The One Kingdom (Book Excerpt)
by Sean Russell
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In the moving landscape only the men were still. They sat at the long table
atop Summer's Hill as motionless as stones in a running stream.
Around them the wind was in flight, more joyous than a swallow, as heedless
as a child. It swept down onto the new green oats and raked through the hay,
making waves and patterns like sand on a riverbed. Gusts bent and swayed the
trees, pulling away the spring leaves and spinning them up into the wind-washed
sky. But in the center of this the men remained still.
Dease was relieved that he and Samul had prevailed, and the others had
agreed to meet here, where the countryside was visible for almost half a
league. He didn't want to take the least chance that they would be overheard-it
was enough that they had to listen to themselves.
"I would say there is not one among the Wills who can even unhorse him, let
alone manage what we need," Samul said -- Samul, who almost never spoke out in
the family assemblies, preferring to seed his ideas in the minds of others so
that he might watch quietly. Samul the cunning, Dease thought of him.
Beld shifted on his bench. "Toren is so sympathetic to the Wills that I
think they should not even want to cause him a bruise, let alone do him
Dease noticed that the others looked a little uncomfortable whenever Beldor
spoke. No matter what their feelings in this, no one else hated Toren the way
that Beld did. Several were Toren's admirers, in many ways.
"I fear we can't trust to others to do it for us," Samul said softly. "I
think the earlier plan the best. We let our cousin win the tournament, as he is
likely to do anyway, and then do the deed at night so that it looks like
revenge. That would be best. It will see our dear cousin removed from the
succession and place the blame clearly on the Wills."
"It will hardly be clear," Dease said, unwilling to hide his distaste for
what they planned, "not that it will matter. Everyone is ready to believe the
Wills capable of the worst treachery."
"Then that is what we'll do, Cousins," Beld said, sitting back a little on
his bench. "I worry only that some might lose their nerve." He looked around
the table. "That hard decisions do not come easy to everyone."
"You can name me, Beld," Dease said. "We all know of whom you speak. You're
"But subtlety is not what's needed," Beld answered, sitting forward quickly,
his temper flaring. Dease could see his cousin's muscles tensing beneath his
tunic. "Deeds are what's required, Cousin, and I'm not sure you can stomach
that, being such an admirer of Toren's and all."
Dease met his cousin's gaze easily, not looking away or even looking
particularly intimidated, and very few were not intimidated by Beld. He was a
great bear of a man, but even more so, he looked like someone barely in control
of a vast and raging anger-which was, in fact, the truth.
"I do admire him," Dease said simply. "In many ways he is the best of us,
and not just on the tournament field."
Beld banged his fists on the table. "But Toren will give us over to the
Wills! He thinks that they can be won over by charm and words, that they will
be convinced to give up their feud of nine generations. He will gift them the
Isle of Battle, which is no different than giving them the wealth to raise an
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