Sword of Wrath (Kormak Book Eight) (The Kormak Saga 8), p.1William King
Sword of Wrath
Book Eight of the Kormak Saga
About the Author
“Twenty-three good men dead. The Imperial Museum burned to the ground. Countless priceless treasures destroyed. Am I missing anything?”
Prince Taran paced the length of the chamber. Rage twisted his sleek, handsome features. Ash smudged his glossy black hair, clipped beard and elaborate court clothes. He clutched the hilt of his sword as if he wanted to use it on someone.
Kormak slumped in the hard wooden chair. His whole body ached. His eyes felt full of grit. A faint residue of alchemical energy from Valen’s Elixir filled his veins and kept him wakeful. He shifted his position trying to ease his aching back. For all the imperial luxury of their surroundings deep within Trefal Cathedral, there were no comfortable chairs.
“Am I missing anything?” Prince Taran demanded.
Kormak suspected that fear had a lot to do with his anger. The prince was a man more used to causing terror than experiencing it. He kept the palace torture chambers full of his brother’s enemies.
Kormak rose from the chair to loom over the prince. “The Old One haunting your palace is dead. I killed it.”
“And we are grateful for that,” said King-Emperor Aemon, his voice mild. He placed his hands together as if in prayer. His bony face radiated piety. The king glanced at his brother to make sure he got the point. “Who knows what might have happened if you had not been here, Sir Kormak?”
Taran’s face darkened with rage. “Abbot Gerd might still be alive. Our priceless collection of mystical artefacts might not be a pool of melted slag. Tens of thousands of...”
“I think you have said enough, brother.” The king sounded like a monk saying grace over a bad refectory dinner, but Taran grimaced, then swallowed. A vein pulsed high in his forehead. His knuckles were white on his sword hilt. He looked at the painting on the wall; it portrayed his gross, overbearing father raising a goblet in a mocking toast.
Taran muttered “We still do not know who was responsible for the attack.”
Aemon reached over and patted the prince on the shoulder, a man petting a favoured hound once it had been brought to heel. “We will, brother. We will. You need not worry yourself on that score.”
The king glanced at Kormak. His stare was measuring, his expression bland. “I know you are weary, Sir Kormak, but I hope you will aid us.”
The gentleness of his voice sounded a warning note in Kormak’s ears. “I am not sure what more I can do, your majesty. I have killed the Old One. There is no way to make Vorkhul answer any questions.”
“You can track the sarcophagus the Eldrim came in to its source,” said the king. “You are the person best qualified to investigate this matter.”
“With all due respect, your majesty, you must have a hundred people in your service better qualified than I.” Kormak stressed the words in your service. He wanted to remind the king that he was not his sworn bondsman, not even a citizen of Siderea. “And I have duties to perform for my order.”
The king smiled in his usual beatific fashion. His stringy brown hair and beard made him looked like a particularly mild-mannered mouse. “On the contrary, Guardian, I have no one in my service who knows as much about Old Ones as you. I have no one capable of killing such devils single-handed.”
“I did not kill Vorkhul single-handed, your majesty. As your brother has pointed out, I had the aid of many folk, not least yourself, and for that help I am duly grateful.”
The king shook his head, a patient man showing forbearance at another’s intransigence. “My aid was freely given, Sir Kormak, as it always has been and always should be to members of your order.”
The words hung in the air. Aemon was a patron of great power and influence. He could make life difficult for members of the Order of the Dawn if he wanted to. And not just in Siderea. The threat was all the more effective for not being stated.
“The sarcophagus came from Terra Nova,” Kormak said. “More than a thousand leagues away across the World Ocean.”
“I am the owner of over a hundred galleons,” Aemon said. “Arranging transport is no great obstacle.”
Prince Taran’s predatory smile revealed his gleaming white teeth. He was enjoying Kormak’s discomfiture. Something twisted inside Kormak. He did not like being treated as Aemon’s lackey. He wanted out of this palace, out of this whole country. To have time to grieve for his old friend Gerd, dead at the hands of Vorkhul when he could have prevented it.
“It is a long voyage,” said Kormak. “Two months at least. Maybe three.”
“No more than two weeks at this time of the year, if an Imperial Windcaller is aboard to speed you on your way.”
“That is two weeks in which I will be unavailable for my duties.”
“You are saying that your duties are more important than the preservation of the king’s life,” Taran said.
“We do not know that there is any further danger to the king’s life.”
“We do not know anything,” said King Aemon. “And this is something I would rectify. I trust you, Sir Kormak. You have already been of great service to the crown. I wish to be certain that this matter is settled. Believe me—if I thought there was anyone else who could do this, I would appoint them. But there is no one with your knowledge, your prowess or your courage in the face of these undying monsters.”
He paused to give the flattery time to sink in. “I will, of course, recompense your order. For the services you have already rendered me, I feel bound to make an offering in gratitude. Let us say one thousand golden solars. I would double it, triple it even, if you did me this courtesy.”
“Your majesty, I am weary. I do not wish to seem ungrateful, but let me think upon this.”
His answer would be no, but there was no need to tell the king this. He did not want to talk about his fears and doubts with these two formidable men; it was bad enough having to face them on his own.
“Of course, Sir Kormak. I am thoughtless to press you so after such a mighty battle. Go to your rest with my blessing, but please consider all I have said.”
“I will, your majesty. Have I your leave to withdraw?”
Aemon made a gesture of benediction and dismissal. “Walk in the Holy Sun’s Light.”
Kormak trudged down the stairs and out into the nave of the Cathedral. He had won a great battle, yet he felt defeated. He had been forced to use Valen’s Elixir to give him the strength to defeat Vorkhul. The drug had many side-effects, none of them good. He was too old for this.
All around, servants and soldiers came and went. Most of them looked at him with a respect that he did not deserve. He reached the entrance chamber of the Cathedral and considered making his way to his sleeping chambers. Instead, he turned towards the Sanctum of the Angel.
Even at this hour, people were present. Some were priests and monks following the daily routine of any great religious institution. Others were servants or nobles who had crowded in for refuge when word of the Old One Vorkhul’s rampage spread through the palace.
People slept on the pews or sprawled in the corri
The armour was five times his height; it had been made for a being much broader than any mortal man. An elder sign, a pentacle within a circle, dominated the vast metallic chest-plate. The armour radiated a sense of antiquity. It was old, perhaps as old as this world. It had been worn by an Angel of the Sun in his battles with Old Ones in the Dawn Ages of the world.
The metal was scarred. Kormak had journeyed through the Graveyard of Angels in Umbrea. He had seen suits of armour like this. Most were not as large. All had been in far worse states of repair.
The memory swept over him, of a battlefield where angels had died and demons were defeated, where beings who lived as long as stars had perished to protect their mortal charges. It should have been a depressing thought but it was not. It reminded him that the faith he served had mighty allies, that he had a place in the great scheme of things. He was part of an ancient tradition, in the service of a much larger cause.
He looked up at the armour and contemplated the being who had once occupied it. It too had been a soldier of the Light. It too had fought against demons of the Shadow. It had sacrificed itself as Gerd had.
He thought about his friend. He had known the abbot since they were boys together on Mount Aethelas more than thirty years ago. They had trained together, fought together, taken their vows together. They had sworn to protect the innocent, uphold the Law and oppose the Shadow. Gerd had fallen doing that. There could be no better death. Surely he now walked in the Holy Sun’s Light.
And yet emptiness gnawed away at Kormak. Was there really any Light to walk into? He had met beings who questioned the basis of his faith, and they had been convincing. He had slain those said to be gods. He had seen no evidence that they would return as their worshippers claimed. Perhaps it was as some of the ancient philosophers said. There was nothing after death, just non-being.
Gerd had been brave and fought the good fight. He had tried to protect the innocent and oppose the Shadow. He had upheld the Law. Those were worthy things, even if there was no reward save a sense of satisfaction in the present world.
So where was it? Where was the satisfaction? He had no reward but his uncertainty, no judge but his dark thoughts. He could only stand in the shadow of a dead angel and wrestle with doubt, and come up with no answers.
He was just a man. Not a saint. Not a prophet. He could not be expected to answer eternal questions. He needed to find his own way out of his personal darkness and back into the Light. The angel could not help him. The kneeling priests could not help him.
He thought about Aemon and his brother. He disliked the way they expected to be obeyed. He disliked their arrogance and their sense of entitlement. Almost as much, he disliked the fact that they were right. The sarcophagus needed to be investigated, and he was the best man for that job.
Or perhaps he just needed to believe that he was. He wanted to have a purpose. He wanted to feel certain of anything again, as he had felt certain of everything when he was young.
He bowed his head to the angel, turned and left the Cathedral behind. He wished he could leave his doubts behind so easily.
The sunstone atop the Cathedral spire lit the courtyard bright as day. The air reeked of destruction. The collapsed roof of the Imperial Museum loomed before him like the skeleton of some beached sea monster.
Lady Marketa, the Lunar Ambassador, strode across the courtyard, flanked by two of her massive bodyguards. Her silver dress shimmered like moonlit fish-scale, the long train somehow drifting over the soot-blackened cobblestones. Strange symbols glowed on her rings and tiara. Cowled monks scurried away from her. Armoured guards turned their heads to look away. For all her raven-haired beauty, fear radiated around her. All knew she was a sorceress sworn to the service of the traditional enemies of Siderea.
“Blessings of the Lady upon you, Sir Kormak.” She walked right up to him. He caught the spiced scent of her perfume. It was subtle and alien. She tugged at one strand of erotically-disarranged black hair. “I hear you have been busy.”
“News travels fast,” Kormak said.
Her bodyguards glared at him for his disrespectful tone. They were even bigger than he was, and their expression was stony. Kormak doubted they would try anything in such a public place, but he moved to put Lady Marketa within easy striking distance if he needed to grab her and use her as a shield.
She smiled as if she understood what he was doing, and made a small hand gesture. The two big men backed off.
“Word has it you killed an Old One. In what remains of the Museum. Next to the Moon Gate I have been tasked with returning to my people.”
“Come now. There is no need to be so coy. I am as aware of what happens in the Palace as your friend Frater Jonas.”
“I won’t ask you how you achieve such a feat. It might be construed as espionage by the King of Siderea.”
“I would not be doing my duty if I did not know such things,” said Lady Marketa. “The king and his ministers understand that. They no more want misunderstandings between our two nations than I do.”
“That is very diplomatic of you,” Kormak said.
“You killed Vorkhul, didn’t you?”
“I did, and I would do it again if the opportunity arose.”
“I am sure you would. Your hatred of the Eldrim is well known.”
“I have no hatred of the Old Ones.”
“You have a funny way of showing your love and respect, then.”
“I did not say I had those either.”
“You killed one of the Great Ones this night. Not for the first time. You have killed more than a score of Eldrim in your time. You know how many mortals have done that? In all of recorded history—five. None but you in the past thousand years.” There was a note almost of awe in her voice.
“If I did not know better, I would say you sounded impressed.”
“I am impressed, Sir Kormak. More than you will ever know. It seems possible that you might even slay the Prince of Dragons when he comes for you.”
“You think it likely he will?”
“He is not one whose mind I would care to try and read, but yes, I think it likely. You represent too much of a challenge to his vanity. He cannot let you die of old age, or at the hand of another.”
“He has not seem bothered by the possibility before.”
“After tonight, things have changed. Some now reckon you the mightiest champion of the Sun in history, and he had a hand in making you so. If he does not rectify that mistake, he will be a laughing-stock as well as a figure of hatred among his people.”
“I doubt that will trouble him much.”
“You might be surprised, Sir Kormak. The vanity of the Old Ones is greater even than that of most mortals. And there are laws that bind even renegades like Adath Decurion.”
“None that stop him destroying the lives of innocent mortals, apparently.”
“Come, Sir Kormak, you should know the Old Ones don’t care much for such things.”
“Why do you serve them then?”
“I was born to serve them. As were all humanity.”
“That is not what scripture says.”
“There is no other.”
“Do not play the fanatic. I know you are not.”
“Have you found out what you came for, said all you meant to say?”
“For the moment,” she said. “You have fought a battle few men could have survived. And I am detaining you.” She bowed her head and made a curious gesture with her right hand, which Kormak knew indicated respect among the Lunar aristocracy.
He shrugged his shoulders and marched towards the main wing of the palace.
Kormak limped into the palace. He
Frater Jonas was small and bird-like. Soot smudged his yellow robes. His eyes were hooded. Dark patches of fatigue showed beneath them as he smiled. “I saw you talking with the lovely Lady Marketa. Was she congratulating you on your triumph?”
Kormak stopped a few steps away from the priest. He liked Jonas but he did not trust him, and he knew just how quick the man could be with his poisoned daggers. It was not that he expected an attack; he just did not like to give anyone an advantage. “You look like I feel.”
“Would that I had done as much as you in the service of my king this night,” said Jonas.
“You did enough. I saw you in the Museum. You stood firm when others fled.”
Jonas gave a small shrug. “It is generous of you to say so, but I did nothing.”
“There is nothing much anyone can do against an Old One like Vorkhul.”
“You did more than a whole company of troops.”
“It’s something I was trained and equipped to deal with.”
Jonas fell into step beside Kormak. “I hear you have had words with the king and Prince Taran.”
“They want me to go to Terra Nova and look for more Old Ones.”
“And you do not want to go?”
Kormak shook his head. “I do not like being told I must do something by anyone other than the grand master of my order.”
Jonas smiled. “And you do not appreciate that even from him, unless I miss my guess.”
“Him I swore to obey. And I keep my oaths.”
“I know and I respect that.” It was flattery, pure and simple. Jonas might well mean it, but he would say it anyway. It was his job to get what his master wanted. “The king could get Grand Master Darius to give you that order. He has that much power.”
“He has that much gold.”
“We are both old enough to understand that the two are often interchangeable.”
Sword of Wrath (Kormak Book Eight) (The Kormak Saga 8) by William King / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes