King of Thorns
In Book One of the Broken Empire, Mark Lawrence brought to life the “morbidly gripping”* (Publishers Weekly) story of a boy in search of power and vengeance. Now, in King of Thorns, that boy’s journey into manhood takes him to the dark depths waiting within his soul…
The boy who would be King has gained the throne...
Prince Honorious Jorg Ancrath vowed when he was nine to avenge his slaughtered mother and brother—and punish his father for not doing so. When he was fifteen, he began to fulfill that vow. Now he is eighteen—and he must hold on by strength of arms to what he took by torture and treachery.
King Jorg is a man haunted: by the ghost of a young boy, by a mysterious copper box, by his desire for the woman who rides with his enemy. Plagued by nightmares of the atrocities he committed, and of the atrocities committed against him when he was a child, he is filled with rage. And even as his need for revenge continues to consume him, twenty thousand men march toward the gates of his castle. His enemy is far stronger than him. Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight.
But he has found, in a chamber hidden beneath the castle, ancient and long-lost artifacts. Some might call them magic. Jorg is not certain—all he knows is that the secrets they hold can be put to terrible use in the coming battle...
I found these pages scattered, teased across the rocks by a fitful wind. Some were too charred to show their words, others fell apart in my hands. I chased them though, as if it were my story they told and not hers.
Katherine’s story, Aunt Katherine, sister to my stepmother, Katherine who I have wanted every moment of the past four years, Katherine who picks strange paths through my dreams. A few dozen ragged pages, weighing nothing in my hand, snowflakes skittering across them, too cold to stick.
I sat upon the smokewreathed ruins of my castle, careless of the heaped and stinking dead. The mountains, rising on all sides, made us tiny, made toys of the Haunt and the siege engines strewn about it, their purpose spent. And with eyes stinging from the fires, with the wind’s chill in me deep as bones, I read through her memories.
From the Journal of Katherine Ap Scorron
October 3rd, Year 98 Interregnum
Ancrath. The Tall Castle. Fountain Room.
The fountain room is as ugly as every other room in this ugly castle. There’s no fountain, just a font that dribbles rather than sprays. My sister’s ladiesinwaiting clutter the place, sewing, always sewing, and tutting at me for writing, as if quill ink is a stain that can’t ever be washed off.
My head aches and wormroot won’t calm it. I found a sliver of pottery in the wound even though Friar Glen said he cleaned it. Dreadful little man. Mother gave me that vase when I came away with Sareth. My thoughts jump and my head aches and this quill keeps trembling.
The ladies sew with their quick clever stitches, line stitch, crossline, layercross. Sharp little needles, dull little minds. I hate them with their tutting and their busy fingers and the lazy Ancrath slurring of their words.
I’ve looked back to see what I wrote yesterday. I don’t remember writing it but it tells how Jorg Ancrath tried to kill me after murdering Hanna, throttling her. I suppose that if he really had wanted to kill me he could have done a better job of it having broken Mother’s vase over my skull. He’s good at killing, if nothing else. Sareth told me that what he said in court, about all those people in Gelleth, burned to dust . . . it’s all true. Merl Gellethar’s castle is gone. I met him when I was a child. Such a sly redfaced man. Looked as if he’d be happy to eat me up. I’m not sorry about him. But all those people. They can’t all have been bad.
I should have stabbed Jorg when I had the chance. If my hands would do what I told them more often. If they would stop trembling the quill, learn to sew properly, stab murdering nephews when instructed . . . Friar Glen said the boy tore most of my dress off. Certainly it’s a ruin now. Beyond the rescue of even these empty ladies with their needles and thread.
I’m being too mean. I blame the ache in my head. Sareth tells me be nice. Be nice. Maery Coddin isn’t all sewing and gossip. Though she’s sewing now and tutting with the rest of them. Maery’s worth talking to on her own, I suppose. There. That’s enough nice for one day. Sareth is always nice and look where that got her. Married to an old man, and not a kind one but a cold and scary one, and her belly all fat with a child that will probably run as savage as Jorg Ancrath.
I’m going to have them bury Hanna in the forest graveyard. Maery tells me she’ll lie easy there. All the castle servants are buried there unless their families claim them. Maery says she’ll find me a new maidservant but that seems so cold, to just replace Hanna as if she were torn lace, or a broken vase. We’ll go out by cart tomorrow. There’s a man making her coffin now. My head feels as if he’s hammering the nails into it instead.
I should have left Jorg to die on the throneroom floor. But it didn’t feel right. Damn him.
We’ll bury Hanna tomorrow. She was old and always complaining of her aches but that doesn’t mean she was ready to go. I will miss her. She was a hard woman, cruel maybe, but never to me. I don’t know if I’ll cry when we put her in the ground. I should. But I don’t know if I will.
That’s for tomorrow. Today we have a visitor. The Prince of Arrow is calling, with his brother Prince Egan and his retinue. I think Sareth would like to match me there. Or maybe it’s the old man, King Olidan. Not many of Sareth’s ideas are her own these days. We will see.
I think I’ll try to sleep now. Maybe my headache will be gone in the morning. And the strange dreams too. Maybe Mother’s vase knocked those dreams right out of me.
Open the box, Jorg.
I watched it. A copper box, thorn patterned, no lock or latch.
Open the box, Jorg.
A copper box. Not big enough to hold a head. A child’s fist would fit.
A goblet, the box, a knife.
I watched the box and the dull reflections from the fire in the hearth. The warmth did not reach me. I let it burn down. The sun fell, and shadows stole the room. The embers held my gaze. Midnight filled the hall and still I didn’t move, as if I were carved from stone, as if motion were a sin. Tension knotted me. It tingled along my cheekbones, clenched in my jaw. I felt the table’s grain beneath my fingertips.
The moon rose and painted ghostlight across the stoneflagged floor. The moonlight found my goblet, wine untouched, and made the silver glow. Clouds swallowed the sky and in the darkness rain fell, soft with old memories. In the small hours, abandoned by fire, moon and stars, I reached for my blade. I laid the keen edge cold against my wrist.
The child still lay in the corner, limbs at corpse angles, too broken for all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Sometimes I feel I’ve seen more ghosts than people, but this boy, this child of four, haunts me.
Open the box.
The answer lay in the box. I knew that much. The boy wanted me to open it. More than half of me wanted it open too, wanted to let those memories flood out, however dark, however dangerous. It had a pull on it, like the cliff’s edge, stronger by the moment, promising release.
“No.” I turned my chair toward the window and the rain, shading to snow now.
I carried the box out of a desert that could burn you without needing the sun. Four years I’ve kept it. I’ve no recollection of first laying hands upon it, no image of its owner, few facts save only that it holds a hell which nearly broke my mind.
Campfires twinkled distant through the sleet. So many they revealed the shape of the land beneath them, the rise and fall of mountains. The Prince of Arrow’s men took up three valleys. One alone wouldn’t contain his army. Three valleys choked with knights and archers, footsoldiers, pikemen, menataxe and menatsword, carts and wagons, engines for siege, ladders, rope, and pitch for burning. And out there, in a blue pavilion, Katherine Ap Scorron, with her four hundred, lost in the throng.
At least she hated me. I’d rather die at the hands of somebody who wanted to kill me, to have it mean something to them.
Within a day they would surround us, sealing the last of the valleys and mountain paths to the east. Then we would see. Four years I had held the Haunt since I took it from my uncle. Four years as King of Renar. I wouldn’t let it go easy. No. This would go hard.
The child stood to my right now, bloodless and silent. There was no light in him but I could always see him through the dark. Even through eyelids. He watched me with eyes that looked like mine.
I took the blade from my wrist and tapped the point to my teeth. “Let them come,” I said. “It will be a relief.”
That was true.
I stood and stretched. “Stay or go, ghost. I’m going to get some sleep.”
And that was a lie.
I broke fast with hot bread. I have my page wait at the doors to my chamber with it of a morning. Makin fell in behind me as I strode to the throneroom, his heels clattering on the flagstones. Makin always had a talent for making a din.
“Good morning, your Highness,” he says.
“Stow that shit.” Crumbs everywhere. “We’ve got problems.”
“The same twenty thousand problems we had on our doorstep last night?” Makin asked. “Or new ones?”
I glimpsed the child in a doorway as we passed. Ghosts and daylight don’t mix, but this one could show in any patch of shadow.
“New ones,” I said. “I’m getting married before noon and I haven’t got a thing to wear.”
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