A companion volume to Duncan’s sword-and-sorcery yarn, The Gilded Chain (1998), the action more or less contemporaneous to the previous tale’s. Ambrose, like all the kings of Chivial, is defended by his Blades, expert swordsmen magically bound to their wards. Candidate Raider, however, refuses the binding ritual, as does his young friend Wasp (Raider saved his life in a terrible fire). Raider explains that since he’s already enchanted—made fireproof” the Blade-magic would kill him. He also claims to be Radgar, King Ambrose’s cousin, his mother Lady Charlotte having been abducted and wed 20 years ago by AEled, King of Baelmark. The Baels inhabit a chilly land of volcanic islands and, Viking-like, go raiding for booty and slaves; they speak (literally) Old English. Charlotte’s abduction caused a protracted and ruinous war. Eventually, five years ago, Ambrose sent a peace delegation, and among the party was ex-Blade Sir Geste. Seemingly he betrayed Ambrose to the Baels, but in actuality he plotted with AEled’s brother Cynewulf. Geste murdered AEled; Cynewulf magically beguiled Charlotte and then set the palace ablaze. Fireproof Radgar escaped and, knowing nothing of Ambrose’s intrigues, concealed himself as a trainee Blade. Now, Ambrose binds Wasp to Radgar, hoping he’ll quickly make a fatal error. Wasp, though, grasps the situation and kills Ambrose’s watchdog, a fellow Blade. Radgar and Wasp escape to Baelmark, where the scene is set for a scintillating reprise of Hamlet. Again, quite orthodox compared to Duncan’s hitherto wacky scenarios, but, even so, distinctive and markedly superior to most of the competition.