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The Rats and the Ruling Sea

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The Rats and the Ruling Sea

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Alternate Title: The Ruling Sea
Author: Robert V. S. Redick
Publisher: Del Rey / Ballantine, 2010
Gollancz, 2009
Series: The Chathrand Voyage: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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THE RATS AND THE RULING SEA begins where THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY ended; Thasha's wedding is hours away. It is a wedding that will both fulfil the promise of a mad god's return and see her murdered. Pazel has thwarted the sorcerer who would bring back the god but both sides now face deadlock. Can Thasha be saved? Can the war between two Empires be stopped?

THE RATS AND THE RULING SEA is, once again, focused on the giant ancient ship, the CHATHRAND, but now she must brave the terrors of the uncharted seas; the massive storms and the ship swallowing whirlpools and explore lands forgotten by the Northern world, all the time involved in a vicious running battle with a ship half her size but nearly her match. Robert Redick's new novel takes the reader further into the labyrinthine plots and betrayals that have underscored the trilogy from the beginning. We learn more about the Ixchel as they fight for survival against the Chathrand's rats, discover more about the true motives of conspirators, live with Thasha and Pazel as they face death and deceit, and as the Chathrand sails into the infamous Ruling Sea.

Robert Redick's sequel to the acclaimed THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY is a masterpiece of plotting and adventure. As each page turns the reader shares with the characters the dawning realisation that nothing is at it seems.

Printed in the USA as The Ruling Sea.


Prologue: Treaty Day

A cup of milk tainted with blood. Pazel looked down into the steaming chalice and felt trapped, an actor in a part he never wanted, in a play full of violence and rage. They were waiting for him to drink: the priests, the princes, the three hundred guests in the candlelit shrine. His best friends were waiting, and a few men who wished him dead, and one man who wanted everyone dead and just might get his wish. The guests were staring. A red-robed priest gestured firmly: Drink. Thasha herself glanced back from where she knelt on the dais, beside the man who thought he would be married in a moment's time.

Thasha was radiant. Sixteen, golden hair bound up impossibly with orchids and lace, grey gown sheer and liquid as mercury, silver necklace dangling innocent at her throat. The lips he had kissed the night before were painted a dark cherry-red. Powder hid the welts on her neck.

He could still stop this. He could break the chalice on the floor. He knew the words for Lies! and Treason! in twenty languages; he could tell them all how they'd been tricked. But he could not just wish the necklace away. Thasha was still looking over her shoulder, and even though half the blood in the milk was hers, Pazel knew what she was telling him. It has to happen, you know it does. Every other door is locked.

He raised the chalice. The hot milk burned his tongue. He clenched his jaw and swallowed and passed the cup on.

The priests resumed chanting: 'We drink to the Great Peace. We drink and become one family. We drink and our fates are mingled, never more to be unbound... '

Pazel slipped a hand into his pocket. A ribbon lay coiled there, blue silk, with words embroidered in a fine gold thread: YE DEPART FOR A WORLD UNKNOWN , AND LOVE ALONE SHALL KEEP THEE. It was the Blessing-Band, a gift from the crones who ran Thasha's old school back in Etherhorde. He was supposed to tie it to her wrist.

Pazel imagined an old woman - bent, wrinkled, nearly blind - sewing those ornate letters by lamplight. One of thousands who had worked for this day, Treaty Day, the day four centuries of war would end. Outside the shrine, a multitude; beyond the multitude, an island; beyond the island, a world waiting, holding its breath. He looked at the faces around him: great lords and ladies of Alifros, rulers of lands, cities, kingdoms, waifs by candlelight. How had Hercól put it? Possessed by a dream. The dream of peace, of a world that could stop shedding its own blood. It was a good dream, but it would kill them. They were chasing it like sleepwalkers towards a cliff.

There was a man at the back of the shrine who was making it all happen. A well-fed merchant with a soft, boyish face. An innocent face, almost amusing. Until he looked at you with a certain intent, and showed you the sorcerer inside: ancient, malicious, mad.

His name was Arunis. Pazel could feel him watching, even now. But when he raised his eyes he found himself looking instead at Thasha's father. The admiral sat stiff and grim, an old soldier who knew what duty meant, but the eyes that swept Pazel were beseeching. I have trusted you this far. How will you save my child?

Pazel could not meet his gaze. You'd never understand, Admiral. And if you did, you'd try to stop us, and no one would be saved. Kings, peasants, enemies, friends: Arunis was marching them all towards that cliff. And over they'd go, with their dreams and their children, their smiles and songs and memories, their histories, their gods. In short order, a year or two at the most, unless he let Thasha die.

So Pazel stood, motionless, silently screaming, and the cup went from hand to hand. At last it returned to the red-robed priest, standing before Thasha and her groom. The priest cleared his throat and smiled.

'Now, beloved prince,' he said, 'what would you avow?'

The prince was gentle as he took Thasha's hand. But before he could speak she pulled it roughly away. There were gasps. The prince looked up in shock.

'Your highness, forgive me,' she stammered. 'I cannot wed you. This marriage is a tr--'

The last word had no chance. Under her gown, the silver necklace moved like a snake, and Thasha rose with a little twist of breath, clawing at it, unable even to scream. Her eyes wild, her face the colour of a bruise. Pazel howled her name and leaped to catch her as she fell. Voices exploded around him, her father's and the priests' and three hundred more. Sorcery get it off her cut it off the girl's going to die. Hercól was beside him, Arunis was battling forwards; the elder priest was waving a knife and shouting Betrayed, betrayed, if she dies the peace dies with her.

Thasha kicked and flailed and arched her back in agony. But death was the answer, Pazel knew; death was the one door left unlocked, and so he held her, in the tightest grip of his life, as the thousands massed outside the shrine caught the rumour and sent a wail up to heaven, held her and absorbed her blows, and told her several things he'd never dared to, and waited for her struggles to cease.

Copyright © 2009 by Robert V. S. Redick


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