Co-author of the Dune sequels, Kevin J. Anderson’s Gods and Dragons marks his triumphant return to epic fantasy, featuring a politically charged adventure of swords, sorcery, vengeance, and the awakening of sleeping giants.
Two continents at war: the Three Kingdoms and Ishara have been in conflict for a thousand years. But when an outside threat arises—the reawakening of a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world—the two warring nations must somehow set aside generations of hatred to form an alliance against a far more deadly enemy.
Please enjoy this free excerpt of Gods and Dragons by Kevin J. Anderson, on sale 01/11/22.
“You just declared war,” Penda said. Her face was drawn and weary, but still beautiful to him under the stars on a night that had been filled with bloodshed and dragons.
“I had no choice.” King Adan reached out to stroke her dark, sweat-streaked hair. The smell of smoke lingered in the air.
She cradled their newborn daughter in her arms, and Adan wrapped both of them in his embrace. He relished the intimacy, the peace, knowing it might be his last calm moment for a long time to come.
Pulling away, he turned to survey the devastated Utauk camp: fires from the ravages of the dragon and the sandwreths, torn tents, smashed wagons, mangled horses, scattered and broken bodies.
With businesslike determination, Utauks moved around in the firelight gathering the sandwreth weapons strewn on the ground. They would take the spears, swords, and pikes away, disposing of them where they would never be found. The enemy corpses had been burned in a hot pyre to leave no evidence. All human lives would be forfeit if the sandwreth queen ever guessed that King Adan Starfall had murdered her brother.
“This camp must scatter.” He spoke mainly to his wife, but loud enough for others to hear. “We have to leave soon.”
Hale Orr, Penda’s father, stood with his wrist stump propped on his hip. “Cra! The Utauk tribes know how to pack up and disappear. That’s what we do.” He worked his jaw and spat on the ground, then looked at his son-in-law with new admiration. “I despise the sandwreths, Starfall, especially that vile one who wanted to take my baby granddaughter. But I never thought you’d kill him.” He let out a booming laugh. “Skewered him right through the chest!”
Adan flinched at the loud statement. He wasn’t a cold-blooded murderer, and his action had not been impulsive. He had hesitated long enough to be certain, and then he had thrust his sword through Quo’s heart. “I’m the king of Suderra, and I need to protect my people. The wreths are the greatest danger we face.”
Hale gestured to indicate the damaged camp. “Dragons notwithstanding.”
“You protected me,” Penda said, “and our child.”
Quo’s sandwreth war party had come north on the pretext of helping King Kollanan fight the frostwreths, but his real purpose had been to find Penda, to seize her and the unborn child for Queen Voo. Adan had also learned that the sandwreths were hiding a secret human slave camp in the desert. So when Quo was badly injured by the dragon, Adan had been unable to control his anger. He’d more than enough reason to kill the vile man.
“Yes, I declared war,” he said, “but the sandwreths don’t know it yet. We will keep the secret for as long as we can and turn their own ways against them.”
“Voo is treacherous enough,” Hale said. “We can follow her example.”
A loose auga, one of the wreths’ sturdy and stupid reptilian mounts, wandered through the camp, lost and disoriented. Two Utauk teens chased the creature, but it snapped at them and bounded off into the forest. Several other augas lay on the ground, slain in the attack.
“Leave it,” Adan called. Queen Voo would eventually realize that something had happened to her brother, but a few wandering augas would give her no further information.
Eventually, after the incredibly long night, dawn suffused the eastern hills. “It is a new day,” Adan said, his thoughts still ricocheting around. “We are at war . . . and I am a father.” He bent down to kiss Penda on the forehead, then the little girl they had named Oak. “Both things are terrifying in their own way.”
Xar, Penda’s green ska, circled overhead with an annoyed cry. The reptile bird mischievously harassed the young squire Hom, who flailed his hands to shoo him away.
Adan’s few soldiers helped put out the last fires, wary in case some other attack appeared out of the forest. Two Utauk men fixed a broken wheel on a cart, and others mended damaged harnesses for the horses. Their efficient movements signaled an urgent desire to be gone as soon as possible.
The wreth funeral pyre had burned down to coals. Utauk men and women raked through the ashes with sticks, then used rocks to bash any lumps to powder. A second funeral pyre, enclosed within a perfect circle of stones, had cremated the Utauks killed in the night’s battle; they were treated with much more honor and respect.
Two cookfires heated tea water and cooked a grain porridge. Several mothers rummaged in their packs, adding dried fruit and crushed honeycombs to sweeten the mash. Though Penda had just given birth the night before, she tried to help with the camp work, but Adan insisted that she rest.
Penda sat on a log beside the central campfire, joining old Shella din Orr, the matriarch of the Utauk tribes. The old woman’s arm was bandaged from an injury she had suffered during the attack, but she did not look the least bit ruffled.
“It was a nice campsite,” Shella said. “I might have stayed another week, but we will move out two hours after daybreak. I’ll lead the heart camp far from here, maybe east over the Dragonspine Mountains. I haven’t been to Convera in ten years.”
“That’s far,” Penda said. “Are you sure you’re up for the trip?”
The crone snorted. “I travel all the time. What difference does it make if I travel in a straight line or just wander in circles?”
With her finger Penda traced a ring around her heart. “The beginning is the end is the beginning.”
Shella din Orr repeated the common phrase. When Adan delivered bowls of the porridge, the matriarch smacked her lips. “There aren’t many things I can enjoy with so few teeth.”
Taking a seat, Adan grew serious. “We will go in different directions.” He looked to his wife. “It has been long enough. You need to go home, take our daughter, and be safe within the walls of Bannriya.”
“I doubt any place is safe from dragons and wreths,” she said, then picked up on his tone. “Are you not going with me?”
Captain Elcior stepped up to report, accompanied by the Banner guard Seenan, Hom’s older brother. “We are ready to depart, Sire. The three of us can ride fast and hard all the way to Norterra.”
When Penda gave him a questioning look, Adan explained, “I’m going north to Fellstaff. Kollanan has already struck against the frostwreths, and now I’ve killed sandwreths. From the start, Suderra and Norterra recognized the danger of the ancient race, and we have to prepare to fight together.” His thoughts soured. “Even if my brother in Convera continues to be fixated on the Isharans.”
Penda gave him a solemn look. “You and your uncle may think of grand wars, but do not forget about Glik and the slave camp. Another secret the sandwreths are keeping . . .” Her face hardened. “And another thing I want to take from Queen Voo.”
Adan had been trying to find a way to liberate the isolated slave camp. Taking action would surely provoke a fierce retaliation, but if it was going to be open war, he had to consider his options differently. “I’ll talk to Kollanan and discuss how we could do it. If it comes to direct battle, Voo just might slaughter all those poor captives out of spite, just so we can’t free them.” He stroked her cheek, lowered his voice. “I promise I’ll think of a way.”
She nodded, accepting his words.
Adan continued, “I don’t want to leave you, especially not now. But I need you safe, and our baby needs shelter.”
Shella din Orr made a rough sound in her throat. “You think the Utauks can’t protect her? Did you not send your wife to travel with us, just so the wreths couldn’t find her?”
“This is different,” Adan said.
“Everything is different,” Penda replied. “I believe our daughter would be safe enough among the Utauks, but in times like these Suderra must have its queen if the king is riding out to make war plans.” The baby fussed in her arms, and she shifted position. “You and I will each do what we must, Starfall.”
With a gnarled finger, Shella drew another circle around her heart.
Adan finished his porridge and stood. Seenan had saddled their horses. Hale Orr promised to accompany his daughter back to Bannriya. “We’ll ride fast enough, Starfall. Cra, I haven’t slept in my own bed in weeks.”
Penda gave him a teasing laugh. “You are an Utauk, Father. You said the land itself serves as your bed.”
“That was before I came to appreciate the comforts of a soft mattress, dear heart.”
Hom presented himself to Adan. “I will ride with you, Sire, to take care of your needs on the rough journey.”
Adan could see the worry in the young squire’s face. He was eager—too eager—but not particularly hardened to the trail, and Adan was sure that he, Seenan, and Elcior could ride faster without him. He turned gravely to the boy. “It’s more important for a squire to tend to the queen and our baby. She’ll definitely need your help.” Hom’s face showed immediate relief.
Penda teased, “And you must also help keep Xar company.”
From a branch nearby the mischievous reptile bird made a low burbling sound that alarmed the squire. Nevertheless, the boy squared his shoulders, swallowed hard, and nodded. “I will do my duty for my king and queen, and for Suderra.”
By the time full morning arrived in the scarred camp, the Utauks were ready to depart. Seenan and Captain Elcior were mounted and waiting.
Adan kissed his wife, held her for a long moment, and stared with joy into little Oak’s perfect face. He was full of wonder and feared for the future. He and all of his people would no longer be pawns. They would fight to control their own fate.
The cold, white expanse was anything but silent. Sunlight from a shatteringly clear sky glinted off silver-crystal armor and long, sharp weapons. The pale-skinned, ivory-haired frostwreths converged on top of the glacier.
Koru, now Queen Koru, stood regal and terrifying beside her battle sleigh. She was a skilled warrior, trained in ruthless combat, but she also held herself with the haughtiness of pure noble blood.
Watching her from where he huddled in the sleigh, Birch found the new frostwreth queen sharp, intimidating, but not so frightening as her mother, Onn. The boy’s cheeks were so cold, the skin had gone numb, and curls of frost rose up each time he exhaled. He still had his tattered blanket, but Koru had covered him with heavy white oonuk pelts, as well.
Out in the open, Koru stood by her mages, nobles, and handpicked warriors, watching the thousands of frostwreths file out onto the frozen expanse. Glancing down at the boy, she flashed him a mysterious smile, then turned to her army. She held the spear of Dar, an ancient artifact with bloodstains on its serrated head. Her voice was as penetrating as a winter wind.
“Frostwreths! Celebrate what we have accomplished, but know that it is only the beginning. I am your new queen, and I am your future—not just for the wreths, but for our world.” She raised her weapon, impaling the sky.
A howl of enthusiasm rumbled across the snow. In their harnesses, the shaggy wolf-steeds snarled as if they could already smell blood in the air.
“My mother led you astray, but I will lead you forward. You have been restless long enough. Our wreth army is assembled.” Koru jabbed the spear upward, provoking another round of cheers and battle cries. She looked sideways at Birch and said in a hard, low voice, “Join me, boy! I want them to see you at my side.”
Birch didn’t understand her. At first he had thought Koru would kill him as soon as she discovered he had killed Queen Onn with the spear, but instead Koru was pleased. His action had made her the new queen of the frostwreths, and it was their secret.
Pushing the furs aside, but still clutching his woolen blanket, Birch climbed out of the sleigh. He no longer felt the bitter chill as much. He followed the pale queen across the white expanse to a deep blue crevasse that plunged into frozen depths.
A frostwreth mage, Elon, joined them at the edge of the fissure. His pale scalp was patchy and scarred from where he’d been burned in a dragon attack. Elon was a close companion and advisor as the new queen consolidated her rule. Watching the strange, bald man in his blue leather robes, Birch felt the magic resonate through him. Since Koru had accepted the human boy as her companion, her pet, the mage ignored him.
“We will discard your mother’s remnants, my queen, so that the frostwreths can focus on their new purpose.” He raised his hand in a signal to the crowded ranks behind them. Six small-statured drones scuttled along the trampled path from the ice palace, carrying a pallet with a body wrapped in drab cloth. Queen Onn—the woman who had tormented Birch for so long.
The badly treated drones did as they were instructed and showed an uncharacteristic exuberance as they carried the body to the edge of the crack.
Behind them, the frostwreth ranks stood absolutely still. Koru frowned at her mother’s shrouded corpse, as if even this minimal ceremony was a waste of time. She used her sharp nails to tear at the fabric that covered Onn’s face, and revealed the slack, sunken features of the dead queen.
Birch peered at the once powerful, bitter woman who had caused so much harm. He remembered the shock on Onn’s face when he’d killed her. Now, the dead queen’s expression showed nothing, nothing at all, but a shiver raced through him.
Koru smiled at the boy in their shared secret, then she snapped at the drones, “What are you waiting for? Dump her in, or should I make you jump in as well?”
The drones upended the pallet, and the wrapped form tumbled into the cold blue emptiness. Birch felt a fierce satisfaction to see her vanish into the cold depths. The drones chittered among themselves, then tossed the pallet over the edge as well.
The boy kept his expression blank, though he understood what the drones were saying. In their own way, they celebrated the death of the awful queen, who had slaughtered so many of their kind. Birch hoped the new queen would be kinder, and he made up his mind to help the drones if he could.
Koru took his hand as they both looked over the edge of the precipice. Her grip was cold, but held him steady. Seeing the long plunge, Birch felt dizzy.
Straightening, the queen glanced at Mage Elon. “Make sure that she stays down there . . . and that no one can do anything foolish.” She glanced back toward the wreth warriors, fixed on the muscular Irri—Onn’s lover. He had been a blizzard of anger and undirected vengeance ever since her assassination. Now, he returned her stare coldly.
The mage knelt and pressed his palms against the ice, extending magic into the fissure. A resonant stirring came from deep below as ice calved off, piling countless tons of frozen rubble onto the discarded corpse.
When the ice settled again, Koru spoke in a magic-amplified voice that resounded across the troops. “My mother forgot the words that Kur gave us. She lost sight of our mission, the mission of all wreths. We have been charged with slaying Ossus. The dragon is our enemy. Only with our combined strength can wreths hope to achieve our purpose.”
Irri crossed his bare arms, and his long hair flowed in the frigid breezes. “Why should we follow you simply because you murdered our queen?”
Koru gave him a withering glare. “That is how wreths have always chosen their leaders. I proved I am stronger than Onn.” She glowered at Irri, and the indignant warrior simmered for a long moment before he turned away, his gaze distant, as if snowblind.
Birch felt his heart race, still expecting someone to discover and expose his part in Onn’s death. Although Koru had taken the credit and the blame, and the crown, Birch himself had thrust the spear through the queen. Onn had abused him, ignored him, underestimated him. She had commanded the frostwreths when they killed his parents, his little brother, everyone he knew. Birch remembered holding the spear shaft, how it had felt when the deadly point pierced her white skin, plunged into her vital organs. He still couldn’t quite believe he had done it, but it made him feel strong. Made him feel warm.
And Irri, this arrogant warrior, was the one who had murdered Birch’s grandmother Tafira. Irri had gleefully displayed images to Onn, in front of the boy. Birch hated them all. He pulled the blanket tight around his shoulders, more in an attempt to hide than to block out the cold winds.
Koru’s voice boomed out so loudly that distant hunks of snow and ice broke loose from slopes and pattered down in avalanches. “In order to defeat Ossus, we will need the strength of all wreths—both frostwreths and sandwreths.”
A grumble of displeasure rippled through the gathered army.
“Sandwreths?” Irri bellowed. “You expect us to make peace with the children of Raan? You want us to fight beside them? As friends?”
Koru responded with an icy smile. “Sandwreths will never be our friends.” She spread her arms. “Therefore, I will march our army south and kill Queen Voo myself. Then I will rule all wreths, for our united purpose.”
The idea took the army by surprise. Birch shivered, and the listless drones stood blinking, confused and worried. A great many of them worked inside the ice palace and the glacier warrens, and Birch did not think the small creatures would fare well in a war.
As Koru’s words sank in, a rising sound of understanding grew among the cold army. The queen basked in it as she led Birch back to the sleigh, smiling. She said in a low voice to him, “The best way to command loyalty is to give your people what you want and make them think it is their own desire.” She nodded to him. Knowing that the new queen was trying to teach him, he nodded back.
Koru climbed into the seat beside him and barked a command. The drones took up the harness ropes, turned the battle sleigh around, and plodded back to the palace.
* * *
In her vaulted throne room, Koru led the boy to the small fur-covered block of ice next to her throne and instructed the drones to bring them food. She offered him a thick oonuk fur, but Birch felt warm enough with just his blanket. He sat in silence. Since his capture, Birch had learned to draw no attention to himself. It was the way to survive.
Koru, though, noticed him. He kept his thoughts to himself, not sure that the queen actually wanted conversation. For a time, she paced in front of the throne that her mother had occupied. She carried the ancient spear to the mounting hooks on the wall, but reconsidered. Instead, she took the throne and kept the weapon with her, holding the long shaft across her lap. She seemed distant for a long moment, then turned her quicksilver eyes to Birch. An instinctive chill ran through him.
“You might be very important, boy,” she said. “Far more important than I ever imagined.”
Copyright © 2022 by Kevin J. Anderson
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