The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War)

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9780425268803: The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War)

From the international bestselling author of the Broken Empire trilogy comes the second book of the Red Queen’s War...
 
After harrowing adventure and near death, Prince Jalan Kendeth and the Viking Snorri ver Snagason find themselves in possession of Loki’s key, an artefact capable of opening any door and sought by the most dangerous beings in the Broken Empire—including the Dead King.

Jal wants only to return home to his wine, women, and song, but Snorri has his own purpose for the key: to find the very door into death, throw it wide, and bring his family back into the land of the living.

And as Snorri prepares for his quest to find death’s door, Jal’s grandmother, the Red Queen, continues to manipulate kings and pawns toward an endgame of her own design...

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About the Author:

Mark Lawrence is a research scientist working on artificial intelligence. He is a dual national with both British and American citizenship, and has held secret-level clearance with both governments. At one point, he was qualified to say, “This isn’t rocket science—oh wait, it actually is.” He is the author of the Broken Empire trilogy (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns), the Red Queen’s War trilogy (Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and The Wheel of Osheim) and the Book of the Ancestor series (Red Sister).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

AUTHOR’S NOTE

For those of you who have had to wait a year for this book I provide a brief note to Book 1, Prince of Fools, so that your memories may be refreshed and I can avoid the exquisite pain of having to have characters tell each other things they already know for your benefit.

Here I carry forward only what is of importance to the tale that follows.


   • Jalan Kendeth (grandson of the Red Queen) and Snorri ver Snagason (a very large Viking) set off from Red March (northern Italy) for the Bitter Ice (northern Norway), bound together by a spell that cursed one of them to be light-sworn and the other dark-sworn.
   • Jalan is now dark-sworn and visited each sunset by a female spirit called Aslaug.
   • Snorri is light-sworn and visited each sunrise by a male spirit called Baraqel.
   • They travelled to the Black Fort to rescue Snorri’s wife and surviving child from Sven Broke-Oar and agents of the Dead King, including necromancers, unborn, and Edris Dean. This rescue failed. Snorri’s family did not survive.
   • Jalan, Snorri, and Tuttugu, a fat and slightly timid Viking, are the three survivors of the quest to the Black Fort. They have returned to the port town of Trond and spent the winter there.
   • Snorri has Loki’s key, a magical key that will open any lock. The Dead King wants this key very much.
   • Of their enemy at the Black Fort it is possible that Edris Dean and a number of the Hardassa (Red Vikings) survived, along with a handful of necromancers from the Drowned Isles.
   • Jalan’s grandmother, the Red Queen, remains in Red March with her elder sister, known as the Silent Sister, and her misshapen elder brother, Garyus. It was the Silent Sister’s spell that bound Snorri and Jalan together.
   • A number of powerful individuals use magic to manipulate events in the Broken Empire, often standing as the controlling interests behind many of the hundred thrones. The Dead King, the Lady Blue, the ice witch Skilfar, and the dream-mage Sageous are four such individuals. Jalan met Skilfar and Sageous on the way to the Black Fort. The Dead King has attempted to kill Jalan and Snorri several times. The Lady Blue is engaged in some long and secret war against the Red Queen and appears to be guiding the Dead King’s hand, though perhaps he doesn’t know it.

PROLOGUE

Two men in a room of many doors. One tall in his robes, stern, marked with cruelty and intelligence, the other shorter, very lean, his hair a shock of surprise, his garb a changing motley confusing the eye.

The short man laughs, a many-angled sound as likely to kill birds in flight as to bring blossom to the bough.

“I have summoned you!” The tall man, teeth gritted as if still straining to hold the other in place, though his hands are at his side.

“A fine trick, Kelem.”

“You know me?”

“I know everyone.” A sharp grin. “You’re the door-mage.”

“And you are?”

“Ikol.” His clothes change, tattered yellow checks on blue where before it was scarlet fleur de lis on grey. “Olik.” He smiles a smile that dazzles and cuts. “Loki, if you likey.”

“Are you a god, Loki?” No humour in Kelem, only command. Command and a great and terrible concentration in stone-grey eyes.

“No.” Loki spins, regarding the doors. “But I’ve been known to lie.”

“I called on the most powerful—”

“You don’t always get what you want.” Almost sing-song. “But sometimes you get what you need. You got me.”

“You are a god?”

“Gods are dull. I’ve stood before the throne. Wodin sits there, old one-eye, with his ravens whispering into each ear.” Loki smiles. “Always the ravens. Funny how that goes.”

“I need—”

“Men don’t know what they need. They barely know what they want. Wodin, father of storms, god of gods, stern and wise. But mostly stern. You’d like him. And watching—always watching—oh the things that he has seen!” Loki spins to take in the room. “Me, I’m just a jester in the hall where the world was made. I caper, I joke, I cut a jig. I’m of little importance. Imagine though . . . if it were I that pulled the strings and made the gods dance. What if at the core, if you dug deep enough, uncovered every truth . . . what if at the heart of it all . . . there was a lie, like a worm at the centre of the apple, coiled like Oroborus, just as the secret of men hides coiled at the centre of each piece of you, no matter how fine you slice? Wouldn’t that be a fine joke now?”

Kelem frowns at this nonsense, then with a quick shake of his head returns to his purpose. “I made this place. From my failures.” He gestures at the doors. Thirteen, lined side by side on each wall of an otherwise bare room. “These are doors I can’t open. You can leave here, but no door will open until every door is unlocked. I made it so.” A single candle lights the chamber, dancing as the occupants move, their shadows leaping to its tune.

“Why would I want to leave?” A goblet appears in Loki’s hand, silver and overflowing with wine as dark and red as blood. He takes a sip.

“I command you by the twelve arch-angels of—”

“Yes, yes.” Loki waves away the conjuring. The wine darkens until it’s a black that draws the eye and blinds it. So black that the silver tarnishes and corrupts. So black it is nothing but the absence of light. And suddenly it’s a key. A black glass key.

“Is that . . . ?” There’s a hunger in the door-mage’s voice. “Will it open them?”

“I should hope so.” Loki spins the key around his fingers.

“What key is that? Not Acheron’s? Taken from heaven when—”

“It’s mine. I made it. Just now.”

“How do you know it will open them?” Kelem’s gaze sweeps the room.

“It’s a good key.” Loki meets the mage’s eyes. “It’s every key. Every key that was and is, every key that will be, every key that could be.”

“Give it to—”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Loki walks to the nearest door and sets his fingers to it. “This one.” Each door is plain and wooden but when he touches it this door becomes a sheet of black glass, unblemished and gleaming. “This is the tricky one.” Loki sets his palm to the door and a wheel appears. An eight-spoked wheel of the same black glass, standing proud of the surface, as if by turning it one might unlock and open the door. Loki doesn’t touch it. Instead he taps his key to the wall beside it and the whole room changes. Now it is a high vault, clean lines, walls of poured stone, a huge and circular silver-steel door in the ceiling. The light comes from panels set into the walls. A corridor leads off, stretching further than the eye can see. Thirteen silver-steel arches stand around the margins of the vault, each a foot from the wall, each filled with a shimmering light, as if moonbeams dance across water. Save for the one before Loki, which is black, a crystal surface fracturing the light then swallowing it. “Open this door and the world ends.”

Loki moves on, touching each door in turn. “Your death lies behind one of these other doors, Kelem.”

The mage stiffens then sneers. “God of tricks they—”

“Don’t worry.” Loki grins. “You’ll never manage to open that one.”

“Give me the key.” Kelem extends his hand but makes no move toward his guest.

“What about that door?” Loki looks up at the circle of silver-steel. “You tried to hide that one from me.”

Kelem says nothing.

“How many generations have your people lived down here in these caves, hiding from the world?”

“These are not caves!” Kelem bridles. He pulls back his hand. “The world is poisoned. The Day of a Thousand Suns—”

“—was two hundred years ago.” Loki waves his key carelessly at the ceiling. The vast door groans, then swings in on its hinges, showering earth and dust upon them. It is as thick as a man is tall.

“No!” Kelem falls to his knees, arms above his head. The dust settles on him, making an old man of him. The floor is covered with soil, with green things growing, worms crawl, bugs scurry, and high above them, through a long vertical shaft, a circle of blue sky burns.

“There, I’ve opened the most important door for you. Go out, claim what you can before it all goes. There are others repopulating from the east.” Loki looks around as if seeking an exit of his own. “No need to thank me.”

Kelem lifts his head, rubbing the dirt from his eyes, leaving them red and watering. “Give me the key.” His voice a croak.

“You’ll have to look for it.”

“I command you to . . .” But the key is gone, Loki is gone. Only Kelem remains. Kelem and his failures.

ONE

Petals rained down amid cheers of adoration. Astride my glorious charger at the head of Red March’s finest cavalry unit, I led the way along the Street of Victory toward the Red Queen’s palace. Beautiful women strained to escape the crowd and throw themselves at me. Men roared their approval. I waved—

Bang. Bang. Bang.

My dream tried to shape the hammering into something that would fit the story it was telling. I’ve a good imagination and for a moment everything held together. I waved to the highborn ladies adorning each balcony. A manly smirk for my sour-faced brothers sulking at the back of—

Bang! Bang! Bang!

The tall houses of Vermillion began to crumble, the crowd started to thin, faces blurred.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

“Ah hell.” I opened my eyes and rolled from the furs’ warmth into the freezing gloom. “Spring they call this!” I struggled shivering into a pair of trews and hurried down the stairs.

The tavern room lay strewn with empty tankards, full drunks, toppled benches, and upended tables. A typical morning at the Three Axes. Maeres sniffed around a scatter of bones by the hearth, wagging his tail as I staggered in.

BANG! BANG—

“All right! All right! I’m coming.” Someone had split my skull open with a rock during the night. Either that or I had a hell of a hangover. Damned if I knew why a prince of Red March had to answer his own front door, but I’d do anything to stop that pounding tearing through my poor head.

I picked a path through the detritus, stepping over Erik Three-Teeth’s ale-filled belly to reach the door just as it reverberated from yet another blow.

“God damn it! I’m here!” I shouted as quietly as I could, teeth gritted against the pain behind my eyes. Fingers fumbled with the lock bar and I pulled it free. “What?” And I hauled the door back. “What?”

I suppose with a more sober and less sleep-addled mind I might have judged it better to stay in bed. Certainly that thought occurred to me as the fist caught me square in the face. I stumbled back, bleating, tripped over Erik, and found myself on my arse staring up at Astrid, framed in the doorway by a morning considerably brighter than anything I wanted to look at.

“You bastard!” She stood hands on hips now. The brittle light fractured around her, sending splinters into my eyes but making a wonder of her golden hair and declaring in no uncertain terms the hour-glass figure that had set me leering at her on my first day in Trond.

“W-what?” I shifted my legs off Erik’s bulging stomach, and shuffled backward on my behind. My hand came away bloody from my nose. “Angel, sweetheart—”

“You bastard!” She stepped after me, hugging herself now, the cold following her in.

“Well—” I couldn’t argue against “bastard,” except technically. I put my hand in a puddle of something decidedly unpleasant and got up quickly, wiping my palm on Maeres, who’d come over to investigate, tail still wagging despite the violence offered to his master.

“Hedwig ver Sorren?” Astrid had murder in her eyes.

I kept backing away. I might have half a foot over her in height but she was still a tall woman with a powerful right arm. “Oh, you don’t want to believe street talk, my sweets.” I swung a stool between us. “It’s only natural that Jarl Sorren would invite a prince of Red March to his halls once he knew I was in town. Hedwig and I—”

“Hedwig and you what?” She took hold of the stool as well.

“Uh, we— Nothing really.” I tightened my grip on the stool legs. If I let go I’d be handing her a weapon. Even in my jeopardy visions of Hedwig invaded my mind, brunette, very pretty, wicked eyes, and all a man could want packed onto a short but inviting body. “We were barely introduced.”

“It must have been a pretty bare introduction if it has Jarl Sorren calling out his housecarls to bring you in for justice!”

“Oh shit.” I let go of the stool. Justice in the north tends to mean having your ribs broken out of your chest.

“What’s all the noise?” A sleepy voice from behind me.

I turned to see Edda, barefoot on the stairs, our bed furs wrapped around her middle, slim legs beneath, and milk pale shoulders above, her white-blond hair flowing across them.

Turning away was my mistake. Never take your eye off a potential foe. Especially after handing them a weapon.

•   •   •

“Easy!” A hand on my chest pushed me back down onto a floor that felt thick with grime.

“What the—” I opened my eyes to find a “someone” looming over me, a big someone. “Ouch!” A big someone poking clumsy fingers at a very painful spot over my cheekbone.

“Just removing the splinters.” A big fat someone.

“Get off me, Tuttugu!” I struggled to get up again, managing to sit this time. “What happened?”

“You got hit with a stool.”

I groaned a bit. “I don’t remember a stool, I— OUCH! What the hell?” Tuttugu seemed set on pinching and jabbing at the sorest part of my face.

“You might not remember the stool but I’m pulling pieces of it out of your cheek—so keep still. We don’t want to spoil those good looks, now do we?”

I did my best to hold still at that. It was true, good looks and a title were most of what I had going for me and I wasn’t keen to lose either. To take my mind off the pain I tried to remember how I had managed to get beaten with my own furniture. I drew a blank. Some vague recollection of high-pitched screaming and shouting . . . a memory of being kicked whilst on the floor . . . a glimpse through slitted eyes of two women leaving arm in arm, one petite, pale, young, the other tall, golden, maybe thirty. Neither looked back.

“Right! Up you get. That’s the best I can do for now.” Tuttugu hauled on my arm to get me on my feet.

I stood swaying, nauseous, hung over, perhaps still a little drunk, and—though I found it hard to credit—slightly horny.

“Come on. We have to go.” Tuttugu started to drag me toward the brightness of the doorway. I tried digging in my heels but to no avail.

“Where?” Springtime in Trond had turned out to be more bitter than a Red March midwinter and I’d no interest in exposing myself to it.

“The docks!” Tuttugu seemed worried. “We might jus...

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Descripción Penguin Publishing Group, United States, 2015. Hardback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the international bestselling author of the Broken Empire trilogy comes the second book of the Red Queen s War. After harrowing adventure and near death, Prince Jalan Kendeth and the Viking Snorri ver Snagason find themselves in possession of Loki s key, an artefact capable of opening any door and sought by the most dangerous beings in the Broken Empire--including the Dead King. Jal wants only to return home to his wine, women, and song, but Snorri has his own purpose for the key: to find the very door into death, throw it wide, and bring his family back into the land of the living. And as Snorri prepares for his quest to find death s door, Jal s grandmother, the Red Queen, continues to manipulate kings and pawns toward an endgame of her own design. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780425268803

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