By John Gwynne
Read by Damian Lynch
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Events are coming to a climax in the Banished Lands, as the war reaches new heights. King Nathair has taken control of the fortress at Drassil and three of the Seven Treasures are in his possession. And together with Calidus and his ally Queen Rhin, Nathair will do anything to obtain the remaining Treasures. With all seven under his command, he can open a portal to the Otherworld. Then Asroth and his demon-horde will finally break into the Banished Lands and become flesh.
Meanwhile Corban has been taken prisoner by the Jotun, warrior giants who ride their enormous bears into battle. His warband scattered, Corban must make new allies if he hopes to survive. But can he bond with competing factions of warlike giants? Somehow he must, if he’s to counter the threat Nathair represents.
His life hangs in the balance — and with it, the fate of the Banished Lands.
Cast of Characters
Brenin—murdered King of Ardan, father of Edana.
Brina—healer of Dun Carreg, owner of a cantankerous crow, Craf. Escaped with Corban and Edana from the sack of Dun Carreg. After much tragedy and adventure, she journeys with Corban and his growing band of followers to Drassil, the fabled giant fortress hidden deep within Forn Forest. Now she is counsellor to Corban, having survived the fall of Drassil, escaping with a small band of Corban's friends.
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. From there he travelled to Murias, a giant fortress of the Benothi clan, in search of his sister, Cywen. It was there that he saw Kadoshim spirits possess Jehar warriors, and there that Calidus slew his mam, Gwenith. Corban resolved to fight Asroth and his servants, and led his warband to Drassil. Here he discovered that Meical, his Ben-Elim counsellor, had deceived him, that the prophecy was a strategic ruse, and that he was not in truth the Bright-Star. Corban went to the forest to think, only to be attacked and eventually captured by Jotun giants. He was dragged from his wolven Storm's side, leaving her mortally wounded.
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. She travelled to Drassil with Corban, along the journey becoming Brina's apprentice, and learning something of the old ways of blood and bone.
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. He accompanied Corban to Drassil, and married Kulla, a Jehar warrior.
Edana—fugitive Queen of Ardan, daughter of Brenin. She escaped the fall of Domhain on a ship, accompanied by a handful of faithful shieldmen and Roisin. Back in Ardan she joined a small band of rebels hiding in the marshes of Dun Crin and slowly lit the fires of resistance. She won a great battle against Evnis, regent of Ardan.
Evnis—counsellor and murderer of King Brenin and father of Vonn. In league with Queen Rhin of Cambren. He became regent of Ardan, ruling as Queen Rhin's right hand, and led a warband into the marshes of Dun Crin to crush Edana's fledgling resistance. He lost in a crushing battle and was killed.
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 and then on to Drassil. He became one of Corban's most trusted shieldmen.
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. From here he travelled to Drassil with Corban, losing his father in battle at Gramm's hold. He became Lord of the Jehar whilst at Drassil.
Meg—orphaned child from a village on the outskirts of Dun Crin's marshes. A bond developed between her and Camlin.
Pendathran—battlechief of King Brenin, injured during the fall of Dun Carreg. Held prisoner and tortured by Evnis. He escaped with the help of Cywen and became a leader of the resistance based at Dun Crin.
Rafe—young warrior belonging to Evnis' hold. Childhood rival of Corban. Trained as a huntsman, and present during the escape of Edana from Domhain. He travelled as Braith's companion back to Ardan, tracking Halion in a bid to find Edana. He fought at the Battle of Dun Crin and, although on the losing side, he escaped and fled to safety. He drank from the starstone cup and passed into a coma.
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. He fought at the Battle of Dun Crin, and when his father Evnis tries to lure him into betraying Edana he refused. Evnis attempted to kill Vonn, but Camlin shot Evnis, killing him and saving Vonn's life.
Braith—warrior and huntsman. One-time leader of the Darkwood outlaws, revealed his true allegiance as huntsman of Queen Rhin. Slain by Camlin in the marshes of Dun Crin.
Geraint—warrior, battlechief of Queen Rhin.
Morcant—warrior, once first-sword of Queen Rhin, defeated and replaced by Conall. He became one of Rhin's battlechiefs, loaned to Evnis to assist in the suppression of resistance against Rhin in Ardan. Suffered a crushing defeat in the marshes of Dun Crin, but survived and escaped. He is now Regent of Ardan.
Rhin—once-Queen of Cambren, now Queen of the West, having conquered Narvon, Ardan and Domhain. Servant of Asroth, Demon-Lord of the Fallen. She is searching for Evnis, as she believes he has knowledge of the starstone necklace.
Gundul—King of Carnutan and ally of Nathair. Son of Mandros, who was thought to have murdered King Aquilus of Tenebral and was in turn slain by Veradis. He is building a road into Forn Forest in the hope of reaching the lost fortress of Drassil.
Baird—one-eyed warrior of the Degad, Rath's giantkillers. Now shieldman and protector of Edana.
Brogan—warrior of Domhain, also known as No-Neck. Shieldman of Lorcan, one of the survivors who fled with them and 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 and then to Drassil. She fought in the Battle of Drassil and escaped its fall.
Halion—warrior, first-sword of Edana of Ardan. Bastard son of King Eremon, brother of Conall and half-brother of Coralen. He was captured by Conall as he fought rearguard to enable Edana's escape, but was later released by Conall and made his way to Ardan, reuniting with Edana in the swamps of Dun Crin.
Lorcan—young fugitive King of Domhain, son of Eremon and Roisin. Escaped from Domhain by ship with Edana. He was forced by his mother's scheming to choose between her and Edana; he chose Edana and now is a stalwart warrior in Ardan's resistance.
Roisin—Queen of Domhain, widowed wife of Eremon and mother of Lorcan. Fled by ship with Edana. Having attempted to assassinate Edana during the Battle of Dun Crin, she was exiled by Edana.
Lothar—once battlechief of Helveth, now its king. Murderer of the previous king of Helveth, Braster. Ally to Nathair and Calidus. He is now building a road into Forn Forrest towards the ancient fortress of Drassil.
Dag—huntsman in the service of King Jael of Isiltir. He survived the defeat at the walls of Drassil and has fled with Jael and a small band of survivors, whom he is attempting to guide through Forn Forest to safety.
Gramm—horse-trader and timber merchant, lord of a hold in the north of Isiltir. Father of Orgull and Wulf. Allied to Meical. He was slain during the Battle of Gramm's hold.
Haelan—fugitive child-King of Isiltir, fleeing Jael. Went into hiding at Gramm's hold, in the far north of Isiltir. Joined Corban's warband and travelled to Drassil, and now is "chief carer" of Storm and Buddai's cubs.
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. At present he is stumbling through Forn Forest with a handful of shieldmen after suffering a great defeat at the walls of Drassil.
Maquin—warrior of Isiltir and the elite Gadrai who was taken captive during the fall of Dun Kellen by Lykos of the Vin Thalun. He was 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 and became a fugitive on the run with Fidele of Tenebral, once-regent of Tenebral and recently wedded to Lykos. Through hardship and danger they make it to Ripa, a fortress in the south of Tenebral ruled by Lamar, a friend and hater of the Vin Thalun. During the course of their journey Maquin and Fidele fall in love. Maquin is wounded and hovers on the brink of death, only his love for Fidele and burning will to see vengeance served upon Jael and Lykos holding him to life. Later he is captured and tortured by Lykos, saved by Veradis and taken to Brikan in Forn Forest for trial before Nathair. Veradis sets him free.
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 and became a captain of Corban's warband, leading the men of Isiltir.
Trigg—orphaned child raised at Gramm's hold. She is a half-breed, part giant. She helped Haelan escape his enemies at the Battle of Gramm's hold, but later gives away the location of Drassil to Calidus, thus her allegiances are uncertain.
Wulf—warrior, son of Gramm and brother of Orgull. Wed to Hild and father of Sif and Swain. A captain of Corban's warband.
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. He became Edana's guide in Ardan, his skills as a woodsman and brigand proving very useful. He fought and killed Braith in Dun Crin's marshes and slayed Evnis after the Battle of Dun Crin.
Drust—warrior, shieldman of Owain. Escaped the defeat of Owain and his warband, aided by Cywen. He has become one of the captains of Edana's growing resistance.
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. He joins Corban's warband. On Tukul's death he stood for leadership of the Jehar, but was defeated in combat by Gar. He has become a valued captain in Corban's warband.
Ilta—Jehar warrior, captured after the fall of Drassil as she attempted to assassinate Nathair. She was set free by Calidus to take a message to Corban.
Javed—slave and pit-fighter of the Vin Thalun, set free by Corban and now a captain in his warband, leader of the Freedmen.
Kulla—warrior of the Jehar, part of Akar's company that joined Corban. She has married Corban's friend Dath.
Sumur—lord of the Jehar holy warrior order.
Tukul—warrior of the Jehar holy order, leader of the Hundred and Gar's father. He was slain at the Battle of Gramm's hold by Ildaer, Warlord of the Jotun giants.
Agost—Captain of Fidele's shieldmen.
Alben—swordsmaster and healer of Ripa, at present in Forn Forest with Krelis and a warband of Ripa's warriors.
Arcus—warrior of Ripa who has travelled to Forn Forest and Drassil.
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. He joined Corban's warband but fell in combat with Jotun giants.
Caesus—warrior of the eagle-guard, now high captain of Nathair's warband.
Ektor—son of Lamar of Ripa and brother of Krelis and Veradis. A scholar where his brothers are warriors. He was secretly in league with Calidus and responsible for the death of Lamar, his father. He was slain by his brother, Krelis.
Fidele—widow of Aquilus, mother of Nathair. For a time she was Queen Regent of Tenebral. Lykos used dark magic to bewitch and control her, eventually marrying her. Riots broke out in their wedding celebrations, during which the spell controlling her was broken. She stabbed Lykos and, with Maquin's help, fled in the confusion. During their journey she fell in love with Maquin and over time became the leader of a rebellion in Tenebral, fighting against the Vin Thalun. She journeyed to Brikan to speak against Lykos and the Vin Thalun before her son, Nathair, but was herself put on trial and imprisoned. Veradis freed her and she escaped into Forn Forest with Maquin, Krelis, Alben and a warband from Ripa.
Krelis—warrior, son of Lamar of Ripa and brother of Ektor and Veradis. Became Lord of Ripa after the death of his father, Lamar, and travelled to Brikan to speak against the Vin Thalun before Nathair. He was imprisoned as a rebel but later set free by his brother, Veradis. He escaped into Forn Forest with his warband.
Lamar—Baron of Ripa, father of Krelis, Ektor and Veradis. Slain during a rowan-meet.
Marcellin—Baron of Ultas, appointed Regent of Tenebral.
Nathair—King of Tenebral, son of Aquilus and Fidele. In league with Queen Rhin of Cambren. He once believed that he was the Bright Star, the one prophesied to be the chosen champion of Elyon, but then learned the truth, that he is the Black Sun of prophecy, chosen champion of Asroth. He took the starstone cauldron and discovered the whereabouts of Drassil, leading a surprise attack and routing Corban's warband. He now holds the fortress of Drassil.
Pax—son of Atilius. A young warrior captured during the uprising in Tenebral, who was made a slave and set to work on a Vin Thalun galley, alongside his father. He helped Corban flee a band of Jotun giants in the forest beyond Drassil, saw his father slain and has been sent by Corban to find help.
Peritus—once battlechief of Tenebral, then leader of the resistance against Lykos and his Vin Thalun. He was slain by Ector in the dungeons of Brikan.
Spyr—Shieldman of Fidele.
Veradis—first-sword and friend to King Nathair. Son of Lamar of Ripa and brother of Ektor and Krelis. He commanded a warband of Tenebral instrumental in the defeats of Owain of Narvon and Eremon of Domhain. He was sent back to Tenebral to deal with the uprising against the Vin Thalun. During a rowan-meet his father, Lamar, fell upon Veradis' sword and died. Veradis took the leaders of the rebellion to Brikan in Forn Forest, to take their claims and arguments before High-King Nathair. Here the truth was finally revealed to him, that Nathair is not the Bright Star, but instead is serving Calidus, a Kadoshim, and is in league with Asroth, Lord of the Fallen. Veradis set his brother Krelis, Fidele and Maquin free from the dungeons beneath Brikan, then attempted to slay Calidus. He failed, but was saved by the giant, Alcyon.
THE THREE ISLANDS
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. He used sorcery to control and marry Fidele, mother of Nathair. He travelled with the full might of the Vin Thalun to Forn Forest and was instrumental in the battle and taking of Drassil.
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. Now a captain of Corban's warband, he was grievously injured during the fall of Drassil.
Eisa—Benothi giantess, companion of Uthas.
Ethlinn—Benothi giantess, daughter of Balur One-Eye, also called the Dreamer. Companion of Corban's, she has travelled to Drassil.
Fachen—warrior of Benothi. Allied to Ethlinn and Balur.
Laith—female giantling, one of the survivors of the Battle of Murias who joins Corban and his companions. Became a friend and lover to Farrell.
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.
Eld—Lord of the Jotun. A cautious and cunning man.
Hala—giantess of the Jotun clan. Healer and high in the counsel of Eld.
Ildaer—warlord of the Jotun.
Mort—Captain of Ildaer's warband.
Sig—shieldmaiden of Eld, Lord of the Jotun.
Varan—warrior of Ildaer's warband.
Alcyon—servant and guardian of Calidus.
Raina—giantess. Mother of Tain and long-lost wife of Alcyon.
Tain—giantling. Son of Raina and Alcyon.
Adriel—warrior of the Ben-Elim.
Israfil—warrior of the Ben-Elim.
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.
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.
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 1144 of the Age of Exiles, Hound Moon
Veradis fell through the night air, weightless. He caught glimpses of the tower of Brikan, Calidus' still-smouldering outline at the window, then below, the river coming up to meet him.
He slammed into the water, the cold shocking the breath out of him. He panicked, disorientated, realizing he didn't know which way was up; all about him was darkness and ice. Then something grabbed his hair and he was surging upwards, breaking through the water in a burst of spray, and saw Alcyon's pale, broad face staring back at him.
"They will come hunting for us," the giant shouted over the roar of the river as the current gripped them, sweeping them away from the thunder of warriors' feet crossing the bridge. "Let the water take us far from them."
Veradis saw the sense of that, though his hands and feet were already numbing from the cold. He put some effort into swimming, speeding his way from Brikan, from Calidus—from the Kadoshim. The thought still jolted him like a blow.
They turned a bend in the river and the fortress was gone, darkness enfolding them.
The soft, weak sheen of dawn's grey light filtered down through the lattice of branches above as Veradis met Alcyon's gaze, an unspoken agreement passing between them, as they both headed for the riverbank. It was harder going, swimming across the current, and Veradis realized how exhausted his body was, but eventually he felt silt beneath his feet, his hands grasping at reeds as he pulled himself out of the water and flopped onto his back, gasping, his limbs feeling lead-filled.
Turning, he saw Alcyon on the bank, thirty of forty paces upriver from him, staggering wearily towards him, before he slumped down beside him with a groan, water dripping from his drooping moustache.
"Thank you," Alcyon said.
"Everything. Most of all for helping my family escape Brikan's dungeons."
His wife and bairn. How long has he gone without seeing them? And what must he have suffered, knowing they were Calidus and Lykos' prisoners?
"And for destroying Calidus' effigy of me," Alcyon continued. "You have set me free." He gave a shudder, followed by a smile. "A shadow is gone from my soul. I feel reborn."
"If you mean you feel weak as a newborn bairn," Veradis muttered as he emptied his boot of water and tried to pull it back on, "then I feel the same."
"That is not what I mean," the giant rumbled, regarding Veradis with serious eyes. "You set Raina and Tain free; you set me free. I owe you a debt beyond all imagining."
"You are in no debt to me," Veradis said. "I kicked the effigies into the fire on impulse, not really knowing what they were, or what power they held over you."
"But you suspected?"
"Aye. Something that Fidele said…" He thought of Nathair's mother, hoped that she had made it to freedom, along with his brother Krelis, Maquin and Alben. "And your wife and son—I set them free because it was the right thing to do. There was no other choice."
"Ah, but there was, True-Heart. There always is."
Veradis shrugged. "There is no debt between us. You are my friend."
One of my only friends, it has turned out. His thoughts swept bitterly to Nathair and the confession and revelations that had stunned Veradis. He remembered Calidus' confession: that Nathair had slain Aquilus, his own father. Anger and shame twisted through him. There had been so many signs…
How can I have been deceived for so long? I am a fool.
"How long?" Veradis asked him. "How long have you been Calidus' prisoner?"
Alcyon's smile withered. "Sixteen years."
"That is a long time."
"It is." Alcyon clenched his fists, knuckles cracking. "I should have killed him."
"To be fair, we both tried hard on that count. I put a knife in his belly, threw him in a fire and you shattered his chest with a war-hammer."
"Kadoshim are hard to kill."
"I'd have to agree. Can he be killed?"
"Maybe taking his head. That is how the others are slain."
"The Jehar—they are demon-possessed by Kadoshim. At Murias…" Alcyon said to the question in Veradis' eyes.
"The Jehar," Veradis muttered, shaking his head. "I have been so blind."
"You trusted your King, and your friend." Alcyon shrugged. "There are worse failings to have."
Are there? I have dedicated my life to a lie.
They both sat in silence, water dripping from clothes and hair.
"What now?" Veradis said to himself. "It feels as if my whole life has been dedicated to Nathair and his cause. What do I do now?"
Alcyon regarded him gravely, then poked his chest with a thick finger. "What does your heart tell you?"
"I would not trust it. Look where it has led me thus far," Veradis said sourly.
"Your eyes are open now."
Veradis sucked in a deep breath, felt exhaustion seeping through him. "What would you do?" he asked the giant.
"Find my kin. My Raina and Tain." He smiled as he said their names.
Kin. My father is slain, as is my brother Ektor. Only Krelis is left. Suddenly he was desperate to see his older brother.
"Find our kin," he echoed. "A good place to start."
Something squawked: a handful of wood pigeons suddenly bursting from the trees and flapping noisily overhead.
"We should move."
We need cover.
"Aye. To the trees," Veradis said as he stood, suppressing a groan.
They were halfway across the clearing when Alcyon stopped abruptly, staring back along the riverbank.
Forms appeared around a distant bend on the track, shadows in the half-light that Forn's canopy created. Black shadows with curved swords sheathed across their backs.
"Kadoshim," Alcyon growled.
Veradis counted at least seven of them, moving quickly, a loping, ground-eating pace, like a pack of wolven. They were spread in a half-circle between the riverbank and the treeline.
They are hunting us. Have been running all night long, following the river in search of our trail.
One of the figures paused, the others rippling to a halt about it. It lifted its head, as if tasting the air, then gave an ululating howl and leaped forwards, a new energy in its stride.
They've caught our scent.
Veradis felt a jolt of fear. He'd faced giants, draigs, warbands, but somehow knowing that the demons of the Otherworld were hunting him sent a cold shock of fear tingling through his veins.
Kadoshim. Calidus' kin. My enemy. Calidus filled his mind, an image of the man he had thought counsellor and ally emerging from the fire in Brikan's tower, flame-wreathed and snarling. He has corrupted Nathair and has deceived me for so long. He is the author of this evil.
Fear morphed into a cold rage and he reached for his sword, lips twisting.
"Move," Alcyon grunted and broke into a run. Veradis resisted for a moment, inexplicably wanting to stand and fight these creatures, but Alcyon dragged him along and in a heartbeat they were only a few strides from the treeline. He realized the giant had no weapon—no war-hammer or battle-axe strapped across his back, no sword or dagger at his hip. They crashed through the first layer of undergrowth and were immediately enveloped by a twilight world of shadow and thorn. Alcyon forged ahead, grunting as branches snapped upon his rock-like torso, thorns whipping at Veradis, vines tangling about his boots. For what seemed a long time Veradis only heard his own heart thumping, the rasp of his breath, the thud of Alcyon's feet, then there were sounds behind him, faint at first, like the rustle of wind through foliage, but soon louder, keening cries were floating about him.
They splashed through a stream, something sinuous slithered beneath Veradis' feet, making him stumble.
"They are almost upon us," he gasped to Alcyon.
Better to turn and fight, hold a sword in my fist, than die running.
"I know," the giant said, turning, chest heaving.
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