The adventures of Shadow Harold continue in Shadow Chaser....
Saddened because they have left one of their number in a grave in the wilderness, Harold and his band of outcasts continue their journey towards the dreaded underground palace of Hrad Spein. But before they can reach their goal, they must overcome all manner of obstacles, fight many battles...and evade the frightful enemies on their trail.
Once they have breached Hrad Spein, a task entire armies of warriors and wizards have failed to achieve, Harold must venture, alone, into the secret heart of the most dangerous place in his world. There he will fight legions of untold mysterious powers before he can complete the quest for the magic horn that will save his beloved land from The Nameless One.
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Alexey Pehov is the award-winning author of The Chronicles of Siala, a bestselling series in his native Russia. His novel Under the Sign of the Mantikor was named "Book of Year" and "Best Fantasy Novel" in 2004 by Russia's largest fantasy magazine, World of Fantasy.
Andrew Bromfield has many translation credits to his name, among them the bestselling Night Watch series.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
In the fifteen hundred years of its existence, the city of Ranneng has survived a hundred rulers, six fires that wiped it clean off the face of the earth, a number of coups, rebellions, epidemics, and, naturally, wars. For those who don’t know, Ranneng is the former capital of the kingdom of Valiostr, and it lost that noble title during the Spring War, when an armada of orcs came flooding in from the Forests of Zagraba.
Almost obliterated by the orcs and then rebuilt, Ranneng is rightly considered the most beautiful city in the kingdom. The old architecture; the numerous statues of the gods; the broad streets and fountains; the high, pointed spires of the watchtowers; and the swing bridges on the banks of the rivers—all of these attract large numbers of travelers, idle gawkers, merchants, and traders.
Inhabitants of the south of Valiostr who have never seen Avendoom are inclined to think that Ranneng is a very big city. Well, it certainly isn’t small, but it’s still nowhere near as big as Avendoom.
* * *
At the very beginning of the rule of the Stalkon Dynasty, the king founded the University of Sciences by royal decree, and now people come here to study from almost all the northern kingdoms. Opposite the venerable university there is a huge park, and a walk through this small forest that thrives within the city limits to the Upper District of the city will bring you face to face with the massive bronze gates of the school of the Order of Magicians.
This is where future sorcerers master the fundamentals of their trade, and only then, after five years of rigorous training, do they set out for the school in Avendoom to further refine and improve their magic art. Thanks to the magicians’ school and the university, the old capital is known as the City of Learning.
It would be impossible to find a better site for founding a city—Ranneng is conveniently located on five hills at the precise intersection of the major trade routes in the south of the kingdom.
Poets love to sing the city’s praises for its beauty, but Ranneng has one substantial shortcoming: It is much closer to the Forests of Zagraba than Avendoom and therefore much closer to the orcs—if they should suddenly have the morbid desire to go back to war, they can get here much more easily than they can to the Cold Sea. And that’s why five hundred years ago we acquired a new capital. The orcs had taught men to be cautious.
The Stalkon Dynasty was certainly determined not to be taken by surprise again, and the king and his entire court moved north to Avendoom, farther away from the land of forests and the potential dangers lurking in them.
But, with your permission, I will end my brief historical and geographical excursion, since we have finally reached the gates of the city.
* * *
It was late morning and the people from the surrounding villages and towns were heading for the gates in order to buy, sell, steal, find work, go to college, visit relatives, listen to gossip, or simply gape for lack of anything better to do. The crush was so bad that I wasn’t hoping to get into the old capital before evening.
The din of the crowd was absolutely indescribable. There were hundreds of people talking, shouting, bellowing, and arguing, foaming at the mouth as they claimed the right to push their way through to the entrance ahead of everyone else. A fight sprang up over a disputed place in the queue beside a cart loaded with turnips. The Ranneng guard tried to restore order, but they only made things worse and only served to focus the crowd’s hostile attention on the hapless guardsmen.
A serious scrimmage was brewing, and the air had a distinct smell of burnt Garrak pepper. The small group of soldiers regretted ever getting involved in the brawl.
“What’s all this nonsense?” the moody-looking character who answered to the name of Loudmouth asked irritably. “I can’t remember seeing a jam like this at the Northern Gates. Everybody always piles in through the Gates of Triumph.”
“Then what are we doing stuck here?” Hallas hissed angrily, holding one hand against his cheek.
What could be worse than a sullen, cantankerous gnome who’s angry with the whole wide world? Only a sullen, cantankerous gnome who’s angry with the whole wide world and also happens to have a toothache. Hallas’s tooth had started aching the evening before and it was causing him dire agony. But the insufferable gnome had dug his heels in and refused to let anyone pull out the lousy tooth, saying he wanted to have it done by a respectable barber and not horse doctors, in which category he included Deler and Kli-Kli, who had offered their services as healers.
“These gates are closer to the highway!” Loudmouth exclaimed.
“They may be closer,” Hallas said gloomily, plucking at the tangles in his beard, “but did it never enter your thick head that I’m about to expire from pain here?”
“Stop whining,” Deler muttered. “Hold on for a bit longer.”
The gnome gave the broad-shouldered dwarf a dark look, with the clear intention of thumping him on the nose, but instead he muttered: “Why’s it taking so long?”
He watched as the guard allowed a cart loaded high with cages of chickens in through the gates.
“They have to inspect everyone, tax them, find out what they’ve come for,” Kli-Kli squeaked.
“What incredible zeal from the municipal guard. Why now?”
“Who can say,” the little green goblin said with a shrug.
“Perhaps we could try the other gates, Milord Alistan?” Honeycomb asked hesitantly, with a sideways glance at the leader of our party.
The knight pondered the suggestion for a few seconds and then shook his head: “They’re more than an hour away.”
Hallas’s face turned crimson and I was suddenly afraid that he was about to have a stroke.
“An hour!” he snarled. “I can’t hold out that long.”
And the gnome started riding determinedly toward the gates.
“Where’s he going?” Loudmouth asked, but Alistan only laughed and set his own horse moving after Hallas. There was nothing else we could do but stay with them.
At first the people gaped at us in fascination, but then, realizing that we were jumping the queue, they started murmuring.
“They’ll kill us! I swear by Sagra, they’ll kill us!” Marmot muttered.
But the gnome drove on heedlessly through the indignant crowd, yelling like an old-time cobbler for them to make way.
“Halt, gnome! Ha-alt!” cried a guardsman with a halberd. “Where do you think you’re going? Don’t you see the queue?”
The gnome opened his mouth to let the soldier know what he thought about him and his family back to the seventh generation, but in some miraculous fashion Miralissa was suddenly there beside him and she edged him out of the way.
“Good morning, honorable sir. Why the delay?” the ashen-haired elfess asked with a smile.
The guardsman immediately lowered his voice and even tried to straighten his uniform tunic. Like all the rest of us he knew—because his mother had told him when he was a little baby—that you always had to be polite to elves; light or dark, it makes no difference. If, that is, you don’t want to end up with a dagger under your ribs when some denizen of the forest decides that you just happen to have insulted him—or her.
“What’s so good about it, milady? Just look at what’s going on. We have to check and recheck everyone. And all because the Nameless One’s been up to his tricks again. They say a few weeks ago he attacked the king’s palace!”
“You don’t say! The Nameless One?” Uncle chortled incredulously into his thick gray beard.
“The Nameless One, as large as life! And five thousand of his followers. If it wasn’t for the guard and Alistan Markauz, they’d have killed His Majesty!”
“Five thousand, you say?” Uncle chortled incredulously again and scratched his bald head.
“Folks is saying as it was five,” the talkative soldier said, slightly embarrassed—apparently he’d only just realized that five thousand was quite a large number.
“My, my,” chuckled Uncle. Like all the rest of us, he had been in the palace on that memorable night when the Nameless One’s supporters decided to test the resolve of the Royal Guard.
“But what’s that got to do with the queue at the gates? The attack was in Avendoom, but the gates are in Ranneng!” Hallas exclaimed in exasperation.
“The king, may he reign for a hundred years, has given orders to increase our vigilance. So we’re doing our best.”
“If an army of orcs went tramping past them, they wouldn’t even notice,” Kli-Kli whispered quietly in my ear.
The goblin was right, because it was highly doubtful that your average guardsman would be able to recognize a supporter of the Nameless One even if he walked right under his nose. As yet, the traitors who sympathized with Valiostr’s main enemy didn’t actually look any different from perfectly peaceable citizens.
The crowd at our backs started murmuring more loudly.
“What is all this?”
A dour-looking soldier wearing a corporal’s stripes came toward us from the gates. He was obviously not in the mood for pleasant conversation.
“Hang on there, Mis,” the talkative guardsman said, ignoring the corporal’s rank. “Can’t you see the lady elfess is inquiring after the news?”
The corporal almost fell over when he got a good look at our motley group. A green goblin with blue eyes; three dark elves; a dour knight; nin...
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