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By John Gwynne
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The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures. At his back stands the scheming Calidus and a warband of the Kadoshim, dread demons of the Otherworld. They plan to bring Asroth and his host of the Fallen into the world of flesh, but to do so they need the seven treasures. Nathair has been deceived but now he knows the truth. He has choices to make, choices that will determine the fate of the Banished Lands.
Elsewhere the flame of resistance is growing — Queen Edana finds allies in the swamps of Ardan. Maquin is loose in Tenebral, hunted by Lykos and his corsairs. Here he will witness the birth of a rebellion in Nathair’s own realm.
Corban has been swept along by the tide of war. He has suffered, lost loved ones, sought only safety from the darkness. But he will run no more. He has seen the face of evil and he has set his will to fight it. The question is, how?
With a disparate band gathered about him — his family, friends, giants, fanatical warriors, an angel and a talking crow he begins the journey to Drassil, the fabled fortress hidden deep in the heart of Forn Forest. For in Drassil lies the spear of Skald, one of the seven treasures, and here it is prophesied that the Bright Star will stand against the Black Sun.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Battlemage
A Preview of Snakewood
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Cast of Characters
Brenin–murdered King of Ardan, father of Edana.
Brina–healer of Dun Carreg, owner of a cantankerous crow, Craf. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg. After reaching Domhain, along with a few companions, she accompanies Corban to Murias in search of Corban's sister, Cywen.
Corban–warrior of Dun Carreg, son of Thannon and Gwenith, brother of Cywen. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg and fled to Domhain. Travelled to Murias, a giant fortress of the Benothi clan, in search of his sister, Cywen. Some claim that he is the Bright Star of prophecy.
Cywen–from Dun Carreg, daughter of Thannon and Gwenith, sister of Corban. Taken as both prisoner and bait by Calidus and Nathair. Rescued by Corban and his companions during the Battle of Murias.
Dath–fisherman of Dun Carreg, friend of Corban. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg. Accompanied Corban in the pursuit of Cywen to the fortress of Murias.
Edana–fugitive Queen of Ardan, daughter of Brenin. At present on a ship sailing away from Domhain, accompanied by a handful of faithful shieldmen and Roisin.
Evnis–counsellor and murderer of King Brenin and father of Vonn. In league with Queen Rhin of Cambren. Now regent of Ardan, ruling as Queen Rhin's right hand.
Farrell–warrior, son of Anwarth and friend of Corban. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg. Accompanied Corban north in search of Cywen.
Gar–stablemaster, secret guardian of Corban. A Jehar warrior and son of Tukul, lord of the Jehar. Escaped with Corban and Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg. Accompanied Corban north in search of Cywen.
Glyn–shieldman of Evnis.
Meg–orphaned child from a village on the outskirts of Dun Crin's marshes.
Pendathran–battlechief of King Brenin, injured during the fall of Dun Carreg. Held prisoner and tortured by Evnis. Escaped with the help of Cywen.
Rafe–young warrior belonging to Evnis' hold. Childhood rival of Corban. Trained as a huntsman, and present during the escape of Edana from Domhain.
Vonn–warrior, son of Evnis. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg and remained with her during the fall and flight from Domhain.
Braith–warrior and huntsman. One-time leader of the Darkwood outlaws, now huntsman of Queen Rhin.
Geraint–warrior, battlechief of Queen Rhin.
Morcant–warrior, once first-sword of Queen Rhin, defeated and replaced by Conall. Now one of Rhin's battlechiefs, loaned to Evnis to assist in the suppression of resistance against Rhin in Ardan.
Rhin–once-Queen of Cambren, now Queen of the West, having conquered Narvon, Ardan and Domhain. Ally of Nathair. Servant of Asroth, Demon-Lord of the Fallen.
Belo–Baron of Tarba, a fortress in Carnutan. Uncle of Gundul. Hostile and suspicious of outside involvement in Carnutan.
Gundul–King of Carnutan and ally of Nathair's. Son of Mandros, who was thought to have murdered King Aquilus of Tenebral and was in turn slain by Veradis.
Baird–one-eyed warrior of the Degad, Rath's giantkillers. Now guide and protector of Edana.
Brogan–warrior of Domhain. Shieldman of Lorcan and Roisin, one of the survivors who fled with them and Edana.
Cian–warrior of Domhain, shieldman to Roisin and one of those who escaped the fall of Dun Taras and fled by ship with Edana.
Conall–warrior, bastard son of King Eremon. Brother of Halion and half-brother of Coralen. Sided with Evnis in the sack of Dun Carreg. Now the lord of Domhain, ruling in Queen Rhin's name.
Coralen–warrior, companion of Rath. Bastard daughter of King Eremon, half-sister of Halion and Conall. Accompanied Corban north.
Halion–warrior, first-sword of Edana of Ardan. Bastard son of King Eremon, brother of Conall and half-brother of Coralen. Captured by Conall as he fought rearguard to enable Edana's escape.
Lorcan–young fugitive King of Domhain, son of Eremon and Roisin. Escaped from Domhain by ship with Edana.
Roisin–Queen of Domhain, widowed wife of Eremon, mother of Lorcan. Fled by ship with Edana.
Lothar–once battlechief of Helveth, now its king. Murderer of previous king of Helveth, Braster. Ally to Nathair and Calidus.
Dag–huntsman in the service of King Jael of Isiltir.
Fram–warrior of Isiltir. First-sword to King Jael.
Gramm–horse-trader and timber merchant, lord of a hold in the north of Isiltir. Father of Orgull and Wulf. Allied to Meical.
Haelan–fugitive child-King of Isiltir, fleeing Jael. In hiding at Gramm's hold, in the far north of Isiltir.
Hild–woman of Gramm's hold. Wife of Wulf, son of Gramm. Mother of Swain and Sif.
Jael–self-proclaimed King of Isiltir. Allied to Nathair of Tenebral.
Kalf–man of Gramm's hold. Overseer of Gramm's river trade and boatwright.
Maquin–warrior of Isiltir and the elite Gadrai. Taken captive during the fall of Dun Kellen by Lykos of the Vin Thalun. Enslaved and thrown into the fighting-pits, where he fought his way almost to freedom. Escaped Lykos during rioting at Jerolin, capital of Tenebral, on Lykos' wedding day. Now a fugitive on the run with Fidele of Tenebral, once-regent of Tenebral and recently wedded to Lykos.
Sif–child of Gramm's hold. Daughter of Wulf and Hild, sister of Swain.
Swain–child of Gramm's hold. Son of Wulf and Hild, brother of Sif.
Tahir–warrior of Isiltir and the elite Gadrai. Protector to Haelan, child-King of Isiltir.
Trigg–orphaned child raised at Gramm's hold. She is a half-breed, part giant.
Ulfilas–warrior, shieldman of Jael. Captain of Jael's honour guard.
Wulf–warrior, son of Gramm and brother of Orgull. Wed to Hild. Father of Sif and Swain.
Yalric–warrior of Gramm's Hold.
Camlin–outlaw of the Darkwood. Now companion to Edana. Fled with her from Domhain, fought in the rearguard to protect Edana as she boarded a ship and fought Braith before escaping on the ship.
Drust–warrior, shieldman of Owain. Escaped the defeat of Owain and his warband, aided by Cywen.
Gorsedd–villager who joins Corban's warband.
Owain–King of Narvon. Conqueror of Ardan, with the aid of Nathair, King of Tenebral. Executed after his warband was defeated on Queen Rhin's order.
Teca–woman from a northern village of Narvon, joins Corban's warband as she flees Nathair and the Kadoshim.
Uthan–Prince of Narvon, Owain's son. Murdered by Evnis on Rhin's orders.
Akar–captain of the Jehar holy warrior order travelling with Veradis.
Enkara–warrior of the Jehar holy order. One of the Hundred travelling with Tukul.
Hamil–captain of the ten Jehar left by Tukul to guard Drassil and Skald's spear.
Javed–slave and pit-fighter of the Vin Thalun.
Kulla–warrior of the Jehar, part of Akar's company that joins Corban.
Sumur–lord of the Jehar holy warrior order.
Tukul–warrior of the Jehar holy order, leader of the Hundred.
Alben–swordsmaster and healer of Ripa.
Atilius–warrior of Tenebral. Fought with Peritus against the Vin Thalun during the uprising. Captured, enslaved and put to work on a Vin Thalun oar-bench.
Caesus–warrior of the eagle-guard, captain of the shield wall.
Ektor–son of Lamar of Ripa and brother of Krelis and Veradis. A scholar where his brothers are warriors.
Fidele–widow of Aquilus, mother of Nathair. For a time Queen Regent of Tenebral. Lykos uses dark magic to bewitch and control Fidele, eventually marrying her. Riots break out in their wedding celebrations, during which the spell controlling her is broken. She stabs Lykos and with Maquin's help flees in the confusion.
Krelis–warrior, son of Lamar of Ripa and brother of Ektor and Veradis.
Lamar–Baron of Ripa, father of Krelis, Ektor and Veradis.
Marcellin–Baron of Ultas.
Nathair–King of Tenebral, son of Aquilus and Fidele. In league with Queen Rhin of Cambren. Believes that he is the Bright Star, the one prophesied to be the chosen champion of Elyon. Recently completed his quest to claim the starstone cauldron, one of the Seven Treasures of ancient myth.
Pax–son of Atilius. A young warrior captured during the uprising in Tenebral. Made a slave and set to work on a Vin Thalun galley, alongside his father.
Peritus–once battlechief of Tenebral. Now leader of the resistance against Lykos and his Vin Thalun.
Valent–a warrior of Ripa.
Veradis–first-sword and friend to King Nathair. Son of Lamar of Ripa and brother of Ektor and Krelis. He commands a warband of Tenebral, instrumental in the defeats of Owain of Narvon and Eremon of Domhain.
THE THREE ISLANDS
Alazon–chief shipwright of the Vin Thalun.
Demos–Vin Thalun ship-lord. Friend of Lykos.
Jayr–Vin Thalun healer.
Kolai–shieldman of Lykos.
Lykos–Lord of the Vin Thalun, the pirate nation that inhabits the Three Islands of Panos, Pelset and Nerin. Sworn to Asroth, ally and co-conspirator of Calidus. Appointed regent of Tenebral by Nathair. Has used sorcery to control and marry Fidele, mother of Nathair.
Nella–one-time lover of Lykos. Mother of his child.
Senios - Vin Thalun pirate. Captive of Maquin and Fidele for a time.
THE GIANT CLANS
Balur One-Eye–Benothi giant. Joined forces with Corban and his company during the Battle of Murias. He took the starstone axe from Alcyon.
Eisa–Benothi giantess, companion of Uthas.
Ethlinn–Benothi giantess, daughter of Balur One-Eye, also called the Dreamer.
Laith–female giantling, one of the survivors of the Battle of Murias who joins Corban and his companions.
Nemain–Queen of the Benothi giants. Betrayed and slain by Uthas.
Salach–Benothi giant, shieldman of Uthas.
Uthas–giant of the Benothi clan, secret ally and conspirator with Queen Rhin of Cambren. Slayer of Queen Nemain and now self-proclaimed Lord of the Benothi. Dreams of reuniting the giant clans and being their lord.
Ildaer–warlord of the Jotun.
Ilska–giantess. Battle-maiden and bear-rider.
Alcyon–servant and guardian of Calidus.
Raina–giantess. Mother of Tain.
Tain–giantling. Son of Raina.
Meical–high captain of the Ben-Elim. Chosen as the one to leave the Otherworld, to be clothed in flesh and sent to the Banished Lands to prepare for the coming war.
Asroth–Demon-Lord of the Fallen.
Belial–a captain of Asroth, one of the Kadoshim spirits that travels through the cauldron and possesses the body of Sumur, lord of the Jehar warriors.
Bune–a Kadoshim spirit that possesses the body of a Jehar warrior during the Battle of Murias.
Calidus–High captain of the Kadoshim, second only to Asroth. Chosen as the Kadoshim to be clothed in flesh and prepare the way for Asroth in the Banished Lands. Adversary and arch-rival of Meical, high captain of the Ben-Elim.
Danjal–a Kadoshim spirit that possesses the body of a Jehar warrior during the Battle of Murias.
Legion–many Kadoshim spirits that swarmed into the body of a Jehar warrior as the gateway through the cauldron was closing during the Battle of Murias.
The Year 1143 of the Age of Exiles, Eagle Moon
Ulfilas touched his heels to his horse's side, urging her up the incline before him, a slope of grey rock and gravel littered with the remains of long-dead trees. Beside him King Jael kept pace, his face set in rigid lines. A dozen paces ahead of them rode Jael's huntsman, Dag.
Jael should not be here, Ulfilas thought, a knot of worry shifting in his gut. The King of Isiltir, wandering in the northern wilderness on a fool's errand. It was not that Ulfilas felt any great sense of loyalty to Jael; he didn't even like the man. It was more that after all they had been through, to die now on a journey like this, which he considered a waste of time, would feel foolish.
Ulfilas was aware that times were changing, there was war on the horizon, and the power in Isiltir needed consolidating. He had been Jael's shieldman since he'd sat his Long Night, and despite his dislike of Jael's character and practices, Ulfilas was also a pragmatic man. I'm a warrior. Got to fight for someone. Recent events had proven his choice well made. King Romar was dead. Kastell, Jael's cousin, was dead. Gerda, estranged wife of Romar, was dead. Her young son, Haelan, technically speaking still heir to the throne of Isiltir, was missing. Running. He knew that Jael felt little to no loyalty towards the men who followed him, that the new self-proclaimed King of Isiltir was scheming, vain and power hungry and would do whatever it took to keep his newly won crown. But he was a man on the rise. And so Ulfilas had stuck with him, when a voice in his mind had been telling him to walk away and find another, more worthy, lord to serve.
A conscience? he wondered. Hah, a conscience doesn't put food on my plate or keep my head from a spike.
'How much longer?' Jael called ahead.
'Not much longer, my lord,' the huntsman Dag called back. 'We'll be with them before sunset.'
Close to the top of the incline Ulfilas reined in his horse and looked back.
A column of warriors wound up the slope behind him, surrounding a wain pulled by two hulking auroch. Beyond them the land stretched grey and desolate, further south the fringes of Forn Forest were a green blur. A river in the distance sparkled under the dipping sun, marking the border of this northern wasteland with the realm beyond.
Isiltir. Home. Ulfilas looked away, back up the slope towards his King, and spurred his horse after him.
They travelled ever northwards as the sun sank lower, shadows stretching about them, their path winding through empty plains and steep-sided ravines. Once they crossed a stone bridge that spanned a deep abyss; Ulfilas looked down into the darkness. His stomach shifted as his horse stumbled on loose stone, the thought of falling into the unknown making him snatch at his reins. He let out a long breath when they reached the far side, the sharp rush of fear receding as quickly as it had appeared.
They rode into a series of barren foothills, eventually cresting another slope to find Dag silently waiting for them. Ulfilas and his King drew level with the huntsman and pulled their mounts to a standstill at the sight before them.
A flat plain unfolded into the distance, the tips of mountains jagged on the horizon. Just below the travellers lay their destination: a great crater, as if Elyon the Maker had punched a fist into the fabric of the earth, barren of life and no breeze or sound of wildlife to disturb it.
'The starstone crater,' Jael whispered.
Ulfilas had thought it more tale than truth, the rumoured site of the starstone that had fallen from the sky.
How many thousands of years ago was it supposed to have crashed to the earth? And from it the Seven Treasures were said to have been forged, over which past wars had changed the face of the Banished Lands, not least of all here, where the stories told how Elyon's Scourging had broken the land, scorching it black.
Ulfilas stared up at the sky, slate-grey and swollen with clouds, and imagined for a moment that they were filled with the white-feathered Ben-Elim and Asroth's demon horde. He could almost hear their battle-cries echoing about him, hear the clash of weapons, the death-screams.
Elyon and Asroth, Maker and Destroyer, their angels and demons fighting for supremacy over these Banished Lands. I thought it all a faery tale. And now I am told it is happening again.
Riding through these lands now Ulfilas found himself believing what, only a year ago, he had thought to be bedtime stories for bairns. He thought of the time he had spent at Haldis, the burial ground of the Hunen giants hidden deep in Forn Forest. He had witnessed a king betrayed and slain over a black axe said to be one of the Seven Treasures carved from the starstone; he had seen white wyrms, and earth magic where solid ground turned into a swamp, suffocating the life from his sword-brothers. He was a man of action–of deeds. Monsters made real were not something he'd found easy to accept. Fear churned in his gut at just the memory of it.
Fear keeps you sharp.
Further down the slope and built on the lip of the crater was the carcass of an ancient fortress, walls and towers broken and crumbling. Figures moved amongst the ruins, mere pinpricks in the distance.
'The Jotun,' said Jael.
The giants of the north. Rumoured to be strongest and fiercest of the surviving giant clans. Not for the first time Ulfilas questioned the wisdom of this journey.
'No sudden movements,' Dag said, 'and keep your wits about you.'
Some of the Jotun's number filtered out of the ruins, gathering on the road that cut through the derelict walls, their spear-tips and mail catching the sinking sun. A handful were mounted on shaggy, lumbering creatures.
'Are they riding bears?' Ulfilas asked.
'We've all heard the tales of the Jotun in the north,' Jael said. 'It would appear some of those tales, at least, are true.'
They stopped at the first remains of a wall, the column of riders behind them rippling to a halt. Warriors spread from the path, curling about Jael like a protective hand. Ten score of Jael's best shieldmen. Ulfilas could feel the tension amongst them, saw the way hands gripped spear shafts and sword hilts.
Giants appeared from the ruins, moving with surprising grace despite their bulk. Some sat on the path ahead of them upon the backs of dark-furred and yellow-clawed bears. Ulfilas knew Jael was right to be wary, they'd seen first-hand at the Battle of Haldis how deadly an attacking force of giants could be. If it hadn't been for the men of Tenebral forming their wall of shields and stopping the Hunen giants' attack that had been tearing the warbands of Isiltir and Helveth apart, then Ulfilas knew none of them would be here today.
Too late to learn the shield wall now, but I swear, if I make it home…
One of the bear-riders moved ahead of the others, a tremor passing through the ground with the bear's every footfall. It halted before Jael, looming over him.
The giant slid from a tall-backed saddle and strode forward, blond hair and moustache bound in thick braids. A cloak of dark fur wrapped his wide frame, the glint of iron beneath it. In his hand he held a thick-shafted spear, a war-hammer was left strapped to his saddle. His bear watched them with small, intelligent eyes. It curled a lip, showing a line of sharp teeth.
'Welcome to the Desolation, Jael, King of Isiltir,' the giant said. His voice sounded like gravel sliding over stone.
'Greetings, Ildaer, warlord of the Jotun,' Jael replied. He beckoned behind him, his warriors parted to allow the wain forward. One of the shaggy auroch that pulled it snorted and dug at the ground with a hoof.
It doesn't like the smell of bear any more than I do.
Jael pulled back a cloth that covered the wain's contents. 'It is as my envoys promised you. A tribute. Weapons of your ancestors, hoarded at Dun Kellen,' he said, reaching in and with difficulty pulling out a huge battle-axe. 'My gift to you.'
Ildaer gestured and another giant moved to the wain, a broadsword slung across his back. He stood as tall as Jael did upon his horse. The giant took the axe, turning it in his hands, then peered into the wain. He could not hide the look of joy that swept his face.
'They are the weapons of our kin,' he said with a nod to Ildaer.
'I return them to you, as a token of my goodwill, and part payment of a task that I need your aid in.'
The giant gripped the aurochs' harness and led them forward, Ildaer peering in as the wain passed him. Giants pressed close about it.
'And what is to stop me from killing you and your men, and giving your carcasses to my bears?'
'I am of more value to you alive. You are a man of intellect, I have been told. Not a savage.'
Ildaer looked at Jael, his eyes narrowing beneath his jutting brow. He glanced back over his shoulder at the wain full of weapons.
'And besides, who is to say that we would not kill you and all of your warband?' Jael said.
The giants behind Ildaer all glowered at Jael.
A bear growled.
Ulfilas felt the familiar spike of fear–the precursor to sudden violence. His fingers twitched upon his sword hilt.
'Hah,' Ildaer laughed. 'I think I like you, southlander.'
Ulfilas felt the moment pass, the tension ebbing. Southlander? Isiltir is not one of the southlands. But then, we are in the northlands now. They call anything south of here the southlands.
Ildaer looked back at the wain again. 'That is of great worth to my people,' he admitted.
'It is nothing compared to what I am prepared to give, if you can help me.' Jael told him.
'What is it that you want?'
'I want you to find a runaway boy for me.'
Corban woke with his heart pounding. The remnants of a dream, dispersed with wakefulness, just a hint of black eyes and immeasurable hatred remaining for a moment. Then that too was gone.
It was cold darkness all around.
He heard Storm growl and he sat up, one hand feeling for his sword hilt. Something's wrong.
He felt Storm's bulk beside him, reached out and felt her hackles standing rigid.
'What is it, girl?' he whispered.
The camp was silent. To his left the fire-pit glimmered, but he avoided looking at it, knowing it would destroy any night vision he possessed. He made out the dense shadow of a guard standing on the incline of the dell they were camped within. The moon emerged, revealing another figure close by, tall and dark-haired. Meical. He was standing perfectly still, his attention fixed on the dell's rim. Behind Corban a horse whinnied.
There was a flapping up above and then a croaking bird's screech. 'WAKE, WARE THE ENEMY, WAKE. WAKE. WAKE.'
Craf or Fech. Corban leaped to his feet, all around him other shapes doing the same, the rasp of swords pulled from scabbards. Shapes appeared at the dell's edge, figures outlined for a moment in the moon's glow before they swarmed down the incline. There was a crunch, a collision, a scream.
'Kadoshim,' Meical shouted, then all was chaos. Bodies were swirling, solid shadows blurred with starlight, then an explosion of sparks burst from the fire as it blazed brightly, scattering light. Corban caught a glimpse of Brina calling out incantations beside the fire, making it burn higher and directing tongues of it towards their enemy.
The new light revealed a dozen attackers amongst them, dressed like the Jehar but moving differently, with none of their fluid grace, as if their bodies held too much power to contain within the confines of flesh and bone. They carved their way through the camp, sending those that attacked them hurtling away. Corban remembered how the Kadoshim had fought in Murias, just after they'd been raised from the cauldron, tearing limbs from bodies with a savage, inhuman ferocity. A wave of fear suddenly swept him, pinning his feet to the ground. He heard a strange language screamed in defiance and looked to see Balur One-Eye the giant, his kin gathered behind him, hurling defiance at the Kadoshim, who paused for a moment, then surged towards Balur.
They have come for the axe.
As he watched them charge together, Corban remembered his mam, their attack on her, how he had tried to stop the blood flowing as he'd held her, how the light had dimmed from her eyes. Hatred for these creatures swept him, burning away the fear that had frozen him moments before, and then he was moving forwards, running faster with each step, Storm at his side.
- On Sale
- Oct 13, 2015
- Page Count
- 800 pages