The Darkest Road: Book Three of the Fionavar Tapestry

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9780451458339: The Darkest Road: Book Three of the Fionavar Tapestry

In the conclusion of Guy Gavriel Kay’s critically acclaimed fantasy trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry, five university students from our world prepare to sacrifice themselves—as they enter into final battle against a power of unimaginable proportions...

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About the Author:

Guy Gavriel Kay is the internationally bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. His work has been translated into over 30 languages. At the outset of his career Kay assisted in the editorial construction of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. He has also written for the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, The National Post, and The Guardian, among others, and has spoken at literary events around the world. He was won numerous literary awards, and is the recipient of the International Goliardos Prize for his contributions to the literature of the fantastic. In 2014 he was named to the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour.

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

And so the time of prophecy has come at last, the final days for those who dwell in Fionavar, the first of all worlds. Even as the Unraveller’s armies march to battle, the warriors of Light are calling upon the most ancient of powers to aid in their struggle.

But despite all that can be done by mage lore and earth magic, and the sacrifices made by those brought from our own world, all may come to naught because of one child’s choice. For he was born of Darkness and Light, and as the fate of all the worlds hangs in the balance, he alone must walk The Darkest Road. . . .

“A remarkable achievement . . . the essence of high fantasy.”

Locus

“This is the only fantasy work I know which does not suffer by comparison to The Lord of the Rings.

Interzone

“A grand galloping narrative . . . reverberates with centuries of mythic and incantory implications—with a little Prince Hal and Falstaff on the side.”

Christian Science Monitor

“As fine a piece of fantasy as has been published for some time.”

Winnipeg Free Press

“Kay has an acrobatic imagination . . . one ingenious plot after another . . . well-staged and presented.”

Montreal Gazette

“Excellent fantasy reading . . . The Fionavar Tapestry will deserve a place among the best of fantasy.”

Regina Leader Post

Look for the other volumes of The Fionavar Tapestry:
The Summer Tree
and The Wandering Fire

At the end of this road as at the beginning of all roads
are my parents, Sybil and Sam Kay. This tapestry is theirs.

The
Darkest
Road

The Fionavar Tapestry:
Book Three

Guy Gavriel Kay

In The Summer Tree it was told how Loren Silvercloak and Matt Sören, a mage and his magical source from the High Kingdom of Brennin in the world of Fionavar, induced five people from our own world to “cross” with them to Fionavar. Their ostensible purpose was to have the five participate in the festivities attendant on the celebration of the fiftieth year of the reign of Ailell, the High King. In fact, there were darker premonitions underlying the mage’s actions.

In Brennin, a brutal drought was afflicting the kingdom. Ailell’s older son, Aileron, had already been exiled for cursing his father’s refusal to allow him to sacrifice himself on the Summer Tree in an effort to end the drought.

In Fionavar, the five strangers quickly found themselves drawn into the complex tapestry of events. Kim Ford was recognized by the aged Seer, Ysanne, as the successor she had prophetically dreamt. Kim was initiated into the knowledge of the Seers by the water spirit, Eilathen, and presented with the Baelrath, the “Warstone” that Ysanne had been guarding. Kim was also shown the Circlet of Lisen, a gem that shone with its own light. The beautiful Lisen, a power of Pendaran Wood, had been the magical source and the beloved companion of Amairgen Whitebranch, the first of the mages. She had killed herself, leaping into the sea from her Tower, upon learning that Amairgen had died. Ysanne told Kim the prophecy that accompanied the Circlet: “Who shall wear this next, after Lisen, shall have the darkest road to walk of any child of earth or stars.” Later, as a last gesture of ultimate sacrifice on the eve of war, Ysanne, knowing Kim would have need of the old Seer’s power in the days to come, used Lökdal, the magic dagger of the Dwarves, to kill herself—but not before tracing a symbol on the brow of the sleeping Kim, which action enabled her to make of her own soul a gift for Kimberly.

Meanwhile, Paul Schafer and Kevin Laine were initiated in quite a different way. Paul played—and lost—a night game of chess with the High King in the palace of Paras Derval, during which an unexpected bond of sympathy was forged between the two. The next morning he and Kevin joined the band of the reckless Prince Diarmuid, Ailell’s younger son, in a raid across the River Saeren to Cathal, the Garden Country. There, Diarmuid achieved his intended seduction of Sharra, the Princess of Cathal. After the company’s return to Brennin, they passed a wild night in the Black Boar tavern. Late at night a song Kevin sang reminded Paul too acutely of the death in a car accident of Rachel Kincaid, the woman he had loved. Paul, blaming himself for the accident, which had occurred moments after Rachel had announced she was going to wed someone else, took a drastic step: he approached the High King and received Ailell’s sanction to sacrifice himself in the King’s stead on the Summer Tree.

The next night, the glade of the Summer Tree in the Godwood saw an epic battle. As Paul, bound on the Tree, watched helplessly, Galadan the Wolflord, who had come to claim Paul’s life, was opposed and driven back by a mysterious grey dog. The following night—Paul’s third on the Tree—a red full moon shone in the sky on a new moon night, as Dana, the Mother Goddess, granted Paul release from his guilt, by showing that he had not, in fact, subconsciously willed the accident that had killed Rachel. As Paul wept, rain finally fell over Brennin. Paul, though, did not die. He was taken down from the Tree alive by Jaelle, the High Priestess of Dana. Henceforth Paul would carry another name: Pwyll Twiceborn, Lord of the Summer Tree.

By now it was clear that an epochal confrontation was at hand: Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, defeated a thousand years before and bound under the great mountain, Rangat, had freed himself and had caused the mountain to explode with a hand of fire to proclaim that fact.

His freedom was to have immediate consequences for Jennifer Lowell, the fourth of the strangers. In Paras Derval she had witnessed an unsettling incident during a children’s counting game. A young girl, Leila, had “called” a boy named Finn to “take the Longest Road” for the third time that summer. No one, not even Jaelle, who had also been watching, knew exactly what that meant, though Jaelle was quick to enlist Leila as an acolyte in the Temple. The next day, riding outside the town walls, Jennifer met Brendel of the lios alfar—the Children of Light—and a party of his people. She spent the night in the woods with them, and in the darkness they were attacked. Concerned about the arrival of the five strangers, Rakoth Maugrim had Galadan and Metran—the traitorous First Mage of Brennin—abduct Jennifer. She was bound to the back of the black swan, Avaia, and borne north to Rakoth’s fortress of Starkadh.

Meanwhile, the terrifying explosion of the mountain had caused the death of the aged High King. This led to a tense confrontation between Diarmuid and his brother, Aileron—who had been disguised as Ysanne’s servant since his exile. The potentially violent situation was ended by Diarmuid’s voluntarily relinquishing his claim to the throne, but not before he’d received a knife in the shoulder, courtesy of Sharra of Cathal, who had come to Brennin to seek vengeance on him for the deception that had led to her seduction.

In the meantime, Dave Martyniuk, the last of the five strangers, had been separated from the others in the crossing to Fionavar. He ended up far to the north among the Dalrei, the “Riders,” on the Plain, and found himself drawn into the life of the third tribe, led by Ivor, their Chieftain.

Ivor’s young son, Tabor, fasting in the forest for a vision of his totem animal, dreamt a seemingly impossible creature: a winged, chestnut unicorn. Three nights later, at the edge of the Great Wood, Pendaran, he met and flew upon this creature of his fast, Imraith-Nimphais—a double-edged gift of the Goddess, born of the red full moon.

Meanwhile, Dave was escorted toward Brennin by a party of Dalrei led by Ivor’s older son, Levon. The company was ambushed by a great number of the evil svart alfar, and only Dave, Levon, and a third Dalrei, Torc, survived by riding into the darkness of Pendaran Wood. The trees and spirits of Pendaran, hating all men since the loss of the beautiful Lisen of the Wood a thousand years before, plotted the death of the three men, but they were saved by the intervention of Flidais, a diminutive forest power, who claimed, among other things, to know the answers to all the riddles in all the worlds, save one: the name by which the “Warrior” could be summoned. As it happened, the search for this name was one of the tasks Ysanne had left with Kimberly.

Flidais sent word to Ceinwen, the capricious, green-clad goddess of the Hunt, who had taken a special liking to Dave. The goddess arranged for the three friends to awaken safely on the southern edge of the Great Wood in the morning.

She did more. She also caused Dave to find a long-lost object of power: Owein’s Horn. Levon, who had been taught by wise old Gereint, the blind shaman of his tribe, then found the Cave of the Sleepers nearby—a cave wherein Owein and the kings of the Wild Hunt lay asleep.

The three friends rode south with this knowledge to Paras Derval, in time to arrive for the first council of Aileron’s reign. The council was interrupted twice. The first time, by the arrival of Brock, a Dwarf from Banir Tal who knelt before Matt Sören—once King of the Dwarves—and proffered the terrible tidings that the Dwarves, under the leadership of two brothers, Kaen and Blöd, had helped the Unraveller to free himself by treacherously breaking the wardstone of Eridu, thus preventing any warning of Rakoth’s stirring under the mountain. They had also found and delivered to Rakoth the Cauldron of Khath Meigol, which had the power to raise the newly dead.

In the midst of this terrifying recitation, Kimberly suddenly saw—in a vision shaped by the Baelrath—Jennifer being raped and tortured by Rakoth in his fortress of Starkadh. She gathered Dave, Paul, and Kevin around her, reached out for Jennifer with the wild power of her ring, and drew the five of them out of Fionavar back to their own world.

And so ended The Summer Tree.

The Wandering Fire picked up the story some six months later, in November and back in Toronto, with Kimberly waiting for the dream that would give her the Warrior’s summoning name. Jennifer, badly scarred in her soul and carrying the child of Rakoth Maugrim—having vowed to give birth to that child as her answer to the Dark—was brought early to her time by a sudden crossing back to Fionavar. The crossing was achieved by Paul when the two of them were threatened by Galadan, who had crossed to their world in pursuit of Paul.

In Fionavar, Jennifer’s child, Darien, was left to be secretly fostered in the house of Vae and Shahar, the parents of Finn—the boy called by the children’s counting game to “take the Longest Road.” The only persons informed of the secret were the priestesses of Dana, because Paul and Jennifer needed Jaelle’s magic to send them home.

The following spring Kim finally had the dream for which she had been waiting. As a result, the five traveled to Stonehenge where Kim raised the spirit of Uther Pendragon by the power of the Baelrath and compelled him to name his son’s resting place. Kim then went alone, by the magic she carried, to Glastonbury Tor and there—having first sent the others ahead to Fionavar—she drew the Warrior, Arthur, from his rest by the summoning name: Childslayer. The name was an echo of the sin Arthur had committed in his youth after discovering his inadvertent incest with his sister. Kim and the Warrior followed the others to Paras Derval.

An icy winter gripped Fionavar, even as midsummer approached—a winter so terrible that Fordaetha, the Ice Queen of Rük, was able to come as far south as Paras Derval. She almost killed Paul in the Black Boar tavern before he succeeded in driving her back north. It was decided in council that Jaelle and the mages and Kimberly would join with Gereint, the old shaman, in an attempt to magically probe the source of the killing winter—a necessary prelude to trying to end it.

In the meantime the dimensions of Arthur Pendragon’s tragedy were beginning to take shape as it became clear (to Brendel of the lios alfar, first of everyone) who Jennifer Lowell really was: Guinevere, beloved of Arthur and of Lancelot. Marred by her suffering in Starkadh, Jennifer withdrew to the sanctuary of Dana with Jaelle. It was Jaelle who explained that Vae and Finn had taken Darien (who was growing with the unnatural rapidity of all the andain—children of mortals and gods) to Ysanne’s cottage by the lake. There, Darien, seeming now to be a child of five years old, was growing up in the loving care of his foster mother and brother, who were troubled by two things: a power which caused his blue eyes to flash red, and an awareness that the child was drawn by voices in the storms of winter.

On the Plain the Dalrei were hard-pressed. The winter had rendered the graceful eltor—the creatures the Dalrei hunted and depended upon—awkward and ungainly in the snow, which made them easy prey for Galadan’s wolves. Ivor—now Aven, or “Father” of all the Dalrei—had herded the eltor down to the southeastern corner of the vast Plain, and there the gathered tribes guarded them as best they could. Until one attack included great numbers of the hideous urgach mounted upon six-legged monsters called slaug. Only the intervention of Diarmuid of Brennin, with Dave and Kevin in his company, saved the Dalrei from the first wave of the mounted urgach. And only the appearance of Ivor’s son Tabor, riding Imraith-Nimphais, his deadly, winged mount with the shining horn, saved them from the second, larger wave. Ivor was painfully aware of the effect such flight had on Tabor, drawing him ever farther from the world of men.

Shortly after, back in Brennin, another new strand entered the Tapestry. At the urging of Levon, Ivor’s older son—and having the reluctant agreement of Loren—Kim and Dave, the bearers of what Levon thought to be the elements of an ancient verse that spoke of the waking of the Wild Hunt, went with a number of companions to the place at the edge of Pendaran Wood where the Cave of the Sleepers lay. The Baelrath shattered the stone at the cave mouth and then Dave’s horn summoned forth Owein and the seven kings of the Hunt. With the shadowy sky kings wailing “Where is the child?” a child did, indeed, step forth to become one of the Wild Hunt: it was Finn, and this was the Longest Road to which he had been called.

Most of the company, including Shalhassan the Supreme Lord of Cathal, and Sharra, his daughter, who had arrived from the south with reinforcements, made their way the next morning to Gwen Ystrat, the province of the Goddess; partly to meet Gereint, the shaman, there, partly in response to a report from Audiart, Jaelle’s second in command, that the province was being beset by wolves. The company was led by the grey dog that had saved Paul on the Summer Tree, and who turned out to be Cavall, Arthur’s hunting dog. They passed into the province of the Mother amid ice and snow on the day before Maidaladan—Midsummer’s Eve—with all the ancient, erotic, blood magic such a night implied. That evening, with the aid of the other magic wielde...

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