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The Cutting Edge [A Handful of Men #1]
by Dave Duncan

Category: Fantasy
Description: The great adventure had ended happily. The good folk of Krasnegar discovered that a beautiful princess could, indeed, succeed her royal father and rule in her own right, and rule very well, too. And when Queen Inos married Rap, the former stableboy, he turned out to be a very good king. He never admitted that he was a sorcerer, and everyone knew that Rap was a Man of His Word, so that was all right. The years passed. Rap and Inos raised a family, prospering in their remote little kingdom. But trouble was brewing in the great world outside. The aged Imperor grew ever more erratic, more tyrannical. His grandson Shandie, the boy Rap had befriended, was now a great soldier, struggling to suppress ever-growing upheaval in the borderlands while he waited to inherit the throne. Strange prophecies of upheaval and disaster spread. When the rumors reached even to Krasnegar, Rap scoffed at them as superstition--until one night a god appeared and confirmed that the truth was likely to be far worse. On his travels long ago, Rap himself had made a terrible blunder. Because of that, the world of Pandemia was now poised on the brink of utter disaster. The last thing Rap wanted was another adventure, and that might be the last thing he would ever get.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: June 2005

eBookeBook

111 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [516 KB]
Words: 117746
Reading time: 336-470 min.


PROLOGUE

In the summer of 2977 the Yllipos gathered at Yewdark House to pay their respects to the Sisters, as they had done every year for more than a century. On that occasion well over four hundred men, women, and children arrived from all over the Impire, including six former consuls, four senators, and numerous praetors, lictors, and legates.

The annual family convocation was mainly a social event, although much political scheming was conducted as well. The Sisters themselves were merely an excuse. They were twins and no one could tell one from the other, which was unimportant as no one remembered their names either. They had become part of the Yllipo clan when one of them had married some obscure younger son, a man long dead.

The Sisters claimed to have occult powers and would prophesy upon request. The prophecies were sometimes fulfilled, sometimes not fulfilled, and never taken seriously, usually being passed off with a laughing remark that all families had a few odd characters.

Nevertheless, the annual meeting invariably included one peculiar ritual. Everyone professed to regard this as just a foolish superstition, yet it was never spoken of to outsiders. The senior males would accompany the Sisters to the Statue and would present to it the new Yllipos, those born during the past twelve months. The Sisters would then foretell each child's fortune, depending on whether the Statue smiled or frowned.

The Statue stood in a gloomy clearing not far from the house. It was so weathered that no one except the Sisters could make out much of its features at all, let alone detect any expression on them. Tradition said that it represented Arave the Strong, an imperor of the XIIth Dynasty who had raised the first Yllipo to the nobility. The stone slab before it was believed to mark Arave's grave.

In 2977, four proud fathers brought their new offspring to this ceremony, and the last to step forward was Lictor Ylopingo, bearing his eight-month-old third son, Ylo. The day was unusually stormy for midsummer. At the exact moment the youngster was laid on the monument, a stray gust caught the Statue and toppled it. It impacted the slab close to the child, shattering into fragments.

Incredibly, the boy escaped injury. The lictor was cut and bruised by flying gravel. The Sisters went into convulsions. The family gathering broke up in confusion and everyone went home.

The significance of the omen was much discussed. Some of the boy's more credulous--and distant--relatives suggested he be put to death because of it. Interpretation was not helped by the diverging views of the Sisters, for no one could ever recall them disagreeing before.

One said that the portent signified the destruction of the Yllipo family, the other that it was the Impire itself that was to be overthrown. Neither would explain what part Baby Ylo might play in such an unthinkable catastrophe, and they could not even agree whether he would survive it.

Both Sisters died within the year, and thereafter the midsummer convocations were held elsewhere. In time the two sinister prophecies were forgotten.

And in time they were both fulfilled.


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