The Crown of the Blood
should really have a warning sticker on the front... it's one of those books that are almost impossible to put down."
"Thorpe writes strong, uncluttered narrative, and his characters actually sound like real people."
– SFX Magazine
"The battle scenes are truly epic and Thorpe doesn't give anything away until the final sword stroke has fallen."
– Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
"I tore through
The Crown of the Blood
in one long sitting... This is a properly high fantasy world – rock people, dark sorcery, landships, riding panther and (of course) dinosaurs – but all of it is introduced naturally and casually... his book is hairy, gory, sweaty, shameless... and perhaps even a little bit thoughtful."
"This is one of Thorpe's best novels. The setting and story are well thought out and are remarkably logical for a fantasy novel. If you enjoy military or historical fiction, you will enjoy
The Crown of the Blood
. Action, intrigue, conquest, and charismatic generals are waiting for you here!"
– James Atlantic Speaks
ALSO BY GAV THORPE
The Crown of the Blood
The Crown of the Conqueror
The Last Chancers
Angels of Darkness
The Claws of Chaos
The Blades of Chaos
The Heart of Chaos
Path of the Warrior
The Purging of the Kadillus
The Crown of
The Crown of the Blood
This book is dedicated to Gordon.
Frankly, one was going to be sooner or later,
so it might as well be this one.
Autumn, 213th Year of Askh
The sound of hammer on stone ringing outside the window matched the pounding of Ullsaard's head. He lay on the bed and looked at the dawn light creeping across the ceiling. He had not slept, not since he had suffered the strange vision of Urikh, his eldest son, placing the Crown of the Blood on his head.
The King of Greater Askhor was left in no doubt that what he had seen was genuine. The experience had been so visceral, and so like the sensation he himself had felt when he had put on the Crown and the ancient king, Askhos, had attempted to possess him. For some reason – and Ullsaard suspected he knew which one – Urikh had travelled to Askh and delved into the vaults of the palaces to retrieve the Crown that Ullsaard had hidden there.
Of this much Ullsaard was certain, but there questions too, that he could not answer; most pressing amongst these was why his son had taken it upon himself to wear the Crown. Had it been idle curiosity, trying it on for size like a child wearing his father's boots, or did Urikh really intend to take the Crown and the kingship for himself? This second possibility froze Ullsaard's heart. He and Urikh were not close, and his eldest son's ambition had never been in doubt. Yet for all that, he knew Urikh was a patient man, a thinker too. His mother, Ullsaard's middle wife Luia, was also a schemer, a seeker of prestige above all things, but would she risk destroying her family in a hasty lunge for power?
Ullsaard also did not know whether Urikh had felt anything of the connective moment that had bound the king to the Crown. Did his son know that the Crown had properties beyond being a badge of office? And in this matter Ullsaard needed to know what had happened, if anything, to Askhos, whose essence or spirit had been passed down the generations of the Blood through the Crown. Was Askhos still trapped? Was he in Urikh's head as well as his own, or instead? Ullsaard's claiming of the Crown against the rightful succession had thrown Askhos' plans into turmoil, putting him to a limbo state between the Crown and Ullsaard's mind. What effect would his son's interference have?
These questions and others had plagued Ullsaard since the early hours of the morning and driven away any chance of sleep. The shadows on the wall deepened and the light brightened. The sound of crowing cockerels and the increasing clamour of domestic life intruded upon Aegenuis' halls.
He pulled himself out of bed, wearily splashing water from the bedside bowl onto his face. He dragged his fingers through his beard, which had become somewhat long and bedraggled over the last stage of the campaign to conquer Salphoria.
Throwing on his shirt and kilt, leaving his armour and weapons on the floor where he had dropped them, Ullsaard opened his travelling chest and pulled out a pair of simple sandals. He put these on, his lower back protesting as he bent over to lace the thongs together, and shuffled to the door. Opening it a little, he saw the two legionnaires who had come to his assistance during his episode the night before.
"I thought you two would have been relieved by now," he said, startling both of the soldiers.
"We turned down our relief, king," said the legionary on the right hand side of the door. "We thought it best that we stay on hand, stop any rumours spreading."
"Rumours?" Ullsaard remembered dismissing the two men with a tale that that he had been suffering from a vivid dream, but he could not recall anything else he had said beforehand.
"You know, king, about Urikh and the Crown," said the other soldier. "Talk like that can set some men's tongues flapping."
"Not us, though," the other legionary assured Ullsaard with a stern nod.
"I appreciate your attention to duty," said Ullsaard. "What are your names?"
"Codurin, king," said the first.
"Nesthor Kabad, king," answered the other, placing his hand to his breastplate in salute.
"I'll be sure to mention your names to General Anasind, to bear in mind when he is looking for some sergeants."
Their words of thanks died out as Ullsaard's expression grew grimmer.
"And I'll also know who to look for if it ever comes to my ears that someone has been gossiping about Urikh," said the king, looking meaningfully at each of the men. They nodded nervously. "Good, we understand each other. My armour and weapons need cleaning and polishing – see to it while I have breakfast."
"Yes, king!" the legionaries said in unison, nodding their heads in deference.
Ullsaard stepped out into the bare hallway. The floor was of grey slabs of stone and the walls covered with crumbling plaster painted a subdued red. He looked left and right, trying to remember the way back to the hall where he had feasted with Aegenuis. A cough behind him attracted his attention to Codurin. The legionary flicked his head to the right, not meeting his king's gaze. Ullsaard gave a wordless grunt of thanks and set off.
After startling the cooks by an unannounced and unintended visit to the kitchens, Ullsaard eventually found his way back to the main hall. Thick ceiling beams held up a thatched roof, hung with shields and banners. A deer leg roasted over the firepit dug to one side of the hall, a chimney above it drawing off the worst of the smoke, and a table made from lacquered planks split from a single massive tree trunk ran for two-thirds of the hall's length.
At the far end, seated in a throne made of the same deep red wood, was Aegenuis. Older than Ullsaard by several years, the former king of Salphoria was still an imposing figure, and must have been a feared and fearless warrior in his prime. He had dark red hair and a thick beard, now streaked with grey, and the swirling tattoos on his arm matched his hair in colour. A lionskin cloak hung across the back of his chair. He had on a shirt of fine, bronze mail links, and his hair and beard were braided with gilded beads, so that the Salphor leader glinted in the gloom.
To Aegenuis' right the chair was empty. His son, Medorian, had been responsible for the attack on Ullsaard's army as the Askhan king had marched to make peace at Carantathi. Ullsaard did not know whether Medorian had been slain fighting, though many thousands of Salphors had, and Aegenuis had received no word. On the left of Aegenuis sat three of his advisors, most important of these the aged chieftain, Aghali. The senior counsellor was saying something to Aegenuis, his wiry frame swathed in a cloak far too big for him, wizened fingers tapping out his points on the tabletop.
The smell that filled the hall both swelled Ullsaard's hunger and made his stomach turn; there had been much Askhan wine and Salphorian beer consumed the night before. The ache of emptiness and the fragrance of the deer leg roasting over the firepit won over the nausea.
"It is not so bad to be a king that breakfasts on venison," Ullsaard called out, attracting the attention of the Salphors. Aegenuis grinned, though his counsellors seemed less pleased to see their new Askhan ruler. Ullsaard paid it no heed; conquered peoples were never happy to begin with.
"Necessity, not luxury," replied Aegenuis. "It is winter. There are no farms here and all my grain stores are feeding your bloody army. We hunt when we cannot farm, and so we eat venison for breakfast."
A maid brought a wooden platter of meat and small potatoes to Ullsaard, laying it at a seat a little down the table on Aegenuis' right. Ullsaard looked at the scene and grimaced.
"You are in my seat, friend," said the Askhan king.
Aegenuis frowned, confused for a moment. One of his advisors said something angrily in Salphorian, but Aghali hissed a reproach. Aegenuis stood up and bowed, before stepping aside to wave Ullsaard to the throne.
"The king of Salphoria sits at the head of the long table, you are right," said the Salphorian lord.
"It's not personal," said Ullsaard as he pushed past Aegenuis and flopped down into the large chair. The maid looked between the two kings, unsure what to do. Aegenuis walked around the table and slid Ullsaard's platter of food in front of him.