The night before his Coming-of-Age, Ghyll and his two friends escape their castle on a clandestine boar hunt that will forever change their lives.
The hunt proves a disaster, and with one of them badly wounded, they return just in time to see their island castle destroyed by macabre warriors from a dragon boat, and by flocks of fire-breathing birds. Ghyll’s eighteenth birthday turns into a nightmare as they flee into the night.
Now begins an epic journey to find out who is trying to kill them – and most importantly, why?
Fortunately, they can count on the help of new friends, including a sometimes overly enthusiastic fire mage, an inexperienced paladin and a young beastmistress who is also a ferocious mountain lioness.
It soon becomes clear that not one but several sorcerers want to kill them. Are those blackrobes really followers of a terrible, long-forgotten organization?
And whose cold hand reaches across the boundaries of space and time to crush weakened Rhidauna?
Olle sat concealed in the shadow of the willow tree, motionless. The stars cast a faint light over the sleeping field and it was quiet, very quiet. His thoughts went to his foster brother, and that murderous creep. Vasthul and the Dar’khamorth – what had Ghyll to do with them?
Some movement caught his eye and he saw a shape creeping towards the tent. A second and third followed. He recognized their jerky movements. Golems! Noiselessly he rose and raised his huge sword. Then he took a deep breath and hurled himself at the three shadows.
The golems’ reaction was slow enough for Olle to hit one of them full on the forehead. As he turned to the second golem, he saw Ghyll coming from the tent, sword in hand, with Damion close behind. The third golem lashed out at Ghyll, who parried the blow, stumbled and cried out, grabbing his wounded side. The golem raised its weapon for the kill, but at that moment, Damion sprang into action. He jumped the mademan from behind and clung to his back with one arm around its neck, while with the other hand he rammed his poniard into the golem’s forehead. Then he leaped away.
Ghyll tried to avoid the toppling golem, but his leg buckled and he fell. With a roar of despair, Olle turned toward his own opponent and split its head in two all the way to the shoulder blades. As he was about to run to his foster brother, a warning shout stopped him. From their tent, a fireball sizzled into the night. A blinding flash lit up the area, followed by a scream and the clip-clop of a running horse. From the brook rose the deafening croaks of a thousand frogs, protesting the disruption of their sleep.
‘Missed him, damn it!’ Bo’s voice shouted from the renewed darkness.
Olle, blinded, was for a moment disoriented. ‘Ghyll!’
‘It’s… all… right.’ His foster brother’s voice sounded full of pain. ‘I made a wrong move, that’s all.’
Olle resisted an impulse to run to his side and forced himself to inspect the fallen enemies first. After he had ascertained that all three were down for good, he strode back to the tents. ‘How is it?’
Uwella looked up at him. ‘It’s not so bad; his muscles aren’t up to these capers yet. He must be careful of that leg.’
His foster brother said something Olle didn’t hear, but Uwella shook her head.
‘Go back to bed. I’ll give you something for the pain and tomorrow morning we’ll see how it goes.’
Olle turned. ‘Was it… Vasthul?’
‘No idea.’ Bo ran both hands through his long hair. ‘I just saw a shadow in a cloak.’
‘Oh, yes, that was Vasthul all right.’ Damion came back from the direction of the road. ‘I heard him swearing and shouting as he fled. He had the same voice as that guy I chased in Theridaun – a voice like a file, and he wasn’t sparing with it.’
‘I could go after him,’ Uwella said, scowling.
Olle shook his head.
‘Too dangerous.’ He stooped and picked up something. ‘Here,’ he said to Damion. In his hand glistened a white crystal. ‘Keep it, you’ve earned it yourself,’ he said. ‘Idiot!’ He gave his friend a comradely punch in the shoulder and walked away. Moments later, he returned with two golems by the ankles. ‘Does anyone want to see them?’
‘Not me,’ Ghyll said, from inside the tent. ‘Only the crystals, please.’
‘I got two for you. Away with the muddies, then.’ With a casual heave, Olle dumped the makemen one after another into the stream, where they sank, gurgling, to the audible annoyance of the frogs.
‘That’s the end of the show, noble lords and ladies,’ he said as he sat down again under the willow tree. ‘Try to sleep; it’s an early day tomorrow.’ The others went back to bed, but the sounds of their twisting and turning betrayed that further sleep avoided them.
How did his parents and brothers die? Where their deaths really accidents, or were they killed? These questions young Ghyll Hardingraud must answer before he can ascend Rhidauna’s throne.
Ghyll’s search for the truth leads him and his Companions on a journey back to the past as he slowly unravels a dark conspiracy.
Once crowned, the young King Ghyll still has to finish the mission his dead uncle imposed on him. The journey takes him and his trusted friends through inhospitable lands and dangerous swamps to the endless steppes of Zihaen, looking for the Voice from the West. He discovers he isn’t the only one. His vindictive enemy pursues him, aided by undead forces.
The lieutenant saluted Ghyll and turned to the men. ‘Volunteers for a simple task.’ Everyone took a step forward. ‘Yes,’ Embit-Koy said grimly. ‘As long as it’s simple, eh?’ Quickly he chose eight guards. ‘You’re the lucky ones.’ To Ghyll’s astonishment, the warriors grinned as if they’d just got rewarded.
Embit-Koy pointed to Derivall. ‘See that little door? The mage will blow it up directly. Then we go inside and we open the main doors. After that, we conquer the castle. Got it?’ The soldiers laughed as if it was a big joke, and again it surprised Ghyll. What they had to do was dangerous and yet they didn’t hesitate. Was their faith in the young sublieutenant so strong? Embit-Koy turned back to his superior. ‘We’re ready, Captain.’
Davall looked at Ghyll, who turned to Bo. The mage took a deep breath, closed his eyes and raised his arms to the sky. Everyone stared at the flame growing between his hands. Bo kneaded it as a pastry cook kneads his dough and the flame became a ball. It crackled and sparked threateningly, but that didn’t bother Bo. The ball seemed to leap in his grasp and then Bo threw it in a high arch at the wicket door. From the battlements came a taunting laugh. The fireball hit the wicket with a fierce bang, followed by a shower of wood splinters, smoke and clouds of dust. Bo sighed and slumped down on the ground, where he remained seated with his head in his hands.
‘Get going!’ Davall roared.
Under cover of the smoke, Sublieutenant Embit-Koy with his eight guards ran to the ragged hole where the wicket had been, and disappeared inside the castle.
Agonizingly slow minutes later the heavy doors swung open.
Ghyll didn’t hesitate. ‘Attack!’ He spurred Ulanth on and galloped towards the castle, with flaming Childegard singing in his hands. Halfway, the mounted guards dashed past him and the noise of their charge echoed against the walls. With a loud ‘Hallali!’ Ghyll steered his horse towards the mercenaries who were fighting the vanguard.
Embit-Koy was the last of them standing. The sublieutenant fought two mercenaries at once, as coolly as if he was on the training field. Just before Ghyll was close enough to assist him, the young knight stumbled over the corpse of one of his men. For a moment, he lost his balance and then he died with blood spurting from his throat.
Ghyll screamed in rage and the mercenaries turned. They raised their reddened blades, but Ghyll was faster. Still screaming, he felled the first man and turned to the next. The mercenary yelled something and dropped his sword. In his anger, Ghyll didn’t care about his enemy yielding. At a slight tug on the reins, his steed reared and brought his sharp hooves down on the man’s shoulders. Screaming, the mercenary fell. His voice broke off abruptly when Ulanth danced over him. Now the gateway was empty of life. Ghyll turned his horse, ready for the next enemy, but it was no longer necessary. The last mercenaries had surrendered.
Ghyll rode through the courtyard, past the dead and wounded, with Childegard in his hand and Torril hurrying up to him with the bannered lance. In the middle of the courtyard, he stopped and looked around. To the left he saw a row of gallows, each occupied, and to the right, tiny cages with crouching figures inside. Disgust nearly choked him.
‘Amdal Ridaud!’ he shouted. Only silence answered.
Around him, Guards took possession of the castle and disarmed the remaining mercenaries. Nobody resisted them; the castle population seemed stunned by the reversal of their fate.
From a side door the sound of voices came, and a scuffle. Then a tall man in leather armor appeared, holding a second figure as a shield in front of him. The knife at the throat of his prisoner spoke plainly.
‘Zethir!’ Torril’s whisper sounded shocked.
‘Safe conduct,’ the man cried. ‘A free retreat for me and my men. ‘At the first raised weapon your boy will die!’
Paul E. Horsman (1952) is a Dutch and International Fantasy Author. Born in the sleepy garden village of Bussum, The Netherlands, he now lives in Roosendaal, a town on the Dutch-Belgian border. He has been a soldier, a salesman, a scoutmaster and from 1995 till his school closed in 2012 a teacher of Dutch as a Second Language and Integration to refugees from all over the globe. Being unemployed and economically overage, yet still some years away from retirement, he is a full-time writer of epic light fantasy adventures. His books are both published in the Netherlands, and internationally.