Tempest Bound: Prologue

In addition to a PDF version of my Tempest Bound preview, I’ll be publishing the early chapters of my upcoming novel right here in plain text. And where better to start than with the prologue?

 

P R O L O G U E

The king without his crown was for the first time mortal, his flesh wrinkled and sagging and his eyes dull and tired and his hair naught but white wisps floating atop his small, spotted head. I realized then that although he was alive, he was defeated—physically, emotionally, in all ways but morally—and that this would be his final act as my ruler and as the ruler of our kingdom and as an old, frail man who had seen too much evil for one life. Perhaps that is why I accepted his request, despite its absurdity, without hesitation. He asked for my life and I placed it in his shrivelled hands and did not doubt him or myself at all.

“No one can know,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper, gone as soon as it came, heard by only myself and the earth on which we stood in the middle of a forest in the forgotten corner of a kingdom I would never again see after this day. His  eyes locked onto mine and they might have wept for me had they not already wept for so many things before.

“What will you tell my wife?” I asked, even though I knew the answer. “What will she tell our daughter?”

He paused a moment to stare at his feet.

“That you died for our kingdom a brave knight,” he replied, returning his eyes to mine. “And in time, that will be the truest thing ever said about you.”

I nodded. A soft breeze crossed me and I touched my face and considered that henceforth I would not know it any other way—not through a mirror or the words of my lover, but only through my fingers running along its surface. That would be a strange feeling, I thought, but hardly the strangest.

“…it was not supposed to be this way,” the frail king was saying, and I snapped back, meeting his gaze. “They promised me it would not come to this.”

The breeze grew cold and he shivered.

“It was not your choice,” I replied. “I hold nothing against you.”

The tiny king withdrew a sword from beneath his shoddy cloak and pressed its hilt into my hands. It was a simple blade, sharp and nothing else.

“Should you ever face a living thing, man or woman or child…” he trailed off, then looked to the side, toward nothing but endless trees dusted with the first snowfall of winter, and sighed. “It’s for the realm, you know. The whole damned realm. You are the final wall, Edric. The last shield.”

“I know,” I said. And I did. I knew.

I held the sword in my hand. It was light. The blade shone in the morning sun. I spun it around, let it dance in the breeze. I pointed it north, where I saw poking above the trees the mountains that were my home, and somewhere on the biggest one I saw them, years on: my wife and my daughter and my father and his brother, sitting at the long table, dancing and clapping and whistling amid plates of food and jugs of mead and a shrinking hole in each of their hearts, and I could only hope in that moment that one day I was forgotten, buried so deep and for so long in their minds that eventually even the faintest memory of me ceased to exist, for only if I caused them no harm in my absence could my absence be justified.

I lowered the sword.

“Your son?” I asked, finding the present again. “Will you tell the prince what to do? How to replace me?”

“When he is ready.”

I nodded.

“Sentinels will patrol the walls and soldiers will charge into battle and many great sacrifices will be made to ensure the safety of our people,” the dying king said, and he reached up to place a trembling hand on my shoulder, and I could see his lips quiver as he finished, “but it is you, Edric, who protects the realm from its greatest threat.”

He turned away before I could reply and said, “I must return to the throne. My missing is hard to account for.”

“Of course,” I replied. There was nothing left to say, anyway. It had all been said. Now it needed only to be done.

“Shall we, then?”

I looked into the sky, and sucked in a great breath of air.

“Yes,” I said, smiling before my king, and shook his hand one last time, this man with a sealed fate who sealed mine in that moment and whom I never saw again.

Excerpted from Tempest Bound © Knowlton Thomas 2016

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Tempest Bound: Prologue