Read The Bloodforged Online

Authors: Erin Lindsey

The Bloodforged

PRAISE FOR

The Bloodbound

“Strong romantic elements and a dash of humor enliven Erin Lindsey's fantasy debut set in a kingdom besieged by dark forces and torn apart by betrayal.”

—Jacqueline Carey,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Poison Fruit

“Action and intrigue and flawed but likable characters who, in complex political/personal situations, make hard decisions and stand by them.”

—Tanya Huff, national bestselling author of
The Future Falls

“Sturdy characterizations and intriguing magic anchor this solid series launch . . . [Lindsey's] balanced mix of romance and heroic fantasy will [capture] readers' hearts.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“Lindsey does a fine job of building tension . . . I genuinely liked the characters and want to read more about them.”

—
SFFWorld

“Sword and sorcery with a kick-ass heroine that would do any urban fantasy proud,
The Bloodbound
offers romance, intrigue, and a fast-moving plot that will immerse readers in this new world . . . An effortless adventure that will sweep readers away.”

—
All Things Urban Fantasy

“Full of witty banter, immensely likable characters, and swoons aplenty,
The Bloodbound
by Erin Lindsey is not to be missed.”

—
Rabid Reads

“Palace intrigue, military strategy, and plenty of sword fighting keep the story line interesting and exciting.”

—
Bitten by Books

“One of the most enjoyable fantasies I've read in a long time; a book I cheerfully devoured in a single sitting . . . A fun, fast, invigorating, and inspiring book, packed to the gills with tension, heroics, twists, and adventure.”

—
Pornokitsch

“Fantasy romance with war, romance, and a female in a lead military role—you can't beat that! . . . A satisfying read and one you can quickly devour.”

—
Not Yet Read

“A great epic fantasy novel with a strong yet flawed heroine.”

—
The Book Pushers

“Well balanced between the romance and the action/adventure of war.”

—
That's What I'm Talking About

“Alix is a perfect heroine, being fierce and tough in battle with enough kindness and compassion to appeal to every reader . . . Well written, Erin Lindsey!”

—
The Best Reviews

“The military strategy, fierce battles, glory and heartbreak of war, and the strong, capable female protagonist in a traditionally male role all made this a win for me . . . Intense [and] perfectly paced.”

—
Addicted 2 Heroines

“A well-done fantasy romance with a strong warrior heroine, plenty of action, plotting, battles, and simmering romance.”

—
Book Swoon

Ace Books by Erin Lindsey

THE BLOODBOUND

THE BLOODFORGED

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

THE BLOODFORGED

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2015 by Erin Lindsey.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-16856-5

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Ace mass-market edition / October 2015

Cover art by Lindsey Look.

Cover design by Lesley Worrell.

Map by Cortney Skinner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For my mother,
Billie,
the fiercest cheerleader any daughter could hope for.
With all my love and appreciation.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I knew going in that
The Bloodforged
was going to be the most challenging book I'd ever written, it being much more ambitious than anything I've tackled before, so I was prepared to hit a few potholes along the road. Or at least, I thought I was. But it ended up being even tougher than I'd expected. There were roadblocks and detours. Moments when I ran out of gas, or was tempted to take a shortcut. I might still be stalled on the side of the road if it hadn't been for the patient but firm encouragement of Lisa Rodgers and Joshua Bilmes. I'm enormously grateful for that, and I hope they're as proud as I am of the result.

Readers desiring a little extra information on people, places, and culture can refer to the glossary at the back of this book.

Contents

Praise for
The Bloodbound

Ace Books by Erin Lindsey

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Map

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

EPILOGUE

Glossary

A
bout the Author

O
NE

B
oot heels rang out under the high ceiling. Stiff. Precise. A military gait. The oratorium stood dark, its hearths unlit. Sunlight slanted down through arched windows on either side of the vast hall, but the stained glass filtered it into near irrelevance. Only when the gleaming surface of spaulders passed directly through a shaft of jewelled light was it possible to make out the figure moving along the wall.

She reached out, letting her hand trail along the stone until a flaw in the smooth surface caught her fingertips. Its contours were familiar to her now. It scarred the stone at thigh level, slanting upward from left to right. A left-handed swordsman, she judged, looking to open his enemy's flank. She'd often tried to picture who might have dealt the blow, but the battle had been too frenzied, her part in it too brief. Her duty had been to get the king to safety. Whoever left this mark, whether guardsman or Greysword, might be alive or dead. His blow might have landed or not. Only the walls knew. These walls knew so much. They'd presided over weddings and funerals, coronations and banquets. They'd presided over treachery too. But that would never happen again. Not on her watch.

She paused under the stained-glass image of Ardin's flame. Crimson light spilled over her, bloodying her armour and setting her copper hair afire. She gazed up at the magnificent window, frowning. A crack had appeared in the yellow band of flame.
When in the hells did that happen?
No more than a week ago, or she'd have noticed. She knew every inch of this room. Every knot in the gallery rail, every whorl in the polished stone floor. She'd studied it for days on end, in light and in shadow, with eyes and ears and hands, until she could be absolutely
certain that she would notice anything,
anything
, out of place. Eldora herself, with her all-seeing eye, couldn't know this room any better than Alix Black.

“Godwin.” Her voice echoed coldly off the stone.

A rustle of armour sounded behind her. Godwin hurried over from the door where he'd been hovering in anticipation of her orders. Alix always did the first sweep alone, the better to avoid distractions.

“Captain.”

She pointed. “Do you see that?”

Her second squinted, cocked his head. “Afraid not, Captain. What am I looking for?”

“There's a crack in Ardin's flame. Look there.”

He grunted. “How do you reckon that happened?”

“That's what I want to find out. Fetch Arnot. I want someone up a ladder on either side of that window.”

“Shall I ask for the braziers to be lit on my way out?”

“Please.”

Godwin held a fist to his chest in salute and hurried out, leaving Alix to scowl up at the offending glass. It was almost certainly nothing to worry about. Glass did crack occasionally, especially centuries-old glass. The cold, most likely. But Alix wasn't taking any chances. By this time tomorrow, the most important lords and ladies in the realm would occupy this august hall. A tempting target in peacetime, let alone in the middle of the fiercest war the Kingdom of Alden had ever known.

Alix was about to resume her sweep when she sensed a presence behind her. Tensing instinctively, she turned. The shadow of a hulking beast darkened the doorway; yellow eyes met hers from across the room. It took a halting step forward, muscular frame pausing midstride. It waited.

Alix smiled. “Hello, Rudi.”

The wolfhound padded over, nub of a tail wagging enthusiastically. Alix dropped to her haunches.

“I wouldn't do that,” said a voice from the doorway. “He's liable to tear your throat out.”

Alix laughed, tugging the hound's ears. “Yours, maybe.”

Footfalls tracked across the hall. “What's your secret, anyway?”

Alix glanced up to find her husband looking legitimately put
out, arms crossed over the white wolf emblazoned on his breastplate. Liam was in dress armour already, improbably shiny, the hated white cape fixed to his left shoulder with a sunburst clasp. That explained the mood.

“There's no secret to it,” Alix said, straightening. “Unless you count not being terrified of him. Dogs can smell fear, you know.”

“I'm not
terrified
of him. I just don't trust him.” Liam gestured irritably at the wolfhound, a movement too sudden for Rudi's liking; he growled. Liam spread his hands, vindicated.

“He's still a puppy. He'll settle down.”

“He's the canine equivalent of a brooding adolescent, and he weighs ten stone. Such a delightful combination.”

“Maybe he resents you naming him
Rudi
.”

“Rudolf is a strong, wolfy name.”

“Which you shortened to
Rudi
.” Alix resumed her sweep, Liam tagging alongside. Rudi trotted ahead, slipping under the gallery rail to sniff at the benches. “If you didn't want him,” she said, “you shouldn't have got him.”

“Like I had a choice. Highmount was on me day and night about it. I was given to understand it was practically a matter of duty.”

“You could have said no. You are a prince, after all.”

He made a face. “Don't remind me.”

Alix left that alone. She focused on the task at hand, running her gaze from floor to ceiling and back again, as systematic as a servant with a feather duster.

“Why do you do this in the dark, anyway?” Liam asked. “Isn't it hard to see?”

“I only do the first pass this way. It's not completely dark, and you notice different things than when the room is well lit. See there?” She pointed. “That nail in the bench, the way it catches the light? You'd never notice that if the braziers were lit.”

Liam looked at her sceptically. “It's just a nail.”

“The king's life is my responsibility, Liam. There's no such thing as
just a nail
.”

As she spoke, a soft glow climbed the walls, spilled out under their boots. The servants had arrived with torches to light the braziers. And they did not come alone. A thin voice piped across the room. “Oh,
dear
!”

Rudi raised his head from between the benches and growled.

Arnot stood in the doorway, wringing his soft white hands. “Cracked, Lady Alix? Are you certain?”

“I'm afraid so,” Alix said, motioning the steward inside. Like all the servants, he knew better than to enter the oratorium without express leave from the king's bodyguard.

“This won't do at all.” Arnot rubbed his balding pate in distress, a nervous gesture that probably accounted for much of the baldness. “The banner lords will be here tomorrow!”

Alix couldn't help sighing. “Not all the banner lords. Rig won't be here.”

Arnot fluttered a pale hand dismissively. “Yes, but your brother doesn't . . .” He caught himself, if not quite in time, at least before it got any worse. “That is, Lord Black has never shown much care for matters of courtly prestige.” He cleared his throat primly.

“You mean he thinks it's bollocks,” Liam said.

Arnot managed to look horrified and apologetic at the same time. “Your Highness. I'm so very sorry, I did not see you there. Er . . . by your leave . . .” He gestured at a servant hurrying by and made his escape.

“Very princely,” Alix said in an undertone.

Liam shrugged. “Bastard.”

“Being a bastard gives you licence to behave boorishly?”

“It's got to have some perks, doesn't it?”

Alix rolled her eyes and kept walking. “You'd better be on your best behaviour tomorrow, love. Erik's court is still getting used to you as it is. You don't want to give people an excuse to dismiss you altogether. And you don't want to embarrass your brother.”

Liam's grey eyes clouded over, the petulant look returning. “I don't know why I have to be there.”

“This is the most important council meeting Erik has ever convened. We're at war, Liam. Facing imminent conquest. Of
course
you have to be there.”

“But it's a political discussion, not a military one. I don't see what use I'll be.”

“You give yourself too little credit. Besides, you're not there in your capacity as commander of the White Wolves. You're there because you're prince of the realm.”
Whether you like it
or not.
Sometimes, she wondered whether Liam regretted letting his brother acknowledge him. Not that it made any difference; there was no going back on it now. Especially since, for the moment at least, Erik had no other heir. If anything were to happen to him . . .

Now there's a thought.
Alix took up her task with renewed focus.

“I might be prince of the realm,” Liam said, “but I'm still a bastard. They'll never see me as one of them.”

“You're worrying about it too much. It never bothered me. It doesn't bother Rig.”

“You two are different.”

Alix snorted. Few of the other Banner Houses would disagree with that assessment. “Raibert Green and Rona Brown have both ridden into battle with you. That's three banners in your camp. And Sirin Grey . . .” She paused awkwardly. “Well, you helped her once.”

“Oh, right, you mean the time I stopped her collapsing after my brother executed her true love? I'm sure she remembers that incident fondly.”

“The point is, most of the banner lords know and accept you. The lesser nobility will follow their lead eventually—unless you give them an excuse not to. It's only been six months.” Saying it aloud, Alix had to pause. Had so little time really passed? It seemed an age since the Oridians surrounded the city walls. The Siege of Erroman had already acquired the lacquer of legend, as though it were the climactic end of a great and glorious war, instead of merely a punctuation point in an ongoing, bloody struggle. So much had happened since then. Rig's appointment as commander general of the king's armies. Alix and Liam's wedding. The dismantling of the Greyswords and the division of half that family's estates. Most of all, the war, dragging on and on, as much a feature of Aldenian life as the harvest or the Moon Festival. As though it had always been, would always be.

But of course that wasn't true. The war couldn't go on forever. If Rig's reports from the front were anything to go by, it wouldn't even last the summer. The Warlord had them by the throat; all he had to do was squeeze, and the Kingdom of Alden would be lost. Alix felt a familiar buck of panic at the thought.

She was grateful for the interruption of Liam's voice. “It's just . . . I belong at the front, Allie. I'm a soldier. What good are the White Wolves if they stay cooped up in their barracks? If they don't see some action soon, I'm going to have a mutiny on my hands.”

“Don't even joke about that.”
Alix gripped his arm, glancing around furtively to see if anyone might have overheard. The loyalty of the White Wolves was still a touchy subject, given their role in the treachery at Boswyck. The Raven had been their commander then; after his execution, most of the officers serving under him had been dismissed. Still, the Wolves would carry that stain for a long time.

Liam growled under his breath. “There, you see? How am I supposed to manage a war council when I can't even get through a conversation with my own wife without saying something stupid?”

“Do what I do and keep your mouth shut.” The voice was nearly as familiar as Alix's own, but she could just as easily have recognised him by the authoritative toll of his boots as he made his way across the hall. Rig didn't walk. He
strode
. Alix turned around, grinning. “Since when do you keep your mouth shut?”

“Don't I? I always mean to.” Rig gathered her up in a bear hug. He smelled of leather and steel and the dust of the road. As always, Alix felt small and safe in his arms. His deep voice rumbled in her ear. “How's things, little sister?”

“Suddenly better.” Alix had learned to cope with Rig being at the front, but it was never far from her mind. His visits, too short and too few, lifted a weight she was barely conscious of carrying, like shucking her armour at the end of a long day.

“They told us you weren't coming,” Liam said, clasping arms with his brother-in-law.

“Well,
they
obviously didn't see the summons I received from Albern Highmount. Apparently, missing a council of this magnitude simply isn't done. Unbecoming of a banner lord, so on and so forth.”

“You'll have to add that to your list of behaviours unbecoming of a banner lord,” Alix said.

“I don't need to keep a list. Highmount is doing it for me.” Rig shook his head, dark eyebrows drawn into a scowl. “Can
either of you explain to me how a
meeting
can possibly be more important than commanding Alden's armies at the front?”

Alix sighed. “Not you too. Look, both of you, this isn't just any meeting. We're in serious trouble.”

Rig laughed humourlessly. “There's an understatement. My men are exhausted, and the spring thaw is just around the corner. The war is about to come out of hibernation. We'll be lucky to hold the enemy at the border until the Onnani fleet arrives on his doorstep.”

“That's just it,” Alix said. “They may not be arriving anytime soon. Word is that they're well behind schedule. The Onnani ambassador hasn't been able to give us a clear indication of when they'll be ready to launch, but it sounds like it'll be months yet.”

Rig swore and rubbed his jaw, beard bristling beneath his fingers. “
Bloody
fishmen. I can't hold them off that long, Allie. What in the Domains am I supposed to do until then?”

“That's what you're here to discuss, you and the rest of the council. There aren't many options.”

“You don't say.” He shook his head. “What about Harram? What's the latest on that?”

“Bit of flirting,” Liam said, “but no action.”

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