This fantasy quest novel, Wings of the Overlord, has been a long time in coming to print - from original conception to now it has taken 50 years, in fact. Now, Knox Robinson has just published it and soon will be offering a free e-book short story ('Shadows over Lornwater') that lays some of the groundwork for this novel and its sequel, To Be King, which is in progress.
SONALUMES, 2050 AC
No one can ever truly know or understand these magnificent creatures - how could they? For the Red Tellars are the Wings of the Overlord. - Dialogues of Meshanel
Snow-clad and ice-bound, the two peaks opposite rose in ragged splendour to pierce the egg-blue sky of dawn. Wisps of cloud gusted and swathed about the rock formations, occasionally obscuring the chasm far below. Scattered on narrow ledges and precipitous ridges, thousands of drab-clothed men stood or crouched, waiting.
Wrapped in an inadequate fawn-fur cloak which freezing gusts of air threatened to whip from him, General Foo-sep braced himself and, his clean-shaven chin set with annoyance, looked down upon his suffering men. His gums ached dully with the insidious cold, yellow teeth chattering. In vain he rubbed fur-gloved hands together.
An entire toumen! Ten thousand men! And they were to take orders from an accursed civilian! He seethed, casting an embittered glare to his right, at a black-clad man of slight frame, parchment-coloured skin and ebony pebbles for eyes.
The wind slapped at the man’s fur cloak and whistled over the bare out-jutting rocks nearby.
Wind-howl was deafening on the outcrop up here, yet only a step back into the shelter of the overhang no sound penetrated; and from here the entire range of the Sonalume Mountains seemed enveloped in this same eerie stillness.
“They will be along soon,” said the civilian, visibly tensing as he leaned over the sloping ledge. His bear-hide boots crackled as he moved, shifting ice from the soles.
Below – a dizzying drop that had claimed too many men already – the bottom indistinct in a slithering purple haze.
Foo-sep discerned the tiny motes of black in the sky and, as the shapes approached, he was struck by their immense size. Framed by the two grey-blue peaks, the birds were coming; he had to admit, grudgingly, as predicted.
“Now!” howled the civilian.
Hoarfrost encrusted brows scowling, Foo-sep lifted his arm and signalled to his men on both sides of the wide, gaping chasm.
Soundlessly, with military precision, the prepare signal was passed through the dispersed ranks.
Foo-sep raised his eyeglass, careful lest he touched his skin with its icy rim.
Stern-faced with the cold and, at last, a sense of purpose, his loyal soldiers were now unfurling nets and arranging stones for quick reloading of their sling-shots.
Foo-sep slowly scanned across the striated rock face.
Abruptly, the birds leapt into focus, their presence taking away his breath in cold wisps. Such an enormous wingspan! And red, O so red! He hesitated at the thought of the task ahead.
His momentary indecision must have been communicated to the other, or perhaps the civilian possessed even more arcane powers than those with which he was credited; “The King desires it,” was all he said.
Foo-sep nodded and moved the eyeglass across to the other rock face where the remaining soldiers were trying in vain to keep warm, quivers ready, bowstrings taut and poised.
Now the birds were entering between the peaks.
Foo-sep waved to a signaller who blew three great blasts on his horn. The sound echoed among the peaks.
In a constant flurry, ice-coated nets looped out, a few attached to arrows, entwining many of the creatures’ wings. Some birds swooped beneath the heavy mesh then swerved, talons raking the men responsible. Others used their wings to sweep soldiers from the ledges as though dusting furniture. Stones hit a few on their bright red crests and they plummeted, stunned, to be caught by outstretched nets beneath; nets that were slowly filling up, straining at their supports.
Watching through his eyeglass, Foo-sep was amazed at the weird silence of the birds: only their frenetically beating wings generated any sound; all other noise originated from his yelling and shrieking soldiers as they flung nets and stones or were dragged from precarious positions. He scowled as a group of fools forgot to keep clear of their own nets; entangled, they were wrenched to giddy, plunging deaths.
Pacing from side to side, Foo-sep watched helplessly as his beloved toumen was decimated. And for what? A few hundred birds!
His attention was diverted to an uncannily large specimen ensnared in nets, its feathers flying as it clawed at two soldiers on a ledge while they loosed sling-stones at the creature.
Yet the missiles had no effect, and the massive curved beak snapped through the brittle mesh as though it was flimsy plains-grass.
As the bird looped, Foo-sep noticed a distinctive marking none of the others seemed to possess – a white patch on its throat.
The civilian must have observed it also, because at that instant he gripped Foo-sep’s arm, lips visibly trembling, black pebble-eyes shining. Then, in desperation, the idiot shouted an order that made no sense at all: “Let that one go!”
Numb with cold, bitterly aware of how many good men had suffered already at the talons of that gigantic bird, Foo-sep steeled himself against his better instinct and cupped gloved hands round his mouth.
“Let that one go!” he called.
The book is a collaborative effort, between Gordon Faulkner and me. We use the penname Morton Faulkner for this series. I would hope that readers will want to find out more – in particular why the civilian let that bird go. Indeed, you can download as a free sample the Prologue plus the first chapter from the Knox Robinson website - http://www.knoxrobinsonpublishing.com/book/wings-of-the-overlord/