Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Hart's Hope

Orson Scott Card







  The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied so that you can enjoy reading it on your personal devices. This e-book is for your personal use only. You may not print or post this e-book, or make this e-book publicly available in any way. You may not copy, reproduce or upload this e-book, other than to read it on one of your personal devices.

  Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:







  1: Palicrovol Becomes a King in His Heart

  2: The Girl Who Rode the Hart

  3: The Descent of Beauty

  4: The King’s Bride

  5: The Captive King

  6: The Farmer’s Wife

  7: The Birth of Palicrovol’s Son

  8: The House of God

  9: The Man with Golden Eyes

  10: The Grocer’s Song

  11: Piss Gate

  12: The Sweet Sisters

  13: Thieves

  14: Servants

  15: The Hole

  16: The Taste of Power

  17: Cages

  18: The Dance of Descent

  19: The Queen’s Companions

  20: The Uses of Power

  21: Orem’s Future

  22: The Birth of Youth

  23: The Freeing of the Gods

  24: The Lesser Donjon

  25: The Victory of the Hundred Horns

  26: The Rage of the King

  Tor Books by Orson Scott Card


  O Palicrovol, with death and vengeance in your eyes, I write to you because over the centuries there are tales you have forgotten, and tales you never knew. I will tell you all the tales, and because my tales are true, you will withhold your blade-filled hand, and no longer seek the death of the boy Orem, called Scanthips, called Banningside, called the Little King.


  This is not the earliest of the tales, but it is the first that I must tell, because if you remember this, you will hear me to the end.

  He came to her in the garden, where her women were draping her with flowers, which they must do every day of the spring. “What is the name of the girl?” he asked.

  Her women looked to her for permission to answer. She nodded at sharp-tongued Cold-in-the-Western-Waters, who would know the proper words to say.

  “Our lady will know the name of this man who walks boldly in the holy garden, and risks knowing all the secrets that only eunuchs know.”

  The man looked slightly surprised. “But I was told I might walk anywhere in the city.”

  Again the women looked to her, and this time she chose Bent-Back-from-Birth, whose voice was high and strange.

  “You may walk where a man may walk, but you must pay what a man must pay.”

  To her surprise, the man did not look afraid. By his fearlessness he was a fool. By his clumsy accent he was a foreigner. By his presence in the holy garden, he was new to Isle-Where-Winter-Is-But-One-Day-in-the-Mountains. But above all, by his face he was strong and beautiful and good, and so she nodded to Born-among-Falling-Lilac-Petals.

  “You are in the presence of the eldest child of King Over-the-Sea-on-a-Swan’s-Back,” said Mesmisfedilain in her most velvet voice.

  At once the stranger dropped to his knees and bowed his head, but he did not bend his back. This was remarkable. She nodded to Truth-without-Torture.

  “If you are a king in your own land, Man, why do you kneel? And if you are not a king, why does your unbent back pray for your death?”

  “I am Palicrovol,” said the man. “I am one battle away from death or a throne. My enemy is Nasilee, who rules by right of blood in Burland.”

  Truth-without-Torture took the challenge of his words. “If he rules by right of blood, how do you dare oppose him? Answer truthfully, for your life is in your tongue.”

  “Because I am a good man,” answered Palicrovol, “and Nasilee is one of those who rule by right of blood, but earn the hate of all good men. Still, I would not have rebelled if the gods had not chosen me.”

  “If the gods have chosen you, then why are you an exile here in Isle-Where-Winter-Is-But-One-Day-in-the-Mountains?”

  Palicrovol leapt suddenly to his feet. For a moment the girl was afraid that he meant to harm her, and even more afraid that perhaps he meant to flee. But instead he flung out his arms and half-chanted the tale of the battle. In her language the words were clumsy, but she soon realized that the awkwardness was because he was translating from poetry. You know the poem. He told her that he stood on a hilltop late in the evening before the battle, the campfires of the largest armies ever brought to war in Burland spread out before him, and he saw that whether he won or lost, too many men would die. There would not be army enough left to defend the borders against the raiders from the inland mountains, or the coasts against the raiders from the sea. So he told his great general Zymas to break the army into pieces and send them into hiding before morning. Let all men think that Palicrovol is a coward, and then Palicrovol will come and win his battle when the cost is little and the prize is greater. In those days, Palicrovol was wise.

  And she smiled at him, for he was a fit king.

  “May I live then?” he asked her.

  She nodded.

  “With my lifelong accoutrements intact?”

  The women giggled, but she did not laugh. She only nodded, gravely, once again.

  “Then may I risk my life again, and tell you that you are only a child, and yet I have never seen such perfect beauty in all my life.”

  She nodded to Born-among-Falling-Lilac-Petals.

  “Of course she is beautiful, Almost-King-of-Burland. She is the Flower Princess.”

  “No,” he said. “I do not speak of her perfect face or the flowers that look harsh beside her perfect skin or the way her hair looks deep as a new-plowed field in the sunlight. I say she has the perfect beauty of a woman who will never tell a lie in all her life.”

  He could not have known, unless a god told him, that she had taken that most terrible of all vows when she was given to the sea at the age of five. She was bound to the truth, and though she had said not a word to him, though not even the Sea Mothers knew of her vow, he had looked at her and seen it.

  “She is not a woman,” said Born-among-Falling-Lilac-Petals. “She is only eleven years old.”

  “I will marry you,” said Palicrovol. “When you are twenty years old, if I am King of Burland I will send for you and you will come to me, for I am the only king in all the world who can bear the beauty of a wife who will not lie.”

  She stood then, letting the flowers fall where they would, ignoring the gasps of her women. She reached out and touched his wrist, where he opened his hand to her. “Palicrovol, I will marry you then whether you are King or not.”

  Palicrovol answered, “My lady, if I am not King by then, I will be dead.”

  “I do not believe that you will ever die,” she said.

  Then her women wept, for she had now betrothed herself, and it could not be undone however her father might grieve or rage at her choice.

  But Palicrovol cared nothing for their keening. “My lady,” he said, “I do not even known your name.”

  She nodded to Bent-Back-from-Birth. She could not say her own name, for in
those days her name was not true.

  Bent-Back-from-Birth found her voice despite her weeping, and said the name of the Flower Princess. “Here-Is-the-Woman-with-the-Joy-of-All-Women-in-Her-Face. The-Pain-of-All-Women-in-Her-Heart.”

  Palicrovol repeated the name softly, looking at her lips. “Enziquelvinisensee Evelvenin,” he said. She listened joyfully, for with his love she was sure that someday those words would be true, though she feared the path that would lead her to her name. “I will send for you,” he said, “and you will be worth more to me than the Antler Crown.”

  He went away, and the Flower Princess waited for him. In all her life she has never regretted her betrothal, nor grudged the terrible price she paid for him, nor lied to Palicrovol, even when you wished her to lie, even when you commanded her, so cruelly, not to speak.


  Palicrovol Becomes a King in His Heart

  This is the story of how God taught an unambitious man to seek a throne.


  Zymas was the King’s right arm, the King’s right eye, and—so the irreverent said—the King’s right cobble, too. Zymas was born to a stablehand, but first his strength, then his skill, and at last his wisdom brought him such fame that now he was general of all the King’s armies, and the terror of Zymas spread throughout all of Burland.

  Zymas had only five hundred soldiers, both horse and foot, but this was a day when a village had five families and a town had fifty, so that five hundred soldiers were quite enough to subdue whoever needed subduing. And if some group of barons or counts combined their petty forces so that they outnumbered Zymas, they were still foredoomed. If there were ten such barons, they could be sure that one had joined the rebellion as the King’s agent, two had joined as Zymas’s men, and the rest would hang before the month was out.

  Zymas had known days of glory on the frontier, where wild tribes from the inner mountains destroyed themselves against the pikes of Zymas’s army. And there were days of glory on the littoral, when the raiders from the east beached their craft and died by the hundreds before they could get beyond the tideline. Oh, Zymas was a mighty warrior! But now, with the King’s outward enemies all broken and paying tribute, Zymas led his men from mountain to coastline, not to defend Burland from attack, but to protect the tax collectors, to punish the disobedient, to terrorize the weak and defenseless.

  There were those who said that Zymas had no heart, that he killed for pleasure. There were those who said that Zymas had no mind of his own, that he never so much as questioned any order that the King gave him. But those who said such things were wrong.

  Zymas camped for the night with his half a thousand men on the banks of Burring, high on the river, where the locals still called the stream Banning. The village was too small to have a name—four families, recorded in the books as “seventh village near Banningside.” It was recorded that this village had not paid their assessment of thirty bushels. This was causing resentment and was a bad example to the other villages. Zymas was here to punish them. Tomorrow he would come with fifty footsoldiers, surround the village, and then call for their surrender. If they surrendered, they would be hanged. If they did not surrender, they would be spitted and hung over fires or seated on sharpened stakes or some such thing, the normal these days, men and women and children, the normal. Zymas contemplated tomorrow and felt his heart drain away as it always did, so that he would not be ashamed.

  When at last his heart was empty, he lay on the cold ground and slept. But tonight his still rest was broken by a dream. It surprised him to be dreaming, surprised him even within the dream, for dreaming was something he had given up long ago. It was a most holy dream, for in it he saw an ancient stag walking painfully through a wood. What was the pain? A rat hung by its teeth from the hart’s belly, and at every step the stag shuddered with the pain. Zymas reached out his hand to take the rat, but a voice stopped him.

  “If you take away the rat, what will close the great wound in the hart’s belly?”

  Zymas looked closer, and now he saw that the rat’s teeth were holding together the lips of a long and vicious wound that threatened to split the stag from breast to groin. Yet he knew the rat was poisoning the wound.

  Then a fierce eagle stooped, and landed brutally on the hart’s back. Zymas saw at once what he must do. He took the eagle in his hands, turned it upside down, and thrust its feet under the hart. The talons reached and seized, spanning the wound, binding the edges together far more firmly than the rat’s teeth. Then, still upside down, the eagle devoured the rat, every bit. The stag was saved because Zymas had set the eagle in its place.

  “Palicrovol,” said the voice, and Zymas knew it meant the eagle.

  “Nasilee,” said the eagle, and Zymas knew it meant the rat.

  Nasilee was the name of the King. Palicrovol was the name of the Count of Traffing. Zymas awoke then, and lay awake the rest of the night.

  Before dawn he took his fifty men and went to the village, and in moments the people had surrendered. The patriarch of the little village tried to explain why the taxes had gone unpaid, but Zymas had heard the excuses a thousand times. He did not hear the old man. He did not hear the moans of the women, the crying of the children. He only saw that each one stood before him with the face of a great old stag, and he knew that his dream had not come to him by chance.

  “Men,” he said, and all heard his voice, though he did not shout.

  “Zymas,” they answered. They called him by his unadorned name because he had made it nobler than any title they might have given him.

  “Nasilee gnaws at the belly of Burland like a rat, and we, we are his teeth.”

  Puzzled, they did not know how to respond.

  “Does the true King hang these helpless ones?”

  Unsure what kind of test Zymas was posing, one of the men said, “Yes?”

  “Perhaps he does,” Zymas said, “but if he is the true King, then I will follow a false King who is good, and I will make him true, and the people will no longer have to fear the coming of the army of Zymas.”

  It seemed impossible to the soldiers that Zymas could speak such treason, but not so impossible as the idea of Zymas telling a lie or making a jest. So Zymas was going to rebel against the King. Was there any man there who would choose the King over Zymas?

  Zymas let them choose freely, but all five hundred marched with him away from the bewildered villagers, toward Traffing. He did not tell them whom he meant to put in the King’s place. The dream had said Palicrovol, but Zymas meant to see the man for himself before he helped him to revolt. Dreams come when your eyes are closed, but Zymas only acted with his eyes open.


  In the land of Traffing, in the dead of winter, a figure in a white robe walked like a ghost upon the snow. The guard at the fortress of the Count trembled in fear until he saw it was a man, with his face reddened by the cold, and his hands thrust deep into a bedroll for warmth. Ghosts have nothing to fear from the cold, the guard knew, and so he hailed the man—hailed rudely, because the guard had been afraid.

  “What do you want! It’s near dark, and we do no work on the Feast of Hinds.”

  “I come from God,” said the man. “I have a message for the Count.”

  The guard grew angry. He had heard all about God, whose priests were so arrogant they denied even the Sweet Sisters, even the Hart, though the people had known their power far longer than this new-fashioned deity. “Would you have him blaspheme against the Hart’s own lady?”

  “Old things are done away,” said the Godsman.

  “You’re done away if you don’t go away!” cried the guard.

  The Godsman only smiled. “Of course you do not know me,” he said. And then, suddenly, before the guard’s very eyes, the Godsman reached out his hands beseechingly and the bar of the gate broke in two and the gate fell open before him.

  “You won’t hurt him?” asked the guard.

  “Don’t cower so,” said t
he Godsman. “I come for the good of all Burland.”

  From the King, then? The guard hated the King enough to spit in the snow, despite his fear of this man who broke gates without touching them. “The good of Burland is never the good of Traffing.”

  “Tonight it is,” said the Godsman.

  Suddenly the sunset erupted, hot streams down the slope of the sky, and the guard became a Godsman himself from that moment.


  “Were you invited?” asked Palicrovol.

  The Godsman looked about him at the nearly naked men sitting on ice-covered rocks around a fire. “I am invited to the feasts of all the gods.” Palicrovol was young and beautiful, even with the treebark mantle on his shoulders; the Godsman loved the sight of him, even though the Count was angry. Anger would pass. The Count’s beauty would not.

  “My guard is impressed with you,” the Count said.

  “Such men are easily impressed,” said the Godsman.

  “I’ve seen magic before,” said the Count, for beside him sat Sleeve, the pink-eyed wizard who served only the master that he chose.

  “Then I will give you what no other can: I will give you truth.”

  Palicrovol smiled and looked at Sleeve, but Sleeve was not smiling, and Palicrovol began to wonder if he ought to take this Godsman seriously. “What sort of truth?”

  “Words can only tell two kinds of truth. Words can name you, and words can say what you will do before you do it.”

  “And which will you do?”

  “To name a man is to say what he will do before he does it. So I will name you, Palicrovol. You are King of Burland.”