Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don't know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire's slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives.Archeth - pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race - is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire's borders.Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe's petty gods. Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world. Called upon by an Empire that owes them everything and gave them nothing.Richard Morgan brings his trademark visceral writing style, turbo-driven plotting and thought provoking characterisation to the fantasy genre and produces a landmark work with his first foray.
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Richard Morgan was, until his writing career took off, a tutor at Strathclyde University in the English Language Teaching division. He has travelled widely and lived in Spain and Istanbul. He is a fluent Spanish speaker. Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke, John W. Campbell and Philip K. Dick Awards his books are published around the world. He lives in Norwich with his family.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
When a man you know to be of sound mind tells you his recently deceased mother has just tried to climb in his bedroom window and eat him, you only have two basic options. You can smell his breath, take his pulse, and check his pupils to see if he's ingested anything nasty, or you can believe him. Ringil had already tried the first course of action with Bashka the Schoolmaster and to no avail, so he put down his pint with an elaborate sigh and went to get his broadsword.
"Not this again," he was heard to mutter as he pushed through into
the residents' bar.
A yard and a half of tempered Kiriath steel, Ringil's broadsword
hung above the fireplace in a scabbard woven from alloys that men had
no names for, though any Kiriath child could have identified them from
age five upward. The sword itself also had a name in the Kiriath tongue,
as did all Kiriath- forged weapons, but it was an ornate title that lost a lot
in translation. "Welcomed in the Home of Ravens and Other Scavengers
in the Wake of Warriors" was about as close as Archeth had been able to
render it, so Ringil had settled on calling it the Ravensfriend. He didn't
like the name especially, but it had the sort of ring people expected of a
famous sword—and his landlord, a shrewd man with money and the
potential for making it, had renamed the inn the same way, setting an
eternal seal on the thing. A local artist had painted a passable image of
Ringil wielding the Ravensfriend at Gallows Gap and now it hung
outside for all the passing world to see. In return, Ringil got bed and
board and the opportunity to sell tales of his exploits to tourists in the
residents' bar for whatever was dropped into his cap.
All that, Ringil once remarked ironically in a letter to Archeth, and a blind eye turned to certain bedroom practices that would doubtless earn Yours Truly a slow death by impaling in Trelayne or Yhelteth. Heroic status in Gallows Water, it seems, includes a special dispensation not available to the average citizen in these righteous times. Plus, he supposed, you don't go queer baiting when your quarry has a reputation for rendering trained swordsmen into dogmeat at the drop of a gauntlet. Fame, Ringil scribbled, has its uses after all.
Mounting the sword over the fireplace had been a nice touch, and
also the landlord's idea. The man was now trying to persuade his
resident celebrity to offer dueling lessons out back in the stable yards.
Cross blades with the hero of Gallows Gap for three Empire- minted
elementals the half hour. Ringil didn't know if he felt that hard up yet.
He'd seen what teaching had done to Bashka.
Anyway, he dragged the Ravensfriend from the scabbard with a
single grating clang, slung it casually over his shoulder, and walked out
into the street, ignoring the stares from the audience he had been
regaling with tales of valor about an hour ago. He guessed they'd follow
him at least part of the way to the schoolmaster's house. It couldn't do
any harm, if his suspicions about what was going on were correct, but
they'd probably all cut and run at the first sign of trouble. You couldn't
blame them really. They were peasants and merchants, and they had no
bond with him. About a third of them he'd never even seen before
Introductory comment from the treatise on skirmish warfare that the Trelayne Military Academy had politely declined to publish under his name: If you don't know the men at your back by name, don't be
surprised if they won't follow you into battle. On the other hand, don't be surprised if they will, either, because there are countless other factors you must take into account. Leadership is a slippery commodity, not easily manufactured or understood. It was simple truth, as gleaned in the bloody forefront of some of the nastiest fighting the free cities had seen in living memory. It was, however, the Lieutenant Editor in Trelayne had written kindly, just too vague for the Academy to consider as viable
training material. It is this ambivalence as much as any other that leads us to decline your submission. Ringil looked at that last sentence on the parchment and suspected a kindred spirit.
It was cold out in the street. Above the waist he wore only a leather
jerkin with loose half- length sailcloth sleeves, and there was an unseasonal
early chill sloping down the spine of the country from the
Majak uplands. The peaks of the mountains that the town nestled under
were already capped with snow, and it was reckoned that Gallows Gap
would be impassable before Padrow's Eve. People were talking again
about an Aldrain winter. There had been stories circulating for weeks
now, of high- pasture livestock taken by wolves and other, less natural
predators, of chilling encounters and sightings in the mountain passes.
Not all of them could be put down to fanciful talk. This,Ringil suspected,
was going to be the source of the problem. Bashka the Schoolmaster's
cottage was at the end of one of the town's cross streets and backed onto
the local graveyard.As by far the most educated man in the tiny township
of Gallows Water— its resident hero excluded— Bashka had been handed
the role of temple officiator by default, and the house went with the
priest's robes.And in bad weather, graveyards were a fine source of meat
You will be a great hero, a Yhelteth fortune- teller had once read in
Ringil's spittle. You will carry many battles and best many foes.
Nothing about being a municipal exterminator in a border- town
settlement not much bigger than one of Trelayne's estuary slums.
There were torches fixed in brackets along the main streets and river
frontage of Gallows Water but the rest of the town must make do with
bandlight, of which there wasn't much on a night this clouded. True to
Ringil's expectations, the crowd thinned out as soon as he stepped onto
an unlit thoroughfare. When it became apparent where he was headed
specifically, his escort dropped by more than half. He reached the corner
of Bashka's street still trailing a loose group of about six or eight, but by
the time he drew level with the schoolmaster's cottage— the door still
gaping open, the way its owner had left it when he fled in his nightshirt—
he was alone. He cocked his head back to where the rubberneckers
hovered at the far end of the street. A wry grin twitched his lips.
"Stand well back now," he called.
From among the graves, something uttered a low droning cry.
Ringil's skin goosefleshed with the sound of it. He unshipped the
Ravensfriend from his shoulder and, holding it warily before him,
stepped around the corner of the little house.
The rows of graves marched up the hill where the town petered out
against outcroppings of mountain granite. Most of the markers were
simple slabs hewn from the self- same stone as the mountain, reflecting
the locals' phlegmatic attitude to the business of dying. But here and
there could be seen the more ornately carved structure of a Yhelteth
tomb, or one of the cairns the northerners buried their dead under,
hung with shamanistic iron talismans and daubed in the colors of the
deceased's clan ancestry. As a rule, Ringil tried not to come out here too
often; he remembered too many of the names on the stones, could put
faces to too many of the foreign- sounding dead. It was a mixed bag that
had died under his command at Gallows Gap that sweltering summer
afternoon nine years ago, and few of the outlanders had family with the
money to bring their sons home for burial. The cemeteries up and
down this stretch of the mountains were littered with their lonely
Ringil advanced into the graveyard, one bent- kneed step at a time.
Clouds broke apart overhead, and the Kiriath blade glinted in the
sudden smear of bandlight. The cry was not repeated, but now he could
make out smaller, more furtive sounds. The sounds, he reckoned
unenthusiastically, of someone digging.
You will be a great hero.
He found Bashka's mother, as it seemed, grubbing around in the dirt
at the base of a recent headstone. Her burial shroud was torn and soiled,
revealing rotted flesh that he could smell from a dozen paces upwind
even in the cold. Her deathgrown nails made an unpleasant raking
sound as they struggled with the casket she had partially unearthed.
In life, this woman had never liked him. As temple officiator and
priest, her son was supposed to despise Ringil for a worthless degenerate
and a corruptor of youth. Instead, as a schoolmaster and man of some
education himself, Bashka turned out to be far too enlightened for his
own good. His easygoing attitude to Ringil and the late- night phil -
osophical debates they occasionally got into at the tavern earned him
vitriolic reprimands from visiting senior priests. Worse still, his lack of
condemnatory zeal gave him a reputation in the religious hierarchy that
ensured he would always remain a humble teacher in a backwater town.
The mother, naturally enough, blamed the degenerate Ringil and his
evil influence for her son's lack of advancement, and he was not
welcome in the schoolmaster's house while she drew breath. This latter
activity had come to an abrupt halt the previous month, following a
swift and unquenchable fever, sent presumably by some preoccupied
god who had overlooked her great righteousness in religious matters.
Trying not to breathe through his nose, Ringil tapped the flat of the
Ravensfriend on a convenient grave to get her attention. At first she
didn't seem to hear the noise it made, but then the body twisted
wrenchingly around and he found himself looking into a face whose
eyes had long ago been eate...
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