The entire world is kept in a delicate balance under the supervision of the Wizard Lord. It is his duty to govern lightly and protect his domain, but if he strays from the way of the just, then it is up to the Chosen to intercede.
The Chosen are the Leader, the Seer, the Swordsman, the Beauty, the Thief, the Scholar, the Archer, and the Speaker, magically infused mortal individuals who, for the term of their service, have only one function: to remove an errant Wizard Lord, whether by persuasion or execution.
Breaker, a young man of ambition, has just taken the mantle of Swordsman from its former bearer. Never did he think that he would be called to duty so quickly or that the balance of power that existed in his world would be so precarious.
He has a duty to perform.
And a world to save.
But in Lawrence Watt-Evans' The Wizard Lord, why does he still have doubts, not just about himself, but about the entire balance of power?
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LAWRENCE WATT-EVANS has been a full-time writer for more than thirty years, with more than forty novels and well over a hundred short stories to his credit. His story "Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers" won the 1988 Hugo Award for short story, as well as the Asimov's Readers Award, but he is probably best known for the Ethshar fantasy series. He lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, with his wife and the obligatory writer's cat.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The youth leaned over the wooden rail, one hand on the shutters, looking down into the valley.
The sun had dropped below the western ridge, plunging fields and groves into shadow, and an evening mist was thickening, further obscuring the still-green trees below the pavilion. Sparkles of colored light flickered through the mist and the leaves as some of the ler went about their mysterious business, bright and sharp against the blue-green dimness.
The sky above was still ablaze with color, orange in the west, indigo above the distant cliffs in the east, in stark contrast to the mist-shrouded depths. The pavilion seemed suspended between two worlds, the clear emptiness above, the soft thicknesses below. It was beautiful, and the youth gave the ler and the Wizard Lord silent thanks for such fine weather.
"Hey, Breaker!" someone called from somewhere in the pavilion behind him, breaking the spell. "If you aren't going to drink your share of the beer, I will!"
"Oh, no, you won't," the youth said, turning. "I'd rather leave it for the ler than waste it on the likes of you!"
That got a laugh from the dozen young men clustered around the village brewmaster, and a path opened for Breaker to stride up and take his heavy mug of ale from the old man's hand. He took a swig, swallowed, and looked around to see whether anyone else was still waiting a turn.
He had apparently been the last; he gulped more beer, then stepped away to leave room for anyone who needed a refill.
Inside the pavilion was neither the misty dimness of the valley nor the vivid color of the sky, but a third world, a world of wood and stone and candlelight. The air was clear, but daylight was fading, shadows beginning to appear despite the yellow glow of a hundred lanterns set on the handful of tables and hung from the beams overhead. The familiar faces of his friends and fellow villagers surrounded him; close at hand, clustered around the brewmaster, were the young men who had just finished bringing in the barley harvest--a job of which he had done his share and more. Over in the back of the big room a few other villagers, his elder sister among them, were tuning their instruments for the evening's planned entertainment. Three old women sat in rockers by the big central hearth, talking quietly.
Most of the rest of the local population would probably stop in later to help celebrate the harvest--and not incidentally, to drink up the few remaining kegs of last summer's stock of beer and make room in the cellars for the new batch that would see them through the coming winter. For now, though, most of the pavilion's hall stood open and empty beneath the lantern-hung beams, tables folded and benches stacked against the stone wall at the back.
Five people were sitting on a bench at the far end of the terrace rail, Breaker noticed, by the door to the outside road. One was the village's elder priestess, the sigil of office glowing faintly upon her forehead, while the other four were cloaked, and three of them were elaborately adorned with protective ara feathers. Breaker was fairly sure he recognized one of the feathered ones as the Greenwater Guide, the man who worked the southwestern road out of Mad Oak, past the eponymous tree itself, but the others were unfamiliar--presumably travelers the guide had led, probably on their way to Ashgrove and perhaps beyond, since Breaker could think of no reason strangers would be stopping in Mad Oak.
Or perhaps they had just come from Ashgrove and were bound for Greenwater. That was actually a little more likely; from Greenwater one could travel on to the Midlands and the southern hills and all the wide world to the south of Longvale, while beyond Ashgrove were just half a dozen towns in Longvale and Shadowvale before the safe routes ended.
Whatever their destination they clearly were travelers, since two of them wore ara feathers, and even cloaked, Breaker doubted there was a man in Mad Oak he wouldn't have recognized. He wondered why the travelers weren't claiming their share of the beer; they were certainly watching the harvesters drink, and Elder Priestess would have let them know they were welcome to share in the land's bounty.
And why did one traveler not have ara plumes on his cloak to ward off the hostile magic of the wilds between towns?
"Hey, Breaker!" called one of the young man's companions. "If you keep staring at those people, we may just have to throw you over the rail to the ler to apologize for your rudeness!"
The other young men laughed as Breaker turned around angrily. "I wasn't staring!" he said. "At least, no more than they were staring at us."
"All the same, you don't seem to be paying attention to the rest of us--or to the beer, and that's an insult to all the work we did today to earn it. Maybe we should heave you over just on general principles."
"You think you could throw me over the rail, Joker?" Breaker demanded.
"Oh, not by myself," Joker retorted. "But I'm sure some of these other fine fellows would be happy to help."
Breaker's momentary annoyance was already spent; he smiled. "Now, why would they want to help you, Joker? There isn't a one of us you haven't tormented this summer!"
"But at least I do the beer justice!" He turned and held out his mug. "Brewer, another round!" The brewmaster obliged him, opening the tap as Joker thrust the mug into position.
"They are staring at us, aren't they?" remarked Elbows, another of the group, looking past Breaker at the strangers.
Breaker turned again. He was almost beginning to get dizzy, looking around at everything like this, and he frowned at himself. This was supposed to be a celebration with his friends--it had been a good year and a good harvest, thanks to the ler and the Wizard Lord and plenty of hard work, and they had the summer beer to drink up to make room for the brewer's next batch. In an hour or so they would be dancing with the village girls, begging kisses and maybe something more than kisses, and here he was looking at the sky and the ler and the travelers and everywhere but at his companions and the beer. He felt somehow detached from his surroundings, as if he were a mere observer rather than a participant, and he didn't know why; it certainly wasn't a common sensation for him. It was as if the ler were trying to tell him something, but he couldn't imagine what.
He gulped the rest of his mug, but did not immediately turn back to refill it.
The strangers really were watching the harvesters with an intensity that seemed out of place.
"If you want some beer, come ahead," Breaker called to them. "We can spare you a few pints."
The travelers glanced at one another, exchanged a few words Breaker could not hear; the priestess leaned over and whispered something equally inaudible. The guide--Breaker was sure now that that man was the guide who worked the roads to Ashgrove and Greenwater--threw up his hands, rose from the bench, and stepped away, clearly dissociating himself from whatever the others were discussing.
Then the strangers rose, all three of them, and began walking toward the party of harvesters. The priestess hesitated, then arose and followed them.
Breaker watched their approach with interest. He set his empty mug down on the nearer of the two tables the brewmaster had set up, and put his hands on his hips.
The two of the strangers who wore feathers, a man and a woman, also carried staves--not simple walking sticks, but elaborately carved and decorated things as tall as their bearers, with assorted trinkets dangling from them here and there. The third figure was a big man, bigger than Breaker himself, and as he walked his featherless cloak fell open to reveal a heavy leather belt with a scabbard and hilt slung on one hip--a large scabbard, though the cloak still hid its actual length, and an unusually large and fine hilt.
And all three of them, Breaker saw now that their faces sometimes caught the lanternlight as they moved, were old, easily as old as the grandmothers chattering by the hearth. That was odd; travel was usually considered too dangerous for the elderly.
But then, Breaker was already fairly certain these three weren't just traders or wanderers; he had a thought or two as to who they might be, though it was hard to believe. He stepped aside, to let them at the keg of beer, but the old man with the staff spoke.
"We didn't come here for beer, I'm afraid."
"Though we do appreciate the offer," the old woman added hastily. She glanced around. "We are grateful to the ler of this place for making us welcome, and would not spurn any hospitality they might see fit to give us."
"If you want to talk to the ler, you want to talk to the priestess," said one of Breaker's companions, with a nod at the woman behind them. "We're just honest working men with beer to drink up."
"And it's honest men we seek," said the man with the scabbard.
Breaker and his fellows glanced at one another.
"If you're looking for workers, we've already done our share," Brokenose said. "Filled the storehouses to the rafters, we did."
"And how do you propose to tell whether we're honest?" Joker asked. "Take our word for it?"
The man with the staff held up a hand. "We aren't looking for workers--not the sort you mean, at any rate. We just need one man, in all Barokan."
Joker grinned. "Is your granddaughter that ugly, old man, that you need to go searching from town to town to find her a man?"
"Why don't you keep your wit to yourself, lackbeard?" the man with the scabbard replied. "It's not as if you have much to spare."
That got a better laugh than either of Joker's sallies, to the local youth's annoyance. Breaker smiled, but did not actually laugh; instead he said, "Why don't you save us all some time, and just tell us what you want of us?"
The man with the staff glanced at the old woman, but before either of them could speak the man with the scabbard said, "All right, then--how would one of you like to be the world's greatest swordsman?"
The laughter stopped abruptly, and smiles faded. The young men all stared at the old fellow with the scabbard--with, as Breaker had already realized, the sword. That wasn't just a big knife on his belt; it was a sword.
And those staves--the other strangers weren't just travelers carrying protective charms, were they? If this was the Swordsman, then these two were probably either others of the Chosen, or they were wizards--and the staves implied wizards. Breaker had never seen a wizard before. Oh, he had heard stories, but so far as he knew, no wizard had set foot in Mad Oak in more than fifty years.
Not that anyone particularly wanted a wizard here--wizards usually meant trouble. The one who had passed through when his grandparents were children had been harmless enough, but there was still a dead patch at the north edge of town where nothing would grow, and where anyone who set foot felt chills and nausea, that was said to be a relic of where a Wizard Lord had slain a rogue wizard centuries ago, rescuing three kidnapped maidens in the process. Wizards brought plague and fire--or at least, the stories said they had in the old days, before the Wizard Lords tamed them.
"Are you serious?" Brokenose asked, breaking the silence.
Elbows looked past the three strangers and asked Elder Priestess, "Is he really the Swordsman?"
She held up empty hands. "It could be illusions and trickery, but so far as I know, they are what they claim to be."
The Swordsman opened his cloak and pulled it back to display the entire scabbard he wore. The sheath was almost three feet long, and if the blade matched, then the weapon he bore was unquestionably a sword.
Breaker had never seen a real sword before. He and his friends had fought duels with sticks as children, of course, despite maternal demands that they not do anything so dangerous as waving sharp sticks near each other's eyes, but the longest steel blade he had ever seen was Skinner's knife, the length of his forearm. He stared at the brass-and-leather hilt.
"I am indeed the Chosen Swordsman," the Swordsman said, "and I have come here to find my successor. So, does any of you care to claim the title?"
The little crowd fell silent once again; Breaker sensed his friends moving away from the strangers, backing off from this outrageous intrusion on their celebration. He glanced around.
Brewer had stepped behind the table that held the beer kegs, separating himself from the entire conversation. The musicians on the far side of the pavilion were staring; the grandmothers had stopped rocking their chairs to watch. The harvesters had formed up into a tight group, a closed barrier against the strangers.
And Breaker had somehow wound up a little to one side, outside the group.
Joker was front and center, with Brokenose and Elbows on his left, Spitter and Digger at his right, and the rest of the party behind, while Breaker stood off to the left, toward the rail overlooking the valley.
That odd sense of detachment, of being separate from the others, welled up again, and again Breaker wondered whether it might be a message from some ler. None had ever taken any interest in him before, and no one had ever suggested he might have any priestly talents, but they were everywhere, and saw everything, and guided the townsfolk's lives; perhaps one was trying to guide him now.
And whether a ler was involved or not, the idea of spending the rest of his life here in Mad Oak in Longvale, growing barley and beans and watching the seasons wheel around until his soul finally fled into the night, never seeing what lay beyond the horizon, suddenly seemed horrific beyond imagining.
And surely, if he were the Chosen Swordsman, one of the eight designated heroes, he could travel wherever in Barokan he pleased, and do more than tend crops until he died. He could go anywhere, speak to anyone, even the Wizard Lord himself.
"I'll do it," he said.
For a moment the pavilion fell silent, as a smile spread across the Swordsman's face and the two wizards glanced at one another. Then a familiar voice muttered, "And they call me 'Joker'!"
Breaker half-turned and growled, "And they call me 'Breaker.' Shall I demonstrate why?"
"Now, there's no need for that," the male wizard said quickly.
"But he's never even seen a sword before!" Joker protested.
"Neither have you,&...
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Descrizione libro Tor Books 2014-05-13, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Codice libro della libreria 9780765376886B
Descrizione libro Tor Books, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria P110765376881