, watching him carefully. It was not uncommon for prophecies to require sacrifice to be made true. In fact, for such a thing as the Return, a great sacrifice was only to be expected. Was this boy the answer? She tested him again, delving his mind for ambition, testing his fitness for the office of the Seventh Principality. Again, She found him lacking. A smile curved across Her face, etching itself like acid upon a stone sculpture of beauty. None other knew the prophecy, nor the one that followed, but for the Prince of Eagles, who was entrusted with the keeping of all the prophecies that the Chamber of Seers had read. He was bound to silence with ancient vows of power; he would not reveal Her plans. She raised the child above Her head, and held him as he squirmed pathetically in Her firm grip. Her brood watched from under darkened brows – would She cast him down? Or would She raise him up?

  That day the word went out across the Empire that in the Fortress of Lucien a son had been born and claimed. The Prince of Ravens, the herald of the end times and keeper of Death, lived and breathed in the dark city of Lucien.

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