Bartellus, a Drenai herald, approaches the court of Nadir warlord Ulric—whose hordes have recently destroyed several northern nations and brutally sacked the city of Gulgothir—to negotiate ongoing trade and friendly Nadir-Drenai relations on behalf of Lord Abalayn. Ulric seems agreeable but asks his shaman Nosta Khan to examine the omens; a bloody bird-sacrificing ritual reveals that "the omens are not pleasant" and Ulric intends war.
Chapter 1 Edit
At an inn in Drenan, Regnak (or Rek for short) is in a somber mood as he speaks to the innkeeper Horeb about the imminent war and inevitable stand-off against the Nadir at Dros Delnoch. The conversation turns to the gruesome realities of battle and to the aged Drenai hero Druss the Legend. Rek becomes drunk and is helped to his room.
Rek's sleep is troubled by a nightmare in which he tries to run away from the battle at Dros Delnoch but is forcibly and mysteriously pulled back into it. The next morning, just as Rek is preparing to leave, a seer offers to tell him his future. Confirming his dream about the siege, the seer also offers him a cryptic rhyme: “The earl and the legend will be together at the wall. And men shall dream, and men shall die, but shall the fortress fall?”
Chapter 2 Edit
Rek receives a horse from Horeb and travels south to get away from the impending battle. He reminisces about the Sathuli wars, where he served as a Dun at Dros Corteswain before taking leave from the army. In Graven Forest, he encounters a female swordsman being ambushed by three of Reinard the cutthroat's bandits. He assists her, saving her life, though she shows little gratitude. The woman's horse was killed in the skirmish, and Rek reluctantly offers her to ride with him on his horse – in return for payment.
Chapter 3 Edit
As frostbite seizes his woman companion, Rek finds shelter in a crofter's hut. He lights a fire, lays her on the only bed, removes her armour and massages warmth back into her body, saving her life a second time. He himself sleeps on the floor. The next morning, she thanks him and introduces herself as Virae. They quarrel awkwardly, both feeling an unexpected attraction towards the other.
Chapter 4 Edit
Reinard learns about the fate of his men and the whereabouts of Rek and Virae by way of a Speaker. He arranges an ambush with a force of twenty bandits. When he orders the attack, his axeman Grussin turns on him and kills the bandit leader.
Virae reveals that she is the daughter of Earl Delnar and is on a quest to deliver a message. They stay at the hut for another night, and sleep together. Virae fondly describes her home of Dros Delnoch, and they come to the realisation that they both are destined to meet their fate there.
Meanwhile, Abbot Vintar and his albino apprentice Serbitar observe Rek and Virae during the ambush at the hut from afar by pulsing. Serbitar is told to convene The Thirty–an ancient order of warrior priests–with himself in the leading role as the Voice of The Thirty, Arbedark as the Heart, Menahem as the Eyes, and Vintar as the Soul.
Chapter 5 Edit
At the Temple of The Thirty, Serbitar holds a council as the Order anticipate the arrival of Virae with Abalyn's call to arms. They come to a unanimous decision to aide the defenders at Dros Delnoch.
Druss receives a letter from Delnar asking him to come to Dros Delnoch. The ageing warrior, now leading a solitary life in his cabin in the Skoda mountains, calls out to the wind, "Where are you, Death?...I am Druss! And I defy you!" His call is answered as a pain surges through him and Death's sibilant voice informs that what he awaits the warrior on the walls of Dros Delnoch. Druss dons his armour, grips his axe Snaga, and sets off for his final battle; "One last time, before the sun sets."
Chapter 6 Edit
Virae and Rek arrive at the monastery. Menahem meets them at the gate, testing them by initiating a duel. Rek fights the man, and his fear turns to a ferocious battle-rage that completely overtakes him; he is a baresark. Menahem, overpowered, helps Rek regain his senses by probing him.
Rek and Virae are allowed to enter. They learn that The Thirty intend to assist in the defence of Dros Delnoch both military and strategically, using their abilities to anticipate the enemy's movements.
Chapter 7 Edit
Druss is marching on foot from his home in Skoda to Dros Delnoch. Stopping at a village on the way, he meets Dun Pinar and several other soldiers stationed at Delnoch, many of them considering desertion. After a show of strength, in which the headstrong Dorian unfortunately looses his life, Druss renews the hope of the soldiers and they decide to return to the Dros.
Druss learns of the current situation in Dros Delnoch, where the defending force numbers just over nine thousand, outnumbered more than fifty-to-one by Ulric's estimated force of 500,000 warriors. The incompetent Gan Orrin, a nephew of Abalyn, heads the defence at the fortress, while the well-respected Gan Hogun commands a force of about one thousand Legion elites. The biggest problem is that the town within Delnoch has expanded to the outer walls, providing ample cover in what would otherwise have been empty "killing fields". The Drenai defenders are also short on archers, with less than six hundred. Against Pinar's advice, Druss leaves for Skultik with a plan to recruit the outlaws there, famous for their skill in archery.
In Skultik Forest, Druss is ambushed by outlaw leader Bowman and his men, who take him for a helpless old man. Impressed by his courage and skill in battle (he bests Jorak in a bare-knuckle bout, and is able to slice an arrow shaft in two mid-flight with his axe), Bowman invites him for supper.
Chapter 8 Edit
Hogun, with a force of 200 Legion Lancers, has been sent by Orrin on a reconnaissance mission to confirm the estimated size of Ulric's army. Spotted by three Nadir scouts, they manage to kill two but one escapes. That same day, they are attacked by a force of three thousand Nadir dog soldiers of the Wolfshead tribe. They are able to pierce through the attacking force in wedge formation and return to the fortress to inform Orrin that Ulric is closer than previously believed; his army will reach the Dros within the month.
Chapter 9 Edit
After some bargaining, Druss is able to strike a deal with Bowman — the latter will bring his 620 archers to help defend Delnoch in return for an official pardon and five gold Raq each. They also come to the agreement that the outlaws will leave with their payment and pardons as soon as Wall Three falls.
Chapter 10 Edit
At Dros Delnoch, Druss meets with the ailing Earl Delnar who asks him to take charge of the defence and train the troops. The Earl coughs blood and collapses. He is attended to by Calvar Syn, who predicts that he only has two days left to live.
Druss then meets the dejected Gan Orrin, encourages him and tells him of his plan to raze the buildings between Wall Four and Wall Six, thus reopening the killing grounds. The rubble will be used to seal off the tunnels behind the gate of each wall.
At a third meeting, with Gan Hogun, Druss lays out a detailed plan of how to train the defenders, splitting them into small named units (e.g. "Group Karnak") which are made to compete with one another.
Chapter 11 Edit
Within the Keep, two unidentified traitors–one of them a Drenai Dun–send word to Ulric about Druss' arrival and his plan to seal the tunnels. They intend to assassinate him by way of a drugged bottle of Lentrian Red.
As the defenders' training gets underway, Orrin decides to join in as well. The First Gan, unfit and unused to regular exercise, initially earns laughter and jeers from his troops but with some help from Gilad begins to show great improvement.
Earl Delnar dies, remembering his daughter Virae and the Battle of Skeln Pass in his delusional deathbed ramblings. To the shock of those present, Druss orders the Earl's body to be buried quietly without a formal funeral, so as not to interrupt training.
Chapter 12 Edit
The Thirty, now aboard the Wastrel and nearing Dros Purdol, learn about the Earl's death and about the traitors at Dros Delnoch.
As training continues, Druss teaches the soldiers the importance of teamwork in battle and orders them all to pair up as sword brothers.
Chapter 13 Edit
Menahem, the Eyes of the Thirty, describes what he saw at Dros Delnoch. Virae learns of her father's death and one of the two traitors is revealed to be the Nadir innkeeper Musar.
Knowing that Ulric has other men in Delnoch and will not let his failure pass unnoticed, Musar commits suicide after first poisoning his wife and son.
Chapter 14 Edit
Aboard the Wastrel, Virae accepts Rek's offer to marry her and thereby take on her father's duties as Earl of Bronze. The simple wedding is conducted by the captain and the couple are blessed by Vintar.
At Delnoch, a banquet is held to conclude the Open Swords tournament, which Orrin has won after narrowly beating Hogun in the final. Later, Druss (who is still weak after the assassination attempt), Orrin, Hogun, Elicas and Bowman (who has arrived with his outlaw archers) discuss the coming siege. Serbitar is able to send Druss a message via Bowman, making suggestions to the defence strategy and informing him about Musar.
Chapter 15 Edit
Preparations continue as the siege draws near; the administrative and strategic responsibilities are taking their toll on Druss.
A Nadir delegation arrives to the gate, offering a truce and the safety of all citizens of Dros Delnoch in response for safe passage to Drenan, where Ulric seeks a personal audience with Abalyn. However, if the gates are not open upon Ulric's arrival, he will sack the fortress town, slaying every second defender and selling the women into slavery. Druss responds with an insult, and the Nadir troop return to their camp.
Later that day, the City Elders consult with Druss and Orrin at the Keep, urging them to consider Ulric's proposal. Druss looses his temper, vowing to hang anyone who speaks of surrender during the siege. Orrin is able to diffuse the situation, allowing the Elders to send a petition to Abalyn in Drenan.
Meanwhile, Ulric's shaman Nosta Khan informs him about a powerful opposing magical force, The Thirty. Ulric tells him to seek them out and destroy them. Nosta Khan enlists the help of his acolytes.
With their help, he summons a demon to attack the Wastrel, killing the second mate and re-animating his dead body. Though the possessed corpse is ultimately defeated by Serbitar and Rek, Nosta Khan is able to steer the ship off course, delaying its arrival to Dros Purdol.
Chapter 16 Edit
Rek, Virae and The Thirty arrive at Dros Purdol where they are greeted by Dun Degas. He provides them with mounts and military despatches as they make their way across the Delnoch mountains to Dros Delnoch.
Serbitar leaves his body and spirit-travels into the Way of the Mists, seeking out Nosta Khan. He ventures too far and almost gives in to the Pull before the rest of The Thirty are able to rescue him. He describes the visions he has seen, of death and destruction. The well of Wall Two will be poisoned, leading to a plague spreading among the defenders.
The party are later ambushed by Sathuli tribesmen, led by Joachim. Seeing that they are vastly outnumbered, Rek challenges the Sathuli leader to a duel. The two swordsmen are evenly matched but Rek eventually beats Joachim, sparing his life and gaining his friendship in return – a rare feat for any Drenai.
Chapter 17 Edit
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