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Century of the Soldier
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Century of the Soldier

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Author: Paul Kearney
Publisher: Solaris, 2010
Series: The Monarchies of God: Book 2

1. Hawkwood and the Kings
2. Century of the Soldier

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Historical Fantasy
Sword and Sorcery
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Synopsis

By the mid sixth century of Ramusian reckoning the great struggle is approaching its climax. For the victor there will be supremacy; for the vanquished, cultural annihilation. Fighting that war, Corfe of Torunna will find that court intrigue can be as murderous as any martial foe. The monks Albrec and Avila will explode a bombshell of secret knowledge which will change the continent irrevocably. And Richard Hawkwood will return with the discovery of a New World. The sixth century is the crucible of history. The century of the soldier.

This is an omnibus edition comprised of:


Excerpt

Winter was harsher in the foothills of the northern Cimbrics than it was in the lowlands of Torunna. Here the world was a brutal place of killing grandeur. Twelve thousand feet high and more, the Cimbrics were nevertheless shrinking, their ridges and estcarpments less severe than further south. Trees grew on their flanks, hardy pine and spruce, mountain juniper. In this land the great Torrin River had its birthplace. It was already a slashing, foaming torrent two hundred feet wide, an angry spate flushed with the offpourings of the mountains, too violent in its bed to freeze over. It had a hundred and fifty leagues to run before it became the majestic and placid giant which flowed through the city of Torunn and carved out its estuary in the warmer waters of the Kardian sea beyond.

But here in its millions of millennia of flood it had broken down the very mountains which surrounded it. Here it had carved out a valley amid the peaks. To the north were the last heights of the western Thurians, the rocky barrier which held in the hordes of Ostrabar so that they had been forced in their decades of invasions to take the coastal route in order to break out to the south, and had come up against the walls of Aekir, the guns of Ormann Dyke. To the south-west of the river were the Cimbrics, Torunna's backbone, home of the Felimbric tribes and their secret valleys. But this gap, carved by the course of the Torrin, had for centuries been the link between Torunna and Charibon, west and east. It had been a highway of Imperial messengers in Fimbria's days of Empire, when Charibon itself had been nothing more than a garrison fortress designed to protect the route to the east from the savages of Almark. It was a conduit of trade and commerce, and in later days had been fortified by the Torunnans when the Fimbrian Hegemony came crashing down and men first began to kill in the name of God. And now there was an army marching along it, an infantry army whose soldiers were dressed all in black, who carried twenty foot pikes or leather-cased arquebuses. A grand tercio of Fimbrian soldiers, five thousand of the most feared warriors in the world, tramping through the blizzards and the snowdrifts towards Ormann Dyke.

* * * * *

Isolla had seen werelight before, as a child. A ball of it hovered above Golophin's head in the dark and lit the way for them. But it was a guttering thing, like a candle almost burnt down to the wick. She suddenly realised that the old mage was damaged in some way- something had stolen away his strength and made him into a caricature of what he had once been. It was the war, she guessed. It had drained him somehow.

The passage they trod was smoothly made out of jointed stone, and it rose and wound like the coils of a snake. There were other doors off its sides, leading to other rooms in the palace Isolla supposed. She knew she, a foreigner, was being trusted with some of the secrets of the Palace. But then she'd be Hebrion's Queen soon enough anyway.

They halted. The werelight went out and there was a grating of stone. She followed the wizard's lean back through another low door like the one in her own chambers, and found herself in a high-ceilinged room that was almost totally dark. A rack of tall candles fluttered by the side of a massively ornate four-poster bed, and she could make out weapons on the walls, gleaming in the gloom. Maps and books and more of the dull hangings. A bedstand with jug and ewer of silver. And everywhere engraved or embossed, the Hebrian Royal Arms. She was in the king's chambers.

'Speak normally. No whispers' Golophin told her. 'He is far away, but not gone, not entirely. It may be that a new voice will reach him as a familiar one might not.'

'What-' But Golophin took her arm and led her to the side of the huge bed.

The king. Her horrified eyes took in what was left of him at a glance, and her hand flew to her mouth. This thing was to be her husband.

Golophin was watching her. She sensed a protective anger in him that was not so very far from the surface, and brought her hand down from her face, touched Abeleyn's where it lay on the coverlet. His features she still recognised; the dark hair as thick as ever despite the threads of grey. The face she had known as sun-brown was now pallid as the sheets behind it. She was surprised to feel grief, not for herself who was to be joined to this wreck of a man, but for Abeleyn the high-spirited boy she had known, who had pulled her hair and said cruel things about her nose. He had not deserved to end up like this.

'What was it?' she asked, uncomfortably aware of Golophin's hawk-like scrutiny.

'A shell. One of our own, God help us, in the moment when the battle was won. I was able to seal the stumps, but I had already exhausted myself in the fighting, and could do nothing more. It would take a great work of theurgy to heal him completely, something I'm not sure I would be capable of even if I were at my full strength. And so he lies here, his mind in some fathomless limbo I cannot reach. We have made discreet enquiries for Mindrhymers, but those who were not murdered under Sastro di Carrera's regime fled to the ends of the earth. The Dweomer cannot help Abeleyn. His own will must pull him through, and whatever human warmth we can give. ' Here he glared at Isolla as if he dared her to contradict him.

But she was not so easily cowed. She released the unconscious king's hand and faced the old mage squarely. 'I take it there will be no wedding until the king is brought to himself again.'

'Yes. But there will be a wedding. The country needs it. We may have slaughtered Carrera's retainers and expelled the surviving Knights Militant, but there are still ambitious men in Hebrion who would stoop to seize a crown if they saw it fall.'

'You cannot fool the world forever Golophin. The truth will out, in the end.'

'I know. But we have to try. This man has greatness in him. I will not abandon him to rot !'

He loves him, she thought. He truly does. And she warmed to the fierce old man. She had always responded to lost causes, had always sided with the underdog. Perhaps because it was how she had always seen herself.

'So you brought me here to join your little conspiracy. Who else knows the true condition of the king?'

Admiral Rovero, General Mercado, and perhaps three or four of the palace servants whom I trust.'

'The whole city is in mourning.'

'I had to put out a bulletin on the king's health. He is dangerously ill, but not dying. That is the official line.'

'How long do you think you can keep the hounds leashed?'

'A few weeks, perhaps a couple of months. Rovero and Mercado have the army and the fleet firmly under control, and in any case, Hebrion's soldiers and sailors fairly worship Abeleyn. No, as always, it is the Court we must worry about. And that my dear is where you come in.'

'I see. So I am to make reassuring noises about the palace.'

'Yes. Are you willing?'

She looked down at the wrecked king again, and felt an absurd urge to ruffle the dark hair on the pillow.

'I am willing. My brother would wish it so anyway.'

'Good. I did not read your character wrong then.'

'If you had, Golophin, what would have become of me?'

The old man grinned wolfishly. 'This palace would have become your prison.'

Copyright © 2010 by Paul Kearney


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