9780765355515

The Horsemen's Gambit Book Two of Blood of the Southlands

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780765355515

  • ISBN10:

    0765355515

  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2/2/2010
  • Publisher: Tor Fantasy

Note: Supplemental materials are not guaranteed with Rental or Used book purchases.

Purchase Benefits

  • Free Shipping On Orders Over $59!
    Your order must be $59 or more to qualify for free economy shipping. Bulk sales, PO's, Marketplace items, eBooks and apparel do not qualify for this offer.
  • Get Rewarded for Ordering Your Textbooks! Enroll Now
List Price: $7.99 Save up to $6.41
  • Rent Book $4.99
    Add to Cart Free Shipping

    TERM
    PRICE
    DUE

Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

  • The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.
  • The Rental copy of this book is not guaranteed to include any supplemental materials. Typically, only the book itself is included. This is true even if the title states it includes any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

Summary

In this exciting sequel to the epic fantasy "The Sorcerers' Plague," the magical Qirsi people are weakened by the decimation of the plague, giving their unmagical enemies an opportunity to defeat them and take back lands lost in an ancient war.

Author Biography

David B. Coe won the William L. Crawford Award for his first series, The LonTobyn Chronicle. He is also the author of the popular Winds of the Forelands series. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1
Qalsyn, Stelpana, on Ravens Wash, Hunter’s Moon waxing, year 1211
First blood, the rules said. Beyond that, they didn’t specify. A nick of the skin, the severing of a limb, a fatal strike to the breast; any of these would do. First blood. That was all a warrior needed to win.
.nament worked. From the youngest child, dreaming of the day when she might step into the ring and bow to His Lordship, to the oldest man, his memory of that first bow to the lord governor a fading memory, they all knew. A battle could turn with a single thrust, be it the desperate last lunge of a weary guard or the methodical advance of .giving as steel, as merciless as the Growing sun. One mistake, one momentary lapse of concentration. First blood.
Even as she circled her opponent, watching for his next .ing and stamping all around the arena. She had watched enough matches as a child to understand the rituals of those in the boxes: the wagers, the exchange of coin at the end of each match, the constant shifting of fortune among men and women hoping to profit from each new wound. But while the spectators made sport of the contests, there could be no doubt: the tournament was a matter deadly serious to all who watched.
And yet, the earnestness of those in the boxes was nothing compared with the gravity of those in the ring. Each contest began the same way. The two combatants entered through the doors at opposite sides of the ring, walked to the center, and turned to face His Lordship, who sat in the main box. Each warrior bowed to the lord .head in salute. Then they bowed to each other. And then they began to fight.
Tirnya had fought dozens of battles in the ring, and had watched more than she could count. Some began and ended with a single devastating assault or in a blindingly .ing of blood. Other matches began slowly, as this one had, the warriors turning slow circles, eyeing each other, looking for any advantage. Attacks in such contests came in quick bursts; swords dancing suddenly, fitfully, bright blurs in the sunlight, chiming like sanctuary bells each time they clashed, whistling dully as they carved through air.
Standard Qalsyn army blades and Aelean bastard swords; Tordjanni broad blades and the famed shillads of .gers and narrow-bladed knives concealed in a sleeve or a boot: Tirnya had faced all sorts of steel in the ring. She herself might use three or four different swords and as many short blades in the course of a single tournament. But every warrior knew that the weapon itself meant nothing; it was the hand wielding the blade that mattered. There was a saying that was heard quite often this time of .neath, where the combatants awaited their turn. “You can arm a fool with the finest Aelean steel, and at the end of the day he’ll still end up bloodied.”
Like all sayings of its sort, this one carried the weight of truth. Tirnya remembered a battle tournament from her tenth or eleventh year, when she still sat in the boxes with her mother and brothers, watching with the women and children and the men who had grown too old to fight.
.member seeing before. His coat of mail, the only armor the combatants were allowed, was dull and fit poorly. .tered and travel- stained. And, most memorably, his sword was rusted and notched, a weapon barely adequate for a road brigand, much less someone who hoped to be .ment and take home the crystal blade and twenty gold sovereigns.
No one who saw him step into the ring for the first time thought the stranger would last more than a round or two.
“Even the Tordjanni army would turn away a man who .ting behind Tirnya and her family.
His companion agreed. “One round with a Qalsyn .longs.”
.ing his first opponent with elegant ease. His swordwork .trolled blow to the neck that drew blood, but caused the vanquished man no serious injury.
“The first man was no one,” the older man assured himself and his companion. “I’d never seen him before, either.”
His companion might have nodded his agreement. Tirnya wasn’t certain. She knew only that he said nothing.
When next the stranger entered the ring, it was to face a soldier from the Qalsyn army. Coaf Vantol wasn’t the finest swordsman in His Lordship’s force, but he was a good fighter, a big, strong, genial man, and a favorite among the city people. Surely the stranger would fall to Coaf. But no. With astonishing speed this man no one knew, this so-called warrior, who looked more like a troubadour desperate for coin than a fighter, had Coaf on his heels. In mere moments, the city’s man was bleeding from a cut on his cheek. First blood; second victory. No one cheered, until at last His Lordship himself stood and .plause spread through the arena, growing louder and louder.
After that the man became the favored warrior in the tournament. And he didn’t disappoint. Nine more times he stepped into the ring, and nine more times he raised his rusted blade in victory, bowing graciously, first to the central box and then to the rest. Even the old man began to cheer for him, cataloging in a loud voice the man’s fine attributes as a fighter: his agile footwork, his skilled use of the long-handled dagger in his off hand, the fluid grace of his sword arm. One might have thought that the old .gant was his praise.
Eventually the stranger did lose, to Tirnya’s father, as it happened. Her father was a marshal in His Lordship’s army, and one of the finest swordsmen in all of Stelpana. He was also well liked in many parts of the city; usually a victory for Jenoe Onjaef would have elicited a mighty roar. But on this day, the defeat of the stranger left the arena strangely quiet. The men and women in the boxes cheered for her father as he raised his blade, but even Tirnya could sense their disappointment. This once, they had been pulling not for Jenoe, but for the other man. Tirnya couldn’t deny that even she had felt the briefest pang of regret at the stranger’s loss.
Her father won the tournament that year, the last of his seven championships. He could have fought for several years more; there were some who said he could still fight in the ring to this day and compete for the crystal dagger. But his duties in His Lordship’s army had begun to lie heavy on his shoulders and he had grown bored with the ring. Besides, a few years later Tirnya was ready to take her place in the tournament, and only one member of any family could enter the ring in a given year. Still, though that was Jenoe’s last year as champion, forever after that .ance in Qalsyn. Stri had since become a captain in her father’s battalion and one of the city’s most renowned soldiers.
But for Tirnya, it was the warning inherent in Stri’s success that remained freshest in her mind. Never again would she look at any warrior and underestimate his or .nished armor. Nor would she assume that a man or woman couldn’t fight simply because he or she didn’t look the part of a warrior.
Others in the Qalsyn tournament had been slower to take this lesson to heart, and she had benefited from their .nament, the year she came of age, the other combatants looked at her and saw the daughter of a great warrior, beautiful, graceful, but too weak and too lovely to be a swordswoman of any consequence. Like Stri, she proved ..nament. In fact, she bore scars from every tournament she had entered, for though she had established herself as one of the best fighters in all the land, she had yet to win the crystal blade.
The last two years she had made it to the final match, only to be beaten on both occasions by Enly Tolm, son of Maisaak, the lord governor. Tirnya fully expected that they would meet again this year, though with a different result.
First, though, she had to defeat this giant of a man stalking her in the center of the ring. She had never learned his name; like most of the other fighters she knew him only as the Aelean. But she had seen him fight several times, and she knew that this was not a victory she could take for granted.
The Aelean was a full head taller than she, with huge shoulders and long, muscular arms. For a man of his size, he was fairly nimble: he moved his feet well and reacted quickly to his opponents’ attacks. Usually, against so powerful an opponent, she would have circled continu­ally toward his off hand and the smaller blade. But the Aelean had won more than a few of his matches with the dirk he carried in his left hand, which lashed out like a serpent at any foe too concerned with his great sword.
His greatest asset as a warrior, though, was his strength. One stroke of his bastard sword, it was said, could hew through an oak tree two hands wide. Tirnya wasn’t cer­tain that she believed this, but there could be no denying the power of the man’s sword stroke. If she tried to parry more than one or two of his attacks, her arm would end up numb, or broken.
Best, then, to keep moving. Not toward his dirk, but to her left, his right. She took care to keep outside of his sword hand, so that any blow he landed with the bastard sword would be backhanded. He eyed her warily as they turned their slow circle in the dirt. He might have been twice her size, but he knew as well as she that Tirnya had her own advantages in the ring.
She was strong for one so little, though not nearly as powerful as the Aelean. But she was quicker and more skilled with her shillad, the long, thin blade used by the horsemen of Naqbae. It wasn’t the weapon she used when leading her soldiers; it wasn’t even the sword she usually carried into the ring. But she always brought it with her to the tournament, knowing that it would be the perfect weapon against an opponent like the Aelean. The blade was light and perfectly balanced, and its length allowed her to keep her distance, to dance at the edges of her op­ponent’s reach. She was tall and long-armed. With the shillad she became elusive as well.
In her off hand she carried a second sword—short­bladed, but longer than the dagger she usually used. Any­thing to keep her distance. Some of the more powerful combatants in the tournament could fight the Aelean on his terms; she didn’t dare. “A clever warrior guards against his opponent’s strengths,” her father had once told her, “and watches for his weaknesses. More often than not, the clever ones live to fight another day.”
The Aelean struck at her and she parried with the short blade. It wasn’t a particularly hard blow, but still it made her arm sting from her wrist to her shoulder. She swiped back at him with the shillad, but he jumped away and she missed. Once more they began to circle. The crowd had been loud a moment before, but with the man’s attack they had grown quiet and restive. Even His Lordship seemed intent on their battle. He leaned forward in his chair, his chin resting in his hand, his eyes narrowed.
Perhaps sensing that she had allowed herself to be dis­tracted for the briefest instant, the man suddenly lunged at her, leveling another backhanded blow at her head. She parried this one as well, but nearly left herself open to the dirk, which flicked out at her side, like silver lightning. The crowd gasped. Tirnya spun away, unmarked. Two blows she had parried, and already her arm was begin­ning to ache.
The Aelean began to stalk her once more, and again Tirnya circled, trying to stay outside his sword arm. She waved her blade at him, trying to reach the side of his neck, but he knocked it away disdainfully with the bas­tard sword.
“Fight him!” someone shouted from behind her. Oth­ers murmured their agreement. She was losing them.
Early in one of her first tournaments, several years be­fore, she had won a contest against a larger opponent by drawing blood at the knee. Whistles and shouts of “cow­ard” chased her from the ring that day, and she never did such a thing again. Nor did she have any intention of do­ing so today. She wondered, though, if those shouting at her now remembered that day as clearly as she did.
“I hope you learned something,” her father had said to her that evening, after the tournament was over.
She had been dejected and humiliated, stung far more by the reaction from the boxes than by her loss in the next round. “I won’t go for someone’s leg again, if that’s what
you mean.”
“It’s not.”
She looked at him.
“People often liken the ring to a real battlefield,” he said. “What you experienced today should make it clear to you that they actually have very little in common.”
Tirnya frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“When you’re fighting in a war, your object is to win. It’s that simple. You win for your sovereign, you win for your people, you win for the soldiers under your com­mand. Nothing else matters. But here, in the ring, there are times when the cost of victory is higher than that of defeat. You lost the respect of a good many people today. You’ll have to earn that back, even if it means losing con­tests that trickery might let you win.”
It was another lesson she’d never forgotten. If she couldn’t defeat the Aelean fairly, warrior to warrior, she would take pride in the manner of her losing. She smiled to herself. But I have no intention of losing.
He aimed another blow at her head and for the third time she parried. This time, however, she didn’t dance away, nor did she circle to the outside of his sword hand. Instead she remained in front of him. The man’s eyes widened and he raised his bastard sword again to deliver a chopping strike that might well have sundered her short blade. Before he could hammer at her, however, she de­livered a sideways blow of her own with the shillad. The Aelean blocked it with his dirk, but by then Tirnya had struck at him with her short blade, coming in under his raised sword to cut him just below the ear.
The Aelean winced, closing his eyes, knowing that she had baited him, and that he had fallen for the ruse. But it all happened so quickly that the people in the boxes didn’t seem to understand until the Aelean lowered his blades and turned to face the center box. Seeing the blood on his neck, the spectators began to cry out Tirnya’s name again and again, the timidity of her earlier attacks now forgotten.
Over the years many in the city had grown to love her. She was, after all, the daughter of Jenoe, the Eagle of the Ring, as he had once been known, for his long reach and the swiftness with which he pounced when seeing a weakness in his foe. In recent years, as she had become more skilled with her blades and more successful in the tournaments, they had given her a name as well: the Falcon. Not as formidable as her father, but faster, more agile.
She heard that name now, amid the cries of her given name. They would be pulling for her to win the final match.
She turned to the lord governor, bowed with the Ae­lean, and then left the ring, though not before glancing up at her father, who smiled at her as he applauded with the others.
Once in the chambers beneath the boxes, Tirnya didn’t wander far from the doorway. She assumed that Enly would make short work of his next opponent. Instead, she checked her shillad for notches, and exchanged her short sword for a dagger. Enly was not nearly as big as the Ae­lean, nor was his reach as long, but he was as quick as she, perhaps quicker. The short sword would slow her down.
Satisfied that she had the right weapons for the final match, she sat on the floor a short distance from the en­trance to the ring, closed her eyes, and cleared her mind of thoughts of her match with the Aelean. Instead, she reflected on her past encounters with His Lordship’s son, scouring her memory for any pattern in his attacks, any tendencies on his part that she might use against him this time.
In truth, though, Enly was too good to be predictable. He never fought the same way twice. He was as creative as he was skilled, as clever as he was swift of hand. The first time they fought he overwhelmed her with the speed and intensity of his attacks, defeating her in mere mo­ments. Their second battle, in last year’s final match, he fought more cautiously, confounding her with feints and counterassaults. It was a longer fight, but it ended the same way.
Not this year.
Tirnya heard the roar of the crowd and then sustained applause, and she knew that Enly’s match had ended. She stood and made her way back toward the door. She glanced down to make certain that her coat of mail hung correctly, though of course it did. She examined her blades yet again, though both were polished and honed. She looked at her boots, her belt, and her gloves to see that they were prop­erly fastened, though she had no doubt that they were. Habits, all; they calmed her, steadied her breathing, slowed her pulse.
“Onjaef!” called the old guard by the doorway.
She stepped forward, stopping just beside the man, waiting for the door to open. Padar, the guard, said noth­ing to her, as was proper. He had once served under her father, and for the past six years he had stood by these doors and ushered her into the ring. But he was bound by the rules of the tournament to treat all combatants the same way.
She stood for several moments, listening to the cheers of the crowd, waiting. At last, the door opened, flooding the chamber with brilliant sunlight, so that Tirnya had to shield her eyes. A tall Qosantian soldier stepped past her, scowling bitterly, blood running from a cut along his jaw-line. Enly had won, as if there had ever been any doubt. The warrior paused and glanced back at her.
“Ya’d do us all a favor if ya beat ’im, ya know. Jest this once.”
“I’ll try,” she said mildly.
He stared at her another moment before shaking his head and walking away. “Ya’ll lose,” he muttered. “Jest as ya did last year. No one can beat ’im.”
Tirnya smiled faintly. The Qosantian wasn’t alone. Those looking to wager on this last match would have a hard time; there couldn’t have been more than a few dozen
Excerpted from The Horsemen's Gambit by David B. Coe.
Copyright © 2009 by David B. Coe.
Published in February 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in
any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Excerpts

Chapter 1
Qalsyn, Stelpana, on Ravens Wash, Hunter’s Moon waxing, year 1211
First blood, the rules said. Beyond that, they didn’t specify. A nick of the skin, the severing of a limb, a fatal strike to the breast; any of these would do. First blood. That was all a warrior needed to win.
.nament worked. From the youngest child, dreaming of the day when she might step into the ring and bow to His Lordship, to the oldest man, his memory of that first bow to the lord governor a fading memory, they all knew. A battle could turn with a single thrust, be it the desperate last lunge of a weary guard or the methodical advance of .giving as steel, as merciless as the Growing sun. One mistake, one momentary lapse of concentration. First blood.
Even as she circled her opponent, watching for his next .ing and stamping all around the arena. She had watched enough matches as a child to understand the rituals of those in the boxes: the wagers, the exchange of coin at the end of each match, the constant shifting of fortune among men and women hoping to profit from each new wound. But while the spectators made sport of the contests, there could be no doubt: the tournament was a matter deadly serious to all who watched.
And yet, the earnestness of those in the boxes was nothing compared with the gravity of those in the ring. Each contest began the same way. The two combatants entered through the doors at opposite sides of the ring, walked to the center, and turned to face His Lordship, who sat in the main box. Each warrior bowed to the lord .head in salute. Then they bowed to each other. And then they began to fight.
Tirnya had fought dozens of battles in the ring, and had watched more than she could count. Some began and ended with a single devastating assault or in a blindingly .ing of blood. Other matches began slowly, as this one had, the warriors turning slow circles, eyeing each other, looking for any advantage. Attacks in such contests came in quick bursts; swords dancing suddenly, fitfully, bright blurs in the sunlight, chiming like sanctuary bells each time they clashed, whistling dully as they carved through air.
Standard Qalsyn army blades and Aelean bastard swords; Tordjanni broad blades and the famed shillads of .gers and narrow-bladed knives concealed in a sleeve or a boot: Tirnya had faced all sorts of steel in the ring. She herself might use three or four different swords and as many short blades in the course of a single tournament. But every warrior knew that the weapon itself meant nothing; it was the hand wielding the blade that mattered. There was a saying that was heard quite often this time of .neath, where the combatants awaited their turn. “You can arm a fool with the finest Aelean steel, and at the end of the day he’ll still end up bloodied.”
Like all sayings of its sort, this one carried the weight of truth. Tirnya remembered a battle tournament from her tenth or eleventh year, when she still sat in the boxes with her mother and brothers, watching with the women and children and the men who had grown too old to fight.
.member seeing before. His coat of mail, the only armor the combatants were allowed, was dull and fit poorly. .tered and travel- stained. And, most memorably, his sword was rusted and notched, a weapon barely adequate for a road brigand, much less someone who hoped to be .ment and take home the crystal blade and twenty gold sovereigns.
No one who saw him step into the ring for the first time thought the stranger would last more than a round or two.
“Even the Tordjanni army would turn away a man who .ting behind Tirnya and her family.
His companion agreed. “One round with a Qalsyn .longs.”
.ing his first opponent with elegant ease. His swordwork .trolled blow to the neck that drew blood, but caused the vanquished man no serious injury.
“The first man was no one,” the older man assured himself and his companion. “I’d never seen him before, either.”
His companion might have nodded his agreement. Tirnya wasn’t certain. She knew only that he said nothing.
When next the stranger entered the ring, it was to face a soldier from the Qalsyn army. Coaf Vantol wasn’t the finest swordsman in His Lordship’s force, but he was a good fighter, a big, strong, genial man, and a favorite among the city people. Surely the stranger would fall to Coaf. But no. With astonishing speed this man no one knew, this so-called warrior, who looked more like a troubadour desperate for coin than a fighter, had Coaf on his heels. In mere moments, the city’s man was bleeding from a cut on his cheek. First blood; second victory. No one cheered, until at last His Lordship himself stood and .plause spread through the arena, growing louder and louder.
After that the man became the favored warrior in the tournament. And he didn’t disappoint. Nine more times he stepped into the ring, and nine more times he raised his rusted blade in victory, bowing graciously, first to the central box and then to the rest. Even the old man began to cheer for him, cataloging in a loud voice the man’s fine attributes as a fighter: his agile footwork, his skilled use of the long-handled dagger in his off hand, the fluid grace of his sword arm. One might have thought that the old .gant was his praise.
Eventually the stranger did lose, to Tirnya’s father, as it happened. Her father was a marshal in His Lordship’s army, and one of the finest swordsmen in all of Stelpana. He was also well liked in many parts of the city; usually a victory for Jenoe Onjaef would have elicited a mighty roar. But on this day, the defeat of the stranger left the arena strangely quiet. The men and women in the boxes cheered for her father as he raised his blade, but even Tirnya could sense their disappointment. This once, they had been pulling not for Jenoe, but for the other man. Tirnya couldn’t deny that even she had felt the briefest pang of regret at the stranger’s loss.
Her father won the tournament that year, the last of his seven championships. He could have fought for several years more; there were some who said he could still fight in the ring to this day and compete for the crystal dagger. But his duties in His Lordship’s army had begun to lie heavy on his shoulders and he had grown bored with the ring. Besides, a few years later Tirnya was ready to take her place in the tournament, and only one member of any family could enter the ring in a given year. Still, though that was Jenoe’s last year as champion, forever after that .ance in Qalsyn. Stri had since become a captain in her father’s battalion and one of the city’s most renowned soldiers.
But for Tirnya, it was the warning inherent in Stri’s success that remained freshest in her mind. Never again would she look at any warrior and underestimate his or .nished armor. Nor would she assume that a man or woman couldn’t fight simply because he or she didn’t look the part of a warrior.
Others in the Qalsyn tournament had been slower to take this lesson to heart, and she had benefited from their .nament, the year she came of age, the other combatants looked at her and saw the daughter of a great warrior, beautiful, graceful, but too weak and too lovely to be a swordswoman of any consequence. Like Stri, she proved ..nament. In fact, she bore scars from every tournament she had entered, for though she had established herself as one of the best fighters in all the land, she had yet to win the crystal blade.
The last two years she had made it to the final match, only to be beaten on both occasions by Enly Tolm, son of Maisaak, the lord governor. Tirnya fully expected that they would meet again this year, though with a different result.
First, though, she had to defeat this giant of a man stalking her in the center of the ring. She had never learned his name; like most of the other fighters she knew him only as the Aelean. But she had seen him fight several times, and she knew that this was not a victory she could take for granted.
The Aelean was a full head taller than she, with huge shoulders and long, muscular arms. For a man of his size, he was fairly nimble: he moved his feet well and reacted quickly to his opponents’ attacks. Usually, against so powerful an opponent, she would have circled continu­ally toward his off hand and the smaller blade. But the Aelean had won more than a few of his matches with the dirk he carried in his left hand, which lashed out like a serpent at any foe too concerned with his great sword.
His greatest asset as a warrior, though, was his strength. One stroke of his bastard sword, it was said, could hew through an oak tree two hands wide. Tirnya wasn’t cer­tain that she believed this, but there could be no denying the power of the man’s sword stroke. If she tried to parry more than one or two of his attacks, her arm would end up numb, or broken.
Best, then, to keep moving. Not toward his dirk, but to her left, his right. She took care to keep outside of his sword hand, so that any blow he landed with the bastard sword would be backhanded. He eyed her warily as they turned their slow circle in the dirt. He might have been twice her size, but he knew as well as she that Tirnya had her own advantages in the ring.
She was strong for one so little, though not nearly as powerful as the Aelean. But she was quicker and more skilled with her shillad, the long, thin blade used by the horsemen of Naqbae. It wasn’t the weapon she used when leading her soldiers; it wasn’t even the sword she usually carried into the ring. But she always brought it with her to the tournament, knowing that it would be the perfect weapon against an opponent like the Aelean. The blade was light and perfectly balanced, and its length allowed her to keep her distance, to dance at the edges of her op­ponent’s reach. She was tall and long-armed. With the shillad she became elusive as well.
In her off hand she carried a second sword—short­bladed, but longer than the dagger she usually used. Any­thing to keep her distance. Some of the more powerful combatants in the tournament could fight the Aelean on his terms; she didn’t dare. “A clever warrior guards against his opponent’s strengths,” her father had once told her, “and watches for his weaknesses. More often than not, the clever ones live to fight another day.”
The Aelean struck at her and she parried with the short blade. It wasn’t a particularly hard blow, but still it made her arm sting from her wrist to her shoulder. She swiped back at him with the shillad, but he jumped away and she missed. Once more they began to circle. The crowd had been loud a moment before, but with the man’s attack they had grown quiet and restive. Even His Lordship seemed intent on their battle. He leaned forward in his chair, his chin resting in his hand, his eyes narrowed.
Perhaps sensing that she had allowed herself to be dis­tracted for the briefest instant, the man suddenly lunged at her, leveling another backhanded blow at her head. She parried this one as well, but nearly left herself open to the dirk, which flicked out at her side, like silver lightning. The crowd gasped. Tirnya spun away, unmarked. Two blows she had parried, and already her arm was begin­ning to ache.
The Aelean began to stalk her once more, and again Tirnya circled, trying to stay outside his sword arm. She waved her blade at him, trying to reach the side of his neck, but he knocked it away disdainfully with the bas­tard sword.
“Fight him!” someone shouted from behind her. Oth­ers murmured their agreement. She was losing them.
Early in one of her first tournaments, several years be­fore, she had won a contest against a larger opponent by drawing blood at the knee. Whistles and shouts of “cow­ard” chased her from the ring that day, and she never did such a thing again. Nor did she have any intention of do­ing so today. She wondered, though, if those shouting at her now remembered that day as clearly as she did.
“I hope you learned something,” her father had said to her that evening, after the tournament was over.
She had been dejected and humiliated, stung far more by the reaction from the boxes than by her loss in the next round. “I won’t go for someone’s leg again, if that’s what
you mean.”
“It’s not.”
She looked at him.
“People often liken the ring to a real battlefield,” he said. “What you experienced today should make it clear to you that they actually have very little in common.”
Tirnya frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“When you’re fighting in a war, your object is to win. It’s that simple. You win for your sovereign, you win for your people, you win for the soldiers under your com­mand. Nothing else matters. But here, in the ring, there are times when the cost of victory is higher than that of defeat. You lost the respect of a good many people today. You’ll have to earn that back, even if it means losing con­tests that trickery might let you win.”
It was another lesson she’d never forgotten. If she couldn’t defeat the Aelean fairly, warrior to warrior, she would take pride in the manner of her losing. She smiled to herself. But I have no intention of losing.
He aimed another blow at her head and for the third time she parried. This time, however, she didn’t dance away, nor did she circle to the outside of his sword hand. Instead she remained in front of him. The man’s eyes widened and he raised his bastard sword again to deliver a chopping strike that might well have sundered her short blade. Before he could hammer at her, however, she de­livered a sideways blow of her own with the shillad. The Aelean blocked it with his dirk, but by then Tirnya had struck at him with her short blade, coming in under his raised sword to cut him just below the ear.
The Aelean winced, closing his eyes, knowing that she had baited him, and that he had fallen for the ruse. But it all happened so quickly that the people in the boxes didn’t seem to understand until the Aelean lowered his blades and turned to face the center box. Seeing the blood on his neck, the spectators began to cry out Tirnya’s name again and again, the timidity of her earlier attacks now forgotten.
Over the years many in the city had grown to love her. She was, after all, the daughter of Jenoe, the Eagle of the Ring, as he had once been known, for his long reach and the swiftness with which he pounced when seeing a weakness in his foe. In recent years, as she had become more skilled with her blades and more successful in the tournaments, they had given her a name as well: the Falcon. Not as formidable as her father, but faster, more agile.
She heard that name now, amid the cries of her given name. They would be pulling for her to win the final match.
She turned to the lord governor, bowed with the Ae­lean, and then left the ring, though not before glancing up at her father, who smiled at her as he applauded with the others.
Once in the chambers beneath the boxes, Tirnya didn’t wander far from the doorway. She assumed that Enly would make short work of his next opponent. Instead, she checked her shillad for notches, and exchanged her short sword for a dagger. Enly was not nearly as big as the Ae­lean, nor was his reach as long, but he was as quick as she, perhaps quicker. The short sword would slow her down.
Satisfied that she had the right weapons for the final match, she sat on the floor a short distance from the en­trance to the ring, closed her eyes, and cleared her mind of thoughts of her match with the Aelean. Instead, she reflected on her past encounters with His Lordship’s son, scouring her memory for any pattern in his attacks, any tendencies on his part that she might use against him this time.
In truth, though, Enly was too good to be predictable. He never fought the same way twice. He was as creative as he was skilled, as clever as he was swift of hand. The first time they fought he overwhelmed her with the speed and intensity of his attacks, defeating her in mere mo­ments. Their second battle, in last year’s final match, he fought more cautiously, confounding her with feints and counterassaults. It was a longer fight, but it ended the same way.
Not this year.
Tirnya heard the roar of the crowd and then sustained applause, and she knew that Enly’s match had ended. She stood and made her way back toward the door. She glanced down to make certain that her coat of mail hung correctly, though of course it did. She examined her blades yet again, though both were polished and honed. She looked at her boots, her belt, and her gloves to see that they were prop­erly fastened, though she had no doubt that they were. Habits, all; they calmed her, steadied her breathing, slowed her pulse.
“Onjaef!” called the old guard by the doorway.
She stepped forward, stopping just beside the man, waiting for the door to open. Padar, the guard, said noth­ing to her, as was proper. He had once served under her father, and for the past six years he had stood by these doors and ushered her into the ring. But he was bound by the rules of the tournament to treat all combatants the same way.
She stood for several moments, listening to the cheers of the crowd, waiting. At last, the door opened, flooding the chamber with brilliant sunlight, so that Tirnya had to shield her eyes. A tall Qosantian soldier stepped past her, scowling bitterly, blood running from a cut along his jaw-line. Enly had won, as if there had ever been any doubt. The warrior paused and glanced back at her.
“Ya’d do us all a favor if ya beat ’im, ya know. Jest this once.”
“I’ll try,” she said mildly.
He stared at her another moment before shaking his head and walking away. “Ya’ll lose,” he muttered. “Jest as ya did last year. No one can beat ’im.”
Tirnya smiled faintly. The Qosantian wasn’t alone. Those looking to wager on this last match would have a hard time; there couldn’t have been more than a few dozen
Excerpted from The Horsemen's Gambit by David B. Coe.
Copyright © 2009 by David B. Coe.
Published in February 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in
any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Rewards Program

Write a Review