Hello everyone out there in cyberspace! For the past several months, I've been hard at work on a brand new novel, a romantic, adventurous blending of science fiction and fantasy, which will be the start of a whole new series that I call The Chronicles of Aeòvandàr. The first book in the series will be called Dralkowynn's Doom, with the other titles being similar in that they'll all be called "Dralkowynn's something," etc. These tales will, as I said, be a combination of high fantasy and hard sci-fi . . . a world where the masters of arcane technology are called Wizards, and where Faery creatures (modeled on the Celtic Túatha de Danann), are actually alien beings from the stars.
So, then . . . ladies and gentlemen — for your consideration, please allow me to proudly present an excerpt from Dralkowynn's Doom:
A thousand and one hundred years later, in Aeòthánia, capital of the Kingdom known as Lóeth-Lórica, King Evrin Dralkowynn paced back and forth in the throne-room of his castle-keep, studying the map of the city that his top two generals, Valarys Sagyren and Albrecht Stonewarden, had laid out for him on a large wooden table. Dotted with small pewter figurines, the map indicated potential defensive strategies, with hastily-scribbled notes scratched in places, the strokes of the two generals’ quill-pens as different as the men themselves. Valarys and Albrecht—the first a stodgy old-timer with a hard-lined face and a patch over the eye that he had lost in the last war, the second a somewhat younger, more fastidious man of thirty, his uniform immaculate and his tiny mustache finely oiled—stood on either side of their king, also looking down at the map. Whatever differences were between the two men, the expressions that they wore now were equally dark and grim. Outside the arrow-slit windows of the elongated, elliptical and finely-polished throne room, the rain continued, as did the boom of thunder from above. Perhaps a sign from the gods that his reign was soon to end. He would have to consult with Ibrahaim about that. Presently, the pious old priest with thin, greying hair and wrinkles beneath his eyes—dressed in a plain, grey robe as befitted his office—sat across from Evrin and between the two generals, quietly pondering a passage from that holiest of books, the Legendarium. The room was lit by candle-light and a fireplace, and their flickering fires cast a yellow-orange pallor over the faces of all those assembled, faces darkened by the sure knowledge that come morning, there might not be a castle-keep left to stand in, let alone defend.
From outside the keep came the sounds of a city under siege—shouts of orders, the ring of metal on metal, the hollering of attacking troops, the sound and smell of fires burning out of control—raged, the thunderstorm a gloomy backdrop for the city’s gradual destruction. That bastard Ronel Talamouth, ruler of the neighboring kingdom of Ardyngard, had declared war on Evrin and his people, and had vowed to overtake all of Lóeth-Lórica and to annex its lands for his own. He already occupied the river-city of Rydderton, and had now managed to slash and burn his way eastward, all the way to the very heart of Lóeth-Lórica itself, to the very walls of its capital! Since the end of the Great Winter in 100 A.E., nine hundred years before, his forefathers and their forefathers had labored to build Aeòthánia into the glorious city it was now—a grand mecca of commerce and affluence known the seven kingdoms over, the beauty of its architecture unparalleled by any other city anywhere—and now, it was all going to be torn down and destroyed, its tall, silver-needle towers toppled by a madman. And if the present siege lasted much longer, the destruction would begin from within, for without supplies from the outside world, Evrin’s people would soon begin to starve . . . and then the riots would begin, and he’d have yet another front on which to fight . . . but this time, the enemy would be his own people!
He did not have enough men to put down riots and drive back Ronel’s forces. He knew this, and so did Valarys and Albrecht. Trell, so did Ibrahaim, and he wasn't even a strategist! But, having enough men was not always the answer. He had fought both Dragons and Dràthýrg-hordes with fewer than “enough” men, and had lived to tell the tale. He would survive this, too, and so would his people. He would protect them with his dying breath, if he had to, for unlike that tyrant Ronel, he considered himself a good king who actually loved his subjects . . . when they weren’t rioting in the streets for his head, that was. Outside the castle, thunder crashed again, and lightning flashed.
“Well, your Majesty?” said Valarys with a sigh. “What do we do, now? If you ask me, we’re fresh out of options. We need to think about surrender. Doing so could yield a tactical advantage, in the long-run.”
"Prayer is always an option, your Majesty," said Ibrahaim, closing his battered copy of the Legendarium and sighing heavily. “The gods will always reward fealty and service with justice, your Majesty, no matter the odds against those who truly believe. So, I advise we pray, and wait for the gods to intervene. After all, it cannot hurt.”
“Ha!” barked Valarys. “Prayer! A perfect way to convince yourself that you’re doing something positive when in fact you’re doing nothing.”
“Spare us your irreligious cynicism, General,” said Ibrahaim, drawing himself up a bit. “That’s not helpful, either.”
Evrin pinched his nostrils together and sighed. “Is that truly the best idea that any of you have? To merely pray harder, and hope that the gods come down here and intervene? Come on, Ibrahaim. I’m as pious a King as any—it was through the mingling of my ancestors’ blood with that of the gods, once upon a time, that established the Divine Right to begin with—but even I have to say that ‘prayer’ isn’t exactly a compelling solution. What am I supposed to do—go out there on that balcony and tell my subjects to all just pray harder, and that food will Magically appear for them? Come on, pull the other one.”
Ibrahaim shrugged. “It couldn’t hurt, your Majesty.”
“No, I’ll tell you what we’ll do . . .” said Evrin, taking a sip of his wine. Outside, the sounds of steel on steel and of men dying in battle drifted up through the castle-keep windows. He refilled his goblet from the pitcher, took another drink, then sighed. “My old friends, it is time to take risks, to gamble. Even on long-odds such as this . . .” He snapped his fingers and set down his wine. He had had an idea. “That man, the one from the Guild. The one who came here yesterday for an audience with me. The one I dismissed as a ‘crackpot.’ You two were here at the time, weren’t you? What was that man’s name, again?”
The two generals exchanged a look. Albrecht looked thoughtful for a moment, then answered. “I believe his name was . . . Trevail, your Majesty. Yes, Arthur Trevail, of the Natural Philosophers’ Guild. Fairly sure about that. But sure, surely you’re not thinking of listening to that one! The man’s clearly unhinged, a lunatic!”
“Hmph!” snorted Ibrahaim, a sour look on his face. “‘Natural Philosophers’—bah! Sorcery, if you ask me. Little better than the invocation of demons. One problem does not solve another, your Majesty, and believe me, that lot are a problem just waiting to happen. Next thing you know, you’ll be calling on the Rangers to get involved!”
“This whole damned war is ‘unhinged,’ and I’m fighting a lunatic,” replied Evrin bitterly, shaking his head. “No. I should not have dismissed the man—nor his ideas—so quickly. We are tight on treasure, yes, and his plan is expensive, yes . . . and no, it isn’t likely to succeed . . . but perhaps we’re not so tight that we cannot gamble that he is secretly some sort of genius. Where’s a page when I need one. Elric? Elric!” Evrin looked around as he called to the young, sandy-blond-headed pageboy, who stood nervously at attention, just behind Albrecht. The boy had wanted to join the army and fight, Evrin remembered, but his lazy left eye had prevented it. He had spirit, though, that one, and Evrin liked spirit. “Ah, there you are, boy. Do your king’s will and go to tell the Guardsmen out front to go and fetch me a man named Arthur Trevail. He’s a member of the Natural Philosopher’s Guild, so he should be fairly easy to find. He’s probably somewhere in that blackstone tower of theirs, the one near the eastern gates. And tell them to hurry!”
“Yes, your Majesty!” cried Elric, snapping to attention. He darted out of the room, and closed the doors behind him. For a brief moment, when the doors opened, Evrin could hear the chaos of his great city, could hear the fires Ronel had set crackling, could hear each clash of swords, each scream as each spear went through each gut . . . and it sickened him. Was this truly the end of his reign? Aeòthánia? Lóeth-Lórica? Was his legacy to be a king who went down in flames, in utter defeat and ruin?
“Good lad, that one,” observed Albrecht, gesturing to where Elric had stood. “Pretty boy, too. I might want to borrow him sometime. For administrative purposes, of course.”
“So, your Majesty,” said Valarys, clearing his throat and casting a disapproving eye toward Albrecht. “We bet everything on this one man’s wild ideas about this ‘exploding powder’ of his, or whatever he called it? Mixing bird shit with ashes to produce . . . what again? Pfaw! Forgive me, sire, but surely—”
“For once the General and I agree, your Majesty,” said Ibrahaim, nodding fiercely. “I warn you, sire: We of the Magisteria cannot officially sanction or condone any course of action that draws too heavily on the talents of those . . . Philosophers and their blasphemous ‘researches.’ Anything that emboldens those men must be thought of as a last resort, and a last resort only! Surely, your Majesty will not entrust the safety of the kingdom to those . . . those impious atheists.” He cast a sharp eye toward Valarys.
“Wait!” said Albrecht, snapping his fingers, an idea lighting on his face. “I’ve got it. Perhaps we could use the old sewer tunnels under the city as escape routes! We could begin evacuating immediately, your Majesty. Why, some of those tunnels lead all the way to the Gorovalyne River! We could start getting our people to safety immediately. The river leads directly into Ashen Forest, and on through to the kingdom of Edòrica. Surely Queen Desdera would take us in, your Majesty. She has ever been our friend and ally, so why not?”
“No, no, no,” said Valarys, shaking his head. “We already discussed something similar when this siege first began, and those tunnels simply aren’t big enough. They can get as narrow as two feet across in some places, and there’s a very real danger of cave-ins . . . and then you’re dealing with dozens of dead or trapped people and a backed-up sewer-line. There’s a reason the sewers are closed to foot-travel, aside from the fact that they’re full of muck and stink to high-heavens. So, no.”
Albrecht looked crestfallen for a moment. “Well then your Majesty, perhaps we should consider surrender.”
Evrin scowled at him. “No. Never. I shall never yield to that bastard!”
“Normally, I would agree, your Majesty,” said Valarys. “But if the rumors I’ve heard about Ronel’s armies are true, then surrender may not be save us. I’ve heard he has Draytorilaen slaves fighting for him.” His tone was as grim as the subject he spoke of; the word itself carried terrifying weight.
“That can’t be true,” said Evrin. “The Draytorilaen are an unbreakable, indomitable people. We know, we’ve tried. So how can Ronel have some as slaves?” Still, the prospect worried him greatly. The Draytorilaen were not Human. They were large, blue-furred wolfen man-beasts—half wolf, half man, all appetite and savagery—who lived in the forests and glens and caves of the world, their primitive societies little better than tribal structures, their tongues crude and their weapons even cruder. They were fierce warriors, and it was known that they rarely took any prisoners . . . and when they seldom did, those prisoners were never heard from again. Centuries before, they and Humankind had become bitter enemies, with the Humans of the world hunting them for their rich pelts, and with them hunting Humans as food. The Legendarium spoke of a time when the two had been friends, even allies, but Evrin wasn’t so sure that he believed everything the Legendarium said.
Just then, there came a sharp knock at the door. The four men exchanged puzzled looks. As King, Evrin did not have any other business scheduled. He had made sure of that; he had partitioned off this time specifically for a discussion on strategy with these two, and to take some time to listen to whatever advice Ibrahaim had to give. All his aides knew better than to bother him when he was in session with someone—especially his two chief military advisers and his Magisterial adviser. Outside, the sounds of battle continued, the brutal cries of a city under attack, the roaring of great fires, the death-rattles of his mighty empire, his legacy . . .
“Tell whoever it is to go away!” Evrin yelled to the Guardsman by the door, and pounded his fist on the map in frustration. “The King is well-occupied!”
The Guardsman gave a brief salute—fist on heart for a quick moment, coupled with a bow of the head—turned and opened the door, and spoke softly to whoever was there. Then, he paused, and looked back at his king, a slightly consternated look on his face, as though he wasn’t sure what to do next. He shut the door, appeared to think for a moment, and then crossed the room to where Evrin and the other two stood. He gave a brief but respectful bow, and then said:
“Erm, your Majesty . . . they . . . they say it’s urgent that they speak with you.” He had a far-off look in his eyes, and his voice was tinged with a mixture of wonder and— fear? His expression said that he was currently very busy trying to sort out some complex problem. “They say . . . they say that if you grant them an audience . . . they can stop the siege of the city, sire. They say they can even stop the war.”
“Oh-ho!” Evrin laughed bitterly. “Can ‘they’ now? And just who might ‘they’ be?”
“I . . . didn’t get a name, sire,” the Guardsman replied, sounding extremely unsure of himself. “I’ve never . . . never really seen anything quite like this before. But they said they are here to help.”
“Great,” snorted Ibrahaim. “What now—the Rangers? Mercenary scoundrels, that lot! Or perhaps more godless Philosophers?”
Evrin squared his shoulders, sighed, and glowered at both Ibrahaim and the Guardsman. “Well tell whoever it is that their service is appreciated, but that their king commands them to go the Trell away. And if ‘they’ do not leave, then do your duty and arrest ‘them,’ whoever ‘they’ may be, Guardsman.” He returned his gaze to the map. “Now, then, gentlemen, where were—”
“But we can end this siege for you, and end the war, your Majesty,” came the ringing of a powerful-sounding female voice from every corner of the room at once. Quickly, Evrin and the others looked around for the source. The voice came again: “In fact, your Majesty, that is already in progress as we speak.” As startled as the rest of them, the Guardsman turned aside to reveal their new—and apparently, very insolent, thought Evrin—visitors. He and his two generals could only gawk at them. Strolling into the throne-room through the gilded double-doors that led to the rest of the palace, there came a group of three men and four women, all with unnaturally pale-white skin, no hair upon their shiny heads, and bright, glimmering, jewel-like eyes . . . eyes so bright they were almost aflame, like stars settled into craters on their faces. And, all of their eyes were the same, vivid shade of almost-glowing blue, Evrin noted. He would later remember thinking, breathlessly, such striking eyes! So odd.
Their visitors were dressed only in hooded robes of jet-black silk, their many folds held in place by small, black, studded leather straps that went to and fro. Odder still. And of the twelve, a regal young woman—or at least, she looked young; the skin of her face had a strange, ageless quality to it—walked out in front, a soft half-smile on her lips. The tip of her tall white staff had a bright, green jewel embedded in it, and it clicked softly against the polished stone flooring as she walked. And with each click of wood to stone, the jewel in the top of the staff flashed with emerald light. Even odder still. And upon those shorn heads of theirs . . . were those crowns? They had the look of silver circlets, with strange, glistening hieroglyphs inscribed on them. But no, wait . . . Evrin could see, with a small wince, that they were not crowns at all, nor were they merely decorative: No, they were part of their heads themselves, as painful and impossible as that sounded; the circlets were seemingly fastened to the skull itself, and protruded up though the skin like strange, ring-shaped metal bones. Their bearers did not appear to be in pain, though. In fact, the bald, pale woman with the tall, bejeweled staff and striking blue eyes was presently smiling at them. “You Humans,” she said with a sigh, looking Evrin up and down. “Still playing your ‘game of thrones’ after all these centuries. What are we to do with you, I wonder?”