Desperate for the next Game of Thrones? Pick up Empress of the Fall for your full-on fix of epic fantasy. The Emperor is dead - long live the Empress! Emperor Constant is dead and his rivals are scrabbling for power - but any misstep could plunge the land, already devastated by the shocking outcome of the Third Crusade, into a calamitous civil war. The Imperial throne is not the only one in jeopardy. Two brothers, imprisoned veterans of the Crusades, finally return home to find their father's kingdom being plundered - but the price of regaining their birthright will have far-reaching implications for the entire empire. In the East, Sultan Salim, peacemaker and visionary ruler, faces his greatest challenge as his people demand an invasion of the West in retribution for the Rondian Crusades And lurking in the darkness, orchestrating both the power struggles and the inevitable conflicts, is a shadowy group threatening to destroy civilisation itself. Once more, Urte stands on the brink of cataclysm.
Release date: March 9, 2017
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Print pages: 745
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Empress of the Fall
The Gnostic Affinity Table
the manipulation of inanimate matter
Earth-gnosis: find, manipulate and alter stone
Fire-gnosis: manipulate, survive and douse fire
Air-gnosis: fly, alter weather, and otherwise manipulate air
Water-gnosis: manipulate, purify, and breathe water
the manipulation of living matter
Sylvanism (Earth-linked): alter wood and plant material
Morphism (Fire-linked): alter the human form
Animism (Air-linked): control animals, take on their form and senses
Healing (Water-linked): restore flesh, and resist infection
the manipulation of spirit beings
Necromancy (Earth-linked): contact the dead, and remove life
Wizardry (Fire-linked): summon and control aetheric spirits
Divination (Air-linked): use aetheric spirits to predict outcomes
Clairvoyance (Water-linked): use aetheric spirits to ‘scry’ distant places
the manipulation of mind and spirit
Spiritualism (Earth-linked): send one’s spirit out of body
Mesmerism (Fire-linked): dominate or mislead another mind
Illusion (Air-linked): deceive another’s senses
Mysticism (Water-linked): psychic linking to aid another mind
How to use the Table:
All magi have a primary affinity to a Study and/or to an Element. Most have an affinity to both, and many have a weaker secondary affinity.
Any affinity creates a blind spot to its antithesis, as follows:
Fire and Water are opposites Thaumaturgy and Sorcery are opposites
Air and Earth are opposites Hermetic and Theurgy are opposites
e.g. a Fire/Sorcery mage is strongest at wizardry (the intersection of Fire and Sorcery) and most vulnerable against Water-gnosis (the intersection of Water – the antithesis of Fire; and Thaumaturgy – the antithesis of Sorcery).
The Moontide Cruades: A Recounting of the Past
On the world of Urte there are two known continents. Yuros is cold and wet and the people are pale-skinned. Ahmedhassa (or ‘Antiopia’) is equatorial, largely arid, and heavily populated by dark-skinned peoples. These two great landmasses are divided by a raging sea; because of Urte’s strong lunar cycle, massive tides make the sea impassable. Even though they were once one landmass until relatively recently, the two continents were unaware of each other.
That all changed some five hundred years ago.
The catalyst was a man called Corineus, who had gathered together a thousand religious pilgrims in Yuros. They consumed a fluid (‘ambrosia’) that imbued them with magical powers, which they called the gnosis. Half of the pilgrims died, including Corineus himself (apparently murdered by his ‘sister’ Corinea, who fled the scene). Of the remainder who survived the Ascendancy, three hundred, led by Sertain Sacrecour, set out to conquer the continent using their new gnostic powers; the magic of these ‘Blessed Three Hundred’ enabled them to destroy the Rimoni Empire with ease and establish their own regime: the Rondian Empire. They founded the ‘Gnostic Keepers’, an order of Ascendant magi dedicated to serving the empire and the gnosis. The Keepers encoded the recipe for the ambrosia into an artefact called the Scytale of Corineus to preserve its secret for the empire alone.
This event, known as The Ascendancy of Corineus, changed the world. The first magi, as they called themselves, found their children inherited their powers, though the gift was weakened if they didn’t breed with other magi. As the magi multiplied, they claimed their own fiefdoms and spread their influence across Yuros.
Not all of the five hundred surviving Ascendants (the first magi) joined the Blessed Three Hundred in their conquest. A hundred men and women who abhorred violence and wanted no part in the overthrow of the Rimoni Empire departed into the wilds, led by Antonin Meiros. They settled in the southeastern corner of Yuros, where they formed a pacifist order of magi known as the Ordo Costruo.
The remaining hundred Ascendants at first appeared to have no magical power at all, but most had developed variations upon the gnosis, the most common being ‘soul-drinking’, whereby triggering the gnosis requires consumption of another mage’s soul, and thereafter predation on human souls to renew their powers. These Souldrinkers (or ‘Dokken’) were declared heretics, but some eluded capture and remain a hidden threat to the magi.
Another dangerous variant, termed ‘dwyma’ or ‘pandaemancy’, involved the use of vast naturally-forming magical energies contained in a semi-aware ‘genilocus’ (spirits bound to a specific place). This was also declared a heresy and eradicated.
The magi used their new powers to explore beyond the known boundaries of the world. When the Ordo Costruo discovered northern Antiopia (or Ahmedhassa, as the native people call it), they discovered ancient societies very different to those in Yuros, but every bit as rich and varied. They came in the spirit of peace and soon established themselves in the northwestern corner of Antiopia, in the great city of Hebusalim. In the 700s, Antonin Meiros and his order commenced work on a massive bridge to link the two continents, and in doing so created the second great epoch-changing event of the age.
The Leviathan Bridge is three hundred miles long and perfectly straight. Because of limitations of both engineering and the gnosis, it rises from the waters only during the twelve-yearly super-low tide (the Moontide), and it remains passable for only two years of every twelve. After a hesitant start in 808, trade across the Bridge thrived and fortunes were made as a new breed of merchant-magi grew in influence. They ruled commerce for a century until, in 904, the Rondian Emperor Magnus Sacrecour, driven by greed, religious bigotry and racism, launched the First Crusade. Rondian legions headed by battle-magi seized the Bridge, pillaged Dhassa and occupied Hebusalim.
Most Easterners blamed Antonin Meiros, founder of the Ordo Costruo, as his magi could have prevented the attack – although it would have meant destroying the Bridge. At the end of the Moontide in 906, the Rondians retreated, leaving an occupation force in Hebusalim (which was subsequently withdrawn when its position became untenable).
Emperor Magnus didn’t live to enjoy the spoils of his Crusade – he died in 909, which led to a palace coup: his second wife Lucia, acting on behalf of her child Constant, usurped the throne from Princess Natia, Magnus’ daughter from his first marriage, and Natia’s Argundian husband Ainar. Natia’s fate is still unknown. The regime change led to uprisings in several regions, most notably Noros, which was quashed with difficulty, and in northern Coraine, the birthplace of Natia’s mother.
Constant, under his iron-willed mother’s guidance, was able to secure his reign, and in 916 he launched the Second Crusade, which penetrated deeper into Ahmedhassa and reaped a fresh harvest in plunder. The Rondians appointed a governor and established a permanent mission in Hebusalim. Constant came of age formally in 921, and had two children, Cordan and Coramore, but lost his wife Tarya to illness shortly thereafter.
The Third Crusade, launched in 928, was part of a Rondian strategy to seize the strategic region of Javon in northern Ahmedhassa as a staging point for permanent Occupation, to push beyond previous incursions and occupy hinterland territories, and to destroy the Leviathan Bridge while restoring the undersea isthmus upon which it was constructed, to enable permanent occupation of the East.
However, by now the East was prepared. Sultan Salim of Kesh had been building vast armies, and a mixed-blood Ordo Costruo mage, Emir Rashid Mubarak, had been secretly breeding Eastern magi, using captured Yurosi magi as broodmares and studs. Rashid had Antonin Meiros assassinated and the Rondian Second Army was lured into a trap at Shaliyah, deep in the deserts, where Salim’s forces all but destroyed it. Meanwhile, a number of people discovered that the Scytale of Corineus was not safe in the cathedral vaults, but had been stolen by Noros magi during the Noros Revolt; they hid the priceless artefact when the Rondian Empire won. It was recovered, at enormous personal cost, by a young Noros mage, Alaron Mercer, who used it to found a new order of Ascendant magi – the Merozain Bhaicara, or ‘Brotherhood’.
In Junesse 930, as the Third Crusade ends, the Imperial Keepers are preparing to destroy the Leviathan Bridge, unaware that the Merozain Bhaicara are racing to stop them . . .
1 The Day the Emperor Died
More than 500 years ago, in 379, a man died and his followers became the new gods of Yuros – the magi. They have ruled the western continent ever since, yet the name of he who died has been raised highest. Johan Corin – ‘Corineus’ – is now revered as a god made flesh, sent from Paradise Above to gather and empower his followers. He is said to have been the Son of Kore.
But he was just a man: dead people are always easier to deify than living ones.
Ordo Costruo Collegiate, Pontus, 927
The Celestium, Pallas, Rondelmar
Final month of the Moontide
Kneeling is cruel, Ostevan Prelatus mused as he knelt in the holiest place in Yuros, mouthing prayers while staring at the massive rump of his superior. There were no seats, no cushions, just wooden leaning bars against which the thirty-two prelates of the Church of Kore could contemplate the infinite, while gazing upon the golden casket of Johan Corin – known to the world as Corineus the Saviour. Prelates should be exempt.
The Chamber of Humility, a circular subterranean room at the very centre of the cross-shaped Kore Cathedral, was open-roofed to the great dome above. The cathedral was the heart of the Celestium, the Holy City in Pallas, on the south bank of the Bruin River.
Though they were below ground, light poured through the stained glass of the windows in the dome, carving the dust-laden air into solid blocks of colour and setting the shadows to darker relief. Choirs sang, giving voice to the prayers of an empire.
The lesson of the chamber was that no living man meant more than this dead one – but it was an illusory lesson, for although the Celestium was a massive, glistening testimony to the power of the Church of Kore, it was forced to look up at the Imperial Bastion across the river. The first thing Grand Prelate Dominius Wurther, and all these other holy men saw as they opened their curtains each morning was a reminder that emperors stood higher than grand prelates.
I bet that cuts you to the quick, Dom, Ostevan thought.
He’d almost forgotten that prayers could end when, miraculously, they did. Wurther rose ponderously to his feet, backed away from the casket and left the chapel. His exit was the signal for the thirty-two prelates to do likewise. They rose as one, none meeting each others’ eyes as they backed from the shrine.
Outside, Ennis, Wurther’s secretary, was waiting. ‘The Grand Prelate prays you will all adjourn to the amphitheatre to watch events in the East unfold,’ Ennis announced.
Ostevan’s eyes narrowed. It still hurt that he – who’d been Wurther’s closest ally in his rise to the grand prelate’s throne – had learned of this event only an hour ago.
It was approaching midday here in Pallas, but three thousand miles eastwards, over the Pontic Sea, it was already mid-afternoon, and the empire was preparing to destroy the Leviathan Bridge and change the world. Only a handful of men knew that Imperial magi planned to take the energy supporting the bridge and use it to raise the isthmus that had once linked Yuros and Antiopia. This incredible act of land-shaping was unprecedented, audacious and epoch-changing.
Clearly Wurther had known all along – and told no one, which said everything about Ostevan’s current standing. He’d always been Wurther’s man, helping propel him to the Pontifex’s chair, but since 909, Ostevan’s northern connections had been a liability.
And only one rump can fit on a throne, right, Dom? Especially one as large as yours.
Rodrigo Prelatus, an Estellan zealot, clutched Ostevan’s sleeve as those prelates who were tied to the Imperial Sacrecour-Fasterius family shoved their way gracelessly to the exits. ‘So how long have you know about this business with the Bridge?’ the old Estellan wheezed. Like Ostevan, he wasn’t one of the Imperial coterie, but there their similarities ended: Ostevan was – or had been, at least – an insider; Rodrigo, like the other provincial prelates, was a nobody.
‘Longer than you, Padre.’ Ostevan sniffed. ‘Let’s not keep his Holiness waiting, hmm?’
The clergy supposedly forsook their secular allegiances with their family names on entering the Church, but all were connected to powerful mage Houses and such allegiances were never truly put aside. Ostevan was a Jandreux of House Corani, and as Corani influence at court had waned, so too had his star.
He strode away, pausing briefly as he passed a mirror – vanity had always been his primary vice. Though in his mid-forties, he looked closer to thirty, with an admirably full head of dark, swishing hair, an elegant goatee and a cruelly handsome face, with intense eyes and full lips that had beguiled anyone he’d ever set out to ensnare – the fairer sex were his other main vice. In the Celestium, sins weren’t so much forbidden as a secret currency.
The long walk to the amphitheatre took the prelates through the Mosaic Hall, where an earlier grand prelate had commanded a map of the world to be laid in coloured tiles and lit from within through gnostic artifice so that it glowed as they passed over it. Ostevan glanced at the two continents: Yuros, the western continent, was coloured in rich greens, while yellow tiles represented the eastern deserts of Antiopia, or Ahmedhassa, as the inhabitants called it. Golden models marked the great cities, with Pallas the most resplendent, presiding over an empire that directly ruled a third of the landmass and indirectly, the rest. As always, he looked first at the northwestern corner and found his home city of Coraine, then his gaze drifted to the east, over mountains, forests and plains, to Pontus.
Right now, everything revolved around Pontus and the Leviathan Bridge.
At their closest points, Yuros and Ahmedhassa were only three hundred miles apart, but the powerful tidal effects of the giant moon Luna made the seas impassable. The sunken isthmus that had once joined the two was long gone; but the Leviathan Bridge, running straight as a rod from Northpoint near Pontus all the way to Southpoint in coastal Ahmedhassa, had allowed trade between the two, and later, conquest – for the Yurosi, at least. And now the Rondian Empire planned to destroy the bridge and raise the isthmus again, to enable the permanent domination of both continents by Pallas.
A wonderful feat, thought Ostevan. Shame it mostly benefits the stinking Sacrecours.
He strode on, following the animated cloud of prelates, old men babbling like children, into a dimly lit amphitheatre built in the ancient Lantric style, with a circular stage overlooked by curved banks of seats. Ostevan sat away from the rest of his fellow prelates. This would be the Fasterius-Sacrecour alliance’s crowning victory, the culmination of their triumph over the Ordo Costruo and an end to a troubling Third Crusade. There was much confusion over what was going on in Antiopia, with wild claims that the crusading Rondian armies had actually been defeated. But when the Leviathan Bridge collapsed and the isthmus rose from the sea, none would be able to deny Emperor Constant’s triumph – well, Mater-Imperia Lucia’s triumph, if truth be told; this was surely all the work of the Fasterius matriarch. Already the Sacrecour-Fasterius adherents were back-slapping and congratulating each other. Those like Ostevan, from lesser houses, were either sitting in isolation or trying desperately to pretend they were part of the inner circle.
How long before I need to join those cocksuckers?
‘Brethren, pray be silent,’ Dominius Wurther, Voice of God, Grand Prelate of Kore, boomed from his throne. ‘The time has come.’
At his lordly gesture, a seer began to conjure images. His mind, linked to another seer on a windship over the Pontic Sea, half the world away, was able to translate everything his fellow mage saw onto the theatre stage. Even Ostevan forgot his vexations as the visions from Pontus began to unfold.
The gnostic image showed the deck of a windship, one of many hanging in the sky like insults to gravity. This one, the royal barge, was the largest ship in the windfleet. Far below was the Pontic Sea, with massive waves breaking ferociously upon a small island topped by a tall tower, Midpoint, which anchored the central point of the Bridge. Even amidst the heaving seas it looked impregnable, a testament to the mastery of the magi over nature. A beacon shone from the tip, bright as the sun, and Ostevan could see smaller windvessels circling it like midges. Running towards the tower-island from the southeast and on into the northwest was the mighty Leviathan Bridge: a line of darkness. But their eyes were drawn constantly to the Midpoint beacon, which was growing brighter and more intensely scarlet by the second.
Then suddenly beams of light flew in from four points of the compass, making visible the gnosis-currents linking Midpoint to its four satellite towers. The clergy gasped as the voice of Emperor Constant came through the gnostic link, hectoring his court about what a momentous moment this was.
‘Here it comes,’ someone muttered, and the beacon went brilliant crimson, painting the seas blood-red as it pulsed to a giant heartbeat.
Ostevan leaned forward, holding his breath.
A pillar of light burst from Midpoint Tower and carved the sky in twain – but quite unexpectedly, caught the windship next to the royal barge in its beam. For a second its shape was burned onto Ostevan’s retinas . . . and then the windship ceased to exist.
The royal barge fell suddenly silent.
Then someone near the linking mage-priest cried out in anguish, and a babble of panic arose as the image began to flicker, jerking about in dizzying confusion. The watching prelates shouted in alarm as if they themselves were aboard that ship thousands of miles away. More light carved the skies, and another windship was blasted from existence.
What the Hel is going on? Ostevan rose to his feet as the vision ended in a burst of scarlet light, a momentary burst of transmitted agony leaving everyone watching reeling in shock. The amphitheatre plunged into shadow.
When the lamps were kindled, they revealed a sea of white faces dotted with black holes: eyes and mouths stretched open.
Ostevan sank back into his seat, staring, as the amphitheatre plunged momentarily into stunned silence. Then voices clamoured, demanding explanations, already seeking someone to blame; most directed their ire at the hapless young seer who’d been transmitting the images.
With an ashen face, Dominius Wurther rose ponderously to his feet and swept out of the door behind the throne, leaving the prelates in turmoil.
Ostevan was summoned an hour later, leaving his fellow prelates still milling about, demanding in vain that the flustered and frightened seer re-establish the link. Those with clairvoyance as an affinity tried to do the same, but they too failed. Others, Ostevan included, stared at the void in the middle of the room, waiting for sanity to reassert itself: surely, any moment now, the gnostic image of some palace dignitary would appear to reassure them that all was well, praising Emperor Constant for this great victory.
Instead of such reassurance, he was ordered to the grand prelate’s chambers.
‘Ostevan, my old friend,’ Dominius said as he entered, ‘come in.’
Ostevan kissed the Pontifex Band, noticing with a thrill of exultation that the office was empty but for them. Just as it used to be, when he was the brilliant young aide and Wurther his mentor.
Wurther looked sickly, his pallor relieved only by his bloodshot eyes. He’d changed from his richly adorned, heavy vestments to a simple grey cassock; Ostevan noted his armpits were already soaked in sweat.
‘Dom, what is it?’ Ostevan asked. ‘Are you unwell?’
‘Not I – what ails is this empire. It’s confirmed: the emperor’s dead.’
‘Constant is dead? Kore take his soul,’ Ostevan said insincerely. ‘And Mater-Imperia Lucia?’
‘Dead also,’ Wurther whispered. ‘Survivors are using relay-staves to send reports. We’re still guessing what happened, but it looks like someone utilised those energies that were supposed to destroy the Bridge and turned them on the Imperial windfleet instead. Against such power, not even the most powerfully shielded windships could survive.’
‘Who could do this – the Ordo Costruo?’
‘Perhaps: they created the Bridge, after all. But we don’t know . . .’ Wurther’s voice was anxious, but Ostevan recognised something in his eyes he’d not seen for a long time: the intense intellect that had plotted his irresistible rise to the Pontifex’s Curule. The real Dominius Wurther, not the bumbling fool most saw, but the fiercely intelligent, cold-as-ice man he knew, was back. And his first act had been to recall the partner of his rise to glory.
So, my ‘friend’, just how desperate are you? he wondered.
‘We must secure Mother Church,’ Ostevan said, meaning, We must secure our positions.
‘Of course,’ Dominius said, understanding perfectly. ‘Before she flew east, Lucia left the royal children in my care.’
Ostevan’s eyebrows shot up. ‘You have Prince Cordan and Princess Coramore?’
‘Aye, I have the heirs – but they are nine and seven, too young to rule an empire, especially one that’s been beheaded. The vassal-kingdoms will revolt unless we can immediately install a strong and united Regency Council.’
‘Half the court went east, Dom – the Second Army has been destroyed, and the First Army – if it even still exists – is trapped in Ahmedhassa. The Crusade has been a disaster, and this empire faces a crisis of existence . . .’
Wurther wiped his slick brow. ‘I know the armies of Rondelmar are severely weakened – but our vassal-states are in the same state. Lucia entrusted me with the task of keeping the heirs secure and the empire united – how she foresaw it, I don’t know. But five centuries of Sacrecour rule could end tonight, unless we act swiftly.’
Ostevan stared. Is he really going to remain true to the bloody Sacrecours? When we both know there’s a better way? He began his plea carefully. ‘There is another faction, Dom, one which didn’t send half its fighting men into the East, one which sits above the intrigues of the Great Houses: the Holy Church of Kore.’ He reached across the table and seized Wurther’s hand. ‘Remember what we dreamed? A union of Bastion and Celestium? An Empire of Kore, ruled by a meritocracy of clergy, the best hearts and minds, dedicated to one Emperor-Pontifex.’
It had been a treasonous dream . . .
Wurther’s mouth fell open, as it always did when his mind was racing, then he shook his head and pulled his hand away. ‘Ostevan, I abandoned that dream years ago. The separation between Bastion and Celestium is necessary: no empire is eternal, and if our Emperor-Pontifex were to fall, then his Church would fall too. By standing free of the hurly-burly of politics, we preserve the Church against such calamity.’
Ostevan felt his hopes wither, but he knew when to obfuscate. You timid fool, he berated his former friend silently, but aloud he said, ‘My dear friend, I merely test you. I’m yours to command, as always.’
Wurther looked at him steadily and for a moment Ostevan thought he’d snapped the last threads of trust between them. But then Wurther said, ‘I summoned you, Ostevan, because you’re the best man in a crisis I know. There’s no time to waste – but I must know I can trust you absolutely. Put aside that old dream – it was always just a dream – and come back into the fold, my friend. I need you.’
Ostevan realised that without giving his unconditional support, he might not leave this room alive. So he kissed Wurther’s ring again. ‘I’ve always been yours to command, your Holiness.’
An hour later, alone in his quarters, Ostevan bent over a small bowl of water, conjuring the face of a man he’d not seen in the flesh for years, though they spoke weekly. Dirklan Setallius had grown older as all men did, even magi, but he remained a byword for unflinching pragmatism. His loyalty to House Corani was steadfast.
As is my own, Ostevan vowed.
Light blossomed in the water and Setallius’ one-eyed visage appeared.
‘My friend, drop everything!’ Ostevan told the Corani spymaster. ‘Finally, we have a chance to rectify the damage of 909.’
The Sett, Coraine, Northern Rondelmar
Final month of the Moontide
Damage: that was the word Dirklan Setallius’ mind always conjured when he remembered 909. No one who survived had done so unscathed. Everyone had been wounded, whether physically, mentally or spiritually; that was the price of falling from the heights.
In 909 he’d been a senior Volsai, an Imperial Informer, or ‘Owl’, as people called them. A group of Corani had entered the academy together to redress the balance between supporters of Emperor Magnus, who’d married a Corani, and the long-entrenched Sacrecour-Fasterius agents. The new Corani Volsai’s unspoken mission was to wrest control of the Owls.
In 909 they’d failed, utterly.
The Sacrecour counter-attack, when Magnus died and the Sacrecours swept the Corani from Pallas, had cost Setallius his left hand and left eye – and he’d counted himself lucky; most of his fellows had died, as had most of the Corani leadership. Three legions had been trapped and massacred; Arcanum students had been butchered in their dormitories. What still galled him was that the signs had been there, but no one believed Lucia Sacrecour could be so ruthless.
But now the witch is dead!
That thought lent purpose to his stride as he entered Corani Hall. The bells tolled, calling the magi and soldiery of Coraine to readiness, and all about him was bustle and confusion, though no one else knew if the bells signalled danger or celebration.
The crowds parted before him, something he’d become used to: he knew he cut a sinister figure with his left eye covered by a dark patch, long silver hair curtaining his scarred left cheeks and his black-gloved left hand – the lost flesh replaced by metal, fashioned to his own design. He strode through the hall to join Knight-Commander Solon Takwyth on the dais.
Takwyth was also a veteran of 909. Tall, lordly and steel-faced, he shone with belief today. He and Setallius had worked together to rebuild the Corani. He might be in his forties now, but he was bursting with energy. He saw this as destiny.
I don’t believe in destiny, Setallius mused, but I do believe in seizing chances.
Takwyth raised a hand for quiet as Setallius scanned the room, seeking the patterns in the clusters of knights and battle-magi. The Falquists stood on the opposite side to the Jandreux, with the Sulpeters in between, as usual. Behind them was the faction that wasn’t a faction: the lone wolves and dissidents and troublemakers, here in force. Every single man and woman was straining their ears.
It was those at the back Setallius felt most akin to. Most were the veterans of 909: men with haunted souls, like dead-eyed Jos Bortolin, the brothers Larik and Gryfflon Joyce, and Ril Endarion, who had been just twelve years old when his tutors at the Pallas Arcanum had tried to murder him in his sleep. These men were undoubtedly damaged by what they’d endured, but they were living legends among the Corani.
Setallius’ ruminations were interrupted as Takwyth spoke. ‘Men of Coraine, men of the North: hearken! I’ve much to say, and little time to say it. The chance has come for revenge – for 909, and for everything since.’
That got their attention.
For centuries, the Corani had been despised as the Pallacian nobility’s country cousins, the butts of all their jokes – then, in 890, came their golden moment: Alitia Jandreux, eldest daughter of the Duke of Coraine, married Prince Magnus, the son of Emperor Hiltius. Suddenly the Corani were welcome at court.
The golden age was brief, though; four years later Alitia died in childbirth, leaving her husband with a daughter, Princess Natia. Though Natia was still the heir apparent, the northerners were worried: Magnus had betrothed the girl at birth to Ainar Borodium, son of the Duke of Argundy, in a plan to unite the two kingdoms, but Argundians had never been welcome in Pallas either, and now the Corani were tainted once again.
In 897 Prince Magnus remarried, to the ambitious and ruthless Lucia Fasterius, thinking to split the Sacrecour-Fasterius alliance. For a time the Corani breathed easy – but five years later Emperor Hiltius, now a widower, was murdered by persons unknown, and Magnus ascended to the throne, with Lucia at his side. Magnus publicly acknowledged Natia and Ainar as his heirs, and they were wed at the age of fourteen to great ceremony and rejoicing. The royal couple t
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