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A Knight of the Word

Published by Del Rey on 1999
FICTION / Fantasy / Epic

Eight centuries ago the first Knight of the Word was commissioned to combat the demonic evil of the Void. Now that daunting legacy has passed to John Ross–along with powerful magic and the knowledge that his actions are all that stand between a living hell and humanity’s future.

Then, after decades of service to the Word, an unspeakable act of violence shatters John Ross’s weary faith. Haunted by guilt, he turns his back on his dread gift, settling down to build a normal life, untroubled by demons and nightmares.

But a fallen Knight makes a tempting prize for the Void, which could bend the Knight’s magic to its own evil ends. And once the demons on Ross’s trail track him to Seattle, neither he nor anyone close to him will be safe. His only hope is Nest Freemark, a college student who wields an extraordinary magic all her own. Five years earlier, Ross had aided Nest when the future of humanity rested upon her choice between Word and Void. Now Nest must return the favor. She must restore Ross’s faith, or his life–and hers–will be forfeit . . .

(Paperback, 1999)
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ISBN: 9780345424648
EAN: 9780345424648



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More praise for A Knight of the Word “The identity of John’s demonic manipulator and the meaning of his dreams are carefully crafted mysteries that build to a climax filled with surprising twists and turns. Brooks’s real achievement, however, is his orchestration of the tale’s social issues and personal dramas into a scenario with the resonance of myth. Both a sprightly entertainment and a thoughtful allegory of the forces of Good and Evil at large in the modern world, this novel is sure to increase its author’s already vast readership.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Brooks has developed in Nest Freemark one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. . . . If you are familiar with Seattle, you will be fascinated by the way the author, who lives there, has nearly made the city a character in the action. If you haven’t been to ‘the Emerald City,’ the book may encourage a trip.” —Rocky Mountain News Selected by the Science Fiction Book Club®



Sale of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized. If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher as “unsold or destroyed” and neither the author nor the publisher may have received payment for it. A Del Rey® Book Published by The Random House Publishing Group Copyright © 1998 by Terry Brooks Excerpt from Angel Fire East copyright © 1999 by Terry Brooks All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 99-90173 ISBN 0-345-42464-6 Manufactured in the United States of America First Hardcover Edition: August 1998 First Mass Market Domestic Edition: July 1999 First Mass Market International Edition: August 1999 OPM 10 9 8

TO JIM SIMONSON, LAURIE JAEGER, LARRY GRELLA, & MOLLIE TREMAINE Good friends and the best of neighbors.


PROLOGUE H e stands on a hillside south of the city looking back at the carnage. A long, gray ribbon of broken highway winds through the green expanse of woods and scrub to where the ruin begins. Fires burn among the steel and glass skeletons of the abandoned skyscrapers, flames bright and angry against the washedout haze of the deeply clouded horizon. Smoke rises in long, greasy spirals that stain the air with ash and soot. He can hear the crackling of the fires and smell their acrid stench even here. That buildings of concrete and iron will burn so fiercely puzzles him. It seems they should not burn at all, that nothing short of jackhammers and wrecking balls should be able to bring them down. It seems that in this postapocalyptic world of broken lives and fading hopes the buildings should be as enduring as mountains. And yet already he can see sections of walls beginning to collapse as the fires spread and consume. Rain falls in a steady drizzle, streaking his face. He blinks against the dampness in order to see better what is happening. He remembers Seattle as being beautiful. But that was in another life, when there was still a 1

chance to change the future and he was still a Knight of the Word. John Ross closes his eyes momentarily as the screams of the wounded and dying reach out to him. The slaughter has been going on for more than six hours, ever since the collapse of the outer defenses just after dawn. The demons and the once-men have broken through and another of the dwindling bastions still left to free men has fallen. On the broad span of the high bridge linking the east and west sections of the city, the combatants surge up against one another in dark knots. Small figures tumble from the heights, pinwheeling madly against the glare of the flames as their lives are snuffed out. Automatic weapons—fire ebbs and flows. The armies will fight on through the remainder of the day, but the outcome is already decided. By tomorrow the victors will be building slave pens. By the day after, the conquered will be discovering how life can sometimes be worse than death. At the edges of the city, down where the highway snakes between the first of the buildings that flank the Duwamish River, the feeders are beginning to appear. They mushroom as if by magic amid the carnage that consumes the city. Refugees flee and hunters pursue, and wherever the conflict spreads, the feeders are drawn. They are mankind’s vultures, picking clean the bones of human emotion, of shattered lives. They are the Word’s creation, an enigmatic part of the equation that defines the balance in all things and requires accountability for human behavior. No one is exempt no one is spared. When madness prevails over reason, when what is darkest and most terrible surfaces, the feeders are there. As they are now, he thinks, watching. Unseen and un2 Terry Brooks

known, inexplicable in their single-mindedness, they are always there. He sees them tearing at the combatants closest to the city’s edges, feeding on the strong emotions generated by the individual struggles of life and death taking place at every quarter, responding instinctively to the impulses that motivate their behavior. They are a force of nature and, as such, a part of nature’s law. He hates them for what they are, but he understands the need for what they do. Something explodes in the center of the burning city, and a building collapses in a low rumble of stone walls and iron girders. He could turn away and look south and see only the green of the hills and the silver glint of the lakes and the sound spread out beneath the snowy majesty of Mount Rainier, but he will not do that. He will watch until it is finished. He notices suddenly the people who surround him. There are perhaps several dozen, ragged and holloweyed figures slumped down in the midday gloom, faces streaked with rain and ash. They stare at him as if expecting something. He does not know what it is. He is no longer a Knight of the Word. He is just an ordinary man. He leans on the rune-carved black staff that was once the symbol of his office and the source of his power. What do they expect of him? An old man approaches, shambling out of the gloom, stick-thin and haggard. An arm as brittle as dry wood lifts and points accusingly. I know you, he whispers hoarsely. Ross shakes his head in denial, confused. I know you, the old man repeats. Bald and whitebearded, his face is lined with age and by weather and A KNIGHT OF THE WORD 3

his eyes are a strange milky color, their focus blurred. I was there when you killed him, all those years ago. Killed who? Ross cannot make himself speak the words, only mouth them, aware of the eyes of the others who are gathered fixing on him as the old man’s words are heard. The old man cocks his head and lets his jaw drop, laughing softly, the sound high and eerie, and with this simple gesture he reveals himself. He is unbalanced— neither altogether mad nor completely sane, but something in between. He lives in a river that flows between two worlds, shifting from one to the other, a leaf caught by the current’s inexorable tug, his destiny beyond his control. The Wizard! The old man spits, his voice rising brokenly in the hissing sound of the rain. The Wizard of Oz! You are the one who killed him! I saw you! There, in the palace he visited, in the shadow of the Tin Woodman, in the Emerald City! You killed the Wizard! You killed him! You! The worn face crumples and the light in the milky eyes dims. Tears flood the old man’s eyes and trickle down his weathered cheeks. He whispers, Oh, God, it was the end of everything! And Ross remembers then, a jagged-edged, poisonous memory he had thought forever buried, and he knows with a chilling certainty that what the old man tells him is true. John Ross opened his eyes to the streetlit darkness and let his memory of the dream fade away. Where had the old man been standing, that he could have seen it all? He 4 Terry Brooks

shook his head. The time for memories and the questions they invoked had come and gone. He stood in the shadows of a building backed up on Occidental Park in the heart of Pioneer Square, his breath coming in quick, ragged gasps as he fought to draw the cool, autumn night air into his burning lungs. He had walked all the way from the Seattle Art Museum, all the way from the center of downtown Seattle some dozen blocks away. Limped, really, since he could not run as normal men could and relied upon a black walnut staff to keep upright when he moved. Anger and despair had driven him when muscles had failed. Crippled of mind and body and soul, reduced to an empty shell, he had come home to die because dying was all that was left. The shade trees of the park loomed in dark formation before him, rising out of cobblestones and concrete, out of bricks and curbing, shadowing the sprawl of benches and trash receptacles and the scattering of homeless and disenfranchised that roamed the city night. Some few looked at him as he pushed off the brick wall and came toward them. One or two even hesitated before moving away. His face was terrible to look upon, all bloodied and scraped, and the clothes that draped his lean body were in tatters. Blood leaked from deep rents in the skin of his shoulder and chest, and several of his ribs felt cracked or broken. He had the appearance of a man who had risen straight out of Hell, but in truth he was just on his way down. Feeders gathered at the edges of his vision, hunchbacked and beacon-eyed, ready to show him the way. It was Halloween night, All Hallows’ Eve, and he was A KNIGHT OF THE WORD 5

about to come face-to-face with the most personal of his demons. His mind spun with the implications of this acknowledgment. He crossed the stone and concrete open space thinking of greener places and times, of the smell of grass and forest air, lost to him here, gone out of his life as surely as the hopes he had harbored once that he might become a normal man again. He had traded what was possible for lies and half truths and convinced himself that what he was doing was right. He had failed to listen to the voices that mattered. He had failed to heed the warnings that counted. He had been betrayed at every turn. He stopped momentarily in a pool of streetlight and looked off into the darkened spires of the city. The faces and voices came back to him in a rush of sounds and images. Simon Lawrence. Andrew Wren. O’olish Amaneh. The Lady and Owain Glyndwr. Nest Freemark. Stefanie. His hands tightened on the staff, and he could feel the power of the magic coursing through the wood beneath his palms. Power to preserve. Power to destroy. The distinction had always seemed a large one, but he thought now that it was impossibly small. Was he still, in the ways that mattered, a Knight of the Word? Did he possess courage and strength of will in sufficient measure that they would sustain him in the battle that lay ahead? He could not tell, could not know without putting it to the test. By placing himself in harm’s way he would discover how much remained to him of the power that was once his. He did not think that it would be enough to save his life, but he hoped 6 Terry Brooks

that it might be enough to destroy the enemy who had undone him. It did not seem too much to ask. In truth, it did not seem half enough. Somewhere in the distance a siren sounded, shrill and lingering amid the hard-edged noises that rang down the stone and glass corridors of the city’s canyons. He took a deep breath and gritted his teeth against the pain that racked his body. With slow, measured steps, he started forward once more. Death followed in his shadow. A KNIGHT OF THE WORD 7


CHAPTER 1 Itowas t dawn when she woke, the sky just beginning brighten in the east, night’s shadows still draping the trunks and limbs of the big shade trees in inky layers. She lay quietly for a time, looking through her curtained window as the day advanced, aware of a gradual change in the light that warmed the cool darkness of her bedroom. From beneath the covers she listened to the sounds of the morning. She could hear birdsong in counterpoint to the fading hum of tires as a car sped down Woodlawn’s blacktop toward the highway. She could hear small creaks and mutterings from the old house, some of them so familiar that she remembered them from her childhood. She could hear the sound of voices, of Gran and Old Bob, whispering to each other in the kitchen as they drank their morning coffee and waited for her to come out for breakfast. But the voices were only in her mind, of course. Old Bob and Gran were gone. Nest Freemark rose to a sitting position, drew up her long legs to her chest, rested her forehead against her knees, and closed her eyes. Gone. Both of them. Gran for five years and Old Bob since May. It was hard to believe, even now. She wished every day that she could have 11

CHAPTER 2 Tthe hey went out the porch door, down the steps, across yard, and through the hedgerow that marked the back end of the Freemark property, then struck out into Sinnissippi Park. Nest carried a large bundle of flowers she had purchased the night before and left sitting overnight in a bucket of water on the porch. It was not yet nine, and the air was still cool and the grass slick with damp in the pale morning light. The park stretched away before them, broad expanses of lush, new-mown grass fading into distant, shadowy woods and ragged curtains of mist that rose off the Rock River. The bare earth of the base paths, pitcher’s mounds, and batting boxes of the ball diamonds cornering the central open space were dark and hard with moisture and the night’s chill. The big shade trees had shed most of their leaves, the fall colors carpeting the areas beneath them in a patchwork mix of red, gold, orange, and brown. Park toys dotted the landscape like weird sculpture, and the wooden trestle and chute for the toboggan slide glimmered with a thin coating of frost. The crossbar at the entrance was lowered, the fall hours in effect so that there was no vehicle access to the park until after ten. In the distance, a solitary walker was towed in the wake of a hard-charging 23

CHAPTER 3 Ayard, s Nest pushed through the hedgerow into her backPick dropped from the branches onto her shoulder with a pronounced grunt. “That boy is sweet on you. Sweet, sweet, sweet.” Pick’s voice was harried and thin, and when he spoke he sounded like one of those fuzzy creatures on Sesame Street. Nest thought he wouldn’t be so smug if he could hear himself on tape sometime. “They’re all sweet on me,” she said, deflecting his dig, moving toward the picnic table. “Didn’t you know'” “No, I didn’t. But if that one were any sweeter, he could be bottled for syrup.” Pick sniffed. “Classic case of youthful hormonal imbalance.” She laughed. “Since when did you know anything about ‘youthful hormonal imbalance’? Didn’t you tell me once that you were born in a pod'” “That doesn’t mean I don’t know about humans. I suppose you don’t think I’ve learned anything in my life, is that it? Since I’m roughly ten times your age, it’s probably safe to assume I’ve learned a great deal more than you have!” She straddled one of the picnic bench seats, and Pick slid down her arm and jumped onto the table in front of 34

CHAPTER 4 Acome s with almost everything since John Ross had bea Knight of the Word, his disintegration began with a dream. His dreams were always of the future, a future grim and horrific, one where the balance of magic had shifted so dramatically that civilization was on the verge of extinction. The Void had gained ascendancy over the Word, good had lost the eternal struggle against evil, and humanity had become a pathetic shadow of the brilliant ideal it had once approached. Men were reduced to hunters and hunted, the former led by demons and driven by feeders, the latter banded together in fortress cities and scattered outposts in a landscape fallen into ruin and neglect. Once-men and their prey, they were born of the same flesh, but changed by the separate and divisive moral codes they had embraced and by the indelible patterns of their lives. It had taken more than a decade, but in the end governments had toppled, nations had collapsed, armies had broken into pieces, and peoples worldwide had reverted to a savagery that had not been in evidence since well before the birth of Christ. The dreams were given to John Ross for a purpose. It was the mission of a Knight of the Word to change the 45

CHAPTER 5 Aquiet riel paused, and Nest found that she couldn’t keep any longer. “You mean he quit'” she demanded incredulously. “He just quit'” The tatterdemalion seemed to consider. “He no longer thinks of himself as a Knight of the Word, so he has stopped acting like one. But he can never quit. The choice isn’t his to make.” Her words carried a dark implication that Nest did not miss. “What do you mean'” Ariel’s childlike face seemed to shimmer in the midday sun as she shifted her stance slightly. It was the first time she had moved, and it almost caused her to disappear. “Only the Lady can create a Knight of the Word, and only the Lady can set one free.” Ariel’s voice was so soft that Nest could barely hear her. “John Ross is bound to his charge. When he took up the staff that gives him his power, he bound himself forever. He cannot free himself of the staff or of the charge. Even if he no longer thinks of himself as a Knight of the Word, he remains one.” Nest shook her head in confusion. “But he isn’t doing anything to be a Knight of the Word. He’s given it all up, 60


CHAPTER 6 JSeattle ohn Ross finished the closing paragraph of Simon’s Art Museum speech, read it through a final time to make certain it all hung together, dropped his pen, and leaned back in his chair with a satisfied sigh. Not bad. He was getting pretty good at this speechwriting business. It wasn’t what Simon had hired him for, but it looked like it was a permanent part of his job description now. All those years he had spent knocking around in graduate English programs were serving a useful purpose after all. He grinned and glanced out the window of his tiny office. Morning rain was giving way to afternoon sun. Overhead, the drifting clouds were beginning to reveal small patches of blue. Just another typical Seattle day. He glanced at the clock on his desk and saw that it was nearing three. He had been at this since late morning. Time for a break. He pushed back his chair and levered himself to his feet. He was three years beyond forty, but when rested he could easily pass for ten years less. Lean and fit, he had the sun-browned, rawboned look of an outdoorsman, his face weathered, yet still boyish. His long brown hair was tied back with a rolled bandanna, giving him the look of 75

CHAPTER 7 AWiz’s ndrew Wren stood looking out the window of the corner office at the derelicts occupying space in Occidental Park across the way. They slouched on benches, slept curled up in old blankets in tree wells, and huddled on the low steps and curbing that differentiated the various concrete and flagstone levels of the open space. They drank from bottles concealed in paper sacks, exchanged tokens and pennies, and stared into space. Tourists and shoppers gave them a wide berth. Almost no one looked at them. A pair of cops on bicycles surveyed the scene with wary eyes, then moved over to speak to a man staggering out of a doorway leading to a card shop. Pale afternoon sunlight peeked through masses of cumulous clouds on their way to distant places. Wren turned away. Simon Lawrence was seated at his desk, talking on the phone to the mayor about Wednesday evening’s festivities at the Seattle Art Museum. The mayor was making the official announcement of the dedication on behalf of the city. An abandoned apartment building just across the street had been purchased by the city and was being donated to Fresh Start to provide additional housing for homeless women and children. Donations had been pledged that would cover needed 90

CHAPTER 8 Iturn n the aftermath of San Sobel, John Ross decided to reto the Fairy Glen and the Lady. It took him a long time to reach his decision to do so. He was paralyzed for weeks following the massacre, consumed with despair and guilt, replaying the events over and over in his mind in an effort to make sense of them. Even after he had reached his conclusion that the demon had subverted a member of the police rescue squad, he could not lay the matter to rest. To begin with, he could never know for certain if his conclusion was correct. There would always be some small doubt that he still didn’t have it right and might have done something else to prevent what had happened. Besides, wasn’t he just looking for a way to shift the blame from himself? Wasn’t that what it all came down to? Whatever the answer, the fact remained that he had been responsible for preventing the slaughter of those children, and he had failed. So, after a lengthy deliberation on the matter, he decided he could no longer serve as a Knight of the Word. But how was he to go about handing in his resignation? He might have decided he was quitting, but how did he go about giving notice? He had already stopped 105

CHAPTER 9 IWinslow t was already dark when John Ross and Stefanie exited the offices of Fresh Start, turned down Main Street, and headed for Umberto’s. Daylight saving time was over for another year, and all the clocks had been reset Sunday morning in an effort to conserve daylight—spring forward, fall back—but the approach of winter in the northwest shortened Seattle days to not much more than eight hours anyway. Streetlights threw their hazy glare on the rough pavement of the roadways and sidewalks, and the air was sharp and crisp with cold. It had rained earlier in the day, so shallow puddles dotted the concrete and dampness permeated the fall air. Traffic moved sluggishly through a heavy concentration of mist, and the city was wrapped in a ghostly pall. Ross and Stefanie crossed Second Avenue and continued west past Waterfall Park, a strange, secretive hideaway tucked into an enclosure of brick walls and iron fences that abutted the apartment building where they lived. One entire wall and corner of the park’s enclosure was devoted to a massive waterfall that tumbled over huge rocks with such a thunderous rush that conversation attempted in its immediate vicinity was drowned out. A walkway dropped down along a catchment and 119

CHAPTER 10 Ethe ven though its hunger had become all-consuming, demon waited until after midnight to hunt. It crept from its lair as silent as the death that awaited its victims and slipped out onto the empty streets of Pioneer Square. The weeknight city had closed its eyes early, and even the bars and restaurants had shuttered their doors and clicked off their lights. The air was damp and heavy with mist and the beginnings of a fresh rain, and the moisture glistened on the concrete in a satiny sheen. Cars eased past in ones and twos, carrying their occupants to home and bed, strays following in the wake of the early evening rush. The demon watched from the shadows close by Occidental Park, wary of being seen. But the park and sidewalks and streets were empty and still. The demon was alone. It crept from its hiding place in human form, standing upright, maintaining its guise as it made its way to the place where the hunt would begin. It wore running shoes and sweats to mask the sound of its passing, keeping to the shadows as much as possible, sliding along the walls of the darkened buildings, across the shadowed stretches of the park, and through the blackened tunnels of the alleys and walkways. The homeless who spent 133


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