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The ShortRead: Anna Thayer

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ShortRead of 16th July

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The Traitor's Heir

Author: Anna Thayer

What's the story:

Anna Thayer knows a thing or two about high fantasy. An English Literature teacher by trade, she tours the world giving lectures on a certain J. R. R. Tolkien and has a weighty volume of essays on C. S. Lewis.

The Traitor's Heir introduces readers to her new trilogy, The Knight of Eldaran. For over five hundred years the River Realm has lain in the charge of the Master, and the Master’s glory has kept the land strong against its enemies. As Cadet Eamon Goodman swears to serve the Master, an equally tempting offer to join the true King crosses his path. Who will he betray?

Swords, realms and politics - this is one for fantasy fans longing to itch their A Song of Ice and Fire scratch.

Release date: 24 July

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Extract

Darkness smothered the valleys and lurked in the curves of the River, shrouding the light of every star.

The slopes around Edesfield were marked with trees that surrendered their leaves to the wind in weeping moans. Beyond them, what had once been a mighty tower lay impotent in ruins. The trees spread blackly up towards it.

Groups of torches moved through the tower copses, combing fiercely back and forth across the muddy woodland. But the lights did not mark every man in the valley that night.

One felt the wind pulling at his face as he moved through the treeline. Branches clawed his face; roots and weeds clutched at his ankles like snakes. The glint of torches was behind him, casting an eerie glow across the trunks of the trees: pillars of harsh, reddened stone.

His hand slipped on the grizzled bark; he drew his fingers up to his face and tasted blood.

He spat it out. “Light!” he called softly.

A torchbearer came across the dell towards him, struggling not to sink in the mud. A second man came with him, with dark, tousled hair and eyes that glinted keenly under the torchlight. Both wore the Gauntlet’s red uniform and had cloaks thrown over them to ward off the September chill.

The second man gave him a small smile. “I bring you light, Mr Goodman.”

“Thank you, Mr Kentigern, sir.”

“Report.”

Cadet Goodman held forward his bloodied hand. The dark-haired lieutenant gestured and at his command the light was directed towards the tree. Goodman winced as the heat of the torch passed his face.

The light showed what he had known it would; blood on the bark, smeared in part by his hand and in part by the flight of the hunted man who had left it there.

The lieutenant turned to the torchbearer. “Fan along this treeline. Concentrate on the north ridge.”

The torchbearer swept off; the dell receded into tombed blackness.

The cadet turned to his lieutenant. “He’s making for the River?”

A flash of moonlight illuminated the lieutenant’s face for a moment, showing a smile. “That he is. Our fleeing friend will be distraught when he finds that we know it!”

Together they moved to the eaves of the treeline. Goodman heard shouts farther up the hillside and saw the flicker of torches fanning out across the stretches of woods. In the heart of the valley below, torchlight sharply figured a rider in black: Lord Penrith. Even with the distance between them, the sight of the Hand chilled Goodman to his marrow. A man in Gauntlet uniform rode beside the Hand; lord and captain surveyed fields and woodland with grim faces.

Goodman swallowed in a constricted throat and glanced at the lieutenant. “What kind of man are we hunting, Ladomer?”

“Concentrate on the matter in hand, Eamon,” the lieutenant answered. “You can ask Lord Penrith in person tomorrow, if the mood takes you.”

Goodman did not know whether to shiver or laugh. “Do you think me mad?”

“I have known you for far too long, Eamon Goodman, to think otherwise.” Suddenly the lieutenant gestured to the trees where another Gauntlet man stood. “Move into the line here with Spencing.” His voice had taken on a tone of crisp command. “Barns and Ilwaine will be to your right and left. I want this bastard found, Mr Goodman; so do Captain Belaal and Lord Penrith.”

“Yes, sir.” Goodman did not hesitate a moment before going into the trees.

Ensign Spencing looked him over with distaste.

“You’re with me?”

“Lieutenant’s orders, Mr Spencing,” Goodman returned sharply.

“Just don’t make an idiot of yourself, Goodman,” Spencing growled.

Goodman didn’t answer him; they were already moving. Briars snatched at him as they passed into the line of men trying to force their quarry to surface. There were torches to his left and right, but light was poor; his best sense of direction came from the sounds of Spencing’s movement.

Suddenly he heard a heavy thud somewhere to his left. He stopped; Spencing glowered back at him.

“The line is moving, Goodman!”

“I heard something.” Goodman pinned all his sense on the dark.

“You heard nothing,” Spencing spat. “We have orders to search the ridge. The done thing with orders, Mr Goodman, is to carry them out!”

The noise again. What good would it be to follow orders and lose the fugitive?

Impulse shot through his limbs.

“Goodman –!”

He didn’t hear the rest but plunged into the thorny thickness of the trees, pushing on through ankle-deep mud and stinging branches. He knew what he had heard.

He came suddenly through the trees into a clearing and stopped. The torchlight was distant.

He heard someone drawing breath.

The wind swept through the trees and a stroke of moonlight illuminated the mud. It showed deep footprints and the shape of a man caved in the roots of a tree. The man clutched at his arm; blood flowed about his fingertips, weaving dark threads in torn clothes.

For a moment Goodman simply stared. Was this bloody wretch the man they had been hunting for so many hours?

It did not matter. He surged towards the fugitive, hand flying to his dagger. As the cadet crossed the clearing the fugitive seemed to see him for the first time; his face went white.

“No –”

Goodman seized the man’s throat and hauled him bodily to his feet.

Goodman smiled. “The hunt is up,” he said. But it wasn’t.

Someone rushed at him from behind; the unexpected force of the impact shocked through him. A sudden arm latched about his throat.

With a cry he struck at it with his dagger. He drew blood. But before he could follow up the blow, his arm was seized and wrenched harshly backwards.

The fugitive fell from his grip. Goodman spun back and to one side, trying to free himself. He was too slow; both his arms were caught and driven up behind him, wresting his dagger from his hand. He saw the glint of his blade, a shrinking shard of the moon as it disappeared into the trees.

A blow forced him to his knees and he was thrown to the ground…

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