The Spider


By Leo Carew

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Control of the land under the Northern Sky rests in the balance as two fierce races collide in the sequel to The Wolf, a thrilling and savagely visceral epic fantasy from Leo Carew, an author who “will remind readers of George R. R. Martin, David Gemmell, or . . . Joe Abercrombie.” (Booklist)

Roper, the Black Lord of the north, may have vanquished the Suthern army at the Battle of Harstathur. But the greatest threat to his people lies in the hands of more shadowy forces.

In the south, the disgraced Bellamus bides his time. Learning that the young Lord Roper is planning to invade the southern lands, Bellamus conspires with his Queen to unleash a weapon so deadly it could wipe out Roper’s kind altogether.

And at a time when Roper needs his friends more than ever, treachery from within puts the lives of those he loves in mortal danger . . .

For more from Leo Carew, check out:

Under the Northern Sky
The Wolf
The Spider


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Part I



The Drop of the Body

The Black Lord was a tall man, though not as tall as often supposed. He held his back very straight; his hair was dark, his face robust and stern at rest. But that was an illusion, and his attention, if you gained it, was consistent, personable and intelligent. He was a man of sharp edges, concealed by a practised and deprecating manner. It was only the very few close to him who saw the ticking heart like a clockwork spring that drove him on, on, on. And at this moment, his face had assumed the distant mask he often wore in times of turmoil.

Because his brother was dead.

He stood, wrapped in a dark cloak, on a white sand beach at the head of a long lake. The only person within ten feet was a tall woman with black hair and poisonous green eyes, she too enfolded in a dark cloak. Her name was Keturah, and the pair of them stood slightly apart from a score of mourners, buffeted by the wind rushing the length of the water.

Along the lake’s edge, some fifty yards away, a procession was approaching. A dozen boys, no older than twelve, walking together in two parallel lines.

They were carrying a child’s body.

A grey, limp presence held awkwardly between the lines. The mouth was a dark ellipse. The arms, like slim boards of willow, bounced with each step. The flesh was naked but for a layer of charcoal, and a chain of raptor feathers clutched at its neck, and behind the procession a vast stretch of a drum thumped with each step they took.

Dow. Dow. Dow.

Roper did not notice the drum. He did not see the mountains enclosing them on three sides in a sheer verdant wall, or the grey waves swept up by the wind. He was lost in the memories that swarmed this place.

He remembered a still day on this very beach, when he and the dead boy had been engulfed in a cloud of midges. He remembered how they had run up and down the beach to try and lose them, but wherever they went, still more waited for them. How they had plunged into the waters of the lake to wait for the return of the wind, and found it too cold. They had finally taken refuge in the smoke of their fire, which though he had to breathe hot fumes, Roper found preferable to the swarm beyond. He had said he was going to make a dash for their cloaks, and his brother had declared that the midges would have reduced him to a skeleton by the time Roper returned. They had joked that together, they would spend the rest of their days attempting to find the Queen Midge, should such a tyrant exist, and destroy her as a favour to all humanity. Surely they could do no greater good.

He remembered the moon-blasted night they had fished together on a promontory at the far end. How he had been surly because his brother had caught two fine trout, and he had managed nothing. He remembered the last time he had seen Numa, standing on this beach with the iron clouds stretching behind him. Roper had turned in his saddle as he rode south with two unfamiliar Pendeen legionaries. He remembered how Numa and his twin had looked back at him and had not waved: merely shared one last look before Roper turned away. He remembered the steady metallic hiss of the rain stinging the flat lake. He remembered the cold of it running down his cheeks and over his lips. He remembered it all, but could feel no grief. All he had was the restless ticking in his chest, seeking revenge.

The procession was drawing near the grave at Roper’s side, its earthen walls impressed with interlinking handprints, like a canopy of leaves. As it came close, the mourners began to sing: a gentle lament that quivered and shook, swelling with the body’s approach, and presently becoming a funereal howl that almost drowned the reverberations of the drum. One of the singers standing by the grave was the double of the corpse, his face a tear-stained mirror to the scene before him. Gray was next to him, singing with the others, and placed a hand on the boy’s heaving shoulder, eyes not leaving the swaying body.

It was manoeuvred into place above the grave, head facing east, and close enough that Roper could see the lacerations in the skin, cut to ribbons to hasten the moment his brother’s bones rotted into the earth. The dark limbs were folded to the body’s side. For an instant it floated above the grave.

The reverberations of the drum faded and the singing fell away. Even the wind fell still.

Then the body dropped.

It plunged into the earth, a filthy embrace whooshing up in reaction. There was a distant thump as the corpse hit its resting place. Then Numa’s peers and his stricken twin began pressing the piled earth forward with their bare hands, filling in the grave. Roper turned away then, receiving a momentary assessment from the green eyes at his side.

“Now we find out who killed him.”

“Master.” Roper caught the eye of a stooped, ancient man robed in black, and hailed him, remembering too late to lift the thunderous frown from his brow. The Master of the haskoli and Roper met amid the embracing mourners and shook hands. The Master’s was a swollen talon, cold and lumpen, and the face above it so lined it resembled a piece of parchment stored at the bottom of a travel-sack. Keturah and another woman in dark robes joined the pair of them, and the Master offered Roper a gentle smile.

“A sad day, lord.”

“Yes, a sad day,” Roper agreed. “But my priority here is discovering why this day has come at all.”

The Master’s smile did not relent. This was the man who had overseen Roper’s own time in the haskoli, whom Roper had feared and admired without limit as a student. The Master had been a Sacred Guardsman once, but injury had forced him into the mountains. He still possessed an unmistakable aura though: that of a man who has had the threshold at which he becomes agitated breached and reset so many times that it was now near unreachable. “I’m so sorry, my lord. Events such as this are not unheard of.”

Roper narrowed his eyes. “I’m not sure I understand.”

The Master interlinked his fingers over his chest. “These boys are pushed very hard, my lord, as you will remember from your own time here. We initiate them into the sacred art of war. They learn not to back down under any circumstances, and there is a fierce rivalry between their groups. Sometimes, that gets out of hand. I have seen it several times now. It is usually a fight that has gone too far. No malice, nothing out of the ordinary—just an accident, from boys who are testing their limits.”

“You think one of Numa’s peers did this?”

The Master nodded. “That is the most likely explanation, lord.”

Keturah, who had been listening closely, made a brief impatient noise. “Hm, do you really think so?” she said, tucking her hair behind one ear. “Perhaps that would be true if this were a normal student, but Numa is the brother of a Black Lord who has just defeated a very powerful enemy. This is surely the remnants of Uvoren’s power-block at work. I’m sure the Inquisitor will support me,” she added, gesturing to the woman by her side, who gave an approving smile. Her name was Inger and she was a little over a hundred years, with greying hair and a round, pale face. She wore black robes with a dog-headed angel inscribed on her chest in silver thread, and white eagle feathers rippling through her hair. Inger usually seasoned these marks of office with a vague smile, giving the impression that she was unaware of even her immediate environment. She had spent most of the journey here making their party laugh with awkward and singular observations, but Roper knew that she could not possibly be as hazy as she appeared. It took a mind of unusual insight and dedication to reach the rank of Maven Inquisitor.

“Not impossible,” the Master replied to Keturah. “I can only tell you what seems most likely to me, as someone who has overseen this school for two dozen years. If this had been Uvoren’s men, they would surely have wanted to make it clear this was not a random act and chosen a more overtly violent method. Unfortunately, Numa seems to have been killed by hand.”

“The timing is more significant than the means,” opined Keturah.

“I agree,” said the Inquisitor, distractedly.

“We will discover the truth, one way or another,” said Roper abruptly. Not for one moment did he believe this had been an accident. “I am leaving two guardsmen here: Leon and Salbjorn, to aid the Inquisitor.” Roper indicated two armoured men who stood nearby, observing the conversation silently. Leon was massive and dark, with a crudely carved rock of a face. Salbjorn, standing next to him, was his protégé: small, wiry and blond, with a pointed chin and angular cheekbones. “Salbjorn will help with the investigation. Leon will protect Ormur.” Roper named Numa’s surviving twin.

The Master inclined his head. “As you wish, lord. They can have quarters up at the school.”

“I thank you for your help, Master,” said Roper. “Time is against me. I will speak with my brother, then I must go.”

The Master bowed and Roper tried to slip into the crowd of chattering mourners. But they shied away from him, every one of them aware of his person and backing away swiftly. Roper ignored this, casting around for his younger brother. He saw him almost at once: a solitary figure standing at the water’s edge, the lake lapping at his bare feet. Roper went to join him, the two of them staring out over the water together.

Ormur was small for his age, as Roper had once been. His features were still expressive and endearing, yet to develop into the strong mask of a mature Anakim, and reminiscent to Roper now of the Sutherners. He tried to think what to say to the boy, who did not seem to have noticed Roper’s approach. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, lord,” said the boy.

“What happened?” asked Roper, unable to think of anything more helpful to say, so succumbing to the question he most wanted to ask. “I heard you found his body.”

“I found him, lord.”

“Don’t call me lord, Ormur.”

“I found him. We were fishing off Cut Edge,” said the boy, giving a listless wave up the lake to a steep drop, overhung with branches and beneath which the trout liked to linger for the insects that fell into the water. It had been a favourite fishing spot in Roper’s own time here. “We’d had no luck, and he wanted to go and set some baited lines by the shore. I kept fishing.” Ormur’s face began to warp and Roper placed a hand on the boy’s arm, turning him away from the water.

“Look at me, brother.” He stared into Ormur’s grey eyes. This was not the roguish, impish character that he remembered. “Take a deep breath.”

Ormur seemed steadied by Roper’s touch. He closed his eyes for a long moment, drawing in the mountain air.

“Are you ready?”

Ormur nodded. “He didn’t come back. I stayed fishing until late. We had a moon, I was waiting for him. It was dark before I packed up and went to find him.”

Ormur’s grief began to resurface, and Roper intervened quickly. “Did you get any fish?”

“I got a char,” said the boy. “Not a big one.”

“I miss char,” said Roper, watching his brother carefully. “That is the smell everyone says they associate with the haskoli, when they have moved on. Char, roasting over the fire.” The break in the conversation had given Ormur a little time to gather his energy, and Roper waited now for him to go on.

“I found him down on the shore of the lake,” said Ormur, his voice grotesquely suppressed. “He was so pale, under the moon. One of his arms was underneath him, and one of them trailing in the waters of the lake. I didn’t realise he was dead. I thought maybe he’d slipped and hurt himself. And then I turned him over—” Ormur coughed, his eyes dropped, his chin followed, his chest heaved, hiccoughed, and then he broke over Roper. His head leaned into Roper’s chest and he sobbed wretchedly, a keening so animal that Roper could feel it plucking at his flesh. He raised his hands to the boy’s shoulders and held him there, leaning his head into his brother. Ormur was trying to go on, and Roper shushed him, but the boy would not be stopped. Between each heaving breath, each gasping sob, he forced the words free. “He… was… strangled!” He hauled in three rapid breaths. “His eyes!”

“Stop,” said Roper, firmly.

They waited there, the two of them. “I’m sorry, brother,” he murmured into Ormur’s head. “I’m so sorry. We will find them, you know. Whoever killed Numa. We will find them and make them pay.”

Ormur’s shoulders were no longer heaving, his sobs replaced by deep, slow breaths.

“I am leaving an Inquisitor here with two guardsmen. The Inquisitor and Salbjorn will find Numa’s killer. Leon will protect you.” The boy made no reply. Roper released him, and he straightened up. “Do you think it was one of the boys here who killed Numa?”

Ormur shook his head at once, his grief-stained face resolving into certainty. “No. No.”

“Neither do I,” said Roper. He gestured back at the crowd of mourners, most of whom had begun to drift away from the lake and up towards the school. The two of them followed, walking in silence for a time. “You know what week it is?”

Hookho,” said Ormur. The week the cuckoo begins to call.

“Good,” said Roper. “And next week?”

Gurstala?” hazarded Ormur, naming the week the bluebells flower.

“You’ve skipped two of them.” It seemed odd to Roper now, but he remembered being as ignorant as Ormur during his own time in the haskoli. Each Anakim week was named to reflect some seasonal event, but the mountains of the school had their own climate and their own pace, and the weeks had seemed as arbitrary to Roper at the time as they were evocative now. “Next week is Pipalaw: the week rainbows bloom.”

They drew level with the score heading back up to the school. “Take care of yourself, brother. Work hard. And stay safe. It will get better.”

Ormur looked glassily up at Roper, managed a brief nod, and turned away, following the group around the lake and towards the haskoli. Roper spotted three figures standing and waiting for him: the two Sacred Guardsmen and the Inquisitor. He went to join them and took each of their hands in turn, before staring at them in silence.

“I will find whoever did this, lord,” said Inger, smiling back at his poisonous expression. “I always do.”

“Leave no stone unturned,” said Roper, in a low voice. “Give him not one moment’s rest. Follow him as a pack of murderous dogs and make him know ravenous fear. Pursue him onto the Winter Road and beyond if you must, and when you have him, bring me his head with two empty eye sockets.”

“It shall be as you wish, lord,” said Inger.

Roper observed them all for a moment longer. “Good luck.”

The Anakim and the Sutherner, two of the races that inhabited Albion, did not share much. To the Sutherners, the world was filled with colour: to the Anakim, memory. The Sutherners loved to travel where the Anakim hated it, delighted in personal adornment where their neighbours scorned it, and subjected their lands to the yoke of agriculture, where the Anakim adored wilderness. Their laws were different, their customs deliberately diverse, and two fiercer enemies never existed. But revenge, at least, bound them. With either race, if you take a mother, father, sister or brother from them, no matter how complex their relationship was, you have violated family. Expect neither rest nor mercy until you have been violated in turn.


The Blaze

Though the air at Lake Avon carried the immaculate signature of altitude, the haskoli—the harsh school where boys were sent at the age of six to become legionaries—was set even higher, behind one of the mountains that bordered the lake. The climb to reach it took some two hours, and by the time Inger and her sacred escort had arrived, dusk was falling. The trees had shrunk and fallen away, and thick drifts of snow shone like burnished silver beneath a crescent moon.

The school was cut into the mountainside, sheer cliffs on three sides providing small protection from the elements. The buildings were completely uniform: a dozen longhouses, with timbers of straight red pine and thatch of heather, lining a central courtyard of sand, rock and drifted snow. Another, smaller lake spread before it, its icy surface rough from repeated shattering and freezing. Behind the school reared the shadow of an ancient tree which had somehow weathered the mountain winds: a single towering pine with only a dusting of needles remaining at its top. The rest of the branches were draped with hundreds of ragged raptor wings that fluttered darkly in place of leaves.

“Home, for the next while,” said Inger lightly. “As it’s dark already, I say we settle in tonight and begin our investigations first thing tomorrow.”

The guardsmen murmured their agreement, and they were led by a black-cloaked tutor into the nearest longhouse. The interior was very dark and suffused with the resinous scent of pine. They climbed a creaking flight of stairs, laid down their packs on the goatskins that bristled the floor, and emptied them in silence. Before long, Leon snatched up his sword and stalked out, saying he would sleep outside Ormur’s quarters.

“Like a dog,” muttered Salbjorn, laying out his own equipment for tending, and lighting four smoky candles to guide his work. “Do you really think the assassin is still here?” he asked, settling heavily on the floor and pulling a pot of fatty grease towards him. He began to work it bare-handed into his boots.

Inger watched him vacantly. “What do you think?”

The guardsman’s shadowed face turned towards her briefly, then back to his boots. “He’s gone. You don’t kill the brother of the Black Lord and then linger at the scene of the crime.” When Inger made no reply, Salbjorn glanced at her once more. “Do you?”

“It depends why you’ve killed him,” said Inger mildly.

Rain began to tap on the thatched roof and pour past the window in a fragmentary curtain. “Do you have any suspects?”

“Many,” said Inger. “The Black Lord has a lot of enemies, and it could be any one of them. Uvoren’s two sons, Unndor and Urthr, live in disgrace or in gaol, thanks to Roper. Perhaps it is a friend of theirs. Tore, Legate of the Greyhazel, was a friend of Uvoren’s from their days together at this haskoli. He commands a lot of men: maybe it was one of those, acting on his orders. The same goes for Randolph, Legate of the Blackstone. Or this might not be related to Uvoren’s death at all. Never underestimate how mad the Kryptea can be, and what strange motive they can find for almost any death. Or maybe this was Suthern work. Assassins from Suthdal, in repayment for the massacre atop Harstathur. Perhaps the Sutherners decided Roper’s brothers would be more easily targeted than the man himself.” Inger fell silent, staring at a sputtering candle. “That’s just a start. There are dark forces at work in our kingdom, doing things that we do not yet understand.”

True darkness had fallen outside, and the rain drummed through the room. Salbjorn finished his boots and moved on to the rest of his equipment, adding each piece to a neat pile as he finished tending it. His cuirass bore gouges, dents and pocks, but not a speck of rust, dirt or blood. The chain mail beneath it was speckled with distorted links, but gleamed like water pouring through sunbeams. And the long sword, propped against the wall and unsheathed to allow its fresh oil coat to dry, had small chips and dinks all along its length, which was nevertheless sharpened to a pitiless edge.

“Can you smell smoke?” asked Inger suddenly, stirring from her dreamy reverie.

Salbjorn gestured towards the pot of grease. “It’s this.”

“No, I smelt that before,” said Inger, getting to her feet. She turned to the window, staring out into the school’s rain-spattered courtyard. She could see nothing for a few seconds. Then her eyes accustomed to the dark outside, and she perceived the crimson glow flickering the ground in front of their longhouse. She could see no flame, but that was because it was out of sight beneath her. She turned back into the room, comprehension dawning as she registered the smoke hazing the candles. “There’s a fire,” she said, striding for the stairs. “Beneath us.”

Salbjorn looked confused. Then he too discerned the smoke drifting across the candles, and rising up the staircase in a heavy fog. He swore, springing to his feet and hurrying after Inger. They clattered down the stairs, into the smoke, which grew dense, hot and caustic. It was obvious before they had even reached the lower storey that there was no salvation here. The pine walls flickered with the light of an already mature fire, the pair of them stopping to gape at the flames. They flowed in liquid streaks across the floor, writhed up the door and walls, and gasped black clouds that billowed over the ceiling. Inger heard Leon’s voice shout suddenly from outside, yelling for help.

Salbjorn swore again, and Inger turned, pushing into him. “Back upstairs!” she said. Choking and coughing, the pair of them staggered back the way they had come. Inger tripped over the top step and collapsed onto the upper floor, the smoke rising behind her.

“The windows!” she said, accepting Salbjorn’s hand to pull herself upright, lungs convulsing at the smoke burning down her throat. The fire below was spreading rapidly: far too rapidly to have been an accident. From the look of those fiery rivers, someone had doused the floor in oil. The two of them ran to a window and leaned out over the sill and into the rain, gasping at the cold air. Beneath them, they could see the fire rising in torrents from the outer windows and beginning to consume the walls. Long-shadowed figures flitted the courtyard below, crying an alarm and marshalled towards the frozen lake by Leon’s powerful silhouette. They were trying to form a bucket chain to quench the flames, but that would take too long for Inger and Salbjorn, trapped on the top floor.

“We have to jump,” said Salbjorn. His head disappeared back into the longhouse and then reappeared, heaving his precious equipment into the void where it tumbled some twenty feet to the ground, bouncing and scattering. Perhaps Salbjorn could jump: he was an athlete, young and strong. But Inger was well into middle age, and saw herself falling from the window and breaking on the stones beneath.

“I can’t jump,” she said quietly.

Salbjorn, who had one foot on the windowsill, glanced at her. “You have to.”

“No,” she shook her head, touching his arm. “You go. I’ll think of something else.”

Salbjorn searched her face for a heartbeat. “Jump and you might be hurt,” he said. “But if you stay here, you’ll die!”

She smiled at him. “I would prefer smoke-induced sleep to broken legs, blood loss and fever.”

They stared at one another. Shouts rang up from below, urging the two of them to take their chances and jump. Heat was billowing at Inger’s back, so that she could now see the liquid shimmer it cast escaping the window above her. Sweat had begun to stand out on her brow and she could feel it trickling down her back.

“Right,” said Salbjorn abruptly. He retreated back into the room, and Inger tried to clutch at him as he turned away from the window.

“You must go!” she insisted, but she was turned back to the window by the power of the smoke. “Don’t stay—” she coughed suddenly. “Please! I will jump if it means you will.”

“I’m going to,” said Salbjorn, reappearing with an armful of goatskins. His eyes were streaming, his face covered with sweat, and he panted at the window for a few moments, struggling to open his eyes. He hurled the goatskins down onto the ground, and then stepped up onto the windowsill. “And so are you,” he said, lowering himself off the sill. For a moment, he clutched on by his fingertips, dangling over ground and staring down at the drop. Then he let go.

Salbjorn plunged into the dark, hitting the stones beneath and bouncing backwards with the power of his fall. Inger could hear him grunt in pain as the breath was forced from his lungs, and knew such a fall would break her legs. Even Salbjorn was getting to his feet with extreme caution, staggering on an injured ankle. He called Leon to him and the two exchanged hurried words. Behind them, the bucket-line was finally getting water onto the flames, but it was too slow, and they were achieving no more than the rain, which already pounded the courtyard. Such a lethal fire had to be by design.

A blotch of darkness was unfurled beneath Inger. Leon and Salbjorn had each taken one edge of a goatskin and stretched it between them. “Jump!” Salbjorn called. “Aim for the skin, it will break your fall!”

Even if the two guardsmen could meaningfully break her fall, the target looked minuscule from this height. Inger looked back into the room, and had to turn away at once from the terrible heat on her face. Her eyes began to stream and she found she could not see. By touch, she clambered up onto the windowsill. She stood, balanced on the sill, trembling, blind and hesitating, but there was nothing to wait for. Her vision would not return: not before she was in clear air.

She toppled forward.

Inger hurtled through the dark, arms flailing at the air roaring past her ears. She hit the goatskin with a whoomp, her momentum carrying her through and onto the stones beneath, where she jarred to a halt. Leon and Salbjorn were dragged inward by the force of her fall, collapsing on top of her. She lay panting for a moment, eyes still streaming, throat still burning and lungs still objecting to their noxious contents. She felt the two figures above her roll away, and a hand took her shoulder, turning her over so that the freezing rain splattered her face.

“Inquisitor? Are you all right?” It was Salbjorn’s voice. Inger gasped lungfuls of thin mountain air, feeling her heartbeat reverberate through her limbs. She managed a nod. “We’re going to move you back from the flames. Lie still.”

She could feel the tension in the skin beneath her as the two guardsmen gripped its edges once more and dragged her across the courtyard. “Just stay here, my lady,” came Salbjorn’s voice as she came to a halt. “We need to stop the flames spreading. We’ll be back.”


  • "Full of dark conspiracies, larger-than-life characters, and tense battles, Leo Carew has created a rousing cross between The Magnificent Seven and Game of Thrones."—Paul Hoffman on The Wolf
  • "As bleak and brutal as the northern snows, a new voice in epic fantasy"—Gareth L. Powell on The Wolf
  • "An action-packed and blood-splattered tour de force . . . . Carew is the real deal - an exciting new voice in fantasy."—Kirkus on The Wolf
  • "Gripping and ambitious . . . twisty in its political maneuverings, gritty in its battle descriptions, and rich with a sense of heroism and glory."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on The Wolf
  • "The Wolf is a work of extraordinary imagination and perhaps the most captivating first novel I've ever read."—Michael Dobbs on The Wolf
  • "Carew's brisk and engaging narrative, with its mixture of gritty violence and political intrigue, will remind readers of George R. R. Martin, David Gemmell, or a less-bleak Joe Abercrombie."—Booklist on The Wolf
  • "Carew's worldbuilding skills are strong and his ability to infuse even the grittiest battle scene with emotion and drive is impressive."—RT Book Reviews on The Wolf

On Sale
Jul 30, 2019
Page Count
544 pages

Leo Carew

About the Author

Leo Carew is a Cambridge graduate of Biological Anthropology, currently studying medicine. Apart from writing, his real passion is exploration, which led him to spend a year living in a tent in the High Arctic, where he trained and worked as an Arctic guide.

Learn more about this author