Luthien's Gamble by R. A. Salvatore



  The Crystal Shard

  Streams of Silver

  The Halfling’s Gem


  Echoes of the Fourth Magic




  The Witch’s Daughter

  In Sylvan Shadows

  Night Masks

  The Legacy

  The Fallen Fortress

  Starless Night

  The Woods Out Back

  The Dragon’s Dagger

  The Chaos Curse

  Siege of Darkness

  The Sword of Bedwyr *

  Dragonslayer’s Return


  A Time Warner Company

  LUTHIEN’S GAMBLE. Copyright © 1996 by R. A. Salvatore. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

  For information address Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

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  A Time Warner Company

  ISBN 0-7595-8342-0

  A hardcover edition of this book was published in 1996 by Warner Books.

  First eBook edition: June 2001

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  To Diane, and to Bryan, Geno, and Caitlin



  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


  Excerpt from The Dragon King


  PROLOGUE It was a time in Eriador of darkness, a time when King Greensparrow and his wizard-dukes blanketed all the Avonsea Islands in a veil of oppression and when the hated cyclopians served as Praetorian Guard, allied with the government against the common folk. It was a time when the eight great cathedrals of Avonsea, built as blessed monuments of spirituality, the epitome of homage to higher powers, were used to call the tax rolls.

  But it was a time, too, of hope, for in the northwestern corner of the mountain range called the Iron Cross, in Montfort, the largest city in all of Eriador, there arose cries for freedom, for open revolt. Evil Duke Morkney, Greensparrow’s pawn, was dead, his skinny body hanging naked from the tallest tower of the Ministry, Montfort’s great cathedral. The wealthy merchants and their cyclopian guards, allies of the throne, were sorely pressed, bottled up in the city’s upper section, while in the lower section, among the lesser houses, the proud Eriadorans remembered kings of old and called out the name of Bruce MacDonald, who had led the victory in the bitter cyclopian war centuries before.

  It was a small thing really, a speck of light in a field of blackness, a single star in a dark night sky. A wizard-duke was dead, but the wizard-king could easily replace him. Montfort was in the throes of fierce battle, rebels pitted against the established ruling class and their cyclopian guards. The vast armies of Avon had not yet marched, however, with winter thick about the land. When they did come on, when the might that was Greensparrow flowed to the north, all who stood against the wizard-king would know true darkness.

  But the rebels would not think that way, would fight their battles one at a time, united and always with hope. Such is the way a revolution begins.

  Word of the fighting in Montfort was not so small a thing to the proud folk of Eriador, who resented any subjugation to the southern kingdom of Avon. To the proud folk of Eriador, uttering the name of Bruce MacDonald was never a small thing—nor were the cries for Eriador’s newest hero: the slayer of Morkney, the unwitting leader of a budding revolution.

  Cries for the Crimson Shadow.


  The revolt had begun here, in the huge nave of the Ministry, and the dried blood of those killed in the first battle could still be seen, staining the wooden pews and the stone floor, splattered across the walls and the sculpted statues.

  The cathedral was built along the wall separating the city’s merchant class from the common folk, and thus held a strategic position indeed. It had changed hands several times in the weeks since the fighting began, but so determined were the revolutionaries that the cyclopians still had not held the place long enough to climb the tower and cut down Duke Morkney’s body.

  This time, though, the one-eyed brutes had come on in full force, and the Ministry’s western doors had been breached, as well as the smaller entrance into the cathedral’s northern transept. Cyclopians poured in by the score, only to be met by determined resisters, and fresh blood covered the dried blood staining the wooden pews and the stone floor.

  In mere seconds, there were no obvious battle lines, just a swarming mob of bitter enemies, hacking at each other with wild abandon, killing and dying.

  The fighting was heard in the lower section of the city, the streets belonging to the rebels. Siobahn, half-elven and half-human, and her two-score elvish companions—more than a third of all the elves in Montfort—were quick to answer the call. A secret entrance had been fashioned in the wall of the great cathedral, which it shared with lower Montfort, cut by cunning dwarfs in those rare times when there was a lull in the fighting. Now Siobahn and her companions rushed from the lower section of town, scrambling up preset ropes into the passageway.

  They could hear the fighting in the nave as they crawled along the crude tunnel. The passage split, continuing along the city’s dividing wall, then curving as it traced the shape of the cathedral’s apse. The dwarfs had not had a hard time fashioning the passage, for the massive wall was no less then ten feet thick in any place, and many tunnels were already in place, used by those performing maintenance on the cathedral.

  Soon the elves were traveling generally west. They came to an abrupt end in the tunnel at a ladder that led them up to the next level. Then they went south, west again, and finally north, completing the circuit of the southern transept. Finally Siobahn pushed a stone aside and crawled out onto the southern triforium, an open ledge fifty feet up from the floor that ran the length of the nave, from the western door all the way to the open area of the crossing transepts. The beautiful half-elf gave a resigned sigh as she brushed the long wheat-colored tresses from her face and considered the awful scene below.

  “Pick your shots with care,” Siobahn instructed her elven companions as they crowded out behind her and filtered along the length of the ledge. The command hardly seemed necessary as they viewed the jumble of struggling bodies below. Not many targets presented themselves, but few archers in all of Avonsea could match the skill of the elves. The great longbows sang out, arrows slicing through the air unerringly to take down cyclopians.

  A quarter of the elvish force, with Siobahn in the lead, ran along the triforium all the way to its western end. Here a small tunnel,
still high above the floor, ran across the western narthex and crossed the nave, opening onto the northern triforium. The elves rushed among the shadows, around the many statues decorating that ledge, to its opposite end, the base of the northern transept. More cyclopians poured in through the door there, and there were few defenders to stem their flow in this area. The ten elves bent their bows and fired off arrow after arrow, devastating the invading cyclopians, filling the northern transept with bodies.

  Below in the nave, the tide seemed to turn, with the cyclopians, their reinforcements dwindling, unable to keep up the momentum of their initial attack.

  But then there came an explosion as a battering ram shattered the doors at the end of the southern transept, destroying the barricades that had been erected there. A new wave of cyclopians charged in, and neither the archers on the triforium nor the men fighting in the nave could slow them.

  “It is as if all the one-eyes of Montfort have come upon us!” the elf standing behind Siobahn cried out.

  Siobahn nodded, not disagreeing with the assessment. Apparently Viscount Aubrey, the man rumors named as the new leader of the king’s forces in Montfort, had decided that the Ministry had been in enemy hands long enough. Aubrey was a buffoon, so it was said, one of the far too many fumbling viscounts and barons in Eriador who claimed royal blood, lackeys all to the unlawful Avon king. A buffoon by all accounts, but nevertheless Aubrey had taken control of the Montfort guards, and now the viscount was throwing all of his considerable weight at the rebel force in the cathedral.

  “Luthien predicted this,” Siobahn lamented, speaking of her lover, whom the fates had chosen as the Crimson Shadow. Indeed, only a week before, Luthien had told Siobahn that they would not be able to hold the Ministry until spring.

  “We cannot stop them,” said the elf behind Siobahn.

  Siobahn’s first instinct was to yell out at the elf, to berate him for his pessimism. But again Siobahn could not disagree. Viscount Aubrey wanted the Ministry back, and so he would have it. No longer was their job the defense of the great building. Now all they could hope to do was get as many allies out alive as possible.

  And, in the process, inflict as much pain as possible on the cyclopians.

  Siobahn bent her bow and let fly an arrow that thudded into the chest of a one-eyed brute an instant before it thrust its huge sword into a man it had knocked to the floor. The cyclopian stood perfectly still, its one large eye staring down at the quivering shaft, as though the brute did not understand what had happened to it. Its opponent scrambled back to his feet and brought his club in a roundhouse swing that erased the dying brute’s face and hastened its descent to the floor.

  The man spun and looked to the triforium and Siobahn, his fist raised in victory and in thanks. Two running strides put him in the middle of yet another fight.

  The cyclopians advanced in a line along the southern end of the swarming mob, linking up with allies and beating back resisters.

  “Back to the southern triforium,” Siobahn ordered her companions. The elves stared at her; if they rejoined their kin across the way, they would be surrendering a valuable vantage point.

  “Back!” Siobahn ordered, for she understood the larger picture. The nave would soon be lost, and then the cyclopians would turn their eyes upward to the ledges. The only escape for Siobahn’s group was the same route that had brought them in: the secret passage that linked the far eastern wall with the southern triforium. The half-elf knew that she and her companions had a long way to go, and if that small tunnel above the western doors was cut off by the cyclopians, the northern ledge, and Siobahn’s group, would be completely isolated.

  “Run on!” Siobahn called, and her companions, though some still did not understand the command, did not pause to question her.

  Siobahn waited at the base of the northern triforium looking back across the nave as her companions rushed by. She remained confident that her elven band, the Cutters by name, would escape, but feared that not a single man who was now defending the nave would get out of the Ministry alive.

  All the elves passed her by and were moving along the tunnel. Siobahn turned to follow, but then looked back, and a wave of hope washed over her.

  As she watched, a small, perfectly squared portion of the back end of the cathedral, directly below the secret tunnel that her group had used to enter the Ministry, fell in. Siobahn expected a resounding crash, and was surprised to see that the wall did not slam to the floor but was supported by chains, like some drawbridge. A man rushed in, scrambling over the angled platform, his crimson cape flowing behind him. He leaped to the floor, and two short strides brought him to the altar, in the center of the apse. Up he leaped, holding high his magnificent sword. Siobahn smiled, realizing that those cunning dwarfs had been at work on more than the secret entrance. They had fashioned the drawbridge, as well, probably at Luthien’s bidding, for the wise young man had indeed foreseen this dangerous day.

  The defenders of the Ministry fought on—but the cyclopians looked back and were afraid.

  The Crimson Shadow had come.

  “Dear Luthien,” Siobahn whispered, and she smiled even wider as Luthien’s companion, the foppish halfling Oliver deBurrows, rushed to catch up to the man. Oliver held his huge hat in one hand and his rapier in the other, his purple velvet cape flowed out behind him. He got to the altar and leaped as high as he could, fingers just catching the lip. Kicking and scrambling, the three-foot-tall Oliver tried desperately to clamber up beside Luthien, but he would not have made it except that Luthien’s next companion rushed up behind, grabbed the halfling by the seat of his pants, and heaved him up.

  Siobahn’s smile faded as she regarded the newcomer, though surely the half-elf was glad to see Luthien in such strong company. This one was a woman, a warrior from Luthien’s home island of Bedwydrin, tall and strong and undeniably beautiful, with unkempt red hair and eyes that shone green as intensely as Siobahn’s own.

  “Well met, Katerin O’Hale,” the half-elf whispered, putting aside the moment of jealousy and reminding herself that the appearance of these three, and of the three-score warriors that poured over the drawbridge behind them, might well be the salvation of those trapped defenders in the nave.

  Crossing the tunnel within the west wall was no easy task for the elves, for Siobahn’s fears that the cyclopians would cut them off were on the mark, and the one-eyed brutes were waiting for them in the crawl spaces above the western narthex. The defense had not yet been organized, though, and the elves, with help from their kin from the southern tunnel, fought their way through to the southern triforium with only a few minor injuries.

  Coming out onto that ledge, Siobahn saw that the fighting below had shifted somewhat, with the defenders gradually rolling toward the east, toward the escape route that Luthien and his force had opened.

  “Fight to the last arrow,” Siobahn told her companions. “And prepare ropes that we might go down to the southern wing and join with our allies.”

  The other elves nodded, their faces grim, but truly they could not have expected such an order. The Cutters were quick-hitters: in, usually with their bows only, and out before the enemy could retaliate. This was the Ministry, though, and it was about to be lost, along with many lives. Their usual tactics of hit and retreat be damned, Siobahn explained hurriedly, for this battle was simply too important.

  Luthien was in the fighting now, his great sword Blind-Striker cutting down cyclopians as he spearheaded a wedge of resistance. Oliver and Katerin flanked him, the halfling—tremendous hat back upon his long and curly brown locks—fighting with rapier and main gauche, and the woman deftly wielding a light spear. Oliver and Katerin were formidable fighters, as were the men holding the lines behind them, a wedge of fury working out from the semicircular apse, felling enemies and enveloping allies in their protective shield.

  For the cyclopians, though, the focus of the march was Luthien, the Crimson Shadow, slayer of Morkney. The one-eyes knew that cape and they
had come, too, to know the remarkable sword, its great golden and jewel-encrusted hilt sculpted to resemble a dragon rampant, outspread wings serving as the secure crosspiece. Luthien was the dangerous one: he was the one the Eriadorans rallied behind. If the cyclopians could kill the Crimson Shadow, the revolt in Montfort might quickly be put down. Many cyclopians fled the determined stalk of the mighty young Bedwyr, but those brave enough put themselves in Luthien’s way, eager to win the favor of Viscount Aubrey, who would likely be appointed the next duke of the city.

  “You should fight with main gauche,” Oliver remarked, seeing Luthien engaged suddenly with two brutes. To accentuate his point, the halfling angled his large-bladed dagger in the path of a thrusting spear, catching the head of the weapon with the dagger’s upturned hilt just above the protective basket. A flick of Oliver’s deceptively delicate wrist snapped the head off the cyclopian’s spear, and the halfling quick-stepped alongside the broken shaft and poked the tip of his rapier into the brute’s chest.

  “Because your left hand should be used for more than balance,” the halfling finished, stepping back into a heroic pose, rapier tip to the floor, dagger hand on hip. He held the stance for just a moment as yet another cyclopian came charging in from the side.

  Luthien smiled despite the press, and the fact that he was fighting two against one. He felt a need to counter Oliver’s reasoning, to one-up his diminutive friend.

  “But if I fought with two weapons,” he began, and thrust with Blind-Striker, then brought it back and launched a wide-arcing sweep to force his opponents away, “then how would I ever do this?” He grabbed up his sword in both hands, spinning the heavy blade high over his head as he rushed forward. Blind-Striker came angling down and across, the sheer weight of the two-handed blow knocking aside both cyclopian spears, severing the tip from one.

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