Authors: James Barclay
|Series:||Ascendants of Estorea |
The Estorean Conquord has stood for 850 years. Its Advocate, Herine Del Aglios, knows that she presides over the greatest civilisation in history. But she wants more. And in Estorea's recently conquered territories dissent is brewing. Forced to fight old friends and neighbours in the cause of the ever-growing Conquord, they face brutal choices and savage demands for money and men to be fed into Estorea's wars - demands made by Paul Jhered, head of the Gatherers and the iron hand of the Advocate, With Jhered by her side, Herine believes that nothing can go wrong. Until a disastrous and bloody reversal in the war to overrun the Kingdom of Tsard puts Estorea's armies on the back foot and has Tsardon troops flooding into the Conquord. As the empire trembles, far from the war four unique children are discovering their powers. They are the first true Ascendants, in touch with the elements, able to shape the world. An empire descending into war is about to discover the wonder and terror of magic . . . James Barclay's new series is a triumph of epic plotting and heart-stopping action.
THE ASCENDANTS OF ESTOREA BOOK 1
Copyright © James Barclay
All rights reserved
The right of James Barclay to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of
First published in Great Britain in
by Gollancz An imprint of the Orion Publishing Group Orion House,
Upper St Martin's Lane London
This edition published in Great Britain in
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
-13: 9 780 57507 812 3
Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic
The Orion Publishing Group's policy is to use papers that are natural, renewable and recyclable products and made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The logging and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.
For Clare, who is the centre of my life
This book is the result of a huge effort by many. From art-worker to copy editor, I have a lot of people to thank. Particularly though, Simon Spanton who gave me such unstinting support and advice during the whole of the writing process; Gillian Redfearn, a blessing in the guise of an editorial assistant; and to Graham Diss who came and saw me every month and who doesn't get the credit he deserves.
I also want to thank David Gemmell who is a constant source of inspiration; Howard Morhaim who brought me lasting confidence in the future; to Robert Kirby for always being there; to Ariel, ace webmaster; and to Pete, George, Dave and Dick . . . same old, same old but I couldn't do it without you.
And finally, to Dan Westfallen, who has lent his name to the heart of the book; to William Montanero who has worked so hard to help my website forum be a success; and to all the forumites - you've brought a smile to my face on the worst of days. Thank you.
THE CITIZENS OF WESTFALLEN
father of the ascendancy,
ascendancy echelon, pain
ascendancy echelon, land
ascendancy echelon, land
ascendancy echelon, herd
ascendancy echelon, waterborn
reader of westfallen
OFFICERS OF THE ESTOREAN CONQUORD
Herine Del Aglios
advocate of the estorean
exchequer of the gatherers
chancellor, order of the omniscient
marshal defender of caraduk
marshal defender of
marshal defender of
chief scientist to the
captain of the palace guard
NORTHERN FRONT LEGIONS
Roberto Del Aglios
general of the army
master of sword,
master of horse,
master of sword, 15th ala
EASTERN FRONT LEGIONS
general of the army
master of sword,
master of horse,
SOUTHERN FRONT LEGIONS
general of the army
master of sword,
SAILORS OF THE CONQUORD
prime sea lord of the
squadron leader, ocenii squadron
CITIZENS AND OTHERS
praetor of gull's ford,
a potter from gull's ford
gor-camas of the karku
sentor, tsardon forces
prosentor, tsardon forces
834th cycle of God, 1st day of
Genasrise 1st year of the true Ascendancy
And there they were, lying asleep and at peace. Newborn and helpless. Beautiful and fragile. And in that, no different from any other infants born to this world blessed by God.
Never though, had a quartet of newborns undergone such lengthy and mute observation; been examined with such anxiety, hope and wonder. The atmosphere was so deeply charged it should have made them fretful enough to wake and cry. They did not.
Crowded around the line of cribs and looking down on the tiny faces were those for whom these three boys and one girl, scant hours into life, represented the culmination of generations of dedication. Yet for all the accumulated wisdom brought to bear and the endless paper records of all that had gone before, they still did not know if these four would achieve their birthrights.
However long they stared there would be no sign. The infants would give no hint if they possessed everything, or anything, that the exhaustive calculations suggested they would. But still they stared, reverent. The Ascendancy's Echelon had gathered around the cribs in complete accord. They could all sense something. After countless disappointments and false dawns, this time it was different. It had to be.
Shela Hasi stood behind the cribs with seven of the Echelon's nine members in front of her. There would be the inevitable, interminable wait for signs of true talent. But until the frustration of those years set in, they would hope and dream for the realisation of a destiny whose genesis was lost in the mists of ancient religion and belief. She felt awed by their presence. The entire community of Westfallen was close for many good reasons, of centuries longstanding, yet the Echelon had an aura that set them apart. In them rested
lingering ability, extraordinary dedication and an all-consuming determination.
Shela couldn't deny the occasional spark of envy. She'd been a Waterborn herself until she was ten. Wonderful times that would live with her forever. The day the talent had deserted her she'd nearly drowned.
That had been almost forty years ago now and there were still times she felt the loss as she had at that first moment. A violation of her body. The robbery of something she had come to assume was hers by right. So she envied the Echelon their continued link with the Ascendancy, their taste of the potential that they all prayed these infants possessed.
Yet she also pitied them the daily anxiety. While those whose talents faded usually suffered their loss early in life, it was not unknown for one in more advanced years to be shorn of their link. That pain would be terribly hard to bear. Every night she, like every strand member, prayed that the Echelon remained undamaged. So far, God had answered their prayers.
She smiled at them. These most revered of Westfallen's people were held rapt by the new arrivals. From Ardol Kessian, one of only three survivors of the first strand, to Jen Shalke, barely into her teens and only just coming to terms with her destiny. Such a sweet man, Ardol Kessian. One hundred and thirty-two years old now, completely hairless and stooped but still robust. His smile took the chill from a cold day and his voice, deep and sonorous, had been a comfort to the Echelon across the generations. He was a peerless Wind Harker and indeed had told them all how warm it would be during the births and in the days after. His was a keen talent and one they would inevitably miss when he returned to the earth and God's embrace.
'They are beautiful, aren't they?' said Shela, her whisper carrying loud across the silence of the cosy, sun-bathed nursery. A light breeze blew fresh sea air through the open windows. Shela could hear the hot air channelling through the hypocaust beneath the flagstones under their feet, adding further gentle warmth for the delicate newborns.
Kessian's deep green eyes twinkled beneath his bald brows. 'Glorious. Treasured. Carrying all our hopes and desires, though they cannot know it.' He nodded. 'And I approve of the names, too. Fine choices all.'
He reached out a minutely trembling hand to smooth the brow of each child in turn, speaking quietly as he did so.
'Mirron, much will rest on your shoulders. You will bear the pressure of motherhood in addition to all else that will fall on you. Your strand-brothers lying beside you this day will support you always as you will them. Ossacer and Arducius, you carry the names of great warrior heroes but never should you be moved to strike another down. Your destiny is in peace. And Gorian. Blessed indeed by the name of our father. Keep it well. Be true to his memory. Fulfil your destiny and, with your brothers and sister, achieve that which we cannot. Use it for the benefit of us all under God the Omniscient.'
He turned to his friend of a hundred years, Willem Geste of the second strand. 'Willem, a prayer.'
The Echelon came together and each knelt on one knee. One hand touched the ground, the other held palm up and open to the sky. Shela rested her hands on the outer cribs, embracing them all.
'The Ascendancy stands before you, our God, to commend these newborn children to your care. Newborn who we pray will become your most powerful servants on this earth. We promise to nurture and train them, that they in turn will do your work while they are blessed by you with life; preserving the land and the sea and all those who depend upon them. We ask that you protect them, watch over them and love them as you do all your children. We ask this in the name of the true faith of the Omniscient. We of the pure strands of the Ascendancy beseech you, our God. So it will be.'
'As it always was,' they intoned as one.
'Thank you, Willem,' said Kessian, standing. 'Now, before Shela throws us all out of here, I think we should take our leave and let these little ones rest.'
'Can't I stay longer with them?' Jen Shalke's voice carried a whine.
Kessian put a finger to his lips. Shela smiled to herself.
'In a moment, young Jen,' he said. 'First of all, Gwythen, Meera, back to bed. I have no idea what possessed you to stand with us so soon after giving birth. You must be exhausted.'
'We are of the Ascendancy Echelon,' said Gwythen Terol, mother of Ossacer. 'It is our duty.' Her voice was proud but her face was drawn.
'Nevertheless, please rest now,' he said gently, the warmth never leaving his voice despite his chiding words. 'Willem, Genna, we have work to do and texts to study. There are answers we still need though I suspect much of our evidence lies sleeping in these cribs. Everything else will have to wait until we see what they become.
'And as for you, young Jen, I'm sure Shela will be happy to have your company in the days and seasons to come. However, today our nursemaid must introduce and accustom herself to her charges alone. Meanwhile, there are fish to be caught and fishers wanting to know where to cast their nets. It's a beautiful day and the sea is warm. Perhaps you could find us a shoal, eh? Or the feast tonight will be lessened, will it not?'
Jen's smile was adoring and Shela felt again that familiar moment of envy at the young Waterborn's ability. She had known the freedom of the world beneath the waves until it had been wrenched from her. She dreamed often of what she had seen and the places she had gone. She relived her past through Jen's tales and, for her part, was the only one who really understood the young woman. It had brought them very close. Shela dropped her gaze. For all that they respected her as a strand member and for her skills as nursemaid, she could never be one of them and feel that bond the Ascendancy shared so effortlessly.
The door to the nursery opened. Hesther Naravny entered, closing it behind her. A Land Warden of the fifth strand, she was a passionate, fiery woman in her mid-sixties. Hesther looked around the Ascendancy, her expression darkening as her eyes travelled over them.
'Meera, what do you think you're doing here? You too, Gwythen, for that matter. You should not be out of bed.'
'The Echelon gathered to bless the newborns,' said Meera. 'So perhaps I should be asking you why you
'Always the petulant child,' muttered Hesther. 'Will I have to look out for you into your dotage, Meera?'
'If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. You are not my mother.'
Hesther's face softened and she stepped close to Meera, cupping the woman's cheeks in her hands. 'No, but I am your sister and I love you more than any living thing under God's sky. You are a mother of the ninth strand, the strand we all pray is the one to take us to ascendancy, and I would not see you risk yourself. Please Meera, the labour was difficult. You must rest.'
Meera sagged and nodded. 'I know. But this is just so . . . and look at my beautiful child.'
Hesther's face lit up. 'I am a proud aunt and a proud sister before I am part of the Echelon. You have a beautiful son, an important son. But come now. Gwythen, you as well. Help each other back to bed.'
The Echelon gave them room, Willem opening the door.
'Bless you both,' he said. 'Sleep well.'
'Right,' said Hesther when the door had closed once again. 'Ardol, the forum has been packed since first light. They are patient but surely it's time to give them some news.'
Kessian inclined his head. 'No sense in keeping them in suspense any longer. There is plenty to prepare.'
'So there is,' said Hesther. 'Shela, how are they?'
'Peaceful. But they can always have more peace.'
Hesther winked at her and walked to the door. 'I'll address the town. The rest of you, out.'
The nursery opened directly on to the marble-floored colonnade that enclosed the central courtyard gardens of the Ascendancy villa. Hesther walked quickly between two columns and out into the sun which warmed the flagstones under her sandaled feet and sparkled on the water trickling from the four fountains, each set in the centre of a quadrant of the courtyard. All around her, the scents and colours of flowers, grasses and small trees created a powerful sense of burgeoning life. Hesther breathed it in, feeling energised.
Behind her, she had left the best and brightest hopes of the Ascendancy. It filled her with a childlike excitement that hurried her to a trot across the beautiful gardens, down the long entrance vestibule, through the cool reception hall and out into the streets of Westfallen.
Westfallen nestled at the head of a steep-sided inlet which opened out, a hundred miles south, into the vastness of the ocean. Half a mile beyond the harbour walls the spectacular Genastro Falls cascaded over a thousand feet into the inlet, taking with them the run-off from Willows Lake, away to the east, two miles from the town.
The villa sat on a rise above the bulk of the town, overlooking the glorious golden bay with its stone- and concrete-built harbour. Scattered about the gentle slopes of the town sat larger villas surrounded by their farmland. Crops were ripening in the fields and animals grazed or basked in the tranquillity of the day. Down towards the forum, the narrower, tightly packed, streets were lined with low houses and a few tenements under which shops opened onto pavement or square.
The town was deserted. The fleet of thirty fishing boats was dragged up onto the beach. No one stirred beneath the lazily flapping shop awnings. Everyone was at the forum. Hesther could hear the hubbub of voices and see the crowd gathered in front of the oratory. Hundreds of people waiting for news. Approaching as quickly as she dared without getting out of breath, Hesther heard a ripple of laughter through the crowd. Someone was entertaining them at least.