The Witch's Daughter by R. A. Salvatore




  Praise for R. A. Salvatore’s

  DemonWars series!

  The Demon Spirit

  “Absorbing … This is one of the finest books yet in Salvatore’s prolific career.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A gripping story … some of [his] best work.”

  —Booklist

  The Demon Awakens

  “Salvatore’s best work since the Dark Elf series … An enthralling epic adventure story, it introduces memorable characters and an intricate scheme of magic the readers won’t soon forget. I am anxious for the next.”

  —TERRY BROOKS

  “The Demon Awakens is Salvatore doing what he does best. Page-turning action provides the backdrop for engaging characters locked in the eternal struggle of good vs. evil. My favorite since The Halfling’s Gem.”

  —MARY KIRCHOFF

  Author of the Defenders of Magic trilogy

  By R. A. Salvatore:

  TARZAN: THE EPIC ADVENTURES*

  The DemonWars

  THE DEMON AWAKENS*

  THE DEMON SPIRIT*

  THE DEMON APOSTLE*

  Forgotten Realms Novels

  THE CRYSTAL SHARD

  STREAMS OF SILVER

  THE HALFLING’S GEM

  HOMELAND

  EXILE

  SOJOURN

  THE LEGACY

  STARLESS NIGHT

  SIEGE OF DARKNESS

  PASSAGE TO DAWN

  CANTICLE

  IN SYLVAN SHADOWS

  NIGHT MASKS

  THE FALLEN FORTRESS

  THE CHAOS CURSE

  The Spearwielder’s Tales

  THE WOODS OUT BACK

  THE DRAGON’S DAGGER

  DRAGONSLAYER’S RETURN

  The Crimson Shadow Trilogy

  THE SWORD OF BEDWYR

  LUTHIEN’S GAMBLE

  THE DRAGON KING

  The Chronicles of Ynis Aielle

  ECHOES OF THE FOURTH MAGIC*

  THE WITCH’S DAUGHTER*

  *Published by Del Rey Books

  Books published by The Ballantine Publishing Group are available at quantity discounts on bulk purchases for premium, educational, fund-raising, and special sales use. For details, please call 1-800-733-3000.

  A Del Rey® Book

  Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group

  Copyright © 1991 by R. A. Salvatore

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in slightly different form by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Books, USA, Inc., in 1991.

  Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

  www.randomhouse.com/delrey/

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 99-90416

  eISBN: 978-0-307-77607-5

  First Ballantine Books Edition: September 1999

  v3.1

  CONTENTS

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter 1 - Bastion of Darkness

  Chapter 2 - The Dance of Rhiannon

  Chapter 3 - Gatherings

  Chapter 4 - The Western Fields

  Chapter 5 - Bryan of Corning

  Chapter 6 - The Black Tide

  Chapter 7 - Flight

  Chapter 8 - Baerendel Nightmare

  Chapter 9 - To the Bridges

  Chapter 10 - Bryan’s Choice

  Chapter 11 - Give and Take

  Chapter 12 - The Lull

  Chapter 13 - So Many Dead Heroes

  Chapter 14 - Showdown

  Chapter 15 - The Staff of Death

  Chapter 16 - Tales of Valor

  Chapter 17 - In the Dead of Night

  Chapter 18 - River Song

  Chapter 19 - Council in Avalon

  Chapter 20 - Teamwork

  Chapter 21 - Enter the Wraith

  Chapter 22 - Bells and Horns

  Chapter 23 - Arrows and Arrows and Arrows

  Chapter 24 - Mortality

  Chapter 25 - The Calm

  Chapter 26 - The Storm

  Chapter 27 - The Fabric Torn

  Chapter 28 - Wizard’s Lament

  Epilogue

  Chapter 1

  Bastion of Darkness

  THE SEA SWELLED and heaved, slamming into the rocky cliffs of the Kored-dul Mountains of western Aielle. Pounding, incessantly pounding, against the gray stone. Again and again the waves rolled in, and each time they were turned away, unable to defeat the strength, the unnatural strength, of the stone.

  There was magic here, mighty enchantments, stronger than the stone or the sea. It climbed out of the very earth, rising through the sheer cliffs and up a thousand feet, to the iron fortress of the Black Warlock. Talas-dun, the castle was called, a name that struck terror—and rightly so—into the hearts of all the goodly folk of Ynis Aielle. Few had ever come here; none but a single wizard had ever returned.

  Battlement after black battlement circled the massive keep, and iron spires rose into the ever gray sky, the eternal gloom that marked the Kored-dul. No craftsmen built this place, for it was not the labor of skilled hands. Talas-dun was the heart of the Black Warlock, the embodiment of the warlock’s evil soul, the fortress wrought of Morgan Thalasi’s magic in an age long past.

  And after all the centuries, Talas-dun remained impressive, leering down from the jutting tip of a peninsula, three sides to the sheer drop to the ocean and the fourth separated from the rest of the mountain by a wide and deep gorge. A single road wound down the mountainside from the castle’s lone gate, forlorn and as barren as death itself. Not a scrub or vine grew here, not a bird circled on the updrafts of these cliff faces, and none of the rodents that were so common to the mountains flitted across the stones.

  For this was Talas-dun.

  Morgan Thalasi’s bastion of darkness.

  But if a hero dared now to come close enough, if one of the other wizards of Aielle had come in to inspect the Black Warlock’s legendary fortress, he would have been surprised, and at least some of the hopelessness evoked by the sight of this most evil of places might have been washed away. After more than half a millennium, Talas-dun had begun to wear. The evil that bound the monstrous bastion into a singular iron entity could not keep firm to its hold. Cracks lined the iron walls and the stone of the mountain; doors creaked on rusted hinges; a great ballistae stood useless on one tower, its drawstring rotted to breaking. And so it went throughout the structure, from the foundation to the highest tier of the highest tower.

  Decay.

  Parapets that once thundered under the marching footsteps of a thousand talons, the evil soldiery of the Black Warlock, now sounded only with the murmurs of the sea wind, or with the occasional shuffle of a worn boot. A single shot from a weapon of another age on a battlefield halfway across the world had brought the being that had been Morgan Thalasi to a sudden and disastrous end, and the twenty years since had begun the unmistakable erosion of his legacy, of Talas-dun.

  Beyond the closed drawbridge and the open courtyard, and through the massive doors of the main keep—one hanging loosely on a single bent hinge—the power that had once been Talas-dun lingered on in anguish, caught in a web of confusion that it could not break.

  There sat the physical being that had once been Martin Reinheiser, one of the ancient ones who had come from the sea, from a past world, in the dawning of Ynis Aielle’s second age. The other three men who had walked beside him then would not have recognized him now. Gaunt and pale, s
kin stretched beyond its limits over deep-set hollowed cheeks, and eye sockets that more closely resembled the empty holes of a skull, Reinheiser seemed something far different from the man he had once been. Something not human, something not alive.

  Eyes twitched and darted, unable to find clear focus, vainly seeking to view two objects at once. One bony hand twitched uncontrollably on the stone arm of the black throne, muscle tearing against muscle until yet another garish blue-red bruise erupted, one of a dozen on this arm alone.

  “Stop!” the lipless mouth demanded in a throaty voice.

  “Mine!” that same mouth argued, its tone higher pitched. And so it went, hour after hour, year after long year. The being that had been Martin Reinheiser fought against itself, every move, every word, a ferocious struggle that pitted muscle against muscle.

  For two wills now inhabited this single body, two powerful wills that would not relinquish control, not for a moment, to the other.

  “Mine!” the higher tone argued again, the word stretched into several syllables by the trembling and twisting of the mouth. “I am Martin Reinheiser!”

  A grimace of agony crossed over the face as the other will stole the mouth away.

  “Get out!” the will of Reinheiser demanded. How many times had Reinheiser cried out these words, in voice and thought, since that fateful day on the distant battleground of the field called Mountaingate?

  It had all been so promising, with the spirt of Morgan Thalasi joining his own, and the warlock’s black gemstone, the mark of power growing through the skin of Reinheiser’s forehead. What greatness might these two beings accomplish now that they had been joined?

  But Thalasi was not interested in exploring the possibilities. He had shrugged off his mortal body, his dominating spirit defeating even the grim clutches of death itself, and had found a new receptacle in the nearest living being, in the body of Martin Reinheiser. And now Thalasi wanted Reinheiser out. The Black Warlock had never intended to share, had planned from the beginning to possess this body wholly. But Thalasi had underestimated the willpower of his host, and the spirit of Reinheiser still stubbornly held on.

  “You get out!” Thalasi countered, his customary growling response as soon as he had wrestled control of the mouth. The hand came up from the arm of the stone throne, slapping the face hard.

  Of course, they did not need the mouth to communicate. They could read each other’s thoughts and emotions—they had no choice but to read each other’s thoughts and emotions, fully. But the mouth had become the central battleground of their struggle, a pointed reminder of disadvantage to the opponent of he who controlled it.

  The hand came up again, but the other hand shot up to intercept, locking together in wrenching grips. And all the while the opposing wills attacked at the inside, wrestling muscles from each other. More bruises appeared, more sinews ripped away, ravaging the body. The mouth opened and contorted as both sides felt the burning agony.

  But even the scream came out only as a gurgle.

  * * *

  “He’s to it again,” croaked Burgle, one of the two talons standing guard outside of the Throne Room door. He rubbed a foot against the inside of one leg, scratching the lice that always managed to make a comfortable home of him.

  The other guard paused to listen, then smiled wickedly at the groans of agony emanating from beyond the door. “Always at it,” he grunted back in the same guttural tone. “That one’s lost ’is wits, is me guesses, an’ to the ruins of usses all!”

  “Blasted wizards,” Burgle replied. “Promisin’ the world, he does, an’ can’t find ’is own way outta ’is blasted chair.” He eyed his counterpart slyly and grinned. “But Grok’ll be fixin’ that.”

  “An’ none too soon, fer me thinkin’,” agreed the other talon. “Heared he’s back in the castle this day. Heared ’e’s lookin’ fer the boss.”

  “Ain’t hard to find,” said Burgle. “Never to be leavin’ ’is room!”

  Exhausted, the two entities of the Black Warlock found a long enough moment of truce to coordinate the body into a shaky walk from the throne. They stumbled to the wall, grasping a worn tapestry to catch themselves as they neared the lone window in the chamber.

  Why? demanded Martin Reinheiser, using internal communication now—no need to renew the fight over control of the mouth. He felt a portion of the body relax, a movement he had come to recognize as a resigned shrug from his counterpart.

  Twenty years, Morgan Thalasi replied, again internally. How long will we battle before the spirit of one of us fades away or is forced out?

  The body will die first, Reinheiser reasoned.

  And still we will battle, Thalasi assured him. Willing the corpse into an undead state so that our struggles will have some material battleground.

  Reinheiser did not doubt it for a minute. Already he could understand that their willpower would live on after death. The body should have long ago died, rarely eating and always tormented, nourished only by the strength of the minds and the hatred that refused to relinquish control.

  Yet to harm you is to harm myself, sneered Reinheiser. But still I—we—fight! And ever we will! Thalasi could not disagree. He had not foreseen these problems of cohabitation of the body, had not realized the deep sense of violation that could not be resolved, or the uncontrollable battles the two beings were forced to wage. Instincts too primal to be realized guided their struggle, instincts too base for rational thinking to defeat.

  Thus they were a doomed thing.

  They stumbled and fell, and then crawled back to the stone throne of Talas-dun, knowing that the war was about to begin anew.

  But even as the telltale trembling began, as pain became general throughout the limbs and torso, the door to the Throne Room burst open, an interruption that neither of the beings could ignore.

  Together the ravaged body’s eyes snapped at the figure bold enough to enter without permission. A talon walked through, unusually straight-backed and tall for one of its cowering race. The Black Warlock knew this particular creature’s name, “Grok,” though he hadn’t dealt with this talon for many years. Once, though, Grok had been—and might still be—commander of Talas-dun’s dwindling talon regiment. The tall talon strode defiantly up to the throne and stood before the Black Warlock.

  The warlock’s mouth twisted and turned, and the mouth managed to speak out the talon’s name.

  “Grok.”

  Grok eyed the pitiful thing for a long moment. It was a smart creature, as talons go, and it understood the weakened state of the fortress, the weakening of the power of its master. Already many of the various talon tribes of the nearby mountains refused to pay their tithes, and soon the entire region might turn openly against Talas-dun. Grok’s force could not defeat such a revolution, even with the high walls of the castle surrounding them. Only the sinister reputation of the Black Warlock had thus far held the renegades in check, but the word was spreading quickly. That being, the hateful and merciless leader named Morgan Thalasi, who had once nurtured the race of talons into vast armies, was no more.

  And only this pitiful thing that now sat on the throne of Talas-dun remained.

  Grok would change things, here and now. Grok would put an end to the reign of the wretched human and claim the throne for the talons. As the new king of Talas-dun, he would go out from the strength of his fortress, bringing the other tribes one by one under his command.

  Give me the mouth, Thalasi begged silently to the will of Reinheiser. Sensing the danger of this intrusion and realizing that Thalasi was better suited to handle talons, Reinheiser relinquished control.

  “Why have you come?” Thalasi spat, but still the mouth twisted, Reinheiser unconsciously resisting.

  An evil smile spread across Grok’s face, a grin that promised death. “Ye’re done fer,” the tall talon said, its voice hissing through pointy yellow teeth. He poked a stubby finger into his chest. “Grok’s boss now!” A curved, rusted blade slid out of the sheath on the tall talon’
s hip.

  Rage bubbled within the Black Warlock, arms and legs flailing violently, slamming against the hardness of the throne.

  Grok and the two guards watched the spectacle wide-eyed, Grok wondering if the Black Warlock might simply explode or beat himself to death before the talon had the chance.

  The Black Warlock’s fingers bled and snapped. The mouth opened wide, gurgles and indecipherable grunts coming out with streams of sputtering saliva. The whole body thrashed and slammed in the great chair.

  Grok had seen enough. Its amusement turned to disgust—not an easy emotion to evoke in a talon—and it raised its wicked blade for the killing blow.

  And in that instant of terror and rage, for the first time in two decades the opposing wills of Morgan Thalasi and Martin Reinheiser found complete accord. The battered muscles moved in harmony, the eyes focused on a single target, and a clear scream of primal rage and magical fury erupted.

  Reinheiser felt himself falling, following the spirit of Thalasi down into the foggy realm of magic, that other-dimensional region that the wizards of Ynis Aielle called upon for their strength. Reinheiser sensed the power tingling all about him, flowing in the natural harmony of its dance. He had no idea, though, of how Thalasi would access it.

  Then Martin Reinheiser came to understand. Thalasi was the master of the third school of magic, domination. The Black Warlock reached out for the magical energy with his will and pulled it in, broke away its resistance.

  Grok hadn’t even begun the blow, and the talon would never get the chance. Showers of blood and gore splattered every corner of the wide room, pieces of bone and blasted flesh flew and fell like a wind-driven rain. And the talon’s cloak, torn and shredded, flipped up into the air and then descended slowly, flattening to the stone of the floor, quite empty.

  “ ’E blew up!” Burgle shrieked, barely able to find its voice.

  “And what of you?” the Black Warlock roared, his voice still crystal clear and unspeakably powerful in the continuing harmony of rage.

  The two guards fled from the room, slamming the door and wisely falling back into position at their appointed posts.

 
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