Read The White Towers Online

Authors: Andy Remic

Tags: #Vagandrak broken, #The Iron Wolves, #Elf Rats, #epic, #heroic, #anti-heroic, #grimdark, #fantasy

The White Towers

BOOK: The White Towers
5.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

This book is dedicated to Dorothy Lumley, with much love.
Dot, as the proprietor of the Dorian Literary Agency,
many of my very first attempts at writing – giving a young, insecure, desperate author positive encouragement and advice whilst many shitty editors/agents replied with – quite frankly – embarrassingly bad photocopied “get stuffed” sheets of toilet paper (I still have the evidence, in a big stack under the bed).
Dot was different. Dot cared. Dot nurtured. Dot
The Business. It was in her blood, and in the glitter of her mischievous eyes. She wasn’t in it for the money. She was in it for the
In 1996 I wrote to Dot with
Theme Planet
(version 1.0), saying “I think you’re the right babe for the gig”. She replied, saying she’d enjoyed the book very much and would “love to represent me”. A few years later, we had a deal with Orbit and I was a published author. Wow! Bam! Dream achieved.
When I found out Dot didn’t have long left to live, I offered her the only thing I could think of that would really mean something: a dedication in my next novel. This one. This seemed to please her. And so, with great love, I raise a glass to Dorothy Lumley – and dedicate
The White Towers
to “the right babe for the gig”. Rest in peace, Dot. 
Iron dark clouds filled the sky. Thunder rumbled. Lightning cut the horizon into a jagged jigsaw, and hail smashed down on the broken up, earthquake-ravaged plain rippling before the walls of Desekra Fortress.
On the battlements, a makeshift gallows had been erected. The platform stepped out beyond the primary Desekra wall, Sanderlek, giving those to be hung a generous and violently picturesque view. There were five of them. Five prisoners, each with a thick rope noose around their necks, each with a black silk hood hiding cold iron eyes and mouths set in grim lines of betrayal. Their hands had been bound behind their backs, and boots kicked against trapdoors connected to pulleys and a single brass lever.
“The Iron Wolves have been found guilty on twelve counts of treason against His Majesty, King Yoon of Vagandrak,” read a small, pompous fat man from a vellum scroll. “These counts amount to theft, extortion, the murder of General Dalgoran, the kidnapping and imprisonment of various members of the royal family…”
“I’ll fucking show him imprisonment,” murmured Narnok the Axeman, bristling.
“If you hadn’t had your pants round your ankles, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” snapped Dek.
“Thus proclaims Mr Two Kegs,” growled Narnok. “Maybe if
could hold your ale a little better, you might have heard the stampede to your door!”
“Silence amongst the prisoners!” squawked the bureaucrat.
“Or what?” bellowed Narnok. “You’ll fucking hang us?” His laughter roared across the walls of Desekra Fortress.
The list of misdemeanours continued, and King Yoon of Vagandrak observed these, his prisoners, the Iron Wolves of legend and a multitude of children’s stories; the Iron Wolves who – twenty years previous – had driven back thousands of invading mud-orcs and killed the sorcerer, Morkagoth; and in these past few days, reunited in anger, hate and loathing, older, wiser, more bitter and twisted and cynical, had repeated the act of defence and attack as Orlana the Changer, the Horse Lady; had brought yet more death and destruction to the borders of Vagandrak. Only this time, the carnage had been far more terrible, incredibly more destructive; for Kiki, the Captain of the Iron Wolves, had found inside herself the buried magick of the
, the magick of the Equiem, and had unleashed her fury across the Plains of Zakora. Desekra Fortress, the Pass of Splintered Bones, the Mountains of Skarandos, and the whole world, it seemed, had trembled as the mammoth earthquake smashed through the earth, sucking down tens of thousands of mud-orcs, back into the bowels of the world that had conjured them – and dragging down the kicking, screaming figure of Orlana with a million tonnes of collapsing granite.
Now, for risking their lives, for smashing the enemies of Vagandrak, King Yoon had chosen a simple reward.
Death by hanging.
“I have one thing to say,” came the demure, measured voice of Kiki. Yoon made a throat-cutting gesture, but it was too late. Kiki continued, “Orlana the Changer, the Horse Lady, is far from dead. She will be back, Yoon. Back real soon. And who will protect you from her Equiem magick then?”
“Now,” said King Yoon, dark eyes flashing dangerously at the hangman. “Do it now.
Do it now
The hangman reached out and, with trembling, gloved fingers, took hold of a brass lever that operated the simple pulleys that, in turn, dropped the trapdoors beneath the hooded victims.
There came a
as Narnok’s ropes snapped under the huge axeman’s writhing muscles, and he ripped off his hood, unhooked his noose, and, reaching forward, grabbed the pompous little bureaucrat, dragging him into a crushing bear-hug. “Help!” squeaked the little man, Narnok’s criss-cross scarred face up close and personal as Narnok pulled an ornate dagger from a sheath at the bureaucrat’s hip. His arm came back and snapped forward. The dagger appeared, stubby and black, in the hangman’s eye, and he gurgled as blood spattered the gallows. He slid from the trapdoor handle, sinking quietly into an embryonic heap.
“Bastards,” growled Narnok, bad breath filling the bureaucrat’s face, and, with grunt and a tug, he broke the man’s spine with an audible crack and back-handed him from the gallows where the body toppled, a broken doll, into the rocks and deep chasms yawning below the fortress wall…
Yoon, blinking, suddenly screamed, “Kill him!” and ten of his elite guards rushed forward, led by Captain Dokta. Narnok ducked a sword-sweep, front-kicked Dokta from the battlements, and grabbed a sword by the blade with a slap. He stared into the surprised soldier’s face, kicked him in the balls, slammed the sword left, where the hilt cut a groove across a soldier’s eyes making him drop his blade and scrabble at the blood and flaps of opened flesh. Narnok took the sword’s handle, weighed it thoughtfully, then launched a blistering attack: beheading one soldier; disembowelling a second so he fell to his knees clutching an armful of his own bloody bowels, cradled like some perverse abdominal abortion; then put the point of the blade through a third soldier’s throat, skewering his bobbing apple and severing his spine so he collapsed like a sack of horse shit.
Narnok leapt to his colleagues’ rescue, sword slashing down to cut the bonds of Dek, then Kiki, then Zastarte, and finally Trista. They removed silk hoods and loosened nooses, lifting them over their heads. Grim eyes met the soldiers of Vagandrak on the killing ground below.
Leaping down from the gallows, they grabbed weapons from the soldiers Narnok had slain. Bright steel gleamed under the storm clouds. The Iron Wolves formed a line on the battlements, weighing the odds, then suddenly charged at Yoon, at his remaining guards. Yoon screamed, high pitched and feral, and turned, slipping, then scrambling along on his hands and feet in what would have been a comical manner fit for the stage, if it hadn’t been for five very real deadly killers in pursuit.
Kiki blocked an overhead sword strike, sparks showered, she punched the man in the throat, back-handed her blade across a second soldier’s thigh, cutting the leg clean off and forcing him to collapse. Then the point of the blade skewered the eye of the man before her and she was over him even as he dropped, leaping, both boots landing atop Yoon and flattening him to the ground. When the King opened his eyes, Kiki was crouched beside him, a slender dagger to his throat. She jabbed it, just a little, and blood trickled free.
“Weapons down!” she bellowed, and gradually the fighting around stopped.
Kiki stood, dragging Yoon up with her.
“I’ll have you… you… you
hung for this!”
frothed the king, apoplectic with rage.
“Yeah? You already tried that,” said Kiki, smoothly, and tossed her sword to Dek who caught the weapon neatly from the air and rounded on the disabled soldiers. He grinned at them.
“Looks like you’re shit out of luck, boys,” he growled.
Kiki got a good handful of King Yoon’s shaggy black hair and, with the dagger still spiking his throat, drew him close to her lithe, powerful body. She said, quietly, in his ear, “This is the way it’s going to play out,
Your Highness.
We’re going to retreat. Slowly. You’re going to come with us. You’ve made it clear you want us dead, and us saving your damned country is not something which seems to bother you. A great shame. We’d give our lives for this realm, and you’d happily take them for no reason. The point is – our backs are against the wall. So don’t think I won’t slit your fucking throat. After all that’s happened, it’d be a damn pleasure. Understand?” She shook him. “You
“Yes, yes… it hurts, please, stop pressing the knife in…”

You lot
!” bellowed Narnok, and the soldiers gathered below stared up at him. Some looked at their boots in shame. “We fucking fought alongside you, like brothers, we held back the bloody mud-orcs together, shoulder to shoulder, our blood mixed on the battlements. And you stand there and watch your mad bastard of a king try to break our necks!”
Sergeant Dunda stepped forward, still clutching his axe, his bearded face lifted towards the Iron Wolves on the battlements. “Narnok, son, you can’t do it this way. You may think him mad –
may think him mad – but he’s
the King,
by all the gods! His word is Law!”
“Sometimes, you have to take a stand,” rumbled Narnok, his one good eye sweeping across the gathered men.
“Yoon will have the whole of Vagandrak hunt you down,” said Dunda, his voice level, neutral.
“Then so be it,” said Narnok.
“We need to move,” growled Kiki, pulling Yoon ever tighter.
“Follow me,” said Dek, and started edging down the stone stairwell, both swords before him, his dark eyes full of murder. “Lads, you there, we’re of the same land, and I don’t want to cut off your heads; but if you force me to it, I will.”
“Back off!” screeched Yoon. “Give them space, for the love of your king and country!”
The Iron Wolves reached the bottom of the steps at the same time the storm unleashed a fury of icy hail over Desekra Fortress. Ice rattled across the battlements, a great sweep slamming down and playing music on armour and helmets and shields. Thunder boomed in the mountains like the clash of titans; like the end of the world.
Kiki led the way now, with Zastarte and Trista, Dek and Narnok walking backwards, weapons bristling.
“We can take them,” hissed Captain Dokta, dragging himself alongside Sergeant Dunda. He’d only just recovered from being front-kicked from the battlements; a fall of some twenty feet. He was lucky not to have broken his spine. “Call for the crossbows!”
BOOK: The White Towers
5.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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