The Swordbearer - By Glen Cook

Chapter One

Kacalief

Summer desiccated the earth and made the horizons waver behind air heavy with dust and pollen. There was no breeze to gentle the gnawing heat.

Hooves thundered across hard earth. A war cry slapped the morning's face. A crack hit the still air as a rider's blade bit an oaken post standing in the center of a field where only the most determined grasses survived. A woodchip arced away.

The rider's sword flew from his hand. It spun across the powdery earth.

A fifteen-year-old sat watching his brothers rehearse the skills of war. He had his behind nestled in a grassy hummock. His arms were around his shins. His chin rested on his knees. His face was grim. He smiled only weakly when Belthar gave his brother hell.

Fabric rustled behind him. He did not turn. His sister came round his shade bush and settled beside him. She was a year older, blonde and striking. She would become a beautiful woman.

Anger flashed in her pale gray eyes. "Gathrid?"

"Uhm?"

"I heard you had another argument with Father."

"Uh-huh. Same old fight. He won't let me train with Mitar and Haghen. Don't let the poor cripple get hurt . . . . "

"He'll never let you, either. Not if you keep pushing him. You've got to get around sideways and make him think it's his idea. I don't have any trouble."

"I'm not a girl, Anyeck. I can't do all that bounce and soft eyes and 'Oh, please, Daddy.'"

Anyeck laughed. "You make me sound like a courtesan."

"Sometimes you act like one."

"You're looking for lumps from everybody, aren't you?"

"I . . . "

A horrendous thump interrupted them. They sprang up. Their brother Haghen had fallen off his horse. Belthar and his men rushed him. Belthar started cursing.

"He's all right," Anyeck said. "Belthar wouldn't yell if he wasn't. That's really what you want to go through, huh?"

Haghen rose and beat dust off himself. Gathrid did not reply.

Anyeck continued, "There was a messenger from the Dolvin. Father has to go to Hartog. I'm going to get him to let me go, too. He said he'll leave as soon as Symen gets back from Rigdon."

Gathrid became worried. His father was just an unimportant knight in one small corner of Gudermuth. His liege, the Dolvin, was responsible for Gudermuth's entire frontier with the kingdom of Grevening. "You think it's because Father hanged those raiders?"

"Franaker Huthsing sent them over, but even he wouldn't have the gall to complain if they got caught and hanged. I don't know what it is. He just said he has to go."

Gathrid's family and its retainers lived in a small fortress called Kacalief. Their father was Safire, or knight protector. The Dolvin's Savard March, guarding the kingdom of Gudermuth's easternmost frontier, had been in dispute between the Kings of Gudermuth and Grevening for decades. The Sheriff of Rigdon, a town on the Grevening side of the border, had a habit of sending small bands of bravos over to cause trouble. The latest bunch had gotten out of hand and killed some sheep. The Safire had hanged them. He had sent his oldest son to return the bodies.

"Maybe Huthsing won't be so pushy now," Gathrid said. He watched his brother Mitar gallop around. Mitar was clumsier than Haghen.

"Maybe." Anyeck seemed unconvinced. Or just not interested. "Really, why do you want to go out there and get yourself knocked around? What do you want to prove, anyway?"

Gathrid scowled at her, turned his attention to the field. He didn't have to answer that.

He had had a brief bout with polio. It had affected one arm and one leg. The corner of one eye drooped. The disease hadn't crippled him, but his father considered his slight handicap sufficient to prevent his ever becoming a knight.

"They're turning me into a jester, Anyeck. All they let me do is study. I'm bored stiff with Plauen's lectures about the Golden Age and Anderle. I'm up to here with learning numbers and languages."

"Somebody has to do those things, Gathrid."

"Somebody who gets paid. I don't see you going into ecstasy over Plauen's lessons. It's not manly, scribbling in books, playing with numbers, studying old stories about the Immortal Twins and Tureck Aarant. Who cares about them anymore, anyway? They've been dead for a thousand years."

Anyeck laid a gentle hand on his arm. "Don't get upset. Maybe while Father and I are gone . . . "

"You're kidding. Can you see Belthar doing anything without Father's okay?"

"No. I guess not. Maybe I'll talk to him."

They sat there a while, watching

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