The Godsfall Trilogy 1:
By: Michael Meyerhofer
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication date: 8.9.2016
Three years after the War of the Lotus, alliances have already begun to unravel. As Rowen Locke struggles to maintain peace, troubling news reaches him from every corner. Persecution of the Shel'ai has reignited in the south, spurred on by a fanatical priest. To the north, the Isle Knights are withering under the leadership of mad Crovis Ammerhel. Old friends fight each other when not drowning their sorrows in taverns.
A new threat emerges from across the sea, dispatched by the same exiled Dragonkin who have been plotting their revenge for centuries. Rowen and his companions soon realize that the target is the Dragonward itself: their one and only defense against an evil so vast even Knightswrath could not vanquish it.
Rowen Locke paused to wipe the sweat from his brown then swore as his opponent's sword angled for his throat. Rowen moved to block, but his enemy's sword changed direction misdoing and rattled off his armored thigh. Rowen backed up and swung, hoping to keep his adversary at bay. Instead, his opponent drove forward. One armored twist knocked Rowen's sword aside while the other hand stabbed toward Rowen's face.
Rowen managed to parry the blow, but a second stab gouged his azure tabard and rang off the kingsteel cuirass underneath. His frustration turning to anger, Rowan swung as quickly as he could, but his opponent had already danced away as though his armored body were made of smoke.
Onlookers applauded, and Rowen blushed.
I deserve that.
He gripped his sword with both hands. Rather than attacking, he waited, eyeing his enemy - a younger man with a stoic, handsome face and a dark braid trailing behind him. The young man circled cautiously, half a dancer. After a moment, Rowen realized his opponent did not mean to attack at all but to wait until Rowen's frustration go the best of him.
Rowen did not have to turn to feel all the onlookers eyeing him with impatience, and he realized he couldn't blame them. Rowen had been taking the worst of the duel, which meant it was up to him to either turn the tide or concede. He had no intention of doing the latter, but his arms already felt leaden. He rotated steadily, to keep his adversary from getting around him. Then he shrugged one shoulder and winced, feigning a muscle cramp. As he'd hoped, his opponent tensed, about to spring forward.
Rowen answered by throwing his sword.
He had the pleasure of seeing his opponent's eyes widen a split second before a deft swing knocked Rowen's sword out of the air. But Rowen was already charging. He grabbed the young man's sword and tried to twist it out of his hands. Though Rowen was stronger, his opponent held on with an iron grip. Then iron turned to water, and somehow, Rowen found himself pitching toward the ground.
He landed in a roll and came up as quickly as he could, but it was too late. Rowen felt a sword bash his shoulder, his cuirass, and then his other shoulder. Then the sword stopped, the tip poised at Rowen's face.
"Do you yield, sir?"
Rowen bit back a curse and nodded. "I'd damn well better."
His sparring partner withdrew his sword, reversed it, and tucked the wooden blade under his arm. He bowed, then held out his hand. "Apologies, sir."
Rowen let the younger man pull him onto his feet just as the onlookers applauded. "Dammit, Sang Wei, you're not supposed to apologize when you beat me. And when I lose... which the gods know I always do... I'm supposed to bow first."
"Apologies," Sang Wei repeated. He picked up Rowen's wooden sword and handed it back to him with a second bow. "Fine move at the end, sir. I've never seen someone throw their sword like that before."
"Desperate men will do almost anything." Rowen took Sang Wei's arm and raised it aloft.
The onlookers applauded again. That time, it was Sang Wei who blushed. Rowen sensed that the younger Knight was as uncomfortable receiving praise as Rowen was being bested by his subordinate.
"Consider this payback, you quicksilver bastard," Rowen muttered, still smiling.
He kept turning, forcing Sang Wei to turn with him, then stopped. In the distance, among Knights and squires, one of the onlookers was a young man with angular features, tapered ears, and brilliantly purple eyes. The Shel'ai was applauding.
"You have an admirer," Rowen whispered.
Sang Wei's turning an even darker shade of red.
Rowen let go of his arm, suddenly feeling guilty. He'd seen the young Shel'ai and Sang Wei exchange more than a few glances over the past few months though something told him the young Knight was more than a little reluctant to pursue anything. Rowen wondered why. While some kingdoms frowned on romantic relationships between people of the same gender, that was perfectly acceptable among the Shao.
Then again, Maddoc isn't just a man. He's a Shel'ai.
"Enough," Rowen called loudly, catching everyone's attention. "As Sword Marhsal of Cadavash Temple, I declare Sang Wei, Knight of the Stag, to be the fastest bastard who ever lived!" As the onlookers cheered again, Rowen added, "If anyone can prove me wrong, I'll exempt him from an evening meditation and give him enough wine to keep him sodden for a week."
As the onlookers cheered yet again, Rowen clapped Sang Wei on the shoulder then stepped out of the practice ring, tossing his sword to the nearest Knight rushing to take his place. He forced himself to smile as he made his way toward a woman at the far end of the practice ring. Unlike the others, who wore armor or loose-fitting fighting garb, Igrid wore a short fighting skirt, high boots, and a barely adequate fighting top, the sight of which quickened his blood.
She offered a lopsided grin at his approach, brushing one hand through long red curls that hung well past her waist. "How much pain are you in right now?"
"Sweet gods, you have no idea." Rowen smiled with clenched teeth, tapping his chest through his armor.
Igrid's green eyes flashed with mirth and a touch of worry. "Did he break anything?"
"Maybe a rib or three. I'll have Maddoc take a look later."
"Are you sure you don't want him now?"
Rowen shook his head. "My pride stings enough as it is. I can wait a while."
"If you say so. I don't think he ever looked my way, but I was hoping to distract him so you'd win for once." Igrid winked.
For a moment, Rowen thought she meant Maddoc but then realized she was referring to Sang Wei. "No offense, my love, but you might be the wrong gender for that."
Rowen saw no need to point out that he knew Igrid was lying. She wore her eye-catching attire because she intended to join in the sparring matches - she was still an Iron Sister, after all - and part of her fighting style involved using her appearance to distract men into making a mistake.
Igrid said, "If I beat him, do I get that wine you promised?"
Rowen turned. Sang Wei was busy fighting off a man his own age - a powerful, newly minted Knight of the Crane named Berric, whose barrel chest and thick arms barely fit inside his armor. The man bellowed each time he swung. His swings were powerful but quick. Two drove Sang Wei backward. The third shattered Sang Wei's wooden sword. The crowd applauded. Sir Berric held his arms aloft, cheering.
"He shouldn't do that," Rowen muttered with disapproval.
Maddoc stepped forward, a new wooden sword in hand, and handed it to Sang Wei. When the Knight of the Stag took it, the Shel'ai leaned forward and whispered something. Sang Wei blushed, and Maddoc backed away, smiling. When the duel resumed, Sir Berric came at Sang Wei in a bellowing blur of speed and steel. That time, though, Sang Wei dodged every swing and thrust and rained blows on his opponent's legs then one on his backside that nearly knocked Sir Berric off his feet.
"He's not holding back this time." Rowen wondered how much the young Knight had been holding back when he'd fought him and decided he'd rather not know.
Sir Berric bellowed again - in frustration that time - and doubled his attack. But Sang Wei moved even faster, as though his speed were limitless. Seconds later, the burly Knight found himself disarmed and forced to one knee, with Sang Wei's sword held in a reverse grip against his throat.
For a moment, Rowen feared that Sir Berric would answer with rage. Instead, he laughed. "I yield! Gods, I yield! Now somebody get me a tub of ice to sit in." He stood up, laughed again, and hugged Sang Wei as if they were brothers.
The onlookers cheered. Sir Berric tried to get others to take his place, but Sang Wei bowed and refused to fight any more. The Knights and squires paired off to practice with each other instead. Sang Wei wandered off toward the temple in the distance, still holding his wooden sword. After a moment, Maddoc followed.
Rowen was about to ask Igrid to help him back inside when another familiar Knight ran toward them. Rowen noted that he was coming from the direction of the gates and wore a serious expression on his face.
"Trouble," Rowen whispered to Igrid and went to meet the Knight halfway. "What is it, Issa?"
Sir Issa bowed, out of breath. "Visitors, Sword Marshal."
Sir Issa shook his head. "Not this time, sir. Looks like Sons of Maelmohr this time."
Gods, is that better or worse? Rowen glanced past Sir Issa and made sure the gates of Cadavash were still closed. He noted as well that the few Knights standing watch along the walls were standing straight as lances, looking out over the battlements.
Meanwhile, Igrid moved to a nearby weapons rack, snatched up a sheathed adamune with a sword belt, and brought it back. She handed it to Rowen. "Want me to get Sang Wei and Maddoc?"
Rowen faced Issa instead. "How many?"
"Just five, Sword Marshal."
"Don't bother," Rowen told Igrid. "I'll just go and insult them until they go away."
Igrid raised one eyebrow. "No diplomatic pleasantries this time?"
Rowen shook his head. "If Gaulgodd is going to keep threatening the people under my protection, I think it's safe to say we're not ever going to be the best of friends."
Igrid's lopsided grin returned. "I should ask Sant Wei to trounce you more often."
Rowen winced as he girded his sword. When he started toward the gates, Igrid followed. Rowen considered ordering her to keep back. After all, the Sons of Maelmohr disapproved of many things - including women who wore swords and dressed like Igrid. But he reminded himself that he was in no shape for a fight, and he could think of no one he wanted by his side more than her.
Sir Issa jogged ahead and ordered the gates to be opened. By the time Rowen arrived, a squad of Knights stood ready to escort him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw still more Knights turning from the practice yard to see what was the matter. Rather than wait for a larger audience to gather, he ignored the pain from his ribs and strode through the gates to greet their guests.
Outside, five figures on horseback scowled. They had gray skin and unusually dark eyes. Though short, all were muscular and clad in armor made of scales so deeply red that they appeared almost black. He saw no sigil until the Dwarrs rode closer and he noticed the armbands tied around their bulging biceps: black armbands depicting black dragons surrounded by what was either red flames or a cloud of blood.
One of the figures dismounted. He appeared younger than most of his comrades though his eyes shone with unrivaled malice. Almost as an afterthought, he unslung a long axe from his back and handed it to the rider next to him. He approached Rowen on foot, one hand on the hilt of a wide-blared shortsword.
Rowen rested one hand on his sword hilt but forced a smile. "Welcome to Cadavash, m'lord. I don't think we've-"
"A message from the Scion." The young Dwarr thrust forward a rolled-up piece of paper as though it were a weapon.
Rowen took it but didn't unroll it. He considered passing it to Igrid then handed it over his shoulder to Sir Issa. After all, if a fight broke out, he valued Igrid's sword arm more than anyone else's.
The unnamed Dwarr stood on the plains for a moment, arms crossed, then said, "The Scion deserves an answer."
"And I am happy to provide one," Rowen said. "Tell the Scion that on behalf of the Knights and Shel'ai at Cadavash, we accept his apology."
The young Dwarr narrowed his eyes.
"That is what this message is about, is it not?" Rowen reached back and took the scroll from Sir Issa but still did not open it. "Forgive me, I assumed the Scion wanted to apologize for that last message he sent, presumably while drunk or throwing a tantrum." He glanced at Igrid. "What did it say, my love? Something about children with purple eyes being damned to Fohl's hells..."
"And us, too." Igrid fixed the Dwarr in a murderous stare. "I was partial to the bit about us drowning in our own blood unless we agreed to turn the Shel'ai over."
The Dwarr ignored Igrid, fixing his gaze on Rowen. "Magic is an abomination. Magic is responsible for the destruction of Stillhammer and the near annihilation of my people, not to mention countless deaths among the Free Cities. Do you deny this?"
"Since I saw most of this firsthand... not in the least."
The Dwarr blinked, clearly surprised by the answer.
Rowen continued. "But here's what you're forgetting: magic is also responsible for the destruction of Chorlga and his Dragonjol. Magic is why you're still alive. As for the Shel'ai, they had nothing to do with what happened at Stillhammer - especially those Shel'ai children who are under my protection."
The Dwarr answered quickly, as though he'd already been waiting to give his carefully prepared answer. "All magic's the same. That's how it's been since the days of the Dragonkin. It is a corruption of the natural order of things. The Scion requests that you repent your sins and join him so that this land may be cleansed. Do so, and you will be forgiven."
Despite the pain in his ribs, Rowen took a step forward. Though he stood half a head taller than the Dwarr, the latter met his gaze without blinking.
Rowen said, I've seen women and children butchered by steel, yet still you wear a sword."
The Dwarr frowned. "Is that your best answer?"
"No, this is my answer." Rowen stepped back and drew his sword.
The Dwarr recoiled, but Rowen already had the tip of his adamune resting against the Dwarr's throat. The riders behind him tensed as though about to charge but changed their minds when Igrid and the other Knights drew their own blades and stepped forward.
Rowen waited until the commotion died down. "I'm told I have a temper. I don't like that, so I'm willing to repeat myself from time to time. But this is the last time I intend to say this. These children are under my protection. If your so-called Scion has a problem with that, tell him he can ride to Cadavash to discuss it with me in person. I'll be waiting."
Rowen sheathed his sword. His Knights followed suit though Rowen noted that Igrid kept his shortswords drawn and a derisive gaze locked on the Dwarr, as though daring him to strike.
Instead, the Dwarr shook his head and backed away. "We came in peace, Knight. You had no cause to act this way. But still, forgiveness is possible. We serve the gods. Repent - or next time, we'll come with fire and steel."
Rowen watched as the Dwarr mounted his horse, wheeled about, and led the others away in a haughty gallop. Then Rowen unrolled the scroll. He'd hardly begun to read it when he stopped, tore it in half, and let it fall from his hands.
Igrid snickered. "Not an apology, I take it?"
"No, but they're getting more open with their threats."
Rowen waved the Knights back inside, noticing as he passed through the open gates that nearly the entire population of Cadavash - Knights, squires, and Shel'ai - had gathered in the courtyard. A handful of violet-eyed children stared up at him with worry. Murmuring filled the courtyard, but all fell silent as Rowen stood before them.
Rowen scooped up one of the Shel'ai children and held her. Though painfully aware of the many eyes on him, he forced himself to speak anyway. "Humans, Sylvs, Shel'ai... all are welcome here. If any fool insists on testing that... well, I wouldn't say much for his chances."
Someone laughed. Someone else cheered. His Knights picked up the cheer, and a few clapped him on the back. Rowen winced with pain but forced himself to smile. He set the child down and watched her run away. A few Shel'ai in the distance stared at him with indecipherable expressions before they turned and walked away as well.
He turned to Igrid. "Help me back inside."
Igrid slipped one hand around his waist. "As you say, m'lord." She winked again.
About the author:
When he's not researching medieval weaponry or the personal life of Ray Liotta, Michael Meyerhofer teaches Creative Writing to college kids who have never heard of Credence Clearwater Revival and all drive way nicer cars than he does. In his spare time, he writes books. He's the author of four poetry books and a fantasy trilogy, with a second trilogy forthcoming. His work has appeared in Asimov's, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Strange Horizons, Ploughshares, Planet Magazine, Hayden's Ferry, Rattle, and other journals.