King of Swords (The Starfolk)

BOOK: King of Swords (The Starfolk)
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Also by Dave Duncan
The Starfolk
King of Swords
(Fall 2013)
Queen of Stars
(forthcoming)
“The Dodec Books”
Children of Chaos
Mother of Lies
Chronicles of the King’s Blades
Paragon Lost
Impossible Odds
The Jaguar Knights
Tales of the King’s Blades
The Gilded Chain
Lord of Fire Lands
Sky of Swords
The Monster War
A Man of His Word
Magic Casement
Faerie Land Forlorn
Perilous Seas
Emperor and Clown
A Handful of Men
The Cutting Edge
Upland Outlaws
The Stricken Field
The Living God
The Great Game
Past Imperative
Present Tense
Future Indefinite
“The Omar Books”
The Reaver Road
The Hunters’ Haunt
The Seventh Sword
The Reluctant Swordsman
The Coming of Wisdom
The Destiny of the Sword
Stand-alone novels
Against the Light
West of January
The Cursed
A Rose-Red City
Shadow
Strings
Hero!
Wildcatter
Pock’s World
Wildcatter
The Brothers Magnus
Speak to the Devil
When the Saints
Writing as Sarah B. Franklin
Daughter of Troy
Writing as Ken Hood
Demon Sword
Demon Rider
Demon Knight

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Text copyright © 2013 by Dave Duncan

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by 47North
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140

ISBN-13: 9781477807392
ISBN-10: 147780739X
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013936766

Cover illustration by Chase Stone

To those fans the faithful few
who have stayed with me all the way,
for a quarter of a century.
You know who you are.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

About the Author

Chapter 1

T
he sign said C
AMPGROUND
C
LOSED
in large letters, but three successive visitors ignored it on that chilly spring evening.

The first was a lanky young male riding a bicycle laden with two packs, a bedroll, and a guitar bag. The barrier was a single beam, pivoted at one end and secured at the other by a chain and padlock. He lifted the bike over the beam, scrambled over it himself, guitar and all, and then cycled off in search of a picnic shelter where he might spend the night without being rained on.

The second intruder was a bear, ravenous after its winter sleep. Gaunt, mangy, and ill-tempered, it had been foraging in the forest for fresh plant shoots and tearing open rotten logs in search of grubs—poor fare that did little to relieve its hunger. As darkness fell, it caught the scent of something delicious and nourishing, possibly a newborn fawn. Summoning its reserves of energy, the bear hurried off to wherever that tantalizing
odor might lead it. It reached the campground at much the same time as the boy, but did not enter by the gate.

Third was a twentysomething female driving a shabby, well-used Winnebago. She pulled to a stop just short of the gate, jumped down from the cab, and hunched down to inspect the muddy ground. She was tall and solid, but she moved as if her bulk came more from muscle than fat. Her hair and eyes were dark and gleaming. She wore jeans and a plaid flannel shirt.

The cedars and hemlocks were no longer dripping, so the last rain had to have stopped several hours ago. Since then a single truck had gone through and returned later with a much lighter load, judging by the depth of its tracks. Fragments of bark on top of the mud suggested that the rangers had delivered a load of firewood for summer visitors. After the mud had dried enough to become much stiffer, the only other traffic had been a bicycle whose rider had dismounted at the bar. His footprints indicated a tall man, size thirteen cowboy boots with a hole in the right sole.

A troop of Hells Angels might have deterred her, but little else. The padlock was no problem, either. It took her all of four seconds to open the lock and swing the bar up on its counterweight. She drove through, leaving the gate wide open behind her.

Where the trail divided up ahead, she found the washrooms and the woodpile—two joys of the unspoiled wilderness. Having parked at the nearest campsite and built a generous fire, she perched on a folding chair and attempted to eat the gas station sandwich she had unwisely brought along for supper. The Winnebago stopped its clicking and dripping, leaving
only the barely audible trickling of a nearby stream and the crackle of the fire as it shot red stars up like decoys to lure in the wild variety. Soon she could see the first of those peering down at her through gaps in the forest canopy, and she knew that millions more would join them shortly. In a badly abused world, the Canadian wilderness still offered wide tracts of solitude and forest, and Vancouver Island’s were among the most accessible. The evening was cool and pleasant, heavily scented with conifers, spoiled only by the vile sandwich and the twenty ounces of revolver dragging down the pocket of her coat.

She had little time to enjoy her solitude before a shaky lamp beam flickered through the trees. Soon the cyclist pedaled into view, heading toward the gate and going slowly on the rough track. He stopped beside her campsite, setting one size thirteen bare foot down on the mud. His boots were slung on his back now, alongside the guitar. His hair shone silver in the firelight, but it was a youngster’s hair, long and thick, pulled back over his ears and secured in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He wore jeans, a checked shirt, and a lightweight jacket, which hung open in denial of the cold. In spite of his height, he looked young and vulnerable when he smiled.

“You should go inside, ma’am. Or leave. There’s a bear. They can be dangerous at this time of year.”

“Grizzly or black bear?” she asked.

“No grizzlies on the Island, but even a black can be nasty.”

“And are you sure it wasn’t an elk or a moose?”

“They can be dangerous too.” He flashed white teeth in another smile. “I saw bear tracks earlier, and I just heard something moving. That’s enough for me. I’m gone, lady.”

“You think you can outrun a bear on a bicycle?”

“You’d be amazed how fast I can pedal when I’m motivated!” Laughing, he pushed down on a pedal and wobbled into motion, disappearing around the bend in seconds.

The woman rose and walked over to the edge of the trail, pulling the S&W Special from her pocket. She stared into the darkness in the direction where the cyclist had disappeared.

Two minutes… three… She heard the rattle of the bike just before his light flickered back into view. Pedaling furiously, he yelled a warning to her, which she ignored. A bear could outrun a horse over a short distance, so the biker would have had little chance even on a concrete highway. On that rutted, stony mud, it was a wonder that the bear hadn’t already caught him. As they came level with the watcher, it did. Boy, bear, bicycle, and guitar crashed a screaming, snarling tangle in front of her.

The bear was on top, with a boot in its mouth and one paw stuck through the bicycle’s wheel. A handgun was not a hunting rifle. She had to make the first shot count by putting it into the correct skull. Jostling for position, she put a foot on the guitar, crushing it. As she watched, a paw raked the boy’s chest in an explosion of blood that made her cry out. The bicycle was being ripped into scraps, and it seemed that its owner would suffer the same fate. But then the bear shook its head, spat out the boot, and rolled over on its back, stone dead. Gripping the revolver firmly in both hands, the woman shoved the stubby barrel between its open jaws and fired. The shot barked obscenely loud, leaving her ears jangling in the deadly silence that followed.

BOOK: King of Swords (The Starfolk)
3.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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