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First riders call, p.1
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       First Rider's Call, p.1

           Kristen Britain
 
First Rider's Call


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Acknowledgements

  Dedication

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  THE RIDER CALL

  DEEP IN THE NORTHERN GREEN CLOAK FOREST

  A CAMPFIRE, A NIGHTGOWN, AND A SONG

  BLACKVEIL

  NIGHT INTRUSIONS

  ATTACKING FROM THE SHADOWS

  BENEATH THE CAIRN

  CRANE

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  THE SUMMER THRONE ROOM

  RETURNINGS

  KARIGAN SPEAKS

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  BACK TO BARRACKS

  KING JONAEUS’ SPRING

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  WITHIN SHADOW’S REACH

  ALTON AT THE BREACH

  BLACKVEIL

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  SWORDPLAY

  KING, SWORDMASTER, MAN

  FOOTPRINTS

  THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  THE STONE STAG

  INNER VOICES

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  THE RAIN

  A LIGHT IN THE DARK

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  SPURLOCK

  THE FUTURE FROM THE PAST

  WHISPERERS

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  FOLLOWING FOOTSTEPS

  CASTLE TOP

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  FALLING OFF THE SIDE OF THE WORLD

  PENDRIC

  BLACKVEIL

  MIRROR REFLECTION

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  TRUE AND FALSE

  IN THE WATER BUCKET

  A MEETING OF RIDERS

  CROSSROADS

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  BLACKVEIL

  ILLUSION

  VISIONS OF AN EMPIRE

  SECOND EMPIRE

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  WATCH HILL

  SHADOWS OF KENDROA MOR

  INNER FIRE

  SPURLOCK

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  COBWEBS

  MIRROR OF THE MOON

  ILL NEWS

  ASHES

  TIDINGS FROM THE WALL

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  TOWER OF THE HEAVENS

  SPURLOCK

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  KARIGAN RIDING

  BLACKVEIL

  ARMOR

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  BLACKVEIL

  THE MEMORY OF STONE

  WESTRION’S WINGS

  A WINTER’S DREAM

  SPURLOCK

  ARGUING WITH HORSES

  RIDING TO THE WALL

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  BLACKVEIL

  THROUGH THE BREACH

  THE VESSEL OF MORNHAVON

  AVENUE OF LIGHT

  PENDRIC

  ELETIAN ARROW

  HUNTED

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  THE KING’S DECISION

  ARTIFACTS

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  A HERITAGE OF RIDERS

  Impossible.

  The suit of armor standing guard beside Karigan’s door was enameled with a shiny black veneer, with minimal gold trim ornamenting it. A halberd etched with armorial devices had been posed in its gauntlets.

  As she lingered there outside her door, she heard metal grind against metal. She glanced up and down the corridor. Nothing moved, nothing was out of place. Silence reigned.

  She was hearing things, she decided, but as she prepared to step away, she heard it again. She darted her gaze to the black armor beside her. Was its helm tilted at a slightly different angle?

  She shook her head to dismiss it, but on the trailing edge of her vision, she saw a gauntlet rotate in its armored cuff.

  Karigan wheeled to gaze full upon the suit of armor. To her astonishment, it straightened with a clatter from its somewhat slumped posture.

  If Tegan was having one on her—

  Before she could lift the visor to find out, the suit jerked its arms above its helm, raising its halberd high, and then cleaved downward.

  ALSO BY KRISTEN BRITAIN:

  Green Rider

  Copyright © 2003 by Kristen Britain.

  All Rights Reserved.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-09849-3

  DAW Book Collectors No. 1264.

  DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA).

  All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  First paperback printing, August

  DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED

  U.S. PAT. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES

  —MARCA REGISTRADA

  HECHO EN U.S.A.

  S.A.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Whew. What a long journey this has been. Many thanks to you readers out there for making my first book, Green Rider, such a success, and for your enduring patience, encouragement, and support since its publication. I hope you find this tome worthy.

  I would not have survived the long haul without the support of my friends, notably Jill Shultz, John Marco, and Cheryl Dyer. I can’t express my appreciation enough to you guys, the way you helped me through some terrifically difficult times. You have no idea, and I am indebted.

  Thank you to Betty Lyle for the use of her firepit; Julie E. Czerneda (AWA) for averting wardrobe panic attacks and advising me on writing and publishing stuff; Ruth Stuart, Jana Paniccia, Jihane Billacois, and all the other sff.net newsgroupers for making me laugh pink; Tess Gerritsen who kindly listened and advised; Brooke Childrey for being Brooke; and belatedly Richard Grant and Joyce Varney, whose early encouragement years ago at the MWPA Tanglewood retreat made all this seem possible.

  For the contributions of their expertise in various fields (from geology to the eating of . . . things) that helped me create a sense of verisimilitude when necessary, I would like to thank Peggy Doak (and her herd), Cheryl Dyer, Tim Bowie, and Kate Petrie.

  Thank you to Saabrina Mosher for arranging a special meeting with Pat Smith, a reader whom I never got a chance to know, but felt privileged to meet. I’d like to remember her here. She loved the color green.

  In the publishing department, Betsy Wollheim stuck with me during the creation of this book despite the seemingly endless and sometimes bumpy road this journey took. Thank you, Betsy, for your give-and-take and your eye for story (and your New York City tour guide expertise!). DAW Books is a rare and special publishing house in an era of large corporate multinational media giants, which possesses an author-friendly atmosphere that does not treat creative works as widgets. So I’d like to recognize the rest of the crew behind the DAW logo, too, who truly make the organization special: Debra Euler, Sheila Gilbert, Sean Fodera, Amy Fodera, and Peter Stampfel.

  In addition, thank you to Anna Ghosh for thinking of the future, and for not holding against me that really hard-shelled lobster I tortured her with a few years ago, and to Danny Baror, international rights agent extraordinaire.

  Keith Parkinson creates some of the most spectacular cover art I’ve ever seen, and I’m honored to have his art grace this book. Not just honored, but thrilled! It’s beautiful, Keith!

  During the creation of both Green Rider and its sequel, I w
orked a day career as a national park ranger. The National Park Service is a special organization of dedicated people working to preserve America’s natural and cultural heritage, and I had the privilege of working with many fine and talented people. Like becoming a Green Rider, for many in the Park Service, the work is a calling. The uniform, the nature of the work, the shared experiences, the legends, and the traditions conspire to create an espirit de corps that is relatively unknown in other organizations. Rangers certainly aren’t in it for the money. (And the uniforms aren’t all that comfortable.) I would like to thank all my colleagues for carrying on the work and for being a part of my Park Service experience, and especially Deb Wade for her patience and understanding while I was slaving away on the writing by night, and coming into work the next day a bit tired and off-kilter. Deb, you understood the importance of my dream, and you supported my efforts. For that, I cannot thank you enough.

  For their career counseling and listening, and just for being there, I’d like to thank Laurie Hobbs-Olson, Meg Scheid, Wanda (Wand) Moran, and Pat Murrell.

  No acknowledgment section would be complete without mentioning my furries, Batwing and Percy. When all else seemed to fall to pieces in my life, they helped me keep steady on a very curvy road. Gryphon? Maybe next book you’ll get an acknowledgment of your very own. But in the meantime you’d better stop chewing on the manuscript.

  Finally, rest in peace, T.O.S. You live on in the pages of this book.

  In honor of my grandparents:

  Leona Springer and Alan Britain, Sr.

  Emma Momberger and George C. Momberger

  Journal of Hadriax el Fex

  We sail into the night. The winds finally favor us with a strength to move us more swiftly than oars. In this way we may conserve precious etherea, and allow the artisans time to effect repairs on the mechanicals.

  At first it was disturbing not to hear the throb and thrum of the mechanicals, which have been so constant since our departure, but now I feel utterly at peace here in my cabin, with only the creak of timbers and the gentle sway of the ocean as backdrop. The darkness has settled in, and it is just me, my journal, and a prism to illuminate my writing.

  The continent we seek is still far off, so says Captain Verano. Alessandros is extremely anxious, climbing to the crow’s nest daily as though to espy the New Lands by sheer will. This is his expedition, after all, his Quest to find the resources that will heal Arcosia, and to establish the Empire’s authority in the New Lands.

  A son, Alessandros is, to the Emperor, and the chosen one of God to succeed him. And so it is known to me that Alessandros organized this expedition for a reason beyond those already stated: with his success, he wishes to prove himself worthy to God and the people of Arcosia, and especially to the man he loves as a father.

  This voyage has been good for him. His cheeks are ruddy and the sunshine sparkles in his eyes. He has become a youth again and I can feel his excitement. For both of us, this is a grand adventure. His excitement is so infectious, in fact, that tonight, my young squire, Renald, overhearing our talk, nearly spilled wine on us as he served us. Alessandros laughed in good nature. Renald is a fine boy mostly, like a little brother sometimes, and I am very fond of him. This journey will be the making of him.

  As the countless days pass, I occupy myself by poring over the captain’s sketchy charts of the continent. Accounts tell of a barbaric race who inhabit these lands, and of a wealth of resources. Such accounts cannot always be trusted, as they so often are exaggerated. Still, we are eager to see what these lands of mystery may reveal, and none more so than Alessandros Mornhavon.

  THE RIDER CALL

  The apparition’s soft, otherworldly glow fell across the sleeping form on the canopy bed. Sultry night air tinged with sea brine flowed through the wide-open window, stirring the sheet that covered the girl. Her long brown hair was splayed across her pillow, and her chest rose and fell in slow, even breaths. She slept unaware of her ghostly visitor, an expression of utter tranquility on her face.

  And that was the problem.

  Displeasure flickered across the apparition’s smoky features. You can hear me, but you won’t listen, hey?

  The apparition nudged at the girl’s shoulder as if to awaken her, but her hand simply slid through it.

  Cannot feel me. Cannot see me. WILL NOT listen.

  The girl had become very disciplined at ignoring the call, and if there was one thing that annoyed Lil Ambriodhe most, it was being ignored.

  Lil had, in her own opinion, exercised a great deal of patience, actually biding her time during the year the girl took to finish her schooling, thinking it couldn’t hurt, and that afterward she would finally heed the call and return to Sacor City to take her oath before the king as a Green Rider.

  She did not. She defied the call and went home to Corsa instead, and for what? To count bolts of wool on one of her father’s wretched wagon trains? To balance ledgers? What was alluring about that? Why did she resist?

  Lil paced until she realized her feet no longer touched the floor, but hovered above it. By all the hells! She tried to focus on the floor so she might at least achieve the illusion of standing on it, but the effort bled too much energy from her. She cursed in frustration at the limitations of her current form, and glowered at the sleeping girl who made all this necessary. If she could manage it, she would’ve hauled her right out of bed. Thankfully most Riders weren’t this difficult.

  And even while she thought this, she observed that the floor beneath her feet was covered by a rare Durnesian carpet, and that the carved beams overhead brought to mind the mastery of shipwrights. The furnishings were deeply burnished and inlaid with ivory wrought with intricate ornamentation. They had a foreign look, as though brought from across the sea. Even the mattress the girl slept on was stuffed with eiderdown, and the sheets were of a delicate weave.

  As the daughter of a wealthy merchant, the girl lived at a level of luxury incomprehensible to most Sacoridians, and Lil could understand how trading this privileged and comfortable life for that of the rugged, dangerous duty of a Green Rider might prove difficult.

  In another sense, she could not. The Riders did important work. There were enough merchants in the world and far too few Green Riders.

  She was needed, this girl. This girl who over a year ago defeated a rogue Eletian and played an essential role in saving the king’s throne. And there was more ahead for her.

  A positive sign that all was not lost was the gold winged horse brooch resting on the table next to the bed. It was the most substantial thing about this realm in Lil’s vision, more solid and brilliant than anything else. It seemed the girl could not part with it; the bond still held. Had it abandoned her, there would be no possibility of her becoming a Rider.

  And our link would have been lost.

  Lil touched her own brooch, which was clasped to the green-and-blue plaid she wore draped across her shoulder, and drew comfort and strength from it. It had helped her come this far between the layers of the world. Its resonance sang through her and the girl’s brooch seemed to sparkle in response.

  A Rider’s true heart the brooch shall seek . . . Lil cocked a smile as she remembered the old tune. Great heart, stout heart, strong and bold, the iron hearts of Riders glitter as gold . . . How could she forget? Every self-proclaimed bard and halfwit of the lands had taken up the tune wherever she rode, whether she sat in a great clan lord’s banquet hall or in a dilapidated tavern with goats chewing on the rushes strewn across the floor. She couldn’t escape it! It was better, she supposed, than having stones thrown at her, though some of the singers had been painfully bad.

  She glanced out the window at the moon and cast off the memories like an old cloak. There was work to do here and time was growing short. She leaned over the sleeping girl, and using every ounce of command she could summon, she said into her ear, Karigan Galadheon, you must go to Sacor City. Hey? You are not a merchant—you are a Green Rider.

  Lil watched
on in satisfaction as the girl murmured and shifted. Her satisfaction turned to dismay, however, when the girl wrapped her pillow around her head.

  Ach. Lil shook her mane of unruly hair in disgust, and wondered if the girl’s lineage had anything to do with her contrary nature.

  She had but one last recourse to fall back on, and if this failed, she had no idea of how to rouse the girl. Lil drew to her lips a twisted horn she kept slung at her side. It had been a gift from a p’ehdrose named Maultin for a favor rendered. It was fashioned from the tusk of a komara beast, a woolly herd animal that roamed the arctic wastes. Maultin had imbued the horn with a special spell of use only to the captain of the Green Riders.

  Lil inhaled and blew into the horn. The notes of the Rider call rang out sure and strong. She sensed it pulsing through the layers of the world, ringing with need and urgency. Would it reach far enough? Would the girl hear it? Most importantly, would it reach her heart?

  Lil lowered the horn, listening still as its crisp notes faded away. And she watched. At first there was nothing and Lil’s hopes plummeted, but then the pillow was flung aside and the girl—young woman, really—sprang upright into a sitting position, eyes wide open and bright. She hurled herself out of bed and in a flurry of sheets and nightgown sprawled across the floor in a tangled heap.

  Unaware of all else save the call, she disentangled herself and scrambled to her feet. She swiped her brooch from the bedside table and threw open her wardrobe, withdrawing a saber sheathed in a battered black scabbard, and ran from the room as if all the demons of the five hells pursued her.

 
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