Cover image for The warrior king
The warrior king
Bunch, Chris.
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Publication Information:
New York : Aspect, [1999]

Physical Description:
366 pages : map ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The wizard Tenedos transformed decaying Numantia into a mighty empire, but his lust for conquest destroyed his land. Only General Damastes, imprisoned and exiled, knows Tenedos well enough to predict his schemes. And only Damastes can forge an army to challenge Tenedos and save a ravaged and hopeless land.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

The conclusion to Bunch's well-received fantasy trilogy (The Seer King; The Demon King), this brawny story of war and power‘both political and supernatural‘offers much enjoyment but no satisfying closure. Ex-Tribune Damastes frees himself from prison, only to resume the war that put him there. He confronts or is courted by various factions, including Tenedos, the demon-commanding emperor he betrayed, and the Tovieti, the secret society that killed his lover. As he fights, Damastes heals old wounds and finishes old business, falling in love with a Tovieti sorceress named Cymea, with whom he combines forces against Tenedos. Yet Damastes's experiences also affirm that he is born to be a warrior, not a politician, and the novel ends with Numantia's future leadership uncertain. Is Bunch laying the ground for another trilogy? The author's writing is clear and vivid; his well-delineated battle scenes are especially strong, presenting unexpected combinations of sword and sorcery. Though the magic here lacks some of the grandeur and strangeness of that in other fantasies, Bunch's depictions of town and military life offer the consolation of a welcome realism. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The Summons The unexpected ships arrived an hour before dusk. We'd seen them sailing toward my island prison for some hours and wondered--no one was allowed to sail in these waters without government permission. There were three of them, one a large merchantman, the other two fast pirate chasers, low sleek galleys. My warders scurried to their fighting stations. They were frightened the emperor, now revealed to be still alive, might be trying to rescue me, the last of his bloody-handed tribunes who used sword and fire to take and hold the throne of Numantia. But the emperor grew arrogant, thought himself greater than the death-goddess Saionji, and invaded the kingdom of Maisir to our south. Our army was destroyed, Numantia invaded by the Maisirians, and I myself hurled Tenedos from his throne when he threatened to send a nightmare demon against first the invaders, then against his rebelling countrymen and our capital of Nicias. Tenedos, like I, had been sent into island exile. No doubt Bairan, King of the Maisirians, hoped we'd be quietly garroted or have a convenient fall from a battlement when matters had calmed. Indeed, Tenedos had been reported dead, and I'd been waiting for my own assassin, not caring, for all the world was a bloody shatter to me. But then the world had spun about us all: Tenedos had faked his death, gotten to the mainland, and was now building his army, ready to take back his throne from Bairan's puppets who ruled in Nicias. But as the ships approached the tiny port below my fortress prison, they made certain signals, and my jailers relaxed. The ships were from Nicias, sent by the Grand Council. I, on the other hand, felt a whisper of fear, in spite of my supposed readiness to return to the Wheel, to be judged by Saionji and sent forth to a lesser life as punishment for the thousands I'd led to their deaths as First Tribune Damastes á Cimabue, Baron Damastes of Ghazi. Not that I had escaped the gods' raking in this life. My wife, now deceased--Marán, Countess Agramónte--had divorced me after our mutual love, Amiel Kalvedon, was murdered by the Tovieti cultists; and later, in Maisir, Alegria, my beautiful Dalriada, died in the long retreat from the Maisirian capital of Jarrah. I licked dry lips and then had the intelligence to laugh aloud--I'd spent all these times mewling for oblivion like a coward instead of a warrior, and now it portended, and I was terrified. I found resolve and determined to die well, die proudly. I returned to my spacious quarters, only a cell because of the barred windows overlooking the sea and the double doors with a guarded anteroom between them, and considered matters. I could either stand nobly and calmly at the moment of death as heroes were supposed to or else go down fighting. I remembered an execution in Maisir, when Captain Athelny Lasta, instead of dying quietly, killed the executioner and eight others before returning to the Wheel. I thought of him and of the various trinkets I'd procured over the long times of imprisonment and laughed once more. For what purpose does a man build weapons if he's seeking a nice, immediate death? I had a pilfered table knife I'd laboriously ground to an edge against the stones in my cell and a knob of iron such as I'd used to kill the Landgrave Malebranche, far away and long ago in Kallio. I also had that most important of all weapons--four gold coins and three silver ones I'd managed to acquire from making careful wagers with the guards, first with coppers, then escalating my bets. I put these items in various convenient places about my person, then waited. Two guards summoned me to the warden, Jelap. He was a decent sort, a bumbling old domina who'd spent fifty years under the colors. This was his last assignment before retirement. I often wondered what he thought of this assignment--four hundred guards and an enormous stone fortress with but one prisoner. There were three men waiting in his office, all wearing a strange uniform, a rather bilious shade of gray with red facings I realized must be that of the Peace Guardians, the largest military force King Bairan had allowed Numantia. They were mockingly organized into corps as my army had been, though each corps numbered only about 150 men, led by the traitorous Tribune Herne, its ranks filled with thugs so in love with force they didn't mind using it on their own countrymen. The three were Shamb Catalca and Pydnas Bosham and Huda. It said all there was to say about the Guardians that their ranks, the equivalent of our captain and legate, were the same as the Maisirian Army. These three looked as if they would find a back-alley thieves' den more comfortable than an officer's mess. I expected anything from a murderous attack to a beating to sneering contempt. What I received was formal respect, which I found a bit amusing. All three were behaving as they thought noblemen should, very much on their best, if unfamiliar, manners. "We have orders," Catalca said formally, "to convey you to Nicias, to the Grand Council, where the Lords Scopas and Barthou would be pleased to receive you." Pleased? I was hard-pressed not to show surprise. I glanced at Domina Jelap to see if I could read a clue in his face, saw nothing but stiff propriety, and, just possibly, distaste at being a Numantian officer now forced to deal with turncoats. I could be as circumspect as they. I bowed. "Having no choice in the matter, but appreciating the manner in which your orders are presented, I shall be ready to leave within the hour." "Good," Catalca said. "For we're under orders to make the greatest haste. This matter is of grave import." "May I ask what the lords desire of me?" The uglier of the two junior officers growled. Catalca glanced at him, and he was silent. "We were not taken into their lordships' confidence," he said. "Then let me return to my cell and collect my belongings." "Very well. Pydna Huda will accompany you." "There is no need for that," Domina Jelap said. "If we've guarded Tribune Damastes for over two years--" "The prisoner has no rank," Catalca said harshly. "His titles were stripped from him long ago." "I stand corrected," Jelap said. "We merely used the old formalities." "Those days are real dead," Bosham said, repressing a sneer. "Best forgotten about entirely." Jelap inclined his head. "While the prisoner is securing his property," he said, "might I at least offer you a bit of a meal and . . .," he eyed the three carefully, " . . . some very strong mulled wine? It's been a grim day; more grim, I fancy, out there on the water." "Now that's an excellent suggestion," Catalca said. He nodded to my two guards. "Bring him back here when he's got whatever he needs. Mind you, prisoner, your goods'll be well searched, so don't attempt any tricks." "I have no tricks to attempt," I said, looking bland, and went out. It took only a few minutes to gather my belongings. They said they planned to search me thoroughly, but by now I'd gained a few prisoner's tricks. The knife was in the sole of my boot, the small slug of iron in plain sight as one handle of my threadbare case. I considered that case and the worn cloak that lay over it and remembered when I had estates, castles, mansions, libraries, enough clothes to outfit a regiment. Life itself proves the Wheel's existence, with its own constant turning. As we went back to Jelap's office, one warder, a Sergeant Perak, stopped me. The other went on a few steps, then stopped, out of earshot. Perak had always been a bit sympathetic and would give me forbidden news from Numantia. "Be careful, sir. One of the boat's crew said th' emperor's taken two provinces away from the scum Councilors already. Those three pig-futterers're scared of you, as I suspect th' Maisirian worshipers they serve are as well. Scared men do desperate things." "Thank you, Sergeant. I'm always careful." An odd question came: "When I leave, what'll happen to this fortress? And you and the other soldiers?" "Not to worry," he said, with a twisted grin. "These're rough times, and a prison that can't be gotten out of's always useful. Somebody else'll be here before long." He glanced up and down the corridor, made sure the other warder was out of hearing. "With any luck, it'll be those bum-kissers Barthou and Scopas." "Careful, Sergeant. They rule Numantia." "The hells they do," he said vehemently. "Only with the swords of the dogpiss Guardians and the Maisirians behind them. Things change fast, and where they sit can change faster'n most." "So who do you want to rule? The emperor again?" Perak hesitated. "There might be worse," he said. "Barthou and Scopas were part of the Rule of Ten fools, and from what I read in the broadsides these days, haven't learned anything since." "The emperor almost destroyed Numantia," I told him. "Maybe so," Perak said quietly. "But there's enough who'd like to see him try th' throne again, and this time make it right." I didn't argue, and we went on to Jelap's office. They'd done less eating than drinking, and all three were a bit drink-hammered. Jelap must've been encouraging them by example, for his nose was a little red, and his speech the tiniest bit blurred. "Are we ready?" Catalca said. "At your command," I said. "Then let's go," he said, draining his glass. "I know little of the ocean, but I do know it's best to be away from the land when night comes. Follow us, prisoner, and don't try to escape." I almost laughed. Escape? From this rock in midocean? If possible, I would've done that a year or more ago. But I looked properly obedient and picked up my duffle. They made no effort to make the promised search. As we went down the dock to the boat Sergeant Perak came close, and his hand snaked out and passed me something. It was a sheathed dagger. I slid it into my case, looked at him. His face was blank, thinking only of duty. We got into the boat, and it began pulling away. I turned back for one last look at the prison I would never see again and witnessed something most odd. The warders were drawn up, on the fortress battlements or along the path to the dock, Domina Jelap at their head. All were at rigid salute. For whom? Certainly not the Guardians. I refused to believe it was for me, the last vestige of Tenedos's tyranny. But I still got to my feet, braced myself against an oarsman, and returned their salute, clapping my hand against my shoulder. Then I turned away to the waiting ship and what might lie ahead in Nicias. Copyright © 1999 Chris Bunch. All rights reserved.