Home > The Bladed Faith (The Vagrant Gods #1)

The Bladed Faith (The Vagrant Gods #1)
Author: David Dalglish

 

 

CHAPTER 1


CYRUS


All his life, Cyrus Lythan had been told his parents’ armada was the greatest in the world, unmatched by any fleet from the mainland continent of Gadir. It was the pride of his family, the jewel of the island kingdom of Thanet. Standing at the edge of the castle balcony, his hands white-knuckling the balustrade, Cyrus watched their ships burn and knew it for a lie.

“Their surprise will only gain them so much,” said Rayan. The older man and dearest family friend stood beside Cyrus as the fires spread across the docks. “Hold faith. Our gods will protect us.”

Smoke blotted out the harbor, but along the edges of the billowing black he saw the empire’s ships firing flaming spears from ballistae mounted to their decks. Thanet’s boats could not counter such power with their meager archers, not even if they had fought on equal numbers. Those numbers, however, were far from equal. Thanet’s vaunted armada had counted fifty ships in total, though only thirty had been in the vicinity of Vallessau when two hundred imperial ships emerged from the morning fog, their hulls painted black and their gray sails marked with two red hands clenched in prayer.

“Shouldn’t you be down there with the rest of the paladins?” Cyrus asked. “Or are you too old for battle?”

The man’s white plate rattled as he crossed his arms. He was a paladin of Lycaena, a holy warrior who’d dedicated his life to one of Thanet’s two gods. It was she and Endarius whom the island now relied upon to withstand the coming invasion. The castle was set upon the tallest hill in the city of Vallessau, protected by a wide outer wall that circled the base of its foundational hill. Thanet’s soldiers massed along the outer wall, their padded leather armor seeming woefully inadequate. Paladins of the two gods gathered in the courtyard between the outer wall and the castle itself. Despite there being less than sixty, the sight of them gave Cyrus hope. The finely polished weapons of those men and women shone brightly, and the morning light reflected off their armor, be it the gilded chain of Endarius’s paladins or the white plate of Lycaena’s. As for the god and goddess, they both waited inside the castle.

“You are brave to call me old when you yourself are not yet a man,” Rayan said. His skin was as dark as his hair was white, and when he smiled, it stretched his smartly trimmed beard. That smile was both heartfelt and fleeting. “His Highness ordered me to protect you.”

Cyrus tried to remain optimistic. He tried to hold faith in the divine beings pledged to protect Thanet. A seemingly endless tide of soldiers disembarking from the ships and marching the main thoroughfare toward the outer castle walls broke that faith.

“Tell me, Rayan, if the walls fall and our gods die, how will you protect me?”

Rayan looked to the distant congregation of his fellow paladins of Lycaena at the outer gate, and his thoughts clearly echoed Cyrus’s.

“Poorly,” he said. “Stay here, and pray for us all. We will need every bit of help this cruel world can muster.”

The paladin exited the balcony. The heavy thud of the shutting door quickened Cyrus’s pulse, and he swallowed down his lingering fear. A cowardly part of him shouted to find somewhere in the castle to bury his head and hide. Stubborn pride kept his feet firmly in place. He was the fourteen-year-old Prince of Thanet, and he would bear witness to the fate of his kingdom.

The assault began with the arrival of the ladders, dozens of thick planks of wood with metal hooks bolted onto their tops so they could lock tightly onto the walls. The defenders rushed to shove them off, but the empire’s crossbowmen punished them with volley after volley. Swords clashed, and though the empire’s losses were heavy, nothing slowed the ascent of the invaders. What started as a few scattered soldiers fighting atop the walls became a mile-long battlefield. It did not take long before the gray tunics overwhelmed the blue tabards of Vallessau.

Next came the battering ram. How the enemy had built it in such short a time baffled Cyrus, but there was no denying its steady hammering on the opposite side of the outer gate. Even the intervals were maddeningly consistent. Every four seconds, the gate would rattle, the wood would crack, and the imperial army grew that much closer to flooding into the courtyard.

“It doesn’t matter,” Cyrus whispered to himself. “The gods protect us. The gods will save us.”

The fight along the walls was growing thicker, with more ladders managing to stay upright with every passing moment. Cyrus could spare no glance in their direction, for with one last shuddering blast, the battering ram knocked open the outer gate. The invading army flooded through, and should have easily overrun the vastly outnumbered defenders, but at long last, the castle doors opened and Thanet’s divine made their presence known.

The goddess Lycaena fluttered above an accompaniment of her priests. Her skin was black as midnight, her eyes brilliant rainbows of ever-shifting color. Long, flowing silk cascaded down from her arms and waist, its hue a brilliant orange that transitioned to yellow, green, and blue depending on the ruffle of the fabric. The dress billowed outward in all directions, and no matter how hard Cyrus looked, he couldn’t tell where the fabric ended and the goddess’s enormous wings began. She held a rod topped with an enormous ruby in her left hand; in the right, a golden harp whose strings shimmered all colors of the visible spectrum. Cyrus’s heart ached at the sight of her. He’d witnessed Lycaena’s physical form only a few times in his life, and each left him breathless and in awe.

“Be gone, locusts of a foreign land,” Lycaena decreed. She did not shout, nor raise her voice, but all the city heard her words. “We will not break before a wave of hate and steel.”

Fire lashed from the ruby atop her rod in a conical torrent that filled the broken gateway. The screams of the dying combined into a singular wail. The other god of Thanet, Endarius the Lion, charged into the ashen heap left in her attack’s wake. His fur was gold, his claws obsidian, his mane a brilliant collection of feathers that ran the full gamut of the rainbow. Wings stretched from his back, the feathers there several feet long and shifting from a crimson red along the base to pale white at the tip. Those wings beat with his every stride, adding to his speed and power.

Endarius’s paladins joined him in his charge. They did not wield swords and shields like their Lycaenan counterparts, nor did they share their long cloaks of interlocking colors resembling stained glass. Instead their gilded armor bore necklaces of fangs across their arms, and they wielded twin jagged swords to better support their ferocity. They bellowed as they ran, their version of a prayer, and they tore into the ranks of the invaders, the spray of blood and breaking of bones their worship.

In those first few minutes, Cyrus truly believed victory would be theirs. Thanet had never been conquered in all her history. Lycaena and Endarius protected their beloved people. The two divine beings rewarded their faithful subjects with safety and guidance. And as the imperial soldiers rushed through the gate with their swords and spears, the gods filled the courtyard with fire and blood. From such a height, Cyrus could only guess at the identities of the individual defenders, but he swore he saw Rayan fighting alongside his goddess, his sword lit with holy light as he kept his beloved deity safe with his rainbow shield.

You burned our fleets, Cyrus thought, and a vengeful thrill shot through him. But we’ll crush your armies. You’ll never return, never, not after this defeat.

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