NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR AND CITY OF RUIN - RELAUNCHED!

12 November 2012

By Louise Buckley

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Last month we were delighted to reissue the first two novels in Mark Charan Newton's Legends of the Red Sun series, NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR and CITY OF RUIN, with a brand new cover look that brings them more in-line with books three and four, THE BOOK OF TRANSFORMATIONS  and THE BROKEN ISLES. Here are those covers, plus the remaining covers in the series:

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For those of you that have yet to discover this fantastic fantasy series, scroll down to read an extract from book one, NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR:

 

Prologue

This much was obvious:

They’d sent him to kill her. And here she was, weeks away from comfort, weeks across the Archipelago and halfway across the night. Still, at least it was a good time to be on the run.

The lanes of Ule were cold and filled with people. Flames illuminated everything, fire from within pits, or from torches. In the shadows you could see young men and women sitting up late, smoking, talking philosophy, all elaborate hand ges¬tures, loud voices, a little laughter here and there. Children slumped bleary-eyed or asleep by their knees. Older people drifted past the stores behind, scrutinizing faded signs, some¬thing about their manner suggesting they might be hoping to find the moment where their lives had slipped away.

They just get in the way, Papus thought, such is the nature of an Empire island. You can’t stand still.

The island of Folke was an outpost on the fringe of the Empire, with Jamur soldiers waiting to launch a raid to push back a tribal uprising at dusk, also crowds of locals, passing travellers, morbid tourists. Paranoid, she would frequently see something strange, an erratic gesture between two silhouetted figures, a moment where they’d stare back at her, then she’d wonder at the meaning behind it. On nights like this, it was as if everything happened out of context.

She needed to return to Villjamur.

This far east it was said that war inevitably brought out the curious. They’d come in droves, as if they had forgotten about all the possible ways in which you could die. Despite all the cover these people offered her, despite all the places to hide – he’d be waiting for her, maybe within the trading crowds of the iren, maybe somewhere between the packed fishing stalls where old men chanted their prices.

‘A charm, lord...’ A grubby woman speaking in broken Jamur. Dressed in rags, reeking of manure. In her muddied hands she displayed several blackened bones. Her face was wrinkled, smeared with smoke-stained sweat, a worrying dis¬tance in her eyes that indicated she was too far detached from reality for simple reason. ‘Bone charms from slaves – holy items blessed by a Jorsalir priest, these. Please. I need coin—’

‘I haven’t got anything,’ Papus said.

The woman leaned forward so close that you could smell the death.

‘Get out my way.’

The crone muttered something, spit dribbling from her mouth. ‘Put your spirit in a good place. We sin too much...’

Papus drew a sterkr from her cloak, wafted it before the woman’s eyes.

A subtle, contained crack of purple light, and the woman was forced into stillness.

Damn, that would’ve drawn him to me. Papus left the old woman in her statue-still pose, placed the relic back in her pocket, and continued to walk with purpose through the town. All the time acting as if everything was fine, nothing to worry about here, while wishing she could evanesce into the com¬munity.

Street corners became hubs of activity. Young lads in particular gathered, armed with dreams of battlefield fame. Women were here to offer their bodies to soldiers and those few travellers with money. Beautiful enough to make a living,

but not enough to marry wealth, their place in the economy was unknown, and they each stood alone with expressionless gazes that said too much. Nearby, wine bladders exchanged hands for a little coin. Even the children were drinking to keep warm, but this was a festival night, and so the people of Folke didn’t mind.

Papus scanned the town cautiously.

Every detail mattered to her. It could be the difference between dying and getting home to Villjamur.

Despite the eddies of locals that crowded her with a dirty intensity, she felt utterly lonely, a sensation that only height¬ened her fear of being murdered. Nights like this made her question her path in life, question who she was and where she’d come from, and if her life would amount to anything more than power and secrecy.

– A man through the darkness.

Was that him?

Perhaps her route across Folke was too obvious. It was meant to be hectic here, provide her with some sort of cover. Should she rip through empty space, he’d find her quickly, if he was as good as she thought. He’d sense where she’d left, all right, sense where she’d gone, and he’d be waiting for her, waiting to beat her unconscious. Besides, you couldn’t travel that far in one go, not if you weren’t familiar with the sur¬roundings. For all she knew, she could reappear over the sea and then drown in icy water.

Relics couldn’t get her out of every situation, because life just wasn’t that easy.

A clamour of armour meant the Jamur soldiers were leaving the town to prepare for their coastal raid. She weaved through thinning tides of locals in their weather-faded clothing, want¬ing to be lost in their simple throng. As long as people were around her she’d be safe.

She had a relic to get to Villjamur, to show to the rest of

the order. He won’t have it, she told herself, a mantra by now, a repetition on the tip of her tongue to convince herself this was more than just a possibility.

Down a thin alleyway between two wooden buildings, then under a clothes line, out behind the town towards the coast, and all the time glancing behind to see if he was tracking her shadow.

In the background could be heard the thunder of the sea.

* Captain Brynd Lathraea of the Jamur Second Dragoons squinted through the dark towards the wall of water as it crashed onto the shores of Blortath, way off in the distance. Terns fled the wave, screaming as they scattered uniformly, like seeds thrown from a hand. This was no natural phenomenon. A hooded man was crouching in the shallow water, a few feet below, a device in his hands which he dipped in and out of the sea. Occasionally he closed his eyes, tilted his head towards the night sky as if to perceive the world on some entirely new level. He was a cultist, from the Order of Natura

– a minor sect – and he specialized in using apparatus that could change aspects of nature. Brynd ran a hand through his white hair. With a piece of equipment and a method that the captain could never comprehend, the cultist was throwing freak tides at Blortath so as to weaken their defences before the Second and Third Dragoons launched their coastal raid before sun-up.

The mission briefing was simple: Land. Assist the forces approaching from the north. Slaughter wherever possible. In all the major towns and cities, any Froutan and Deltu

prisoners were to be executed. As a lesson to prevent other tribes from uniting against the Jamur forces, the Emperor Johynn requested that no tribesmen should remain alive. This

was an Empire island, had been for years. A simple statement, the Council would say, no point in rebelling.

Don’t mess with Imperial strategy.

The island of Folke was a different environment to Jokull. Murky sandbanks and sand dunes expanded along the rest of the shoreline. Brynd was standing on top of the foremost dune, long reeds clawing at his knees. Lichens smothered a few stray boulders. Everything here was a fraction wilder – not like the civility of Villjamur. In the distance, dark smoke from the warn¬ing beacons drifted around Blortath, only a short journey away by longship. Unseen, two garudas circled the island, and Brynd was becoming impatient for their reports.

The cultist began to load the tide. Groundswells com¬menced, tips of the surf rolled and then leaned, the water groaning under pressure, waiting to collapse, but instead moving further upwards in some unlikely manner. And an alien noise as waves banked up sharply in a thin wall between the islands, waited unnaturally in the air – then launched themselves towards Blortath.

Brynd wrapped his cloak around him, glad for the extra shirt beneath his uniform, although the additional layers made his new leather vest feel restricting.

‘Hardly a bloody battle, this, is it?’

Brynd looked back to see who had spoken. A line of the Second Dragoons stood motionless in their black and green uniforms, leaning on their long shields, viewing the wave that rolled into the distance. The men and women weren’t yet wearing armour, only the traditional brown cloaks, each with the Jamur star stitched in gold on the left breast. With them he had long stopped being self-conscious for being an albino human as well as their captain.

Amongst other things.

‘And who said that, then?’ Brynd asked.

‘Me,’ said a distinctively higher-pitched voice this time.

Muffled laughter.

Kapp Brimir, a boy native to Folke, started squirming his way forward between the soldiers. More of the other islanders were visible in the distance gathered around their fires. The first voice certainly couldn’t have been his, for Kapp was perhaps only ten years old. To avoid local uprisings, soldiers were told to be friendly with the local people before cam¬paigns, but it was a difficult task with some of them. This boy seemed especially keen on annoying everyone. Kapp insisted on asking questions of any senior officers encountered around Ule: details about sword play, about how people dressed in Villjamur, about what they did for fun and did they dance?

‘Yes?’ Brynd said. ‘Your voice’s pretty deep for such a young age, and you can swear in Jamur, too? That surprises me for a native. If this isn’t much of a battle, just count yourself lucky. Were you looking for a full-scale war?’

‘No.’ Kapp stepped forward, stood right next to Brynd, looking up at the soldier. ‘Doesn’t seem very fair, though, using one of them.’ He indicated the cultist on the shore below.

Brynd said, ‘You’d rather we all died, instead?’

Kapp shrugged, stared out to sea, played with a lock of his hair as if he’d already forgotten their conversation.

Brynd said, ‘You want to be a soldier?’

‘No way.’

‘Might be useful to learn how to fight one day.’

‘I can fight already.’ Kapp turned to face the unlikely tide again.

‘Captain Lathraea!’ someone shouted. It was the cultist, now wading up the sand without his relic. He was grey-haired, with bird-like features, a thin medallion strung around his neck, the symbol unclear in this light. ‘Captain, they’ve a cultist, too. They’ve got a bloody cultist!’

‘Shit, how’s that possible?’

‘I don’t know, but look.’ He indicated the wall of water

coming back towards them, the lip of the wave breaking over itself.

Brynd turned in time to see Kapp pushing back through the troops.

‘I think I can stop it, or at least weaken it,’ the cultist continued. ‘I’d get everyone inland, anyway.’

‘Thought I gave the commands.’ Brynd placed a hand on the sheathed blade by his side.

‘This isn’t the time for ceremony, captain.’

‘I suspect you’re right.’

‘Have you seen the rest of my order?’

‘Not for some time.’ Brynd shook his head. ‘Can’t you lot keep a track of yourselves by using one of your own damn contraptions?’

‘You’d do well to keep it friendly, brother,’ the cultist snapped, then ran down the shore, skidding on the sand, and placed his device in the water again.

Brynd commanded the Dragoons to move back, and the soldiers retreated up to the plains.

To the north of the island, tribesmen were clambering up the shore on to the grass ridge, axes in hand, and how they had arrived unnoticed, Brynd had no idea, because the garudas should have spotted them, wherever the hell they were.

If that boy really wanted a battle, Brynd thought, drawing his sabre, it’s bloody well on its way.

* Kapp ran so fast it seemed as if he couldn’t stop if he wanted. The path was bounded on either side with broken buildings, and his feet thundered into the ground as he sped down Flayer’s Hill towards his home. He stopped as he heard the first wave surge against the landscape, rocking it. Then he turned back to watch seawater frothing as it spilled over the crest of the hill, sparkling in the moonlight. The water wasn’t enough to fully breach the bank,

but you could see that the next wave would. And he next heard shouting, then there they were, hundreds of the Emperor’s Dragoons changing direction, marching now to the north of the island.

That albino soldier was leading them, his weapon raised.

The troops began to line up on either side of him. They locked their shields together, began to beat on the massed metal. As Kapp ran into the distance and downhill, the last image he had of them was that they were a dominating force.

He no longer wanted anything whatsoever to do with them.

The tribesmen clambered over the shore in an endless stream, the whites of their bone-charms visible, their axes held high, their flesh barely covered by primitive clothing.

Nothing made sense. Only moments earlier, the Dragoons on his native island were about to take another neighbouring island under the Emperor’s wing, but now it was his island that was suffering a coastal raid. Like burning insects, fires were scattering in Ule as people fled from the main town and out into wilder land.

Kapp had to warn his mother.

Arms aflail, he sprinted towards his home, a large wooden construct surrounded by a herd of half-asleep goats that swarmed away from him as he approached. He stopped when he heard a strange crackling. Frowning, he spun in a full circle to see where it came from, yet somehow it seemed to come from every direction. He caught a glimpse of a spectral glow and headed towards it.

There were two figures beside a tree, both of them in black clothing, barely noticeable in this light.

One lay on the ground, a net of violet light surrounding him. The other stood above, a small metal box clasped in his hands, and it was from this that the strange energy emanated. The one on the ground was screaming in pain, blood on his face. Kapp wanted to do something. It hurt him to witness someone in so much agony.

Scanning the ground for a fist-sized stone, Kapp picked up two knuckles of granite, then scampered in an arc to approach from behind. He threw the first stone, which hit the tree.

The man turned.

Kapp threw the second stone, which struck him square on the back of the head, and the man collapsed against the tree with a grunt of pain, dropping his box.

The light vanished.

The injured figure suddenly rose, slashed a blade across the other’s chest, then drew it again across his neck. His victim collapsed to his knees, shuddering, his mouth agape in either confusion or surprise, then slumped sideways.

The killer hunched over the corpse, panting, then concealed the box beneath his cloak.

Kapp was stunned by the incident. Apart from the wind sliding across the tundra, all sounds were strangely absent. Kapp felt an immense guilt, wanted to run. Had he actually contributed to murder?

As the remaining figure approached, Kapp experienced a sudden sense of calm. This was a cultist, or some official – you could tell by the medallion he wore around his neck. The rest of the outfit was elaborate, with the subtle red stitching of a small crest on one breast. The survivor was chubby, blond hair dishevelled. Kapp watched in silence as the cultist knelt down before him, bloody scars webbing across his face in symmetrical perfection.

‘Thank you, boy. Seems I owe you my life,’ the figure declared in elegant Jamur. He took Kapp’s hand and shook it. Kapp was uncertain of the gesture.

‘That’s all right,’ Kapp replied in Jamur, dazzled by the man’s intense blue eyes. They seemed unnaturally feminine . . . and there was no stubble.

He reached into his pocket and placed an object firmly in Kapp’s palm. A coin, silver and heavy and stamped with strange symbols: a single eye, shafts of sunlight radiating from within.

It would probably be worth enough to buy his family home.

‘I always pay my debts,’ the cultist continued. ‘Should you ever need a favour, you can find me in Villjamur. Show them this. Ask for me and I’ll be found. Otherwise it’ll not buy you much. Some may not even accept it.’

‘What’s your name?’ Kapp said.

‘Papus.’

‘Why was that man hurting you?’ Kapp nodded towards the bloodied body in the mud.

The stranger stood up, smiled in a way that suggested the whole story was too complicated to explain. ‘Because – among many things – I wouldn’t let him have sex with me.’

‘I don’t get it.’ Kapp frowned. ‘You’re a man. Why would he—?’

‘A one in two chance, boy, and you still got it wrong. Still, I don’t get offended easily. The offer stands, should you ever need a favour. But first, I suggest you avoid this conflict. Go, take shelter in Ule.’ Then with a harmless laugh, she jogged into the distance as cries of war began to spill across the tundra.