Tag Archives: epic

Free Short Stories for Honor Con

Since I’ll be at Honor Con this weekend, I’m making two of my short stories (Look to the Stars and The Freeport Mutineers) available for free from 28-31 October.  Read below for details.

Look to the Stars, a short story by Kal Spriggs
Look to the Stars, a short story by Kal Spriggs

Mason McGann is a smuggler, a liar, and a cheat. With his ship impounded by customs, he figures he has no choice left but to auction off information about the lost Dreyfus Fleet. But things are never what they seem when you hold information that can change the course of history.

Look to the Stars is a short story in the Shadow Space Universe

The Freeport Mutineers, by Kal Spriggs
The Freeport Mutineers, by Kal Spriggs

Young Midshipman Wachter is about to face the rope.

Troubled by the rumors spread throughout the Southern Fleet, the young officer turned to the Marines and Sailors under his command… yet he and they were betrayed, arrested, and convicted of mutiny, all under the orders of the ambitious Lord Admiral Hennings.

Faced with the prospect of not only his own death, but that of the men under his command, Wachter must somehow find a way to do the right thing. Yet there is little hope with he and his men jailed, weaponless, and condemned, while the town of Freeport lies under martial law and the threat of dark sorcery.

Only one course lays open to him, to break his oaths and to swear allegiance to the cause of another, to become exactly what his enemies have accused him of being: a mutineer.

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Fate of the Tyrant is Live!

Fate of the Tyrant by Kal Spriggs
Fate of the Tyrant by Kal Spriggs

Fate of the Tyrant is now live!  Get your copy just in time to enjoy over 4th of July weekend right here.  (I promise there’s plenty of explosions)

The Tyrant’s time has come.

Winter has come to the Five Duchies, a time of bitter cold when noblemen scheme and commoners wonder how to feed themselves through the long, dark months.

In the far north, the Warlord Tarjak Rusk stirs his forces, guided by the wizard Xavien, Herald to the dark spirit Andoral Elhonas.  Xavien knows that the time has come when the Five Duchies are vulnerable… and with the might of his master behind him, Xavien could conquer the civilized lands as an undisputed tyrant.

In the Duchy of Masov, Duke Hector the Usurper faces a civil war, brought on by the survival of Lady Katarina.  If he doesn’t squash this rebellion with the coming spring, he’ll face a war on two fronts.  Yet even if he wins victory, it will be a hard fought one against his own people, leaving scars that might never heal or even shattering the Duchy into splinters.

The fate of the Five Duchies might well be decided in Masov, but if Hector and Katarina cannot resolve their differences, then they’ll only be the first to fall to the raiders from the north.  Only if they can unite against him can they seal the fate of the tyrant.

You can get Fate of the Tyrant from Amazon as paperback and ebook.

Fate of the Tyrant Snippet Four

Here’s the fourth snippet of Fate of the Tyrant, coming on Thursday.  You can find the first snippet here and the blurb and cover here.

Chapter I

Lord Hector the Usurper Duke

Castle Ember, Duchy of Masov

14th of Ravin, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

 

Lord Hector considered the map for a long while before he slowly removed the last yellow peg from the hole near Lower Debber and replaced it with a red one.  With the loss of Lower Debber to Lady Katarina’s forces, he had no garrisons remaining in the south.  Not that I believed I could keep it, he admitted to himself, but I hoped it would at least occupy some of Katarina’s forces over the winter.

The town’s militia had some loyalty to him, seeing as his father, the late and unlamented Lord Mikhel, had called the town home.  Moreover, he’d exempted them from much of the wartime taxes elsewhere in the Duchy, mostly because they had provided their taxes in quality steel that his smiths turned into weapons and armor.  Now that steel would go to Katarina’s forces.  The garrison had fallen to a mix of sabotage and diplomacy, from the little he had heard.

That left him with just handful of notionally loyal mercenary bands in the south, most of them little more than bandits at this point.  Covle Darkbit’s force was the largest, yet Hector felt little trust for the man.  The rumors passed along by his informants made it clear that while Darkbit hurt Katarina’s forces, they had utterly alienated the general populace.

I wish I had listened to Kerrel and executed him, Hector thought, at least then there would be less blood on my hands.  The weight of his mercenary’s actions had grown upon him.  It was one thing to sack an Armen raid camp… it was quite another to hear the reports of this or that village burned to the ground, its people turned out into the coming winter.

And not all of them at Covle Darkbit’s hand, Hector thought with resignation.  There were red pegs in other locations than the south.  Most, if not all, were isolated by his own forces, but some would hold out the winter and he knew that his forces would be too dispersed to defeat them all and still guard the south against the army that Katarina would field in the spring.

This had all spiraled out of control and Hector knew exactly whose fault that was.  At least he had savaged the Armen enough that they shouldn’t be able to come south in force.  If nothing else, they would have to overcome his forces on the Lonely Isle first, who would have the entire winter to fortify and ready themselves.

While the Armen could bypass the island, their raiding sloops would be low on supplies and their fighting men would need days or even weeks to regain their feet after such a long ocean journey on their light vessels.  Odds were, whatever Armen were desperate enough for such a journey wouldn’t be in any condition to be a real threat.

Still, he thought musingly, some will probably try it.  His last messages from his spies in the north had reported the winter infighting to be particularly brutal.  It sounded as if Tarjak Rusk had begun an attempt to unify the Semat Armen, much as Marka Pall had unified the Solak.  If that were the case, Hector could expect a number of raiding parties from those forced out, made up of the desperate survivors.  In a cycle or two, Tarjak Rusk would probably come south in force, backed by a larger, more cohesive army.  I can only hope that bastard Tarjak comes within reach of my blade, Hector thought.  He would have to plan for that… assuming he could survive the civil war in his own lands, of course.

Hector turned to face the woman who had stood silent as he pondered the map.  “No words of wisdom?  No criticism of my tactics?”  He saw her lips go flat in disapproval and he restrained a sigh.  The barbed comment had been out of line.  Despite Commander Kerrel Flamehair’s stated disapproval of his tactics, she had backed him in every way that mattered.  Furthermore, she’d nearly been killed by Grel the Hound, who had proven to be an agent, witting or otherwise, of a sorcerer.

At least I can thank Katarina’s forces for dealing with that particular monster, Hector thought with some minor relief.  The mercenary had been his tool for dealing with the least pleasant of tasks.  He had become a monster somewhere along the way and Hector had simply used him as a blunt instrument, to smash his foes and create fear.

“I’m sorry,” Hector said to Kerrel.  “That was out of line.”  He sighed as he stared at the map of the Duchy… and considered the areas where he didn’t know enough to put a peg.  “What do you think about Countess Darkriver?” Hector asked.

Kerrel sighed, “I would say that holding two companies of hers as hostage to her good behavior would be enough, but I’m not certain anymore.”  She shrugged, “She has no way to contact them, not since you locked down on passage to and from the Lonely Isle, but she’s a hard one to read.”

Hector nodded, “And she’s capable enough of risking her people.  If she thinks signing on with Katarina will swing this civil war to a close before I can have her people killed in response… or that I would hesitate to do so, then she might do it.”

“Would you kill them?” Kerrel asked

Hector sighed, “To set an example?  I wouldn’t hesitate.  I know you trained with them, I know you served with them.  Andoral’s black balls, I know they saved my ass when the Vendakar mercenaries betrayed me… but if they turn to Katarina’s side I will have their officers executed and their enlisted men hung.” Hector shrugged, “I cannot allow any of my men to think that I will tolerate rebellion… or that I won’t punish disloyalty.”

“And Covle Darkbit?” Kerrel asked in an echo of Hector’s earlier thoughts.

“I should have strung him up,” Hector shrugged.  “But now he’s the only commander left south of here.  Which means when the spring comes, I’ll have to move my forces north.”

“You’re abandoning Castle Ember?” Kerrel asked in surprise.

Hector sighed, “Not entirely.  I’ll leave a small garrison, enough to hold it against anything but a full out attack and possibly even then since the rebels will have little experience in siege craft.” Castle Ember was the Ducal Seat.  The stone walls around them had seen thousands of cycles of history and legends said that the first Starborn to arrive in the Duchy had helped to design the fortress.  It was the cultural and symbolic center of the Duchy as well as one of the strongest fortifications in the known world.  Yet so was the Ryftguard, Hector thought, and Katarina took it away from me.

Hector stared down at the floor beneath his feet.  In truth, it pained him to abandon the place.  It went beyond its symbolic value.  This was the place he had been raised… and it was where he had risen to power, over the cooling body of his aunt and uncle.  To abandon it now felt as if he had them killed for no reason, that his rise to power had already been undone.

Kerrel didn’t seem to have an answer to that.  Hector waited though, and soon enough she asked the question that he knew was on her mind.  “Have you considered another attempt at peace?”

“I think that between them, Grel and Darkbit thoroughly destroyed all chances of that,” Hector responded.  During the talks at the Ryftguard, the two had attempted to seize the gates and someone, presumably Grel, had stabbed Kerrel.  In the process, they had destroyed any credibility that Hector might have.  Worse, they had then attacked the rebellious city of Zielona Gora which backfired in the destruction of most of Covle Darkbit’s forces and Grel’s death.

“I’ve met Katarina,” Kerrel said.  “She doesn’t want a civil war any more than you do.  Maybe if you send me…”

Hector shook his head, “At this point, winter has closed most of the roads.  You’d have to travel in strength, carry all your supplies in… you’d need an army to pack everything in and you would look like an invading army.  No, if we do something like that, it will have to wait for spring.”

Kerrel nodded, though he could tell from her expression she didn’t like to leave it for so long.  Still, she hadn’t read some of his reports.  Even now in late fall, there were rumors of heavy snows and bitter cold.  Those storms had driven normal people down out of the mountains… but it also sounded as if the Norics had been driven down out of the peaks… along with some of the sorcerous spawn from around Black Mountain.  Even assuming the rebels didn’t attack her, she still might have a serious fight on her journey, and Hector wasn’t about to put her to pointless risk as the only field commander he trusted in the south.  Especially not since I nearly lost her already, he thought.

The long seasons of Eoriel were both blessing and curse.  While he had accomplished so much in the long spring and summer, with how the weather had come in so suddenly in the southern highlands, he had lost four months of the fall and would lose all six months of the winter.  Even assuming that spring broke early, he would lose ten months, ten long months in which Lady Katarina’s people would have to plan and prepare for a spring campaign.  And though winter had closed down the roads to large forces, the southerners knew how to handle those heavy snowfalls better.  Their towns were designed with interconnected homes and steep roofs to shed snow.  Their people knew how to travel with snowshoes, pack-sleds, and skis, while many of his mercenaries and recruits from the lowlands had less experience with such heavy snow.

Hector had two companies from the fallen Duchy of Taral, but he didn’t want to feed them into the borderlands that had become such a charnel house.

Besides, he had some doubts over their loyalty in fighting the southerners.  While it was true that most of the mercenary companies from Taral had few ties, it wasn’t inconceivable that they might feel some sympathy or even camaraderie with the southerners, being high country folk themselves.  Even if they didn’t change sides, they might well desert if given a free route through the Ryftguard and back to their homeland.

“If you’re withdrawing, when do you plan to march?” Kerrel asked, even as she moved up to look at the map.  Once again, her odd mix of strength and beauty struck Hector.  Her bright red hair matched her fierce temper, the powerful muscles and her lean frame told of her toughness, yet still held more than enough feminine curves to make his blood stir.

“In the next couple weeks,” Hector said.  “My quartermasters are still reviewing their plans.  I’ll need to crush a couple of the rebel outbreaks here in the south to cow any chances at a general uprising.  His gaze went to a red peg at Castle Redcoast.  He had not expected the jolly Baron of Redcoast to rebel.  The man had seemed far too comfortable in the enjoyment of good food and his barony’s fine table wines.  Yet rebel he had… and as the only lands to do so, he was a marked threat.  If the rebels somehow linked up with him, or worse, he somehow forged an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Boir, Hector would find his forces flanked and any defense almost impossible.  “We’ll march as soon as the logistics is sorted out.”

She nodded, “Well, then, my Lord, I’ll go and check on my command’s preparations.”

He winced at her chill tone, but he nodded to her in dismissal.

As she stepped out of his conference room, his gaze went again to the red pegs on his map.  It would be a long winter.

***

Fate of the Tyrant Snippet Three

Here’s the third snippet for Fate of the Tyrant:

Chapter I

Lord Hector the Usurper Duke

Castle Ember, Duchy of Masov

14th of Ravin, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

 

Lord Hector considered the map for a long while before he slowly removed the last yellow peg from the hole near Lower Debber and replaced it with a red one.  With the loss of Lower Debber to Lady Katarina’s forces, he had no garrisons remaining in the south.  Not that I believed I could keep it, he admitted to himself, but I hoped it would at least occupy some of Katarina’s forces over the winter.

The town’s militia had some loyalty to him, seeing as his father, the late and unlamented Lord Mikhel, had called the town home.  Moreover, he’d exempted them from much of the wartime taxes elsewhere in the Duchy, mostly because they had provided their taxes in quality steel that his smiths turned into weapons and armor.  Now that steel would go to Katarina’s forces.  The garrison had fallen to a mix of sabotage and diplomacy, from the little he had heard.

That left him with just handful of notionally loyal mercenary bands in the south, most of them little more than bandits at this point.  Covle Darkbit’s force was the largest, yet Hector felt little trust for the man.  The rumors passed along by his informants made it clear that while Darkbit hurt Katarina’s forces, they had utterly alienated the general populace.

I wish I had listened to Kerrel and executed him, Hector thought, at least then there would be less blood on my hands.  The weight of his mercenary’s actions had grown upon him.  It was one thing to sack an Armen raid camp… it was quite another to hear the reports of this or that village burned to the ground, its people turned out into the coming winter.

And not all of them at Covle Darkbit’s hand, Hector thought with resignation.  There were red pegs in other locations than the south.  Most, if not all, were isolated by his own forces, but some would hold out the winter and he knew that his forces would be too dispersed to defeat them all and still guard the south against the army that Katarina would field in the spring.

This had all spiraled out of control and Hector knew exactly whose fault that was.  At least he had savaged the Armen enough that they shouldn’t be able to come south in force.  If nothing else, they would have to overcome his forces on the Lonely Isle first, who would have the entire winter to fortify and ready themselves.

While the Armen could bypass the island, their raiding sloops would be low on supplies and their fighting men would need days or even weeks to regain their feet after such a long ocean journey on their light vessels.  Odds were, whatever Armen were desperate enough for such a journey wouldn’t be in any condition to be a real threat.

Still, he thought musingly, some will probably try it.  His last messages from his spies in the north had reported the winter infighting to be particularly brutal.  It sounded as if Tarjak Rusk had begun an attempt to unify the Semat Armen, much as Marka Pall had unified the Solak.  If that were the case, Hector could expect a number of raiding parties from those forced out, made up of the desperate survivors.  In a cycle or two, Tarjak Rusk would probably come south in force, backed by a larger, more cohesive army.  I can only hope that bastard Tarjak comes within reach of my blade, Hector thought.  He would have to plan for that… assuming he could survive the civil war in his own lands, of course.

Hector turned to face the woman who had stood silent as he pondered the map.  “No words of wisdom?  No criticism of my tactics?”  He saw her lips go flat in disapproval and he restrained a sigh.  The barbed comment had been out of line.  Despite Commander Kerrel Flamehair’s stated disapproval of his tactics, she had backed him in every way that mattered.  Furthermore, she’d nearly been killed by Grel the Hound, who had proven to be an agent, witting or otherwise, of a sorcerer.

At least I can thank Katarina’s forces for dealing with that particular monster, Hector thought with some minor relief.  The mercenary had been his tool for dealing with the least pleasant of tasks.  He had become a monster somewhere along the way and Hector had simply used him as a blunt instrument, to smash his foes and create fear.

“I’m sorry,” Hector said to Kerrel.  “That was out of line.”  He sighed as he stared at the map of the Duchy… and considered the areas where he didn’t know enough to put a peg.  “What do you think about Countess Darkriver?” Hector asked.

Kerrel sighed, “I would say that holding two companies of hers as hostage to her good behavior would be enough, but I’m not certain anymore.”  She shrugged, “She has no way to contact them, not since you locked down on passage to and from the Lonely Isle, but she’s a hard one to read.”

Hector nodded, “And she’s capable enough of risking her people.  If she thinks signing on with Katarina will swing this civil war to a close before I can have her people killed in response… or that I would hesitate to do so, then she might do it.”

“Would you kill them?” Kerrel asked

Hector sighed, “To set an example?  I wouldn’t hesitate.  I know you trained with them, I know you served with them.  Andoral’s black balls, I know they saved my ass when the Vendakar mercenaries betrayed me… but if they turn to Katarina’s side I will have their officers executed and their enlisted men hung.” Hector shrugged, “I cannot allow any of my men to think that I will tolerate rebellion… or that I won’t punish disloyalty.”

“And Covle Darkbit?” Kerrel asked in an echo of Hector’s earlier thoughts.

“I should have strung him up,” Hector shrugged.  “But now he’s the only commander left south of here.  Which means when the spring comes, I’ll have to move my forces north.”

“You’re abandoning Castle Ember?” Kerrel asked in surprise.

Hector sighed, “Not entirely.  I’ll leave a small garrison, enough to hold it against anything but a full out attack and possibly even then since the rebels will have little experience in siege craft.” Castle Ember was the Ducal Seat.  The stone walls around them had seen thousands of cycles of history and legends said that the first Starborn to arrive in the Duchy had helped to design the fortress.  It was the cultural and symbolic center of the Duchy as well as one of the strongest fortifications in the known world.  Yet so was the Ryftguard, Hector thought, and Katarina took it away from me.

Hector stared down at the floor beneath his feet.  In truth, it pained him to abandon the place.  It went beyond its symbolic value.  This was the place he had been raised… and it was where he had risen to power, over the cooling body of his aunt and uncle.  To abandon it now felt as if he had them killed for no reason, that his rise to power had already been undone.

Kerrel didn’t seem to have an answer to that.  Hector waited though, and soon enough she asked the question that he knew was on her mind.  “Have you considered another attempt at peace?”

“I think that between them, Grel and Darkbit thoroughly destroyed all chances of that,” Hector responded.  During the talks at the Ryftguard, the two had attempted to seize the gates and someone, presumably Grel, had stabbed Kerrel.  In the process, they had destroyed any credibility that Hector might have.  Worse, they had then attacked the rebellious city of Zielona Gora which backfired in the destruction of most of Covle Darkbit’s forces and Grel’s death.

“I’ve met Katarina,” Kerrel said.  “She doesn’t want a civil war any more than you do.  Maybe if you send me…”

Hector shook his head, “At this point, winter has closed most of the roads.  You’d have to travel in strength, carry all your supplies in… you’d need an army to pack everything in and you would look like an invading army.  No, if we do something like that, it will have to wait for spring.”

Kerrel nodded, though he could tell from her expression she didn’t like to leave it for so long.  Still, she hadn’t read some of his reports.  Even now in late fall, there were rumors of heavy snows and bitter cold.  Those storms had driven normal people down out of the mountains… but it also sounded as if the Norics had been driven down out of the peaks… along with some of the sorcerous spawn from around Black Mountain.  Even assuming the rebels didn’t attack her, she still might have a serious fight on her journey, and Hector wasn’t about to put her to pointless risk as the only field commander he trusted in the south.  Especially not since I nearly lost her already, he thought.

The long seasons of Eoriel were both blessing and curse.  While he had accomplished so much in the long spring and summer, with how the weather had come in so suddenly in the southern highlands, he had lost four months of the fall and would lose all six months of the winter.  Even assuming that spring broke early, he would lose ten months, ten long months in which Lady Katarina’s people would have to plan and prepare for a spring campaign.  And though winter had closed down the roads to large forces, the southerners knew how to handle those heavy snowfalls better.  Their towns were designed with interconnected homes and steep roofs to shed snow.  Their people knew how to travel with snowshoes, pack-sleds, and skis, while many of his mercenaries and recruits from the lowlands had less experience with such heavy snow.

Hector had two companies from the fallen Duchy of Taral, but he didn’t want to feed them into the borderlands that had become such a charnel house.

Besides, he had some doubts over their loyalty in fighting the southerners.  While it was true that most of the mercenary companies from Taral had few ties, it wasn’t inconceivable that they might feel some sympathy or even camaraderie with the southerners, being high country folk themselves.  Even if they didn’t change sides, they might well desert if given a free route through the Ryftguard and back to their homeland.

“If you’re withdrawing, when do you plan to march?” Kerrel asked, even as she moved up to look at the map.  Once again, her odd mix of strength and beauty struck Hector.  Her bright red hair matched her fierce temper, the powerful muscles and her lean frame told of her toughness, yet still held more than enough feminine curves to make his blood stir.

“In the next couple weeks,” Hector said.  “My quartermasters are still reviewing their plans.  I’ll need to crush a couple of the rebel outbreaks here in the south to cow any chances at a general uprising.  His gaze went to a red peg at Castle Redcoast.  He had not expected the jolly Baron of Redcoast to rebel.  The man had seemed far too comfortable in the enjoyment of good food and his barony’s fine table wines.  Yet rebel he had… and as the only lands to do so, he was a marked threat.  If the rebels somehow linked up with him, or worse, he somehow forged an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Boir, Hector would find his forces flanked and any defense almost impossible.  “We’ll march as soon as the logistics is sorted out.”

She nodded, “Well, then, my Lord, I’ll go and check on my command’s preparations.”

He winced at her chill tone, but he nodded to her in dismissal.

As she stepped out of his conference room, his gaze went again to the red pegs on his map.  It would be a long winter.

***

Sutek Press releases Fate of the Tyrant on June 30th!

Fate of the Tyrant Snippet Two

Here’s the second snippet from Fate of the Tyrant.  You can find the first one here.  You can find the blurb for Fate of the Tyrant here.

 

Captain Aerion Swordbreaker

“Captain Swordbreaker, should we pursue?”

Aerion looked over at Sergeant Miller, his second section leader.  “No,” he said in reply, even as his single eye went back to the withdrawing enemy.  Ghost Company had clashed with several of Hector’s mercenary raiders since the first snows began in the fall.  As the fighting had grown more and more desperate, Aerion had learned better than to pursue an organized enemy.  Some of Lady Katarina Emberhill’s forces had not been so cautious and their bodies lay cold in the shadows of the forests, scattered where they had fallen.

“Form them up,” he called out to Jasen, the company’s First Sergeant, who snapped out commands to the section sergeants.  When Jasen turned back, Aerion spoke in a lower voice, “Who did we lose?”

“Donat and Eryk,” Jasen answered.  “Gaja is down with an arrow to the leg, but he should pull through.  The rest are minor wounds.”

“Be sure of that,” Aerion said with a grave voice.  Just the past week they had lost two men to wounds that should have received attention. Neither man had thought to seek help, or at least, not until it was too late.  He rubbed one hand across his face.  “A few more seconds and we would have had the bastard.”

Rumor had it that Covle Darkbit led this particular band of ravagers.  While most of the Usurper’s mercenary raiding bands had grown smaller over the past couple months from casualties and desertion, this one had grown larger, the ranks swelled by bandits and mercenaries who knew that Darkbit would keep them alive and better fed.  Darkbit’s men had slaughtered men, women, and children, burned food, and killed far too many of Lady Katarina’s smaller patrols.  The man had become a revenant, hitting where Lady Katarina’s forces were weakest and then disappearing.

Aerion had hoped to get the bastard to engage his company in a real fight, which was why he had set up the surprise ambush.  “Any enemy wounded?” Aerion asked as he saw the appointed squad return from their sweep of the fallen.

“Two,” Jasen said.  “One won’t survive, the other can’t walk, probably why they left him.”

Aerion grimaced at that.  The mercenaries tended to leave their wounded behind.  They knew that Lady Katarina’s forces would tend to them.  The ones they could convict of crimes were punished, but there were few enough survivors from most of the worst atrocities.  Lady Katarina had a small prisoner of war camp located near Zielona Gora.  To date, Aerion knew that there were another two hundred mouths to feed there… along with a company of troops to guard them.

Hector’s mercenaries didn’t take prisoners.  They killed the wounded and anyone tried to surrender.

Aerion just nodded, though part of him wanted to leave both of the mercenaries to die.  Yet he had to set a better example than that for his men.  He knew that more than a few of them wouldn’t hesitate to kill the enemy wounded.  Too many of his company had lost family and friends, either in the past two months or in the previous cycles of Lord Hector’s occupation.

Bad enough to strip the dead, he thought, yet the enemy weapons, armor, and most importantly, their warm clothing, would save lives.

He tried not to think to hard about leaving the bodies where they lay, but the truth was that with the ground frozen so hard, it would be impossible to bury them.  If he and his men remained in place long enough to construct pyres, they would spend the night in the open and the lengthening night and growing cold would sap their energy and leave them less prepared for the next fight.

Besides, he thought as his eye picked out movement in the shadows of the trees off the road, the scavengers will pick the bones clean before sunset.

He just hoped that the scavengers were all animals… what with some of the darker rumors.

***

 

Xavien Tarken, Herald of Andoral Elhonas

Fortress of Armak Zhul, Noriel

13th of  Ravin, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering

 

The winter winds howled at the sides of Armak Zhul like a mad, living thing bent on destroying the mountain fortress and undoing the labor of thousands of cycles.  The winds might well have that intent, Xavien thought, certainly it wouldn’t be alone in that regard if it was.

The raised voice of an angry Armen brought him back to the matter at hand.

“I will not kowtow to your demands, woman,” Warlord Sakan Alk snarled.  The big Armen chieftain clearly misunderstood his position in the world, Xavien noted.

Andoral Elhonas’s consort moved so quickly that even Xavien barely kept up.  She spun and drew her blade in a single, smooth motion.  The blade’s long reach allowed her to rake it across Sakan Alk’s belly without having to take even a single step closer.

As the Armen chieftain let out a sharp scream and pawed at his spilling intestines, she whipped the blade back around to remove his head.

The other Armen gathered before her were spattered with hot, sticky blood.  They didn’t show fear, but Xavien did see shock on their faces.  They were not used to women who would strike a man, much less one who could take down a fighting man of Sakan Alk’s caliber.  The more fools they, Xavien thought, the women are the more dangerous of the species.

“Rentak Khobis,” Seraphai said as she flicked the blood off of her sword.  The red metal of its blade seemed to pulse in an odd fashion.  Xavien wished he could study it, but he knew better than to ask.  This was Makhvili Dzala, Andoral’s Blade of Power.  Even as Herald, he would not be allowed to touch it, much less to study it.

The Armen called stepped over the twitching body of Aratak Sul.  He bowed his head slightly, “Yes, my queen?”  Xavien felt no surprise that Rentak Khobis remembered to use the honorific.  Whatever their other limitations, the Armen were capable of learning when the consequences for failure were rubbed in their faces.

“You are now the Warlord of the Sepak Armen.  Follow the commands I gave to your predecessor or meet the same fate,” Seraphai snapped.  As the Armen warrior nomad nodded, she sat back in her throne. “You are dismissed.”

She waited as the Armen withdrew, dragging the corpse of their former Warlord with them, all but the severed head which had come to rest in the corner.  Xavien wondered if that would be kept as a trophy and displayed on the walls of Armak Zhul or thrown off the side as garbage.

That is the fun part about the new Consort, Xavien thought, I never know exactly what she has planned.  A meticulous planner himself, Xavien viewed her actions with a mix of amusement and fear.  Just in her arrival to court, she had thrown so many of his plans into disarray.

Not that he viewed her as a threat.  Xavien had no desire to rise above his position under Andoral Elhonas.  The powerful spirit rewarded such ambition with death, after all.  It wasn’t as if Xavien could be the Consort, and that only left challenging the ten thousand cycle old spirit himself.  Herald is quite sufficient, especially when I’ll rule over the five duchies in his name, Xavien thought.

The confidence born of knowing his place allowed Xavien to work with his new Queen quite effectively.

Not so with some of Andoral’s other supporters.  Some had challenged Seraphai almost as directly as the late Sakan Alk.  Others had attempted more indirect methods of her removal.  All of them had died.  Xavien suspected that was to his master’s intent, a way to challenge them all, to thin out those who might be slower, less intelligent, or disloyal.

Certainly there could be no doubt that their master had chosen Seraphai.  She carried Makhvili Dzala, which would be impossible without his will behind it.  Besides that, there was the irony of having her as his consort, the one with the combined blood of the line of High Kings and Maghali Mede, the Ancient King, as his consort… the spirits of his enemies must writhe at their inability to prevent it.

“Are you certain of this plan, Herald?” Seraphai asked.

Xavien looked up and met her eyes.  Their violet color intrigued him, apparently a natural coloration.  “I am certain,” Xavien said.  The new plan was merely a refined version of his original plan.  The chaos he had sown in the Five Duchies had left them ripe for conquest.  While he had met some setbacks along the way, he knew he could pull off the invasion of Masov with little opposition.  With the Lonely Isle isolated, it would only take a few months to wear them down and regain the foothold.  After that, he could link up with his Noric allies in fallen Taral and invade the Grand Duchy of Boir, followed by the Duchy of Asador.  In all likelihood, the Vendakar would invade and conquer Marovingia, yet four out of five of the duchies under the rule of his master would be enough, initially.

With his master’s servants among the Wold and the Noric’s masters, the Five Duchies would fall quickly.  And I, he thought, will be free to act more openly.   Xavien had enjoyed his game of shadows, but he longed for the chance to use his powers to their full extent.  His sorcerous abilities would improve capabilities of his shock troops and he knew that cycles of study and preparation at Armak Zhul had given him enough wizardly power to crush any number of southern wizards.

“What if they unite against you?” Seraphai asked, her voice intent and her violet eyes calm.  Xavien, though, thought he caught the barest flicker of crimson in those eyes.  Was this a question from his Queen… or his Master?

“It will not happen,” Xavien said.  He had planted a letter which revealed his own ties to the Armen for Duke Hector to find.  Given that he was Grand Duke Christoffer’s son, the letter had poisoned the alliance between them.  Xavien had gloated a bit when he heard of the casualties that his father’s forces took after Hector betrayed him.

No, they would not work together.  And after his servants, Covle Darkbit and Grel, had slaughtered so many innocent people in Hector’s name, the uprising in the Duchy of Masov would not end any time soon.  Indeed, they would have the entire winter to think upon Hector’s many crimes and let their hatred fester, egged on by Covle Darkbit’s continued raids.

“My army will be ready in the spring, well before Hector’s forces will expect us,” Xavien said.  “I will shatter his army with my first strike.”  He smiled a bit, “I may even let Hector live, he has been a fine, if unwitting, servant.”

Seraphai did not match his smile, but in Xavien’s opinion, she didn’t take enough pleasure in their work.  Everything she did was calculated, drawn to a plan that only she seemed to know and understand.  “Hector must die,” she said in an intent voice.  “If you succeed in only one thing, be certain of that.”

Xavien nodded, “Of course, my Queen.  Anything else?”

“Beware your father, Xavien, he knows of you, now, he’ll not forgive you for what you’ve done,” Seraphai said the words with no emotion or emphasis, yet Xavien couldn’t help the slightest thrill of nervousness.

“I don’t plan to let him live long enough to be of concern,” Xavien said.  His father’s continued survival was a matter of irritation.  Xavien could admit to himself that his plans involving his surviving family had been overly complicated.  He should have waited to spring his ambush until his father rejoined the Northern Fleet, just as he should have cut his sister’s throat after he used her for the ritual.

“If you fail in this, it will leave the Five Duchies in a stronger position,” Seraphai said as she took her seat.  It was a clear dismissal and Xavien gave her a gracious bow and turned away.

In the corridor, Xavien paused to consider his next action.  Tarjak Rusk awaited him at his quarters, but Xavien was willing to let the Armen Warlord wait.

The bellowing roar of the wind was muffled by dozens of feed of solid rock, yet even so, the snarl of it sounded like some barely muzzled beast.  There was one other thing he could do to sow chaos over the winter.  Xavien smiled a bit at that thought and he turned his mind’s focus to a distance, to the creations of his mother’s grandfather.

Awaken, he commanded, awaken and hunt.

***

 

Fate of the Tyrant comes out on June 30th.

The Freeport Mutineers Available Now!

The Freeport Mutineers, by Kal Spriggs
The Freeport Mutineers, by Kal Spriggs

The Freeport Mutineers, a short story in the universe of the Eoriel Saga, is available now from Amazon.  The best part is, like any good story about pirates, it’s absolutely free! (well, for today and tomorrow)

Troubled by the rumors spread throughout the Southern Fleet, the young officer turned to the Marines and Sailors under his command… yet he and they were betrayed, arrested, and convicted of mutiny, all under the orders of the ambitious Lord Admiral Hennings.
 
Faced with the prospect of not only his own death, but that of the men under his command, Wachter must somehow find a way to do the right thing.  Yet there is little hope with he and his men jailed, weaponless, and condemned, while the town of Freeport lies under martial law and the threat of dark sorcery.
 
Only one course lays open to him, to break his oaths and to swear allegiance to the cause of another, to become exactly what his enemies have accused him of being: a mutineer.

The Freeport Mutineers Cover and Blurb

The Freeport Mutineers, by Kal Spriggs
The Freeport Mutineers, by Kal Spriggs

I now have the draft cover for my soon-to-be-released short story: The Freeport Mutineers.  This is an epic fantasy story set in the Eoriel Saga universe.  The basic premise is simple, a young man, faced with true evil, must decide what to do.

Troubled by the rumors spread throughout the Southern Fleet, the young officer turned to the Marines and Sailors under his command… yet he and they were betrayed, arrested, and convicted of mutiny, all under the orders of the ambitious Lord Admiral Hennings.
 
Faced with the prospect of not only his own death, but that of the men under his command, Wachter must somehow find a way to do the right thing.  Yet there is little hope with he and his men jailed, weaponless, and condemned, while the town of Freeport lies under martial law and the threat of dark sorcery.
 
Only one course lays open to him, to break his oaths and to swear allegiance to the cause of another, to become exactly what his enemies have accused him of being: a mutineer.
The Freeport Mutineers will be published on 23 January, 2016.