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The Fall of Dragons
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 31, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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In the climax of the Traitor Son Cycle, the allied armies of the Wild and the Kingdoms of men and women must face Ash for control of the gates to the hermetical universe, and for control of their own destinies. But exhaustion, treachery and time may all prove deadlier enemies.
In Alba, Queen Desiderata struggles to rebuild her kingdom wrecked by a year of civil war, even as the Autumn battles are fought in the west. In the Terra Antica, The Red Knight attempts to force his unwilling allies to finish the Necromancer instead of each other.
But as the last battle nears, The Red Knight makes a horrifying discovery. . .all of this fighting may have happened before.
Maneuvers and Evasions
Harndon—Queen Desiderata of Alba
The same sky, still unstained by the line of new volcanoes belching ash in the north, hung over Harndon. The queen had come home to her capital, flushed with victory and new motherhood, cradling her son, Constantine, in her arms, to the thin cheers of her hungry and plague-infected people.
Harndon looked like a woman beaten by a drunken spouse; signs hung awry, there were burns and smoke damage everywhere, and no one smiled, or sang. The city seemed empty of children, and too quiet. The center of the city, the “palace” as it was known, rich stone houses packed close in around the Episcopal Palace, was a gutted ruin. A spring and summer of civil unrest and war had decimated the city’s nobles and left its mark on merchant and guildsmen alike.
And where the Knights of Saint Thomas had reopened their hospital, there was a line of anxious women, all with silent children. The only sound was coughing. There was a fashion growing for women to carry black linen handkerchiefs, to hide signs of the plague; men and women were wearing hoods, and some wore linen over their faces, too.
Grand Prior John Wishart left the queen to a palace full of spiders and roaches and mice. The former Archbishop of Lorica had hated cats, and ordered them exterminated, so there were suddenly rats in the grain supply. And the first detachment of nuns and brother knights looked exhausted; they had dark circles under their eyes and many were utterly drained of potentia. Prior Wishart dismounted with sixty Knights of the Order at his back and another fifteen nuns from the northern priories, and before the evening bells rang for vespers, they were grinding Umroth bone to powder and working ops in the infirmary.
Harmodius, the greatest magus in the kingdom, was with them. He had spent his power like a wastrel son on the ride south from the Inn of Dorling, working cures every day, casting wide into the countryside and returning empty in the evening from visiting plague-stricken hamlets and solitary farms, sometimes alone, sometimes with a priest and a pair of nuns with powers of their own, or merely with the human power of their devotion.
Ser Gerald Random, the kingdom’s richest merchant and the acting Chancellor of the Kingdom and Mayor of Harndon, had seized every ounce of Umroth ivory in the city, and sent it to a pair of veteran practitioners—just emerged from the archbishop’s prison cells—to be tested. As soon as the ivory was judged and valued, it was ground to powder by apothecaries and sent to the grand priory in the ancient temple. There, workmen struggled through the night to fit panes of horn to mend the great windows smashed by Gallish brigands and the Harndon mob, too; the sound of breaking glass had proven equally beautiful to both sides. Even as they blocked the draughts, novices and squires mixed philtres while the mages and the brother knights with power to heal worked on the growing crowds of plague victims; and too many people who were merely afraid.
And there, while attending to a woman so afflicted that her life hung by a golden thread, Prior Wishart heard the news from one of the Order’s initiate squires; Eufemmie Muiscant had just come from the castle with more Umroth ivory, and she had seen the imperial messenger bird and heard the queen’s comments.
Wishart tried to keep his focus as he wrestled with the notion that the nun with whom he’d debated the perils of love just months before had had a public apotheosis in the midst of her convent.
The Prior of Harndon, second officer of the Order in Alba, Ser Balin Broadarrow, looked up from his own patient in the next bed when young Eufemmie was done telling her news.
“Squire, be so good as to fetch clean linens for this bed,” Ser Balin asked courteously. As soon as the young woman was gone, he shook his head at Ser John. “Sister Amicia is a saint? In my lifetime?” The Prior of Harndon was a round-faced, portly man; a life of arms and abstention did not seem to affect either his girth or his good cheer. “God works in mysterious ways.”
Wishart bore down, concentrating on his working; cleaning the afflicted woman’s blood in a laborious sweep that was far more like the drudgery of a long patrol in the Wild than like a reckless cavalry charge of power. The cure took time, power, concentration, and patience, and any missed animiculae resulted in the caster having to work the patient all over again; it had happened too often, and every failure wasted the precious resources of ops and ivory.
But there was a specific feeling in the patient and in the aethereal when the corpus was clear of infection, and Wishart could feel the denouement coming. He honed his concentration the way he would have done in prayer, walling off thoughts of Amicia’s elevation, of her powers and their loss. His thought became a torch, burning away the poison in the woman’s blood, and then the moment of triumph was reached, and she sighed, and he sat back, his attention relaxing gradually until he could release his focus. Almost no time had passed in the real; he glanced at Ser Balin and replayed the brother knight’s words inside his head.
He smiled. “I’m really not surprised,” he said.
Balin put a hand on his own patient, testing her for a recurring fever. “But … in our lifetimes! Someone we know!” He laughed aloud. “What a wonderful thing!” He winked at his commander. “Perhaps I’ll address a prayer to her now.”
“Balin,” Wishart said.
“Is it true?” asked Sister Mary. She burst in, arms full of creamy white linen sheets, and she didn’t even curtsy.
But Balin grinned. Sister Mary was one of his favourites; she had been with Amicia until Easter, and was developing into a fine young doctor. And had just tested for enough latent power to be trained further. “Yes,” he said without preamble.
Wishart shook his head. “Friends,” he began, and then he heard the cheering.
He had been about to caution them to keep the news to themselves, but throughout the priory, men and women were cheering.
Sister Mary dropped down on her knees and began to pray.
Master Pye had returned immediately with his apprentices; the smoke of their forges had appeared within days of the fight at Gilson’s Hole, and now they were casting metal. He felt the lack of Duke and Edmund, away with the emperor and the army, but he had absorbed all the staff of six master bell-casters and they were fine young men and women, and with a dozen of his older younglings, he was hard at work. He had Master Landry, the best bell-maker in all Alba, at his side, to supervise the casting.
In the next yard, sixty out-of-work millers learned how to use spoke shaves while a dozen carpenters under a journeyman knocked up shave-benches from planks and firewood.
“Ye want six hundred wheels?” the wheelwright master, Master Pearl, complained. “Blessed Saint Thomas! Is this on top o’ yesterday’s order?”
Mistress Anne Bateman, now Lady Anne, and Becca Almspend, soon to be Lady Lachlan, stood in the muddy yard, their overgowns filthy to the ankle, each carrying wax tablets covered in dense columns of markings. “Yes, master,” Lady Anne said. “Six hundred more wheels.”
“I dinna ha’e the wood,” he protested.
“Buy it,” Almspend snapped. “We are paying.”
“Blessed Trinity. Lady, there’s no more good board lumber to be had …” He shook his head.
“If I find you the lumber …?” Lady Anne said.
“Then I need some loons to work it!” the northerner shouted. “By the cross o’ Christ, madam!”
“Find them,” Almspend said. “Stop all work on any other project.”
“I ha’e that already!” he protested.
“In the city. The queen orders it. No wheel is to be built for any reason, nay, not even for the queen’s carriage or a baby’s pram, until these wheels are completed and these wagons built.”
The wheelwright looked at them for a moment. Then he crossed his arms.
“Fine,” he spat.
“Master.” Lady Anne put a hand on his arm. “We are in a fight to the finish, and just now, that fight is as likely to be won by wheelwrights as by swordsmen and magisters.”
He thought about that a moment, and a smile lit his face. “Well, that’s bra’ly put,” he admitted. “I’ll do wha’ I can.” He paused. “Jesus.” He bowed his head at the name, piety, and blasphemy mixed in a single gesture. “Wha’ in the de’il’s name is Pye doin’? Consortin’ wi’ daemons? That’s the stink o’ hell!”
Indeed, the sulphur reek rolled across the wheelwright’s yard like a cloud of poison.
“He’s making the cargo,” Almspend said. “You make the wheels. Oh, and all of your apprentices are seconded to the royal army. As of now.”
“By all that’s holy!” the master complained. “But …”
“War,” said Lady Anne. “Send your people in groups of ten to the Order of Saint Thomas for inoculation against the plague.” She handed him a pass bearing the royal seal.
“What’s next?” she asked Becca Almspend.
“Paper-makers,” Becca responded, looking at her tablet. “Master Elena Diodora. Or should I say, Mistress.”
The two left the yard and trudged north along the street.
Lessa moved quickly through the darkening streets. Above her head, a great, dark column like distant smoke climbed out of the north and west, a reaching hand of darkness that scared her more than the scarred killer she’d chosen to follow. She had her reasons, just as no doubt he had his own.
She was dressed like a beggar or a prostitute, in ragged wool kirtle several sizes too large and a shapeless overdress whose lower hem was almost black with old mud. She was barefoot, and the filthy streets oozed a cold mud that stank like nothing she’d ever encountered before she’d undertaken this adventure.
She didn’t like the looming darkness in the north, and she didn’t like that men watched her as if she was prey. She was careful, moving from cover to cover, aware that Tyler should have sent Tom or Sam on this mission except that they were both as stupid as the oxen they’d followed all their lives.
Yet for all her care, she didn’t see the man until he stepped out from a narrow alley. His open palm slammed into her shoulder and with the same arm he spilled her into the muddy street.
He put a booted foot on her stomach. “Whose little whore are you?” he asked. “Mine now, sweetie. Someone’s a fool for letting you walk alone where big bad men like me can find you.”
He was tall, strongly built, with a handsome face and a sword at his hip and fine gold earrings. He might have been a courtier in foppish Galle clothes, but everything about him shouted pimp. The clothes were too tight, the shoes too worn.
He leaned down. “Oh, sweeting, fear not. We will be such friends.” His smile was as false as the jewel in his dagger hilt.
Lessa glanced at the mouth of the alley to make sure he didn’t have a bravo at his back and then plunged a little dagger into the back of his calf. He shrieked and fell; she rolled over, fouling her whole gown, and ran.
Her limbs felt weak and she hated her weakness; her hands trembled even as she ran, and she had to lean against a building and master herself, so great was her fear and revulsion. But there was no pursuit and in a minute she had her head together. Then she went more carefully, passing along the north of Cheapside and glancing briefly at the crowds outside the grand priory. The word was that the knights were curing the plague. Tyler said the knights were their enemies as much as the king and queen, and Lessa wasn’t sure she agreed.
But she passed them, passed the ruins of the Episcopal Palace, and went up the hill past the burned stone shells of a dozen rich houses that now protruded like rotten, crumbling teeth in a fresh corpse’s mouth. She climbed the mound that led to the oldest part of the castle, almost directly above the temple, and there were a dozen inns nestled under, and in some cases, resting against the walls of the great fortress; the Inns of Court, where young men and a few women went to learn the law and the ways of courts, the rules of courtesy and knighthood and government, at least in better times. Since the troubles and the plague, the inns were all but deserted, which Lessa knew was bad for her little mission. She looked terribly out of place in her stinking muddy overgown.
But her bad fortune was balanced by good; the old soldier at the door of the Queen’s Arms Tavern knew that he had an empty tap room behind him and he wasn’t going to turn away a customer, even if it was some drabble tail puke from Cheapside. He reached out to give her a casual squeeze and only withheld his hand at the smell of her muddy gown.
Lessa promised herself that when the Day came, he’d be dead. Then she slipped past him into the common room, where fewer than a dozen men sat at the ancient tables, drinking the inn’s excellent beer.
And her good fortune continued, for there, at the farthest table, was a man in a green hat with a yellow feather. She swayed her hips and arched her back and moved across to him with a confidence that she didn’t feel; that she almost never felt, in fact, except when she had a bow in her hand.
He was older than she had expected; forty or fifty, with grey in his beard and hair. He looked as hard as iron; as hard as Tyler. For all that, his nails were clean and his sword was good.
“Do you like to hunt the deer, then?” she said as she went up to him.
“Only in the season of the year,” he answered. Correctly.
Her knees were weak with relief. She vowed inwardly that she would never do this again.
“Christ, you stink,” he said.
She stood frozen. She didn’t know what whores did; did she sit down?
He glanced up. “Don’t sit. We’re not friends.” He gave her a very small smile, as if to soften the words. “Beer?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I was attacked,” she said softly.
He shrugged, as if people were attacked every day, which might have been his notion of the world. He waggled a finger and a tall, heavyset man appeared with the bushiest eyebrows Lessa had ever seen.
“A pint of bitter for the whore,” her mission said. “And someplace I can get my business done.”
“Not in my place,” the keeper said, shaking his head. “We’re a royal inn.”
The man at the table leaned back and showed a golden leopard in his hand.
“Perhaps you’d like a room?” the keeper suggested wearily.
“If I must,” the bastard at the table said. “A kitchen bench is more her speed.”
“Not in my kitchen,” the keeper said. He vanished.
“You have to dress better to come in here,” the bastard said. He shook his head. “This is bad enough already.”
Lessa shrugged. She was afraid all over again. Because a man with a sword, in a room with a lock, could go very badly for her, and no one was going to come and help her.
At the top of the inn stairs, when he glanced into the room, she paused.
“I’m no whore,” she said softly.
He raised an eyebrow. “I know,” he said, and went into the room.
She followed, and he closed the door behind her.
“Get rid of that overgown,” he ordered her.
She shook her head.
“Mary Magdalene, girl!” he spat. “I won’t rape you. My word on it. But you stink like a sheep a week in the grave.”
She stripped off the overgown.
He threw it out the window. “I’ll give you my cloak,” he said. “So, here we are.”
“My friend wants to meet your friend,” she said.
“My friend is watched night and day,” the man said. “And your friend’s the most wanted man in the kingdom.”
Lessa shrugged. “Our friends want the same thing,” she said. Although personally, she didn’t think it true. She knew that the voice, that shadowy demon thing that talked to Tyler, had ordered him to make this approach. She knew because she listened in the night. They lived with beggars; there was no privacy. She knew why she was here, and she didn’t fully agree with it.
The man with the grey beard frowned. “I’m not sure of that at all,” he said, as if echoing her thoughts. “My friend is a loyal servant of the queen.”
“Really?” Lessa asked with more tartness than she ought to use. “Then why are you meeting me at all?”
The question hung in the air.
There was a knock at the door, and the man rose from the chair, went, and fetched two earthenware cups and a pitcher of ale from the keeper.
“Shall I pour?” he asked with old-fashioned courtesy.
He handed her the bitter and she took a sip, and then more, with gratitude. She felt better immediately.
The man smiled. “That’s a proper mug,” he said. “Aye, you’re a sharp one. I didn’t expect a woman, and I didn’t expect a whore, and I didn’t expect a witty answer like yon. So … mayhap you and your friend know a thing or two. What’s the game?”
She looked at him. If he was false, then once she said the words, she was a dead woman. But Tyler was in a hurry, and she had, for her sins, volunteered. It seemed stupid now.
“We kill the queen and her babe,” she said. “Towbray becomes king, and we’re all pardoned. An’ we weren’t born yesterday; we get guarantees so that we don’t find ourselves dancing in halters at your friend’s coronation.”
The man flushed. “Treason,” he said.
“Your friend’s hobby,” she mocked.
“Fuck you, witch,” he said. But he didn’t come at her. She sat, and was afraid, despite her mouth, which usually ran away with her. And how did he know she had Power?
“You aren’t a whore,” he said. “You’re not even a peasant.”
“Right now I’m a fucking beggar,” she said.
“You’re the only beggar in Harndon who pronounces all the letters in fucking,” he said. He took a long pull on his bitter. “Noble?”
“Not your business,” she said.
“Actually it is,” he said. He leaned back, as if he wanted her to feel unthreatened. “It is because if you are gently born, I’m more likely to trust you, frankly. I don’t love Jacks, and neither does my friend.”
“We don’t love you, either,” Lessa said.
“East Brogat?” he asked.
“I’m not a lord. I’m a Jack,” she said with pride. “Who I was and what crimes I committed are no man’s business, nor woman’s.”
He met her eyes, and his were steady. “I’d hate to think you were some well-born runaway,” he said. “A little adventure, a little fun, and then you run home and sell us all to the hangman.” He smiled. “Maybe a boy you want rid of?”
“Fuck. You.” She had no trouble meeting his eye.
He shrugged. “Let’s do it,” he said suddenly. He drained his beer and stood up. “Next time, in the Oar House in East Cheaping by the docks. It’s rough; send a man, or dress like a real whore. Wear a scarlet hood and carry a black handkerchief; no one but a madman troubles a chit with the plague.”
She wanted to bridle, but his words made sense. “When?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I have no idea,” he said. He tugged at his beard. “Day after tomorrow, same time,” he said. He opened the door slightly, tugged at his sword and used his left thumb to crack it out of the scabbard, looked both ways in the empty hall. He looked back at her and winked and tossed his cloak on the bed; a fine wool cloak with fur in the hood. “Room’s yours for the night,” he said. “Though I wouldn’t linger,” and he was gone out the door and down the steps.
Later, after she’d told everything to Tyler, she lay under the man’s cloak in the beggar’s hall, the undercroft of the former Guild Hall of the Drapers, burned by the Galles. The upper stories had fallen in, but the basements were mostly intact, and the King of the Beggars and his court had moved in.
Tyler came and sat cross-legged like a tailor by her palette of straw. “One more thing,” he said.
She rolled over. Out in the smoky hall, a man was beating another with his fists. Closer in, two women made love in relative silence. “Yes?” she said softly.
He gestured with his thumb. “What’d he look like? Your contact?”
She thought about it. “Middle height, grey beard, sharp nose, beard and mustache like a courtier, sword hands; clean nails, calluses. Clean linen.”
“Scars?” Tyler asked.
“On the backs of both hands.”
Tyler made a motion with his mouth; she didn’t like it, because she associated it with his hiding something. But in this case the old Jack nodded. “Kit Crowbeard,” he said. “You did well,” he said, the rarest of praise.
“Comrade?” she asked. “Why kill the queen?” She paused. “I mean, I know why. But why for Towbray?”
Tyler leaned close in the whisper-filled darkness. “We will bring it all down,” he said softly. “Let it all burn. Then we’ll be free.”
But you take orders from a demon, Lessa thought. She was still trying to parse it when she fell asleep.
Mistress Helewise was watching her daughter flirt. Her daughter was standing in their yard, now finally clear of refuse, with swept cobbles and one neat pile of horse dung by the stable door, there apurpose. The well worked and had a pump, and by the pump stood two tall, well-muscled young men, Jamie Le Hoek and Haegert Coucy, squires, and today, reapers. Most of the women had been out in the fields; the wheat was tall and dark autumn gold, the grains full and hard so that the stalks bent a little with the weight; the wheat and the oats were both ready to be harvested, and it was the fullest harvest anyone could remember, if on the fewest farms. Viewed from the roof of Helewise’s stone manor house, there were more fields fallow than tilled, stretching away to the walls of Albinkirk; the red and gold of the trees had to replace the glowing gold of crops in too many places. But if the planting had been sparse, the crop was rich beyond imagining, and they were too few to reap it all and get it into the barns and stone silos.
Helewise had used her store of favours to bring a dozen tall young men from Albinkirk. She was a good neighbor; she’d helped with many a birth, with the serving of fine dinners, the presentation of a supper to the great Duchess of Ticondonaga, the laying out of corpses. People liked her, and because of that, the acting Lieutenant of Albinkirk, the recovering Grand Squire, Ser Shawn LeFleur, saw to it that the squires and junior men-at-arms left behind by the alliance when the army marched west were at her service. He’d come himself; his left side swathed in bandages, his face largely covered in an elaborate silken hood he wore buttoned tight to hide the burns. Now he sat behind her in her best settle, his muddy boots on a scrap of burlap; he’d worked the day through despite his fine clothes and the obvious pain of his burns.
“Your hippocras is the best in the county,” he said with his usual courtesy.
Her daughter had just hit Jamie Le Hoek in the head with a very accurately thrown wedge of soap. Her best soap. Phillippa had worked all day in the fields; her hair was a brown tangle, her forehead shone with sweat, and Helewise was sore afraid that her daughter was the most beautiful woman for a hundred miles. And she had never looked better, despite sweat stains and some honest dirt, or perhaps because of it.
Pippa’s friend Rose, who’d lived with them since the first attacks killed Rose’s papa, came into the yard, tossed her hair, and crowned her friend with a garland of roses.
“Queen of the field workers, that’s me,” Pippa said. “Ouch! Thorns!”
Rose vanished behind her hands, laughing, and young Coucy joined her. “Perfect,” he said. “A crown of thorns for the prickly Pippa.”
“Prickly Pippa picked a peck of perfect pears,” Rose said.
- "I cannot recommend the Traitor Son Cycle enough... amazing."—SF Signal on The Fell Sword
- "The Red Knight is an excellent debut... [It] will only get better as the series progresses... You will be won by the intricate story and sophisticated world building."—Fantasy Book Critic on The Red Knight
- "Promising historical fantasy debut featuring an expansive cast, an engaging plot, and a detailed eye for combat."—The Ranting Dragon on The Red Knight
- "Literate, intelligent, and well-thoughtout...a pleasingly complex and greatly satisfying novel."—SFF World on The Red Knight
- "A rousing read."—SF Signal on The Red Knight
- On Sale
- Oct 31, 2017
- Page Count
- 688 pages