Available on Amazon
Paperback out Christmas 2016
Cover art Chris Taggart
The old king dies, murdered with only the moon to bear witness. Now, a tyrant rules the land of Sturma in an iron grip, and a terrifying new threat masses across the ocean on the world of Rythe. The land, and humanity itself, balances on the brink of destruction.
But hope remains, for the line of kings lives on in one man.
He is the hunted man. The master of the blade. The leader of the lost.
He is the Outlaw King.
The old warrior turned his face to the rain.
He’d seen enough death to know his own was upon him. He’d done his bleeding.
The sky unleashed its fury but he could not feel the rain. Ulrane’s passion and rage had not been enough to see him through. His son, the last of the line of Sturman kings, had still been taken from him.
The boy would have grown to be fine man. He fought the Thane of Naeth’s men just as hard as his father. Young though he may be, he found blood this day.
Ulrane could only hope that the Thane would not use the boy badly. That he would kill him quickly. Had Ulrane been a lesser man, he would have despaired. But he was proud of his son. He held onto that pride as death embraced him. These last moments were too precious, these last memories too sweet, to give over to useless tears.
There should have been trumpets. There should have been a year of mourning, but there would be no rites to mark the passing of the line of kings, and none but the Thane would ever know of his son. Would that the boy could have lived.
But no regrets. A man could not pass Madal’s Gates that way.
Regret was not for kings.
He would take the love of his wife, his father, his only son, and hold them to him like jewels as he passed the Gate. A rich man in love and life, perhaps such treasures could survive death.
Ulrane wondered why they hadn’t murdered the boy, when he fought so hard. Why they stayed their hand.
Maybe there was hope yet, even in this dark hour.
The last gentle patter of rain fell. Hren, the larger of Rythe’s two moons, came out from behind a dark cloud.
‘Tulathia, look over him if you will, grant him swift death if you won’t,’ his final prayer, spoken with his dying breath, hung on the air.
And so it was that the king died, with only a solitary moon to bear witness.
The Child King
The wood cracked, loud on the still air. The split round fell, half left, half right, with the piles already there.
In the Spar, winters were always hard.
Gard placed another log on the stump. His sweat cooled in the frosty air. A big man, thick across the shoulder, with a firm paunch, his hands dwarfed the axe handle. His muscles were not for show.
His hair ran to grey. His nose had been broken in his youth, and never set right. It lay flat against a broad, pleasant face. It was a face his wife grown to love in the thirty years of marriage, years in which he forgot the hardships of his youth.
The big man, as his wife called him, stood shirtless. For a moment he did not move, just listened. He always stood still when listening hard. This time he heard soft footsteps carrying to him with no wind to bring it. He swung the axe with just enough strength to embed the head in the stump.
‘I’ve not finished yet, boy,’ he called out, turning round.
‘I thought you could use a warm drink. Your old bones aren’t made to withstand the chill.’
‘These old bones have known more harsh winters than you’ve lived, and mind your cheek, Tarn.’
Tarn, a wiry thirteen year old, put the brewed juice on the stump, next to the axe.
‘My apologies, Big Man,’ Tarn said politely. ‘Perhaps I could take a turn at the axe. Give you a rest, after all your years of toil.’
‘I’m still young enough to give you a black ear.’
‘I don’t doubt it. I’m still nimble enough to get away.’
Tarn eyed the big man, his muscles, the glint in his grey eyes.
‘Hm,’ said Gard. ‘And maybe you’re not as daft as you look.’
Tarn had come to the farm one month ago, bloodied and alone. Gard’s woman, Molly, took him in and gave him food. Not a word would the boy speak on where he got his wound. Even now the scar on his face stood livid in the frigid air. It would not fade with age, Gard knew from experience, but thicken and mark the boy for a warrior or a victim.
Gard could only imagine what the boy did to arouse such hatred in an attacker, for surely it was meant to be a mortal cut.
The scar ran down the right side of Tarn’s smooth face, from eye to chin. He was lucky to have both eyes. Hell, he was lucky to have a face. The wound still bled when Tarn turned up at the farm, pale from loss of blood. Gard found out later just how far the boy had walked.
Molly stitched the wound as best she could and saved the worst of the scarring with a hot poultice, changed every day.
He would still be a fine man. Thick dark hair, fierce eyes and good bones. Clearly Sturman, but somehow Gard knew he was not from the Spar. His accent, for one thing. He spoke clearly with no accent to speak of, like he came from everywhere at once. The boy’s speech, too. He seemed far better educated than any boy Gard knew. And many adults, for that matter.
The night the boy turned up on their doorstep Gard traced the boy’s tracks. He travelled for miles, leaving the boy with Molly. Told Molly he was going to find the witch, Mia. What he found he never told his wife, but lied, said the witch was away with a birthing.
Three men’s corpses, he found, slaughtered where they stood. From the crest on their cloaks, Gard knew only too well who they were. The Thane of Naeth’s stolen crest, the boar rampant, on their cloaks.
Powerful enemies indeed.
The marks on the soldiers were the marks of a beast, like something had gored their chests and legs. But the wound on the boy was without doubt that of a sword. The three men bore swords. One, unsheathed, had lain blooded beside a torn body.
It could only have been the boy’s blood – the beast escaped unharmed. A wounded man also escaped.
He knew the boy would not be staying. If one lived, they all knew the boy lived, too. They would come for him.
What hatred must those men have harboured to so disfigure this young, pleasant boy? To want him dead?
Gard did not spend too long pondering the problem. What would be would be. Now he and Molly had a child around the house. A dream they thought would never come true. Though blessed with love, love sometimes is not enough.
For now, Tarn being there was enough. Gard was wise enough to accept small gifts, no matter how soon the glitter faded.
‘What’s my woman doing?’ Gard asked.
‘Molly is baking,’ Tarn said. Unconsciously he fingered the scar. The boy did it whenever he was thoughtful.
‘What’s on your mind, boy?’
Gard thought he saw sadness on the boy’s face. It passed in an instant, though. Gard only ever saw the boy’s sadness in glimpses. Something troubled him, but Tarn guarded his secrets closely.
Gard’s knew when to speak and when to hold his council. Tarn would speak in his own time or not at all.
‘Nothing, just cold, that’s all.’
‘Well, I’ve just the thing to warm you up,’ said Gard, picking up his brew and pointing to the axe. ‘Make yourself useful.’
Tarn smiled. ‘I thought you weren’t too old.’
‘I’m not, but I’ll have no lazy boys under my roof.’
‘But I am just a boy, after all,’ said Tarn craftily.
‘I was chopping wood at seven. You could do worse. It’ll put some muscle on that scrawny frame of yours.’
Tarn sighed and pulled the axe free with ease. Scrawny, true, but he had muscles on his frame. More than most boys his age. From a hard life, that much was obvious.
‘I suppose someone needs to take up the slack.’
An hour later, Gard marvelled again at the stamina of the boy. He was as strong as an ox, even though he looked thin and underfed.
He wondered for the last time that day where the boy came from. Then he put it to one side.
If the gods meant him to know, he would, in time.