A quest of heroes, p.1
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       A Quest of Heroes, p.1

         Part #1 of The Sorcerer's Ring series by Morgan Rice  
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A Quest of Heroes


  A QUEST OF HEROES

  (Book #1 in the Sorcerer’s Ring)

  Morgan Rice

  About Morgan Rice

  Morgan Rice is the #1 Bestselling author of THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS, a young adult series comprising eight books, which has been translated into six languages.

  Morgan is also author of the #1 Bestselling THE VAMPIRE LEGACY, a young adult series comprising two books and counting.

  Morgan is also author of the #1 Bestselling ARENA ONE and ARENA TWO, the first two books in THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY, a post-apocalyptic action thriller set in the future.

  Morgan loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.morganricebooks.com to stay in touch.

  Select Acclaim for Morgan Rice

  “Rice does a great job of pulling you into the story from the beginning, utilizing a great descriptive quality that transcends the mere painting of the setting….Nicely written and an extremely fast read.”

  --Black Lagoon Reviews (regarding Turned)

  “An ideal story for young readers. Morgan Rice did a good job spinning an interesting twist…Refreshing and unique, has the classic elements found in many Young Adult paranormal stories. The series focuses around one girl…one extraordinary girl!...Easy to read but extremely fast-paced....Recommended for anyone who likes to read soft paranormal romances. Rated PG.”

  --The Romance Reviews (regarding Turned)

  “Grabbed my attention from the beginning and did not let go….This story is an amazing adventure that is fast paced and action packed from the very beginning. There is not a dull moment to be found.”

  --Paranormal Romance Guild {regarding Turned}

  “Jam packed with action, romance, adventure, and suspense. Get your hands on this one and fall in love all over again.”

  --vampirebooksite.com (regarding Turned)

  “A great plot, and this especially was the kind of book you will have trouble putting down at night. The ending was a cliffhanger that was so spectacular that you will immediately want to buy the next book, just to see what happens.”

  --The Dallas Examiner {regarding Loved}

  “A book to rival TWILIGHT and VAMPIRE DIARIES, and one that will have you wanting to keep reading until the very last page! If you are into adventure, love and vampires this book is the one for you!”

  --Vampirebooksite.com {regarding Turned}

  “Morgan Rice proves herself again to be an extremely talented storyteller….This would appeal to a wide range of audiences, including younger fans of the vampire/fantasy genre. It ended with an unexpected cliffhanger that leaves you shocked.”

  --The Romance Reviews {regarding Loved}

  Books by Morgan Rice

  THE SORCERER’S RING

  A QUEST OF HEROES (Book #1 in the Sorcerer’s Ring)

  THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY

  ARENA ONE: SLAVERSUNNERS (Book #1 of the Survival Trilogy)

  ARENA TWO (Book #2 of the Survival Trilogy)

  THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS

  TURNED (Book #1 in the Vampire Journals)

  LOVED (Book #2 in the Vampire Journals)

  BETRAYED (Book #3 in the Vampire Journals)

  DESTINED (Book #4 in the Vampire Journals)

  DESIRED (Book #5 in the Vampire Journals)

  BETROTHED (Book #6 in the Vampire Journals)

  VOWED (Book #7 in the Vampire Journals)

  FOUND (Book #8 in the Vampire Journals)

  THE VAMPIRE LEGACY

  RESURRECTED (Book #1 of the Vampire Legacy)

  CRAVED (Book #2 of the Vampire Legacy)

  Copyright © 2012 by Morgan Rice

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

  —William Shakespeare

  Henry IV, Part II

  CHAPTER ONE

  The boy stood on the highest knoll of the low country in the Western Kingdom of the Ring, looking north, watching the first of the rising suns. As far as he could see stretched rolling green hills, like camel humps, dipping and rising in a series of valleys and peaks. The burnt-orange rays of the first sun lingered in the morning mist, making them sparkle, lending the light a magic that matched the boy’s mood. He rarely woke this early or ventured this far from home—and never ascended this high—knowing it would incur his father’s wrath. But on this day, he didn’t care. On this day, he disregarded the million rules and chores that had oppressed him for his fourteen years. For this day was different. It was the day his destiny had arrived.

  The boy—Thorgrin of the Western Kingdom of the Southern Province of the clan McLeod—known to all he liked simply as Thor—the youngest of four boys, the least favorite of his father, had stayed awake all night in anticipation of this day. He had tossed and turned, bleary-eyed, waiting, willing, for the first sun to rise. For a day like this arrived only once every several years, and if he missed it, he would be stuck here, in this village, doomed to tend his father’s flock the rest of his days. That was a thought he could not bear.

  Conscription Day. It was the one day the King’s Army canvassed the provinces, hand-picked volunteers for the King’s Legion. As long as he had lived, Thor had dreamt of nothing else. For him, life meant one thing: joining The Silver, the king’s elite force of knights, bedecked in the finest armor and the choicest arms anywhere in the two kingdoms. And one could not enter the Silver without first joining the Legion, the company of squires ranging from fourteen to nineteen years of age. And if one was not the son of a noble, or of a famed warrior, there was no other way to join the Legion.

  Conscription Day was the only exception, that rare event every few years when the Legion ran low and the king’s men scoured the land in search of new recruits. Everyone knew that few commoners were chosen—and that even fewer would actually make the Legion.

  Thor stood there, studying the horizon intently, looking for any sign of motion. The Silver, he knew, would have to take this road, the only road into his village, and he wanted to be the first to spot them. His flock of sheep protested all around him, rose up in a chorus of annoying grunts, urging him to bring them back down the mountain, where the grazing was choicer. He tried to block out the noise, and the stench. He had to concentrate.

  What had made all of this bearable, all these years of tending flocks, of being his father’s lackey, his older brothers’ lackey, the one cared for least and burdened most, was the idea that one day he would leave this place. One day, when the Silver came, he would surprise all those who had underestimated him, and be selected. In one swift motion, he would ascend their carriage and say goodbye to all of this.

  His father, of course, had never considered him seriously as a candidate for the Legion—in fact, he had never considered him as a candidate for anything. Instead, his father devoted his love and attention to Thor’s three older brothers. The oldest was nineteen and the others but a year behind each other, leaving Thor a good three years younger than any of them. Perhaps because they were closer in age, or perhaps because they looked alike and looked nothing like Thor, the three of them stuck together, barely acknowledging Thor’s existence.

  Worse, they were taller and broader and stronger than he, and Thor, who knew he was not short, nonetheless felt small beside them, felt his muscular legs frail beside their barrels of oak. His father made no move to rectify any of this—and in fact seemed to relish it—leaving Thor to attend the sheep and sharpen weapons, while his brothers were left to train. It was never spoken, but always understood, that Thor would spend his life in the wings, be forced to watch his brothers achieve great things. His destiny, if his father and brothers had their way, would be to stay here, swallowed by this village, and give his family the support they demanded.

  Worse still was that Thor sensed that his brothers, paradoxically, were threatened by him, maybe even hated him. Thor could see it in their every glance, every gesture. He didn’t understand how, but he aroused something in them, like fear or jealousy. Perhaps it was because he was different from them, didn’t look like them or speak with their mannerisms; he didn’t even dress like them, his father reserving the best garments—the purple and scarlet robes, the gilded weapons—for his brothers, while Thor was left wearing the coarsest of rags.

  Nonetheless, Thor made the best of what he had, finding a way to make his clothes fit, tying the frock with a sash around his waist, and, now that summer was here, cutting off the sleeves to allow his toned arms to be caressed by the breezes. These were matched by coarse linen pants, his only pair, and boots made of the poorest leather, laced up his shins. They were hardly the leather of his brothers’ shoes, but he made them work. He wore the typical uniform of a herder.

  But he hardly had the typical demeanor: Thor stood tall and lean, with a proud jaw, noble chin, high cheekbones and gray eyes, looking like a displaced warrior. His straight, brown hair fell back in waves on his head, just past his ears, and behind them, his eyes glistened like a minnow in the light.

  Thor knew that today his brothers would be allowed to sleep in, be given a hearty meal, sent off for the Selection with the finest weapons and his father’s blessing—while he would not even be allowed to attend. He had tried to raise the issue with his father once. It had not gone well. His father had summarily ended the conversation, and he had not tried again. It just wasn’t fair.

  Thor was determined to reject the fate his father had planned for him: at the first sign of the royal caravan, he would race back to the house, confront his father, and, like it or not, make himself known to the King’s Men. He would stand for selection with the others. His father could not stop him. He felt a knot in his stomach at the thought of it.

  The first sun rose higher, and when the second sun began to rise, a mint green, adding a layer of light to the purple sky, Thor spotted them.

  He stood upright, hairs on end, electrified. There, on the horizon, came the faintest outline of a horse-drawn carriage, its wheels kicking dust into the sky. His heart beat faster as another came into view; then another. Even from here the golden carriages gleamed in the suns, like silver-backed fish leaping from the water.

  By the time he counted twelve of them, he could wait no longer. Heart pounding in his chest, forgetting his flock for the first time in his life, he turned and stumbled down the hill, determined to stop at nothing until he made himself known.

  *

  Thor barely stopped to catch his breath as he sped down the hills, through the trees, scratched by branches and not caring. He reached a clearing and saw his village spread out below: a sleepy country town, packed with one-story, white clay homes with thatched roofs, there were but several dozen families amongst them. Smoke rose from chimneys, and he knew most were up early, preparing their morning meal. It was an idyllic place, just far enough—a full day’s ride—from King’s Court to deter passersby. Just another farming village on the edge of the Ring, another cog in the wheel of the Western Kingdom.

  Thor burst down the final stretch, into the village square, kicking up dirt as he went. Chickens and dogs ran out of his way, and an old woman, squatting outside her home before a cauldron of bubbling water, hissed at him.

  “Slow down boy!” she screeched, as he raced passed her, stirring dust into her fire.

  But Thor would not slow—not for her, not for anybody. He turned down one side street, then another, twisting and turning the way he knew by heart, until he reached home.

  It was a small, nondescript dwelling, like all the others, with its white clay walls and angular, thatched roof. Like most, its single room was divided, his father sleeping on one side, and his three brothers on the other; unlike most, it had a small chicken coop in the back, and it was here that Thor was exiled to sleep. At first he’d slept with his brothers; but over time they had grown bigger and meaner and more exclusive, and made a show of not leaving him room. Thor had been hurt, but now he relished his own space, preferring to be away from their presence. It just confirmed for him that he was the exile in his family that he already knew he was.

  Thor ran to his front door and burst through it without stopping.

  “Father!” he screamed, gasping for breath. “The Silver! They’re coming!”

  His father and three brothers sat, hunched over the breakfast table, already dressed in their finest. At his words they jumped up and darted past him, bumping his shoulders as they ran out of the house, into the road.

  Thor followed them out, and they all stood there, watching the horizon.

  “I see no one,” Drake, the oldest, answered in his deep voice. With the broadest shoulders, hair cropped short like his brothers, brown eyes and thin, disapproving lips, he scowled down at Thor, as usual.

  “Nor do I,” echoed Dross, just a year below Drake, always taking his side.

  “They’re coming!” Thor shot back. “I swear!”

  His father turned to him and grabbed his shoulders sternly.

  “And how would you know?” he demanded.

  “I saw them.”

  “How? From where?”

  Thor hesitated; his father had him. He of course knew that the only place he could have spotted them was from the top of that knoll. Now Thor was unsure how to respond.

  “I…climbed the knoll—”

  “With the flock? You know they are not to go that far.”

  “But today was different. I had to see.”

  His father glowered down.

  “Go inside at once and fetch your brothers’ swords and polish their scabbards, so that they look their best before the king’s men arrive.”

  His father, done with him, turned back to his brothers, who all stood in the road, looking out.

  “Do you think they’ll choose us?” asked Durs, the youngest of the three, a full three years ahead of Thor.

  “They’d be foolish not to,” his father said. “They are short on men this year. It has been a slim cropping—or else they wouldn’t bother coming. Just stand straight, the three of you, keep your chins up and chest out. Do not look them directly in the eye, but do not look away, either. Be strong and confident. Show no weakness. If you want to be in the King’s Legion, you must act as if you’re already in it.”

  “Yes, father,” his three boys answered at once, getting into position.

  He turned and glared back at Thor.

  “What are you still doing there?” he asked. “Get inside!”

  Thor stood there, torn. He didn’t want to disobey his father, but he had to speak with him. His heart pounded as he debated. He decided it would be best to obey, to bring the swords, and then confront his father. Disobeying outright wouldn’t help.

  Thor raced into the house, out though the back and to the weapons shed. He spotted his brothers’ three swords, objects of beauty all of them, crowned with the finest silver hilts, precious gifts his father had toiled for for years. He grabbed all three, surprised as always at their weight, and ran back through the house with them.

  He sprinted to his brothers, handed each their sword, then turned to his father.

  “What, no polish?” Drake said.

  His father turned to him disapprovingly, but before he could say anything, Thor spoke up.

  “Father, please. I need to speak with you!”

  “I told you to polish—”

  “Please, father!”

  His father glared back, debating. He must have seen the seriousness on Thor’s face, because finally, he said: “Well?”

  “I want to be considered. With the others. For the Legion.”

  His brothers’ laughter rose up behind him, making his face burn red.

  But his father did not laugh; on the contrary, his scowl deepened.

  “Do you?” he asked.

  Thor nodded back vigorously.

  “I’m fourteen. I’m eligible.”

  “The cutoff is fourteen,” Drake said disparagingly, over his shoulder. “If they took you, you’d be the youngest. Do you think they’d choose you over someone like me, five years your elder?”

  “You are insolent,” Durs said. “You always have been.”

  Thor turned to them. “I’m not asking you,” he said.

  He turned back to his father, who still frowned.

  “Father, please,” he said. “Allow me a chance. That’s all I ask. I know I’m young, but I will prove myself, over time.”

  His father shook his head.

  “You’re not a soldier, boy. You’re not like your brothers. You’re a herder. Your life is here. With me. You will do your duties and do them well. One should not dream too high. Embrace your life, and learn to love it.”

 
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