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Authors: P. C. Hodgell

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Honor's Paradox-ARC

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Honor’s Paradox-ARC

P.C. Hodgell

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BAEN BOOKS by P.C. HODGELL

CHRONICLES OF THE KENCYRATH

The God Stalker Chronicles
(omnibus containing
God Stalk
and
Dark of the Moon
)

Seeker’s Bane
(omnibus containing
Seeker’s Mask
and
To Ride a Rathorn
)

Bound in Blood

Honor’s Paradox

HONOR’S PARADOX

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by P.C. Hodgell

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN 13: 978-1-4516-3762-5

Cover art by Clyde Caldwell

Maps by P.C. Hodgell

First Baen printing, December 2011

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

t/k

10
 
9
 
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2
 
1

Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com)

Printed in the United States of America

I would like to thank all the fine folk

who have responded to my LiveJournal entries at

http://tagmeth.livejournal.com with everything

from literary criticism to encouragement

to information on parasitical fish.

A special thanks to those who have given me

permission to use their poetry in the current work:

Tiel Aisha Ansari—“Massacre at Gothregor”

Cindy Duckert—“Shwupp”

Ry Herman—“What the Dead Know”

Paul Howat—“Ashe’s Limerick”

Paula Lieberman—“The Three Lordans”

Scott Life—“The Highlord Calls”

CHAPTER I
Songs in the Night

Winter 64

I

“Gerridon Highlord, Master of Knorth, a proud man was he. The Three People held he in his hand—Arrin-ken, Highborn, and Kendar—by right of birth and might.”

The Tentir cadets listened intently as the haunt singer Ashe limped back and forth before the great hall’s fireplace. Flames outlined her black-robed form. A hood overshadowed her face, but they caught glimpses of its haggard lines as she turned. She chanted hoarsely rather than sang and accompanied herself with a small lyre on which she struck chords apparently at random.

The song itself was as old as the Fall, three thousand years ago. Some believed every word of it. Others thought that the Singers’ cherished prerogative of the Lawful Lie had played a role in its composition or at least in its transformation over the millennia. So much had been lost in the flight to this world, Rathillien, that much of the past has become garbled. So, at least, many claimed, the Caineron loudest of all.

“Wealth and power had he, and knowledge deeper than the Sea of Stars.”

This too was old news: so had their lords. The self-styled Highborn had ruled over the lowly Kendar almost without restraint since the withdrawal of the catlike Arrin-ken who had served as their judges and mediators. Some lords were good, others . . . demanding. “The gentle brush of our lord’s whim,” as another old song put it; “The crack of his displeasure.”

“But he feared death.”

Eyes jerked up at a discordant note and a sudden squawk from Higbert. The tip of Ashe’s little finger had broken off as she struck her lyre and had flipped into the Caineron’s mug of cider. He threw both vessel and contents aside, perhaps by accident into the lap of Gorbel, his lord’s heir. Gorbel retrieved the partial digit and returned it to the singer without comment.

“My thanks, Lordan,” said Ashe, pocketing it. “I will sew it back on later.”

The cadets watched this transfer intently, reminded, as if any need be, that the haunt singer was herself neither alive nor quite dead.

As would-be randon, death was to become a way of life for them, both their own and that of anyone under their command. Would they be strong enough to make such mortal decisions? An honorable death bought freedom—from their lords’ dominion, from their hated Three-Faced God who had set them such an impossible task as to stop the Shadows’ spread down the Chain of Creation. Singer Ashe must be very strong not to have chosen the oblivion that she had earned from her wounds taken even before the battle at the Cataracts. As for the Master, the mere fear of death was no excuse for anything.

Ashe cleared her throat, spat out a loose tooth, and continued.

“ ‘Dread lord,’ he said to the Shadow that Crawls, even to Perimal Darkling, ancient of enemies, ‘my god regards me not. If I serve thee, whilst thou preserve me, even to the end of time?’ Night bowed over him. Words they spoke.”

At the far end of the hall, the outer door ground open a crack. Through it squeezed an ice-crusted figure accompanied by whips of freezing snow and blades of wind. The cadets huddled closer together. Some glared. Others looked wide-eyed with surprise. Who traveled so late at night, in such weather?

Rue of the Knorth jumped up and went quickly to help the new arrival shed her outer garments. The hood slid back from black hair intricately braided and from silver-gray eyes set in a thin face pinched with the cold. Beneath the coat, the newcomer wore a cadet’s jacket, fur-lined boots, and heavy mittens. These last she stripped off to reveal black gloves.

“Lady, what are you doing here?” Rue demanded over her armload of winter gear. “You should still be snug with your lord brother at Gothregor.”

The other laughed wryly. “Tori and I are seldom ‘snug.’ Anyway, you know that I have to ride north tomorrow to be with the Merikit on the solstice.”

Rue made an unhappy sound. None of her people welcomed their lady’s bond with the wild hill folk nor understood it. Wasn’t it enough that the Highlord’s sister was a cadet here at the college where no Highborn girl had ever been before? Why did she have to complicate matters with heathen connections?

She patted Rue on the shoulder. “Never mind. I’m here now and so, I see, is most of the student body. Didn’t anyone go home during the break after the Winter War?”

“A few. The weather kept most of us here. Ashe was benighted on her way south to Falkirr and the Commandant asked her to sing for us. But come to the fire, lady. God’s claws, you’re all but fringed in icicles.”

Across the room, the Ardeth Lordan Timmon smiled at her and Gorbel grunted something that might have been a welcome.

“Then went my lord Gerridon to his sister and consort, the priestess Jamethiel Dream-weaver, and said, ‘Dance out the souls of the faithful that darkness may enter in.’ And she danced.”

“Greetings, my lady.” Ashe broke off to incline her head to the young woman known as Jameth, who bowed in return and settled down among her ten-command.

Pretty Mint hurried to bring her a mug of warm cider which she cupped in chilled, gloved hands. Dar said something that made Quill laugh and the new cadet, Damson, glower. Erim, Killy, and Niall bobbed their heads. Leaning against the wall, wooden faced Brier Iron-thorn gave her a brief nod.

“Two-thirds of the People fell that night, Highborn and Kendar. ‘Rise up, Highlord of the Kencyrath,’ said the Arrin-ken to Glendar. ‘Your brother has forfeited all. Flee, man, flee, and we will follow.’ And so he fled, Cloak, Knife and Book abandoning, into the new world. Barriers he raised, and his people consecrated them. ‘A watch we will keep,’ they said, ‘and our honor someday avenge. Alas for the greed of a man and the deceit of a woman, that we should come to this!’ ”

The last words fell like the blow of an axe on dead flesh, not quite sundering it from the living present.

The cadets clapped, as if to draw some warmth back into their hands. As old as the song was, it still struck cold. Moreover, there sat Glendar’s heir, the Knorth Lordan, last (save her brother) of that ancient, fabulously pure bloodline. It was enough to give pause even to those who believed in the Lawful Lie.

“The Master I understand—somewhat,” Rue said, “but nothing else in the old songs explains the Dream-weaver. How could she do something so wicked?”

Jameth moved as if to comment, but bit back whatever she had been about to say.

“You just heard the story,” said Killy. “She followed her lord’s command.”

“And so became entangled in Honor’s Paradox,” added Quill, so named because his parents had wanted him to become a scrollsman. “Where does one’s honor lie, in following orders or in oneself?”

No one answered, although many stirred uneasily. Honor might have held the Kencyrath together since its creation, but in these latter days it had become a complicated thing as some lords pushed hard to bend it to their own use.

“Sing something funny!” called a voice from the safety of the crowd.

Straight-faced, the singer responded:

“There was a young randon named Ashe

Renowned for her battlefield dash

Struck down only once

By some Central Land runt

She limped evermore with panache.”

This drew genuine cheers which the singer acknowledged, but then she struck a chord and continued with barely a pause.

“Ganth Gray Lord, Gerraint’s heir

Grim he went riding from Gothregor.

High in the White Hills harm awaited

The hard-handed lord and the host he summoned.

Trace now the tangled cause of this trouble:

If I tell this tale, tears will follow.”

The hall quieted. If the Master had been the first to fall, this was the prologue to the second cataclysm, triggered by the massacre of the Knorth ladies by Bashtiri shadow assassins. No one knew who had sent them, but they had surely come and slain all but the child Tieri whom Aerulan had hidden. Ganth’s misplaced revenge had led to his exile and, seemingly, to the end of the Knorth highlords. However, first Torisen and then his sister Jameth had appeared to reestablish the line. As the song ended, some cadets glanced uncertainly at the latter. Her father might well have been Ganth, but no one could name her mother, nor had she been willing to do so. The lords made more of that than the Kendar did. The latter, more practical, dealt with what they found, and the Highlord’s sister had so far proven to be a formidable if unnervingly unpredictable young woman.

Ashe sang again, this time about the second, more recent battle in those infamous hills, some thirty years after Ganth’s fall:

“The White Hills have drunken my blood,

Red, red, the flowers

Oh, when will I breathe free again?

Red, the flowers, red.

My face is pale, my hands are cold.

Red, red the flowers.

My day is done, my night has come.

Red, the flowers, red.”

BOOK: Honor's Paradox-ARC
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