Douglas Niles: Lord of the Rose

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Douglas Niles Lord of the Rose
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    Lord of the Rose
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    Английский
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Douglas Niles


Lord of the Rose

PROLOGUE

39 SC

The War of Souls is over…

The “One God,” revealed as treacherous Takhisis, was slain by the misdirected fury of the elf heir, Silvanoshei-thanks to the great sacrifice of Paladine, patriarch of the gods. Giving up his own immortality so the Dark Queen could be destroyed, Paladine now wanders the world in mortal flesh, destined to live and die as any mundane creature.

The prophet of Takhisis was Mina. After vengefully killing Silvanoshei, she vanished, and it is said that she has removed herself to self-imposed exile. Even the whisper of her name can still bring a shiver of fear to the spine of a brave man.

With their god slain and their commander departed, the order of Dark Knights has struggled against disarray. Bereft of both leadership and faith, individual officers and companies have formed bands of brigands, or become mercenaries following the highest bidder.

In Solamnia, former Dark Knight comrades vied for control of the Palanthian docks, the rich Solanthian treasury, the grain exchange in Caergoth, and the wool markets in Garnet.

Even without Mina to guide them, the Dark Knights were able to preserve pockets of power. Only in Solanthus were they quickly expelled, overthrown by a popular rebellion of the city’s merchants. In Thelgaard, Garnet, and Caergoth, the knightly brigades served brutal warlords. The cities became private fiefdoms, the strong lording over the weak. The ancient Solmanic Code and Measure, the notion of Est Sularus oth Mithas-“My honor is my life”-seemed to most a quaint saying from ancient history.

But the Knights of Solamnia, moving swiftly to follow up their victory in the War of Souls, began to establish new bases of power. The city of Sanction, site of a legendary siege and the setting for the eventual defeat of the Dark Queen, became a bastion of the knighthood. Lord Tasgall, Chairman of the Whitestone Council, maintained his headquarters there, and the three orders-Crown, Rose, and Sword-began to accept squires and apprentices, schooling them in the traditions of the Solamnic Code.

The knights worshiped Kiri-Jolith the Just as their patron god. Mishakal the Merciful was also honored, and-in a signal of the evolving nature of Solamnic power-the merchant god Shinare was feted in many new temples and market rituals. In Sanction, business boomed.

But the traditional heartlands of the knighthood lay far from that city. In the aftermath of war, chaos and disorder still prevailed in many places. Historic Solamnia included the fortress-cities of Caergoth, Thelgaard, and Solanthus, as well as the great port of Palanthas. None of these yet came under the control of the knighthood.

The most strategically important of these city-states was Palanthas. Located to the north of the vast plains, secure on the shore of its deep bay behind the mountain barrier of the Vingaard Range, Palanthas had always been a beacon of culture and civilization. Even after decades of war, after conquest by the Dark Knights and subjugation by the mighty dragon overlord Khellendros, the city not only survived but thrived. During the course of one long night and bloody day in the autumn of 37 SC, Solamnic knights moved to arrest or kill the warlords and all remnants of the Dark Knight dynasty. The guilds, the docks, the garrisons and the gates were quickly seized, opposition quickly, ruthlessly suppressed.

In this swift reclamation, the knights were aided by a powerful wizard, a young woman named Coryn the White. She had come only recently to Palanthas, and was believed to be a protege of Jenna, Mistress of the Red Robe. Coryn’s spells duped the Dark Knights into slumber before the coordinated attacks, opened the gates to sealed towers, and brightened the path for the Knights of Solamnia’s midnight forays. Only reluctantly did the white robed mage shed the blood of those who resisted, but she was resolute, and her efforts facilitated success with a minimum of destruction and violence.

In a gesture of true wisdom, Lord Tasgall did not choose a war leader to govern Palanthas after the knighthood regained control. Instead, he appointed a merchant prince. Lord Regent Bakkard du Chagne became, by decree of Lord Tasgall and the New Whitestone Council, the Ruling Mayor and Lord Regent of Palanthas. It was du Chagne who had organized and ordered the swift coup that reclaimed the city, and Tasgall recognized the new knighthood, at this point, needed not so much steel swords as steel coins.

Bakkard du Chagne was a man who knew steel coins, understood how to wield them. Aided by a loyal cadre of enforcers, du Chagne taxed the resurgent commerce at unprecedented levels, amassing a huge personal fortune, which he kept as gold bars locked atop the loftiest tower of his palace. The merchants didn’t complain-much-because du Chagne dealt forcibly with all pirates and brigands. Trade thrived, and it seemed as though everyone in Palanthas was making money again.

The knighthood itself, meanwhile, grappled with a crisis of leadership. Many of the highest ranking nobles were tainted by alliances or outright collaboration with the Dark Knights and were thus deemed unacceptable to the new order. Most knights fervently wished to see a return to the days when the Oath and the Measure provided the norm for governance.

The first order of business was the securing of the vital sea lanes between Sanction, Palanthas, and Sancrist. Key to this area was the great port and fortress of Caergoth, which the knights assaulted with a great army commanded by Lord Hubert, a Captain of the Rose. Lord Hubert expelled the warlords in a winter campaign, and by spring of 39 SC that mighty fortress was once again a bastion of the Knights of Solamnia. Hubert perished amidst his victory, but Crawford, his son, was appointed Duke of Caergoth, even though some whispered he was not cut from the same cloth.

Duke Crawford spearheaded subsequent campaigns, which removed the Dark Lords from power in Garnet, Thelgaard, and their other remaining centers. Even the merchant cabal in Solanthus was replaced by a duke appointed by the Lord Regent. By the autumn of 40 SC, Bakkard du Chagne had secured his realm. To the acclaim of the general public, the Solamnic Order-and the justice of the Code and the Measure-was restored.

For a brief time, the people allowed themselves to hope for a restoration of the ancient empire, even for a king who would once again unite the lands. The favorite of the people was a noble lord, Lorimar-he bore a mighty flaming sword, an ancient artifact of the knighthood. Lorimar’s daughter, prophecies claimed, would be the new queen.

Instead, trouble disrupted the new prosperity. Growing numbers of goblins roamed the wilderness of the Garnet Range and the lands of Lemish. Lord Lorimar and his daughter were murdered by a mysterious killer, and the lord’s great manor was burned in the attack. Lorimar’s ancient sword, Giantsmiter, went missing-no one doubted that it had been stolen by the assassin.

And the people of the land could only dream of the future that was lost.

CHAPTER ONE

Two Riders

42 SC, The Age of Mortals

There’s a couple of ’em in the bushes, off to the right.”

The dwarf announced his observation with no visible movement of his lips, the sound resembling a harsh cough hacking from the tangle of his gray-black beard. Lurching in the saddle even at the easy gait of his walking mare, he cursed and shifted, working the kinks out of his back. Riding made him even more irascible than usual. He glared at the cover to either side of the road ascending from the forested valley toward the crest of a rounded ridge.

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