The Still: Rodrigo, Prince of Caledon, is petulant, selfish, and uncaring. When his mother, Queen Elena, dies, he fully expects to inherit the title of king. Instead, his uncle usurps the throne, and Rodrigo is forced out of the kingdom, along with his brother and best friend. In order for Rodrigo to take back his birthright, he must win not only the allegiance of the Council of State, but also the Still, a mystical power that can only be channeled by the rightful king of Caledon. To wield that power, Rodrigo must be pure and honest, and must be crowned king. His success or failure will determine the fate of not only his homeland, but of his very soul.
“The best fantasy novel of the year.” —Science Fiction Chronicle
The King: Having taken control of the mystical powers of the Still, Rodrigo has gained the knowledge of his forefathers. But even the wisdom of generations of Caledonian rulers can’t prepare him for what will come next. A sudden betrayal costs Rodrigo the life and companionship of the person he loves most. With the savage King Hriskil advancing on the north, hoping to seize Caledon, Rodrigo must press on toward an earth-shattering magical confrontation.
“Feintuch’s best book yet.” —Booklist
About the Author
David Feintuch (1944–2006) was the author of the award-winning military science fiction Seafort Saga series, which spans Midshipman’s Hope, Challenger’s Hope, Prisoner’s Hope, Fisherman’s Hope, Voices of Hope, Patriarch’s Hope, and Children of Hope. Feintuch came to writing late, previously having worked as a lawyer and antiques dealer. In 1996, at the age of fifty, he won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer from the World Science Fiction Society. He later expanded into the fantasy genre with his Rodrigo of Caledon series, including The Still and The King.
Read an Excerpt
THUNDER RUMBLED ACROSS THE ramparts and cobbles of the keep. Gray sheets of summer rain reduced the courtyard of the donjon to an inland sea of mud that lapped at the battlements.
Safe within, I smoothed my damp hair and knocked at Mother's chamber, exhilarated from a long gallop to outrun the sudden summer storm. Below, Stryx harbor whipped into a froth and hurled whitecaps across the low shore road. Perhaps when the Still of Caledon was mine at last, I would choose my own weather, and ride free of care.
At Mother's iron-belted door, Nurse Hester met me with her customary scowl. "She's resting well. Say nothing to rile her, or I'll —" She subsided, wrinkling her nose at Ebon's sweat redolent on my leather jerkin. As always, Hester's speech was too free. She'd nursed me from infancy, as she had Mother before, and our rank held no awe for her.
"Hold your tongue, old woman." Then, quickly, before she could shrivel me with a fierce reply, "How is she?"
Her gnarled hand whipped round. I flinched, but she only waved a swollen knuckle under my nose. "Think you that lanky and long makes you a man, Rodrigo?" Her voice scratched like a blade on glass. "Courtesy marks a true nobleman, and grace!" With that, she hobbled to Mother's bedside, dabbed her dozing lady's forehead with a damp towel.
"My lady, the boy Rodrigo" — I reddened at Hester's emphasis — "answers your summons." As if in emphasis, thunder rumbled the windowpane.
Mother blinked, focused her troubled blue eyes on mine.
I bowed to Elena, Queen of Caledon. Mine was the informal bow, the house bow, scarce more than a nod, but required of me nonetheless. I blurted, "How do you feel?"
"Roddy." A smile eased creases worn by long months of pain. "Sit." She patted her plump featherbed.
"Madam, he'll soil the linens; he's come from that great stinking horse."
"Then have them changed; it's past time you let me sit by the window." Mother tapped the teal coverlet. Obediently, I perched at her side. Her brow wrinkled at the sway of the bed on its ropes. Hester muttered disapproval, but retired to the scarred plank table across the bedchamber.
I asked, "Do the herbs help?"
"I'm long beyond that." Mother's tone was cross. "As well you know."
"Lord Tannel said —"
"Elwyn Tannel is a fool, like all surgeons and physickers. If I didn't chew his dreadful lozenges he'd nag me to my grave faster than this disease of wasting." She grimaced. "Lord knows of what the tablets are made. Stable droppings and frog's bowels, or whatever Estland vogue holds sway this season."
I kneaded my knuckles, waiting.
She asked, "You rode with Rustin?"
"He was attending Llewelyn. Ebon and I raced almost to Whiecliff before the clouds gathered."
"With Elryc and Pytor?"
"No!" I grimaced. "I see enough of my brothers." If I let them, they'd follow me everywhere. Elryc, eleven, sniffed constantly, and Pytor whined more man any boy of eight should be allowed. They trailed me about the castle grounds, sometimes urging me to join their games, but often merely to see what I was about. Perhaps they even reported to some inquisitive noble of Stryx. We were none of us free from schemes, liaisons, intrigues of state.
Trust was for commoners, who had naught to forfeit.
"I met our outguard patrol, Mother. Tantroth remains in his hills; no sign that his folk approach." Not that we really expected him to lunge, yet.
Her voice gentled. "I'll try to give you time, Roddy."
She had so little time to give. I kept my expression hard, lest she and Hester think me a weak mewling youngsire.
Mother said, "Tantroth will wait, at least 'til I fall into unwakeable sleep and the family gathers to glean my last breath. The Norduke may covet our crown, but he's not fool enough to risk his head."
Our crown. I thrilled. As eldest son of Elena Queen, mine would be the inheritance, but I must ever be cautious. Until her death Mother had power to renounce me, and in that case, I were nothing. Despite our frequent harsh words, I'd never truly had reason to think she'd cast me down, but one treads lightly in the halls of kings.
Mother's voice dropped. I strained to hear over the steady drumbeat of rain on the ledge. "Roddy, concern yourself with more than Tantroth. On my death he'll strike for city and crown, but other hands crave the realm. With luck they'll thrust him back before turning on each other. Then, you —"
"Which lords would seize the throne?"
"Margenthar, Groenfil, half the earls of the realm. They —"
My tone dripped disdain. "What petty Powers have they to threaten Stryx? The bark of dogs?"
"Scorn not what you don't ken. Groenfil's gales topple oaks on his peasants' cribs, and Cumber could set our keep ablaze if the mood came upon him. Any of them would seize the kingdom, given —"
"But Uncle Mar is my godfather."
"Interrupt again, boy, and I'll send you to Willem!"
On the bedcover, out of Mother's view, my fist tightened. She kept me a child, or tried to, when I'd become a man.
Mother seized my wrist. Off balance, I nearly fell across her bosom. "Mar is your uncle by birth, and your godfather by maneuver." Her voice grated in wrath, whether at me or Uncle Mar, I knew not. "Yet first and always, he's Duke of Stryx, with sons of his own and ambition that burns. That's why his pledged troops are barred from Stryx. If you think his pledge of loyalty weighs against his aspiration, you're a fool!" She panted for breath.
Time to regain her respect. I raised an eyebrow. "Madam, do you mistake my inexperience for idiocy?"
It brought a pleased smile, as I knew my calm assurance would. Her voice softened. "No, else I wouldn't waste my dying hours plotting with you." She patted my hand.
"Are you ..." My voice shot into the upper register; I fought it down to a tenor. "Is it near that time?" It was all I could manage to hold her gaze.
"Not quite yet." She attempted a smile, but pain stabbed and turned it to a frown. "Perhaps I'll rally again. When you're eighteen, you'll be safe. Well, no one is ever truly safe, but with the Still ..."
"I'm sixteen. What if —"
Two months weren't enough to matter. "What if I'm not yet eighteen when you ..." I couldn't say it to her face.
"Rodrigo, we die. Your father Josip did, I'm working at it. You will too, in your own time. It's no disgrace. Say it!"
I sighed. "If I'm not eighteen when you die." Mother had her ways. I had to submit; else I might find myself slung across Chamberlain Willem's table, gasping from the blows of his strap.
She nodded her satisfaction. "Was that so hard? Now, once you gain the crown you'll have your wits to protect you. And hopefully, the Still." Her eyes darted to me. "Have you —?"
I shook my head, unwilling to trust my voice.
"Control yourself, at any cost"
"Mother!" I sought another topic, but not before my ears flamed and my humiliation was complete.
"Did you hear?"
I snarled, "How could I not?"
"To wield the Power, you must —"
"I know!" Could I for a moment forget, with her constant harping? I bounded to my feet. "Mother, I've appointments to keep. Good day. I hope you feel better."
Her voice snapped like a whip. "You have no leave!"
Fuming, I sat again.
"Immature child! Insolent whelp! Is it any wonder I fret?"
I swallowed. "I'm sorry, Mother." She could be pushed just so far, and without intent, I'd overstepped the line.
She regathered her breath. Then, "If I don't recover, even with the Still, the risk is great."
"Will they go for my life?"
My stomach churned, but I let nothing show in my face.
She added, "Not at first, I judge. A regency, so they'll have time to set their men in place. Later, a sudden accident, a flux of the intestines. Perhaps a stray arrow. The kingdom will pass into their hands."
"What should we do?"
A sigh. She lay back, her face gray and pained.
Old Hester, disregarding rank and propriety, tottered across the bedchamber, hauled me from the bed. "Say your farewells and begone to your stables. She needs rest."
I shook off the old crone's arm, but even I could see Mother was played out. "Good-bye, Mother." My tone was stiff, as befit a prince to his Queen.
Weary, drifting, she nodded, murmured something I could not hear. I made my bow, turned to leave. As the door creaked open her words came more clearly. "The Power. It is key to all. Be True and it will not fail."
Before I could respond, Hester shooed me from the room like an irate hen.
I strode past the rooms of Mother's maids in waiting to the iron- studded door that segregated the Queen's quarters from the body of the donjon. Slamming it behind me, I stalked to the great stone central stairs of Castle Stryx. No one was about. I perched sidesaddle on the wide walnut banister, slid down to the ground level of the keep.
In the lower hall a servant on a stool dug wax from a sconce; as I hurtled past he gave a startled yelp. Nonchalantly, I hopped off the rail, paused to look about as if to survey our citadel for the first time.
Here at the foot of the stairwell, one passed into a wide vaulted chamber that served as Castle Stryx's banquet hall and assembly place.
To the right of the massive stair, an entryway led to the vaulted offices where Mother's chamberlain, Willem of Alcazar, managed the business of the household and oversaw Griswold's stables, the cooks, and the various servants. In the opposite wing, Margenthar, Duke of Stryx, maintained his sumptuous quarters.
Uncle Mar. Mother's only brother. He had his own castle at Verein, but lived much of the year with us. From his apartments in Castle Stryx he conducted affairs of state, as Mother's surrogate.
I glanced back to the silent stairwell. Upstairs, the north wing housed our favored courtiers and staff such as Willem and Griswold. The south hall held the Queen's own chambers and above them, my own, my brother Elryc's, and the nursery where Pytor still dwelt.
The servant finished polishing the sconce. With a familiar slight bow of acknowledgment, he went about his business. I trotted down the half flight to the massive, carved outer door. The guard swung it open with proper deference. Ignoring him, I snatched a cloak from the cupboard to shield me from the downpour.
"Your brother asked for you, youngsire."
I glared. "Which one?" Why did the guard still call me "youngsire"? If I corrected him I'd only look petulant. Reluctantly I let it pass.
"Lord Elryc. He wanted —"
"I care not." I skipped down the stone stairs and crossed the rocky courtyard. At the outer wall, where the horsepath turned sharply to break the charge of an invader, a gatesman opened the small daily door set in the huge weathered portal of state. Holding my cloak tight, I left the grounds.
Castle Stryx. Set against the high cliffs of the Estreach, it was accessible in force only by Castle Way, or above from the rocky foothills that sloped from cliffs to our ramparts.
I strode down the hill toward the city. The rain was abating, but not soon enough. I'd be soaked ere long.
Thinking of Mother's admonishments, I snorted with disgust. Of course the Still wouldn't fail, were I True. That was its nature. So I'd been taught for as long as I could remember.
Great kingdoms possessed great Powers, small realms only minor encant.
Each Power had its own properties. When carried into battle, the Rood of Norland lent our northern neighbors ominous strength. The White Fruit of Chorr was said to make whoever ingested it forever a servant, and secured for the King of the Chorr the loyalty of his intimates. In Parrad, the very trees could be made to speak. The Powers followed crown and land, inseparably. Within every kingdom it was so. Our vassal earls themselves had some small Powers; Lady Soushire's ire spoke to dogs, and drove them to rage.
Our own endowment was the Still. Of little use at war, it nonetheless had its merit. Carefully wielded, it was said to bestow some degree of foresight. And Mother said it embodied the age-old wisdom of the rulers of Caledon. Just how, she'd not made clear.
How would I feel, when at last it was mine to wield? I shivered. I couldn't know until Elena Queen was gone, and despite the Powers I'd gain, I dreaded that day.
Perhaps even after Mother's death I'd not know the Still. The Power was conferred with the crown, and it wasn't certain I'd live to wear it.
I bent, picked up a small stone, and flung it up the hill. A slim figure in cloak and hood ducked behind a tree. I snarled, "Walk with me, lout, or run to your nurse, but don't skulk behind me, sniffling!"
Sheepish, my brother Elryc came forth, a forearm raised lest I concealed another stone. "Let me go with you." At eleven, his voice still piped. His limp brown hair was cut as if a bowl had been laid over his head.
My voice was sharp. "I suppose Pytor's just past the bend?"
"He's at fencing." We all had our lessons. Even I, who no longer needed them.
I grunted. One shadow was less bothersome than two, and Mother would be annoyed if Elryc complained again. "Come, if you must." I set forth down the hill.
"Rustin." My tone was curt.
"Why not send for him?" My friend Rustin, son of Llewelyn, Householder of Stryx, was a nobleman in his own right. His House was autonomous and no fief. But nonetheless Rust would still have eagerly answered my call.
"Too many eyes watch, near the castle."
Elryc sniffed. "As if there were fewer in the city."
I glanced at him with new respect. "Well said. You learn."
"What are you and Rustin up to, that you don't want watched?"
"Talk. Whatever." Sometimes a young lord wanted to be by himself, or with his own kind. Elryc nodded as if he understood. We trudged along the muddy path.
The City of Stryx nestled at the foot of the winding supply road, called Castle Way, that twisted upward from the wharfs toward the castle gate. Tradesmen who struggled with loaded carts and sweating oxen cursed Castle Way's narrow turns and steep banks. No matter, our concern wasn't their convenience, but our security. The Norland was but two days sail from our harbor, and Hriskil's hostile ships had more than once scudded into the bay, bristling with pikemen and shieldbearers.
The midsummer sun battled with the persistent drizzle. I considered abandoning the road, crashing through the underbrush, sliding down the steep hillside. Less distance, but more work, and I'd muddy my breeks. On a drier day, without Elryc, I'd walk by way of Besiegers' Pond. A shallow pool, hidden by brush, it lay but a few dozen paces off the road. Oft I lounged on its banks beside the inviting still waters, and thought private thoughts.
"What did Mother tell you?" Elryc plodded beside me.
"That I'm to have you thrown in the cells, the moment I'm King."
He started with alarm, but realized I couldn't be telling truth. Sullen, he muttered, "I hope you lose the Power!"
I jerked him to the side of the road, flung him against the rocky shoulder. "So says my brother?" I raised my arm.
I punched him in the chest; he squealed his pain. He hadn't much flesh between skin and bone.
"The brother who begged me to hide him from Uncle Mar, the day you poured wine into his boot?" I jabbed him again. "Lose the Power? What would come of you, little one? Would you be heir, or a corpse thrown in the gutter alongside mine?"
"Stop or — I'll tell!"
I cuffed him again for good measure, let him slide sobbing to the soggy ground, knowing it wasn't a good day for the Queen to hear I'd lost my temper.
I crouched, waiting while he wiped his tears. "Did I say you'd learned, Elryc? I was wrong. Hold your feelings tight. What when I'm King? How, if I remember this day, and hold it against you?"
His breath came in a shudder. "You won't." I glared, but his reddened eyes rose and held mine. "You bully me and make me cry, but you won't really hurt me. You never have."
"Fool." I scuffed at his knee with my toe. "Come along, or I'll leave you bawling in the dirt."
He got to his feet. "About the Power —"
"Don't start again." I moved on, and he scurried to follow.
"I don't really want you to lose it. But what of the True? You lied to me, Roddy."
"That doesn't count." A moment's doubt, which I resolutely quenched. "Not between us."
"Mother told me." Another lie. I fell silent, before I ruined myself utterly.CHAPTER 2
THE WEEK PASSED QUIETLY. I visited mother, once with my brothers, then alone. She seemed less ill.
Meanwhile, preparations were under way for the meet of our Council of State. Duchess Larissa rode in from Soushire; the other members were expected anon. To escape the hubbub I waited until Elryc was at lessons, sternly bade little Pytor stay behind, and crossed the stony courtyard to the stables.
Kerwyn the groomsman bent into the half bow, that of a household servant to his masters. "An hour, my lord. Ebon's at his oats, and Genard is combing him."
The afternoon was young and I had no errands, but I stamped my foot with irritation at the delay. "I'm ready now."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rodrigo of Caledon"
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