On Thayria, the brutal Sarasinian League dominates. Yet beneath its arrogant façade, decades of corruption, neglect and incompetence have left it weakened and vulnerable. Even as its subject peoples yearn for freedom, the League, preoccupied with violent expansion, shows astonishing complacency in the face of impending revolt.
Against a backdrop of relentless bloody battles, a provincial governor chooses a path that could change the course of history. A group of military cadets faces an increasingly dire future. And a jaded research assistant sets out to recover an object of immense power and dreadful consequence.
In the centre of this gathering storm stands an improbably long-lived and immensely powerful figure whose hatred of the League knows no bounds…
A tale of diverse peoples and places, Covenant of Blood is set in a world where innocence is dead, mercy is non-existent, and authority is wielded with an iron fist.
THE SARASINIAN 5th ARMY
SARASINIAN OCCUPIED AHRENIA
Riva watched men loading the last of the portable battlements onto wagons. The bustling wooden citadel of the previous night was gone, replaced by an expanse of churned soil the colour of shit. It had been a decent grazing paddock until yesterday, but now there wasn’t a patch of green as far as a man could fire an arrow. He’d seen it all a hundred times before, of course, but somehow his almost child-like sense of wonder at the spectacle never waned. Only Sarasinians and their allies sheltered in huge mobile fortresses. Other peoples looked on with envy, for they either didn’t know how to build them or couldn’t make them work. Not that the Sarasinians truly needed such things: no had bested their field armies in over a generation. Small wonder they had the world by the balls.
The rattle and stomp of spearmen broke his reverie. Sarasinian main-forcers were pushing forward, a column of purple and steel that went on for a mile and more. A scar-faced troop captain barked orders to salute him. The men obeyed, but without enthusiasm. Riva acknowledged them with the barest toss of his head before giving them his back. It was still more than they deserved.
He returned to his marquee to find Istome waiting near the entry. His bodyguard was lolling about, though as soon as he appeared they all stood to attention and pretended they hadn’t been gawping at Istome’s bare legs. He wanted to laugh but settled on a small, inward smile instead. General Virgilio was always saying that he should stop being too familiar around subordinates. He should strive to keep up appearances.
“Good morning, my lord,” said Pyrian, bowing and hauling aside the marquee’s entry flap in one fluid motion.
“Morning Pyrian,” said Riva as he entered. Istome followed, stepping twice on the heels of his slippers. He winced, but refrained from commenting. She was improving, though.
A pair of attendants came to remove his silks. Another pair brought his war gear. He shrugged into his habergeon, grunting as the links settled on his shoulders. He raised his arms to allow a padded leather belt to be fastened around his waist. His black brigandine followed, then greaves and vambraces. He took a few moments to admire the brigandine in his bronze mirror. A recent purchase, its innermost layers were of hardened steel. The new metal was costly to the point of extravagance, but it was a beautiful piece of armour of which he was inordinately proud.
“Your blade, Lord Riva.” Pyrian extended his sword belt with both hands. Riva unsheathed the weapon and brought the edge up to his face. Seeing no flecks of rust along its length, he slid it back into the scabbard and Pyrian fastened the belt around his waist. He gave his dagger a cursory glance, and he waved his gauntlets, shield, spear and helmet away. Someone would bring them should the need arise.
“Very good, Pyrian,” said Riva, his dressing ritual complete.
“A pleasure, my lord.” Pyrian bowed low. “As always.”
Istome poured his wine. No sooner had he put the cup to his lips, however, than a messenger arrived to say that his presence was required in the general’s tent. He thought about handing the wine back, but instead he drained it in three gulps and tossed the empty cup aside. “Let’s go,” he told her.
“Of course,” said Istome.
Virgilio’s attendants ushered them into the command tent. Istome veered off, vanishing behind a scarlet curtain. The general’s people thought her presence intrusive and unnecessary, but at least they knew better than to voice their objections. Their obvious discomfort warmed his heart.
Virgilio greeted him perfunctorily, gesturing at an empty chair opposite him at his conference table. An impressively weighty piece, that table. The top was a wooden slab as thick as a man’s thigh, scored and dark with age. He wasn’t sure of its history, but it looked like something out of a blacksmith’s shop. The general himself seemed not to care that it clashed with everything else he owned.
“I was just looking at those tallies you wanted me to look at,” said Virgilio, his rheumy eyes passing over a scrap of parchment in his hand. More were arranged in careful piles on the tabletop.
“Mm. And they’re as bad as described.”
“Yes,” said Riva, nodding. “They are.”
The general grunted. “So you really weren’t exaggerating, eh? You had me convinced you were, you know.”
“No.” Riva leaned back in his chair. “I wasn’t. Any advice?”
Virgilio seemed not to hear. Riva waited, and was about to repeat the question when the general looked up and said, “Eh?”
“I wanted your advice,” said Riva, indicating the bits of parchment. “On the tallies. Any ideas about what I should do, you know, to rectify things?”
“No,” said the general, shaking his head. “No, not really.”
Riva raised an eyebrow. “Nothing?”
The general tossed the parchment aside and glanced up. “Yes. Nothing.”
“I see,” said Riva. “It’s just that I thought you might–”
“Dear boy.” Virgilio’s eyes crinkled in amusement. “You seem ill at ease. Why? You didn’t think I’d be angry with you, did you? Were you expecting harsh words from me or something? Over tallies?”
Riva shook his head. “Well no, not harsh words exactly, but let’s face it–these figures aren’t what you could call impressive.”
“Oh indeed! They’re not.”
“Which is why I was hoping for some advice on how to turn things around.”