The Sword of the South - eARC

BOOK: The Sword of the South - eARC
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The Sword of the South – eARC

DAVID WEBER

Advance Reader Copy

Unproofed

BAEN BOOKS by DAVID WEBER

SWORD OF THE SOUTH

The Sword of the South

WAR GOD

Oath of Swords

War God’s Own

Wind Rider’s Oath

War Maid’s Choice

CROWN OF SLAVES (with Eric Flint)

Crown of Slaves

Torch of Freedom

Cauldron of Ghosts

MANTICORE ASCENDANT (with Timothy Zahn)

A Call to Duty

RING OF FIRE (with Eric Flint)

1633 • 1634: The Baltic War

MULTIVERSE (with Linda Evans)

Hell’s Gate • Hell Hath No Fury

STARFIRE (with Steve White)

Insurrection • Crusade

In Death Ground

The Shiva Option

EMPIRE OF MAN (with John Ringo)

March Upcountry

March to the Sea

March to the Stars

We Few

HONOR HARRINGTON

On Basilisk Station

The Short Victorious War

Field of Dishonor

Flag in Exile • Honor Among Enemies

In Enemy Hands

Echoes of Honor

Ashes of Victory

War of Honor • At All Costs

Mission of Honor

A Rising Thunder

Shadow of Freedom

HONORVERSE

The Shadow of Saganami

Storm from the Shadows • House of Steel: The Honorverse Companion (with BuNine)

THE STAR KINGDOM:

A Beautiful Friendship • Fire Season (with Jane Lindskold) • Treecat Wars (with Jane Lindskold)

The Apocalypse Troll

The Excalibur Alternative • Worlds of Weber • Warriors

Out Of the Dark

EDITED BY DAVID WEBER

Worlds of Honor

More than Honor

Changer of Worlds

The Service of the Sword • In Fire Forged • Beginnings

The Sword of the South

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by Words of Weber, Inc.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4767-8084-9

Cover art by Kurt Miller

Maps by Randy Asplund

First printing, August 2015

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

t/k

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Printed in the United States of America

Contents

PROLOGUE

Lost Hope

Wencit of Rūm’s face flickered in the eerie glow of the crystal’s heart, and his eyes flamed with their own light as he watched the ghastly carnage. It had raged for hours, but the end was near…and drawing nearer. The Gryphon Guard stood at bay atop a hill, cut off from its final frail hope of retreat. Its men had fought and died for year after year to protect the ports from which so many thousands upon thousands of refugees had fled to distant Norfressa, and one by one, those ports had fallen. Only the great harbor city of Gayrtherym remained now, manned only by a skeleton garrison and the last, threadbare fleet awaiting the Light’s last defenders. But there was no one in all of Kontovar to aid them in their fight to reach it, and Wencit’s fists clenched as his viewpoint hovered above their desperate ring of steel. The Guard fought with the valor of brave men who knew they could not win, yet had they faced only mortal foes, they might still have hoped to cut a path to the friendly sea.

But sorcery streaked the sky, its unearthly glow glittering on the red and gold badges of the House of Ottovar. The protective wards wrought by the Council grew steadily weaker as the dark art gnawed their foundations. They would break soon.

A flank company of the Guard collapsed the flood of attackers pausing only to hew the fallen before they climbed the slope over the bodies of imperial veterans. Red blades waved at the violet sky, the reflected streamers of arcane wrath gory in their wetness, and the Emperor summoned his last reserve. He charged at the head of a scant, threadbare company—little more than three cobbled-together platoons—to meet the threat, his personal banner leading the men whose fidelity had never wavered, who’d never once failed to follow wherever that banner led. Nor did they fail it now, and Wencit’s eyes burned with unshed tears as they fastened on Toren’s gryphon-crowned helm and bloody skill, watching the last Emperor of Kontovar win the last victory of his empire’s long life…a life measured now in minutes. The reserve slashed the breakthrough apart in crimson steel, and the remnants of the company sealed the hole in the steadily shrinking line.

Air hissed in Wencit’s nostrils as the misshapen blackness he’d awaited suddenly appeared. It radiated black lightnings, cored with the corrosive green taint of corruption, as it scaled the hill, and the barriers of the white wizards trembled at the defiled sorcery which shrouded it. Even the Gryphon Guard quailed before its menace.

Nails drew blood from Wencit’s palms as he fought the hunger to match his own might against the Empire’s foe. The Lord of Carnadosa was a wild wizard, of a house which had produced dozens of wild wizards, and his might was unfathomable. Yet Wencit had been schooled far longer in the hard lore of wizardry; in his heart, he believed he could outmatch his foe…but he dared not test that belief. He dared not! Too much was at stake for him to tamper here, even though his restraint spelled ruin and death for untold multitudes.

He groaned and thrust himself away from the crystal. He knew what the end must be, and it was more than he could bear to see.

He turned away as the stone’s tiny Emperor turned to face the blackness. A full battalion of the Guard fell, life riven away by the deadly kiss of twisted magic, as their nightmare foe reached their shieldwall. The blackness passed over them and stooped upon the Emperor as Wencit opened the door, and Toren’s glowing sword vanished in the darkness. The stubborn line about his banner bent at last, yielding the ground soaked by its blood inch by savagely fought inch as its ring contracted toward the spot where arch-wizard and Emperor fought to the death.

Wencit opened the council chamber door and met the eyes of his fellows. In his unwatched crystal, the last Guardsman took his stand, his back to the tormented cloud which had engulfed his liege. His left hand held the staff of the Emperor’s banner, and the gryphon stirred sullenly on an angry wind, red silk sodden with a darker red, as the massive, wounded hradani—last captain of the Gryphon Guard of Ottovar—lashed out at his enemies. He reaped a gory harvest, but he was one and they were many. He fell before their hewing blades and the bodies of the Guard formed a ragged circle about the power-spewing blackness atop the hill. Violet lightning flashed from the duel raging at its heart, and the arch-wizard’s own troops died in scores, screaming at their touch.

Wencit of Rūm, Last Lord of the Council of Ottovar, locked his glowing gaze with the somber eyes of Council’s members and slowly, slowly raised his hands. Candlelight glimmered on the old scars which seamed his strong fingers, and his fellows rose to join his gesture and his power. Arcane tension crackled as the Council was joined in turn by every wizard on the Isle of Rūm, the tattered survivors of the white wizardry of a continent. Their massed might rose high, focused in a storm of strength fit to drain life itself from those who spawned it. Yet they were the white wizards of Kontovar, the heirs of Ottovar and Gwynytha the Great, loyal beyond death. They knew what price this night’s work would demand of them, but they’d lived as wizards; as wizards they would die, spending themselves against the evil they’d allowed to live. Their joint strength was far too little for victory, but it was enough for the single-purpose which remained to them.

Wencit gathered the deadly power in his hands, his fingers quivering with the essence of destruction. He had but one more task before he loosed devastation upon his enemies, and his lips parted to begin the final spell.

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