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The Killing God

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The Killing God

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Author: Stephen R. Donaldson
Publisher: Berkley Books, 2022
Series: The Great God's War: Book 3

1. Seventh Decimate
2. The War Within
3. The Killing God

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Two kingdoms, ancient enemies, must stand alone against an implacable invader...

They are coming.

The kingdoms of Belleger and Amika had been fighting for generations. But then they learned of a terrible threat moving through them to destroy the Last Repository, an immense hidden library. To face this greater enemy, King Bifalt of Belleger and Queen Estie of Amika allied their lands and prepared for war.

They are at the door.

Now the time of preparation is over. Black ships and sorcery test the cannon that defend the Bay of Lights. Treachery and betrayal threaten the kingdoms. The priests of the Great God Rile sow dissent. And Estie rides for the Last Repository, desperate to enlist the help of their Magisters--and to understand the nature of her own magical gift.

They are here.

Bifalt hates sorcery as much as he loves Estie, and the discovery that she could become a Magister shatters him. But he must rally and fight. Belleger and Amika are all that stand between the Great God's forces and his ultimate goal: the destruction of the Last Repository and its treasure of knowledge.



Queen Estie on the Road

Queen Estie of Amika had told her husband that she would not return to her realm. Surely, he knew that she had meant Maloresse and Amika's Desire, her city and her castle-fortress. She had to go through Amika. Her road to the Last Repository crossed out of Belleger at Fivebridge. Past the Line River, it turned eastward toward the vast desert and the place where its newest stretches crossed the river's gorge. There, the theurgies of the Repository had built a bridge in the desert long ago, a crossing for caravans like Set Ungabwey's. Now it was sustained by a version of the same sorcery that kept the caravan-track through the desert clear.

In its way, the road was the crowning achievement of Estie's reign. It had cost her a number of years, the hard sweat of hundreds of workmen, and finally her father's direct opposition; but now it was complete: a comparatively direct link between Belleger, Amika, and the treasure-house of knowledge that was the Last Repository. Her road would take her to her goal with an ease and quickness that would have been inconceivable a decade ago.

Under better circumstances, she might have been proud of what she had accomplished. Now she had no time for pride. The Great God was coming. He might extinguish every life in Amika, Belleger, and the hidden library. When she thought about her road at all, she was grateful that it enabled her to travel swiftly. She had too little time.

Magister Facile had assured her that she, Estie, would learn the secret of her own nature in the library. There other Magisters would be able to identify the Queen of Amika's sleeping gift for theurgy. And when she knew what it was, she would also know whether she wanted it awakened. If she decided that she craved the use of her talent, those sorcerers would be able to deliver her true inheritance at last: the legacy that her father had concealed from her since the day she was born.

Before she and King Bifalt had parted, she had been honest with him. I told myself that I was waiting for you. I waited for the day when you would choose to love me. But now I know the truth. I have been waiting to find out who I am. Now she was eager to learn the truth.

For the same reason, she was also afraid. Her gift might prove to be a small one, useless in a time of war. And her husband loathed sorcery. He distrusted all sorcerers. Choosing to awaken her talent would mean turning her back on him. She could not forget the clenched anguish in his voice and face, in the blood on his mouth and the fire of his gaze, when he had protested, I will never see you again. Her eagerness seemed indistinguishable from dread.

Nevertheless she had other reasons for haste, better ones. While she was away, King Bifalt would be fighting battles that he could not hope to win. If she had not spent long years learning to compose herself, she would have been frantic to reach the Repository. She believed that the theurgists there had the power to save King Bifalt's realm-and his life.

She was riding in her personal carriage, a sturdy conveyance made for hard use and long trips rather than for the ostentation her dead father had preferred. Drawn by four dray-horses, it was large enough to seat six people with space to spare; it carried enough food and water for several days; and it had cabinets that could be opened to serve as bunks. Thanks to the care with which the stones of the roadbed had been fitted, the iron-shod wheels rolled smoothly, and springs on the axles softened the inevitable jolts. Even a weary old woman like Magister Facile could make her way to the Last Repository without discomfort.

There were twenty Amikan soldiers in the Queen's escort, men she had known long enough to trust. In particular, she had learned a fondness for their officer, Commander Crayn. With his sandstone eyes, his instinctive tact, and his willingness to question her decisions when they worried him, he suited her. He would keep her safe, care for her ordinary needs, and accompany her in silence when she wanted to be left alone.

Her fellow passengers were another matter. Oh, they were silent enough. But the character of their silence did not ease Estie's impulse to fret.

Magister Facile was a self-tightening knot of anger and anticipated bereavement. She sat in her corner of the carriage like a woman who had closed a curtain around herself. To some extent, Estie understood the old woman. Facile was angry at her circumstances; angry at herself for growing old while the man she loved remained young; angry at whoever had poisoned that man. But she had a more immediate grievance as well.

King Bifalt felt that she had betrayed him. She had concealed Estie's gift for sorcery from him while revealing it to Estie herself. Now he believed that Magister Facile had used his Queen-Consort for her own ends just as the Magisters of the library had used him. For that, Facile resented him. She had left her lover behind so that she could help him and Belleger prepare for the Repository's war. That should have been enough to earn the trust of Belleger's King.

But she did not say so. On the sole occasion when Queen Estie had questioned her, the sorceress had replied without unclosing her jaws, "I am cut off from Apprentice Travail." Travail had been her lover before she had left the Repository to serve King Bifalt. He was the only representative of her home who had been able to hear her across the many leagues between them. "Magister Avail speaks in my mind. He tells me Travail still lives. He is only failing, not dead. But he cannot hear me."

After that, Estie had given the old woman as much privacy as traveling together allowed.

The Queen's other companion, the monk of the Cult of the Many, maintained a different kind of stillness. The man known as Third Father sat with his head bowed. Apart from his breathing, he hardly seemed to move. From time to time, he opened his eyes without looking around him. With his dun cassock cinched with white rope, his head shaved into a tonsure, and his posture of humility, he could have been an effigy of meditation.

Estie suspected that his stillness was a choice he had made long ago. She had heard that he usually traveled on foot-and often for remarkable distances-despite his advancing years. When he sat for hours without shifting or speaking, he seemed to be contemplating thoughts that claimed his complete attention. What they might be, Queen Estie could not guess. For all she knew, he had fixed his mind on nothing more than silence.

But an hour or two before the carriage reached Fivebridge, he ventured to speak. Without raising his head or looking at Estie, he asked, "Do you regret your choice of husbands, Queen?"

Startled, she replied at once, "No." Then she reconsidered. Third Father's manner required the truth. "And yes. I regret that I have not found my way through to him. We are separated by the iron of his promises to me, and by his devotion to his people. I admire those qualities in him. I do not regret that I married him. I regret that I am not his equal."

If she were, Bifalt might learn to love her.

The monk shook his head gently. "You misjudge yourself, Queen. You are not him. Why should you be? You have other strengths."

Firmly, Estie resisted her impulse to demand, Name one. Instead, she said, "Yet I do not know myself. Help me if you can, Father. Do you see a sorcerer waiting in me?"

He may have smiled. His posture and the shade inside the carriage obscured most of his face. "No, Queen. I lack that gift. But sight has other uses.

"I have studied the King. In the Last Repository, I saw that the needs and desires of his younger self warred with each other. That truth was unknown to him, yet it was plain to me. And I saw that his ignorance was both a weakness and a strength. His struggle enabled him to surprise even himself. I thought then that he would serve Belleger well. But I did not foresee how far his strength and weakness would carry him. In the crisis which the librarian devised for him, he surprised me as well.

"When we spoke more recently, I saw that he has become the King that Belleger needs. He has been deeply wounded, and his hurts have made him bitter. But beneath his bitterness, his strength grows. He is not yet the man he needs himself to be. Nevertheless I believe he can become that man."

Abruptly, Magister Facile shifted in her seat. Sour with indignation, she snapped, "I disagree, monk. He dares to call Magister Marrow and the other servants of the Repository arrogant. He imputes the same arrogance to me. But who is more arrogant than the King himself? He speaks of his own people as sheep. I have heard him."

Taken aback, Queen Estie demanded, "As sheep? Why?"

The old sorceress muttered a curse under her breath. "For the obvious reason. He holds them in contempt. If they are frightened, they will scatter in all directions. Or they will follow anyone-or any priest-who offers to lead them. Like sheep."

For her own sake, Estie had caused Bifalt too much pain. Her desire to defend him now took the form of anger.

"Then find another word, Magister. They cannot both be arrogant, the librarian and King Bifalt. If his people are sheep, the King is their shepherd. They do not serve him. He serves them. Magister Marrow serves only his books. At the same time, he expects service from people who cannot refuse him. He does not care who is harmed by his demands."

In the obscurity, Magister Facile seemed to gather her outrage for a blistering retort. But then she caught herself-or the accuracy of Estie's response caught her. Sagging back against the cushions, she sighed, "Ah, Travail. What would you say if you heard me? I am an old woman, sick with age and ire. Others are able to care for you. I am not. And the librarian does not. He thinks only of his enemy."

Pulling the hood of her cloak over her head, she turned her face to the wall.

In an instant, Estie regretted her anger. Yes, Facile had manipulated her when she went to confront her father; but Estie had pardoned her long ago. Hoping that the woman would hear her, she said softly, "Forgive me, Magister. I should not have spoken as I did. You have earned more respect. The King takes too much on himself. If that is not arrogance, it is a kind of pride."

A kind that would not be satisfied until it killed him.

After a long pause, Third Father breathed, "There, Queen. That is one of your strengths. You have others." His tone quavered with age, not with pain. If he had been hurt as badly as anyone-as badly as King Bifalt and Queen Estie-as badly as Magister Facile-he had made his peace. "If he lives, the King will learn to prize them all. Then he will surpass himself yet again."

In the dusk of the unlit carriage, the monk resumed his meditative pose. So softly that Estie barely heard him, he murmured, "Thank you, Magister."

For a long moment, the Queen sat like a woman with her mouth full of questions which she had suddenly forgotten. Something had passed between her companions that she did not understand. Was Third Father grateful that the sorceress had charged Bifalt with arrogance? Were they pleased by her instant defense of her husband? Or did they want her to recognize that she too was arrogant, both like and unlike her husband?

She was Amika's Queen. She had brought about her own father's suicide rather than tolerate his threat to her realm. She had faced the massing Nuuri as if she could forestall an invasion by will alone. And she had imposed her road on both Amika and Belleger despite all the arguments King Bifalt and his counselors could array against her. How could she be so sure of herself without arrogance?

Yet she had accomplished none of that without help: without Magister Facile's power over her father, without the Devotee Lylin's defeat of the Nuuri Hearth-Keeper. Only the achievement of the road was hers.

What help did King Bifalt have? Elgart was gone. Magister Facile and Estie herself had forsaken him. He had only Klamath and Jaspid-and he shared none of his burdens with them.

She had assured him that she would never resemble the Repository's librarian and the other Magisters there; but she did not fault him for doubting her. She doubted herself.

Copyright © 2022 by Stephen R. Donaldson


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