Firebrand, p.1Kristen Britain
OF KARIGAN G’LADHEON:
First Rider’s Call
The High King’s Tomb
Copyright © 2017 by Kristen Britain.
All Rights Reserved.
Jacket art by Donato.
Jacket design by G-Force Design.
Book design by Stanley S. Drate/Folio Graphics Co., Inc.
DAW Books Collector’s No. 1750.
Published by DAW Books, Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.
All characters in the book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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Ebook ISBN: 9780698135079
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Books by Kristin Britain
The Winter Wood
A Poet and Memory
Ice and Fire
Hot Coals and a Chandelier
Following Sir Karigan
A Leaf Upon the Breeze
Tower of the Heavens
The Fingers of a Hand
A New Duty
The Chamber of Proving
The Swordmaster’s Patron
The Fire Within
A Swordmaster Trains
The Second Sword
Captain and Arms Master
An Appointment With Agemon
The Birdman’s Voice
Ash Girl and Queen
The Queen’s Request
The Future, Good or Bad
A Precursor to Trouble
Gray On Gray
The Fingers Of A Hand
His Cold Eyes
In Slee’s Lair
Eli Creek Station
The Song Of Hadwyr And Narivanine
The Meddling of Eletians
Getting Back in the Saddle
The Interesting Problem of Anna the Ash Girl
The Poet’s Visit
The Strange Behavior of Zachary
What Sir Karigan Would Do
Beneath the Open Sky
Rennard of the River Unit
Tea With the Prince
A Calling, of a Sort
Trading For Meat
Song of the Starry Crossing
Playing the Part
From King to Thrall
Think, Observe, Protect
Portals, Avatars, and Knitting
The Captain’s Runner
Two Stars and a Crown
Pyre of the Dead
Spirits in the Smoke
Leaving the Green Cloak
A Worthy Sacrifice
The Lone Forest
The Burning Fire
His Little Starling
Falling to Pieces
The Spirit and Soul of the Realm
A Vision of the Avatar
Singing The Healing
The Domain of Grandmother
Return to Nyssa’s Workshop
Wounds Laid Bare
Seeing Through the Greenie’s Eyes
The Torment of Karigan
Captain Treman Arrives
Extract of Poppy
Being the King Again
The Day Horse
The Aeon Iire
Preparing For Battle
Tokens Of Esteem
The Uncertainty of the Wait
Setting the Trap
Breaking the Iire
The Death God’s Own
Heart of Ice
The Golden Guardian
Mister Whiskers Returns
To Not Leave
Midhaven Harbor, Coutre Province
About the Author
The creation of a book is a journey, a dangerous quest through dark forests of malevolent story threads, steaming, stinking quagmires of grammatical conundrums, and toothy mountain ranges of authorial uncertainty. Opposing forces of all kinds (including procrastination orcs) attempt to thwart the goal of the quest. (That would be the book you now hold.) The author would not overcome such obstacles without helpers along the way. This is her (my) opportunity to thank them.
Any quest would be much more difficult and lonely without stalwart companions to help face the many perils encountered. Thank you to the Schoodic Peninsula Writers Group East (especially when I presented stacks of chapters for critique): Cynthia Thayer, Brian Dyer Stewart, Melinda Rice, and Bianca Lech.
Some quests require someone with an extraordinary skill to accomplish a task in order for the protagonist to achieve her goal. In a fantasy story, that might be a thief or swordfighter. In the production of this book, it was the sharp pen-wielding expertise of my copyeditor, Annaliese Jakimides. I thank her for her skillful and sensitive touch in making this book better. Yay style sheets!
If I am to take thi
There is often a mysterious, cloaked figure in a story who makes things happen behind the scenes. In my case, there are three. I thank my agents Russell Galen, Danny Baror, and Heather Baror-Shapiro for doing the mysterious things they do.
Thank you also to artist Donato Giancola who has cast a magical spell of his own with yet another beautiful cover painting, as well as to his counterpart in France, Alexandre Dainche.
I also thank wise woman Chris (Chrissy) Thompson for sitting with me in coffee shops to pursue some very odd conversations despite the concerned looks and raised eyebrows of other patrons directed our way.
And to my readers, thank you for giving the Green Rider books a try. You are, for a writer, journey’s end. Now, where is the village tavern and its barkeep?
• • •
Ruth Stuart, I miss you, but I always see you in the shimmer of the stars at night.
Katharyn Howd Machan
all the educators
whose encouragement lifted me
like a leaf
upon a wisp
“I know you can do it.” Mara placed her hands on Karigan’s shoulders and squeezed.
“You survived Blackveil and Mornhavon the Black. You’ve even been through time!”
“I don’t know . . .” Karigan glanced uncertainly toward the open doors of the throne room. The guards posted there watched her with interest.
“I know.” Mara turned her around and marched her toward the entrance.
This had to happen sooner or later, Karigan thought, but still she resisted. Mara just pushed harder until they stood on the threshold.
“Now be a good Green Rider and go on in there,” Mara said.
“Easy for you to say. Aren’t you coming?”
“Heavens no! You couldn’t drag me.”
“Coward.” Karigan knew her friend meant well, but a little more support would not have been asking too much.
Mara simply smiled and gave her a gentle push. Karigan took a shaky breath and stepped across the threshold into the throne room.
“KARIGAN HELGADORF G’LADHEON!”
It thundered like a pronouncement of doom from the gods, and she pivoted as if to run back the way she had come, but Mara, arms crossed and shaking her head, blocked her escape.
“Helgadorf?” asked an amused voice. King Zachary.
Karigan winced, and warmth crept into her cheeks. Mara grinned at her.
“Named after her great grand aunt, Your Majesty,” came a crusty reply. “A prickly old banshee no one particularly liked. Why Stevic would name her after—”
“Brini!” came a sharp warning.
Karigan slowly turned back around. There arrayed before the king’s throne, with a frazzled-looking Captain Mapstone in their midst, were her aunts, all four of them, and standing aloof just off to the side, her father. When Mara had informed her of their arrival, she’d been caught off guard, for they’d sent no forewarning, and it was winter, when travel was difficult. Karigan, still struggling to adjust to ordinary life after her all-too-recent adventures, coupled with the accompanying darkness and sorrow, now faced a huge dose of “ordinary” in the form of her family, and it threatened to overwhelm her.
Her aunts could exasperate even the stoutest of souls at the best of times, and she was so very tired . . .
“Helgadorf was more a leader than anyone else on Black Island during her day,” Aunt Stace said with a sniff. “She organized the island to repel pirates and raids from the Under Kingdoms.”
“She was still a banshee,” Aunt Brini muttered, and then whispered loud enough for all to hear, “and she still is.”
Great Grand Aunt Helgadorf had been dead for forty years.
Ignoring her sister, Aunt Stace, with her hands on her hips, said, “Don’t just stand there like a post without a fence, Kari girl, come here.”
Karigan glanced over her shoulder. Mara had not lingered to witness the reunion. She considered making a run for it, but doing so would only prolong the inevitable. Best to face them now. She took a deep breath and started walking slowly down the runner like a swimmer reluctant to dive into icy water. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see her family—she loved them more than anything—but she didn’t want to face their questions about the expedition into Blackveil, about how she’d gone missing and was presumed dead. She didn’t want to speak of the future and her experiences there because to do so was to relive the dark. And her memories of Cade? Those were hers, and hers alone, and not a casual topic of conversation. Knowing her aunts, however, they would pick and pry until they stripped the carcass to the bone.
When she had written them after her return just over a month ago, she’d been characteristically terse, reassuring them she was alive and well, but avoiding the painful details. Captain Mapstone had also written her father, but she had no idea what had been said. Her aunts’ questions would come, she knew, from a place of love and concern, but she was not ready or willing to encourage them with additional fodder.
And then there was the subject of her eye, about which she had said nothing, and about which they were bound to make an issue. She touched the leather patch that covered it, her right eye, and took another determined breath and picked up her pace. When she reached her aunts, they swarmed her with crushing hugs and kisses and complaints.
“You are too skinny!”
“We were told you were dead!”
“Thank the gods you came back to us.”
Aunt Gretta stared at her critically, her head canted to the side. “What is wrong with your eye?”
“Got something in it, is all,” Karigan replied.
“Let me see.” Aunt Gretta reached for her eyepatch.
“No!” Karigan backed away.
“I just want to see what’s wrong with your eye,” Aunt Gretta said in a stung voice.
Karigan covered it with her hand. “No.”
“Removing the patch,” Captain Mapstone said, “causes her eye pain.”
That was very true, but it was so much more than that.
Because the captain had spoken up, all four aunts now turned on her demanding explanations. The captain must have known this would happen, and Karigan made a mental note to thank her at the next opportunity.
Her father, who had stood remote, used the distraction to finally reach for her, his arms wide open. She stepped into his embrace and hugged him hard. “We had to come and see you,” he murmured. “Nothing could stop us. We thought we had lost you.”
“I know,” she said, “but I came back. I am too stubborn to be lost. Stubborn, like you.”
When they parted, he rubbed his eyes. Karigan stared, astonished. Had she ever seen him cry before? He took a rattling breath and collected himself. “I would like the complete story of what happened to you. The captain,” and now his voice tightened, “was vague on the subject, and your letter was, shall we say, rather lacking?”
At that moment, a hand rested on her sleeve. Startled, she looked up. The king. He had descended from his throne chair and approached from her blind side. She’d never get used to the loss of her peripheral vision in that eye.
“Your Majesty,” she said a little breathlessly. She l
“I believe your captain requires rescuing.”
She glanced at her besieged captain. All four aunts were still chivvying her about Karigan’s appearance, and didn’t she take better care of the people under her command? Thankfully, Karigan thought, they could not see her other scars, those of the flesh hidden by her uniform, as well as the invisible wounds within.
“Enough,” she told them firmly. “Captain Mapstone is not to blame for anything.” When this failed to quell their outrage, she added, “And do not forget you are in the king’s presence.”
That silenced them, and quite suddenly they each looked ashamed and started curtsying to the king and uttering chastened apologies. Captain Mapstone simply looked relieved.
“Sir Karigan,” the king said, “We are releasing you from duty so you may spend a couple days with your family. We hope you will be able to satisfy their curiosity about your most recent exploits. And to your family, We say, know that Sir Karigan has Our highest esteem. She has served this realm well and courageously time and again. She should receive no reproach from her closest kin, only praise and honor.”
Karigan stared at him in surprise. First, he had used the royal “we,” which she had rarely, if ever, heard from him. Then there was the rest of his speech. Her aunts looked astonished and her father very proud. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t known the king regarded her highly; he had knighted her, after all, but it must have made more of an impression on them coming directly from his mouth. It certainly impressed Karigan.
Her father bowed. “Thank you, sire. I have always considered my daughter exceptional, and it pleases me she has served Your Majesty well. But we have been enough of a distraction to you, as you must have important matters of state to attend to.”
As if his words had been prescient, there was a brief commotion at the throne room entrance, and a moment later, Neff, the herald, bolted down the length of the room and bowed before the king. “Your Majesty, visitors from—”
He didn’t have to complete his sentence for them to know where the visitors were from. Three of them, cloaked in shimmering gray against the winter, entered the throne room. The dim afternoon light seemed to stretch through the tall windows for the singular purpose of brightening their presence. The trio glided down the runner with long, matched strides. Not too fast, not too slow.
Firebrand by Kristen Britain / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes