The Plague of Swords


By Miles Cameron

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With more at stake than ever before, The Red Knight faces an uncertain future and is forced to team up with old enemies to defeat a greater evil in the fourth book in the Traitor Son Cycle.

One enemy has fallen. But a greater one still remains. Now, it’s war.

With one army defeated in a victory which will be remembered through the ages, now the Red Knight must fight again.

For every one of his allies, there is a corresponding enemy. Spread across different lands, and on sea, it will all come down to one last gamble. And to whether or not the Red Knight has guessed the foe’s true intentions.

With each throw of the dice, everything could be lost.


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Part I


Across the north of the Nova Terra and the Antica Terra, summer came. It came in Etrusca, where every man's thoughts turned to war, and to Galle and Arles, where famine stalked, war prevailed, and the Wild washed like a rising sea around the settlements of men. In Iberia, peasants prepared for a fine harvest—and lived in fear of the news from over the mountains.

Summer came first to the grain fields of Occitan in the Nova Terra, where the wheat was already golden as a maiden's hair and the cornstalks were knee high, promising the richest harvest that any woman could remember. And on the hills, the olive trees promised another kind of riches, while bunches of grapes began to form in weights that had the farmers cutting stakes and propping vines across the whole of the south, even as they looked over their shoulders for bogglins and wights.

But even the promise of agricultural riches was not enough to keep men from fear of the Wild. Rumours came from the north—from Alba—of civil strife and victories—confusing rumours of Wild allies, of human perfidy, of a church divided, a king killed and a young king born. Out in the new country beyond the mountains, most families—those that had survived the spring—packed their poor belongings and fled to the oppression and relative safety of noble landowners and heavy taxation. A handful of people from Occitan and Jarsay—woods men and women, for the most part, who spoke with Outwallers and irks—felt a sea change. The Fox and the Sossag ceased to raid, and a few irks approached the westernmost human settlements to offer trade.

But the changes were most profound in Alba. In Harndon, Ser Gerald Random kept order—aye, and more—in a city that had seen fire and battle. Three thousand Galles prepared feverishly to sail for Galle, where the royal army had been shattered—destroyed, in fact—by a mysterious host from the Wild, and the King of Galle was feared to be dead. A year of bitter rivalry between the city and Galle was put aside, and ships from Genua, Galle, Venike, and Alba were put at the disposal of the Sieur Du Corse to launch his men to rescue Galle's desperate people.

And in Harndon, returning citizens, exiled by the now-discredited de Rohan's government, or merely having fled the fighting, spoke aloud of the queen and of her newborn babe, the king, in the tones people usually reserved for church. As workmen cleared the last timbers from the ruin of the great tournament grounds, and as those same beams, adzed clear of their charred portions, were turned into new dwellings for those burned out of the fighting, hope swelled in the people, increasing as fast as the heat and new summer sun.

And farther north still, at Albinkirk, the queen herself sat, the focal point of hope for her realm, on the warm green grass of Midsummer's Eve, her babe across her lap and her back to a great oak tree that towered above her with a magnificent, cool canopy that kept the new heat at bay. The tree was ancient, and grew at the head of a narrow, steep pass that ran from the country north of Albinkirk into the Wilds of the Adnacrags, and here, in long-ago times, so it was said, Men and the Wild had met in council. The king, in her lap, cooed, gurgled, and tried to use his newfound hands to grasp the spectacular golden fur of the queen's new friend Flint, who sat with her under the tree. Flint was a clan leader of the Golden Bears, and his presence, as a chieftain of the Wild, with the Queen of Alba, who might herself have been styled "Queen of Men" that summer, marked them as the very center of the change that rolled outward from them over the Nova Terra.

Before them, a young wyvern, head high, crest engorged with blood, spat his protests against the encroachment of the Abbey of Lissen Carak on the traditional hunting and breeding grounds of his clan. By the queen, the abbess, Miriam, representative of the abbey, sat with head bowed, quietly translating the wyvern's words. Throughout the meadow that surrounded them was a curious fair, where men sold every product of human hands from Venikan glass beads and Hoek bronze kettles to the best Etruscan steel crossbows and Albin-made knives and linen woven by women at the very foot of the valley. Merchants from the Antica Terra hawked their wares shamelessly alongside brass-lunged farm wives and local cutlers, cordwainers, and armourers. A tall, handsome man with a travelling forge fitted premade Etruscan breastplates to wardens (never call them adversaries, brother!) and Outwallers who crowded his stall while a squire in the Red Duke's livery sat on a stool and sketched the scene rapidly, his lively charcoal capturing the beauty of the queen, the dignity of Flint, and the intense eagerness of one of Nita Qwan's young warriors to own a hardened steel breastplate, light as air, strong as magic. He negotiated quickly with his hands, offering so much Wild honey, so many pelts, and an agreement was reached for the Fair at Dorling, two weeks hence, without a word spoken. The smith measured the warrior with a tape of linen and made marks.

Adrian Goldsmith tossed his third sketch of the day aside and went on to his fourth, squandering a small fortune in paper because the captain had ordered him to do so. It was, in many ways, the richest scene of human and Wild interaction he had ever seen, or thought perhaps he ever would see, and he turned his back on the queen, who tended to draw every eye at the best of times, and then, against his will, turned back to her as Blanche, the captain's acknowledged mistress and the queen's handmaiden, leaned forward, her white-gold hair catching a ray of sun, her startlingly slender waist hard with muscle under her kirtle, to take the king from his mother's arms and change him into clean linen. The three of them formed something—it lasted only three heartbeats, and Adrian's charcoal fairly flew, capturing Blanche's attention, the queen's love, the king's fascination with Blanche's hair.

And then, freed of her son's weight, the queen rolled forward a little and bent her head, speaking quietly to Flint. The great bear raised his head, and nodded, slowly, and his muzzle opened and a series of short barks emerged—bear laughter.

The wyvern stood, poised as if for fight or flight, and perhaps, new to the ways of council and conciliation, that is how he saw the proceedings. Now the queen whispered to Miriam, and Miriam nodded. Then the Duchess Mogon—after the queen, perhaps the most important personage present—rose from her great chair of maple wood and joined in, her bronze and gold beak catching the same ray of sun that had penetrated the leaves to illuminate the light hair of Blanche Gold.

The queen bowed her head graciously to each, and then nodded to the wyvern, stretched her bare feet, and smiled.

"We find that the abbey is at fault in encroaching on your lands, Sythenhag. We will not attempt to examine the rights and wrongs—it is clear that these predate human occupation of the fortress. Nor is it the intention of this Tree of Judgment to force the Order from the fortress that they have protected so well most recently against our common enemy."

The wyvern bridled, its head shaking. Its great beak opened.

"But," said the queen, as if addressing a favoured suitor or a handsome squire, "It is clear to us all that the abbey need not resettle Abbington, which was destroyed in the late struggles. My justicar will assess the value—the human value—of the lost farms and make redress to the survivors in lands around Hawkshead and Kentmere, and the properties of the village of Abbington will be returned to the Wild."

Sythenhag—a very young wyvern to hold power in his clan—gave a screech. "But what of the other injustices we have suffered?" he spat at the Duchess Mogon. "What of the death of my father and mother at the hands of these—garum?"

The queen took a slow breath. It was the Red Knight who had, it appeared, killed Sythenhag's elders in the ambush on the Albin Gorge, and for that reason, he had been bidden to find other business while the council addressed the claims of the western wyverns. Which was as well. He was still recovering, and there were rumours...

But it was Mogon who answered. "My pardon, Your Grace," she said. "Sythenhag, you were informed—by me, in person—before appearing that the council had chosen to leave by any injury given or taken in open war. War kills. That war is over now. The abbey will return your easternmost lands. This is justice. Your elders chose to join Thorn, or were unjustly coerced, and fell afoul of men and their weapons, and are dead. Nothing can be done on this matter." She shrugged in callous indifference. "It is the way of the world...and a better justice than you would have in the Wild."

The silence that fell was broken only by the rapid sound of the armourer's hammer as Edmund Allen planished out his own raising strokes on an altered leg harness.

Sythenhag's crest remained perfectly erect. "Then I spit on your council, and when my people have grown in power and stature, we will avenge ourselves!"

The queen sighed.

Mogon snarled.

But now it was Flint—eldest of all the council—who rose. He roared—an angry sound—and the force of his roar filled the whole clearing from wood line to stone wall, and every head turned.

"No," he said. The calm dignity of his voice was a superb contrast to the roar. "No, you will not have revenge, cub. If you attempt such a thing, every thinking creature's hand will be against you, and you will be outlaws in and out of the wall, and your clan will be destroyed, root, branch, and tree. What is done is done. That is all the justice we can offer you. Accept it, and be reconciled or go west—far west—and never return."

A terrible silence followed. And again, Adrian Goldsmith's charcoal flew.

But Sythenhag was not the only wyvern present. Mogon stared pointedly at an older female, and she spread her wings and hissed—and men flinched, and women hid their children behind their skirts. A handful of mountain bogglins, marked by their mottled green-and-brown skins, fell flat and pulled their wing cases over themselves, as if attempting to be invisible.

Crests began to rise among all the wardens present.

But Beltan—one of the few elder survivors from the war, who knew she owed her life to Amicia's intervention—was not to be dissuaded, and she pushed into the space Sythenag needed to fly—a breach of space, among wyverns. For a moment, scents and wave fronts of fear and dominance flew like arrows in a battle of men—so many scents that Blanche wrinkled her nose and the young king screwed up his whole face and burst into angry tears.

But as Mogon had expected—indeed, as she had calculated—Sythenhag lacked the years and the presence to face down an elder female, and Beltan cowed him, drove him to submission—and then bowed her neck and head to Mogon, a curiously human gesture.

"Lady Miriam; Good Queen, Lord Bear, and Duchess of the West, we agree that this is justice." She looked down at Sythenhag, who was almost prone on the ground. "War pushes the young males to positions that they lack the maturity to fill," she said.

"Not just among wyverns," the queen said.

* * *

Forty miles to the north and east, Ser Gavin Muriens, the Green Knight, Earl of Westwall and increasingly known as the Green Earl, sat in a clearing in the woods, his great green silk pavilion at his back and a hasty map drawn in charcoal on the surface of his camp table. Around him were gathered his own officers as well as many officers of the Queen of Alba and the empire—including the Count of the Borders, whose daughter he was soon to marry; Ser Ricar Orcsbane, commanding a squadron of the Knights of the Order, no longer attainted and now in the field in their more usual capacity as the kingdom's mailed fist against the Wild; and the Faery Knight, who reclined with inhuman ease, between a Wild bogglin wight on one side and a famous human outlaw Jack, Bill Redmede, on the other. To further confuse matters, Redmede's brother Harald had been appointed captain of the royal foresters during the recent fighting in the west, and now stood uneasily with the other royal officers—Ser Ricar Fitzroy, the queen's captain of the north, for example, who was commanding only a handful of knights of Jarsay and the southern Brogat, while Ser Gregario, Lord Wayland, the queen's new Warden of Albinkirk, just appointed and still recovering from severe burns, commanded more knights. It might have been a nightmare of divided command and conflicting jurisdiction, except that the recent, massive victory over the sorcerer Thorn had forced their alliance to thrive and cooperate.

But it was not either of the famous Redmede brothers who was describing the day's fighting—the fifteenth day since the great battle. It was in fact Ser Aneas, the Green Earl's youngest brother and acting Master of the Hunt.

Aneas bent his knees and prayed, then rose to silence and waved a short ivory baton over the carefully drawn charcoal lines on the table. By his side, Morgon Mortirmir crossed his hands like a priest saying mass and spoke three sharp syllables.

The charcoal marks on the table rose—and began to form lines in the air, and the lines filled in with colour and texture. Even as the two magisters powered their working, the flat charcoal sketch rippled, grew, and settled into a model of the Adnacrags—or that piece of the Adnacrags within ten miles.

Men coughed. Behind the Green Earl, Sauce coughed until her hands were flecked with spittle.

Morgon Mortirmir frowned, but the casting did its work, and the model eventuated.

Aneas bowed his head. "Gentles all," he said softly, but his voice carried. "The Army of Thorn and Ash has now, to all intents, ceased to exist."

The Faery Knight winced when Aneas said the name Ash aloud, but not for long.

The Green Earl rose from his stool. He had heavy dark circles under his eyes, and he looked as if he might be forty, or even forty-five. His eyes were bloodshot, and his hair had a thousand wisps that played about him in the breeze.

"I know that you have all wondered why we had to exhaust ourselves like this," he said. Even his voice was tired. "But it is essential to the next forty years of life here that Ash not have the raw materials to form another army of the Wild against the alliance. The only way to ensure victory was by ruthless pursuit—tempered where we could with mercy for those capable of surrender." His voice took on a quality of fatigue that was echoed in every face—Ser Thomas Lachlan looked as if he'd aged a decade, Ser George Brewes appeared dead on his feet, and Ser Michael looked old enough to be his own father—while his father, who had changed sides so many times in the last year that he had a little space around him, nonetheless looked old enough to be Ser Michael's grandfather. "Sadly, Ash chose to make sure they died. It is my opinion—and only an opinion, but shared, I promise you, by my brother—that Ash has moved this war into a new phase, wherein he will attempt to exhaust us and our will to fight through the endless attrition of his slaves."

They had all been fighting for weeks since the battle at Gilson's Hole, moving and camping in the deepest woods, sometimes without food or sleep for two or three days at a time, in clouds of insects, wading across desolate swamps and climbing pathless hills. This was everyday war for royal foresters and Jacks, but not for belted knights and heavy horse. Even the irks and bogglins showed signs of strain.

The pursuit had indeed been ruthless to pursued and pursuers alike, and now—deep in the Adnacrags, on the shores of the Great Forked Lake where few wardens or bogglins and even fewer men had ever been—they had trapped the last formed body of creatures enslaved not to Thorn but to Ash and destroyed them in a bitter, and very one-sided, fight. It was not a fight that men or monsters would remember around campfires for anything but one-sided brutality—a simple massacre of the last remnants of Thorn's great army, the creatures who would not—or could not—surrender. Hastenochs from the deepest swamps, bogglins raised in the north or far west, and men and even a few bears lost to all reason.

Repeatedly, Morgon Mortirmir had used his powers—and the Faery Knight had used his own, Wilder yet—to try to break the chains by which Ash held them, but ever the distant dragon had contemptuously flicked their workings aside, dooming his creatures to a pointless death and mocking them all at the same time. But in the end, horrible, bloody, and exhausting, it was done, and nothing was left.

"We're done," Ser Gavin said. "Until Ash comes at us from the west. Even now, the queen is seeing to it that the Wild creatures in the rest of the Adnacrags are loyal to the alliance and not to Ash."

An old Outwaller hunter cleared his throat. He nudged Nita Qwan, the acknowledged war leader of the Huran and Sossag still in the field. Most of the Outwallers serving the alliance had gone home as soon as the great battle ended, but a hundred or so remained in the field.

Nita Qwan glared at his friend. But he knew his duty. "Where is Ota Qwan?" he asked. "We have not counted his corpse."

A collective sigh rose from the officers. It was followed by fits of coughing from a dozen men and women.

Aneas nodded to his brother and to his ally. "We have missed one of our principal objectives," he said, pointing to a red spot away to the north of the Forked Lake. "This is my best estimate of the location of forces still fighting under Kevin Orley. Ota Qwan. I would guess he has fewer than a thousand beings altogether—mostly men and daemons."

Ser Gavin looked at the glowing spot a moment.

Sukey, the company quartermaster, stood forth from the crowd of the company's officers. "Fuck," she said.

"That your professional assessment?" Tom Lachlan, Primus Pilus and the loudest voice in the army, except possibly Ser Danved, mocked his leman.

She looked at him and her eyes suggested that he could shrivel to ash and die. Even Bad Tom flinched at Sukey's anger. "We can't pursue any further," she said, her voice sharp. "There's no road!" she said. "We only have the food in our wagons, and then we start eating horses, and thanks to the horse plague, there's few enough o' them." She looked around. The Faery Knight looked at her in fascination, and Bad Tom growled at the silver-haired irk. The Faery Knight had proven himself to be...devoted to the pursuit of human women to a degree that some found delightful and others annoying or disturbing.

Sukey tossed her hair and rolled a bare shoulder at him, so that Bad Tom got halfway to his feet and Sukey laughed low in her throat. But she saw the look on Ser Gavin's face and straightened up. "And there's more men sick every hour," she reported.

Ser Gavin looked around—from Ser Christos and Ser Giorgos, who shared command of the imperial troops, to Bad Tom, who led the levies of the Green Hills and parts of the company, too. Both were allies—as much as the Faery Knight and his Wild Hunt and his bogglins and irks were allies.

"I propose we get out of here, at best military speed, with a good rear guard and appropriate caution," he said. "Anyone against?"

The Faery Knight stretched, more like a cat than a man, and rose to his feet. "I would like to have killed thisss Orley," he said. "Whatever he wasss born, he isss no longer man. Now, he isss sssomething rotten. I can tassste him from here." He nodded to Ser Gavin. "Where isss he going?"

The Green Earl nodded. "I, too, would like to finish him," he said. "But he's willing to starve his people to death, and I'm not."

"Perhapsss," the Faery Knight said. "Perhapsss we will hunt him from N'gara. He will crosss Mogon's landsss, or mine, if he stays on this course." His smile was pointy and predatory. "Let usss leave this fassstnesss of Wild beauty," he said.

Sauce coughed in her attempt to laugh. "Beauty, is it?" she asked. "Christ and Mary Magdalene and all the saints, I could do without Wild beauty. Give me an inn."

People laughed, and the mood was lightened.

Ser Gavin leaned forward. "Very well, then," he said. "Half the peasants of the Brogat are road building right now. We'll march east toward Ticondonaga, and link up with the main road crew." He looked around. "It is my intention to retake Ticondonaga—what is left of it, before we rest."

Sukey nodded. "Good. Better get some grain and some beeves waiting for us, Gavin."

Gossips noted Sukey's familiar use of his name.

Ser Ricar Fitzroy spoke up. "Surely we should make for the queen and Albinkirk?" he asked. Then, embarrassed, "I'm sorry, Your Grace. I had no intention of questioning..."

The Green Earl laughed—a tired laugh, but a genuine one. "Ser Ricar, as of now, you have no real reason to obey me. The emergency is over. But if you seek my rede—and if you will allow me to rule you a few more days—I would rather that the army dispersed from the Inn of Dorling than from Albinkirk. There are many reasons, and not least of them is that the inn is the most central place in the alliance. I'll add that after we've eaten and fed our horses and rested, it is my view that a force should be kept in the field—under you, Ser Ricar, or perhaps Lord Wayland—to cover the road builders. Finally, the Fair at Dorling..."

Almost everyone nodded.

"It isss the wrong way for me and mine," the Faery Knight said. But he smiled and shrugged. "But it isss long and long sssince I have ssseen the inn. And perhapsss I would like to dance and sssing. There hasss been too much war."

"My brother is thinking to hold a tournament," the Green Knight said.

Sauce coughed, and then whooped. "Now you're talking!" she said. She was not alone, and men drooping with fatigue suddenly began to perk up.

Bad Tom pumped his fist in the air.

Ser Michael laughed. "A real tournament, and not just His Nibs doing all the fighting?" he asked.

Gavin shrugged. "That's what I'm told. So. Fast as we can for the road head at Ticondonaga. Then rest, and make our way to the inn. I hope the queen and my brother will meet us there."

Ser Aneas spoke up. "My lord, some of our scouts have detected tracks moving east away from Orley's survivors."

"Oh, for some loyal wyverns," Gavin muttered.

The Faery Knight shrugged. "In time, if your queen isss fair, ssshe will have wyvernsss. They are loyal, when their loyalty isss fairly won."

The earl nodded. "I'd like to give chase—I wouldn't want any of Orley's monsters loose—"

Aneas bowed. "I would like to go, my lord. I have the needed powers. If I might have a few of the people who have worked with me since Gilson's Hole, I believe I could track the quarry and make a kill."

The Redmede brothers managed to meet each other's eyes.

"Suits me," said Bill Redmede.

Harald nodded. "Woods," he said. "It's what we do."

* * *

An hour later Aneas had his pick of the royal foresters and the Jacks. He was young, relatively untried, and he took his job very seriously.

Aneas was neither as tall nor as broad as his older brothers, a slim man of middle height. Unlike his dark-haired kin, he was blond, and had slightly slanted green eyes like his mother that gave him a very Irkish look. In point of fact, irks took to him easily; he already spoke many words of their ancient and complex tongue, and his mastery of the ars magika was odd and esoteric, covering only the aspects of the art that interested him. He had been his mother's favourite, and that marked him in other ways.

In the twilight of late afternoon, he wore a golden brown jupon in plain linen and deerskin hose in Outwaller moccasins. Instead of a long sword, he wore a heavy baselard and a pipe axe like those carried by Outwaller shamans. He carried a simple roll pack with one blanket, one cloak, and one clean shirt. He did not look like the brother of two of the most powerful men in the world.

He looked like an irk ranger, and despite his youth and their fatigue, when he chose a man or woman, that person grinned to be chosen. Whatever differences of height or power, he had the family trait.

People would follow him.

He chose three foresters, all northerners; Ricard Lantorn came from the company's rangers to continue his revenge. He chose three Jacks, and the first and most eager was Ricar Fitzalan. They were already fast friends. The other two were both women; careful, cautious, and deadly, the two had made a mark before the whole army in ambushing a rhuk in the swamps and finishing him—alone. They were Cynthia, a nobleman's daughter from the Brogat, tall and strong, with messy dark hair in a bad braid, and Cigne, a young woman who'd come north with the Prince of Occitan with no experience of the wilderness, and found herself in love with it.

And a pair of irks volunteered as well, Lewen and Tessen, as did the bogglin Krek. He was a mountain bogglin, an Adnacrag native, mottled and old enough to have moss at the base of his wing covers.


  • "I cannot recommend the Traitor Son Cycle enough... amazing."—SF Signal on The Fell Sword
  • "The Red Knight is an excellent debut... You will be won by the intricate story and sophisticated world building."—Fantasy Book Critic
  • "Will only get better as the series 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-thought-out...a pleasingly complex and greatly satisfying novel."—SFF World on The Red Knight
  • "A rousing read."—SF Signal on The Red Knight
  • "A very solid continuation of the tale for readers who have been following the adventures of Gabriel in Cameron's sprawling alternate historical Europe... will entertain readers and get them excited for the next book."
    Publishers Weekly on The Plague of Swords

On Sale
Oct 25, 2016
Page Count
512 pages

Miles Cameron

About the Author

Miles Cameron is a full time writer who lives in Canada with his family. He also writes historical fiction under another name. The Traitor Son Cycle series is his fantasy debut.

Learn more about this author