A forge of valor, p.1
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       A Forge of Valor, p.1

         Part #4 of Kings And Sorcerers series by Morgan Rice
 
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A Forge of Valor


  A F O R G E O F V A L O R

  (KINGS AND SORCERERS—BOOK 4)

  MORGAN RICE

  Morgan Rice

  Morgan Rice is the #1 bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the epic fantasy series THE SORCERER’S RING, comprising seventeen books; of the #1 bestselling series THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS, comprising eleven books (and counting); of the #1 bestselling series THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY, a post-apocalyptic thriller comprising two books (and counting); and of the new epic fantasy series KINGS AND SORCERERS, comprising four books (and counting). Morgan’s books are available in audio and print editions, and translations are available in over 25 languages.

  Morgan loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.morganricebooks.com to join the email list, receive a free book, receive free giveaways, download the free app, get the latest exclusive news, connect on Facebook and Twitter, and stay in touch!

  Select Acclaim for Morgan Rice

  “If you thought that there was no reason left for living after the end of THE SORCERER’S RING series, you were wrong. In RISE OF THE DRAGONS Morgan Rice has come up with what promises to be another brilliant series, immersing us in a fantasy of trolls and dragons, of valor, honor, courage, magic and faith in your destiny. Morgan has managed again to produce a strong set of characters that make us cheer for them on every page.…Recommended for the permanent library of all readers that love a well-written fantasy.”

  --Books and Movie Reviews

  Roberto Mattos

  “RISE OF THE DRAGONS succeeds—right from the start…. A superior fantasy…It begins, as it should, with one protagonist's struggles and moves neatly into a wider circle of knights, dragons, magic and monsters, and destiny.…All the trappings of high fantasy are here, from soldiers and battles to confrontations with self….A recommended winner for any who enjoy epic fantasy writing fueled by powerful, believable young adult protagonists.”

  --Midwest Book Review

  D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer

  “An action packed fantasy sure to please fans of Morgan Rice’s previous novels, along with fans of works such as THE INHERITANCE CYCLE by Christopher Paolini…. Fans of Young Adult Fiction will devour this latest work by Rice and beg for more.”

  --The Wanderer, A Literary Journal (regarding Rise of the Dragons)

  “A spirited fantasy that weaves elements of mystery and intrigue into its story line. A Quest of Heroes is all about the making of courage and about realizing a life purpose that leads to growth, maturity, and excellence….For those seeking meaty fantasy adventures, the protagonists, devices, and action provide a vigorous set of encounters that focus well on Thor's evolution from a dreamy child to a young adult facing impossible odds for survival….Only the beginning of what promises to be an epic young adult series.”

  --Midwest Book Review (D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer)

  “THE SORCERER’S RING has all the ingredients for an instant success: plots, counterplots, mystery, valiant knights, and blossoming relationships replete with broken hearts, deception and betrayal. It will keep you entertained for hours, and will satisfy all ages. Recommended for the permanent library of all fantasy readers.”

  --Books and Movie Reviews, Roberto Mattos

  “In this action-packed first book in the epic fantasy Sorcerer's Ring series (which is currently 14 books strong), Rice introduces readers to 14-year-old Thorgrin "Thor" McLeod, whose dream is to join the Silver Legion, the elite knights who serve the king…. Rice's writing is solid and the premise intriguing.”

  --Publishers Weekly

  Books by Morgan Rice

  KINGS AND SORCERERS

  RISE OF THE DRAGONS (Book #1)

  RISE OF THE VALIANT (Book #2)

  THE WEIGHT OF HONOR (Book #3)

  A FORGE OF VALOR (Book #4)

  THE SORCERER’S RING

  A QUEST OF HEROES (Book #1)

  A MARCH OF KINGS (Book #2)

  A FATE OF DRAGONS (Book #3)

  A CRY OF HONOR (Book #4)

  A VOW OF GLORY (Book #5)

  A CHARGE OF VALOR (Book #6)

  A RITE OF SWORDS (Book #7)

  A GRANT OF ARMS (Book #8)

  A SKY OF SPELLS (Book #9)

  A SEA OF SHIELDS (Book #10)

  A REIGN OF STEEL (Book #11)

  A LAND OF FIRE (Book #12)

  A RULE OF QUEENS (Book #13)

  AN OATH OF BROTHERS (Book #14)

  A DREAM OF MORTALS (Book #15)

  A JOUST OF KNIGHTS (Book #16)

  THE GIFT OF BATTLE (Book #17)

  THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY

  ARENA ONE: SLAVERSUNNERS (Book #1)

  ARENA TWO (Book #2)

  THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS

  TURNED (Book #1)

  LOVED (Book #2)

  BETRAYED (Book #3)

  DESTINED (Book #4)

  DESIRED (Book #5)

  BETROTHED (Book #6)

  VOWED (Book #7)

  FOUND (Book #8)

  RESURRECTED (Book #9)

  CRAVED (Book #10)

  FATED (Book #11)

  Listen to KINGS AND SORCERERS in its Audiobook edition!

  Amazon

  Audible

  iTunes

  Want free books?

  Subscribe to Morgan Rice's email list and receive 4 free books, 2 free maps, 1 free app and exclusive giveaways! To subscribe, visit: www.morganricebooks.com

  Copyright © 2015 by Morgan Rice

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author.

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Jacket image Copyright St. Nick, used under license from Shutterstock.com.

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

  CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

  CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

  CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

  CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

  CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

  CHAPTER THIRTY

  CHAPTER THIRTY ONE

  CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

  CHAPTER THIRTY THREE

  CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR

  CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE

  CHAPTER THIRTY SIX

  "Valor is superior to number."

  Flavius Vegetius Renatus

  (4th century)

  CHAPTER ONE

  A cell door slammed
, and Duncan slowly opened his eyes, wishing he hadn’t. His head was throbbing, one eye was sealed shut, and he struggled to shake off the heavy sleep. A sharp pain shot through his good eye as he leaned back against cold, hard rock. Stone. He was lying on cold, damp stone. He tried to sit up, felt iron tugging at his wrists and ankles, rattling, and immediately, he realized: shackles. He was in a dungeon.

  A prisoner.

  Duncan opened his eyes wider as there came the distant sound of marching boots, echoing somewhere in the blackness. He tried to get his bearings. It was dark in here, stone walls dimly lit by torches flickering far away, by a small shaft of sunlight from a window too high up to see. The pale light filtered down, stark and lonely, as if from a world miles away. He heard a distant drip of water, a shuffle of boots, and he could just barely make out the contours of the cell. It was vast, its stone walls arched, with too many dark edges disappearing into blackness.

  From his years in the capital, Duncan knew right away where he was: the royal dungeon. It was where they sent the kingdom’s worst criminals, most powerful enemies, to rot away their days—or await their execution. Duncan had sent many men down here himself when he had served here, at the bequest of the King. It was a place, he knew too well, from which prisoners did not resurface.

  Duncan tried to move, but his shackles wouldn’t let him, cutting into his bruised and bleeding wrists and ankles. These, though, were the least of his ailments; his entire body ached and throbbed, in so much pain that he could hardly decipher where it hurt most. He felt as if he had been clubbed a thousand times, stampeded by an army of horses. It hurt to breathe, and he shook his head, trying to make it go away. It would not.

  As he closed his eyes, licked his chapped lips, Duncan saw flashes. The ambush. Had it been yesterday? A week ago? He could no longer recall. He had been betrayed, surrounded, lured by promises of a false deal. He had trusted Tarnis, and Tarnis, too, had been killed, before his eyes.

  Duncan remembered his men dropping their weapons at his command; remembered being restrained; and worst of all, he remembered his sons’ murders.

  He shook his head again and again as he cried out in anguish, trying fruitlessly to wipe the images from his mind. He sat with his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees, and moaned at the thought. How could he have been so stupid? Kavos had warned him, and he had not heeded the warning, being naively optimistic, thinking it would be different this time, that the nobles could be trusted. And he had led his men right into a trap, right into a den of snakes.

  Duncan hated himself for it, more than he could say. His only regret was that he was still alive, that he had not died back there with his sons, and with all the others he had let down.

  The footsteps came louder, and Duncan looked up and squinted into the darkness. Slowly there emerged the silhouette of a man, blocking the shaft of sunlight, approaching until he stood but a few feet away. As the man’s face took shape, Duncan recoiled with recognition. The man, easily distinguishable in his aristocratic dress, wore the same pompous look he’d had when petitioning Duncan for the kingship, when trying to betray his father. Enis. Tarnis’s son.

  Enis knelt before Duncan, a smug, victorious smile on his face, the long vertical scar on his ear noticeable as he stared back with his shifty, hollow eyes. Duncan felt a wave of revulsion, a burning desire for vengeance. He clenched his fists, wanting to lunge for the boy, to tear him apart with his own hands, this boy who had been responsible for the death of his sons, for his men’s imprisonment. The shackles were all that was left in the world to keep him from killing him.

  “The shame of iron,” Enis remarked, smiling. “Here I kneel, but inches from you, and you are powerless to touch me.”

  Duncan glared back, wishing he could speak, yet too exhausted to form words. His throat was too dry, his lips too parched, and he needed to conserve his energy. He wondered how many days it had been since he’d had water, how long he’d been down here. This weasel, anyway, was not worth his speech.

  Enis was down here for a reason; clearly he wanted something. Duncan had no false illusions: he knew that, no matter what this boy had to say, his execution was looming. Which was what he wanted, anyway. Now that his sons were dead, his men imprisoned, there was nothing left for him in this world, no other way to escape his guilt.

  “I am curious,” Enis said, in his slick voice. “How does it feel? How does it feel to have betrayed everyone you know and love, everyone who trusted you?”

  Duncan felt his rage flare up. Unable to keep silent any longer, he somehow summoned the strength to speak.

  “I betrayed no one,” he managed to say, his voice gravelly and hoarse.

  “Didn’t you?” Enis retorted, clearly enjoying this. “They trusted you. You walked them right into ambush, surrender. You stripped the last thing they had left: their pride and honor.”

  Duncan fumed with each breath.

  “No,” he finally replied, after a long and heavy silence. “You are the one who stripped that away. I trusted your father, and he trusted you.”

  “Trust,” Enis laughed. “What a naïve concept. Would you really stake men’s lives in trust?”

  He laughed again, as Duncan fumed.

  “Leaders don’t trust,” he continued. “Leaders doubt. That is their job, to be skeptical on behalf of all their men. Commanders protect men from battle—but leaders must protect men from deception. You are no leader. You failed them all.”

  Duncan took a deep breath. A part of him could not help but feel that Enis was right, as much as he hated to admit it. He had failed his men, and it was the worst feeling of his life.

  “Is that why you have come here?” Duncan finally replied. “To gloat over your deception?”

  The boy smiled, an ugly, evil smile.

  “You are my subject now,” he replied. “I am your new King. I can go anywhere, anytime I wish, for any reason, or for no reason at all. Maybe I just like to look at you, lying here in the dungeon, as broken as you are.”

  Duncan breathed, each breath hurting, barely able to control his rage. He wanted to hurt this man more than anyone he’d ever met.

  “Tell me,” Duncan said, wanting to hurt him. “How did it feel to murder your father?”

  Enis’s expression hardened.

  “Not half as good as it will feel when I watch you die in the gallows,” he replied.

  “Then do it now,” Duncan said, meaning it.

  Enis smiled, though, and shook his head.

  “It won’t be that easy for you,” he replied. “I will watch you suffer first. I want you to first see what will become of your beloved country. Your sons are dead. Your commanders are dead. Anvin and Durge and all your men at the Southern Gate are dead. Millions of Pandesians have invaded our nation.”

  Duncan’s heart sank at the boy’s words. Part of him wondered if this was a trick, yet he sensed it was all true. He felt himself sinking lower into the earth with each proclamation.

  “All of your men are imprisoned, and Ur is being bombarded by sea. So you see, you have failed miserably. Escalon is far worse off than it was before, and you have no one to blame but yourself.”

  Duncan shook with rage.

  “And how long,” Duncan asked, “until the great oppressor turns on you? Do you really think you shall be exempt, that you will escape Pandesia’s wrath? That they will allow you to be King? To rule as your father once did?”

  Enis smiled wide, resolute.

  “I know that they will,” he said.

  He leaned in close, so close that Duncan could smell his bad breath.

  “You see, I’ve made them a deal. A very special deal to ensure my power, a deal that was too much for them to turn down.”

  Duncan dared not ask what it was, yet Enis smiled wide and leaned in.

  “Your daughter,” he whispered.

  Duncan’s eyes widened.

  “Did you really think you could hide her whereabouts from me?” Enis pressed. “As we speak, Pandesians
are closing in on her. And that gift will cement my place in power.”

  Duncan’s shackles rattled, the noise echoing throughout the dungeon, as he struggled with all his might to break free and attack, filled with a despair beyond what he could bear.

  “Why have you come?” Duncan asked, feeling much older, his voice broken. “What is it that you want from me?”

  Enis grinned. He fell silent for a long time, then finally sighed.

  “I believe that my father wanted something of you,” he said slowly. “He would not have summoned you, would not have brokered that deal, unless he did. He offered you a great victory with the Pandesians—and in return, he would have requested something. What? What was it? What secret was he hiding?”

  Duncan stared back, resolute, no longer caring.

  “Your father did wish for something,” he said, rubbing it in. “Something honorable and sacred. Something he could trust with only me. Not his own son. Now I know why.”

  Enis sneered, flushed red.

  “If my men died for anything,” Duncan continued, “it was for this sake of honor and trust—one that I would never break. Which is why you shall never know.”

  Enis darkened, and Duncan was pleased to see him enraged.

  “Would you still guard the secrets of my dead father, the man who betrayed you and all your men?”

  “You betrayed me,” Duncan corrected, “not he. He was a good man who once made a mistake. You, on the other hand, are nothing. You are but a shadow of your father.”

  Enis scowled. He slowly rose to his full height, leaned over, and spit beside Duncan.

  “You will tell me what he wanted,” he insisted. “What—or who—he was trying to hide. If you do, I might just be merciful and free you. If not, I will not only escort you to the gallows myself, but I will see to it that you die the most gruesome death imaginable. The choice is yours, and there is no turning back. Think hard, Duncan.”

 
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