As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot. I am very excited andthe author of
This Short Story The Sixth Kingdom ties directly into The Last Sacrifice!
So go get your copy!
The Sixth Kingdom
James A. Moore
Near the very crest of the Broken Swords Mountains, with their vast crystalline shards that shine across half the Five Kingdoms, when the sun is just so, in the kingdom of Stennis Brae, is a castle that is large enough to house, according to some, a thousand people. That castle is called Stoneheart, and while parts of it are truly ancient, it has been expanded greatly in the last two decades. The man who lives there calls the land around it Journey End. He is allowed to call it whatever he pleases, for he is the king of that land. His name is Bron McNar, and while he is not the largerst man, he is close. While he is not the fiercest man, he is not far removed.
In his youth Bron McNar earned the title the Dog of Kinnett, for he held off an attack by close to seven hundred of his enemies from Mentath and he did it with little help. He was cut, he was burned, he was bled and beaten, but did not fall. In his time he was considered the greatest warrior alive, but times change and even the greatest heroes get older.
Not that Bron had any complaints. He had a powerful army, well-trained soldiers, and while his body was older his mind was still as keen as any razor. Even among his worst enemies he was not liked or loved, but he was respected.
And he had his family. They brought him joy.
Bron sat upon his throne, carved from a single shard of the massive crystals that made up the Broken Swords. The piece had taken a great deal of effort to retrieve and if not for the furs he planted his backside on, it would have been impossible to call comfortable. Still, it was his, and it was impressive.
And it meant nothing in comparison to his son, Liam, who was currently perched on his knee and staring at him with wide, awestruck eyes.
Liam adored his father and Bron knew it. The feeling was mutual; there were things the king should have been doing. There was the hunt for Brogan McTyre and his fellow renegades. There were soldiers to settle in different locations, and soon. King Parrish, a man who had once been his blood enemy was on his way to Stoneheart, and soon the both of them would meet with the other three kings and discuss what looked likely to be the end of the world if they could not stop Brogan McTyre and his people.
For now, however, there was his son. His son, who would someday rule all of Stennis Brae, unless they failed to appease the gods.
Liam looked at his father and got a grim look on his face. To most that expression might have meant the boy was angry but, like his father, he had a face designed for stern expressions. He could merely be thinking, he could be angry or, possibly, he had a need to clear his bowels. The same expression was there in all cases.
This time he was thinking. “Why are there five kingdoms? Why not four, or six?
Bron smiled. That was a question he could answer, and one that could teach his son an important lesson at the same time.
“Liam, my boy, there are five kingdoms because the gods believe in punishing foolish people.”
“Aye, lad. The gods. You’ve heard of them before. I am a king in my kingdom because I fought for it, but the gods are kings of the whole world, because they fought for it. From here to the edge of Star End, they are in charge of all they see. They control the oceans, and the moons and they can be harsh masters.”
“So the gods decided there should be five kingdoms?”
Though he was in good enough spirits at the moment, Bron made his face stern as he looked at his boy. “No. They decided that one of the kingdoms had to go away.”
Liam looked back, frowning. “What did they do?”
“The gods? Or the people from the kingdom?”
“Well now, that’s a question that deserves a proper answer.” Bron leaned back a bit and then pulled his son higher up on his lap. He did not look at Liam as he spoke, but instead looked out the closest window, toward the west, where the Broken Swords glittered in the reflected early morning light.
“Once upon a time, lad, there were six kingdoms, not five. There was Stennis Brae, of course, and there was Mentath. There were the islands that make up Kaer-ru, and there was Torema and Giddenland. You know all of those already, yes?” The boy nodded and his father was pleased. “There was also another kingdom. It was called Thamis.
“Thamis was a vast place, to be sure. South of here and on the other side of the mountains, but not so far south as Giddenland. Just past the passage through the Broken Swords, it was, but a hundred leagues west. Now all that is there is desert, but back in the past there were two great cities and there was a lake with waters as clear and blue as you have ever seen. I remember when I was a lad, just a bit older than you, I could climb to the top of the highest peak and if the sun was right I could see the light shimmering off that lake like it was a great, silvery coin.
“Like all the people in all the countries, the people of Thamis were a proud folk. And they had every reason, didn’t they? They’d found a lake and built a great city on one side of it, and then another on the other side, and they’d worked hard to grow crops and build routes so that other people from other countries could come visit them and trade with them. We don’t trade so much up here, but for some of the southern countries it’s a necessity if they want to live.
“They had every reason to be proud, but sometimes that feeling can become a sickness in a person. Sometimes it can cost them everything.”
Bron was silent for a moment, considering the troubles that pride could cause. He had certainly suffered from that particular sin more times than he should have.
“The gods make demands of us. Just as I make demands of the people who live in my kingdom. I tell them they must pay me coin so that I can make them safe. The gods do similar things, but they demand lives instead of gold. I see that look and I’ll answer true. I don’t know why they demand lives. They just do. It is not our place to question gods in any event.
“And that’s just what the people of Thamis would not remember. They did not wish to pay with lives. They wanted to pay with other things. They offered crops instead of lives, and they offered statues made in the honor of the gods, hoping that these things would be enough. Sadly they were not. The gods did not care for wheat and apples. They were not pleased with the statues. And so they told the Thamisites that they must accept their commands.
“They did this through the Undying, who look like men in hooded cloaks, but who are much more than men. They are monsters, and if you ever meet them, Liam, you must obey them. They are the voices of the gods, and we must be obeyed.”
Liam nodded solemnly at the look on his father’s face and Bron was pleased but hid that fact.
“The Undying told the people of Thamis that they must offer up four times as many of their people to apologize to the gods. Most times the Undying themselves travel the lands and take a person here, or a person there, and try to leave the kingdoms happy. It’s like taking a single coin from a farmer instead of taking all of his earnings to tax them. It hurts, but the pain is small and so the farmer is content. Take all that he earns from his harvest and the farmer will starve and his family will starve. Do that to a person, and you can expect nothing but anger. It does a king little good to offend even the weakest of farmers, because then you cannot call on that person and expect loyalty, only hatred.
“Each season the Undying collect four people who must be offered to the gods. In that time there were six kingdoms. Only four people taken from different kingdoms was little to worry about. Now, I’ll tell you a secret you must never share, do you understand? Yes? Good. The noble blood of the kingdoms, those who share my blood, like you and your sisters and your mother, we are all protected from being taken. This is an agreement that all of the kingdoms have long made with the Undying and the gods themselves. This way, the world is kept safe from our tears and our anger. When a farmer is angry, he can cause little harm. When a king is angry, wars happen and blood flows and everyone suffers. That is the reasoning. But you must never tell anyone of this, because they would not understand. They would be jealous and they would grow as angry as the farmers deprived of all their earnings.
“The Undying came down upon Thamis and said that sixteen must die, all of them from Thamis. And then they said that half of those sixteen must be of royal blood.
Shaileen, the Queen of Thamis, and Quinn, her husband, did not agree. They refused the orders of the Undying. There are twelve of the Undying to cover this land. They can fly like birds and they are impossible to kill, but they can be punished, and tortured, if one is swift about it. The queen and her husband were given the orders of the gods by two of the Undying and they looked to their guards and had both of the messengers captured.
“We have spoken of fair punishments before, and we will again. There is a reason that the punishment must be no greater than the crime. Some say if you are very harsh with a criminal that you save your people from that person committing that crime again. That is true, but if you are too strict, the people you rule can grow tired of you and they can rise up against you. It has happened before and it will again. Know that. Understand that. When you become king you must rule wisely, or you will lose all that you love and then your life besides. I rule as wisely as I can, because I love you and your mother and your siblings. If I do wrong, all of you could be taken from me. I never want that to happen.
“I say this because Queen Shaileen did not follow this rule. She took ropes, and chains, and swords to the Undying. She had them bound to great posts in the central courtyard of her castle and she tested if they could truly be killed. When blades did not do the job, she lit fires beneath them to cook them alive.
“Through it all, the Undying lived. They suffered great agonies. They screamed, and wept, and called upon the gods to save them from their torture. The gods did not listen, or at least it did not seem they did.”
Bron considered his tale. Already his young son looked uncomfortable. There were times when children should be allowed the benefit of being children. Sometimes, however, that option was taken away. Some day his son would rule all of Stennis Brae. He must be made to see right from wrong, and often that knowledge came with darkness.
“The gods sent a demon down as punishment upon Thamis.”
“What’s a demon?”
“Well, a demon is like a god, but not quite as strong. A god can create. A god can make new land from nothing, or breathe life into something that has never lived. A demon cannot create from nothing. A demon can look at something that already exists and change it. If a demon wanted, it could take this throne we sit upon and turn it into mud, or just as easily into gold. A god could create either of those things. A demon could not create a life, but it could breathe part of itself into something that once lived and use that something. A man who has died is dead. A demon could make him live again, but that life would be a lie. It would never been the same man again, do you see? It might look like that man, it might even have some memories of that man, but it would never be that man. It would only imitate that man as a puppet imitates. It can dance and move, but it can never truly think or speak for itself.”
Liam nodded his head, content with that explanation.
“It is said that demons are imprisoned by the gods to stop them from creating mischief. Demons, according to all that I have heard, are jealous of the gods and would take their place. I do not know if this is true, but it sounds like it is.
“It is also said that, like the gods, demons are always hungry. The gods get their sacrifices and they are fed, but demons are locked away. They are starved like attack dogs. They are kept hungry so that they can be used as punishments by the gods.
“I have heard names of demons before. They are considered powerful, these names, though I have no idea why. I am told the demon sent down to Thamis was called Ariah, and that the demon was one of the greatest enemies of the gods. All that from a scryer. Remember always to be careful with your scryers. They often give you bad news, but they speak for the gods in their own way and you must respect them.
“Ariah ate the kingdom of Thamis. I cannot say what a demon looks like. I did not see the death of that kingdom, but we heard it even here. It was a sound like thunder, but so much louder. The very mountains shook. The throne we sit on was thrown from the mountains when the demon feasted.
“I am told a great darkness reached out of the skies and came down upon that place. That darkness took the shape of countless flying things, none bigger than my hand, which covered all the kingdom in blackness. The sky was darker than a cloudy night, and for five days the land was lost beneath the veil of black, nightmare things.
“Then the darkness vanished. It did not lift into the sky again, but instead it pulled in on itself. When it was cleared, all that remained of great Thamis was dust and the dry ground. The cities were gone. The lake itself was gone. There was never a sign left of the place to see.
“Some people are mad, Liam. And some are simply foolish. There were people who rode across the lands to see what had happened in Thamis. All that anyone can say for certain is that two shapes rose into the air and moved to the north and west. The Undying were not killed by the demon. Perhaps they could not be, but I cannot say for certain.”
Bron looked around and sighed. “There is nothing left of Thamis. Many people have forgotten the name or pretend that they have, because to remember it is to think too much on the punishment of the gods.”
Bron leaned forward and kissed the top of his young son’s head. “We are not allowed that. We must always remember, so that we know how to act. People must listen to their kings. Kings must listen to their people and to the gods alike.”
“Do you obey the gods?” Liam’s words were soft, scared.
Bron nodded and rested his chin against his young son’s head as he pulled him closer. “Always, my boy. Always. Even if, sometimes, it seems they do not notice.”
Far away, west of the mountains and across the plains of Arthorne, he knew the gods were once again angered, they punished the land and pulled down an entire kingdom, but this time they were in no hurry.
There was still time to save the world from destruction.
That was why there were kings, after all. Because kings, more than anyone else, understood the wrath of the gods, and would do all they could to appease that unrelenting fury.
Since time began the Grakhul, immortal servants of the gods who choose who lives and who dies when it comes time to make sacrifices to their deities, have been seeking to keep the world in balance and the gods appeased. When they take the family of Brogan McTyre to offer as sacrifice, everything changes.
Brogan heads off on a quest to save his family from the Grakhul. The decision this time is costlier than they expected, leading to Brogan and his kin being hunted as criminals and the gods seeking to punish those who’ve defied them.
“Gripping, horrific, and unique, James Moore continues to be a winner, whatever genre he’s writing in. Well worth your time.”
– Seanan McGuire, NYT-Bestselling author of the Toby Daye and InCryptid series
“James A Moore is the new prince of grimdark fantasy. His work is full of dark philosophy and savage violence, desperate warriors, and capricious gods. This is fantasy for people who like to wander nighttime forests and scream at the moon. Exhilarating as hell.”
– Christopher Golden, New York Times bestselling author of Snowblind
“The Last Sacrifice is brilliant, devious, dark and compelling. This is epic fantasy at its very best. Highly recommended!”
– Jonathan Maberry, NY Times bestselling author of Kill Switch and Mars One
“James A Moore is the new prince of grimdark fantasy. His work is full of dark philosophy and savage violence, desperate warriors and capricious gods. This is fantasy for people who like to wander nighttime forests and scream at the moon. Exhilarating as hell.”
– Christopher Golden, New York times bestselling author of Snowblind
“With The Last Sacrifice, James A. Moore has triumphed yet again, delivering a modern sword and sorcery tale to delight old and new fans of the genre. With its intriguing premise, stellar cast of characters, and flavorful horror elements, this is damn good stuff.”
“I love it. This is a story that turns the genre story arc on its head, mixes up the motives of heroes and villains, and muddies the waters of divine intervention. A fantastic, surprising start to a major new series.”
– Beauty in Ruins
JAMES A MOORE is the award-winning, bestselling, author of over forty novels, thrillers, dark fantasy and horror alike, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks,Under The Overtree, Blood Red, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) and his most recent novels, The Blasted Lands and City of Wonders both part of the Seven Forges series. In addition to writing multiple short stories, he has also edited, with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, The British Invasion anthology for Cemetery Dance Publications.
Moore’s first short story collection, Slices, sold out before ever seeing print. He is currently at work on several additional projects, including the forthcoming The Last Sacrifice, book one in the Tides of War, series. Along with Jonathan Maberry and Christopher Golden, he hosts the Three Guys With Beards podcast and currently he lives in Massachusetts.