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Wolfblade (Novel)

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2drones.gif This article is about the Novel by William King; for the Unit, see Wolfblade (Unit).
Wolfblade
Wolfblade.jpg
Author William King
Publisher Black Library
Series Space Wolf
Preceded by Grey Hunter
Followed by Sons of Fenris
Released 2003
Collected in Space Wolf: The Second Omnibus
Editions 2003 softcover
ISBN 9781844160211

2011 ebook
ISBN 9780857870834

Wolfblade is the fourth novel in the Space Wolf novel series. It was first published in 2002, and was the last novel in the series written by William King, after which Lee Lightner wrote the fifth and sixth volumes.

Cover Description

The ancient Navigator House of Belisarius has long been bound to the mighty Space Wolves as allies. In return for the means to navigate the treacherous warp, the Space Wolves provide an honour guard of elite warriors – the Wolfblade – to protect the House. When Ragnar, exiled to Terra for his role in the loss of the Spear of Russ, takes up his duties on ancient Terra he soon becomes embroiled in an assassination plot that reaches into the very depths of Imperium! Unused to the delicate political machinations, Ragnar must resort to the howling fury of the Wolves if he is to save this noble dynasty and regain his honour!

Synopsis

Prologue

On an unnamed world under attack by the forces of Chaos, Wolf Lord Ragnar Blackmane leads his Great Company against a force of the Thousand Sons. Several of his Wolf Guard are cut down by the surprise appearance of a powerful Sorceror, Karamanthos, but Ragnar wins after a brief locking of blades.

Later, one of Ragnar's Sergeants, Urlec, thanks Ragnar for saving his life and expresses wonder that Ragnar's sword was able to withstand the power of the Sorceror's rune blade. Ragnar says he will tell them the full story another time, but privately reminisces how the sword came into his possession...

Part One

On Garm, Blood Claw Ragnar awaits judgment for losing the Spear of Russ. Although he is pronounced free of Chaotic taint by the Rune Priests, several of Berek Thunderfist's rival Wolf Lords insist on punishing him for the loss. He may have prevented Magnus from returning to the Materium, but the Spear of Russ is an artifact of incalculable significance, and Ragnar has brought a curse on the whole chapter by casting it away. This fierce debate is interrupted by an urgent message arriving all the way from Terra, and Logan Grimnar calls a recess.

Ragnar is summmoned to the Great Wolf's presence. Although Ragnar may have been found innocent, he is now a pariah to the chapter, and Grimnar finds it wisest to send him away, both for Ragnar's own protection and Berek's. A solution has presented itself in the message, which announces that Adrian Belisarius, a prominent member of the Navigator House Belisarius, has been assassinated, along with Grimnar's old friend Skander Bloody-axe. Grimnar is assigning Ragnar to take Skander's place on the Wolfblade, the bodyguard unit to House Belisarius, which has been allied with the Wolves since the time of Russ. Ragnar finds it hard to see his new assignment as anything but exile, but his mentor, Ranek, encourages him to use his time on Holy Terra wisely, which has many lessons to teach a young Space Marine such as he.

Ragnar begins his assignment escorting Adrian's daughter, Lady Gabriela Belisarius, aboard her ship back to Terra. Right away he is taken aback by how sanguine she is about the threat of assassination, to herself and the rest of her family - after all, she explains, the Navis Nobilite have no shortage of enemies, including each other. Her caution is well-founded, as midway through the voyage she is attacked in her quarters by a jokaero venom-spider, which Ragnar saves her from.

On arriving at Terra, Ragnar is taken to the Belisarian palace inside the Navigator's Quarter, where he is formally inducted into the Wolfblade by the reigning Celestarch, Juliana Belisarius, and welcomed by his new comrades, Torin and Haegr. Torin confides that Ragnar has arrived at a tense - one might say exciting - time, since the Paternoval Envoy is dying, and the plotting between the Navigator Houses has reached a fever pitch as they scheme over which of them will succeed him.

For Ragnar, "culture shock" is a mild way to describe his feelings on Terra; raised among the primitive inhabitants of Fenris, he now associates with individuals living in impossible luxury and wealthy enough to buy entire planets; trained for battle among the Space Wolves, he is unused to sniffing out intrigue, and sifting everyone's words for possible deceptions, including his own patrons'; and having imagined Terra as a center of Imperial majesty and sanctity, he has found only corruption, hypocrisy, and seething discontent.

Case in point: while the three Wolfblades are dining at a tavern that caters to the Navigators' Quarter, they are attacked by a surly group of humans, intoxicated by combat drugs. The three Wolves fight them off with ease, but Ragnar thinks he catches sight of someone observing them from afar.

Torin brushes off the incident, explaining that Terra is crawling with xenophobic zealots, whose hatred of all abhumans includes Navigators and Space Marines.

Part Two

Ragnar's education continues as he accompanies Gabriella to a social call to Cezare Feracci, the head of a rival house. Even to a Space Wolf's hyper-acute senses, Cezare is a master at concealing his true emotions. Ragnar is also unable to shake the same feeling he got at the tavern, that someone is observing him from afar. Cezare proposes a sharing of information he has on the zealots who killed Adrian, and sounds Gabriella out on the possibility of marrying her to his son, Misha, since an alliance between the two houses would be immensely beneficial.

However, information passed on to Gabriella from a distant aunt, who resides in Cezare's palace, gives the Wolfblade their first solid lead to Adrian's assassins. A merchant named Pantheus has been funding some of the anti-Navigator zealots, and the Wolfblades' commander, Valkoth, organizes a space-borne strike on the merchant's fortified palace, located in the heart of an asteroid. The mission is almost too easy, and Pantheus is returned, alive, to House Belisarius for interrogation.

Ragnar is accompanying Gabriela when her ambitious cousin, Skorpeus meets with her and urges her to be on her guard; his sources indicate that, not only may Cezare be responsible for Adrian's death, but he is scheming to place Misha on the Paternoval Envoy's throne, and thus make himself lord of all the other Navigator Houses. Gabriela is skeptical – the Paternoval Envoy may be a High Lord of Terra, but he has always been a figurehead, chosen by common consensus from one of the weaker Houses, to prevent any one House from becoming too powerful; this is the way it has always been, and not even Cezare would be mad enough to think he could change it. Skorpeus chides her to face reality: Cezare may be mad, but he is clever and careful, and would not scheme for such fantastic stakes if he didn't think he could get away with it – if he hasn't already. The time will soon come, Skorpeus warns, when she and the rest of Belisarius will have to choose a side.

Ragnar privately discusses the theory with Valkoth and Torin, and, as usual, they sift Skorpeus's actions for possible double-meanings. Ragnar is not sure which of their conspiracy theories sounds most plausible, but he arrives at one certainty: he is sworn to serve Belisarius, and he likes Gabriela, so if there is a danger to her life, he will act to prevent it, whatever the long-term implications.

Valkoth hands out another mission: Pantheus talked, and his information has pointed to a zealot hideout in Terra's undercity. Ragnar, Torin, and Haegr are detailed to seek it out and destroy it. Ragnar is glad to be back in action, but cannot shake the nagging thought that the Wolfblades are merely playing their part in someone else's script.

The fight in the undercity is no easy one: the zealots have access to heavy, military-grade weaponry, and are even led by a powerful rogue psyker. His powers are enough to stun Torin and seriously wound Haegr, but Ragnar's raw ferocity surprises even himself, and he powers through the spells and kills the psyker. Forced to separate from Torin, he drags a wounded Haegr with him through the sewers.

They happen upon a small down-hive community, which has an Ecclesiarchy medic in residence, who sees to Haegr's wounds. With the help of an eager young scrivener, they make their way to a communications node, managing to avoid the zealots' search parties long enough to contact Valkoth and reunite with Torin and a relief force of Belisarian security troops.

They return to the palace, believing themselves safe for the moment. Ragnar and the other Wolfblades are deployed to help Belisarian troops suppress a number of riots in the Navigators' Quarter, but no serious threats emerge. But on the night that the Paternoval Envoy dies, some instinct warns Ragar not to relax, that trouble is coming.

Part Three

At Cezare's behest, an Imperial Assassin, Xenothan, enters the Belisarian palace. The palace is nearly impregnable to an ordinary intruder, but Skorpeus lets them in, believing that Cezare means to kill Lady Juliana and install Skorpeus as head of Belisarius. As soon as he opens the door, however, Xenothan kills him and looses a force of zealots into the House vaults, to butcher the House Elders.

Ragnar and Gabriella are the first to respond to the alarm, and rush down to the vaults. Ragnar dispatches several of the zealots, but is briefly halted by the sight of the Elders – Navigators so old, and so constantly exposed to the Warp, that they have become enormous, bloated mutants, barely resembling anything human. As a Space Marine, he has always been taught to fear and loathe the mutant, and yet these abominations live in the heart of the Imperium, benefiting from the Navigators' original covenant with the Emperor. No hypocrisy he has encountered thus far has prepared him for this, but Gabriela says that she will look the same way if she lives long enough, and asks Ragnar if his revulsion will cause him to abandon his oath to Belisarius and side with the zealots. Ragnar remembers himself, and presses on.

Yet even as he unleashes his fury on the zealots, another part of his mind warns him that this is just a diversion. The zealots have no greater goal in mind than killing Navigators, but whoever orchestrated this plot must have some greater purpose: he urgently voxes Valkoth and Torin, warning them to guard Lady Juliana from attack.

Valkoth decides to move Juliana to the greater security of the Vaults, confident that Ragnar will have them under control by the time they arrive. But Xenothan has been waiting for just that, and attacks under the cover of a zealots' charge. His shot hits home, but he realizes too late that the wily Valkoth used a decoy. Meanwhile, the real Lady Juliana arrives in the Vaults with Haegr, where they join Ragnar and Gabriela.

Xenothan re-tasks his remaining men to overwhelm the two Wolves in the Vaults, allowing him a clear shot to the Celestarch. He is armed with specialised poison darts that can paralyze even a Space Marine, but he makes the mistake of immobilising Haegr first. Ragnar's speed and reflexes allow him to evade the remaining darts, and Xenothan charges. The gene-hanced assassin is the strongest, most blindingly fast adversary Ragnar has ever grappled with. He takes a glancing hit from the assassin's envenomed blade, and starts to lose consciousness. Tapping into his most bestial rage yet, Ragnar launches himself at the assassin and reaches his teeth for his throat, even as he blacks out...

When Ragnar regains consciousness, he is in the palace infirmary, and is glad to see that Torin and Haegr are both recovered, and to hear that Gabriela and Juliana are both safe. Xenothan was barely alive when Torin arrived on the scene, and quickly dispatched. However, there is no evidence that will identify Xenothan as an Imperial assassin, or link the attack with Cezare. Ragnar is upset at this, but Torin comforts him that Cezare (and possibly someone else much more powerful) have been plotting this night for decades, and Ragnar has foiled their schemes. Torin warns Ragnar that he has made powerful enemies, but Ragnar says he looks forward to confronting them again.

Before Juliana leaves for the summit of the Navigator Houses to nominate the new Paternoval Envoy, she calls Ragnar to an audience and thanks him for saving her life, and the House of Belisarius. In gratitude, she presents him with a superb Frost Blade, to replace the chainsword that was destroyed in the fight with Xenothan. The weapon was crafted by a master back in the days of the Great Crusade, and no forge on Fenris could produce its equal.

Epilogue

Wolf Lord Ragnar looks at his faithful sword and reflects on the twist of fate that brought it to his possession, and the later twist that brought him to discover the truth about Xenothan's master – one story, he reflects ruefully, that will never be put down in the chapter's annals.

As his thoughts return to the present, the Chaos forces renew their offensive, and Ragnar leads his company to war yet again.

Notable Characters

Space Wolves

Terra

Sources

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