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Savage Crowns

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Savage Crowns

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Author: Matt Wallace
Publisher: Saga Press, 2023
Series: Savage Rebellion: Book 3

1. Savage Legion
2. Savage Bounty
3. Savage Crowns

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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The final war for the nation of Crache has begun.

At the helm of the people's rebellion is Evie, the Sparrow General. She has been captured by the Skrian, Crache's vicious army, and is being brought back to the Capitol for punishment. But reinforcements are coming for her.

Dyeawan, who has climbed from street urchin to Crache's highest seat of power through clever schemes and ruthless bloodshed, finds trouble on every front once she arrives. The rebellion approaches, and there are whispers of a martyr within the city who holds enough sway to stage a coup. If she doesn't act quickly, her rule will be short-lived.

As the women who hold the nation's future meet each other from different sides of the battlefield, will they be able to find a shared vision of Crache, or will they destroy each other first?




A BIRDCAGE. THEY HAVE ACTUALLY built a giant fucking birdcage and locked Evie inside of it.

A long time after waking, curled up at the bottom of the thing, she is still at a loss. Not by her capture or witnessing what may have been the fall of her rebellion, but by her prison. It's entirely out of character for the Skrain. It's out of character for any artifice of the Crachian machine, really. Crache isn't much for flair or imagination. The symbol that adorns every Skrain banner, the sparse, simple shape of an ant, is well chosen. Crache is a nation of utility above all else. The long caravan currently slouching at a glacial rattle over the countryside has more than a few wagons fitted with cages; Evie can see them from her perch, the ants headed back to their colony. Constructing this ornate monstrosity especially for her (at least she surmises that as its purpose) instead of simply chucking her into a regular prison wagon like refuse is decidedly un-ant-like.

Yet here Evie sits, between tall wrought-iron bars wrapped around her to form a perfectly slim cylinder. There are a few flourishes of concentric circles and sculpted ants adorning the spaces between those bars, as well as the square pad on the cage door, from which hangs the largest key lock Evie has ever seen. The Skrain have lined the hard bottom of the cage with stale-smelling hay. She isn't certain whether it's for effect or for when she will inevitably have to piss inside this contraption.

Evie can only guess the whole "Sparrow General" persona must really be shaking up the status quo back in the Capitol, so much so they feel they have to lean into that persona to defeat the newly spun legend.

Not that she thinks of herself as a "legend," of course.

Even if she did, her current status as a source of amusement for the Skrain foot soldiers constantly trudging past her is humbling, to say the least. They revel in treating her like a shaved monkey in a menagerie. She can only imagine what a welcome distraction it is from lugging their full armor kits along with spear and shield on foot through the wretched heat of the day.

If they're not bending over and flipping up their tunic flaps to give her a view of a full moon, they are flashing their poorly groomed genitals at her. The accompanying verbal abuse is just as crude, if less imaginative.

"That's a proper sparrow, that is!" one of the soldiers chuckles. "Bloody proper!"

What accent even is that? Evie wonders, digging a fist against her churning guts.

Their attempted humiliation of her isn't as wrenching as Evie is certain they'd hoped. The motion is the worst part. The whole cage is constantly swinging from a hook arched behind the largest horse-drawn wagon in the Skrain caravan. It hasn't stopped swaying and jostling her for hours. She's felt like she's been throwing up for at least half that time, but Evie is always intent on waiting until one or more of the soldiers rides or walks close enough to the cage for her to vomit through the bars onto them.

The only feeling strong enough to divert Evie's attention from her stomach is the searing pain in her left leg. The back of her calf muscle feels as though angry hornets are nesting there. She can't contort herself to see how long or how deep the gash from the battle is, but it definitely feels deep and long enough. They haven't yet given her any water to drink, let alone an excess to clean her wounds. Neither has a surgeon, or even a drunken Skrain field medic, so much as tended to a single scrape. They seem to have simply checked her armor for weapons and then tossed her into her current confines.

Perhaps, if she's really lucky, the infection in her leg will kill her before they reach the Capitol. She knows that's where they're taking her. Her constant audience has made that clear enough. The whole Skrain army is very excited about the prospect of Evie being paraded inside her cage up and down the narrow streets of Crache's greatest city, on display for the whole of the citizenry to see.

Evie doesn't really want to die, of course. But the idea of that spectacle seems a pale alternative at the moment.

Mostly she just wishes she'd seen that lance coming, the one that slashed her calf and pierced her horse on the battlefield. If she'd avoided that single sharp edge, her horse wouldn't have gone down, and even if the outcome of the battle had remained unchanged, her own fate might have been different, perhaps even cage-free. At the very least, she'd be more comfortable right now.

Evie still doesn't quite understand what happened there at the end of the battle, only that more of her people survived and hopefully escaped than she imagined was possible when she saw the Skrain, regrouped, bearing down on them and realized their sudden guests, the Rok Islanders, weren't charging to the rebellion's rescue.

Except they did, finally, or at least enough of the Islander army charged to make a difference.

It didn't make any sense to Evie. If the Rok had indeed come to join the rebellion, why hadn't they charged sooner, and in full force? If the reverse was true, and they were willing to sacrifice the rebels to weaken the Skrain, why hadn't they waited longer? Why hadn't they continued to sit on the horizon until the last of Evie's rebels had fallen, taking as many Skrain soldiers with them as possible?

Evie remembers thinking at the time, as much as she could cogently form thoughts while deflecting blades trying to end her, that the Rok's charge seemed half-hearted and uncoordinated as it barreled towards the fray. Whatever the truth of those events, when the Rok chariots crashed into the wreckage of the Skrain siege towers and practically rode over the clashing armies, Evie knew only that she had to get what was left of her people to safety. It was too late to hope to turn the tide of the battle, and Evie did not trust the Islanders as allies enough to be sure they wouldn't turn their blades and chariot spikes on the rebels.

The last truly vivid memory she has of the battle's end was opening the throat of a Skrain soldier, then turning her head to seek Bam with her gaze. She found him pummeling enemy soldiers not half a dozen yards from where she stood, Sirach cutting Skrain to ribbons not far beyond that. Evie had shouted a simple order at him, to gather everyone he could and retreat. No sooner had the words screeched out than several Rok chariots blasted the ground between them and she lost sight of Bam, Sirach, and the rest.

Immediately after that, her world went to black. She must have been hit from behind, knocked out, because her next conscious memory is of the bottom of her birdcage. She had a headache for a while, but that pain has since faded into the background, replaced by the worsening fire in her leg.

The pounding of shod horse hooves tearing up the ground below breaks Evie from her reveries. She peers through the bars of her birdcage at a mounted Skrain who rears his horse to heel so he can gaze up at her. His helmet is more elaborate than the average ground-pounder, marking him as a captain. His face shows the wear and scars of advancing age, but the expression on it says the man thinks quite a lot of himself.

Skrain soldiers generally all look the same to Evie, regardless of rank or added pomp. She remembers this captain, however. That face is burned into her brain. He was the master of ceremonies who presided over the deathmatch between Sirach and Mother Manai, Evie's mentor and most trusted advisor among the former Savage Legionnaires. Evie watched from concealment in the massive Skrain encampment as her lover was forced to kill her best friend while the soldiers laughed and drank and made merry.

"How is our most honored guest enjoying her accommodations?"

"I could use a drink," Evie, too tired and too cut up to conjure witty banter, admits in a voice that is labored and hoarse. "And a surgeon, to be honest."

The blustery man's expression takes on a look of mock horror. "What inconsiderate hosts you must find us."

The Skrain captain fishes a deflated wineskin from his saddlebags, unstopping it and tipping his head. Evie watches as he squeezes a brief jet of rice wine from the skin.

Licking his lips, he tosses the empty-looking thing through the bars and into Evie's cage.

Evie sighs. Without shame or hesitation, she picks up the skin and tips back her own head, both hands twisting the flattened bladder into a single braid, as if she's attempting to wring the neck of an animal. She manages to force a few remaining droplets of rice wine to fall upon her cracked, blood-scabbed lips, her tongue greedily lapping them up.

She ignores the pleasure Evie knows is plastered all over the captain's face as he is treated to the sight of her demeaning herself.

Evie extends a hand through the bars, offering the captain his wineskin.

"Keep it," he says, sounding more cautious than generous.

Not as stupid as he looks, she thinks.

"Besides, it might be the only thing you have to chew on for a goodly while. Our larders are a bit on the empty side--this rebellion of yours has played hell on food production in every city."

"Might I have the honor of your name, Captain?"

"Silvar," he informs her proudly. "Feng Silvar."

"Thank you. I won't forget it."

"You honor me, Sparrow General. I'll see about that surgeon for you. We can't have you falling out before we've had the chance to formally introduce you to the people of Crache. They've heard so much about you, after all."

"I hope to live up to my reputation."

"Few do," Captain Silvar says, snapping the reins of his mount and galloping away grandly.

When he's gone, Evie drops the wineskin to the dirt below, leaving it to rot under the wheels and hooves of the caravan. It's a useless gesture, but it feels good.

Sinking back against the bars, she tries to ignore the itching and minor agony of her leg, closing her eyes and sending her mind elsewhere far away.

What remains of her life may be brief and unpleasant, but at least Evie has a new goal.

Before the Crachian machine finally crushes her between its jaws, she will see Captain Feng Silvar dead by her hand.

Copyright © 2023 by Matt Wallace


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