Excerpt Two From "The Three Vows"
The Chained Blade
The Chained BladeHigh King Zyler Devdan scowled out through the window of his council chamber. The capital city of Ironcliff lay out below him, its various districts and streets rising on staggered shelves of rocky earth cut into the side of the mountain.
He turned and regarded the prisoner. “She lived the last you saw her?”“Most High King,” said a crimson-robed regent, “you can’t possibly be taking this man’s word seriously.” He flung a hand at the man chained before the council. The grizzled hunter stood in iron bonds, guards at either shoulder. Molvin, he called himself.
Two days had passed since word had reached the capital of Princess Siavell’s caravanbeing waylaid. One day since a missive arrived from the elf maid’s father, begging the king for aid in her rescue. And then this man had appeared in a frenzy, claiming to be the leader of the band that had attacked and abducted her.
Devdan would’ve brushed off his tale as mad ravings, but the man presented a silvery brooch in the form of a moonflower—a piece several nobles remembered Siavell wearing during her last visit to the capital. Molvin shuffled in place, chains clanking. “I was compelled. I told you. I’m here to set things right.”“And what’s to keep you from lying to us under that same compulsion? ”asked the regent.
The hunter bared his teeth. “Your priests have already checked me over for any spellwork. I had to do this last job and then she lifted her curse. I nearly killed my own horse getting here, hoping I could help get her back alive. You’ve got to send troops right away, or she’ll be dead within the week. “A week. And it’s already been three days.” The regent shook his head. “It’d be impossible to assemble and march enough soldiers all the way to the Gloampeaks in time. It’s fully across the plains of Drunabar.
“So send a small group.” Molvin locked gazes with the king, desperation flaring in his dark eyes. “A band of veterans. I’ve already volunteered to fight with them.”The regent scoffed. “How noble of you, being willing to take a handful of people to die at the hands of this demon. Dragskel, you said? Your pardon if I don’t quite accept the honor of a man who traffics with such monsters.”
A cough interrupted as Gamric, Captain of the King’s Guard, stepped forward. “M’liege, I might know of just the person for this sort of business. “Oh?” Devdan raised an eyebrow. “Someone already in the city?”The captain tugged at his thick mustache. “Even better. He’s right here in the castle.” “Summon him then.”“That’s the tricky part, I fear. We’ve got to go down to him.
”Devdan’s scowl only deepened as Captain Gamric led him, Molvin, and a squad of guards into the castle dungeons. Several regents had decried allowing the mercenary along, but the high king had overruled their objections, saying if the man proved false or a threat, he could easily be stuck in one of the empty cells along the way. “This Khellus fellow,” the king said. “I thought my father had him executed for treason near a decade ago.”Gamric lit the dank hallway with a torch. “Close, but not quite, your majesty. Your father wanted to have him killed, but certain circumstances interfered. Instead, he just locked him up before you came to the throne. He hasn’t seen daylight in over ten years.
“Is there a reason you’ve kept track of him all this time?” The captain hesitated. “He...was my friend. Before things went sour.” “And yet you’ve let him just rot here?” Molvin asked.“I can’t exactly disobey the king’s command, and only a royal pardon could free him.” Gamric glowered back at the hunter. “Aside from being the deadliest assassin this land has ever seen, Khellus is also the only man I know who ever singlehandedly faced down a demon" and Devdan frowned.
“Surely he’s decrepit from languishing here all these years. ”Gamric shoved the cell door open. “That’s another matter, m’liege. See for yourself.”The king let a pair of guards precede him, and then entered the cell. A lanky man stood chained to the opposite wall—wrists, ankles, and neck all secured by thick iron bands. Wearing only a simple loincloth, his lean, muscular form surprised Devdan, who’d expected to find a withered prisoner. How had this man sustained his physique all this Khellus kept his gaze on the floor, showing no sign of recognizing he had guests.
Long white hair draped near to his waist, and Devdan glimpsed thin, angular features despite the cell’s “Shatter me,” Gamric muttered. “He still hasn’t aged a day.”A whisper floated over. “I know you didn’t come to visit after all this time just to remark on my handsomeness, Gamric.” Khellus lifted his head and pinned the men with gray-green eyes. He held an amused expression, as if in on a joke none of the others had gotten yet.
Gamric stepped aside and bowed to the monarch. “Khellus, you’re in the presence of High King Zyler Devdan. He—”“I know who he is. He’s got his father’s eyes and brow.” He squinted at Devdan. “Tell me, do you have his penchant for madness as well? ”Devdan held up a hand, halting the guards who’d strode forward to punish the prisoner for the impudence. “I’d like to think I’ve a clearer mind and purer spirit than he did,” Devdan said. “Considering I deposed him, it’s my goal to leave a better legacy.”Khellus smiled faintly. “Ah. So that’s what all the screaming was about those years back. A pity I missed out on the fun.”
“If you want that manner of fun,” Gamric said, “we’ve a proposition for you.” The captain introduced Molvin and explained the situation. Khellus pursed his lips at the mention of Dragskel, but otherwise remained unmoved. When he finished, Molvin peered past his own guards at the other prisoner. “What’s so special about you, anyways? How’d you beat a demon—if that’s even true?”Khellus grinned at the captain. “You didn’t explain?”
The others looked to Gamric, who grimaced. “For all we can tell, Khellus is...er...immortal.” Gamric raised hands against the other men’s dubious expressions. “I’ve wondered myself, but seeing him here, unchanged, confirms it for me. Anyone would’ve shown some sign of age after ten years, but he doesn’t. It’s why your father locked him up down here rather than just having him executed. Nothing stuck, not blade or fire or magic.”
“How’s that possible?” Devdan asked. Khellus chuckled. “Your father’s favorite explanation was that I’d succumbed to dreadful temptations and sold my soul to dark powers.”“And the truth?”“Surely you can respect a person wanting to keep a few secrets, oh King.”
He looked between them all. “I gather you’re all a bit pressed for time in this matter, so rather than me blathering on with an explanation you won’t believe anyways, why don’t we get to the heart of the matter, Devdan leaned in. “Could you do this? Lead the rescue?”“Of course I could. The real question is...do I want to?”
Khellus sighed and leaned back against the wall. “And the answer is no.” Devdan blinked. “I beg your pardon?”“Good day, gentlemen. I do appreciate the visit. Drop by in another ten years and we’ll see how your royal legacy is getting along, shall we? ”Gamric gripped the hilt of his sword. “Khellus, an innocent life is at stake here.”“Not my life, so what does it matter to me?” “Princess Siavell has dedicated her—”Khellus laughed. “Oh, that’s right, it’s a princess. Well, that makes sense. Not just an innocent life but a noble one as well. No wonder you’re all so flustered. Tombs forbid you’d actually be showing concern for innocent commoners.
”Devdan gritted his teeth. “I am the king. I have the power to give you your life back. Serve me in this, and I’ll see you amply rewarded.” “I served your father, did you know? Sent plenty to an early grave for his favor and coin.” Khellus rattled his chains.
“See how amply he rewarded me? As for holding power over my life, you’ve not so much as you’d like to think.” Molvin snorted. “This fool’s a waste of time. King Devdan, sire...please, let me help. My band is still together, and they’re not far. My second-in-command rode here with me. Eogwen can have the rest ready to run in a day. We could—”Khellus’ head snapped back up.
“Eogwen?”Molvin looked taken aback. “You know the name?”“Raven hair and emerald eyes? Likes juggling sharp objects when she’s bored? As like to slit your throat as well as your coin purse if you look at her the wrong way?” “Aye, that’s her, right enough. What of it?”Khellus closed his eyes for a few moments.
When he opened them again, his gaze had gained a startling clarity. “I’ll help.”“What?” Molvin huffed. “Because Eogwen’s involved?”Khellus leveled a flat look at the man. “I don’t have to explain myself to you, witch’s hound.” The hunter twitched and started to protest, but Khellus refocused on the king.
“I have two conditions.”Devdan crossed his arms. “Those being?”“First, I get a full pardon. Nothing I’ve done gets held against me moving forward.” He raised a long finger. “Before you agree, realize if anyone comes after me for supposed pastwrongs—and I mean anyone—you’ll be the first person I visit after dealing with them.”“You ask for a pardon and then threaten me in the same breath?” “Certainly. But if you’re a king of your word, unlike your father, you’ll never have anything to fear from me.
My second condition is simple enough. If I’m central to your little operation, then I’m in charge.” He pointed a chin at Molvin. “And if your band tags along, they answer to me over you. No questions asked. ”Molvin jerked in his chains. “Now hold on...” “Done,” said Devdan. “On both accounts.”“Bravo.” Khellus raised his arms. “Now then, would someone mind taking these chains off? After ten years, they’re starting to chafe a bit.”
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