Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard
The Song Unsung
No mortal alive had ever seen a Spindle.
Echoes of them lingered, in places remembered or forgotten, in people touched by magic, in creatures descendant of other realms. But no Spindle had burned in an age. The last of them was a thousand years gone. The passages closed, the gates locked. The age of crossing ended.
Allward was a realm alone.
And it must stay that way, Andry Trelland thought. For the good of us all.
The squire attended to his lord’s armor, ignoring the first drop of rainfall as he tightened the belts and buckles over Sir Grandel Tyr’s broad frame. Andry’s honey-brown fingers worked quickly over familiar leather and golden steel. The knight’s armor gleamed, freshly polished, the pauldrons and breastplate worked into the likeness of the Kingdom of Galland’s roaring lion.
Dawn broke weakly, fighting through the spring rain clouds bunched up against the foothills and looming mountains. It felt like standing in a room with a low ceiling. Andry inhaled, tasting the damp air. The world pressed down around him.
Their horses whickered nearby, thirteen tied in a line, huddling together for warmth. Andry wished he could join them.
The Companions of the Realm waited in the clearing below the hill. Some guarded the pilgrim road leading into the trees, waiting for their enemy. Some patrolled the temple overgrown with ivy, its white columns like the bones of a long-abandoned skeleton. The carvings on it were familiar, Elder-written—the same letters Andry had seen in mythic Iona. The structure was ancient, older than the old Cor Empire, built for a Spindle long dead. Its bell tower stood silent. Where the Spindle inside once led, Andry did not know. No one had ever said, and he’d never worked up the courage to ask. Still, he could feel it like a scent near to fading, a ripple of power lost.
Sir Grandel curled his lip. The pale-skinned knight scowled at the sky, the temple, and the warriors below.
“Can’t believe I’m awake at this Spindlerotten hour,” he spat, his voice unchecked.
Andry ignored his mentor’s complaint.
“All finished, my lord,” he said, stepping back. He looked over the knight, checking Sir Grandel for flaw or imperfection, anything that might hinder him in the battle to come.
The knight puffed out his chest. Three years Andry squired for Sir Grandel. He was an arrogant man, but Andry knew no swordsmen of his skill who did not also err to pride. It was to be expected. And all was in order, from the toes of Sir Grandel’s steel boots to the knuckles of his gauntlets. The veteran knight was a picture of strength and bravery, the pinnacle of the Queen’s Lionguard. A fearsome and stirring sight to behold.
As always, Andry imagined himself in that same armor, the lion across his chest, the green cloak over his shoulders, his father’s shield on his arm instead of fixed to the wall in his mother’s parlor. Unused for years, covered in dust, nearly broken in two.
The squire ducked his head, chasing away the thought. “You’re ready.”
“Certainly feel ready,” the knight replied, resting gloved fingers on the hilt of his sword. “After too many days dragging my aging bones across the Ward. How long has it been since we left home, Trelland?”
Andry answered without thought. “Two months, sir. Near two months to the day.”
He knew the count like he knew his fingers. Every day on the road was an adventure, through valleys and mountains and wilderness, to kingdoms he’d never dreamed to see. Alongside warriors of great renown and impossible skill, heroes all. Their quest was near to ending, the battle looming close. Andry did not fear a fight, but what came after.
The easy, quick road home. The training yard, the palace, my mother sick and my father dead. With nothing to look forward to but four more years of following Sir Grandel from throne room to wine cellar.
Sir Grandel took no notice of his squire’s discomfort, prattling on. “Spindles torn open and lost realms returned. Hogwash, all of it. Chasing a children’s story,” the knight grumbled, testing his gloves. “Chasing ghosts for ghosts.”
He shook his head at his battle-ready Companions, their garb and coloring as varied as jewels in a crown. His watery blue eyes lingered on a few.
Andry followed Sir Grandel’s gaze. He landed on the figures with tight, rigid posture, their armor strange, their ways even stranger. Though they were many days on the road with the Companions of the Realm, some felt anything but familiar. Inscrutable as a wizard’s riddle, distant and unbelievable as a myth. And standing right in front of me.
“They aren’t ghosts,” Andry murmured, watching as one stalked the temple’s perimeter. His hair was blond and braided, his form broad and monstrously tall. The greatsword at his hip would take two men to wield. Dom, Andry thought, though his true name was far longer and more difficult to pronounce. A prince of Iona. “The Elders are flesh and blood as much as we are.”
They were easy to distinguish from the other warriors. The Elders were beings apart, six of them in all, each one like a beautiful statue, differing in appearance but somehow all alike. As distant from mortal kind as birds from fish. Children of different stars, the legends said. Beings of another realm, the few histories told.
Immortals, Andry knew.
Ageless, beautiful, undying, distant—and lost. Even now, he could not help but stare.
They called themselves the Vedera, but to the rest of the Ward, to the mortals who only knew them from ancient history and fading stories, they were the Elders. Their kind were few, but to Andry Trelland’s eye, they were still mighty.
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