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Emperor of Thorns
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Emperor of Thorns

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Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Ace Books, 2013
HarperCollins/Voyager, 2013
Series: The Broken Empire: Book 3

1. Prince of Thorns
2. King of Thorns
3. Emperor of Thorns

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic
Dark Fantasy
Science-Fantasy
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Synopsis

The boy who would rule all may have finally met his match...

King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now-and king of seven nations. His goal-revenge against his father-has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.

Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg plans to change that. He’s uncovered the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.

But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced-a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.


Excerpt

1

I failed my brother. I hung in the thorns and let him die and the world has been wrong since that night. I failed him, and though I’ve let many brothers die since, that first pain has not diminished. The best part of me still hangs there, on those thorns. Life can tear away what’s vital to a man, hook it from him, one scrap at a time, leaving him empty–handed and beggared by the years. Every man has his thorns, not of him, but in him, deep as bones. The scars of the briar mark me, a calligraphy of violence, a message blood–writ, requiring a lifetime to translate.

The Gilden Guard always arrive on my birthday. They came for me when I turned sixteen, they came to my father and to my uncle the day I reached twelve. I rode with the brothers at that time and we saw the guard troop headed for Ancrath along the Great West Road. When I turned eight I saw them first–hand, clattering through the gates of the Tall Castle on their white stallions. Will and I had watched in awe.

Today I watched them with Miana at my side. Queen Miana. They came clattering through a different set of gates into a different castle, but the effect was much the same, a golden tide. I wondered if the Haunt would hold them all.

“Captain Harran!” I called down. “Good of you to come. Will you have an ale?” I waved toward the trestle tables set out before him. I’d had our thrones brought onto the balcony so we could watch the arrival.

Harran swung himself from the saddle, dazzling in his fire–gilt steel. Behind him guardsmen continued to pour into the courtyard. Hundreds of them. Seven troops of fifty to be exact. One troop for each of my lands. When they had come four years before, I warranted just a single troop, but Harran had been leading it then as now.

“My thanks, King Jorg,” he called up. “But we must ride before noon. The roads to Vyene are worse than expected. We will be hard pushed to reach the Gate by Congression.”

“Surely you won’t rush a king from his birthday celebrations just for Congression?” I sipped my ale and held the goblet aloft. “I claim my twentieth year today, you know.”

Harran made an apologetic shrug and turned to review his troops. More than two hundred were already crowded in. I would be impressed if he managed to file the whole contingent of three hun¬dred and fifty into the Haunt. Even after extension during the recon¬struction, the front courtyard wasn’t what one would call capacious.

I leaned toward Miana and placed a hand on her fat belly. “He’s worried if I don’t go there might be another hung vote.”

She smiled at that. The last vote that was even close to a decision had been at the second Congression—the thirty–third wasn’t likely to be any nearer to setting an emperor on the throne than the previous thirty.

Makin came through the gates at the rear of the guard column with a dozen or so of my knights, having escorted Harran through the Highlands. A purely symbolic escort since none in their right mind, and few even in their wrong mind, would get in the way of a Gilden Guard troop, let alone seven massed together.

“So, Miana, you can see why I have to leave you, even if my son is about to fight his way out into the world.” I felt him kick under my hand. Miana shifted in her throne. “I can’t really say no to seven troops.”

“One of those troops is for Lord Kennick, you know,” she said.

“Who?” I asked it only to tease her.

“Sometimes I think you regret turning Makin into my lord of Kennick.” She gave me that quick scowl of hers.

“I think he regrets it too. He can’t have spent more than a month there in the last two years. He’s had the good furniture from the Baron’s Hall moved to his rooms here.”

We fell silent, watching the guard marshal their numbers within the tight confines of the courtyard. Their discipline put all other troops to shame. Even Grandfather’s Horse Coast cavalry looked a rabble next to the Gilden Guard. I had once marvelled at the quality of Orrin of Arrow’s travel guard, but these men stood a class apart. Not one of the hundreds didn’t gleam in the sun, the gilt on their armour showing no sign of dirt or wear. The last emperor had deep pockets and his personal guard continued to dip into them close on two centuries after his death.

“I should go down.” I made to get up, but didn’t. I liked the com¬fort. Three weeks’ hard riding held little appeal.

“You should.” Miana chewed on a pepper. Her tastes had veered from one extreme to another in past months. Of late she’d returned to the scalding flavours of her homeland on the Horse Coast. It made her kisses quite an adventure. “I should give you your present first though.”

I raised a brow at that and tapped her belly. “He’s cooked and ready? ”

Miana flicked my hand away and waved to a servant in the shad¬ows of the hall. At times she still looked like the child who’d arrived to find the Haunt all but encircled, all but doomed. At a month shy of fifteen the most petite of serving girls still dwarfed her, but at least pregnancy had added some curves, filled her chest out, put some colour in her cheeks.

Hamlar came out with something under a silk cloth, long and thin, but not long enough for a sword. He offered it to me with a slight bow. He’d served my uncle for twenty years but had never shown me a sour glance since I put an end to his old employment. I twitched the cloth away.

“A stick? My dear, you shouldn’t have.” I pursed my lips at it. A nice enough stick it had to be said. I didn’t recognize the wood. Hamlar set the stick on the table between the thrones and departed. “It’s a rod,” Miana said. “Lignum Vitae, hard, and heavy enough to sink in water.”

“A stick that could drown me . . .”

She waved again and Hamlar returned with a large tome from my library held before him, opened to a page marked with an ivory spacer.

“It says there that the Lord of Orlanth won the hereditary right to bear his rod of office at the Congressional.” She set a finger to the appropriate passage.

I picked the rod up with renewed interest. It felt like an iron bar in my hand. As King of the Highlands, Arrow, Belpan, Conaught, Normardy, and Orlanth, not to mention overlord of Kennick, it seemed that I now held royal charter to carry a wooden stick where all others must walk unarmed. And thanks to my pixie–faced, rosy–cheeked little queen, my stick would be an iron–wood rod that could brain a man in a pot–helm.

“Thank you,” I said. I’ve never been one for affection or senti¬ment, but I liked to think we understood each other well enough for her to know when something pleased me.

I gave the rod an experimental swish and found myself sufficient inspiration to leave my throne. “I’ll look in on Coddin on the way down.”

Coddin’s nurses had anticipated me. The door to his chambers stood open, the window shutters wide, musk sticks lit. Even so, the stench of his wound hung in the air. Soon it would be two years since the

arrow struck him and still the wound festered and gaped beneath the physician’s dressings. “Jorg.” He waved to me from his bed, made up by the window and raised so he too could see the guard arrive.

“Coddin.” The old sense of unfocused guilt folded around me.

“Did you say goodbye to her?”

“Miana? Of course. Well . . .”

“She’s going to have your child, Jorg. Alone. Whilst you’re off riding.”

“She’ll hardly be alone. She has no end of maids and ladies¬in–waiting. Damned if I know their names or recognize half of them. Seems to be a new one every day.”

“You played your part in this, Jorg. She will know you’re absent when the time comes and it will be harder on her. You should at least make a proper goodbye.”

Only Coddin could lecture me so.

“I said . . . thank you.” I twirled my new stick into view. “A present.”

“When you’re done here go back up. Say the right things.”

I gave the nod that means “perhaps.” It seemed to be enough for him.

“I never tire of watching those boys at horse,” he said, glancing once more at the gleaming ranks below.

“Practice makes perfect. They’d do better to practise war though. Being able to back a horse into a tight corner makes a pretty show but—”

“So enjoy the show!” He shook his head, tried to hide a grimace, then looked at me. “What can I do for you, my king?”

“As always,” I said. “Advice.”

“You hardly need it. I’ve never even seen Vyene, not even been close. I haven’t got anything that will help you in the Holy City. Sharp wits and all that book learning should serve you well enough. You survived the last Congression, didn’t you?”

I let that memory tug a bleak smile from me. “I’ve got some mea¬sure of cleverness perhaps, old man, but what I need from you is wisdom. I know you’ve had my library brought through this chamber one book at a time. The men bring you tales and rumour from all corners. Where do my interests lie in Vyene? Where shall I drop my seven...

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Lawrence


Reviews

Emperor of Thorns

- Rabindranauth@DDR
  (4/25/2014)
Emperor of Thorns

- nightxade
  (1/11/2015)

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