Authors: AD Starrling
Table of Contents
Green’s Calling: Seventeen Book Three
Copyright © AD Starrling 2014. All right reserved. Registered with the UK Copyright Service.
First E-Book Edition: 2014
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This book is a work of fiction. References to real people (living or dead), events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used factitiously. All other characters, and all other incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
To you, my readers.
The Crovirs and the Bastians: two races of immortals that have lived side by side with humans since the beginning of civilization and once ruled an empire that stretched across Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
Each possessing the capacity to survive up to sixteen deaths, they have been engaged in a bloody and savage war from the very dawn of their existence. This unholy battle has, for the most part, remained a well-guarded secret from the eyes of ordinary humans, despite the fact that they have been used as pawns in some of the most epic chapters of the immortal conflict. It was not until the late fourteenth century that the two races were forced to forge an uneasy truce, following a deadly plague that wiped out more than half of their numbers and made the majority of survivors infertile.
Each immortal society is ruled by a hierarchy of councils made up of nobles. The First Council consists of the heads of seven Immortal Sections: the Order of the Hunters, the Counter-Terrorism Group, Human Relations, Commerce, Immortal Legislations and Conventions, Research and Development, and Immortal Culture and History. The Head of the Order of the Hunters is the most powerful member of the First Council. The Second Council, or the Assembly, comprises the regional division directors under each Head of Section, while the Congress of the Council is made up of local authority chiefs.
Though they have been instrumental to the most significant events in world history, religion, and culture, the Immortals’ existence is known to only a select few humans, among them the political leaders of the most powerful states on Earth and the Secretary General of the United Nations.
PART ONE: RESONANCE
October 1553. Amasya. Ottoman Empire.
he messenger hurried along the wide marble hallway, the leather soles of his dusty riding boots barely making a sound on the polished floor. Golden beams washed through open archways in the south walls of the palace and painted patterns of shadow and light across the colored tiles. The trickle of falling water carried from the fountains in the courtyards outside, where crystal jets sparkled like diamonds in the fading, yellow light. Dusk was falling fast across the Pontus Mountains and the narrow river valley that held the fortified city of Amasya.
It had taken the man the better part of a day to ride across Anatolia from the province of Konya. The document he carried inside his kaftan lay heavy against his breast during the long, solitary hours on the road, the weight matched by the growing despair in his heart.
He reached an imposing pair of gilded doors and halted in front of the armed guards who blocked his path.
‘I need to speak to Her Highness,’ he said in a low voice, ignoring the glances they cast at his Janissary uniform. He removed his bork hat and took the slim roll from his tunic. ‘I bring urgent news from the south.’
A muscle twitched in his jaw while the guards carefully inspected the imperial seal on the parchment. He barged past them when they finally opened the golden doors.
The messenger’s eyes darted around the lavish interior of the royal chamber before falling on the figure slowly rising from the ornate window seat overlooking the glimmering Yesilirmak River.
‘Captain Rajkovic. What a pleasure to see you. I was not expecting a visit,’ murmured Mahidevran Sultan.
Low and mellifluous, the older woman’s voice matched her regal appearance. Gold and silver threads glittered in her garments as she crossed the floor toward him, the tips of her silk slippers peeking from beneath the hem of her dress. He caught the sweet scent of rose water drifting from her fair skin and auburn hair, and could not help but feel a flutter of admiration for the Sultan.
Despite the passage of time, the first concubine of Suleiman the Magnificent had retained the ageless beauty that had earned her the name of Gulbahar, the Rose Spring.
Rajkovic bowed. ‘Your Highness.’ He straightened and scanned the attendants lounging around the private quarters of the Sultan, before meeting the eyes of the woman he had traveled so far to see.
Mahidevran’s steps faltered when she saw the expression he could no longer mask. She waved the other women away with brisk flicks of her hand, her gaze never leaving his face. Her attendants disappeared through a door at the rear of the chamber.
‘You bring me news of my son?’ she said stiffly, once they were alone.
He nodded wordlessly and handed her the sealed document.
The Sultan’s hands trembled as she unrolled the parchment. The color drained from her face when she read the message inscribed upon it.
Rajkovic closed his eyes briefly at the sight of the raw anguish on her face. He knew the words already. He had been there when they were written.
Birdsong rose from the gardens outside the windows, the innocent sound at odds with the devastating tidings he had been ordered to bring to the woman before him. The parchment dropped from the Sultan’s fingers and fluttered to the marble floor. She stared at him blindly, tears spilling over and rolling down her silken cheeks.
A single cry left her lips and she slowly folded to the ground, her sobs shattering the frozen silence. The door at the back of the chamber opened. Her attendants rushed in, their voices raised in alarm.
The guards at the main doors quickly followed. They staggered to a stop next to Rajkovic, their swords drawn. Confusion clouded their faces when they observed the women around the weeping Sultan.
‘What happened?’ said the closest man, his fingers whitening on the handle of his blade. He glanced anxiously at the captain.
‘Prince Mustafa is dead,’ Rajkovic replied, his tone leaden. As the words fell from his numb lips, the reality of the statement overwhelmed him once more. His shoulders sagged. ‘Suleiman Sultan had him executed.’
The guard gasped.
His companion swore under his breath. ‘The King killed his own son?’
Rajkovic dipped his chin.
As the wails of Mahidevran’s attendants echoed around the royal chamber, the captain tore his gaze from the crying Sultan. A slight motion drew his attention to the back of the room.
A young woman he had never seen before stood at the door. Her arms were wrapped around her midsection, and she hunched over as if she had received a blow to her body.
His breath caught in his throat.
Thick lashes fell to touch creamy, flawless skin, hiding her eyes. Tears trembled on the curved, velvet-black strands and dropped silently onto her pale cheeks. Her full, crimson lips glistened in the golden light as she pressed them together.
Despite the grief that shadowed the stranger’s face, her beauty outshone even that of the Emperor’s concubine.
Guilt and shame suddenly washed over the captain, drowning his dawning interest in the woman. He turned on his heels and exited the chamber.
In the chaos that followed, Branimir Rajkovic strode along the flame-lit corridors and halls of the palace and headed out into the city. As news of the death of the heir to Suleiman the Magnificent spread around him, a smoldering anger replaced the crushing pain inside his heart. Cries of ‘The Lawgiver has killed Mustafa! Our Prince is no more!’ soon reverberated across the narrow streets of Amasya. He stopped outside the forbidding gates of the Janissary barracks and stared at the moon rising over the valley, his hands fisting by his sides.
He had dedicated his whole life in service of the man who had been destined to become the next Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Not only had Mustafa been a valiant warrior and much-loved Prince of Anatolia, he had also been the captain’s closest friend since he joined the Janissary Corps twenty years earlier. He recalled the hours they had spent together, laughing and dreaming of the day they would rule the world and all the people within it. Although Mustafa spoke of such matters more in jest than in earnest, deep down, Rajkovic knew the prince was capable of achieving that vision and would be an even greater ruler than his father, Suleiman. The captain had wanted nothing more than to remain at Mustafa’s side and help him realize that dream.
Images of his best friend’s final moments flashed in front of the captain’s eyes once more. He took a deep, shuddering breath and headed inside the barracks.
In the days that followed Prince Mustafa’s wrongful execution, the rage simmering inside Rajkovic’s veins grew stronger and was soon reflected by the civil unrest that broke out across Anatolia. News rapidly spread that Hurrem Sultan, Suleiman’s wife, and her son-in-law, Rustem Pasha, had concocted a conspiracy to overthrow the rightful heir to the Ottoman throne. This caused further outrage from the Janissary Corps and Mustafa’s soldiers, forcing Suleiman to remove Rustem from his position.
Two weeks after the death of the Prince, Rajkovic awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of knocking on the door of his quarters. He almost dropped the candleholder in his hand when he opened it and saw the two figures standing on the threshold.
Mahidevran Sultan observed him solemnly from beneath the hood of her cloak, her face ghostly pale in the flickering light of the flame. Standing behind her was the hauntingly beautiful young woman Rajkovic had first seen on that fateful day when he visited the palace to deliver the gruesome news of Prince Mustafa’s death to the Sultan.
‘May we come in?’ said Mahidevran softly.
July 1706. London. Kingdom of England.
onrad Greene ran across the wet, sloping lead roof of the Banqueting House, his breath misting in the cool night air. Moonlight flashed on metal to his right. He caught a glimpse of a blade falling toward his neck and ducked. The sword skimmed past his head with a faint hum. Feet skidding on the slick surface, he spun around, dropped to one knee, and lifted the short, silver-gilded staff in his hands.
A grunt sounded above him as the burly swordsman brought his weapon down once more. The edge of the blade struck the staff hard, raising sparks in the gloom. The man’s lips pulled back in a vicious grin, exposing two uneven rows of stained teeth. The muscles and veins in his neck and arms bulged with superhuman strength as he drove the sword into the staff.
Conrad’s elbows slowly folded toward his chest. Air left his lips in a low hiss as the tip of the man’s blade inched closer to his left eye. He pushed back with the staff with all his might, dark spots dancing across his vision.
A figure dashed past them on the left. Conrad caught a glimpse of soft, brown curls. His heart stuttered inside his chest. He swore, fell back, and rolled out of the way of the falling blade.
He landed close to the balustrade that ran around the top of the building and climbed swiftly to his feet. Ignoring the swordsman charging toward him, he peered through the rainfall at the dark shapes engaged in a fast-paced and deadly battle on the moonlit rooftop. His eyes sought and found the woman who had run by him.
She was almost at the north end of the terrace, where a young man with brown hair and eyes stood confronted by three armed attackers; blood from the wounds on his left shoulder and flank had already soaked through his long-sleeved, ruffle shirt and stained his leather jerkin.
‘William!’ the woman yelled, her voice edged with fear and desperation. She passed the weather vane on the sloping roof and unsheathed the rapier at her waist.
Relief darted across the younger man’s face at the sound of his name. He glanced at the woman over his attackers’ shoulders and raised his own blade to block another strike.
Conrad clenched his teeth. He turned to face his opponent and twisted one of the metal rings on his short staff. The weapon extended and a spear blade sprang out at either end. A loud battle cry preceded the attack of the burly swordsman a heartbeat later.
Conrad blocked his blade, kicked him in the groin, and hooked the staff behind his neck. He yanked the man’s head down at the same time that he drove his knee up into his face. A guttural groan left his adversary’s lips, and he slid to the ground, unconscious.
A flurry of activity to the right captured Conrad’s attention. Another group of men had rushed onto the rooftop terrace of the Banqueting House. He scanned the other fighters around him, anxiety twisting his stomach; he and his companions were now heavily outnumbered.
His eyes suddenly widened. The newcomers had drawn their swords and were heading resolutely for the running woman and the wounded man still fighting at the north end of the building. Knuckles whitening on his staff weapon, Conrad moved to intercept the men.