Home > Most Popular > The Wheel of Osheim (The Red Queen's War #3)

The Wheel of Osheim (The Red Queen's War #3)
Author:Mark Lawrence

The Wheel of Osheim (The Red Queen's War #3)

Mark Lawrence



AUTHOR’S NOTE



For those of you who have had to wait a year for this book I provide brief catch-up notes to Book 2, The Liar’s Key, so that your memories may be refreshed and I can avoid the awkwardness of having to have characters tell each other things they already know for your benefit.

Here I carry forward only what is of importance to the tale that follows.



Jalan Kendeth, grandson to the Red Queen, has few ambitions. He wants to be back in his grandmother’s capital, rich, and out of danger. He’d also love to lord it over his older brothers Martus and Darin.

Life has become a little more complicated of late. Jalan still lusts after his former love, Lisa DeVeer, but she’s now married to his best friend. Additionally he’s still in massive debt to the murderous crime lord Maeres Allus, and wanted for fraud by the great banks of Florence. Plus, he’s vowed revenge on Edris Dean, the man who killed his mother and his sister. His sister was still in his mother’s womb and the necromantic sword Edris used (that Jalan now carries) trapped her in Hell, ready to return as an unborn to serve the Dead King. Jalan’s sister had the potential to be a powerful sorceress and will make a very dangerous unborn— such potent unborn require the death of a close family member to return to the living world.

Jalan has travelled from the frozen north to the burning hills of Florence. He began his trip with Norsemen Snorri and Tuttugu of the Undoreth, picking up a Norse witch named Kara, and Hennan, a young boy from Osheim, on the way.

Jalan and Snorri were bound to spirits of darkness and light respectively: Aslaug and Baraqel. During their journey those bonds were broken.

Jalan has Loki’s key, an artefact that can open any door. Many people want this—not least the Dead King who could use it to emerge from Hell.

In this book I use both Hell and Hel to describe the part of the afterlife into which our heroes venture. Hel is what the Norse call it. Hell is what it’s called in Christendom.

Tuttugu died in an Umbertide jail, tortured and killed by Edris Dean.

We last saw Jalan, Snorri, Kara and Hennan in the depths of the salt-mine where the door-mage, Kelem, dwelt.

Kelem was hauled off into the dark-world by Aslaug.

Snorri went through the door into Hel to save his family. Jalan said he would go with him, and gave Loki’s key to Kara so it wouldn’t fall into the Dead King’s hands. Jalan’s nerve failed him and he didn’t follow Snorri. He pickpocketed the key back off Kara and a moment later someone pushed the door open from the Hel side and hauled him through.

More generally: Jalan’s grandmother, Alica Kendeth, the Red Queen, has been fighting a hidden war with the Lady Blue and her allies for many years. The Lady Blue is the guiding hand behind the Dead King, and the necromancer Edris Dean is one of her agents.

Aiding the Red Queen are her twin older siblings, the Silent Sister—who sees the future but never speaks—and her disabled brother Garyus, who runs a commercial empire of his own.

The Red Queen’s War is about the change the Builders made in reality a thousand years previously—the change that introduced magic into the world shortly before the previous society (us in about fifty years) was destroyed in a nuclear war.

The change the Builders made has been accelerating as people use magic more—in turn allowing more magic to be used—a vicious cycle that is breaking down reality and leading to the end of all things.

he Red Queen believes the disaster can be averted—or that she should at least try. The Lady Blue wants to accelerate to the end, believing that she and a select few can survive to become gods in whatever will follow.

Dr. Taproot appeared to be a circus master going about his business, but Jalan saw him in his grandmother’s memories of sixty years ago, acting as head of her grandfather’s security and much the same age as he is now . . .

The Wheel of Osheim is a region to the north where reality breaks down and every horror from a man’s imagination is given form. Kara’s studies indicate that at the heart of it was a great machine, a work of the Builders, mysterious engines hidden in a circular underground tunnel many miles across. Quite what role it plays in the disaster to come is unclear . . .





PROLOGUE




In the deepness of the desert, amid dunes taller than any prayer tower, men are made tiny, less than ants. The sun burns there, the wind whispers, all is in motion, too slow for the eye but more certain than sight. The prophet said sand is neither kind nor cruel, but in the oven of the Sahar it is hard to think that it does not hate you.

Tahnoon’s back ached, his tongue scraped dry across the roof of his mouth. He rode, hunched, swaying with the gait of his camel, eyes squinting against the glare even behind the thin material of his shesh. He pushed the discomfort aside. His spine, his thirst, the soreness of the saddle, none of it mattered. The caravan behind him relied on Tahnoon’s eyes, only that. If Allah, thrice-blessed his name, would grant that he saw clearly then his purpose was served.

So Tahnoon rode, and he watched, and he beheld the multitude of sand and the vast emptiness of it, mile upon baking mile. Behind him, the caravan, snaking amid the depths of the dunes where the first shadows would gather come evening. Around its length his fellow Ha’tari rode the slopes, their vigilance turned outward, guarding the soft al’Effem with their tarnished faith. Only the Ha’tari kept to the commandments in spirit as well as word. In the desert such rigid observance was all that kept a man alive. Others might pass through and survive, but only Tahnoon’s people lived in the Sahar, never more than a dry well from death. Treading the fine line in all things. Pure. Allah’s chosen.

Tahnoon angled his camel up the slope. The al’Effem sometimes named their beasts. Another weakness of the tribes not born in the desert. In addition, they scrimped on the second and fourth prayers of each day, denying Allah his full due.

The wind picked up, hot and dry, making the sand hiss as it stripped it from the sculpted crest of the dune. Reaching the top of the slope, Tahnoon gazed down into yet another empty sun-hammered valley. He shook his head, thoughts returning along his trail to the caravan. He glanced back toward the curving shoulder of the next dune, behind which his charges laboured along the path he had set them. These particular al’Effem had been in his care for twenty days now. Two more and he would deliver them to the city. Two more days to endure until the sheikh and his family would grate upon him no longer with their decadent and godless ways. The daughters were the worst. Walking behind their father’s camels, they wore not the twelve-yard thobe of the Ha’tari but a nine-yard abomination that wrapped so tight its folds barely concealed the woman beneath.

The curve of the dune drew his eye and for a second he imagined a female hip. He shook the vision from his head and would have spat were his mouth not so dry.

“God forgive me for my sin.”

Two more days. Two long days.