Ardneh's Sword (2006) is a sequel to the Empire of the East series, following Ardneh's World. It is also a bridge to the Swords series, taking place about one thousand years after the mutual annihilation of Ardneh and Orcus.
In this novel, Chance Rolfson is a direct lineal descendent of Rolf, agent of Ardneh in the great war against the Emperor of the East. Chance has been forced by his family into an expedition searching for Ardneh's Sword. They are certain that an opportunity to get out into the fresh air of the countryside will cure him of his dreamy ways. He serves as assistant to the Scholar Jervase, often taking care of the talking owl Mitra.
One night, just before dawn, Chance is awakened by a thump on the canvas cover of the wagon. Then a slit is cut in the cover with a sharp claw and an object on a necklace chain falls into this hand. He sees a distorted human face through the tear. Scrambling outside, he finds Mitra on the ground with a wounded wing, but no other bodies. A net is lying nearby. The object on a chain has disappeared, but his hand tingles.
Scholar Jervase and Captain Horkos, commander of the military escort, question Chance about the commotion, but seem to class these events with his prior sleepwalking episodes. Enchantress Ayaba checks him for signs of magical influence, but finds nothing unusual. She also checks out the net that had presumably entangled Mitra, yet still finds nothing. Later Lady Ayaba's little helpers vanish and she knows not why or where they are gone.
Then Chance goes wandering one evening after the midday meal and finds a very young female creature by the river. She is wearing an unusual garb much like long underwear that she claims is keeping her warm, including her bare feet. She says her name is Zalmo and tries to interest him in wearing another such garment of his size. Then she asks him some strange questions. She disappears as he is leaving.
Later Chance meets her older brother, Moxis, further downstream and notices that he is wearing a larger version of the strange garment. Moxis also tries to convince him to wear one of them. Apparently these suits were found, not made, and are old technology. He also tells Chance that the infirmary of the Servants of Ardneh is further downstream. As he is leaving, Chance hears a noise and Moxis informs him that the expedition is being attacked by bandits. Moxis vanishes underwater as Chance leaves.
By now, the object on a chain has manifested itself around his neck. When he returns to camp and observes the bandits attacking, he is surprised by two bandits directly behind him. But they do not see him, even when one of them trips over his leg. However, they can hear him and flee anxiously while searching for the source of the sounds, yet never seeing him despite being in plain sight.
Both of the strange children have very bright red hair and green eyes. Now their grandmother, an older woman with bright red hair, although graying, appears to him. By now Chance is almost convinced that the children are demons. But Grandmother names herself as Zalmoxis, admits that all three are manifestations of the same entity, and claims to be a tech-djinn. She knows about the object around his neck and states that it is Ardneh's Key, which will allow him entry to Ardneh's Workshop.
Zalmoxis may not be a demon, but at least one powerful demon exists in this area. Avenarius is a very powerful demon, although not as strong as Orcus had been. The local bandit chieftain, Nathan Gokard, worships Avenarius and invokes his aid. Of course, Avenarius cannot be summoned by the likes of Gokard, but the bandit chief keeps trying; his usual approach involves child sacrifice.
Then Mitra discovers that more bandits are converging on the area. Unfortunately, these bandits may not be actual bandits; one scout notices that some of them are wearing the colors of the mad king of Yasodhara. Whether bandits or irregulars, they are massing a small army and the expedition is obviously their target.
In this story, Chance is intimidated by a demon, befuddled by a tech-djinn and beguiled by a young female Servant of Ardneh who is also a budding mage. The expedition is besieged in a cavern complex by Gokard, infiltrated by reptilian flyers and rescued by a mythical being. All told, this story keeps Chance busy, worried and confounded.
This story presumes some knowledge of the Empire of the East trilogy. Although most significant information is hinted in the narrative, full understanding of the plot requires more exposure to past events than is conveyed herein. Moreover, this story does not really terminate with all loose threads woven into the plot, but rather provides information that explains the genesis of the Swords series. This is the missing link in the larger series.
For those who have not read the Empire of the East stories, I highly recommend them as some of the best fantasy ever written. Although the plot is rather derivative, some of the concepts therein are highly original. Moreover, this series is a good example of a SF story transforming to a Fantasy through a modification of physical laws, with high tech and magic commingled.
Highly recommended for Empire of the East fans, but anyone else should read that series prior to this volume.
-Arthur W. Jordin