--R. A. Salvatore, New York Times Bestselling author
The Goths followed a bloodthirsty new leader, one who sought to open the Gates of Hell: Wotan. His immortal power stemmed from human sacrifice and dark sorcery, and no sword could touch him. He rode the winds on a leather-winged steed, while his armies cut a deadly swath across the northern kingdoms. Even death's icy hand could not stop them.
Only Uther Pendragon could save Britannia. To do so he must wield his birthright--Cunobelin's blade, the legendary Sword of Power.
But Uther was chained in Hell, the sword lost in swirling Chaos. All hope lay with the warrior known as Revelation, with the magic of the Sipstrassi Stones, and with Anduine, a blind girl possessed of arcane powers. Only if these unlikely allies united could they hope to stop the invincible foe before the world plunged into darkness.
From the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Born with a silver tongue, Gemmell rarely needed to bounce customers, relying on his gift of gab to talk his way out of trouble. At eighteen this gift led to a job as a trainee journalist, and he eventually worked as a freelancer for the London Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, and Daily Express. His first novel, Legend, was published in 1984 and has remained in print ever since. He became a full-time writer in 1986. David lives with wife, Valerie, and his two children, Kate and Luke, in Hasting, England.
From the Paperback edition.
Read an Excerpt
GRYSSTHA WATCHED AS the boy twirled the wooden sword, lunging and thrusting at the air around him. “Feet, boy; think about your feet!”
The old man hawked and spit on the grass, then scratched at the itching stump of his right wrist. “A swordsman must learn balance. It is not enough to have a quick eye and a good arm—to fall is to die, boy.”
The youngster thrust the wooden blade into the ground and sat beside the old warrior. Sweat gleamed on his brow, and his sky-blue eyes sparkled.
“But I am improving, yes?”
“Of course you are improving, Cormac. Only a fool could not.”
The boy pulled clear the weapon, brushing dirt from the whittled blade. “Why is it so short? Why must I practice with a Roman blade?”
“Know your enemy. Never care about his weaknesses; you will find those if your mind has skill. Know his strengths. They conquered the world, boy, with just such swords. You know why?”
Grysstha smiled. “Gather me some sticks, Cormac. Gather me sticks you could break easily with finger and thumb.” As the boy grinned and moved off to the trees, Grysstha watched him, allowing the pride to shine now that the boy could not see him closely.
Why were there so many fools in the world? he thought as pride gave way to anger. How could they not see the potential in the lad? How could they hate him for a fault that was not his?
“Will these do?” asked Cormac, dropping twenty finger-thin sticks at Grysstha’s feet.
“Take one and break it.”
“Easily done,” said Cormac, snapping a stick.
“Keep going, boy. Break them all.”
When the youngster had done so, Grysstha pulled a length of twine from his belt. “Now gather ten of them and bind them together with this.”
“Like a beacon brand, you mean?”
“Exactly. Tie them tight.”
Cormac made a noose of the twine, gathered ten sticks, and bound them tightly together. He offered the four-inch-thick brand to Grysstha, but the old man shook his head.
“Break it,” he ordered.
“It is too thick.”
The boy strained at the brand, his face reddening and the muscles of his arms and shoulders writhing under his red woolen shirt.
“A few moments ago you snapped twenty of these sticks, but now you cannot break ten.”
“But they are bound together, Grysstha. Even Calder could not break them.”
“That is the secret the Romans carried in their short swords. The Saxon fights with a long blade, swinging it wide. His comrades cannot fight close to him, for they might be struck by his slashing sword, so each man fights alone, though there are ten thousand in the fray. But the Roman, with his gladius—he locks shields with his comrades, and his blade stabs like a viper bite. Their legions were like that brand, bound together.”
“And how did they fail if they were so invincible?”
“An army is as good as its general, and the general is only a reflection of the emperor who appoints him. Rome has had her day. Maggots crawl in the body of Rome, worms writhe in the brain, rats gnaw at the sinews.”
The old man hawked and spit once more, his pale blue eyes gleaming.
“You fought them, did you not?” said Cormac. “In Gallia and Italia?”
“I fought them. I watched their legions fold and run before the dripping blades of the Goths and the Saxons. I could have wept then for the souls of the Romans that once were. Seven legions we crushed until we found an enemy worth fighting: Afrianus and the Sixteenth. Ah, Cormac, what a day! Twenty thousand lusty warriors, drunk with victory, facing one legion of five thousand men. I stood on a hill and looked down upon them, their bronze shields gleaming. At the center, on a pale stallion, sat Afrianus himself. Sixty years old and, unlike his fellows, bearded like a Saxon. We hurled ourselves upon them, but it was like water falling on a stone. Their line held. Then they advanced and cut us apart. Fewer than two thousand of us escaped into the forests. What a man! I swear there was Saxon blood in him.”
“What happened to him?”
“The emperor recalled him to Rome, and he was assassinated.” Grysstha chuckled. “Worms in the brain, Cormac.”
“Why?” queried the boy. “Why kill an able general?”
“Think on it, boy.”
“I can make no sense of it.”
“That is the mystery, Cormac. Do not seek for sense in the tale. Seek for the hearts of men. Now, leave me to watch these goats swell their bellies and get back to your duties.”
The boy’s face fell. “I like to be here with you, Grysstha. I … I feel at peace here.”
“That is what friendship is, Cormac Daemonsson. Take strength from it, for the world does not understand the likes of you and me.”
“Why are you my friend, Grysstha?”
“Why does the eagle fly? Why is the sky blue? Go now. Be strong.”
Grysstha watched as the lad wandered disconsolately from the high meadow toward the huts below. Then the old warrior swung his gaze up to the horizon and the low, scudding clouds. His stump ached, and he pulled the leather cap from his wrist, rubbing at the scarred skin. Reaching out, he tugged the wooden blade from the ground, remembering the days when his own sword had had a name and a history and, more, a future.
But that had been before the day fifteen years ago when the Blood King had cleaved the South Saxon, butchering and burning, tearing the heart from the people and holding it above their heads in his mailed fist. He should have killed them all, but he did not. He made them swear an oath of allegiance and lent them coin to rebuild ruined farms and settlements.
Grysstha had come close to killing the Blood King in the last battle. He had hacked his way into the shield square, cutting a path toward the flame-haired king, when a sword had slashed down across his wrist, almost severing his hand. Then another weapon had hammered into his helm and he had fallen, dazed. He had struggled to rise, but his head was spinning. When at last he regained consciousness, he opened his eyes to find himself gazing at the Blood King, who was kneeling beside him. Grysstha’s fingers reached out for the man’s throat, but there were no fingers—only a bloody bandage.
“You were a magnificent warrior,” said the Blood King. “I salute you!”
“You cut off my hand!”
“It was hanging by a thread. It could not be saved.”
Grysstha forced himself to his feet, staggered, then gazed around him. Bodies littered the field, and Saxon women were moving among the corpses, seeking lost loved ones.
“Why did you save me?” snarled Grysstha, rounding on the king.
The man merely smiled and turned on his heel. Flanked by his guards, he strode from the field to a crimson tent by a rippling stream.
“Why?” bellowed Grysstha, falling to his knees.
“I do not think he knows himself,” said a voice, and Grysstha looked up.
Leaning on an ornate crutch carved from dark shining wood was a middle-aged Briton with a wispy gray-blond beard over a pointed chin. Grysstha saw that his left leg was twisted and deformed. The man offered the Saxon his hand, but Grysstha ignored it and pushed himself to his feet.
“He sometimes relies on intuition,” the man said gently, his pale eyes showing no sign of offense.
“You are of the tribes?” said Grysstha.
“Then why follow the Roman?”
“Because the land is his and he is the land. My name is Prasamaccus.”
“So I live because of the king’s whim?”
“Yes. I was beside him when you charged the shield wall; it was a reckless action.”
“I am a reckless man. What does he mean to do with us now? Sell us?”
“I think he means to leave you in peace.”
“Why would he do anything so foolish?”
Prasamaccus limped to a jutting boulder and sat. “A horse kicked me,” he said, “and my leg was not strong before that. How is your hand?”
“It burns like fire,” said Grysstha, sitting beside the tribesman, his eyes on the women still searching the field of battle as the crows circled, screeching their hunger.
“He says that you also are of the land,” said Prasamaccus. “He has reigned for ten years. He sees Saxons and Jutes and Angles and Goths being born in this Island of Mist. They are no longer invaders.”
“Does he think we came here to serve a Roman king?”
“He knows why you came: to plunder and kill and grow rich. But you stayed to farm. How do you feel about the land?”
“I was not born here, Prasamaccus.”
The Brigante smiled and held out his left hand. Grysstha looked down at it and then took it in the warrior’s grip, wrist to wrist.
“I think that is a good first use of your left hand.”
“It will also learn to use a sword. My name is Grysstha.”
“I have seen you before. You were at the great battle near Eboracum the day the king came home.”
Grysstha nodded. “You have a good eye and a better memory. It was the Day of the Two Suns. I have never seen the like since, nor would I wish to. We fought alongside the Brigante that day, and the coward-king Eldared. Were you with him?”
“No. I stood under the two suns with Uther and the Ninth Legion.”
“The Day of the Blood King. Nothing has been right since then. Why can he not be beaten? How does he always know where to strike?”
“He is the land, and the land knows.”
Grysstha said nothing. He had not expected the man to betray the king’s secret.
Of seven thousand Saxon warriors who had begun the battle, a mere eleven hundred remained. Uther required them to kneel and swear a blood oath never to rise against him again. In return the land would be theirs, as before, but now by right and not by conquest. He also left them their own king, Wulfhere, son of Orsa, son of Hengist. It was a brave move. Grysstha knelt with the others in the dawn light before the king’s tent, watching as Uther stood with the boy Wulfhere.
The Saxons smiled even in defeat, for they knew they knelt not before the conqueror but before their own sovereign lord.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Like the first book, I didn't care for this as much as some of Gemmell's other books, mainly because of the muddled setting. Is this a Rigante book, and alternate Earth book (Wotan, Uther, Goths) or something else entirely that just uses a lot of names from Earth? This one also felt the whole way like there was too much Fate involved.