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The Sacred Band
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The Sacred Band

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Author: David Anthony Durham
Publisher: Doubleday, 2011
Series: The Acacia Trilogy: Book 3

1. Acacia
2. The Other Lands
3. The Sacred Band

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

With the first two books in the Acacia Trilogy, Acacia and The Other Lands, David Anthony Durham has created a vast and engrossing canvas of a world in turmoil, where the surviving children of a royal dynasty are on a quest to realize their fates-and perhaps right ancient wrongs once and for all. As The Sacred Band begins, one of them, Queen Corinn, bestrides the world as a result of her mastery of spells found in the ancient Book of Elenet. Her younger brother, Dariel, has been sent on a perilous mis­sion to the Other Lands, while her sister, Mena, travels to the far north to confront an invasion of the feared race of the Auldek. Their separate trajectories will converge in a series of world-shaping, earth-shattering battles, all ren­dered with vividly imagined detail and in heroic scale.

David Anthony Durham concludes his tale of kingdoms in collision in an exciting fashion. His fictional world is at once realistic and fantastic, informed with an eloquent and dis­tinctively Shakespearean sensibility.


Excerpt

Chapter One

Corinn Akaran stepped into the brilliant morning light. She walked across the deck of her transport ship, descended the plank to the Teh docks, and strode through the military officials awaiting her as if all of it were one continuous movement. The men--including Melio Sharratt and General Andeson, Marah and Elite officers--parted around her, stunned even though they had stood in preparation for greeting her since the dawn. For a moment the group did nothing but stare.

The queen wore armor that melded influences from the empire’s provinces. Chain mail covered her arms; it was thin and light but made of fine links of steel, cuffed at the wrists with a hint of Senivalian style. A Meinish thalba wrapped her torso, snug against the contours of her hips and breasts. Her skirt, also of chain mail, was as short as any Talayan runner’s. Leather straps wrapped over her legs, completely covering them in a second skin that was tight around the calf, loose around the knee, and tight again around the upper thighs. Over all this she wore a light Acacian cape that flapped around her as she moved.

Baddel, the Talayan who had jockeyed to be the first to address her on his homeland’s soil, welcomed her with a barrage of enthusiastic praise. He poured forth condolences for the injury done to Prince Aaden. “Numrek treachery knows no bounds! I still can’t?.?.?.” For a moment he got no further. The queen’s Elite guards swept down in her wake, jolting the advisers into motion. They scurried to keep up with her, all except Melio Sharratt, who seemed at ease and said as she passed, “Your Majesty, I’ve never seen you?.?.?.?dressed in armor.”

“We’re at war,” Corinn said. “In this I’m the same as any in the Known World. General Andeson, tell me.”

By which she meant update her on the most recent intelligence. The general did. The first wave of Marah had swept in upon the Numrek’s seaside villas, catching them at least somewhat unawares. They’d fought among the rambling estates, across the beaches and piers and gardens in which the Numrek had lived in sun-drenched splendor. Soon they had the coastline blockaded. Corps of the Elite pushed inland as the Numrek retreated.

“We pressed them back into the hillside fortress the locals call the Thumb,” the general said. “It’s an ancient structure. We’d thought nothing of it, but the Numrek must have reinforced the walls and stocked it with supplies. They’ve had time to prepare their treachery. We’ve offered battle daily, but they no longer engage.”

“They’ve suddenly gone coward,” a younger officer said.

“No, they’re toying with us,” Melio said. “They send their children onto the battlements to float paper birds on the air. They’re clever with such things.”

Andeson’s sideways glance at him was disapproving. Melio shrugged and mouthed, What? It’s true.

“It’s become something of a waiting game,” Andeson said. “The fortress is built atop a butte. There is but a single track that wraps its way up around it, too narrow and unprotected to march an army up. We’ve lobbed stones and explosives at them, but they’re well dug in. There are tunnels deep within the butte, accessed only from inside it. There’s a water source in there somewhere as well. It may be a matter of starving them to death.”

“An unheroic strategy,” Corinn said.

“I would choose honorable battle every time, Your Majesty, but at times one’s foes make that impossible. These Numrek are vile. They massacred their own servants, you know. Built a wall of their bodies at the base of the Thumb. If you had seen--”

“I’m sure our soldiers have performed well,” Corinn interrupted, “and I have every faith in your leadership. I’ve arrived now. I’ll finish this.”

They progressed out of the docks, through a makeshift storage area in the dusty open space beyond. The Teh coast was somewhat wetter than most of Talay, but this late in the season the grasses that covered the hills to the north were bleached golden by the sun. Corinn was glad to have arranged for horses ahead of time. The mounts awaited them, held by Talayan youths who looked nervous about their unaccustomed work.

“Queen Corinn,” Melio said. “Anything new from Mena?”

“Not since she sent a bird from Luana. I expect to hear from her again soon. Ride with me, Melio. When the Numrek have been dealt with I have an assignment for you. We’ll discuss it as we ride.”

Melio bowed his head, and they stood as the squire attending Corinn’s horse tried to swing it around into position for her.

“There’s a rumor among the soldiers,” Melio said. “It came across on the last few transports. About?.?.?.?Aliver.”

“A rumor? Have Andeson and the other generals heard this rumor?”

“I’m closer to the troops than they. That’s where I heard it, but the rumor is trickling up. It can’t possibly be true, though, right?”

“Between you and me, yes.”

Melio’s face lit up. All his disparate features aligned in a manner that was surprisingly handsome. “Truly? Where is he?”

Corinn stepped on the stool that had been set down for her. Preparing to swing onto the horse, she said, “He is safe in the palace. He needs seclusion just now. He remains fragile. Best not to fan the rumors yet.”

The night ten days earlier that she had worked her spell had been long and beyond exhausting. She was drained already, what with the sorcery she had worked on Barad and the song she had sung to Elya’s children. She could have dropped into slumber before she even began her third spell, but she needed someone to help her carry the burden of rule. She needed her brother.

As soon as his body became fully corporeal, he slumped forward. He would have fallen had she not sprung up and guided him onto her bed. For a time she stared at the wonder of him. He was really there! Solid, warm to the touch. Breathing. He was naked, but she thought nothing of that. His eyes moved beneath his lids in dream. What does a man dream after returning from death? What was death anyway? Was it not the conqueror of all? No, it wasn’t, for she had just denied it at least one victim. She had so many questions, but even as they formed, her mind went sluggish. She knew that he would slumber long, and so she left Aliver and collapsed on a divan in an adjoining room.

Rhrenna and two maids woke her two days later. Rhrenna would not have disturbed her even then, she explained, save, “He is awake and asking for you.”

With those words Corinn sprang up and rushed back to the other room. Aliver Akaran stood on the balcony, his knuckles white, gripping the stone balustrade, his jaw loose with astonishment. He wore a morning robe, tied at the waist. Rhrenna must have ordered it brought for him.

Corinn turned to figure out what fascinated her brother so. The sky above was the color and texture of a blue eggshell. The morning sun, just free of the horizon, was cut in half by one long sliver of pink cloud. A flock of black neck divers folded their wings one after another and plummeted like darts, exploding into the water of the harbor in a feeding frenzy. Thin lines of smoke rose like flower stems from the lower town. It could have been any of these things.

Aliver set his gaze on her. His eyes were a darker brown than she remembered. His skin was no longer as pale as it had been the first night. It was a richer color, tanned to a light brown. Now that she saw him clearly, she realized she had combined his features with Hanish’s when she had pictured him. He was older than when she knew him last. Immeasurably older, though he gave that impression not so much in the details of his features as in the distance of the consciousness behind them.

He said, “I’d forgotten so much.”

“I as well,” Corinn answered.

“You were a girl,” he said.

Corinn shook her head. “I never was.”

Aliver tested an expression on his face. Disappointment. Or confusion. Disapproval. Some combination of these that his features could not spell out yet. “I am sure you were.”

Corinn brushed her hand down the curls of hair near his temple, wrapped her palm around the back of his head. She pulled him close and touched their foreheads together, something her father used to do with her. “I remember a smaller version of myself, but not a girl. No girl should be as afraid as I was.”

“You still are.”

Drawing back, she shook her head. “No. I have to explain many things to you.”

In the few days before she left for the Teh coast, Corinn tried to convey as much as possible to him. The world had not paused outside the palace to grant her a respite. It felt necessary that she have him to herself, that she bind him to the truth as she knew it.

She ordered Rhrenna and the two maids to complete silence about Aliver’s return. She had her quarters emptied of other staff and servants, stationed guards only outside her chambers. She wanted to be alone with her brother. She did not even try to find a reasoned approach to what she told him. She just spoke. She offered what information came to her, circling back to give context, jumping forward to the...

Copyright © 2011 by David Anthony Durham


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