And the story continues with book 2, which, I should add, the entire series will be .99 a piece for the entire month of May.
Dawn bestowed unparalleled grace upon the lands, yet no bird rose to greet it, nor did beast nor insect stir. Instead of peace only nature could provide, a battle raged. A battle so great and intense that none could recall a time in history to match it. Columns of smoke billowed up into the clouds, carrying with it the stench of charred flesh and worse. Bolts of supernatural power flared across the battlefield, killing scores with every strike. Catapult rounds accompanied the blasts, chewing up ground and smashing armored bodies.
The battle had raged for three days and was finally coming to the inevitable conclusion. Stacks of bodies filled the tree lines to make room for the current batch of combatants. Ranks were dangerously thin. Exhaustion spread across the field. It was all each individual could do just to suit up and march toward their enemy. Vultures crowded the treetops as eager spectators. Soon they would feast.
Ils Kincannon stood atop a lonesome hill and somberly watched as the remnants of his once proud army took the field for what was destined to be the final time. They had been cut down to a mere seven thousand men and were outnumbered five to one. This would be the final march of the knights of the Seven Manacles. Arrayed against them were the loyal order of the Golden Warriors, sworn protectors of the Hierarchy and the wizards who ran it, as well as the kingdoms of the Free Lands. They were a most impressive sight, especially for a man who had once been their commander.
Kincannon knew them to be the very best the Free Lands had to offer. He’d been proud to lead them, until greed and corruption seduced his soul. It was greed that veered him away from order and decency, thus plunging the world into the worst war in history. Kincannon broke away from the Hierarchy with the mind to steal the newly created Staff of Life, a divine rod capable of linking the user to the land, virtually turning him into a god. Only now, after years of violent conflict, was he aware of the wrongness in his judgment. He was at last prepared to accept that and atone.
His colorless eyes took in the waning moments of the battle below and wondered what had gone wrong. He’d aimed to seize the Staff and set the world to what he viewed as right. The Hierarchy immediately labelled him a heretic, yet people continued to flock to his banner. Despite the accusations heaped upon his name, Ils Kincannon remained a hero to the general population.
Swords clashed as the front ranks collided in a massive press of men and iron. Pikes ran through armor and into the soft flesh beneath. Both knights and soldiers fell by the score. Screams of the dying echoed with thunderous intensity. It was a sound Kincannon was all too familiar with. He had served the Hierarchy for almost forty years and knew many of those pitted against him. Friend should not have to kill friend. Perhaps that was what pained him the most.
Kincannon turned to face his most trusted friend and advisor. “Yes, General Issius?”
The war lord, a tired old mercenary with more scars than hair on his head, strode up to him with battered helm under an arm. “The army is on the verge of annihilation. You must use the Staff or call for retreat, else all is lost.”
Kincannon shook his head in sorrow. “I cannot. Only now, after all this senseless slaughter, do I understand what this Staff really is. They were foolish to create it. I cannot use it or it will be my hand that condemns the world to death. Summon the squire to bring my horse. I will ride into battle and seek at least a small measure of redemption for my soul. Any man who is not a coward, nor afraid to face his death, is free to ride with me. Perhaps we may make an end worthy of legend.”
“But the Staff!” Issius protested.
“Will be found by another, but when the world is ready for it. I have already dispatched men, with the aid of that wizard, to see that it is properly disposed of. I fear for the world should the day of rediscovery arrive. Now, summon my squire!”
General Issius turned to walk away, furious with the deceptions of his leader and friend.
“Will you ride with me, old friend?” Kincannon called out to him.
The words scorched his heart. After countless battles and nearly twenty years, the end of his life was finally here. It was not the end Issius had envisioned. He replied without stopping. “Aye, but I fear the end shall lack the glory you so dream of.”
Close to five hundred men were mounted and waiting for commands. They were Kincannon’s personal guard and battle staff. A retinue of his finest fighters not already spent in combat. He looked into each man’s eyes and felt his heart break as minor details of each came to him. Rolfnir with his four children. Adgal who had lost his wife during the past winter. Sixteen year old Olaf who joined because his father had, and his father before that. On and on. They were all a part of him. It was a difficult thing to do, asking men and boys to die in his name. Difficult but necessary.
“Each of you has fought for me and sworn your loyalty to a cause greater than your own. Your brothers are in the vale fighting for you and me. Will you fight with them? Give your blood for theirs?” he addressed them.
A small cheer went up from some of them. He knew it was mostly bluster, for no sane man truly wanted to die in battle. Not even the crazed were anxious to pass on to the next world. His veterans had been through much more than the youths, so eager to prove themselves, and they knew that what was being asked was tantamount to suicide.
“I ask you all, will you follow me into the gates of death and find victory for our cause?”
Another cheer, louder, rippled through them. General Issius turned his head away rather than let Kincannon see his utter disgust. Kincannon was too wrapped up with his five hundred. He nodded approvingly. They have spirit, if only they had numbers as well. He looked down into the vale again and couldn’t help but feel distressed that his army, the one he was purposefully sacrificing for the greater good of the rest of the world, was surrounded and dwindling. With a grunt, Kincannon spurred the side of his mount and started down the hill. The last glory of the Seven Manacles had begun.
To the soldiers lost in the swirl of battle, life had grown precariously short. Fear took root and started to overcome many. No matter how many of the enemy they killed, a hundred more seemed to surge forth to take their places. Young men, not yet old enough to marry in their homelands, fought with amazing tenacity. But the cold darkness of reality was catching up to them. Talk of their leader deserting them reverberated harshly through the rank and file. The only thing keeping many from breaking away was the ring of steel hemming them in.
A shout suddenly arose from the beleaguered men of the Seven Manacles.
“Lord Kincannon fights among us!”
The Golden Warriors blanched at the name, even as the defenders roared. There was new hope. The very sight of the Lord of the Seven Manacles inspired his ranks into new fits of rage. The bedraggled men doubled the fever pitch of battle and fought to the last. Kincannon and his five hundred broke into the enemy lines, cleaving great holes with every sword swing. Everyone, except those nearest, understood the desperation. There was no possible way the Seven Manacles could find victory, not even with the near legendary Ils Kincannon at the head.
Kincannon paused long enough to see Issius pulled from his saddle and killed. His own horse buckled a moment later before throwing him to the ground. Kincannon struggled to rise but it was too late. Dozens of men in stained golden armor set upon him.
Late that night, when the dust settled and the smoke began to clear, the entire host of the army of the Seven Manacles lay dead or dying. The Hierarchy leadership had instructed the army to take but one prisoner. Teams of men scoured the battlefield in search of the heretic Ils Kincannon. Healers ignored those orders and treated wounded from both sides. The rebellion was crushed and it was time to restore the semblance of humanity. After all, it was all they had left.
It wasn’t until midday of the following that they managed to find the heretic. Blood continued to flow from wounds too numerous to count. Arrows pierced him. Broken swords lay around his dying body in tribute. He was dehydrated and bordering on death.
“Captain!” shouted the young soldier standing over the body.
The commander strode calmly over to the small knot of warriors. His head was bandaged, entire body bruised. He looked down on the prize but couldn’t force himself to smile. There was no satisfaction in this victory. This was not the way he imagined the end of the war. With a sigh he said, “Go and inform the general, lad. Let them know they can call off the search.”
The once proud Ils Kincannon tried to laugh at the exuberance the soldier displayed, but only managed to cough up blood. He raised a weak arm to grab the captain by the bottom of his cape. Pulling the man so close that only he could hear the heretic’s dying words, Kincannon whispered the prophecy that would forever dominate the fate of the world.