Orbit’s Call to Adventure with Battlemage Excerpt & Giveaway!
***The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered!***
Looking for a good book to read? This winter Orbit Books wants to help you find your perfect fantasy adventure novel! Whether your tastes run to intricate magic systems, bloody battles or exciting swashbuckling action, there’s something for every fantasy reader. Just click the link below to check out this nifty site, and answer the questions to find out which of the seven Orbit titles in this quiz will be the perfect one for you! Let me know which book(s) you got 🙂
But that’s not all! To celebrate the launch of the website, The BiblioSanctum has also been invited to feature one of the books on the list. Today, we’re honored to be hosting an excerpt and a giveaway of Battlemage by Stephen Aryan! I had an awesome time with this book, so it is with great pleasure that I present this exclusive look at Chapter 2 (you can read Chapter 1 at the Orbit site!) and read on for the giveaway details. Enjoy!
Excerpt from Battlemage by Stephen Aryan, published September 22, 2015 by Orbit.
It felt good to be home. The air was damp and it smelled clean and familiar. Beyond the thick city walls, Balfruss could see endless fields of green, yellow and brown, hemmed in on all sides by dry stone walls. There was so much colour here. It had taken him years of being abroad to realise.
In the far east the changing of the seasons made little difference to the weather. The wind blew a little colder, the sun was a little warmer, but the land didn’t change colour as it did here in Seveldrom. After being away for so long Balfruss no longer kept track of time in days or weeks. There was little point when he wasn’t racing home to the loving arms of a wife and family. Before his thoughts became even more melancholy he focused on the city.
From his position at the top of the palace, Charas, the capital of Seveldrom was spread out before him. The city was a fortress with crenelated walls more than a hundred feet high. At the heart of Charas were ancient buildings steeped in history that were centuries old. Towering over them all was the cathedral devoted to the Great Maker. Its vast spire was slightly askew and its metal roof turning green in places, but it was still a remarkable sight. Stained-glass windows depicting former kings, queens and warriors twinkled in the sunlight in a myriad of bright colours.
Despite the cathedral’s prominence it was hard to ignore the domed temple of the Blessed Mother and the shining spire devoted to the church of the Holy Light. Both were clamouring for attention in the New City, a recent addition from five centuries previous. The New City spread out on all sides from the Old, more than tripling the population. The outer wall was as high as the inner, protecting its people from the worst of the weather and potential threats, although there’d not been a siege for centuries.
Peering down at the streets from such a great height, Balfruss could see a riot of colour, from painted shop signs and striped vendor awnings in the markets, to flowers in the Queen’s memorial park. Coloured glass filled the windows on the top floor in most houses in the Old City, a leftover fashion from the days when everyone had sung hymns to the Maker. In the New City it had never caught on, although the newer temples copied the stained glass with varied success.
Compared to other cities he’d visited, the architecture in Charas was simple, but there was a certain beauty in the uniform two- and three-storey buildings of the Old City. All the straight lines, blue slate roofs and lack of ascetic decoration spoke to him of strength and reliability, attributes commonly associated with the Seve people. It galled Balfruss when he heard jokes about Seves being a race of cow-breeding dullards.
It was hard to believe he’d been away for five years. If Balfruss were to look in a mirror he knew his reflection would show a man who looked much older than his thirty-seven years. Already there were spots of white in his hair and beard, and the purple shadows under his eyes had become a permanent fixture, as if he’d been born with them. There was also the unfortunate fact that he felt the wind more keenly on the back of his head. At least his beard kept his neck warm when it was cold.
“Glad to be home, Lan?” said Vannok Lore, coming up the stairs.
It was good to see that some things hadn’t changed in his time away. Vannok was exactly as before, a massive man dressed in moulded leather armour with a sword at his side.
Having grown up together they had no secrets between them. No one else called him Lan, the name he’d been given at birth before his eleventh naming day. It was a leftover custom from a time when six out of every ten children died from the red pox before their tenth birthday. There hadn’t been a new case in four hundred years, but the tradition continued.
Despite their years apart, when Balfruss had been studying at the Red Tower, they could still read the other with ease.
“I never thought I’d say it, Vann, but I’m happy to be home.” Balfruss took a deep breath and then another. “Do you smell it? The green.”
Vannok sniffed the air. “Was it so different in the east?”
“The desert is dry, spicy and hot. You can feel the air inside when you breathe. There are plants and trees, but nothing like this,” he said, gesturing at the land. “I missed the colour, and Maker forgive me, the cold. The rain and the wind too.”
Vannok laughed. “You weren’t tempted to stay?”
“No. It wasn’t home.”
“Are you going to stay home this time?”
Balfruss smiled up at his tall friend. “Ask me again when it’s done.”
“We should go. The King will be arriving shortly to greet you and the others.”
Balfruss followed him down several flights of worn stairs and along wide corridors towards the throne room.
“Have the others been here long?”
“Three were local,” said Vannok over his shoulder, “but a couple arrived in the last day. Some have travelled a long way to help us.”
“How many are there?”
“Eight, including you.”
Balfruss was so shocked he stumbled and Vannok caught him by the elbow before he fell. “Eight? Eight Battlemages?”
It was Vannok’s turn to smile. “Just wait.”
Nowadays Battlemages were rare, but at one time they had been reasonably common. Seekers had combed every town and village for children born with the ability, but that was before the Grey Council had abandoned their posts at the Red Tower fifteen years ago. The tower still took in those who turned up at its doors, but every year only a small number of students were trained by a shrinking group of ageing volunteers. Most of the staff had drifted away once they realised the Grey Council were not coming back. Those trained after the Council left were shown just enough to stop them from killing themselves, or anyone else, before they were sent home.
When he and Vannok entered the throne room the other Battlemages were already waiting for the King. Balfruss immediately recognised two of them and the ache in his chest returned. As soon as they saw him they approached with warm smiles and open arms. Both were dressed in loose yellow robes, but that was where the similarity between the two ended. Darius was dark skinned with a rangy build, black hair and dark eyes, while his wife Eloise was pale and blonde. The only commonality was the mark of Ayilah, a red glyph tattooed on their faces, running in a vertical line from hairline to jaw across the right eye. It signified their status as a wielder of magic in the desert kingdoms.
“What are you doing here? I only left you a few weeks ago,” said Balfruss.
“My wife is not one to be argued with,” said Darius, shaking both of Balfruss’s hands with an iron grip. Balfruss wanted to embrace his friend, but knew Darius’s customs frowned on public displays of affection. “She told me what was happening. After all that you did for my country, how could I not come?”
Balfruss offered his hand to Eloise, but instead she kissed him on both cheeks and hugged him tightly. “Stop scowling, Darius,” she said without looking around. “We’re in my country now. It’s not unseemly to show affection in public.”
Vannok cleared his throat and Balfruss took the hint.
“Sorry, Vann. Let me introduce you.”
“It’ll have to wait.” The King was entering the throne room, followed closely by his advisors.
Balfruss had never met the King before, but he could see why some called him the Grey Bear. Every hair on his bare arms and head was the colour of old ashes. Although nearly in his sixty-fifth year he was still a solid man in good physical shape. Stood behind him on one side were his three adult children, two broad and bearded sons and their slender and elegant sister. On the other side were two grizzled warriors who he guessed were Generals. One of them had to be Graegor, the mad one-eyed bastard they called the Foul, although never to his face. Much to Balfruss’s surprise Vannok took his place beside the other Generals and they greeted him as an equal. It seemed as if some things had changed in his time away.
The King sat down, but it was clear he wasn’t comfortable staring down at people from on high. The throne itself was basic, made only of wood with a gold lacquered crown painted on the headrest. The throne, like the other plain furnishings in the room, reflected what Balfruss knew about King Matthias’s approach to the trappings of his station. He understood their necessity, but preferred that the money be spent on his people rather than garish decoration for pomp and ceremony. The noticeable lack of colour also spoke of the Queen’s prolonged absence. It had been more than twenty years since her death.
Balfruss approached the bench and the other Battlemages made room for him to sit down.
“Thank you all for coming,” said the King. “I didn’t expect such generosity from my friends in the east,” he said, gesturing at Darius and Eloise who approached and bowed to the throne. As the King offered more lengthy thanks to King Usermeses IV, Balfruss glanced at those beside him.
The golden-skinned man must have come from the south-western kingdom of Shael, recently invaded and conquered by the Mad King. It looked as if the journey had almost killed the Battlemage from Shael. His face was haggard, his clothes dusty and torn, and even sitting down he leaned heavily on a tall staff. A pale headscarf sat about his neck, covering the bottom half of his face, and his shaven head was covered with fresh bruises, scars and scabs. As if he knew he was being watched, violet eyes turned to calmly regard Balfruss. He smiled and the man inclined his head.
The others were an odd group, two dressed in brightly coloured clothing like jesters, and a thick-shouldered man who looked more like a blacksmith. The smith was uneasy, constantly fidgeting and clenching his fists.
The last Battlemage was a small man with jet-black skin and a wide face who Balfruss recognised as one of the First People, the tribes who lived on the coast, north of Seveldrom.
King Matthias drew his welcome to a close, and from the broad smile on Darius’s face, Balfruss knew it had been the right length to satisfy desert customs. After giving their names his friends resumed their seats and the King’s expression turned grim.
“The King of Zecorria is dead,” said the King, his voice echoing around the room. “His son, Taikon, now sits on the throne and he’s declared war on Seveldrom under false pretences. He’s accused me of committing heinous religious crimes and with this he was able to form a pact with Morrinow. The other nations in the west were coerced or crushed to form an alliance. An army unlike any we’ve seen before marches towards my border. Our intelligence suggests that with them comes a man known as the Warlock, a powerful Battlemage with several apprentices. I have asked you here today because of him. We’ll speak again shortly, but for now, please introduce yourselves.”
Taking the initiative two brightly dressed men stepped forward to greet the King. Balfruss noticed both were sweating despite the room being pleasantly cool. It was also unusual to approach the throne without being asked. A couple of royal guards drew their swords and stepped forward but the King waved them back.
“Greetings your Majesty,” said one of the men with a florid bow. “I am the Great Samkin. Thank you for your seeing us. We hope to serve you well.”
The King pursed his lips and one eyebrow quirked slightly. Balfruss started to laugh, but Vannok gave him a vicious glare and he turned it into a cough. Darius was frowning and seemed on the cusp of action, but his rigid traditions would not allow him to interfere.
There was a long pause before the King spoke again. “And how many years did you train at the Red Tower?”
“Seven,” squeaked one of the men, nervously wiping sweat from his eyes.
“And what did you learn?”
“I can control storms, unmake stone, summon fire and see the future,” said one of the men, his robe covered with sun and moon symbols that had been sewn on.
“I can talk to animals,” blurted the other.
Balfruss laughed and this time he couldn’t contain it. A few of the others were smiling, except Darius and the smith.
“Perhaps a demonstration?” enquired the King.
“I’m very tired from my journey,” said Samkin, ignoring the laughter echoing around the room. “But my strength will soon return.”
As Samkin tried to step back all eyes fell on Balfruss, who was still laughing. Despite the frowns he struggled to regain his composure.
“My apologies, your Majesty,” said Balfruss, standing up and bowing deeply to the throne, “but these two men are charlatans. I assume that if pressed, they planned to trick you with sleight of hand. They don’t have the ability to touch the Source.”
“You can tell just by looking at them?”
“Yes, your Majesty. I can feel a kinship with my brethren,” he said, gesturing at those beside him. “There is a pulse. An echo between us.”
“He’s lying,” said one of the jesters. His bravado was spoiled by the tremor in his voice.
“A demonstration then,” said Balfruss. He waited until the King gave permission before walking forward. Balfruss positioned himself opposite the two men who suddenly looked very pale. “As I’m sure you know, one of the first lessons is the physical manifestation of your will. Combine your strength and push me across the room.”
“We don’t want to hurt you.”
Balfruss showed his teeth. “Try.”
Both men began by waving their arms and then one made strange whooping noises. The other chanted disjointed words, but nothing happened.
“Is that it?”
The two men looked at each other and then nodded.
Balfruss clapped his hands together and the charlatans were lifted into the air and thrown backwards. They slammed into the wall and hung off the ground as he stalked towards them. Their clothing was pressed flat against their bodies and they struggled to breathe as he leaned towards them.
“I can command storms, summon fire and unmake stone. Animals have nothing interesting to say and no one can see the future, because it has not been written,” growled Balfruss. “It’s dangerous to meddle with things you don’t understand.”
“Enough,” said the King, moving to stand beside Balfruss. “Let them down.”
Balfruss released the two men and they dropped to the floor in heaps. One was on the verge of tears and the other unable to look him or the King in the eye.
“What are your names?” asked the King.
“Where are you from?”
“It’s a tiny village, Sire, right on the border with the west. Hasn’t got no name.” The speech of both men had suddenly become less formal.
“We came here ’cos everyone left. Emptied out their homes and come east.”
“We knew the war was coming,” said Paedr, “and needed work. Didn’t mean to upset no one. Pretending to be a Battlemage seemed like the best way to get fed. We went two weeks without, besides what we could forage.”
“We didn’t want to starve,” said Sam, glancing briefly at the King. “We’re sorry we lied, Sire.”
“And what did you do before coming here?” asked the King.
“Worked the land for a local farmer. But Paedr’s good with numbers. Kept the books straight for everyone when taxes was due. Not many in our village can write or do their numbers.”
The King gestured at his daughter, who stepped forward.
“I think they will be able to help Jonkravish,” said Talandra. This was the first time Balfruss had seen the Princess and it was obvious she took after her mother. She was tall with a willowy build, whereas her brothers were big men with broad shoulders like their father. Her hair was long and blonde, held back in a simple plait, whereas their dark hair was cut short. Unusually she was dressed in trousers and a long shirt that concealed much of her shape, but no one would mistake her for a man.
“Who’s Jonkravish?” asked Sam.
“Our quartermaster,” said Talandra, turning towards the two men. She gestured to someone at the back of the room, who stepped forward out of the shadows.
“This is Jonkravish,” said Talandra, nodding towards the Morrin. Like all of his people the quartermaster had a slightly wedge-shaped face, pointed ears, horns and yellow eyes. The two charlatans were visibly unsettled by him and were unable to meet his unwavering stare.
“He will give you a bed, meals and a job.”
“We’re not getting the lash? Or killed?” said Sam.
Talandra’s smile was warm and generous. “No, but your jobs will not be easy. He is not an easy man to please.”
“We can do it,” said Paedr, a second ahead of Sam.
Balfruss approached the two charlatans as they turned to leave.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” said Sam. “We didn’t mean no upset.”
“I am sorry,” said Balfruss, offering his hand. “I lost my temper and I shouldn’t have.”
They looked at his hand as if it were a poisonous snake, but eventually both shook it before following the quartermaster out of the room.
“Perhaps you could introduce the others,” suggested the King as he resumed his seat on the throne. “And yourself.”
“I am Balfruss, Majesty. I know you’ve already met Darius, and his wife Eloise, but he’s also my Blood Brother.” The King and his Generals looked nonplussed, but Talandra nodded, familiar with the title and honour bestowed on him. As a reward for his efforts in the desert kingdoms the King had allowed Darius to make Balfruss family, even though they were not related. It made Balfruss part of one of the most powerful families in the desert, and part of their line of inheritance.
“The others I don’t know by name,” apologised Balfruss, “but I recognise a Kálfe of the First People.”
The little tribesman stepped forward with a nod towards Balfruss. His flat face was ritually scarred and his forearms were covered with faded red and blue tattoos that were almost black with age. Bone ornaments pierced his ears, and a necklace of reflective yellow stones was his only piece of jewellery. His feet were bare but after a lifetime without shoes the skin looked as tough as old leather. He wore a vest and a loose pair of breeches cut off at the knee to be polite, but normally his people went naked except for a scrap of cloth to cover their genitals.
“I am Ecko Snapping Turtle,” he said, touching two fingers to his heart and then his forehead. “I came to help because you have always been good to my people. We still speak of your great king, Kiele, and we remember him in our prayers. He was the one who watched over us when we first came to your shores. I come from my people to honour him. I hope your Great Maker will watch over me while I am on his soil.”
“Thank you, Ecko,” said the King.
The big plain-faced man stepped forward as Ecko sat down. Balfruss was surprised to see how tall he was, managing to tower over Vann, the biggest in the room. “I’m Finn Smith,” he rumbled and that seemed to be all of it. His face was boyish, but Balfruss saw a terrible sadness in his blue eyes. “I was trained after the Grey Council left. Do you want me to show you?”
The King glanced at Balfruss who shook his head very slightly. He could feel more than an echo of power coming from Finn, and he knew the others felt it too. Finn’s ability was wild and untamed. An immense force barely held in check by a thread of control. His training would have been rushed and it was possible Finn could prove to be as dangerous as the enemy.
“There’s no need. Welcome Master Smith,” said the King.
The last Battlemage, the weary man from Shael, stepped forward and bowed deeply to the throne.
“I’m surprised and pleased to see you,” said the King. “The news we’ve received from your country has been limited but very worrying. Can you tell us what’s been happening?”
The golden-skinned man shook his head and then looked at Balfruss. His purple eyes bored into Balfruss’s skull and for a moment he felt dizzy. A rushing sound filled his ears and somewhere in the distance he could hear the murmur of voices. Balfruss stumbled, but caught himself before he fell over.
“Are you all right?” someone asked, but Balfruss was listening to the other voice in his head, the one that wasn’t his own. In his mind’s eye he saw golden-skinned people, a distant land of tall trees, and cities dotted with elegant spires.
“His name is Sandan Thule,” said Balfruss, as he came out of his reverie. “And the news from his homeland is grave.”
The King raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Before Balfruss could explain, the voice came again more quickly, and with it more horrific visions. A tide of blood flowed along streets and the screams of agony were so high pitched they barely seemed human. Balfruss cried out and fell to his knees as he was exposed to images worse than any nightmare. Somewhere in the distance someone was talking, asking him if he was all right, but they seemed so far away. Slowly the tide of memories receded and the intense emotions that came with them eased. After wiping his face Balfruss managed to stand up with help from Thule but his knees still felt weak.
“I’m sorry. It was the only way,” came the echo of Thule’s voice in his mind.
“Are you all right?” asked the King.
“I will be,” replied Balfruss, swallowing the lump in his throat. “I’ve seen what’s happened to his people. The Mad King, Taikon, had already united the other nations in the west when his army came to Shael,” said Balfruss, relaying the words for Thule. “When diplomacy and bribery failed, he invaded Shael. They fought, but it only delayed the inevitable. There were too many. They tried to smuggle out the Queen and a few others, but all of them were caught, tortured and imprisoned. When the people heard about the Queen there was an uprising. A few escaped in the process, but not many.”
“How did he escape?”
As Balfruss turned to face the throne Thule pulled down the scarf covering the bottom half of his face. “He didn’t.”
A fresh purple scar ran across Thule’s throat from where it had been cut. The wound was jagged, which was the only thing that had saved his life. It had stopped bleeding, but was still swollen.
“He was beaten, tortured and then they slit his throat,” Balfruss explained. “It was badly done, so he lost his voice, but not his life. He woke in a mass grave on top of the bodies of his countrymen. This was only a few days ago.”
The King came towards Thule with Talandra on one side and Graegor, the grizzled one-eyed General on the other. If Thule was intimidated he didn’t show it and stood his ground.
“There are no words,” said the King, clasping Thule by the forearms.
“He asks that you do not give up on them,” said Balfruss. “A resistance is forming, but it will not be enough to free Shael unless the alliance in the west is broken. He is here to help you win this war because it’s the best way to free his people.”
“I will do all that I can to help your people. On my life, on my honour, I swear it,” said the King. “By the throne of Seveldrom and the iron in my blood, I swear it.”
Such promises were not made lightly, and once given so publicly the King was bound by ritual and custom to see it through. Even if he died before fulfilling it, his successor was duty bound to uphold the promise. Thule bowed his head and gratefully returned to his seat.
“I’m sure you’re all tired from your journey. I offer you my hospitality and suggest you all get some rest while you still can. The war is almost here and when it arrives, it could be a long time before any of us have a full night’s sleep again.”
They all stood as the King left the room, followed closely by his children and Generals. The one-eyed General paused on his way out and looked across at Balfruss. For a moment Balfruss thought the General was going to approach, but something made him change his mind as he hurried away after the other warriors.
The joy of being reunited with his friends faded quickly as the stark reality of what they were facing loomed in Balfruss’s mind. A war against an army of unprecedented size, led by a Mad King, a rogue Battlemage and his apprentices. Balfruss had come home to Seveldrom because his King had asked for aid, but now there were many reasons to fight and they were all standing in the room with him. They were his only family and he would do anything to protect them.
Despite the threat, surrounded by more Battlemages than he’d seen in many years, Balfruss felt excitement mixed with his fear at the thought of what they could accomplish by working together. They could change the world.
We hope you have enjoyed this exclusive excerpt of Chapter Two from Battlemage! Interested in winning a copy for yourself? Thanks to the wonderful folks at Orbit, The BiblioSanctum has one print copy of Battlemage up for grabs in our Call to Adventure Giveaway. This giveaway is open to the US and Canada. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to email@example.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “BATTLEMAGE” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Saturday, December 12, 2015.
Only one entry per household, please. Entrants must be 18 or older. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.
So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!