Gods and Dragons
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Co-author of the Dune sequels, Kevin J. Anderson's Gods and Dragons marks his triumphant return to epic fantasy, featuring a politically charged adventure of swords, sorcery, vengeance, and the awakening of sleeping giants.
Two continents at war: the Three Kingdoms and Ishara have been in conflict for a thousand years. But when an outside threat arises—the reawakening of a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world—the two warring nations must somehow set aside generations of hatred to form an alliance against a far more deadly enemy.
A Macmillan Audio production from Tor Books
Release date: January 11, 2022
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Print pages: 512
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Gods and Dragons
Kevin J. Anderson
“YOU just declared war,” Penda said. Her face was drawn and weary, but still beautiful to him under the stars on a night that had been filled with bloodshed and dragons.
“I had no choice.” King Adan reached out to stroke her dark, sweat-streaked hair. The smell of smoke lingered in the air.
She cradled their newborn daughter in her arms, and Adan wrapped both of them in his embrace. He relished the intimacy, the peace, knowing it might be his last calm moment for a long time to come.
Pulling away, he turned to survey the devastated Utauk camp: fires from the ravages of the dragon and the sandwreths, torn tents, smashed wagons, mangled horses, scattered and broken bodies.
With businesslike determination, Utauks moved around in the firelight gathering the sandwreth weapons strewn on the ground. They would take the spears, swords, and pikes away, disposing of them where they would never be found. The enemy corpses had been burned in a hot pyre to leave no evidence. All human lives would be forfeit if the sandwreth queen ever guessed that King Adan Starfall had murdered her brother.
“This camp must scatter.” He spoke mainly to his wife, but loud enough for others to hear. “We have to leave soon.”
Hale Orr, Penda’s father, stood with his wrist stump propped on his hip. “Cra! The Utauk tribes know how to pack up and disappear. That’s what we do.” He worked his jaw and spat on the ground, then looked at his son-in-law with new admiration. “I despise the sandwreths, Starfall, especially that vile one who wanted to take my baby granddaughter. But I never thought you’d kill him.” He let out a booming laugh. “Skewered him right through the chest!”
Adan flinched at the loud statement. He wasn’t a cold-blooded murderer, and his action had not been impulsive. He had hesitated long enough to be certain, and then he had thrust his sword through Quo’s heart. “I’m the king of Suderra, and I need to protect my people. The wreths are the greatest danger we face.”
Hale gestured to indicate the damaged camp. “Dragons notwithstanding.”
“You protected me,” Penda said, “and our child.”
Quo’s sandwreth war party had come north on the pretext of helping King Kollanan fight the frostwreths, but his real purpose had been to find Penda, to seize her and the unborn child for Queen Voo. Adan had also learned that the sandwreths were hiding a secret human slave camp in the desert. So when Quo was badly injured by the dragon, Adan had been unable to control his anger. He’d more than enough reason to kill the vile man.
“Yes, I declared war,” he said, “but the sandwreths don’t know it yet. We will keep the secret for as long as we can and turn their own ways against them.”
“Voo is treacherous enough,” Hale said. “We can follow her example.”
A loose auga, one of the wreths’ sturdy and stupid reptilian mounts, wandered through the camp, lost and disoriented. Two Utauk teens chased the creature, but it snapped at them and bounded off into the forest. Several other augas lay on the ground, slain in the attack.
“Leave it,” Adan called. Queen Voo would eventually realize that something had happened to her brother, but a few wandering augas would give her no further information.
Eventually, after the incredibly long night, dawn suffused the eastern hills. “It is a new day,” Adan said, his thoughts still ricocheting around. “We are at war … and I am a father.” He bent down to kiss Penda on the forehead, then the little girl they had named Oak. “Both things are terrifying in their own way.”
Xar, Penda’s green ska, circled overhead with an annoyed cry. The reptile bird mischievously harassed the young squire Hom, who flailed his hands to shoo him away.
Adan’s few soldiers helped put out the last fires, wary in case some other attack appeared out of the forest. Two Utauk men fixed a broken wheel on a cart, and others mended damaged harnesses for the horses. Their efficient movements signaled an urgent desire to be gone as soon as possible.
The wreth funeral pyre had burned down to coals. Utauk men and women raked through the ashes with sticks, then used rocks to bash any lumps to powder. A second funeral pyre, enclosed within a perfect circle of stones, had cremated the Utauks killed in the night’s battle; they were treated with much more honor and respect.
Two cookfires heated tea water and cooked a grain porridge. Several mothers rummaged in their packs, adding dried fruit and crushed honeycombs to sweeten the mash. Though Penda had just given birth the night before, she tried to help with the camp work, but Adan insisted that she rest.
Penda sat on a log beside the central campfire, joining old Shella din Orr, the matriarch of the Utauk tribes. The old woman’s arm was bandaged from an injury she had suffered during the attack, but she did not look the least bit ruffled.
“It was a nice campsite,” Shella said. “I might have stayed another week, but we will move out two hours after daybreak. I’ll lead the heart camp far from here, maybe east over the Dragonspine Mountains. I haven’t been to Convera in ten years.”
“That’s far,” Penda said. “Are you sure you’re up for the trip?”
The crone snorted. “I travel all the time. What difference does it make if I travel in a straight line or just wander in circles?”
With her finger Penda traced a ring around her heart. “The beginning is the end is the beginning.”
Shella din Orr repeated the common phrase. When Adan delivered bowls of the porridge, the matriarch smacked her lips. “There aren’t many things I can enjoy with so few teeth.”
Taking a seat, Adan grew serious. “We will go in different directions.” He looked to his wife. “It has been long enough. You need to go home, take our daughter, and be safe within the walls of Bannriya.”
“I doubt any place is safe from dragons and wreths,” she said, then picked up on his tone. “Are you not going with me?”
Captain Elcior stepped up to report, accompanied by the Banner guard Seenan, Hom’s older brother. “We are ready to depart, Sire. The three of us can ride fast and hard all the way to Norterra.”
When Penda gave him a questioning look, Adan explained, “I’m going north to Fellstaff. Kollanan has already struck against the frostwreths, and now I’ve killed sandwreths. From the start, Suderra and Norterra recognized the danger of the ancient race, and we have to prepare to fight together.” His thoughts soured. “Even if my brother in Convera continues to be fixated on the Isharans.”
Penda gave him a solemn look. “You and your uncle may think of grand wars, but do not forget about Glik and the slave camp. Another secret the sandwreths are keeping…” Her face hardened. “And another thing I want to take from Queen Voo.”
Adan had been trying to find a way to liberate the isolated slave camp. Taking action would surely provoke a fierce retaliation, but if it was going to be open war, he had to consider his options differently. “I’ll talk to Kollanan and discuss how we could do it. If it comes to direct battle, Voo just might slaughter all those poor captives out of spite, just so we can’t free them.” He stroked her cheek, lowered his voice. “I promise I’ll think of a way.”
She nodded, accepting his words.
Adan continued, “I don’t want to leave you, especially not now. But I need you safe, and our baby needs shelter.”
Shella din Orr made a rough sound in her throat. “You think the Utauks can’t protect her? Did you not send your wife to travel with us, just so the wreths couldn’t find her?”
“This is different,” Adan said.
“Everything is different,” Penda replied. “I believe our daughter would be safe enough among the Utauks, but in times like these Suderra must have its queen if the king is riding out to make war plans.” The baby fussed in her arms, and she shifted position. “You and I will each do what we must, Starfall.”
With a gnarled finger, Shella drew another circle around her heart.
Adan finished his porridge and stood. Seenan had saddled their horses. Hale Orr promised to accompany his daughter back to Bannriya. “We’ll ride fast enough, Starfall. Cra, I haven’t slept in my own bed in weeks.”
Penda gave him a teasing laugh. “You are an Utauk, Father. You said the land itself serves as your bed.”
“That was before I came to appreciate the comforts of a soft mattress, dear heart.”
Hom presented himself to Adan. “I will ride with you, Sire, to take care of your needs on the rough journey.”
Adan could see the worry in the young squire’s face. He was eager—too eager—but not particularly hardened to the trail, and Adan was sure that he, Seenan, and Elcior could ride faster without him. He turned gravely to the boy. “It’s more important for a squire to tend to the queen and our baby. She’ll definitely need your help.” Hom’s face showed immediate relief.
Penda teased, “And you must also help keep Xar company.”
From a branch nearby the mischievous reptile bird made a low burbling sound that alarmed the squire. Nevertheless, the boy squared his shoulders, swallowed hard, and nodded. “I will do my duty for my king and queen, and for Suderra.”
By the time full morning arrived in the scarred camp, the Utauks were ready to depart. Seenan and Captain Elcior were mounted and waiting.
Adan kissed his wife, held her for a long moment, and stared with joy into little Oak’s perfect face. He was full of wonder and feared for the future. He and all of his people would no longer be pawns. They would fight to control their own fate.
Copyright © 2021 by WordFire, Inc.
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