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Authors: The Realms Thereunder

Ross lawhead

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Advance Acclaim forThe Realms Thereunder

“The Realms Thereunderis a fantastically compelling novel mixing the best of fantasy, adventure, and intrigue. It's one of those can't-put-down tales you'll be thinking about long after turning the last page. Fans of C.S. Lewis, the Inkheart Trilogy, and of course Stephen Lawhead will find much to enjoy in this well-crafted read.”

—C.J. DARLINGTON,TITLETRAKK.COM;AUTHOR OFBOUND BYGUILT

“With beautiful imagery, thoughtful imagination, and a touch of humor,The Realms Thereunderis an excellent beginning to an insightful and exciting new fantasy series.”

—MELISSAWILLIS,THECHRISTIANMANIFESTO.COM

“For lovers of Stephen Lawhead, his influence shines through in this story of fantasy, reality and everything in between!”

—LORITWICHELL,RADIANTLIT.COM

THE ANCIENT EARTH TRILOGYBOOK ONE:

THE REALMSTHEREUNDER

ROSS LAWHEAD

© 2011 by Ross Lawhead

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other—except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Thomas Nelson. Thomas Nelson is a registered trademark of Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Page design by Mandi Cofer.

Thomas Nelson, Inc., titles may be purchased in bulk for educational, business, fund-raising, or sales promotional use. For information, please e-mail [email protected]

Publisher's Note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lawhead, Ross.   The realms thereunder / by Ross Lawhead.    p. cm. -- (The elder earth trilogy ; bk. 1)ISBN 978-1-59554-909-9 (trade paper)I. Title.PS3562.A864R43 2011813'.54--dc22

2011021276

Printed in the United States of America

11 12 13 14 15 16 QG 6 5 4 3 2 1

FOR DRAKE—WHO HAS BEEN ON OVER A HUNDREDHEROIC QUESTS WITH ME.

“But whatso hap at the end of the world,Where Nothing is struck and sounds,It is not, by Thor, these monkish menThese humbled Wessex hounds—

“Not this pale line of Christian hindsThis one white string of men,Shall keep us back from the end of the world,And the things that happen then.

“It is not Alfred's dwarfish sword,Nor Egbert's pigmy crown,Shall stay us now that descend in thunder,Rending the realms and the realms thereunder,Down through the world and down.”

—THEBALLAD OF THEWHITEHORSE:VI - THESLAYING OF THECHIEFS,G. K. CHESTERTON

Contents

Prologue

Chapter one: Oxford Is Not Safe

Chapter Two: The Sleeping Knights

Chapter Three: That Time We Saved the World

Chapter Four: The Knights of Niðergeard

Chapter Five: A Leaf from Another Forest

Chapter Six: Lights in the Dark

Chapter Seven: Useful Poetry

Chapter Eight: The Lifiendes

Chapter Nine: Trolls in Morven

Chapter Ten: The Wild Caves

Chapter Eleven: The Faerie Fayre

Chapter Twelve: Quick Blood

Chapter Thirteen: Reunion

Chapter Fourteen: The Door and the Book

Chapter Fifteen: Gád

Epilogues

A Short Note About Language

Reading Group Guide

PROLOGUE

1

The Swindlestock Tavern

20th April, 1524

“And I say that you're a fool, Addison Fletcher!” the brawny man declared, striking his ale mug against the bare wooden table for emphasis.

“God smite me where I sit if I tell a lie, Coll Dawson!” Addison protested, his eyes flicking heavenward for the briefest of moments.

“Ah,but—did you not say,” declared Coll, cocking an eyebrow and pointing a finger. “Did you not say that you got this account from another—”

“From Rob Fuller,” piped a voice from the end of the table.

“Aye, from Rob Fuller. And who's to say that a tale told by Rob Fuller is true or false? Swearing oaths upon secondhand tales is not wise.”

“Then tell me, is it wisdom or foolishness to trust honourable men? I've known Rob this last twenty year and judge him to be a straight and honest man.”

“Even so,” continued Coll expansively. “An honest man may—”

“Enough!” came a shout from the table next to theirs. “You bicker like a pair of divinity scholars. I would hear the rest of the tale and judge for myself!”

“Aye, the tale!” came another shout from behind Addison, and the chorus was picked up by all of those in the tavern who were in earshot of the two men.

“Alright! Alright!” Addison banged his ale mug on the table.

When a reasonable silence fell on the room, he drew breath to speak. “Where had I gotten to?”

“ ‘The blacksmith was working late on a moonless night when a man walked in . . . ,' ” a helpful listener prompted.

“Aye, aye, just so. And full old he was—with a beard, white as a cloud, down to his waist, and a red—”

“You described him already!” came a cry from another table.

“And a red robe!” Addison Fletcher shouted. “A red robe that was bordered with all manner of delicate and intricate designs!

Alright?”

There was chuckling among the crowd.

“Anyhow,” Addison continued, quieter. “This old gent comes up to the blacksmith—Sam, the blacksmith's name is—and bids him good evening. Sam bids him likewise and asks what service he can give the old man. The old man without saying a word hands him a bar of gold this big.” Addison held his hands apart.

“‘What's this?' asks Sam.

“‘I need you to make a shoe from this strip of gold that would fit a warhorse,' says the stranger, and gives him the size, which is large enough for a destrier. The blacksmith sets to work and—it being no especially hard task to shape gold—he soon has the shoe made. He hands it over to the old man along with the parts of the gold bar that he hasn't used. He does this thinking that he'll get some of the gold in return and more of it if he's honest. For in working with the stuff, he's judged it to be proof pure.

“But the gent merely puts the gold scraps in a pouch he carries on his belt and asks the smith to pick up his shoeing tools and follow him.

“ ‘Where are we going?' asks Sam, and the old man answers that the job isn't finished until the horse itself is shod. With assurance that he'll be compensated for his time, Sam falls in step alongside him.

“Well, to hear Sam tell of it, they walk out of the town proper— this was all happening in Reading, by the way—and along the river Kennet past the abandoned abbey grounds and into the forest. They go about a mile inwards, until they reach a cave in the side of a cliff. The old man ducks his head and walks in without pausing and Sam's right behind him trying not to lose sight of him in the dark.

“It's not too long before they come to a small room carved out in the rock in the corner of which is a large pile of jewels—rubies, emeralds, diamonds, garnets, sapphires, and the like. There are two grand archways in this small room leading to two large halls like feasting halls. In one of them he can see men, warriors, all done up head to foot in armour, and sleeping, each laid out on the floor shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe.

“In the other room are horses, massive warhorses, all of them likewise asleep but upright and covered in fine blankets under which they wear armour. And each one of them is shod with four golden horseshoes.

“The old man enters this second room, but Sam is told to stay where he is, and not to touch the pile of jewels. As he waits Sam takes in all he can about the place. He ends up by counting the horses and reckons there to be about seventy or so.

“Well, the old man reappears, leading a listing horse down the centre of the hall and into the smaller chamber.

“Sam is told by the old man to shoe the horse and so he does, all the while eyeing the pile of jewels and asking questions— questions about where he is, who the knights are, and how the horses have been kept—but the old man doesn't say a word, as if he can't hear Sam.

“Well, Sam eventually finishes his work and puts his tools away. The old man studies his work, praises his handicraft, and then hands Sam a leather pouch. Sam opens it and finds it empty.

He asks the old man what it is.

“‘You may fill this pouch with whatever gemstones you wish from the pile,' the old man answers. ‘But do not put anything of value in your shirt, tool satchel, or anywhere on your person, else the knights will wake up and surely kill you. Fill it as much as you can but make sure that you are able to draw the strings shut, for if you leave with it open the knights will wake up and surely kill you and I won't stop them.'

“So Sam goes over to the pile as the old man leads the horse away and he starts cramming the bag full of precious stones. He's sufficiently scared of the old man's tale about the knights killing him to not put anything on his person. But also he's thinking that he'll make a return trip here the next morning with the same pouch and carry even more away.

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