Authors: Ty Johnston
Dark King of the North
Book III of the Kobalos Trilogy
The Ursian Chronicles
by Ty Johnston
for the Lovins clan
Kindle Edition, License Notes
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The novel you are reading, and its two prequels, could not have come together without the help I received from family and friends. Here I offer my thanks to Steve and Gere Goble for being my first readers and editors, and to my wife, Kelly, for her patience during the years it took me to put together this trilogy. Also, I want to send a shout out to publisher Jason Waltz of Rogue Blades Entertainment books for all his advice and help. To anyone else I have forgotten, please accept my apologies.
The old wizard brushed aside the curtains of the entrance and found himself facing a familiar stonework chamber, though a place he had not visited in years. As he entered, he spied three faces beneath the torches hanging from the walls of the round room. These three he also had not visited in some while.
“Thank you for coming, Master Markwood.” The middle-aged speaker’s bronzed chest plate glinted in the firelight as he motioned the wizard forward.
Markwood glanced at the other two. Romule, another wizard from the College of Magic, lounged on a sofa to the left, his girth jiggling beneath violet robes and multiple chins. To the right sat a thin fellow with a thin mustache, Lalo the Finder, who appeared at ease. Perhaps a little too at ease.
Markwood stared directly ahead again, at the man in the heavy wooden seat the size and shape of a throne. “First Councilor Menoch, I did not realize there were others invited.”
The leader of West Ursia glanced from the mage to the two men seated at his sides. “My apologies, Master Markwood, but this is a matter of utmost importance. Master Romule is here in his duties as chief magic adviser to the Council. Sir Lalo ... has ties to the situation.”
Markwood nodded. “Very well, then.” He snapped his fingers and another chair appeared, a simple iron seat cushioned with a silk pillow. The wizard sat, facing the First Councilor.
Romule sneered out of one corner of his mouth. The other corner held a crooked smile.
Markwood ignored the gesture from the other mage. “I am to understand I am here to clarify the situation in Kobalos.”
“Yes.” Menoch held up a flat hand, a sign for Markwood to hold his tongue momentarily. “Also, I am concerned you did not report the identity of this healer when he was present here in Bond.”
“Tendbones,” Lalo added.
“Yes, Randall Tendbones.” The First Councilor nodded his thanks to the Finder, then looked back to Markwood. “You were aware he was a prince of Kobalos. In fact, the
prince of Kobalos.”
Markwood remained silent, his eyes never leaving Menoch’s own.
The First Councilor shifted on his chair, the wizard’s quiet obviously unnerving. “Do you have no response?”
“Randall is no threat,” the mage said. “He seeks a simple life, away from the politics and war and family that torments him.”
“Then why is he returning to Kobalos?” Romule asked. “It would seem to me he would want to stay as far from there as possible, if what you say is true.”
Markwood’s gaze turned the gray of steel as he looked to the other mage. “He did try to stay away from Kobalos. Unfortunately, his father found him anyway. Instead of running further, and putting others at risk, he decided to face Lord Verkain, to deal with whatever the consequences would be.”
“It would seem those consequences are quite substantial,” Menoch spoke.
All eyes turned to the Western personage.
“War is brewing,” the First Councilor continued. “Our intelligence networks have evidence Verkain has made some sort of pact with the Eastern pope, as outlandish as that seems.”
Markwood nodded again. “These are different days than those of the great war, and this is a different pope. I have to assume Joyous III is seeking alliances with whomever will attach themselves to him.”
“An alliance that could lead to another war,” Menoch said. “There have been disturbances in the Prisonlands, exiles with weapons. We believe Verkain is responsible. If the Prisonlands were unstable ...”
“It is,” Romule put in. “My spells have revealed it so. The border wardens are running in circles, like beheaded chickens.”
Markwood grimaced. “The border wardens are doing what they can.”
“This would give Verkain the excuse he needs,” Menoch put in. “No ruler could stand by while anarchy strains the Prisonlands on his borders. He will step in, send his armies south, perhaps entering the fray himself.”
“Yes.” Markwood rubbed at the thick stream of hair hanging from his chin. “Which would give Pope Joyous the right to intercede, also.”
All heads in the room nodded agreement.
“Which would force our hand,” Menoch said. “If Eastern and Kobalan troops invade the Prisonlands, I would have no choice but to send in our own troops.”
Markwood shuddered. “It would be as horrible as the last war.”
Menoch nodded. “Yes. Perhaps worse for us. If the East is allied with Kobalos, the pope will have the magical might he needs to confront us.”
Romule sneered once more. “An alliance of Joyous and Verkain won’t last.”
“It’s not meant to last,” Markwood said. “If the pontiff doesn’t realize this, then he’s a fool. Verkain is loyal to no one but himself.”
A new voice was added to the group. “And there are the spiritual concerns.”
The seated four shifted to stare at the entrance. A middle-aged figure with cropped gray hair stood with the curtain parted around him. His white and yellow robes bellowed out around his short but healthy form.
“Your holiness.” The First Councilor stood and motioned for the Western pope to join them.
Pedrague VI moved into the room with a limping but steady gait, a short cane of red wood enabling him to keep his balance.
Markwood also stood and snapped his fingers once more. A seat nearly the size of that of Menoch’s appeared next to the First Councilor, this seat padded heavily.
“Thank you, Master Markwood,” the pontiff said as crossed the room to the chair. He turned to the man at his side. “First Councilor Menoch, apologies for my tardiness.”
The Western leader waved off the words. No apologies were necessary.
The pope turned his eyes on the rest of the gathering. “It would seem none of you are taking into consideration the religious aspects of this situation.”
All attention was on the speaker.
“Verkain appears to believe himself to be the Dark King of the North,” Pedrague VI said, “the figure prophesied in the Book of Ashal to bring doom and death at the end of days. My guess is Pope Joyous III also believes Verkain is this figure.”
The face of Romule screwed up, partly showing anger and disgust but also curiosity. “But why? Wouldn’t Joyous wish to oppose such a person?”
The pope shook his head. “Not if he believes the days of darkness will also bring about the return of Ashal, which is as the prophecies state.”
“Madness.” Lalo’s lips barely moved. “Religious zealotry taken to extremes. My master will have no part in it.”
Markwood’s eyes shot to the slender figure. “Your master has already played a part.”
Menoch thrust out a hand between the wizard and the Finder. “This is not the time for arguments. We are here to help West Ursia decide a course. I must know what to do, what direction to take our nation if all-out war is looming once more.”
“I suggest you prepare your armies,” Romule said.
“But silently,” Markwood suggested. “West Ursia must not be seen to move too swiftly, or Verkain and Joyous will only speed up their plans.”
Menoch nodded his agreement. “We must not be seen to interfere, not at this early stage. Only when Eastern and Kobalan troops are advancing upon the Prisonlands can we make a move.”
“If it is not too late by then,” Lalo said.
The First Councilor turned to Markwood. “Maslin, you must go to Kobalos.”
“You’ve already traveled to your friends at least twice of which I know,” Menoch said.
Markwood’s heavy gaze glared at Romule again.
“You must tell them what is happening,” Menoch went on. “You must warn the healer and his companions that the game they are playing goes beyond their personal situation. This is a game of life and death, for thousands.”
“For the world,” the pope added.
Markwood stared at the four men, their serious eyes upon him. They sought a reply, an acknowledgment that he would do as they prodded, or that he would refuse.
The old wizard would not refuse. If he did not travel to Randall, then Romule would be called forth, and Markwood feared the bumblings of that greedy mage more than he did the current dangers Randall and Kron Darkbow faced.
Markwood stood. “I will leave within the hour.” He nodded to the First Councilor and to the Western pontiff. Then he turned and exited the room. He had rituals to perform, a spell to send him on his way into the heart of Kobalos.
The sorcerer was giddy as she stared into the small mirror in her hands. A girlish giggle escaped her lips as she jumped up from the moss-covered stone that had been her seat next to a group of horses lashed to a tree.
“Belgad!” she yelled across the campsite.
The muscular bald man in a wolf-skin coat looked up from a circle of men sitting around a cooking fire. Four men in chain shirts and a tall, thin fellow in foppish silks watched as the large man made his way to the woman.
“What have you found, Karitha?” Belgad asked.
,” the wizard said, holding up the mirror.
The dark eyes above Belgad’s thick, white mustache gazed down at the glass in the woman’s hands. Despite the darkness of the night, he could clearly see an image of a young female riding a horse through thick woods.
“Where is she?”
“Not far,” Karitha said. “A day or two’s ride west of here.”
“Where are the others?”
“She’s not with them. That’s how I found her. She’s not under the protection of Randall’s spells. She’s been riding with another group of men.”
“What do these men look like?” Belgad asked.
“Fighting men in leathers,” Karitha said. “Most carry a sword and bow.”
“Border wardens,” Belgad said.
The tall, thin man stood at the fire and moved to join Belgad and the wizard. “Are we that close to the Prisonlands?”
“We’ve been riding its eastern border for a week,” Belgad explained. “I’m surprised we haven’t run across any wardens before now.”
“Should we go after her?” the tall man asked.
“She is the least of our concerns,” Belgad said. “It’s the other two we want.”
“It’s the other two
want,” Karitha corrected, then nodded at the tall man in silks. “Fortisquo and I have issues to settle with Adara Corvus.”
“Revenge will profit you nothing,” Belgad said.
“Then why don’t we go home?” Fortisquo asked. “Verkain already believes the healer is coming to him, and now you tell us to forget Adara? Have
forgotten Kron Darkbow?”
“He is not a matter of revenge,” Belgad said. “He is a … business reckoning.”
Fortisquo snickered. “Tell that to someone who believes you.”
Belgad’s eyes grew narrow. “Regardless, there’s no reason to go after Adara,”
“She had a hand in my brother’s death,” Karitha said.
“And she caused me a wound.” Fortisquo rubbed a finger across the black felt patch tied over his right eye.
Belgad fumed in silence.
“Darkbow and the healer might be heading to Kobalos,” Fortisquo said, “but Randall isn’t going to turn himself over to his father.”
“Riding up to Verkain’s castle with the healer tied over your horse would appear impressive,” Karitha added.
Belgad turned away from the two to stare into the dark forest outside the light of the camp. “Do we know how many wardens are with her?”
“At least a dozen,” Karitha said, “but we can deal with them.”
“With help from your magic.” Belgad turned to look at the wizard.
Karitha nodded, her long red hair shaking around her violet robes.
“Tomorrow, then,” Belgad said. “We’ll go searching for her in the morning.”