Word of Traitors: Legacy of Dhakaan - Book 2

BOOK: Word of Traitors: Legacy of Dhakaan - Book 2
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Praise for
The Doom of Kings …

“Bassingthwaite skillfully balances the high adventure common to the
D
UNGEONS AND
D
RAGONS
novels with some tender and believable character moments. The grief over a lost sword-brother is given equal weight to intense battles, as is Ashi’s frustration at the regimentation of her life amongst the Dragonmarked House of Deneith. My favourite touch however, was that rarity of rarities, a non-human culture that felt true without borrowing slavishly from an existing or ancient people of our own world. I’m very excited that there will be two more novels with which the author can showcase his goblin peoples …
The Doom of Kings
is also an excellent starting point for a fantasy reader unfamiliar with
E
BERRON
and the other worlds of
D
UNGEONS AND
D
RAGONS
.”


Chadwick Ginther, writing for
McNallyRobinson.com

  Geth reached inside himself and shifted. The familiar feeling of invincibility burned through his veins. The pain in his rope-burned hand and his aching shoulder seemed to grow distant, than to vanish altogether. His skin felt like hide, his hair like thick, coarse bristles.

And he pushed himself further, pouring everything he had into the shifting. Hide, hair, flesh, bone—he was as hard and dense as the heaviest oak. Wild power flooded him and thought vanished. This was how a charging bear or a rampaging boar felt. Geth drew in his legs, pressed himself against the wall, and kicked out with all his strength, roaring as he unleashed the coiled power.

He let go of the rope just before it snapped taut. The plaza rushed up at him. so did the guards.

L
EGACY OF
D
HAKAAN
B
Y
D
ON
B
ASSINGTHWAITE

The Doom of Kings

Word of Traitors

The Tyranny of Ghosts
June 2010

Raat shi anaa
.

“The story continues.”

—Traditional opening to hobgoblin legends

THE EVENTS
OF THE DOOM
OF KINGS

O
nce a savage hunter, now the bearer of a powerful dragonmark, Ashi d’Deneith found herself isolated in the city of Karrlakton and at odds with her mentor, Vounn d’Deneith. Vounn had been tasked with transforming Ashi into an elegant, educated asset of House Deneith, a process which generated considerable resentment between the two women. Storming out of Sentinel Tower after a particularly bad argument, Ashi discovered and fought with a thief attempting to steal an artifact from a Deneith memorial. The thief, however, turned out to be a friend, Ekhaas, a hobgoblin
duur’kala
, or “dirgesinger.”

Ekhaas was in Karrlakton as part of a delegation to Deneith from Darguun, the goblin nation that was a major source of mercenaries for the house. The leader of the delegation, Tariic—nephew of Lhesh Haruuc Shaarat’kor, high warlord and founder of Darguun—carried an invitation for Vounn, Deneith’s premiere diplomat, to come to Haruuc’s court as a special envoy. Haruuc, a cunning but aging ruler, had seen the need for a closer bond between Darguun and Deneith.

Vounn agreed to allow Ashi to accompany them to Darguun. Their journey took them through the city of Flamekeep, where they discovered that Ekhaas and Tariic had not been entirely truthful. The mission to Karrlakton, while genuine, had served to disguise their real purpose: making contact with the shifter Geth, another friend of Ashi and Ekhaas. Accompanied by Chetiin, an elder of the goblin assassin clan, the
shaarat’khesh
, Geth joined them. Tariic explained that Haruuc wished the shifter brought into Darguun
covertly. The canny lhesh knew that although closer ties between Deneith and Darguun might aid his nation, his eventual successor would need something more. Geth, as the bearer of Wrath, the legendary hobgoblin Sword of Heroes forged thousands of years before when the goblin Empire of Dhakaan ruled the land, was the key to lasting stability in Darguun.

Reaching the goblin nation, Geth, Ashi, Ekhaas and the others—joined now by Midian Mit Davandi, a gnome scholar of the famed Library of Korranberg and an expert on the history of Dhakaan—found themselves caught in simmering unrest as warlords chafed at Haruuc’s commands of peace between Darguun and surrounding nations. One clan, the Gan’duur, moved to open rebellion. In the company of a select group of Haruuc’s allies that included the aged warlord Munta the Gray and Ekhaas’s superior, Senen Dhakaan, ambassador of the traditionalist Kech Volaar clan, Geth, Ashi, and Vounn finally learned the truth behind Haruuc’s need for Geth.

The lhesh understood that whomever he eventually named as his heir would need a strong symbol of power to bring the fractious Darguul clans into line. Haruuc had been in negotiations with the Kech Volaar, for many generations keepers of the lore of fallen Dhakaan, to bring the isolated clan into alliance with Darguun. From their stories, he had learned of an artifact passed down from emperor to emperor during the Dhakaani Age. This artifact, the Rod of Kings, had been forged from the same vein of the purple byeshk as the Sword of Heroes and a third artifact, the Shield of Nobles. The shield had been shattered and the rod and sword lost at different times before the fall of Dhakaan, but Geth’s recovery of the sword offered hope that the rod could be found as well. The rod would provide a potent symbol that could unite Darguun, and Haruuc had asked Geth to undertake the quest to recover it.

Geth accepted. Undergoing a ritual of
duur’kala
magic to wake the power dormant in the sword, he experienced memories of the great hobgoblin heroes who had wielded it during the time of the empire and found that through the sword he could sense the direction in which the rod lay. He set out from Haruuc’s capital of Rhukaan Draal to find it, accompanied by Ekhaas, Ashi, Chetiin, Midian, and Dagii of Mur Talaan, a young warlord in the service of Haruuc. The sword
guided them to a hidden valley in the Seawall Mountains. Bypassing the camp of a savage tribe of Marguul bugbears, they descended into the valley where they discovered an untouched forest and a mysterious stone staircase of pre-Dhakaani design.

Before they could investigate, however, they were attacked by trolls and forced to flee—a flight that resulted in the capture of Ashi, Dagii, and Ekhaas by the bugbear tribe. Invoking the names of Haruuc and House Deneith brought no respect from Makka, the leader of the bugbears, and the trio was held under threat of being either sacrificed or sold as slaves. Geth, Chetiin, and Midian had managed to escape, however, and with the help of Chetiin’s cunning wolf-like mount, Marrow, they rescued the others, burning the bugbears’ camp in the process and leaving the tribe in disarray. Now armed with fire to ward off the trolls, they returned to the valley and descended the stairs to find an ancient shrine.

Within the shrine, a crevice led down to a strange cave where the withered corpse of a richly-dressed hobgoblin sat on a throne, clutching the rune-carved byeshk rod that they sought. As Geth tried to take the Rod of Kings, however, the apparent corpse moved and spoke, revealing that he was Dabrak Riis, the very emperor who had vanished with the rod thousands of years before. The cave was a forgotten place of power, the Uura Odaarii, or “Womb of Eternity,” where time did not pass and to which Dabrak Riis had retreated from the world with no idea of Dhakaan’s fall.

Attempts to persuade the lost emperor to give them the rod only made Dabrak angry, and revealed a power of the Rod of Kings unmentioned in any Kech Volaar legend: commands issued by Dabrak could not be resisted. The Sword of Heroes protected Geth from the power of the rod, but Dabrak had also mastered the strange power of the Uura Odaarii and used it to defeat the shifter. Geth’s heroic resistance gave Ashi the inspiration she needed to invoke her dragonmark, rendering her impervious to any form of mental domination or attack. Dabrak couldn’t affect her with the powers of either the rod or the cavern, but in the timeless place, she couldn’t harm him physically.

She found the answer to her dilemma in the skills that Vounn had driven into her, and struck a bargain with Dabrak for the rod and the release of the others. When Dabrak went back on his word,
however, it took a clever trick to make him hurl the rod at Geth in a fit of anger. The heroes fled the cavern with the rod in Geth’s grasp. Dabrak pursued them but burned to ashes when he attempted to pass beyond the shrine.

Geth and the others found that none of them felt comfortable handing the rod over to Haruuc once they knew the terrible power it contained. Not giving it to the lhesh, however, could spell the end of Darguun. They decided on a compromise proposed by Chetiin. Dabrak Riis had said that it had taken generations for the Dhakaani emperors to unravel the full potential of the rod. As the rod now seemed to have fallen into an inactive state, they would give it to Haruuc to act as the symbol he needed, but keep its power a secret, acting only if Haruuc or his successor should discover the rod’s true nature.

In Rhukaan Draal, meanwhile, Vounn also faced danger, kidnapped by a changeling disguised as one of her guards. Although she was rescued, the kidnapping could have embarassed and weakened Haruuc at a time when increased raids by the rebellious Gan’duur had cut off food supplies and left the city starving. Vounn and a loyal guard, Aruget, also discovered that Tariic, expecting to be named as heir by Haruuc, was gathering his own power by making secret alliances with a number of warlords, including the devious Daavn of Marhaan.

The heroes’ return, and the rod they carried, was greeted with celebration. As Tariic took the rod from Geth and presented it to Haruuc in the throne room of Haruuc’s fortress, Khaar Mbar’ost, the heroes waited uneasily in case its power should manifest. But the rod did nothing except lend Haruuc a more majestic presence. Relieved, the heroes accepted Haruuc’s gratitude. The lhesh offered a special reward to Geth, an invitation to become his
shava
or sacred “sword brother.” Early in his life, Haruuc had taken three warriors as
shava
, though two of them—Dagii’s father and Tariic’s father—had since died. Geth agreed and joined Vanii, Haruuc’s surviving
shava
, at his side.

Dagii, meanwhile, was given the glory of leading an attack against the Gan’duur and their wily warlord, Keraal. Backed by an army assembled from loyal clans and accompanied by Vanii for guidance, Dagii defeated the Gan’duur and captured Keraal.
Vanii, however, was slain in the attack—a tragedy that brought out an unexpected brutality in Haruuc, who ordered the captive Gan’duur warriors left to die slowly along the road to Rhukaan Draal. When Dagii—who had disagreed with Haruuc’s dishonorable execution of the Gan’duur and secretly given each of them a swift death—presented Keraal to him, the former warlord of the Gan’duur found the strength to taunt Haruuc, accusing him of cowering on the doorstep of humans.

Angered, Haruuc responded that he cowered before no one, that Darguun cowered before no nation, and the people of Darguun would reclaim the heritage of Dhakaan. On their return to Khaar Mbar’ost, Geth, Munta, Tariic, and Chetiin all confronted the lhesh about what amounted to a threat of war. Haruuc forced Tariic and Munta to yield to his authority, but Chetiin would not yield and spoke harshly of the danger of acting rashly—for which advice Haruuc exiled him. Chetiin departed but warned that Haruuc would destroy everything he had built unless he was stopped.

When he and Geth were alone, Haruuc offered his
shava
the chance to leave his service if he would perform the final act of standing with Haruuc to honor Vanii. Geth agreed, but he was dismayed to discover that Haruuc had found and erected an ancient Dhakaani grieving tree, a magical stone construction upon the thorny branches of which its victims suffered an agonizing death. This was the punishment Haruuc had for Keraal. In shock, Geth confronted Haruuc. Haruuc admitted that he did not like what he was doing, but nonetheless did what a king must.

Geth realized that just as the Sword of Heroes sometimes showed him visions of how a hero should act, the Rod of Kings showed Haruuc visions of how a king—an emperor—should act. What was for Geth a gift, however, was a curse for Haruuc. The visions, memories carried by the rod of an ancient time when Dhakaan’s power was unlimited, were driving the lhesh to become a tyrant. He begged Geth for help to save his nation once more.

Geth guessed that Ashi’s dragonmark might be able to shield Haruuc. Leaving Haruuc to face the honoring of Vanii and the punishment of Keraal alone, Geth ran in search of Ashi. He found her in her quarters, preparing to leave Darguun under Vounn’s orders. She accompanied Geth at his urging. As they made their
way back to the throne room, Geth’s explanation of the situation was overheard by Aruget. Assuring Geth that he could keep a secret, the guard guided them to a side entrance to the throne room.

They arrived to hear the assembly of warlords calling on Haruuc to lead them in war—and to see Haruuc almost give in to them and to the curse of the rod, before cannily suggesting the elves of Valenar as a target. Geth understood that by starting a small war with the elves, ancient enemies of Dhakaan and, like Darguun, mistrusted by other nations of Khorvaire, Haruuc was preventing a larger war that would surely have destroyed his nation. Once Ashi used the power of her dragonmark to shield him from the rod’s curse, even that small war might still be averted.

As Haruuc raised his arms in triumph, however, a crossbow bolt from a balcony struck him. Geth and Dagii ran to his aid, but the bolt was poisoned and the assassin was already descending from the balcony. It was Chetiin. Avoiding Geth and Dagii’s attempts to defend the wounded lhesh, the traitor killed Haruuc with a dagger thrust through his eye, then made his escape.

As the throne room erupted into chaos, Geth saw two things. First, that Chetiin had believed Haruuc had discovered the rod’s power of command when in fact all the power Haruuc had ever needed had been his own charisma. And second, that the rod remained a danger and that whoever sought to succeed Haruuc would surely fall to its curse as well. Acting to buy what time he could and knowing he was protected by the magic of his sword, Geth seized the rod and proclaimed that, until an heir could be determined, it was his sacred duty as Haruuc’s
shava
to hold the throne of Darguun.

BOOK: Word of Traitors: Legacy of Dhakaan - Book 2
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