Wrath of the Usurper Available Now!

Wrath of the Usurper, Book II of the Eoriel Saga
Wrath of the Usurper, Book II of the Eoriel Saga

Wrath of the Usurper is now available on Amazon and will be available soon in paperback form.  If you’ve missed the snippets from it, they are here, here, and here.  The cover was made by the very talented Zoe Frasure.

Civilization is dying.

The lands of the Five Duchies are in chaos. They are leaderless and each land stands alone. Besieged by barbarians, savages, fell beasts, and infighting, few doubt that the end times are upon them.

Yet all is not lost. In the East, Lady Katarina Emberhill has begun an uprising against the Usurper and those who follow her carry relics from the time of the High Kings. In Boir, Lord Admiral Christoffer Tarken forges alliances and defends his lands. And in the Eastwood, powers that have been silent for eons are stirring and turning their eyes to the outside world.

But the key is the Usurper Duke, a man drawn to savagery and battle. His victories in his personal war against the Armen have swelled the ranks of his army. Who will draw the wrath of the Usurper: will he turn it against his own rebellious people or levy his forces against the threats to all civilized men?

You can buy it from Amazon now!

Wrath of the Usurper Full Book Wrap
Wrath of the Usurper Full Book Wrap

Wrath of the Usurper Snippet Three

Here’s the third scene from Wrath of the Usurper for your reading pleasure.  As a reminder, Wrath of the Usurper comes out tomorrow, May 30, 2015.  The first two snippets are available here and here.

Aerion Swordbreaker

The Eastwood

15th of Pargan, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

Aerion ducked under a blow and brought his shield around to block another. Aerion’s face was drawn in concentration. His opponent struck again, faster than he had expected and far faster than he could react, and the blow caught him painfully in the left arm. His wooden practice blade spun out of his numb arm, his fingers unable to hold its weight.

Aerion took several steps back and held up a hand, “Alright, enough, I yield!”

“So quickly, then, Swordbreaker? You may one day find yourself fighting without a blade, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to practice that,” Simonel Greeneye said with a smile as he lowered his own practice weapon. The other man didn’t use a shield or another weapon in his off hand, instead he wielded the long blade ambidextrously and sometimes with two hands. Of course, his ‘practice blade’ was almost as ornate as his actual sword, what Aerion had heard called Mede Khmali. Simonel was tall for a Wold, a bit taller than Aerion’s own six feet of height, lean and muscular. His long, raven black hair normally hung free, though for their sparring session he had it braided, while his reddish bronze skin had a light sheen of sweat.

Aerion, on the other hand, was well aware that his blonde hair, pulled back into a tail for the sparring session, had come loose and was sodden with sweat. His skin and clothing were both drenched as well, and he caught a whiff of himself, a mix of rust and oil from his scale mail and sweat from exertion. The tall Wold was disgustingly capable, to the point that Aerion had come to judge his own success not on scoring hits, but upon lasting a few seconds longer in one of their sparring sessions.

It would have been disheartening, yet it seemed that the Wold King was just as effective against his own people, some of whom had not just decades or centuries but thousands of cycles of experience. As if to punctuate that thought, Aerion felt a hand clap his shoulder, and he turned to find another of the Wold. Ceratul smiled at him, “Well fought, young one. If nothing else, your persistence is admirable.”

Aerion flushed a bit, but he gave the other man a smile. Ceratul was the Wold’s Warmaster, their military commander, though, from what he had seen, Simonel took a large part of that authority himself. While Amelia, the other royal guest, had said that Ceratul seemed to dislike non-Wold in general and Starborn in particular, Aerion had found Ceratul to be nothing but friendly.

“Though if we doubted that, our first meeting would have proven your determination,” Ceratul said. Aerion shook his head at the reminder. The long, running fight that had led him to the Eastwood was almost a blur now. He was more amazed at his own survival than anything else, particularly after the fight in the ravine where he had faced a seemingly unending stream of Armen raiders and their Noric allies. Aerion had led them away from Lady Katarina and the rest of his friends, fully expectant that he would not survive, yet the Wold had appeared at the last minute, apparently drawn by the horn he had found in the ruined fortress of Southwatch.

Simonel seemed to notice his discomfort, “Ready to go again?”

Aerion bent to pick up his practice blade. It was new, made by one of the Wold craftsmen, and it was almost exactly the same weight, length and shape as the broken blade he had also found at Southwatch. When Simonel had first offered to spar and Aerion had declined with the excuse that he only had the weapons he carried. The next day, the Wold King had gifted him with the weighted wooden practice blade.

Aerion gave the other man a nod, still somewhat uneasy at the free ways of the Wold. They seemed to hold Simonel with great respect, but their informality still caught him off guard at times. Aerion settled into a defensive stance and waited, his feet set and his weight centered. Simonel gave him a slight smile, “You’ll never win if you fight entirely on the defense, Swordbreaker.”

Aerion felt his face flush at the title. He had told Amelia about the label given to him by his friends, for his knack of breaking every sword he’d ever taken into combat. The only exception was the broken blade he’d retrieved at Southwatch. Since that’s crafted out of star metal and already broken, Aerion thought dryly, that isn’t saying much. Still he hadn’t expected the Boir noblewoman to take such glee in spreading the story.

Yet the amusement that the Wold showed when they used the title was tempered with something like respect, Aerion knew, which embarrassed him all the more. I’m a low-born, commoner, from a remote village, who will never know his father’s name, Aerion thought, somewhat bitterly. He knew he had accomplished much, but he also felt uncertain about the praise, almost as if he took credit for the deeds of someone else.

Simonel gave a war cry and came in. His long practice blade flashed in a sharp, downward arc. Aerion caught the strike with his shield, confident that his own strength could match that of the Wold King. Despite the fact that they were nearly even in height, Aerion had a heavier frame, with muscle gained from cycles of working the forge as a boy and months of combat and training. Simonel backed a bit, “I forget how strong you are, sometimes, Aerion.”

Aerion smiled in return, “Best to play to my strengths.”

“Indeed,” Simonel said with a smile of his own. A moment later, without changing expression, he leapt forward into a lunge. Aerion managed to deflect it with his shield, but Simonel spun into a series of attacks, mixing fast slashes, lunges and blows from his feet and hands that forced Aerion to parry and block more and more desperately, until finally, the Wold King swept Aerion’s feet out from under him to drop Aerion on his back.

Aerion grunted as he forced his lungs to draw breath, “Well fought.”

Simonel offered him a hand and pulled Aerion to his feet. “Well fought, yourself, you’re improving, Aerion.” His voice was warm and reassuring, but Aerion didn’t miss an edge of something else there, almost concern, though he couldn’t guess why.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Aerion said with a snort. “I certainly can’t match your speed and skill.”

“I’m only human, Aerion Swordbreaker,” Simonel said with a frown, “And don’t underestimate your skills, I think you’ve a natural talent, and once you reach your full growth, by Amuz Nebeli, you’ll really be a monster to face.”

“Thanks,” Aerion said, “Though I think I’m done sparring for the day.” Aerion was only eight cycles of age, he knew, but he still towered over many older men and many of the Wold.

“Giving up so soon?” A light voice asked from behind him. Aerion turned to find Lady Amelia Tarken. “I thought the indomitable Swordbreaker would last longer.”

Aerion gave her a quick bow, “Thank you, Lady, but I’m afraid that King Simonel has the advantage.” While she had been friendly and seemed to adopt much of the Wold informality, she was still a Starborn noblewoman and part of Aerion rejected any notion of treating her as anything else. In the outside world, no one would care how he might interact with the Wold, who were almost mythical due to their isolation. However, a low-born commoner showing familiarity to a noblewoman was likely to have very bad things happen as a consequence. While he was unlikely to encounter Lady Amelia in the greater world, she wasn’t the one he was really worried about, he could privately admit.

And it’s a good practice to maintain here, he thought, to better prepare myself for when I rejoin Lady Katarina. Even at that thought he felt his heart ache a bit. He had known all along that he should never dream of friendship, much less the attraction he felt for the exiled heir to the Duchy of Masov. Still, her words at Southwatch had hurt, especially the acknowledgment that she felt that same attraction… and that they could never give into it.

Amelia’s companion cleared her throat and Aerion started a bit, realizing that he had paused longer than was socially acceptable. “Princess Tirianis,” Aerion nodded respectfully.

King Simonel’s sister gave him a wicked smile in return, “So formal, still, young Swordbreaker? We’ll have to break you of that, else the outside world will come to doubt our savage ways and decadent natures.” She was almost as tall as her brother, with the same raven black hair and bright leaf-green eyes, though her skin was a red-gold color somehow softer than Simonel’s. Instead of Simonel’s leather sparring armor, she wore a green dress that clung to her figure in a fashion that would have made him blush and stammer only a few weeks earlier.

Aerion flushed a bit, suddenly reminded of the bathing area where men and women gathered irrespective of sex. It had been an enlightening experience upon his first visit. Combined with the variety of behavior and the odd ways they had tried to make him feel welcome, he could only shake his head and smile, “Don’t worry, Princess Tirianis, I’m sure they won’t believe my tales anyway.”

***

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Civilization is dying.

The lands of the Five Duchies are in chaos. They are leaderless and each land stands alone. Besieged by barbarians, savages, fell beasts, and infighting, few doubt that the end times are upon them.

Yet all is not lost. In the East, Lady Katarina Emberhill has begun an uprising against the Usurper and those who follow her carry relics from the time of the High Kings. In Boir, Lord Admiral Christoffer Tarken forges alliances and defends his lands. And in the Eastwood, powers that have been silent for eons are stirring and turning their eyes to the outside world.

But the key is the Usurper Duke, a man drawn to savagery and battle. His victories in his personal war against the Armen have swelled the ranks of his army. Who will draw the wrath of the Usurper: will he turn it against his own rebellious people or levy his forces against the threats to all civilized men?

Once again, Wrath of the Usurper will be available tomorrow, 30 May, 2015.

Review: Phoenix In Shadow

Phoenix in ShadowPhoenix in Shadow is the sequel to Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising. The first book introduced the main characters and gave the reader some idea of the level of threat (as well as capabilities) of the heroes and some of the antagonists. What Phoenix in Shadow did was blow all this up. The villains are shown to be that much more powerful, the threats the world faces are all the more terrible, and the heroes have to step up their game or face the consequences.

The great part about this is that we see the consequences of the heroes actions magnified. The not so great thing is that the tension is ratcheted up to the point that it becomes a little too intense at times.

Again, Ryk Spoor delivers what he’s great at. We have heroes whose actions matter and who stand up to defend those in need. More than that, we see opportunities for redemption for those who struggle against the evil within themselves. The villains are powerful, sometimes incredibly so, but they are still motivated by real emotions and motives.

Power and the effect it has upon those who possess it is a strong theme in both the book and the series. The difference between the good and bad people in these books is not only how they use the power they have, but also how they go about obtaining more… or even if they dare to do so.

My one complaint would be that some of the action sequences towards the end felt a bit… anime-esque. I enjoyed them, but at times I couldn’t help but feel the action was too big, the energy dealt with was too much.

I really enjoyed Phoenix Rising and as a sequel, Phoenix in Shadow had large boots to fill. It did that, and more, it brought a level of adulthood to the characters that they didn’t have before. They were faced with evil darker than they had before seen and they grew as a result.

Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix in Shadow

SEQUEL TO PHOENIX RISING

When Kyri Vantage, Phoenix Justiciar of Myrionar, with the help of her companions Tobimar Silverun of Skysand and the unexpectedly dangerous little Toad, Poplock Duckweed, defeated monstrous killer Thornfalcon and unmasked a conspiracy of treacherous False Justiciars, she knew the job was only partly done. A dark power stirs on the far side of the terrifying Rivendream Pass. Now, as the world shudders at the arrival of the Black City, of the King of All Hells, Kyri, Tobimar, and Poplock must venture beyond Rivendream Pass and into Moonshade Hollowa place from which none have ever returned. What they find there will challenge everything they believe in and conceals a menace they cannot imagine.

Wrath of the Usurper Snippet Two

Here’s the next section of Wrath of the Usurper.  We get a glimpse of Kerrel Flamehair and where she is headed:

Commander Kerrel Flamehair

City of Longhaven, Duchy of Masov

15th of Pargan, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

Commander Kerrel Flamehair led Nightwhisper slowly down the ramp and onto the solid stone pier. Though the war horse did so with slow, calm steps, Kerrel didn’t miss the chuff of relief from her stallion as all four of his hooves stood again on dry, stable land.

She gave a snort and patted the stallion on one broad shoulder, “You’re getting worried in your old age, Nightwhisper? Maybe I should trade you out for a younger, braver horse that’s not afraid of a little water or too feeble to swim if the ship goes down?”

The stallion turned his head and bared his teeth at her and Kerrel laughed and patted his shoulder, “Okay, maybe you’re not that old and feeble.”

“He’s not the only one to be glad to be ashore,” Baran’s gruff voice spoke from behind her. “And begging our newly promoted Commander’s pardon, but if she’d be gracious enough to move her younger backside out of the way there’s others that would like to be getting on with the gratitude of being ashore.”

Kerrel rolled her eyes at that and led Nightwhisper out of the way while her second in command led his own horse down off the transport ship. Kerrel gave him a stern expression as he came down the ramp, followed by Jonal and his horse. “It’s a good thing I’m such a calm and patient sort, Baran. If I had any kind of temper then such language might draw penalties, especially were I given to letting my new promotion go to my head.” She tossed her head and her red hair swung over her shoulder. Normally she kept it tied back, but it had come loose during the unloading.

“Yes,” Jonal said gravely. “A very detached and calm individual our fearless leader, never one to hold a grudge or get emotional.”

Kerrel leveled a green-eyed gaze on the shorter, red-haired man, “You should be glad for that temper of mine, cousin, else you might still be spending your days a prisoner to the Vendakar… or worse!”

Baran grunted, “She’s got a point, lad.”

“She might,” Jonal admitted after a moment.

“Captain, uh, that is, Commander,” a voice spoke from nearby. Kerrel recognized one of the new recruits by his accent, the Duchy of Asador burr still harsh and strong and not yet worn down from dealing with men of the other Duchies. “Sergeant Lamar asked me to take care of your horses, said that you probably need to get to see him about some of the logistics.”

Kerrel grimaced. She had enjoyed a bit of respite from Lamar while operating under Lord Hector’s Northern Army. They had an entire logistics company to deal with paperwork and the actual movement of supplies and equipment. Sergeant Lamar knew his job and knew it well… but he had a tendency to take an unholy joy in drowning her and Baran in paperwork, all of it vital, but still dreary.

“I guess I should let her Commander-ship get to her duties then,” Baran said gravely.

“Begging your respects, sir,” the new trooper said, “but Sergeant Lamar specifically said that he wanted you and young master Jonal to come as well.”

Kerrel laughed at Baran’s grimace. The old soldier hated such meetings. Which wasn’t to say he didn’t understand their importance. “Very well,” Kerrel said, laughter still light on her voice, “we will all meet with him, where has he set up?”

“He’s set up a temporary headquarters for you, Commander, at the Black Oar Inn,” the younger man said. “He said he’s warm food since you’ll have had nothing but ship food over the past few days.”

“True enough,” Baran grunted. “And old grumble-belly always finds the best food in town.”

“Thank you, trooper…” Kerrel paused and cocked her head, “are you one of Stanis’s boys?”

The younger man’s eyes went wide with surprise, “Yes, milady, uh, that is Commander. I’m Jurgan, his second son.”

“Glad to see you here, Jurgan, and mind the dark one. Nightwhisper has a wicked temper and likes to bite,” Kerrel said. She heard her horse chuff in disappointment behind her, but she ignored that. Her regular troops knew the horse’s ways, but someone like Jurgan would need the warning. She passed over the reigns and waved for Baran and Jonal to join her. A glance around the docks showed that the bustling port had taken no more notice of them. The traffic of mercenaries into the Duchy of Masov, called by the Usurper Duke’s offers of coin had become common here. Southern mercenaries took the bridge across the Ryft at the Ryftguard, but most mercenaries from Boir and Asador came in through the ports, and Longshaven was the largest port in the Duchy of Masov.

“You know the way?” Baran asked.

“I do,” Jonal said quickly. He flushed as Kerrel raised an eyebrow at him. “They, uh, have the best vintages in town.”

“Do tell,” Kerrel said.

He shrugged self-consciously, “They don’t serve any Vendakar wines, trust me.”

“Oh, I’ll trust you on that, all right,” Baran grunted. The Vendakar who had kidnapped Jonal and then framed him for the assassination attempt against Duke Hector had used drugged Vendakar wine, Kerrel remembered. That they had used his own enjoyment of fine food and drink against him had embarrassed him. That they had killed off the patrol he was supposed to ride with and then nearly killed Kerrel herself in the assassination attempt clearly still left him angry.

Not that anything of Vendakar make was in high demand anywhere in the Duchy of Masov, just now. When the full measure of their treachery had come to light, they had switched sides mid battle, it had taken five companies of heavy cavalry, led by Kerrel herself to bring back the tide of victory. If their treachery had succeeded, they and the Armen they had sided with would have wiped out the Usurper Duke’s Northern Army. The Armen raiders that Duke Hector fought would have come south and raided the rest of the Duchy and presumably the traitorous Vendakar mercenaries would have taken their own measure of loot and slaves.

As unpopular as the Usurper Duke might be, particularly in the south, no one had any complaints about his victory. Indeed, when word had gone out that it was open season on Vendakar merchants and mercenaries tied to the Houses who had plotted that betrayal, the popular reaction had been extremely violent. Since the Vendakar slavers had something of a reputation and there wasn’t a single Vendakar merchant who didn’t deal in slaves on the side… well, there were a lot of dead Vendakar within a few weeks of Duke Hector’s proclamation.

And anyone who had dealings with them is keeping low, she thought, even going as far as to destroy any of their goods they have rather than try to sell them. Which would probably lead to some economic issues as the trade dried up, she knew. The only people who did more trade than the Vendakar were the people of Boir, but relations with the Grand Duchy of Boir were tense. That tends to happen when you take power by killing off your uncle and his entire family, Kerrel thought sourly. She had seen much of Hector’s ruthlessness, but it still shocked her to think of just how willing he was to kill if he saw it as the best course of action. She knew the murder of his relatives weighed upon him, but he seemed to view it as his only course of action. Just as he views sending me south to make peace as his only option, she thought.

“I still don’t know why the hole company is headed south,” Baran grumbled. “Be a right pain to move us all, especially with all the new people, and still get them trained and properly integrated. Waste of good troops, too.”

Jonal looked over his shoulder, “I don’t expect much fighting to be had up north, not until the raiders return next spring. I mean, we destroyed the entire Armen army there on the Lonely Isle, there shouldn’t be anyone else to fight, right?”

“Might seem that way,” Kerrel said softly, “but that’s only looking at our battle in isolation.”

Baran grunted and spat to the side, “Damned Armen raided the Grand Duchy of Boir, sacked Port Riss, besieged Boirton, and, if the rumors are true, killed their Grand Duke and half their nobility. The raiders who went south will need to return home and the Lonely Isle has long been their staging area. They’ll be coming through by the thousands.”

Kerrel nodded, “Plus there were enough surviving Armen to defend their raid camps. Lord Hector will have to attack each of them, one by one, in order to burn them out. Meanwhile, the raiders coming home will be rich with loot and slaves and eager to protect it all and prove what great warriors they are.”

“Lots of skirmishing and fighting,” Baran nodded. “Lots of bastards need killing.”

Jonal led the way in silence for a bit. His voice was thoughtful when he spoke, “So then, why are we headed south? Lord Hector can’t have unlimited pocketbooks, he’s already leveraging heavy taxes on Masov, and he’s paying for our company to grow… shouldn’t he need us up North?”

Kerrel nodded in approval, though more for the thought he put into it and the economic implications he saw than in agreement of his final outcome. “Those taxes of his… and the way he took power, those caused him some issues in the South.” She sighed. Really, talking this over in the street was hardly the ideal location. While most people in Longhaven had their heads on business rather than listening in, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that there were spies abroad. She was certain there would be some who would pay to hear what Lord Hector’s recently promoted Commander of Cavalry and Ducal Investigator had to say about it all…and what she did have to say could be damaging.

Yet at the same time, what she had to say was no more than what most people already knew. “The southern nobility are angry over his treatment of them, they don’t like how he’s appointed men like Covle Darkbit to watch them.” Not that I blame them for that, she thought darkly, Darkbit is a bastard of the worst sort, “They also don’t like how Hector has taken away a lot of their autonomy.”

“Commoners are worse, though,” Baran grunted.

“Yes,” Kerrel nodded. “He’s hitting them the hardest with his new taxes, then setting men like Darkbit and Grel to collect those taxes. The taxes fund his campaign against the Armen raiders, but they are turning the general population against Hector in the process.”

Jonal pondered that and Kerrel hoped he would see the lesson and learn from it. The single-minded determination of Duke Hector the Usurper was admirable, in some ways. He certainly had spared his lands from the savage violence that had descended upon Boir, but he had brought a different kind of savagery to Masov, one where the people no longer trusted in their protectors, one where families on the ragged edge had to start thinking about survival come the long winter ahead. And if anyone understands how brutal winter can be, it’s the Duchy of Masov, she thought. The coastal Duchy often had the heaviest snowfall of all the Five Duchies during the long months of winter, with the southern highlands receiving forty or more feet of snow. Some places, she had heard, had up to eight months of snow-fall.

They came at last to the Black Oar Inn. The cheery sound of laughter and the warm glow of light from its windows “So what can we do?” Jonal asked, his voice uncertain.

“What we must, to keep the peace,” Kerrel said softly. She thought, suddenly of Lord Hector’s private discussion with her, before her departure. He asked me to be his assassin, she thought, knowing full well what it would cost me. She wasn’t sure she could do that, but she knew full well the stakes. Civil war loomed, with the dead Duke’s daughter backed by the southern nobility and the commoners and Hector backed by the northern merchants and tradesmen. That kind of war would leave the Duchy of Masov shattered, much like her own home of Asador. Could she kill an innocent woman to preven that? Even if I do kill Hector’s cousin Katarina, Kerrel wondered, would it do any good?

***

Wrath of the Usurper will be available on 30 May 2015

Review: Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising

Phoenix RisingRyk Spoor’s epic fantasy, Phoenix Rising, is unique in a lot of ways. For one thing, it is tied into several of his other works (most notably, Digital Knight/Paradigms Lost). If you’ve read some of his other books, it’s neat to see how things are connected.

The story seems simple enough, at its base: a young woman sets out in pursuit of justice after the murder of her family. The twists and turns, the betrayals and friendships are what make the story stand out, even as the richness of the universe is what makes the whole series worthwhile.

The world he created is full and rich with both characters and places, with a history and mythos that has as much to do with the story as the present day actions of characters. Most impressive, in some ways, is how real some of his characters seem based upon their motivations and actions, no matter how outlandish they are in other ways.

My favorite, I must confess, is Poplock Duckweed, an intelligent toad. Whereas other heroes in the book have superhuman strength, magical weapons, or arcane might, or even some combination thereof, Poplock makes due with his wits and his slight size.

One reason I like Ryk Spoor’s fantasy books is that the heroes are men and women (and toads) who take a stand for what they believe in. They go out and confront evil. While this might seem simplistic, it isn’t to say there aren’t all levels of other characters, good, bad, and everything in between. Against the dark and gray characters, his heroes shine all the brighter. To top this off, the humor and action are both top notch and the story is complex enough to keep you guessing right up until the end. If you haven’t read Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising, you definitely need to pick it up.

Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Rising

Kyri: a highborn young woman whose life is shattered by the murder of her kin. But even as Kyri flees her beloved land Evanwyl, she knows that she is her family’s only hope for justice, and Evanwyl’s only chance to escape a growing shadow of corruption and destruction.

Now Kyri must venture across Zarathan, a world on the brink of a long foretold Chaos War. It is a struggle that may usher in a long age of darkness— that is, if Kyri and her companions do not succeed in holding back the tide of evil that is rising. Those companions include valiant swordsman Tobimar Silverun, Prince of Skysand, exiled on the turn of a card and a prophecy, who is now seeking his people’s lost homeland; and Poplock Duckweed, an unlikely hero whose diminutive size is as much a weapon as it is a weakness.

Kyri’s quest is as simple as it is profound: find a legendary ancient weaponsmith, take up the sword and armor of a new order of warrior defenders, and bring the power of justice and vengeance to the evil and corruption that has darkened her native land.

Wrath of the Usurper Snippet One

Here’s the first snippet from Wrath of the Usurper, coming on 30 May!

Tarjak Rusk

Seige of Boirton

15th of Pargan, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

Tarjak pushed the slave girl to the side and snarled, “Food, drink, now!”

As the young woman crawled away, Tarjak smiled. She was a soft, southern thing, one of their nobles that his men had captured or so she had claimed. He, of course, had claimed her and it had not taken long to break her to his will. It had given him a unique feeling of power to take a proud and arrogant woman and make her into an abject slave. It was something he rather enjoyed.

“Tarjak,” a soft voice spoke nearby, “Hard at work, I see.”

Tarjak whipped to his feet with the speed and grace which had made him his clan’s chieftain. His sword in hand, he confronted the shadowy figure who stood at the end of his fur bedrolls. His blade lowered, though, as he recognized the hooded figure who clutched at a staff. “Oh,” Tarjak grunted, “It’s you… my Lord.” It grated on him to say the last, but he knew better than to deny the wizard his due. Tarjak knew well that he owed much of his own position and power to the other man.

Xavien gave Tarjak a smile, “If you are busy, I could always come back.” The softness of his voice didn’t fool Tarjak. It was as much a rebuke as if he had slapped Tarjak in the face.

Tarjak knelt, “My apologies, I am fully at your command, my Lord.” He felt sweat break out on his forehead and his back tingled in anticipation of pain. Xavien’s favorite tools were fear and pain, Tarjak knew. It was part of why he was so effective at gaining the loyalty of his fellow Semat Armen… those were some of the only techniques they respected.

“Good,” Xavien’s dark eyes went to the slave girl, “I don’t mind that you find ways to pass the time here in the south… but the time has come to end this siege, before it costs you too much.”

“What?” Tarjak asked. “But, we’ve taken so much loot, so many slaves, and many stockpiles of food. Why withdraw now?” Even as he said it, he realized his mistake.

Green energy lanced out and Tarjak dropped to the ground, his teeth clenched on a scream. As an Armen warrior, he knew pain, both how to give it and how to take it. As the chieftain of his clan, he knew that his survival required he not show any sign of weakness… and shrieking like a girl as the green energy seared his flesh was not something that would make him appear strong.

“Tarjak…” Xavien shook his head and ceased his torment. “My main complaint about your people is how you don’t have any tact… I fear I will have to break you to get you to show courtesy… and then you would be of no more use than the girl there.” Xavien chuckled a bit, “Though I’ll admit, I’d find you more attractive than her. At least you’ve some muscle on you.”

Tarjak tasted blood from where his teeth had torn the inside of his lips. He also smelled scorched hair and had little doubt that his skin would show the effects of Xavien’s attack in broad scorches and pain that would last for weeks. He rose to his knees again, though, and waited silently, either for more punishment or for his master to speak. To do otherwise would just bring worse.

“However, since you clearly didn’t understand me and no doubt you’ll have to argue down your tribesmen, I’ll tell you why.” Xavien leaned on his staff and Tarken could see that the wizard actually looked tired. Which means something wore him down, Tarjak realized with shock. Over the years that he had known Xavien, Tarjak had seen at least a dozen shamans challenge the wizard only to die, often in painful or embarrassing fashions. None of them, to include the most powerful shamans of the Semat, had been able to give him pause. If something had worn him, tired him… it must be a terrible foe indeed. Tarjak wasn’t quite certain whether to hope the foe had defeated his master or been defeated. While my fate is tied to his… I hate him enough to hope for his death, he thought, and I would go to the spirits a happy man to know he had been brought low.

“The Duchy of Boir has begun to re-consolidate,” Xavien said. “Though no one force is strong enough to face your entire army, as yet, it is only a matter of time. Also, your blow here has embarrassed them and shamed their military. Better for you to withdraw before they have some opportunity to gain even a minor victory against your men to give them hope.” Xavien paused and Tarjak nodded slightly to show that he understood. “Then, too, I’ve another task for my Noric allies and a very important task for some of your warriors when you reach the Lonely Isle… that is Nasar Ind as your people call it.”

“War with Hall Prakka?” Tarjak asked eagerly. While fighting the soldiers of Boir was enjoyable enough, the mercenaries and soldiers of Hall Prakka were more likely to fight in close combat and less reliant upon magic and deception. It felt more pure, somehow, to engage in that manner of war. Plus, he liked the mixed blooded women of Nasar Ind. They had spine and stubbornness. He had once captured a powerful priestess there… and he still remembered with pleasure how long it had taken his shamans to break her… and how he had used her body in that time.

“That is coming, yes. For now, I just want some of your more eager and disposable warriors,” Xavien said. “Men who will throw themselves at the enemy because they think themselves invincible,

Tarjak smiled, “You want fodder.” He thought of the young, eager warriors who always caused him problems and were most likely to challenge his authority. “I can give you those, my Lord.”

“Good,” Xavien said. “They will act as your rear guard… and I suspect they’ll take the highest of your casualties. I want you to take your finest warriors with you in the first movements. Leave the Norics to me… and make certain that your most reckless and bloodthirsty warriors are at the back.”

Tarjak nodded, even as he thought of how that would affect his people. They had always sent the most reckless warriors into combat first, to thin their numbers and to give the survivors combat experience. It also let more experienced warriors survive to face the enemy feeling well-rested and ready. This would be no different, save that his best and most loyal tribes would be the first to leave. They would be able to take most of the supplies from the raid camps at Nasar Ind. The other tribes, when they reached there, would have to forage or raid for supplies to make the final voyage to their homeland in the north. Also, as summer departed, the northern seas would grow more and more dangerous. Whatever forces trailed the furthest back would not only lose more warriors to the enemy… they’d lose many men to the seas.

Probably lose the iron ships, too, he thought darkly. He had been forced to leave those ships in the hands of the tribes who had seized them… for now. He had one as well, but the southerners had recaptured it. It embarrassed him that his sloop, once the largest among the Semat Armen was now tiny in comparison to the three iron ships that some of the other chieftains held. Still, they had taken terrible casualties in capturing those ships. Still, if those tribes lost the iron ships on the rough seas, at least the southerners wouldn’t have them. “I’ll see to it all, my Lord.”

Xavien gave him a final nod, “Good.” The wizard turned away, headed for the tent door. Over his shoulder, he spoke, his voice soft, “Soon the time will come when your people will claim these lands.”

Tarjak nodded, though in reality he didn’t want his tribe to live in these soft lands. The had already become sluggish and soft in the siege. He looked over as the slave girl brought him a tray with a glass of southern wine and slices of meat. Tarjak gave her a friendly smile as he took the tray. He reached out a hand and brought her to her feet.

Tarjak could feel the rapid, nervous beats of her heart, as fear worked through her veins. Tarjak’s smile turned ugly as he brought his sword up, under her ribs. The woman let out a gurgling shriek and Tarjak felt hot blood gush over his arms. He smiled as she sagged, a look of shock and terror on her face. “Why…” she gasped.

“You were a good slave,” Tarjak said. “But you saw too much. Besides, you are to soft to bear my seed… and I know you are pregnant and I’ll not see my blood diluted with the weaklings of the south.” He wiped his blade on part of her ruined silks and let her fall to the floor. He watched as she crawled away, leaving a vast trail of blood across the furs and carpets of his tent. Tarjak might enjoy the softness of the south, but he did not need it. Harshness and hardness had shaped him and his people… at the command of Hall Armath, the Dark Warrior.

Whatever the wizard thought, they would follow the Dark Warrior’s commands. They would be his people: savage, vicious, and harder than the stone of the mountains.

***

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!

Echo of the High Kings Book Sale

Echo of the High Kings, Book I of the Eoriel Saga
Echo of the High Kings, Book I of the Eoriel Saga

Just a friendly reminder that you can pick up my book, Echo of the High Kings, on sale this weekend for only .99 cents.  That’s four dollars off the normal price and as a bonus, the next book will be along in only two weeks.  So if you’ve been hesitating to pick it up, you have two great reasons to pick it up today and read it this weekend!  If you’ve already read it, tell your friends about it and let them know!

In Eoriel, the High Kings are legend: rulers who once stood against the darkness and ruled the world for two thousand turns of peace and prosperity. In the long turns since their fall during the Sundering, Eoriel’s civilization has faded. Dark men and darker beings have torn down and destroyed the old works. While some have held out against the grind of history, other places have been reduced to primitive tribes of savages, worshiping dark spirits and demons as their gods.

Yet a spark of hope remains. Some still believe in the old legends, some still fight to restore the old ways, and some will stand against the darkness, in an echo of the High Kings.

Echo of the High Kings