Title: RuinSeries: The Faithful And The Fallen #3Published by:
Pan MacMillanRelease Date:
10/03/2016Genre: FantasyPages: 768ISBN13:
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The third in The Faithful and the Fallen series, Ruin by John Gwynne continues the gripping battle of good vs evil.
The Banished Lands are engulfed in war and chaos. The cunning Queen Rhin has conquered the west and High King Nathair has the cauldron, most powerful of the seven treasures. At his back stands the scheming Calidus and a warband of the Kadoshim, dread demons of the Otherworld. They plan to bring Asroth and his host of the Fallen into the world of flesh, but to do so they need the seven treasures. Nathair has been deceived but now he knows the truth. He has choices to make; choices that will determine the fate of the Banished Lands.
Elsewhere the flame of resistance is growing - Queen Edana finds allies in the swamps of Ardan. Maquin is loose in Tenebral, hunted by Lykos and his corsairs. Here he will witness the birth of a rebellion in Nathair's own realm.
Corban has been swept along by the tide of war. He has suffered, lost loved ones, sought only safety from the darkness. But he will run no more. He has seen the face of evil and he has set his will to fight it. The question is, how? With a disparate band gathered about him - his family, friends, giants, fanatical warriors, an angel and a talking crow - he begins the journey to Drassil, the fabled fortress hidden deep in the heart of Forn Forest. For in Drassil lies the spear of Skald, one of the seven treasures, and here it is prophesied that the Bright Star will stand against the Black Sun
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The Year 1143 of the Age of Exiles, Eagle Moon
Ulfilas touched his heels to his horse’s side, urging her up the incline before him, a slope of grey rock and gravel littered with the remains of long-dead trees. Beside him King Jael kept pace, his face set in rigid lines. A dozen paces ahead of them rode Jael’s huntsman, Dag.
Jael should not be here, Ulfilas thought, a knot of worry shifting in his gut. The King of Isiltir, wandering in the northern wilderness on a fool’s errand. It was not that Ulfilas felt any great sense of loyalty to Jael; he didn’t even like the man. It was more that after all they had been through, to die now on a journey like this, which he considered a waste of time, would feel foolish.
Ulfilas was aware that times were changing, there was war on the horizon, and the power in Isiltir needed consolidating. He had been Jael’s shieldman since he’d sat his Long Night, and despite his dislike of Jael’s character and practices, Ulfilas was also a pragmatic man. I’m a warrior. Got to fight for someone. Recent events had proven his choice well made. King Romar was dead. Kastell, Jael’s cousin, was dead. Gerda, estranged wife of Romar, was dead. Her young son, Haelan, technically speaking still heir to the throne of Isiltir, was missing. Running. He knew that Jael felt little to no loyalty towards the men who followed him, that the new self-proclaimed King of Isiltir was scheming, vain and power hungry and would do whatever it took to keep his newly won crown. But he was a man on the rise. And so Ulfilas had stuck with him, when a voice in his mind had been telling him to walk away and find another, more worthy, lord to serve.
A conscience? he wondered. Hah, a conscience doesn’t put food on my plate or keep my head from a spike.
‘How much longer?’ Jael called ahead.
‘Not much longer, my lord,’ the huntsman Dag called back. ‘We’ll be with them before sunset.’
Close to the top of the incline Ulfilas reined in his horse and looked back.
A column of warriors wound up the slope behind him, surrounding a wain pulled by two hulking auroch. Beyond them the land stretched grey and desolate, further south the fringes of Forn Forest were a green blur. A river in the distance sparkled under the dipping sun, marking the border of this northern wasteland with the realm beyond.
Isiltir. Home. Ulfilas looked away, back up the slope towards his King, and spurred his horse after him.
They travelled ever northwards as the sun sank lower, shadows stretching about them, their path winding through empty plains and steep-sided ravines. Once they crossed a stone bridge that spanned a deep abyss; Ulfilas looked down into the darkness. His stomach shifted as his horse stumbled on loose stone, the thought of falling into the unknown making him snatch at his reins. He let out a long breath when they reached the far side, the sharp rush of fear receding as quickly as it had appeared.
They rode into a series of barren foothills, eventually cresting another slope to find Dag silently waiting for them. Ulfilas and his King drew level with the huntsman and pulled their mounts to a standstill at the sight before them.
A flat plain unfolded into the distance, the tips of mountains jagged on the horizon. Just below the travellers lay their destination: a great crater, as if Elyon the Maker had punched a fist into the fabric of the earth, barren of life and no breeze or sound of wildlife to disturb it.
‘The starstone crater,’ Jael whispered.
Ulfilas had thought it more tale than truth, the rumoured site of the starstone that had fallen from the sky.
How many thousands of years ago was it supposed to have crashed to the earth? And from it the Seven Treasures were said to have been forged, over which past wars had changed the face of the Banished Lands, not least of all here, where the stories told how Elyon’s Scourging had broken the land, scorching it black.
Ulfilas stared up at the sky, slate-grey and swollen with clouds, and imagined for a moment that they were filled with the white-feathered Ben-Elim and Asroth’s demon horde. He could almost hear their battle-cries echoing about him, hear the clash of weapons, the death-screams.
Elyon and Asroth, Maker and Destroyer, their angels and demons fighting for supremacy over these Banished Lands. I thought it all a faery tale. And now I am told it is happening again.
Riding through these lands now Ulfilas found himself believing what, only a year ago, he had thought to be bedtime stories for bairns. He thought of the time he had spent at Haldis, the burial ground of the Hunen giants hidden deep in Forn Forest. He had witnessed a king betrayed and slain over a black axe said to be one of the Seven Treasures carved from the starstone; he had seen white wyrms, and earth magic where solid ground turned into a swamp, suffocating the life from his sword-brothers. He was a man of action – of deeds. Monsters made real were not something he’d found easy to accept. Fear churned in his gut at just the memory of it.
Fear keeps you sharp.
Further down the slope and built on the lip of the crater was the carcass of an ancient fortress, walls and towers broken and crumbling. Figures moved amongst the ruins, mere pinpricks in the distance.
‘The Jotun,’ said Jael.
The giants of the north. Rumoured to be strongest and fiercest of the surviving giant clans. Not for the first time Ulfilas questioned the wisdom of this journey.
‘No sudden movements,’ Dag said, ‘and keep your wits about you.’
Some of the Jotun’s number filtered out of the ruins, gathering on the road that cut through the derelict walls, their spear-tips and mail catching the sinking sun. A handful were mounted on shaggy, lumbering creatures.
‘Are they riding bears?’ Ulfilas asked.
‘We’ve all heard the tales of the Jotun in the north,’ Jael said. ‘It would appear some of those tales, at least, are true.’
They stopped at the first remains of a wall, the column of riders behind them rippling to a halt. Warriors spread from the path, curling about Jael like a protective hand. Ten score of Jael’s best shieldmen. Ulfilas could feel the tension amongst them, saw the way hands gripped spear shafts and sword hilts.
Giants appeared from the ruins, moving with surprising grace despite their bulk. Some sat on the path ahead of them upon the backs of dark-furred and yellow-clawed bears. Ulfilas knew Jael was right to be wary, they’d seen first-hand at the Battle of Haldis how deadly an attacking force of giants could be. If it hadn’t been for the men of Tenebral forming their wall of shields and stopping the Hunen giants’ attack that had been tearing the warbands of Isiltir and Helveth apart, then Ulfilas knew none of them would be here today.
Too late to learn the shield wall now, but I swear, if I make it home . . .
One of the bear-riders moved ahead of the others, a tremor passing through the ground with the bear’s every footfall. It halted before Jael, looming over him.
The giant slid from a tall-backed saddle and strode forward, blond hair and moustache bound in thick braids. A cloak of dark fur wrapped his wide frame, the glint of iron beneath it. In his hand he held a thick-shafted spear, a war-hammer was left strapped to his saddle. His bear watched them with small, intelligent eyes. It curled a lip, showing a line of sharp teeth.
‘Welcome to the Desolation, Jael, King of Isiltir,’ the giant said. His voice sounded like gravel sliding over stone.
‘Greetings, Ildaer, warlord of the Jotun,’ Jael replied. He beckoned behind him, his warriors parted to allow the wain forward. One of the shaggy auroch that pulled it snorted and dug at the ground with a hoof.
It doesn’t like the smell of bear any more than I do.
Jael pulled back a cloth that covered the wain’s contents. ‘It is as my envoys promised you. A tribute. Weapons of your ancestors, hoarded at Dun Kellen,’ he said, reaching in and with difficulty pulling out a huge battle-axe. ‘My gift to you.’
Ildaer gestured and another giant moved to the wain, a broad-sword slung across his back. He stood as tall as Jael did upon his horse. The giant took the axe, turning it in his hands, then peered into the wain. He could not hide the look of joy that swept his face.
‘They are the weapons of our kin,’ he said with a nod to Ildaer.
‘I return them to you, as a token of my goodwill, and part payment of a task that I need your aid in.’
The giant gripped the aurochs’ harness and led them forward, Ildaer peering in as the wain passed him. Giants pressed close about it.
‘And what is to stop me from killing you and your men, and giving your carcasses to my bears?’
‘I am of more value to you alive. You are a man of intellect, I have been told. Not a savage.’
Ildaer looked at Jael, his eyes narrowing beneath his jutting brow. He glanced back over his shoulder at the wain full of weapons.
‘And besides, who is to say that we would not kill you and all of your warband?’ Jael said.
The giants behind Ildaer all glowered at Jael.
A bear growled.
Ulfilas felt the familiar spike of fear – the precursor to sudden violence. His fingers twitched upon his sword hilt.
‘Hah,’ Ildaer laughed. ‘I think I like you, southlander.’
Ulfilas felt the moment pass, the tension ebbing. Southlander? Isiltir is not one of the southlands. But then, we are in the northlands now. They call anything south of here the southlands.
Ildaer looked back at the wain again. ‘That is of great worth to my people,’ he admitted.
‘It is nothing compared to what I am prepared to give, if you can help me.’ Jael told him.
‘What is it that you want?’
‘I want you to find a runaway boy for me.’