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When fates collide, a new legend is born in the awe-inspiring conclusion to the Dawning of Muirwood trilogy by Jeff Wheeler, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Druid.
Bound by more than the search for a fantastical stolen tome, Eilean and Hoel plummet through the mirror gate into Leoneyis—a world on the brink of disaster as its sovereign’s reign begins to unravel. Enemies converge to destroy King Andrew, who has become headstrong and paranoid. His influence is undermined, and his kingdom is vulnerable. That’s what happens when a king is betrayed by a queen.
The Queen of Brythonica is not just the rival of an anxious king. She’s in possession of the ancient tome that Eilean and Hoel seek, which could help her achieve immortality. She knows Eilean is coming for her, and she is every bit the match for the young wretched. After all, they learned under the same master.
Eilean’s first mission: save King Andrew’s court lest it disappear under the floods of the Deep Fathoms. Her second: retrieve what is rightfully hers from the clutches of the Queen of Brythonica. To do so means confronting the queen in a duel of wits and magic.
The fate of Leoneyis is left to Eilean. She must save one world to secure the future for which she is destined in her own.
Release date: February 21, 2023
Print pages: 333
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The Dawning of Muirwood Trilogy
Farfog Castle, Kingdom of Brythonica
ten years after the death of King Ulric of Leoneyis
The pig keeper had many sayings, but one was a favorite and often repeated—Be as happy as a pig in filth. On a certain day in spring, the boy sat watching the swine from a fence rail. The gate to the dark barn was open, allowing the animals to root in the muck for the kernels of corn that had been deposited there before winter started, buried under other decaying bits from the kitchen, the remains of the garden after fall harvest, clippings of leaves, and the drippings of cows and horses—the entire mound left to molt and rot during the cold season. The pigs rooted through the filth for those tiny bits of corn beneath the pile. Loving every moment of it—snorting, honking, squealing—they mixed the pile of manure in pursuit of the grain, so the laborers didn’t have to do the work with shovels or rakes.
The boy, a lad of nearly twelve, looked up at the master pig keeper, enjoying the animals’ noisy sounds of delight. “Who taught you this, Master? How did you learn pigs would do all this work for a few kernels of corn?”
“By the pig keeper who taught me, of course,” said the man, resting his arm on the knobbed end of a rake by the split-rail fence. The boy had always thought him a strange fellow. He was a little heavy in the middle, with dark hair that grew like a mane across his shoulders, streaked with white above his ears. He had a large nose, skinny legs, and the most serious eyes in the world.
The boy wiped his nose. The smell coming from the heap was overpowering, but it was a familiar scent. Everything about the farm was familiar, from the lopsided fence always in need of repairs to the row of fragrant eucalyptus that blocked the view of the sea. And, looming over it, the crooked castle of Sir Farfog with its belching chimneys, half-broken towers, and the ravens that squawked from atop it—all part of the daily scene for the poor serfs working the land.
“It’s in a pig’s nature to root like that, lad. Give ’em a little of what they want, they’ll do it with joy. Men aren’t much different from pigs, you know.”
The boy smiled with affection for the master. The pig keeper was never unjust or cruel, unlike so many others who lived at Farfog Castle.
A shadow blotted the barn door, and the scullion Elle came in, straining with a bucket. The boy’s smile faded when she entered and her nostrils flared at the stench.
“By Saint Cuthbert, how can you stand working in here?” she said with a revolted look as she wrestled with the heavy bucket. She stopped abruptly after stepping on a cake of manure and grimaced. “My shoe!”
The old pig keeper reached for and took the bucket from her and easily hefted it and brought it to the heap, where only a few piggy tails could be seen wriggling in the muck. He launched the contents of the bucket onto the pile, which earned a smart oink from the leader of the swine.
“This is disgusting,” Elle complained, stepping back. For some reason, her wrinkled nose made her even prettier to the boy. She was fifteen but already so tall and mature it made the boy feel ashamed of himself. “Don’t you smell it on yourself?”
The boy looked at his soiled shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He’d been working since before the sun rose, so of course he was filthy. She had a spot of soot on her cheekbone, but he wouldn’t throw that back at her.
“’Tis the pigs’ fault, not ours,” said the master pig keeper. “You don’t mind the smell so much when they’re sizzling in a pan.”
“Everyone likes the smell of bacon,” she said to him with a hint of arrogance. “But my shoe! Cook will screech at me if I clean it off in the kitchen.”
“There’s a bucket of water,” the boy suggested, pointing to one by the door. “I’ll help you.”
She took the empty bucket back from the master, looked at the spot the boy had pointed to, then nodded. As a scullion, she was always being ordered around herself, so having a little help was appreciated. The boy didn’t mind it.
“Turn your bucket over. You can sit on it,” he suggested.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said and quickly tried it out, lowering onto it next to the bucket of water. The hem of her kirtle was frayed and didn’t even reach the floor. She’d outgrown it that year, but Sir Farfog was stingy about replacing anyone’s clothes. They all had holes, patches, and torn seams. The boy knelt by her, and she removed her shoe and held it out to him. There was a large mash of manure there, but it wasn’t awful to him—not worth such a look of loathing.
He found a sturdy twig of straw and used it to dig out the muck from the cracks in her shoe.
“Hurry,” Elle pleaded, looking out the barn door. Chickens were rooting along the edges and clucking at one another.
Another voice could be heard, along with the jangle of spurs. “Oy! Where’s Splotch? Who’s seen him?”
“It’s Sir Queux,” said Elle tremulously, Sir Queux being Sir Farfog’s only son. “Hasn’t he gone to the tournament yet? I thought he’d already left.”
Splotch was the pig boy’s nickname. Ever since he was a young child, he’d had a little tuft of white hair over his left ear. Since his hair was thicker now, it wasn’t as visible, although it’d been quite pronounced in his infancy.
The boy cupped some water from the bucket in his hand and splashed it on the bottom of Elle’s shoe. Then he grabbed a fistful of straw and scrubbed it hard.
“Oy! Splotch!” The sound grew louder as the knight came closer.
The boy inspected the shoe, brushed some clinging straw from it, then was about to put it back on Elle’s foot when he noticed how dirty her ankles were. He cupped some more water and quickly washed them.
She stared at him in surprise. Was that appreciation in her eyes? It made his cheeks sizzle with heat.
“There,” he grunted, handing her shoe back to her. She quickly put it back on and then rose, her skirts twirling as she snatched up the bucket and sprinted out of the manure barn.
“Oy! Elle! You seen Splotch?”
“He’s in there,” came her rushed reply.
Splotch looked back at his master, who was staring at him intently, his eyes serious and probing. He had that unreadable look that he sometimes got when he stared at the boy.
Sir Queux barged in. “There you are. You deaf, lad? I’ve been calling for you!”
“The pigs are noisy.”
Sir Queux wrinkled his nose, gave the master pig keeper a dismissive look, then kicked over the bucket of water. “Go water my horse. Fresh from the well. Hurry! I’m going with Father to the tournament in Leoneyis! Come on!” He gave the boy a light smack to the side of his head, where the tuft of white hair was tucked away.
The boy, whose real name was Conn, picked up the bucket and rushed out of the barn. He caught sight of Elle, who was racing back to the kitchen, but she stopped and looked back at him. When their eyes met, she gave him a little wave.
His stomach churned with delight. Maybe this was how one of the pigs felt when it found a bit of spoiled corn. He reached the well, which was in the middle of the yard, and set his bucket on the ledge. As he turned to grab the rope and hook to lower it down, he bumped into the bucket and gasped in dismay when it toppled over the edge before he could grab it. There was a breath of silence, a moment of terror, and then a noisy splash as the bucket hit the waters.
“You daft, daft, fool!” cried Sir Queux, who had seen it all.
The young knight, wearing his hauberk, tunic, and cape strode up and boxed Conn solidly on the ear. “I asked you for a bucket of water, not to lose the whole thing!”
The boy’s ear throbbed from the blow, and involuntary tears stung his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Sir Queux!” he gasped, holding his hand against his ear. He hoped that Elle was already gone. But no, with a little glance, he saw her standing by the door of the kitchen, holding her bucket as she watched his humiliation.
“Of course you’re sorry! I don’t have time for this! Get in an’ fetch it!”
“Down the well? I’ll . . . I’ll . . . drown!”
“You won’t drown, you fool!” Sir Queux grabbed Conn by the collar with one hand and then hoisted him under the armpits with the other. Panic made the boy’s legs try to run, and he wriggled and shrieked, afraid he’d plunge into the well.
The knight thumped him on the head. “I’m not going to drop you. I’ll lower you down. With the rope. Lad, you won’t drown. Should be a simple enough task for one as small as you.”
Sir Queux grabbed the rope and hook and dangled it for the boy to grab. His fears calming, he nodded and clenched the rope with both hands.
Sir Queux planted a boot against the rim, seized the rope firmly, and then nodded for Conn to start his descent. The boy squeezed the rope hard and began to sink down into the mouth of the well. He saw Elle’s eyes widen as he dipped lower and lower. He held on tight, but his arms began to ache, and an itch tormented his nose. Conn tried to scratch it but fumbled his grip. He plummeted like the bucket.
Water exploded. It went up his nose, into his mouth. He thrashed and kicked and burst up to the surface like a bubble, gasping and dismayed. There was a circle of light high above. The smell of cold stone and wet mortar filled his nose. He sputtered, frantic, fearing he’d drown for sure.
A little shadow blotted the light. “You all right, lad?”
“It’s dark!” Conn wailed.
“Here’s the rope. I’m lowering it down. Grab the hook.”
He felt something thump against his head. Not hard, but he grabbed the rope and pulled.
“Whoa, lad! Don’t pull me down with you! Get the bucket!” yelled down Sir Queux.
The boy was frantic to leave, but he hadn’t sunk as he’d feared he would. Still, being in a deep, dark well was an entirely different experience from splashing in the surf.
Everything was still dark to him, so he reached out with his free hand and groped around, trying to find the bucket.
It had sunk. It wasn’t at the surface at all.
Of all the rotten luck!
“I can’t . . . find it!” he called up.
“You can, Splotch! Reach down for it!”
“What if it’s on the bottom?”
“Come on, lad! Just do it! I know you can!”
Conn bolstered his courage and then reached with his legs, trying to feel for the bucket. His foot caught the edge. He squinted, trying to hook his toe around the handle, but he couldn’t. He’d need to dive.
“You can do it!” Elle added coaxingly. Had she come to the edge of the well?
Conn fought to keep up his courage, emboldened by the thought that Elle was counting on him too, and dived down. His first attempt failed, and he came up spluttering.
“D’you get it?” asked the knight.
“No! I’ll try again.”
“It’s all right. Try again. You’ll get it.”
Conn didn’t want to spend all day in the dark, musty interior of the well. He took another breath, plunged down a second time, and grabbed for the bucket. Only, his hand closed against something else. It felt long and . . . wooden? He popped back up to the surface. And, to his surprise, the bucket was floating next to his head.
“Did you get it?” Elle called down.
“Yes!” he shouted back. What was he holding in his hand? He lifted it from the water and saw the hilt of a sword enclosed by a roughed-up scabbard. A metal embellishment on the scabbard seemed to glimmer in the water, casting a cold blue light. A raven’s-head sigil. The sting in his ear began to fade.
“Excellent! I’ll pull you out!” said Sir Queux.
Holding the scabbard with one hand, he dipped the bucket to fill it and hooked its handle on the rope. “Got it! Pull me out!”
“The bucket first,” said Sir Queux. “It’ll be too heavy for both.”
Conn frowned at that and watched as the bucket was pulled up to the top. “Ah, now my horse can have a drink!”
“Pull him out, Sir Queux,” pleaded Elle.
“I was only teasing,” said the knight with a laugh. He was young and capricious, though, and it wouldn’t be unlike him to walk away and leave a difficult task to someone else, especially after getting what he wanted. Elle wasn’t strong enough to lift him by herself, and his master . . . where was he?
Conn shouted, “I found something else down here!” he cried. “A . . . a sword!”
Sir Queux sounded doubtful. “Are you jesting?”
“No! It was on the bottom. I have it.”
Conn held it up.
The rope came down a second time, and Conn grabbed it with one hand and wrapped his legs around it. Both Sir Queux and Elle pulled on the rope, and he started rising up, higher and higher, the light growing brightly as he reached the top, relieved to be free of the well.
“What’s this?” Sir Queux demanded, grabbing the scabbard and sword from him.
Conn wiped water from his face, noticing the sympathetic look Elle was giving him. But she also seemed interested in the sword.
“The raven mark,” she said in wonder.
Sir Queux’s eyes were wide with fascination. He held it in his hands, turning it over. “It’s not even rusted.”
Conn noticed his master, the pig keeper, standing in the doorway of the barn. A little smile was on his mouth. He gazed at Conn intently.
“That’s the mark of Leoneyis, isn’t it?” Elle whispered. She reached out to touch the sword, then withdrew her hand.
Sir Queux was still staring at the blade as if transfixed. “I must tell Father.”
“I found it,” Conn complained.
“It came from my father’s well, boy. Everything on this land belongs to him and, by rights of inheritance, to me.”
Conn thought it unwise to press the point.
Sir Queux was still transfixed by the sight of the sword. He began to walk back to the castle, leaving the bucket of water next to the well.
“Good luck, Sir Queux,” said Conn. “I hope you win the tournament.”
The knight didn’t acknowledge him. His eyes were fixed on the blade and scabbard as he hurried back to the castle with the sword.
Elle touched Conn’s wet hair. Then she gave him a smile, one that brightened her entire face, and went back to the kitchen door where she’d left her own bucket.
Conn stared across the yard at the master pig keeper. The man was laughing to himself, although the young man had no idea why.
But he recalled the order to water Sir Queux’s horse. And an order from Sir Queux was as important to follow as if it had come from Sir Farfog himself. So the boy carried the bucket to the dappled destrier and gave the animal the long-awaited drink.
What he didn’t know, not then, was that his life was about to change forever.
Nor that his real name wasn’t Conn at all.
His real name was Andrew.
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