The Red Knight


By Miles Cameron

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Miles Cameron weaves an epic tale of magic and mercenaries, war and depravity, politics and intrigue in this action-packed debut fantasy The Red Knight.

Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild.

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men — or worse, a company of mercenaries — against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.

The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it’s just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with.

Only it’s not just a job. It’s going to be a war. . .

If you’re a fan of Mark Lawrence, John Gwynne, or Brian McClellan you won’t want to miss out on this intricate, epic debut fantasy.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of Promise of Blood


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Chapter One

Albinkirk—Ser John Crayford

The Captain of Albinkirk forced himself to stop staring out his narrow, glazed window and do some work.

He was jealous. Jealous of a boy a third of his age, commanding a pretty company of lances. Riding about. While he sat in a town so safe it was dull, growing old.

Don't be a fool, he told himself. All those deeds of arms make wonderful stories, but the doing is cold, wet and terrifying. Remember?

He sighed. His hands remembered everything—the blows, the nights on the ground, the freezing cold, the gauntlets that didn't quite fit. His hands pained him all the time, awake or asleep.

The Captain of Albinkirk, Ser John Crayford, had not started his life as a gentleman. It was a rank he'd achieved through pure talent.

For violence.

And as a reward, he sat in this rich town with a garrison a third the size that it was supposed to be on paper. A garrison of hirelings who bossed the weak, abused the women, and took money from the tradesmen. A garrison that had too much cash, because the posting came with the right to invest in fur caravans from the north. Albinkirk furs were the marvel of ten countries. All you had to do to get them was ride north or west into the Wild. And then come back alive.

The captain had a window that looked north-west.

He tore his eyes away from it. Again.

And put pen to paper. Carefully, laboriously, he wrote:

My Lord,

A Company of Adventure—well ordered, and bearing a pass signed by the constable—passed the bridge yesterday morning; near to forty lances, each lance composed of a knight, a squire, a valet and an archer. They were very well armed and armoured in the latest Eastern manner—steel everywhere. Their captain was polite but reserved; very young, refused to give his name; styled himself The Red Knight. His banner displayed three lacs d'amour in gold on a field sable. He declared that they were, for the most part, your Grace's subjects, lately come from the wars in Galle. As his pass was good, I saw no reason to keep him.

Ser John snorted, remembering the scene. No one had thought to warn him that a small army was coming his way from the east. He'd been summoned to the gate early in the morning. Dressed in a stained cote of fustian and old hose, he'd tried to face down the cocky young pup in his glorious scarlet and gold, mounted on a war horse the size of a barn. He hadn't enough real soldiers to arrest any of them. The damned boy had Great Noble written all over him, and the Captain of Albinkirk thanked God that the whelp had paid the toll with good grace and had good paper, as any incident between them would have gone badly. For him.

He realised he was looking at the mountains. He tore his eyes away. Again.

He also had a letter from the Abbess at Lissen Carak. She had sent to me last autumn for fifty good men, and I had to refuse her—your Grace knows I am short enough of men as it is. I suppose she has offered her contract to sell-swords in the absence of local men.

I am, as your Grace is aware, almost one hundred men under strength; I have but four proper men-at-arms, and many of my archers are not all they should be. I respectfully request that your Grace either replace me, or provide the necessary funds to increase the garrison to its proper place.

I am your Grace's humblest and most respectful servant, John Crayford

The Master of the Guild of Furriers had invited him to dinner. Ser John leaned back and decided to call it a day, leaving the letter lying on his desk.

Lissen Carak—The Red Knight

"Sweet Jesu," Michael called from the other side of the wall. It was as high as a man's shoulder, created by generations of peasants hauling stones out of fields. Built against the wall was a two-storey stone house with outbuildings—a rich manor farm. Michael stood in the yard, peering through the house's shattered main door. "Sweet Jesu," the squire said again. "They're all dead, Captain."

His war horse gave the captain the height to see over the wall to where his men were rolling the bodies over, stripping them of valuables as they sought for survivors. Their new employer would not approve, but the captain thought the looting might help her understand what she was choosing to employ. In his experience, it was usually best that the prospective employer understand what he—or she—was buying. From the first.

The captain's squire vaulted over the stone wall that separated the walled garden from the road and took a rag from Toby, the captain's page. Sticky mud, from the endless spring rain, covered his thigh-high buckled boots. He produced a rag from his purse to cover his agitation and began to clean his boots. Michael was fussy and dressed for fashion. His scarlet company surcoat was embroidered with gold stars; the heavy wool worth more than an archer's armour. He was well born and could afford it, so it was his business.

It was the captain's business that the lad's hands were shaking.

"When you feel ready to present yourself," the captain said lightly, but Michael froze at his words, then made himself finish his task with the rag before tossing it back to Toby.

"Apologies, m'lord," he said with a quick glance over his shoulder. "It was something out of the Wild, lord. Stake my soul on it."

"Not much of a stake," the captain said, holding Michael's eye. He winked, as much to amuse the onlookers of his household as to steady his squire, who was pale enough to write on. Then he looked around.

The rain was light—just enough to weigh down the captain's heavy scarlet cloak without soaking it through. Beyond the walled steading stretched fields of dark, newly planted earth, as shining and black in the rain as the captain's horse. The upper fields toward the hills were rich with new greenery and dotted with sheep. Good earth and fertile soil promised rich crops, as far as the eye could see on both sides of the river. This land was tamed, covered in a neat geometric pattern of hedgerows and high stone walls separating tilled plots, or neatly scattered sheep and cattle, with the river to ship them down to the cities in the south. Crops and animals whose riches had paid for the fortress nunnery—Lissen Carak—that capped the high ridge to the south, visible from here as a crenelated line of pale stone. Grey, grey, grey from the sky to the ground. Pale grey, dark grey, black.

Beyond the sheep, to the north, rose the Adnacrags—two hundred leagues of dense mountains that lowered over the fields, their tops lost in the clouds.

The captain laughed at his own thoughts.

The dozen soldiers nearest him looked; every head turned, each wearing matching expressions of fear.

The captain rubbed the pointed beard at his chin, shaking off the water. "Jacques?" he asked his valet.

The older man sat quietly on a war horse. He was better armed than most of the valets; wearing his scarlet surcote with long, hanging sleeves over an Eastern breastplate, and with a fine sword four feet long to the tip. He, too, combed the water out of his pointed beard while he thought.

"M'lord?" he asked.

"How did the Wild make it here?" The captain asked. Even with a gloved hand keeping the water from his eyes, he couldn't see the edge of the Wild—there wasn't a stand of trees large enough to hide a deer within a mile. Two miles. Far off to the north, many leagues beyond the rainy horizon and the mountains, was the Wall. Past the Wall was the Wild. True, the Wall was breached in many places and the Wild ran right down into the country. The Adnacrags had never been cleared. But here—

Here, wealth and power held the Wild at bay. Should have held the Wild at bay.

"The usual way," Jacques said quietly. "Some fool must have invited them in."

The captain chuckled. "Well," he said, giving his valet a crooked smile, "I don't suppose they'd call us if they didn't have a problem. And we need the work."

"It ripped them apart," Michael said.

He was new to the trade and well-born, but the captain appreciated how quickly he had recovered his poise. At the same time, Michael needed to learn.

"Apart," Michael repeated, licking his lips. His eyes were elsewhere. "It ate her. Them."

Mostly recovered, the captain thought to himself. He nodded to his squire and gave his destrier, Grendel, a little rein so he backed a few steps and turned. The big horse could smell blood and something else he didn't like. He didn't like most things, even at the best of times, but this was spooking him and the captain could feel his mount's tension. Given that Grendel wore a chamfron over his face with a spike a foot long, the horse's annoyance could quickly translate into mayhem.

He motioned to Toby, who was now sitting well to the side and away from the isolated steading-house and eating, which is what Toby tended to do whenever left to himself. The captain turned to face his standard bearer and his two marshals where they sat their own fidgeting horses in the rain, waiting for his commands.

"I'll leave Sauce and Bad Tom. They'll stay on their guard until we send them a relief," he said. The discovery of the killings in the steading had interrupted their muddy trek to the fortress. They'd been riding since the second hour after midnight, after a cold camp and equally cold supper. No one looked happy.

"Go and get me the master of the hunt," he added, turning back to his squire. When he was answered only with silence, he looked around. "Michael?" he asked quietly.

"M'lord?" The young man was looking at the door to the steading. It was oak, bound in iron, and it had been broken in two places, the iron hinges inside the door had bent where they'd been forced off their pins. Trios of parallel grooves had ripped along the grain of the wood—in one spot, the talons had ripped through a decorative iron whorl, a clean cut.

"Do you need a minute, lad?" the captain asked. Jacques had seen to his own mount and was now standing at Grendel's big head, eyeing the spike warily.

"No—no, m'lord." His squire was still stunned, staring at the door and what lay beyond it.

"Then don't stand on ceremony, I beg." The captain dismounted, thinking that he had used the term lad quite naturally. Despite the fact that he and Michael were less than five years apart.

"M'lord?" Michael asked, unclear what he'd just been told to do.

"Move your arse, boy. Get me the huntsman. Now." The captain handed his horse to the valet. Jacques was not really a valet. He was really the captain's man and, as such, he had his own servant—Toby. A recent addition. A scrawny thing with large eyes and quick hands, completely enveloped in his red wool cote, which was many sizes too big.

Toby took the horse and gazed at his captain with hero-worship, a big winter apple forgotten in his hand.

The captain liked a little hero-worship. "He's spooked. Don't give him any free rein or there'll be trouble," the captain said gruffly. He paused. "You might give him your apple core though," he said, and the boy smiled.

The captain went into the steading by the splintered door. Closer up, he could see that the darker brown was not a finish. It was blood.

Behind him, his destrier gave a snort that sounded remarkably like human derision—though whether it was for the page or his master was impossible to tell.

The woman just inside the threshold had been a nun before she was ripped open from neck to cervix. Her long, dark hair, unbound from the confines of her wimple, framed the horror of her missing face. She lay in a broad pool of her own blood that ran down into the gaps between the boards. There were tooth marks on her skull—the skin just forward of one ear had been shredded, as if something had gnawed at her face for some time, flensing it from the bone. One arm had been ripped clear of her body, the skin and muscle neatly eaten away so that only shreds remained, bones and tendons still hanging together… and then it had been replaced by the corpse. The white hand with the silver IHS ring and the cross was untouched.

The captain looked at her for a long time.

Just beyond the red ruin of the nun was a single clear footprint in the blood and ordure, which was already brown and sticky in the moist, cool air. Some of the blood had begun to leech into the pine floor boards, smooth from years of bare feet walking them. The leeched blood blurred the edge of the print, but the outline was clear—it was the size of a war horse's hoof or bigger, with three toes.

The captain heard his huntsman come up and dismount outside. He didn't turn, absorbed in the parallel exercises of withholding the need to vomit and committing the scene to memory. There was a second, smudged print further into the room, where the creature had pivoted its weight to pass under the low arch to the main room beyond. It had dug a furrow in the pine with its talons. And a matching furrow in the base board that ran up into the wattle and plaster. A dew claw.

"Why'd this one die here when the rest died in the garden?" he asked.

Gelfred stepped carefully past the body. Like most gentlemen, he carried a short staff—really just a stick shod in silver, like a mountebank's wand. Or a wizard's. He used it first to point and then to pry something shiny out of the floorboards.

"Very good," said the captain.

"She died for them," Gelfred said. A silver cross set with pearls dangled from his stick. "She tried to stop it. She gave the others time to escape."

"If only it had worked," said the captain. He pointed at the prints.

Gelfred crouched by the nearer print, laid his stick along it, and made a clucking sound with his tongue.

"Well, well," he said. His nonchalance was a little too studied. And his face was pale.

The captain couldn't blame the man. In a brief lifetime replete with dead bodies, the captain had seldom seen one so horrible. Part of his conscious mind wandered off a little, wondering if her femininity, the beauty of her hair, contributed to the utter horror of her destruction. Was it like desecration? A deliberate sacrilege?

And another, harder part of his mind walked a different path. The monster had placed that arm just so. The tooth marks that framed the bloody sockets that had been her eyes. He could imagine, far too well.

It had been done to leave terror. It was almost artistic.

He tasted salt in his mouth and turned away. "Don't act tough on my account, Gelfred," he said. He spat on the floor, trying to get rid of the taste before he made a spectacle of himself.

"Never seen worse, and that's a fact," Gelfred said. He took a long, slow breath. "God shouldn't allow this!" he said bitterly.

"Gelfred," the captain said, with a bitter smile. "God doesn't give a fuck."

Their eyes met. Gelfred looked away. "I will know what there is to know," he said, looking grim. He didn't like the captain's blasphemy—his face said as much. Especially not when he was about to work with God's power.

Gelfred touched his stick to the middle of the print, and there was a moment of change, as if their eyes had adjusted to a new light source, or stronger sunlight.

"Pater noster qui es in caelus," Gelfred intoned in plainchant.

The captain left him to it.

In the garden, Ser Thomas's squire and half a dozen archers had stripped the bodies of valuables—and collected all the body parts strewn across the enclosure, reassembled as far as possible, and laid them out, wrapped in cloaks. The two men were almost green, and the smell of vomit almost covered the smell of blood and ordure. A third archer was wiping his hands on a linen shirt.

Ser Thomas—Bad Tom to every man in the company—was six foot six inches of dark hair, heavy brow and bad attitude. He had a temper and was always the wrong man to cross. He was watching his men attentively, an amulet out and in his hand. He turned at the rattle of the captain's hardened steel sabatons on the stone path and gave him a sketchy salute. "Reckon the young 'uns earned their pay today, Captain."

Since they weren't paid unless they had a contract, it wasn't saying much.

The captain merely grunted. There were six corpses in the garden.

Bad Tom raised an eyebrow and passed something to him.

The captain looked at it, and pursed his lips. Tucked the chain into the purse at his waist, and slapped Bad Tom on his paulder-clad shoulder. "Stay here and stay awake," he said. "You can have Sauce and Gelding, too."

Bad Tom shrugged. He licked his lips. "Me an' Sauce don't always see eye to eye."

The captain smiled inwardly to see this giant of a man—feared throughout the company—admit that he and a woman didn't "see eye to eye."

She came over the wall to join them.

Sauce had won her name as a whore, giving too much lip to customers. She was tall, and in the rain her red hair was toned to dark brown. Freckles gave her an innocence that was a lie. She had made herself a name. That said all that needed to be said.

"Tom fucked it up already?" she asked.

Tom glared.

The captain took a breath. "Play nicely, children. I need my best on guard here, frosty and awake."

"It won't come back," she said.

The captain shook his head. "Stay awake anyway. Just for me."

Bad Tom smiled and blew a kiss at Sauce. "Just for you," he said.

Her hand went to her riding sword and with a flick it was in her hand.

The captain cleared his throat.

"He treats me like a whore. I am not." She held the sword steady at his face, and Bad Tom didn't move.

"Say you are sorry, Tom." The captain sounded as if it was all a jest.

"Didn't say one bad thing. Not one! Just a tease!" Tom said. Spittle flew from his lips.

"You meant to cause harm. She took it as harm. You know the rules, Tom." The captain's voice had changed, now. He spoke so softly that Tom had to lean forward to hear him.

"Sorry," Tom muttered like a schoolboy. "Bitch."

Sauce smiled. The tip of her riding sword pressed into the man's thick forehead just over an eye.

"Fuck you!" Tom growled.

The captain leaned forward. "Neither one of you wants this. It's clear you are both posturing. Climb down or take the consequences. Tom, Sauce wants to be treated as your peer. Sauce, Tom is top beast and you put his back up at every opportunity. If you want to be part of this company then you have to accept your place in it."

He raised his gloved hand. "On the count of three, you will both back away, Sauce will sheathe her weapon, Tom will bow to her and apologise, and Sauce will return his apology. Or you can both collect your kit, walk away and kill each other. But not as my people. Understand? Three. Two. One."

Sauce stepped back, saluted with her blade and sheathed it. Without looking or fumbling.

Tom let a moment go by. Pure insolence. But then something happened in his face, and he bowed—a good bow, so that his right knee touched the mud. "Humbly crave your pardon," he said in a loud, clear voice.

Sauce smiled. It wasn't a pretty smile, but it did transform her face, despite the missing teeth in the middle. "And I yours, ser knight," she replied. "I regret my… attitude."

She obviously shocked Tom. In the big man's world of dominance and submission, she was beyond him. The captain could read him like a book. And he thought Sauce deserves something for that. She's a good man.

Gelfred appeared at his elbow. Had probably been waiting for the drama to end.

The captain felt the wrongness of it before he saw what his huntsman carried. Like a housewife returning from pilgrimage and smelling something dead under her floor—it was like that, only stronger and wronger.

"I rolled her over. This was in her back," Gelfred said. He had the thing wrapped in his rosary.

The captain swallowed bile, again. I love this job, he reminded himself.

To the eye, it looked like a stick—two fingers thick at the butt, sharpened to a needlepoint now clotted with blood and dark. Thorns sprouted from the whole haft, but it was fletched. An arrow. Or rather, an obscene parody of an arrow, whittled from…

"Witch Bane," Gelfred said.

The captain made himself take it without flinching. There were some secrets he would pay the price to preserve. He flashed on the last Witch-Bane arrow he'd seen—and pushed past it.

He held it a moment. "So?" he said, with epic unconcern.

"She was shot in the back—with the Witch Bane—while she was alive." Gelfred's eyes narrowed. "And then the monster ripped her face off."

The captain nodded and handed his huntsman the shaft. The moment it left his hand he felt lighter, and the places where the thorns had pricked his chamois gloves felt like rashes of poison ivy on his thumb and fingers—if poison ivy caused an itchy numbness, a leaden pollution.

"Interesting," the captain said.

Sauce was watching him.

Damn women and their superior powers of observation, he thought.

Her smile forced him to smile in return. The squires and valets in the garden began to breathe again and the captain was sure they'd stay awake, now. Given that there was a murderer on the loose who had monster-allies in the Wild.

He got back to his horse. Jehannes, his marshal, came up on his bridle hand side and cleared his throat. "That woman's trouble," he said.

"Tom's trouble too," the captain replied.

"No other company would have had her." Jehannes spat.

The captain looked at his marshal. "Now Jehannes," he said. "Be serious. Who would have Tom? He's killed more of his own comrades than Judas Iscariot."

Jehannes looked away. "I don't trust her," he said.

The captain nodded. "I know. Let's get moving." He considered vaulting into the saddle and decided that he was too tired and the show would be wasted on Jehannes, anyway. "You dislike her because she's a woman," he said, and put his left foot into the stirrup.

Grendel was tall enough that he had to bend his left knee as far as the articulation in his leg harness would allow. The horse snorted again. Toby held onto the reins.

He leaped up, his right leg powering him into the saddle, pushing his six feet of height and fifty pounds of mail and plate. Got his knee over the high ridge of the war-saddle and was in his seat.

"Yes," Jehannes said, and backed his horse into his place in the column.

The captain saw Michael watching Jehannes go. The younger man turned and raised an eyebrow at the captain.

"Something to say, young Michael?" the captain asked.

"What was the stick? M'lord?" Michael was different from the rest—well born. Almost an apprentice, instead of a hireling. As the captain's squire, he had special privileges. He could ask questions, and all the rest of the company would sit very still and listen to the answer.

The captain looked at him for a moment. Considering. He shrugged—no mean feat in plate armour.

"Witch Bane," he said. "A Witch-Bane arrow. The nun had power." He made a face. "Until someone shot the Witch Bane into her back."

"A nun?" Michael asked. "A nun who could work power?" He paused. "Who shot her? By Jesu, m'lord, you mean the Wild has allies?"

"All in a day's work, lad. It's all in a day's work." His visual memory, too well trained, ran through the items like the rooms in his memory palace—the splintered door, the faceless corpse, the arm, the Witch-Bane arrow. He examined the path from the garden door to the front door.

"Wait on me," he said.

He walked Grendel around the farmyard, following the stone wall to the garden. He stood in his stirrups to peer over the wall, and aligned the open garden door with the splintered front door. He looked over his shoulder several times.

"Wilful!" he called.

His archer appeared. "What now?" he muttered.

The captain pointed at the two doors. "How far away could you stand and still put an arrow into someone at the front door."

"What, shooting through the house?" asked Wilful Murder.

The captain nodded.

Wilful shook his head. "Not that far," he admitted. "Any loft at all and the shaft strikes the door jamb." He caught a louse on his collar and killed it between his nails. His eyes met the captain's. "He'd have to be close."

The captain nodded. "Gelfred?" he called.

The huntsman was outside the front door, casting with his wand over a large reptilian print in the road. "M'lord?"

"See if you and Wilful can find any tracks out the back. Wilful will show you where a bowman might have stood."

"It's always fucking me—get Long Paw to do it," Wilful muttered.

The captain's mild glance rested for a moment on his archer and the man cringed.

The captain turned his horse and sighed. "Catch us up as soon as you have the tracks," he said. He waved at Jehannes. "Let's go to the fortress and meet the lady Abbess." He touched his spurs ever so lightly to Grendel's sides, and the stallion snorted and deigned to move forward into the rain.

The rest of the ride along the banks of the Cohocton was uneventful, and the company halted by the fortified bridge overshadowed by the rock-girt ridge and the grey walls of the fortress convent atop it, high above them. Linen tents rose like dirty white flowers from the muddy field, and the officer's pavilions came off the wagons. Teams of archers dug cook pits and latrines, and valets and the many camp followers—craftsmen and sutlers, runaway serfs, prostitutes, servants, and free men and women desperate to gain a place—assembled the heavy wooden hoardings that served the camp as temporary walls and towers. The drovers, an essential part of any company, filled the gaps with the heavy wagons. Horse lines were staked out. Guards were set.

The Abbess's door ward had pointedly refused to allow the mercenaries through her gate. The mercenaries had expected nothing else, and even now hardened professionals were gauging the height of the walls and the likelihood of climbing them. Two veteran archers—Kanny, the barracks room lawyer of the company, and Scrant, who never stopped eating—stood by the camp's newly-constructed wooden gate and speculated on the likelihood of getting some in the nun's dormitory.

It made the captain smile as he rode by, collecting their salutes, on the steep gravel road that led up the ridge from the fortified town at the base, up along the switchbacks and finally up through the fortress gate-house into the courtyard beyond. Behind him, his banner bearer, marshals and six of his best lances dismounted to a quiet command and stood by their horses. His squire held his high-crested bassinet, and his valet bore his sword of war. It was an impressive show and it made good advertising—ideal, as he could see heads at every window and door that opened into the courtyard.


  • "I cannot recommend the Traitor Son Cycle enough... amazing."—SF Signal on The Fell Sword
  • "The Red Knight is an excellent debut...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

On Sale
Jan 22, 2013
Page Count
300 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