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By John Gwynne
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Corban flees his homeland searching for peace, but he soon discovers that there is no haven in the west as the agents of Rhin and roaming bands of giants hound his every step.
Veradis leaves the battleground and rushes to his King’s side. But he has witnessed both combat and betrayal and his duty weighs heavily upon him.
Maquin seeks only revenge, but pirate slavers and the brutal world of pit-fighting stand in his way.
Nathair becomes embroiled in the wars of the west as Queen Rhin marches against King Owain. The need to find the cauldron of the giants drives him on.
Sides are chosen and oaths will be fulfilled or broken in a land where hell has broken loose.
Table of Contents
A Preview of The Black Prism
A Preview of Promise of Blood
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Cast of Characters
Anwarth–warrior of Dun Carreg, father of Farrell. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg.
Brenin–murdered King of Ardan.
Brina–healer of Dun Carreg, owner of a cantankerous crow, Craf. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg.
Corban–warrior of Dun Carreg, son of Thannon and Gwenith, brother of Cywen. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg.
Cywen–from Dun Carreg, daughter of Thannon and Gwenith, sister of Corban. Presumed dead in the sack of Dun Carreg.
Dath–fisherman of Dun Carreg, son of Mordwyr and friend of Corban. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg.
Edana–Princess of Ardan, daughter of Brenin. Presumably Queen of Ardan since the death of Brenin, but now a fugitive.
Evnis–counsellor and murderer of King Brenin and father of Vonn. In league with Queen Rhin of Cambren.
Farrell–warrior, son of Anwarth and friend of Corban. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg
Gar–stablemaster. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg
Gwenith–wife of Thannon, mother of Corban and Cywen. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg.
Heb–loremaster of Dun Carreg. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg
Marrock–warrior and huntsman, cousin of Edana. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg.
Mordwyr–fisherman of Dun Carreg, father of Dath and Bethan. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg.
Pendathran–battlechief of King Brenin. Held prisoner by Evnis in Dun Carreg.
Rafe–young warrior belonging to Evnis' hold. Childhood rival of Corban.
Thannon–husband of Gwenith, father of Corban and Cywen. Slain by King Nathair of Tenebral in the sack of Dun Carreg.
Vonn–warrior, son of Evnis. Escaped with Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg.
Aric–Benothi giant, companion of Uthas.
Balur One-Eye–Benothi giant.
Eisa–Benothi giantess, companion of Uthas.
Ethlinn–Benothi giantess, daughter of Balur One-Eye, also called the Dreamer.
Fray–Benothi giant, companion of Uthas.
Kai–Benothi giant, companion of Uthas.
Morc–Benothi giant, keeper of the wyrms.
Nemain–Queen of the Benothi giants.
Salach–Benothi giant, shieldman of Uthas.
Sreng–Benothi giantess, shield-maiden of Nemain.
Struan–Benothi giant, companion of Uthas.
Uthas–giant of the Benothi clan, secret ally and conspirator with Queen Rhin of Cambren.
Braith–warrior. One-time leader of the Darkwood outlaws, now huntsman of Queen Rhin.
Geraint–warrior, battlechief of Queen Rhin.
Morcant–warrior, first-sword of Queen Rhin.
Rhin–Queen of Cambren.
Mandros–King of Carnutan, slain by Veradis in the belief that Mandros murdered King Aquilus of Tenebral.
Baird–warrior, one of the Degad, Rath's giant-killers.
Conall–warrior, bastard son of King Eremon. Brother of Halion and half-brother of Coralen. Sided with Evnis in the sack of Dun Carreg.
Coralen–warrior, companion of Rath. Bastard daughter of King Eremon, half-sister of Halion and Conall.
Eremon–King of Domhain.
Halion–warrior, first-sword of Edana of Ardan. Bastard son of King Eremon, brother of Conall and half-brother of Coralen.
Lorcan–young Prince of Domhain, son of Eremon and Roisin.
Maeve–bastard daughter of King Eremon, half-sister to Coralen, Halion and Conall.
Nara–mother of Coralen.
Quinn–First-sword of King Eremon.
Rath–Battlechief of Domhain, giant-hunter.
Roisin–Queen of Domhain, wife of Eremon, mother of Lorcan.
Braster–King of Helveth, wounded in the battle against the Hunen at Haldis.
Lothar–battlechief of Helveth.
Ventos–a travelling merchant-trader.
Eboric–warrior, Gerda's huntsman.
Gerda–estranged wife of King Romar, lady of Dun Kellen, mother of Haelan.
Gramm–horse-trader and timber merchant, lord of a hold in the north of Isiltir. Father of Orgull and Wulf.
Jael–warrior of Isiltir, nephew of King Romar and cousin of Kastell. Allied to Nathair of Tenebral.
Kastell–warrior of Isiltir and the elite Gadrai. Nephew of King Romar and cousin of Jael.
Maquin–warrior of Isiltir and the elite Gadrai, shieldman of Kastell.
Orgull–warrior of Isiltir, captain of the elite Gadrai. Son of Gramm.
Romar–King of Isiltir, slain in the battle against the Hunen at Haldis.
Tahir–warrior of Isiltir and the elite Gadrai.
Thoris–warrior, battlechief of Gerda at Dun Kellen.
Ulfilas–warrior, shieldman of Jael.
Varick–Lord of Dun Kellen, brother of Gerda and uncle of Haelan.
Wulf–warrior, son of Gramm and brother of Orgull.
Camlin–outlaw of the Darkwood. Recently allied to King Brenin and Edana of Ardan.
Drust–warrior, shieldman of Owain.
Owain–King of Narvon. Conqueror of Ardan with the aid of Nathair, King of Tenebral.
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.
Javed–slave and pit-fighter of the Vin Thalun.
Sumur–lord of the Jehar holy warrior order.
Tukul–warrior of the Jehar holy order, leader of the Hundred.
Aquilus - murdered King of Tenebral.
Armatus–warrior, former first-sword of King Aquilus.
Bos–warrior of the eagle-guard and expert in the shield wall, friend of Veradis.
Ektor–son of Lamar of Ripa and brother of Krelis and Veradis.
Fidele–widow of Aquilus, now Queen Regent of Tenebral, mother of Nathair.
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.
Meical–counsellor to Aquilus, King of Tenebral.
Nathair–King of Tenebral, son of Aquilus and Fidele. In league with Queen Rhin of Cambren.
Orcus–warrior of the eagle-guard, shieldman of Fidele.
Peritus–battlechief of Tenebral.
Rauca–warrior, a captain of the eagle-guard and friend of Veradis. Slain by Gar in the sack of Dun Carreg.
Veradis–first-sword and friend to King Nathair. Son of Lamar of Ripa and brother of Ektor and Krelis.
THE THREE ISLANDS
Calidus–spymaster of Lykos, Lord of the Vin Thalun, and later counsellor to Nathair, King of Tenebral.
Deinon–warrior, shieldman of Lykos and brother of Thaan.
Emad–shieldman of Herak. Guard and trainer of pit-fighters.
Jace–member of Lykos' ship's crew.
Lykos–Lord of the Vin Thalun, the pirate nation that inhabits the Three Islands of Panos, Pelset and Nerin.
Thaan–warrior, shieldman of Lykos and brother of Deinon.
War eternal between the Faithful and the Fallen,
infinite wrath come to the world of men.
Lightbearer seeking flesh from the cauldron,
to break his chains and wage the war again.
Two born of blood, dust and ashes shall champion the Choices,
the Darkness and Light.
Black Sun will drown the earth in bloodshed,
Bright Star with the Treasures must unite.
By their names you shall know them–
Kin-Slayer, Kin-Avenger, Giant-Friend, Draig-Rider,
Dark Power 'gainst Lightbringer.
One shall be the Tide, one the Rock in the swirling sea.
Before one, storm and shield shall stand,
before the other, True-Heart and Black-Heart.
Beside one rides the Beloved, beside the other, the Avenging Hand.
Behind one, the Sons of the Mighty, the fair Ben-Elim, gathered 'neath the Great Tree.
Behind the other, the Unholy, dread Kadoshim who seek to cross the bridge,
force the world to bended knee.
Look for them when the high king calls, when the shadow warriors ride forth,
when white-walled Telassar is emptied, when the book is found in the north.
When the white wyrms spread from their nest,
when the Firstborn take back what was lost, and the Treasures stir from their rest.
Both earth and sky shall cry warning, shall herald this War of Sorrows.
Tears of blood spilt from the earth's bones, and at Midwinter's height,
bright day shall become full night.
The Year 1142 of the Age of Exiles, Birth Moon
The cauldron was a hulking mass of black iron, tall and wide, squatting upon a dais in the centre of a cavernous room. Torches of blue flame hung on the walls of the chamber, pockets of light punctuating the darkness. In the shadows, circling its edges, long and sinuous shapes moved.
Uthas of the Benothi giants strode towards the cauldron, his shadow flickering on the walls. He climbed the steps and stopped before it. It was utterly black, appearing to suck the torchlight into it, consuming it, reflecting nothing back. Just for a moment it seemed to shudder, a gentle throb, like a diseased heart.
A muffled request from the chamber's entrance reached him but he did not move, just continued to stare.
'What?' he said eventually.
'Nemain sends for you, Uthas. She says the Dreamer is waking.'
The giant sighed and turned to leave the chamber. He brushed his fingertips against the cauldron's cold belly and froze.
'What is it?' his shieldman Salach called from the chamber's doorway.
Uthas cocked his head to one side, closing his eyes. Voices, calling to me. 'Nothing,' he murmured, unsure whether he heard or felt the whisperings from within the cauldron. 'Soon,' he breathed as he pulled his fingers from the cold iron.
A shape slithered from the shadows as he walked towards the exit. It blocked his way, gliding about him. A wyrm, white scales glistening as it raised its flat head and regarded him with cold, soulless eyes. He stood there, still and silent, let it taste his scent, felt an instant of unease as he waited, then the snake slithered away, its huge coils bunching and expanding, back to the shadows to rejoin its brood. He let out a breath.
'Come, then,' he said as he strode past Salach. 'Best not keep Nemain waiting.'
He glanced at the chamber's dour-faced guards, all wrapped in fur and iron, as he marched past them. Salach's footfalls followed him. In silence they passed through the bowels of Murias, the last stronghold of the Benothi. It was nestled deep in the highlands of Benoth, carved into and beneath the grey, mist-shrouded land.
In time they reached a wide staircase that spiralled up into darkness and soon Uthas was muttering under his breath, the old pain in his knee gnawing at him as he climbed higher and higher.
'Bitseach,' he swore, thinking of Nemain waiting for him at the top of this high tower. Salach chuckled behind him.
Eventually they were at a doorway. Salach nodded to the warrior standing there, Sreng, Nemain's shield-maiden. She opened the door for them.
The room was sparsely decorated, with little furniture apart from a large, fur-draped bed at its centre. A woman lay upon it, slender, sweat-soaked, her limbs jerking and twitching. A white-haired man sat beside her, his huge bulk crammed into a chair, holding her hand. He looked over as Uthas and Salach entered the room and stared at them, a ruined, scar-latticed hole where one of his eyes should have been.
'One-Eye.' Uthas nodded. 'How is she?'
Balur One-Eye shrugged.
'Where is Nemain?'
'I am here,' a voice said, drawing Uthas' gaze to the far end of the room. A figure stood in an arched doorway, framed by the pale day beyond.
Nemain, Queen of the Benothi. Ravens gathered on the balcony beyond her. One fluttered onto her shoulder.
'My Queen,' Uthas said, dipping his head.
'Welcome back,' she replied, hair the colour of midnight framing her milky, angular face. 'What news?'
'Events are stirring in the south,' Uthas said. 'Narvon wars with Ardan, and the warriors of Cambren are marching east.' He paused, breathing deep, his next words frozen on his lips. He feared the answer he expected. 'Our enemies war amongst themselves. It would be a good time to strike and reclaim what was ours.' Please, Nemain, give the order. Save me from what I must do if you refuse.
Nemain smiled, though there was little humour in it. 'Strike south? We are a broken people, Uthas–you know this. Too few to fill this fortress, let alone the south that once was ours. Besides, we are set a different task, now.' She walked out onto the balcony.
He sighed and followed her onto the balcony's edge, where cold air stung his skin. A cliff face sloped steeply down, wreathed far below in mist, a sea of dark granite and snow and wiry heather rolling into the distance. Ravens swirled about the balcony, riding the updraught. One cawed and veered to land besides Nemain. Idly she reached out and scratched its head. It clacked its beak.
'What of the west?' she said. 'What of Domhain?'
Uthas shrugged. 'There we know little. I suspect that Eremon grows older, content to do nothing in his dotage. That bandraoi Rath keeps us out,' he spat. 'He does not rest. He hunts our scouts, raids our land, him and his giant-hunters. There have been some casualties.'
'Ach,' Nemain hissed, eyes flashing red. 'I would like nothing more than to march out and take back what we have lost, remind Rath why he hates us.'
'Then let us do it,' Uthas urged, feeling his blood surge, hope flaring.
'We cannot,' Nemain said. 'The cauldron must be guarded. Never again can it be used. It must not fall into the wrong hands.'
Uthas felt the words like a hammer blow, her words sealing his future.
'But we must know of what is happening beyond our borders. Domhain cannot remain closed to us. You will lead a company south, learn what you can of Eremon's plans.'
'As you command, my Queen,' Uthas said.
'Choose who you will, but not too many. Speed will serve you better than strength in numbers. And avoid Rath's notice.'
'I will do as you say.'
A sharp cry rang out from the chamber behind them. The woman on the bed was sitting upright, sweat-darkened hair clinging to her face, eyes wild and bulging. Balur gripped her hand, murmuring to her.
'Ethlinn, what have you seen?' Nemain asked.
The pale-faced woman took a shuddering breath. 'They are coming,' she whispered. 'The Kadoshim draw ever closer. They feel the cauldron. The Black Sun, he is coming to make them flesh. He is coming for the cauldron.'
Cywen woke slowly, like the tide creeping in.
First she felt. A dull throbbing in her head, her shoulder, her hip. She ached everywhere, she realized, but worse in those places. Then she heard. Groaning, low voices, the thud of footfalls, a dragging, scraping sound, and behind it the cry of gulls and the distant murmur of the sea. She tried to open her eyes; one was crusted shut. Daylight felt like a knife jabbing into her head. Where am I? She looked about and saw warriors in red cloaks dragging bodies across the stone-paved courtyard, leaving blood-smeared trails across the cobbles, piling them onto a heaped mound of corpses.
Suddenly it all came flooding back, memory upon memory tumbling together: talking on the wall with Marrock, Evnis in the courtyard, the black-clothed warriors within the walls, the gates opening, Conall…
There was something soft beneath her. She was sprawled upon a body, a female, staring at her with lifeless eyes. Staggering she climbed upright, the world spinning briefly before it settled.
Stonegate was wide open, a trickle of people passing in and out of the fortress, most in the red cloaks of Narvon. Columns of black smoke marked the pale sky, a soft breeze from the sea tugging at them, blurring where smoke ended and sky began.
The battle is lost, then. Dun Carreg is fallen.
Then another thought cut through the fog filling her mind. My family.
She looked at the bodies strewn about her, remembered falling with Conall but could not see him amongst the dead. Her mam and da's faces flashed through her mind, Corban, then Gar's. Where was everyone?
She left the courtyard unchallenged and drifted slowly through the streets, following the trail of the dead. They were littered everywhere, sometimes in mounds where the fighting had raged fiercer, some still locked together in a macabre embrace. The smell of smoke and fire grew thicker the deeper she walked into the fortress. Her feet took her to the stables. There were more warriors here, red-cloaked men tending wild-eyed horses. She glimpsed Corban's stallion Shield in the paddock, then he was gone, lost amongst the herd gathered there.
Where is Gar?
As if in a dream she walked on, peering at the faces of the dead, searching for her family, relieved every time a lifeless face was not one of them. Her search continued, becoming more frantic until she found herself in the courtyard before the feast-hall.
Another pile of the dead was heaped here, greater even than the one before Stonegate. Warriors were everywhere, wounded, covered in ash and blood. In one corner Cywen saw the grey-cloaks of Ardan, the defeated warriors gathered together, many injured. They were guarded by a cohort of Owain's men.
A great ululation came from the feast-hall. Something–a board, a tabletop–was being carried from the entranceway. As Cywen watched, it was hoisted upright and leaned with a thud against one of the columns that supported the entrance. A body was fixed to the board, covered in blood but still recognizable. Cywen's stomach lurched.
Brenin. His head was lolling, arms twisted, wrists and ankles nailed to the tabletop. A great bloom of blood surrounding the wound in his chest. Cywen spat bile onto the stained cobblestones, motes of ash falling softly about her like black snow.
She wiped her mouth and stumbled towards the hall's doors, eyes fixed on Brenin's corpse.
'Please, Elyon, All-Father,' she prayed, 'let my kin still live.' She stopped before Brenin, stood staring up at him until a warrior bumped into her and told her to get out of the way. She glared at him.
Noise from the feast-hall leaked out into the courtyard, some kind of commotion–men shouting, a deep growling. Storm?
Then she was dashing through the open doors, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Everything was chaos in here, tables and chairs overturned, timbers blackened and charred with fire, clouds of smoke still clinging to the rafters where the flames had only recently been doused. There were many people gathered in here. She saw Owain talking with Nathair, a cluster of the black-clothed warriors that had stormed the gates gathered about him. Evnis was amongst them, and Conall. Anger flashed in her gut and her hand instinctively reached for her knife-belt. She scowled as she remembered she'd used all the blades last night on the wall.
Then her eyes were drawn back to the commotion that had first caught her attention. A group of warriors were circling something, a snapping, snarling something.
'Just kill it,' she heard one of the warriors say and saw a flash of sharp white teeth, a flat muzzle, brindle fur.
'Buddai,' she whispered and ran forwards, elbowing through the line of warriors.
They were grouped in a half-circle about Buddai, the great hound standing with his head lowered, teeth bared.
Cywen stumbled to a halt and Buddai's big head swung round to face her, teeth snapping. Then, suddenly, he knew her. He whined, his tail wagging hesitantly at seeing someone familiar in this place of death, someone that was pack. She threw herself upon him, arms wrapped about his neck, and buried her face in his fur. She stayed like that long moments, tears spilling into Buddai's fur. In time she leaned back, got a lick on the face and looked down.
'That's why you're here,' she mumbled. Her da lay sprawled on the ground, eyes glassy, flat, wounds all over his body, blood crusting black. With a deep sob she knelt beside Thannon's corpse and gently brushed her fingertips across his cheek. Are they all slain, then? She laid her head upon Thannon's chest. Buddai snuggled in close to her and nudged Thannon's hand with his muzzle. It flopped on the ground.
'Girl,' a voice said and a spear butt dug into her back.
'You need to move,' the man said, an older warrior, silver streaks in his red beard.
'No,' she said, squeezing her da tighter.
'We have to clear the hall, lass, an' that hound won't let us near him.' He prodded Thannon's boot with his spear butt. Buddai growled. 'If you can get that hound to go with you all the better, otherwise we've no choice but t'kill it.'
Kill Buddai. No more death.
'I… yes,' Cywen said, wiping her eyes and nose. She knelt before Buddai, running her hands over him. Blood crusted the fur on his front shoulder and he whined when she probed the wound. 'Come with me, Buds,' she whispered, 'else they'll kill you too.' He just cocked his head and stared at her with uncomprehending eyes.
Cywen stood, took a few steps away from the hound and called him. He took a hesitant step towards her, then looked back at his fallen master and whined pitifully.
'Come on, Buds. Come.' Cywen slapped her hand against her leg, and this time he came to her. The red-bearded warrior nodded and continued with his work.
No one was taking any notice of Cywen; she was just another blood-stained survivor of the night's dark work. All of the warriors in the room seemed to be busy clearing the floors, tending to wounded comrades. Owain and Nathair were still deep in conversation, though Cywen saw that the King of Tenebral's shieldman–the black-clad warrior called Sumur–was staring back at her.
'Come on, Buddai,' Cywen said. 'Best be getting out of here.' She turned towards the feast-hall doors and with a thud crashed into someone.
'Oof,' the man grunted. 'Watch where you're—You.'
Cywen stood frozen, staring at the person she had collided with. It was Rafe.
The huntsman's son glared at her. Buddai growled and Rafe took a step backwards.
His fair hair was dank, ash stained, his eyes red veined with dark hollow rings. He had been crying. There was a gash in one leg of his breeches, just above the knee, and drying blood soaked down to his boots. A ragged bandage was tied tight above the wound.
'Your brother did that to me,' he said, following her gaze to his wounded leg. 'One more thing I owe him for.'
'Ban,' Cywen gasped, her heart twisting at the mention of her brother. 'He lives, then?' She was almost too scared to speak the thought out loud.
'Maybe, but not for long. We'll catch him, catch all of them.'
'All of them? Who else? My mam, Gar?'
Rafe just looked at her, then smiled slowly. 'All on your own, little girl? Best be getting used to that.'
She felt a swell of rage, hated Rafe at that moment as much as she'd hated anyone. She reached for her knives again, cursed silently when she remembered they were all gone. 'Traitor,' she hissed at him.
'Depends where you're looking from,' Rafe said, but frowned nevertheless. 'Way I see it, Evnis is my lord. I do as I'm bid. And it seems to me he's on the winning side, at least.'
- On Sale
- Jul 22, 2014
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