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The Dread Wyrm

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The Dread Wyrm

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Author: Miles Cameron
Publisher: Gollancz, 2015
Orbit, 2015
Series: The Traitor Son Cycle: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Heroic Fantasy
Sword and Sorcery
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Some are born to power. Some seize it. And some have the wisdom never to wield it.

The Red Knight has stood against soldiers, armies and the might of an empire without flinching. He's fought on real and magical battlefields alike, and now he's facing one of the greatest challenges yet. A tournament.

A joyous spring event, the flower of the nobility will ride against each other for royal favor and acclaim. It's a political contest -- one which the Red Knight has the skill to win. But the stakes may be higher than he thinks. The court of Alba has been infiltrated by a dangerous faction of warlike knights, led by the greatest knight in the world: Jean de Vrailly -- and the prize he's fighting for isn't royal favor, but the throne of Alba itself...

This is the third book in the Traitor Son Cycle, following on The Red Knight and The Fell Sword.


Chapter One

The Inn of Dorling--The Company

Sauce was standing on a table in a red kirtle that laced up under her left arm--laces that showed she wore no linen under it. She was singing.
There's a palm bush in the garden where the lads and lassies meet,
For it would not do to do the do they're doing in the street,
And the very first time he saw it he was very much impressed,
For to have a jolly rattle at my cuckoo's nest.

Aye the cuckoo, oh the cuckoo, aye the cuckoo's nest,
Aye the cuckoo, oh the cuckoo, aye the cuckoo's nest,
I'll give any man a shilling and a bottle of the best,
If he ruffles up the feathers on my cuckoo's nest.

Well some likes the lassies that are gay well dressed,
And some likes the lassies that are tight about the waist,
But it's in between the blankets, that they all likes the best,
For to have a jolly rattle at my cuckoo's nest.

I met him in the morning and he had me in the night,
I'd never been that way before and wished to do it right,
But he never would have found it, and he never would have guessed,
If I had not shown him where to find the cuckoo's nest.

I showed him where to find it and I showed him where to go,
In amongst the stickers, where the young cuckoos grow,
And ever since he found it, he will never let me rest,
'Til he ruffles up the feathers on my cuckoo's nest.

It's thorny and it's sprinkled and it's compassed all around,
It's tucked into a corner where it isn't easy found,
I said, "Young man you blunder..." and he said, "It isn't true!"
And he left me with the makings of a young cuckoo.

Her voice wasn't beautiful--it had a bit of a squawk to it, more like a parrot than a nightingale, as Wilful Murder said to his cronies. But she was loud, and raucous, and everyone knew the tune and the chorus.

Everyone, in this case, being everyone in the common room of the great stone inn under the Ings of Dorling, widely reputed to be the largest inn on the whole of the world. The common room had arches and bays, like a church, and massive pillars set straight onto stone piers that went down into the cellars below--cellars that were themselves famous. The walls were twice the height of a man, and more, hung with tapestries so old and so caked in old soot and ash and six hundred years of smoke as to be nearly indecipherable, although there appeared to be a great dragon on the longest wall, the back wall, against which ran the Keeper's long counter where the staff, and a few favoured customers, took refuge from the army of customers out on the floor.

Because on this, the coldest spring night of Martius yet, with snow outside on their tents, the Company of the Red Knight--that is, that part of the company not snug in barracks back in Liviapolis--packed the inn and its barns to the rafters, along with several hundred Moreans, some Hillmen from the drove, and a startling assortment of sell-swords and mercenaries, whores, travelling players, and foolish young men and women in search of what they no doubt hoped would be "adventure," including twenty hot-headed young Occitan knights, their pet troubadour and their squires, all armed to the teeth and eager to be tested.

The crowd standing packed on the two-inch-thick oak boards of the common room floor was so dense that the smallest and most attractive of the Keeper's daughters had trouble making her way to the rooms behind the common. Men tried to make way for her, with her wooden tray full of leather jacks, and could not.

The Keeper had four great bonfires roaring in the yard and trestle tables there; he was serving ale in his cavernous stone barn, but everyone wanted to be in the inn itself, and the cold snap that froze the water in the puddles and drove the beasts of the drove to huddle close in the great pens and folds on the Ings above the inn was also forcing the greatest rush of customers he'd ever experienced to pack his common room so tightly that he was afraid men would die or, worse, buy no ale.

The Keeper turned to the young man who stood with him on the staff side of the bar. The young man had dark hair and green eyes and wore red. He was watching the common room with the satisfaction that an angel might show for the good works of the pious.

"Your blighted company and the drove at the same time? Couldn't you have come a week apart? There won't be enough forage for you in the hills." The Keeper sounded shrill, even to his own ears.

Gabriel Muriens, the Red Knight, the Captain, the Megas Dukas, the Duke of Thrake, and possessor of another dozen titles heaped on him by a grateful Emperor, took a long pull from his own jack of black, sweet winter ale and beamed. "We'll have forage," he said. "It's been warmer in the Brogat. It's spring on the Albin." He smiled. "And this is only a tithe of my company." The smile grew warmer as he watched the recruiting table set against the wall. The adventurous young of six counties and three nations were cued up. "But it's growing," he added.

Forty of the Keeper's people, most in his livery and all his kin, stood like soldiers at the long counter and served ale at an astounding rate. Gabriel watched them with the pleasure that a professional receives in watching others practise their craft--he enjoyed the smooth efficiency with which the Keeper's wife kept her tallies, the speed with which money was collected or tally sticks were notched, and the ready ease with which casks were broached, emptied into pitchers, the said pitchers filled flagons or jacks or battered mugs and cans, all the while the staff moving up to the counter and then back to the broached kegs with the steady regularity of a company of crossbowmen loosing bolts by rotation and volley.

"They all seem to have coin to spend," the Keeper admitted grudgingly. His elder daughter Sarah--a beautiful girl with red hair, married and widowed and now with a bairn, currently held by a cousin--stood where Sauce had been and sang an old song--a very old song. It had no chorus, and the Hillmen began to make sounds--like a low polyphonic hum--to accompany her singing. When one of the Morean musicians began to pluck the tune on his mandolin, a rough hand closed on his shoulder and he ceased.

The Keeper watched his daughter for long enough that his wife stopped taking money and looked at him. But then he shrugged. "They have money, as I say. You had some adventures out east, I hear?"

The Red Knight settled his shoulder comfortably into the corner between a low shelf and a heavy oak cupboard behind the bar. "We did," he said.

The Keeper met his eye. "I've heard all the news, and none of it makes much sense. Tell it me, if you'd be so kind."

To be continued...

Copyright © 2015 by Miles Cameron


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