The Dragonbone Chair
First volume of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
Setting[edit | edit source]
The story takes place on the fictional fantasy world of Osten Ard. The history of the world and the races present in Osten Ard have a great impact on the current events in the books.
Thousands of years ago the long-lived Gardenborn arrived in the land, fleeing a cataclysm. They were three tribes, the Zida'ya (commonly called Sithi), the Hikeda'ya (also called Norns) and the Tinukeda'ya (known as Dwarrows and Niskies). In Osten Ard the Gardenborn prospered and they built nine great cities of tremendous beauty. The first two tribes had ruled the third in their ancestral home called the Garden, but in Osten Ard the Tinukeda'ya went their own way, developing into two separate tribes, the seafaring Niskies and the earth-dwelling Dwarrows. The other two tribes also split ways, making a pact at Sesuad'ra, the Stone of Farewell. Their main subject of argument was the appearance of Men or mortals in Osten Ard. The Zida'ya were content to leave Men alone to go their own way, as long as they didn't trespass in Sithi lands. The Hikeda'ya were of the opinion that the mortals had to be wiped out or driven from Osten Ard. The Norns and their fell queen Utuk'u, eldest and most powerful of the Gardenborn, removed to the north of the world, taking the two northern-most cities for their own. Three cities were also given to the Tinukeda'ya, one was sea-bound Jhina't'senei which went to the Niskies and the other two were deep under the earth which went to the Dwarrows, the smaller tribe of the Tinukeda'ya. In the greatest of them all, Asu'a, the High King ruled.
But Men began to prosper and advance and the sea empire of Nabban rose and fell without it disturbing the Gardenborn. The Sithi also had great friendship with the Hernystiri of the west. Then the Rimmersmen came with iron and to them the Gardenborn were devils and demons, to be killed on sight. Unfortunately the Gardenborn suffer from a severe allergy to iron and even with their magics and their own iron-hard witchwood weapons, they were beaten back, one after the other. The Hernystiri were the only ones who stood by the Sithi in the final battle where both armies were destroyed. The remaining Sithi withdrew to Asu'a and there awaited the end. Ineluki, the King's younger son, wove terrible magic at the end with five of his servants and there they and Asu'a were destroyed. However, the spell gave the remaining Sithi time to flee to Aldheorte forest, where they continued to live in secrecy.
During the five hundred years that follows the fall of Asu'a, six different kings ruled in the castle built on the Sithi ruins, called Hayholt. The latest of these is king John Presbyter, who is dying as the story opens.
Simon is an ordinary scullery boy who is taken under the tutelage of Morgenes. When King John Presbyter dies and his son Elias ascends the throne, the way opens for a long-dormant evil to enter the realm. Elias, driven by his evil advisor, moves to eliminate his brother Josua. Caught in the struggle, Simon is forced to flee as best he can, and the young man soon finds himself taking part in adventures he had only dreamed of.
Synopsis[edit | edit source]
For eons the Hayholt belonged to the immortal Sithi, but they had fled the great castle before the onslaught of Mankind. Men have long ruled this greatest of strongholds, and the rest of Osten Ard as well. Prester John, High King of all the nations of men, is its most recent master; after an early life of triumph and glory, he has presided over decades of peace from his skeletal throne, the Dragonbone Chair.
Simon, an awkward fourteen year old, is one of the Hayholt's scullions. His parents are dead, his only real family the chamber maids and their stern mistress, Rachel the Dragon. When Simon can escape his kitchen-work he steals away to the cluttered chambers of Doctor Morgenes, the castle's eccentric scholar. When the old man invites Simon to be his apprentice, the youth is overjoyed - until he discovers that Morgenes prefers teaching reading and writing to magic.
Soon ancient King John dies, so Elias, the older of the two sons, prepares to take the throne. Josua, Elias' somber brother, nicknamed Lackhand because of a disfiguring wound, argues harshly with the king-to-be about Pryrates, the ill-reputed priest who is one of Elias' closest advisers. The brothers' feud is a cloud of foreboding over castle and country.
Elias' reign as king starts well, but a drought comes and plague strikes several of the nations of Osten Ard. Soon outlaws roam the roads and people begin to vanish from isolated villages. The order of things is breaking down, and the king's subjects are losing confidence in his rule, but nothing seems to bother the monarch or his friends. As rumblings of discontent begin to be heard throughout the kingdom, Elias' brother Josua disappears - to plot rebellion, some say.
Elias' misrule upsets many, including Duke Isgrimnur of Rimmersgard and Count Eolair, an emissary from the western country of Hernystir. Even King Elias' own daughter Miriamele is uneasy, especially about the scarlet-robed Pryrates, her father's trusted adviser.
Meanwhile Simon is muddling along as Morgenes' helper. The two become fast friends despite Simon's mooncalf nature and the doctor's refusal to teach him anything resembling magic. During one of his meanderings through the secret byways of the labyrinthine Hayholt, Simon discovers a secret passage and is almost captured there by Pryrates. Eluding the priest, he enters a hidden underground chamber and finds Josua, who is being held captive for use in some terrible ritual planned by Pryrates. Simon fetches Doctor Morgenes and the two of them free Josua and take him to the doctor's chambers, where Josua is sent to freedom down a tunnel that leads beneath the ancient castle. Then, as Morgenes is sending off messenger birds bearing news of what has happened to mysterious friends, Pryrates and the king's guard come to arrest the doctor and Simon. Morgenes is killed fighting Pryrates, but his sacrifice allows Simon to escape into the tunnel.
Half-maddened, Simon makes his way through the midnight corridors beneath the castle, which contain the runes of the old Sithi palace. He surfaces in the graveyard beyond the town wall, then is lured by the light of a bonfire. He witnesses a weird scene: Pryrates and King Elias engaged in a ritual with black-robed, white-faced creatures. The pale things give Elias a strange gray sword of disturbing power, named Sorrow. Simon flees.
Life in the wilderness on the edge of the great forest Aldheorte is miserable, and weeks later Simon is nearly dead from hunger and exhaustion, but still far away from his destination, Josua's northern keep at Naglimund. Going to a forest cot to beg, he finds a strange being caught in a trap - one of the Sithi, a race thought to be mythical, or at least long-vanished. The cotsman returns, but before he can kill the helpless Sitha, Simon strikes him down. The Sitha, once freed, stops only long enough to fire a white arrow at Simon, then disappears. A new voice tells Simon to take the white arrow, that it is a Sithi gift.
The dwarfish newcomer is a troll named Binabik, who rides a great gray wolf. He tells Simon he was only passing by, but now he will accompany the boy to Naglimund. Simon and Binabik endure many adventures and strange events on the way to Naglimund: they come to realize that they have fallen afoul of a threat greater than merely a king and his counselor deprived of their prisoner. At last, when they find themselves pursued by unearthly white hounds who wear the brand of Stormspike, a mountain of evil reputation in the far north, they are forced to head for the shelter of Geloe's forest house, taking with them a pair of travelers they have rescued from the hounds. Geloe, a blunt-spoken forest woman with a reputation as a witch, confers with them and agrees that somehow the ancient Norns, embittered relatives of the Sithi, have become embroiled in the fate of Prester John's kingdom.
Pursuers human and otherwise threaten them on their journey to Naglimund. After Binabik is shot with an arrow, Simon and one of the rescued travelers, a servant girl, must struggle on through the forest. They are attacked by a shaggy giant and saved only by the appearance of Josua's hunting party.
The prince brings them to Naglimund, where Binabik's wounds are cared for, and where it is confirmed that Simon has stumbled into a terrifying swirl of events. Elias is coming soon to besiege Josua's castle. Simon's serving-girl companion was Princess Miriamele traveling in disguise, fleeing her father, whom she fears has gone mad under Pryrates' influence. From all over the north and elsewhere, frightened people are flocking to Naglimund and Josua, their last protection against a mad king.
Then, as the prince and others discuss the coming battle, a strange old Rimmersman named Jarnauga appears in the council's meeting hall. He is a member of the League of the Scroll, a circle of scholars and initiates of which Morgenes and Binabik's master were both part, and he brings more grim news. Their enemy, he says, is not just Elias: the king is receiving aid from Ineluki the Storm King, who had once been a prince of the Sithi - but who has been dead for five centuries, and whose bodiless spirit now rules the Norns of Stormspike Mountain, pale relatives of the banished Sithi.
It was the terrible magic of the gray sword Sorrow that caused Ineluki's death - that, and mankind's attack on Sithi. The League of the Scroll believes that Sorrow has been given to Elias as the first step in some incomprehensible plan of revenge, a plan that will bring the earth beneath the heel of the undead Storm king. The only hope comes from a prophetic poem that seems to suggest that "three swords" might help turn back Ineluki's powerful magic.
One of the swords is the Storm King's Sorrow, already in the hands of their enemy, King Elias. Another is the Rimmersgard blade Minneyar, which was also once at the Hayholt, but whose whereabouts are now unknown. The third is Thorn, black sword of King John's greatest knight, Sir Camaris. Jarnauga and others think they have traced it to a location in the frozen north. On this slim hope, Josua sends Binabik, Simon, and several soldiers off in search of Thorn, even as Naglimund prepares for siege.
Others are affected by the growing crisis. Princess Miriamele, frustrated by her uncle Josua's attempts to protect her, escapes Naglimund in disguise, accompanied by the mysterious monk Cadrach. She hopes to make her way to southern Nabban and plead with her relatives there to aid Josua. Old Duke Isgrimnur, at Josua's urging, disguises his own very recognizable features and follows after to rescue her. Tiamak, a swamp-dwelling Wrannaman scholar, receives a strange message from his old mentor Morgenes that tells of bad times coming and hints that Tiamak has a part to play. Maegwin, a daughter of the king of Hernystir, watches helplessly as her own family and country are drawn into a whirlpool of war by the treachery of High King Elias.
Simon and Binabik and their company are ambushed by Ingen Jegger, huntsman of Stormspike, and his servants. They are saved only the reappearance of the Sitha Jiriki, whom Simon had saved from the cotsman's trap. When he learns of their quest, Jiriki decides to accompany them to Urmsheim mountain, legendary abode of one of the great dragons, in search of Thorn.
By the time Simon and the others reach the mountain, King Elias has brought his besieging army to Josua's castle at Naglimund, and though the first attacks are repulsed, the defenders suffer great losses. At last Elias' forces seem to retreat and give up the siege, but before the stronghold's inhabitants can celebrate, a weird storm appears on the northern horizon, bearing down on Naglimund. The storm is the cloak under which Ineluki's own horrifying army of Norns and giants travels, and when the Red Hand, the Storm King's chief servants, thrown down Naglimund's gates, a terrible slaughter begins. Josua and a few other manage to flee the ruin of the castle. Before escaping into the great forest, Prince Josua curses Elias for his conscienceless bargain with the Storm King and swears that he will take their father's crown back.
Simon and his companions climb Urmsheim, coming through great dangers to discover the Uduntree, a titanic frozen waterfall. There they find Thorn in a tomblike cave. Before they can take the sword and make their escape, Ingen Jegger appears once more attacks with his troop of soldiers. The battle awakens Igjarjuk, the white dragon, who has been slumbering for years beneath the ice. Many on both sides are killed. Simon alone is left standing, trapped on the edge of a cliff; as the ice-worm bears down upon him, he lifts Thorn and swings it. The dragon's scalding black blood spurts over him as he is struck senseless.
Simon awakens in a cave on the troll mountain of Yiquanuc. Jiriki and Haestan, an Erkynlandish soldier, nurse him to health. Thorn has been rescued from Urmsheim, but Binabik is being held prisoner by his own people, along with Sludig the Rimmersman, under sentence of death. Simon himself has been scarred by the dragon's blood and a wide swath of his hair has turned white. Jiriki names him "Snowlock" and tells Simon that, for good or for evil, he has been irrevocably marked.