I wish I could have seen Wordhaven before that day, when the shadow of the Council’s malevolence first fell across that sacred valley. Having stood as the bastion of light and hope for so many centuries, who could have conceived such a place as that could ever be marred by darkness. But once the darkness found the gates, it was like the ending of a dream. There was no going back again.
— The Kyrinthan Journals, Musings, Chapter 30, Verses 121-123
“They’re coming!” Brasen Stoneguard yelled to his sqaudron, his voice booming across Wordhaven’s valley by the mystical power of Dei’lo. “Hold staffs at ready. Wait for earshot, on my command.” Twenty-four staffs shot skyward around him, each extending along the length of a warrior’s right arm. Satisfied, Brasen raised his own staff and pointed it at the line of Sal’ei soldiers diving down from the skies to the north. Using the staff as guide, he set his eye on one of the nine attackers and waited, listening eagerly for the first faint thrum of the winged lions upon which their enemy rode. That would be his signal.
Though his expression remained stoic and sturdy in front of his men, as Donovan had taught him, he had secretly come to enjoy these skirmishes with the mon’jalen. He relished the opportunity to prove his strength against theirs time and again, whether in Word or sword, and regularly used these encounters as training lessons for his warriors. With every assault successfully repelled, their skills and confidence had grown in equal measure. The ranks of the mon’jalen had been thinned with each attack. But Brasen had yet to lose a life under his command.
Faintly, he heard the thump of a wing pounding the air.
“Now!” he yelled, his voice cascading across the valley. A chorus of shouts rose up in response, calling out the sweet and terrible sounds of Dei’lo. Brasen joined the cheer and in that instant a river of lightening, white as pure gypsum, shot out from the tips of the warriors’ staffs, its brilliance eclipsing Brasen’s view of the enemy above. But he could hear the crackle of Sa’lei shields erupting to life, and knew the Words had proved true once more. As the smoke and fire drifted to the north, he saw juron falling from the sky, the bodies of their riders dangling from their manes like charred puppets. The few mon’jalen that survived quickly retreated back to the heights.
“Seven fell,” he announced to his men, “but two escaped alive. We outnumbered that force two to one! Next time I don’t want to see a single mon’jalen flee unharmed. Understand?”
“By your word!” the warriors shouted, their expressions as stony and unflinching as his own. But he felt their resistance to his remark all the same, echoing through his soul through the intimate power of Wordhaven’s Worded valley. The feelings and thoughts of others flowed like scents upon the wind here, and even a warrior’s disciplined mind could not seal off his true feelings for long.
No matter. Truthfully, they were right to be chaffed. The problem rested not with the fighters, but with Dei’lo itself. Words such as those uttered in that battle were only effective when aimed at a single target. A Word of fire or lightning spoken against an entire squadron might cause them each pain, but not intensely enough to take them out of the fight. That was the whole reason behind the use of focus staffs. In a battle it could be difficult to keep your mind on one target. But the Words require a deliberate voice, spoken clearly to a specific object, be it human or some other thing. So the fighters used their staffs to essentially point their attention toward the object of their Words. In a battle such as this, it is inevitable that a single enemy attacker may be missed sometimes, with all the fighters focusing their attention on his comrades. If only there were a way to combine the warrior’s voices more effectively, thought Brasen, that might overcome the weakness in the Tongue. But how?
His thoughts were interrupted by a cry from his men. They pointed skyward, directly overhead, and looking up he saw it: A mass of black wings spilling over the eastern ridge, spiraling downward like a plague-ridden cloud. His mouth fell open in wonder, and confusion.
“There must be three hundred or more,” exclaimed one of the fighters.
“Where did they come from?” asked another.
“That doesn’t matter now,” shouted Brasen. “Form up, staffs at ready! If they want more punishment, we’ll give it to them!”
“By the Words!” they exclaimed. The men stood ready, their staffs raised high and defiant as the swarm descended upon them. But he could sense their fear rising. Nine juron-mounted mon’jalen was one thing…but three hundred?
“Fear not!” Brasen proclaimed. “The Head of Arms has no doubt seen them. He will come. For now, hold your ground, and wait for my command.”
As if in answer to his call, in that instant hundreds of warriors appeared on the meadows to the north, west and south, materializing out of the air in waves as if uncovered by a succession of invisible veils. They quickly formed into regiments and squadrons, each one stationing itself on the meadow according to the Head of Arms’ predetermined plan. The ominous cloud of black juron shifted its course in response, like locusts on the hunt, bearing down on the Wordhaven fighters below. Shields flared to life both in the air and on the meadow, each side anticipating the instant when the sound of their voices would be close enough to kill.
“The Head of Arms is on the field!” Brasen called to his men. “Listen for his word!”
The men did not respond, but Brasen sensed they understood. He joined them with raised staff, honing his focus on one of the flyers on their eastern flank. Just as the wing beats of juron faintly echoed in Brasen’s ears, he heard Donovan’s booming cry fill the valley: “To the Words! Let these vermin feel the power of our united voice!”
Instantly Brasen bellowed out in Dei’lo, his own voice joined with a thundering chorus, and more than a thousand shafts of white lighting bolted toward the skies. Three hundred Sa’lei shields crackled to life in response, and the walls of Wordhaven moaned as if pained by the presence of Sa’lei so close to its chambers. Dozens of mon’jalen plummeted from the sky, their unmounted juron beating their wings skyward in blind panic. Those guardians struck down but not slain by the lightning were maimed by the fall. But a few managed the Words to land without injury, and were quickly encircled by the warriors on the ground.
Unlike in previous attacks, however, this time the mon’jalen who remained aloft did not retreat. Instead, they lashed out with black lightning and wind, apparently seeking to corral Wordhaven’s forces closer to the forest south of the lion gate. A haze of blue light gleamed above the mass as the fighters fought to stave off the malevolent wind.
“Hold your ground!” commanded Donovan, his booming voice carried on the winds of the attack. Upon hearing the Head of Arms, Brasen quickly echoed the command from his position on the eastern flank, using the Words to make his voice heard. But on the northern front of the division where the black lightning struck hardest, many shields buckled and screams arose to fill the air with sorrow and dread. “Hold your ground!” Brasen heard Donovan call again. Donovan needed to stay in the center of the division, where his Worded commands could be heard by all. But the northern front was buckling and Brasen wondered if he should try to get there with his men, or hold his post. He tried to think of Words that would clear a path through the wind, in case Donovan commanded him.
Just then, a few scores of mon’jalen broke formation with the main Council force and dived straight for the eastern flank. Knowing that with their regular strategy some would get through their defenses, Brasen called out to the hundred or so warriors closest to him, “Listen, quickly and do as I say! Form up in threes. Choose a single target, and attack it in unison. Speak to the juron first. Destroy the beast and guardian will plummet to his death. But speak together, the three of you, one target! Go!”
The warriors obeyed without hesitation. Streams of white heat soon launched in rapid progression toward the darkness above, each bundle of lightning now three times the strength of one voice alone. With every mark hit, the juron burst asunder, its rider’s Worded sphere no match for Dei’lo.
Upon seeing the effect of this new tactic, other warriors quickly joined in, and not one juron made it alive all the way to the ground. But some of the mon’jalen did, having leaped from their beasts and tumbled down to earth on Sal’ei-wrought winds.
With the juron cleared away, at least for the moment, Brasen summoned a sphere of flight and protection and rose himself above the fray, calling forth fire upon each mon’jalen he could see. Other captains of the troops followed suit, rising above the battle like beacons of courage and strength to the men below, their Words engulfing the mon’jalens’ shields in so much fire and smoke that they could not see clearly enough to attack. One by one they died, by Word or sword, until just a few remained, their shields crackling weakly as they stumbled beneath the weight of Dei’lo.
But this was not the end of it, Brasen realized, not by far. The rest of the attack force, still nearly two hundred strong, remained in the skies above, pummeling the central ranks of Wordhaven warriors with barrage after barrage of dark power—fire or acid or wind or stone. Their attacks varied, but each one was met head on with equal power from below, and even greater fervor.
But then, along the northern front, from the river that divided the valley, a waterspout rose, quickly towering close to three hundred feet into the air. It was wrought from Dei’lo, and Brasen assumed from the strength of it that Donovan must have spoken it to life. Its funnel formed a sinewy curve like a serpent rising to strike, and a heartbeat later it lunged toward the ranks of mon’jalen circling above.
The mon’jalen veered to avoid the strike, but some were drawn inside the vortex and were instantly shred apart, their blood momentarily darkening the funnel as it sucked their parts down its hungry gaping throat. Circling away, the main force summoned winds from above to try to push the funnel back toward the northern front. But the spout’s own winds intensified in response, and continued unabated, forcing the line of juron back toward the north, away from the main body of the Wordhaven division.
Brasen signaled the captains to return to the relative safety of the ground, and he did the same. His men stood agape in wonder at the apparition as it continued to press against the line of juron, pushing them back until there was a substantial distance between them and the Remnant force. None of them had been exposed to Words such as these in their training, and to them he could sense it seemed like a miracle. Brasen was more than a little awestruck himself. Seer and Ajel had taught him many powerful Words from the Book, but they had never mentioned anything like this.
Suddenly, in the widening gap created by the funnel between the warriors and the mon’jalen, hundreds more Wordhaven fighters began to materialize. “It’s the second division!” Brasen cried aloud, but the men nearby seemed not to hear him, so caught up they were in the scene unfolding before their eyes. The instant new warriors appeared, they raised high their focus staffs and with their voices launched a fresh barrage of white lightning into the skies. A cheer arose among Brasen’s men, and Brasen himself, and they quickly joined their kinsmen in a chorus of white death, thunder and storm. More than two thousand bolts of lightning shot skyward all at once. It appeared as a brilliant sheet of raw white death, so thick with power that it outmatched the sun. Brasen winced at the sound of it, like the roar of the great falls at Valor’s Trench but far louder and more terrible. He could not see the sky anymore, nor the mon’jalen. The entire canopy of Wordaven’s valley was lost in white fire.
Then as if in one collective sigh of awe, the Wordhaven army fell silent. The lighting faded, and wisps of smoke appeared in the sky, a few at first then more as Brasen’s eyes adjusted to the diminished light of ordinary day. The waterspout dispersed as well, dissolving into a misty vapor that drifted in a cloud above the battlefield. Behind the mists, winged balls of fire appeared, and Brasen instantly knew them for what they were: juron set ablaze, their riders glued to their backs by the white heat of the Words, which had melted the flesh of their bodies, beast and human, into one. Many others lay sprawled on the meadows below aside their juron, scorched and smoking and as still as death.
Only a few mon’jalen remained untouched, by luck perhaps. But they were panicked and confused. There was no cohesion among them anymore. They ran or flew this way and that, and the Remnant warriors quickly pursued them, with both Word and body. Brasen sighed in approval. A few months ago many of the men and women in the field had been hiding in their homes, cowering in fear of the guardians of Phallenar. But now, look at them. Still green, perhaps, but warriors all. Swept up in the bloodlust for victory, they charged the enemy like lions on the trail of an injured bull ox.
As the last of the black-garbed mon’jalen fell, a raucous cheer erupted on the field. Soldiers raised their staffs in triumph, shaking their fists toward the still smoke-filled sky in defiance. Their glistening faces reflected their pride, and betrayed their great relief. This was the largest attack yet. Three hundred mon’jalen mounted on juron—destroyed! And though it would be a while before their numbers could be counted, it seemed to Brasen that the casualties among the Wordhaveners had been mercifully small.
As the cheers continued, Ajel and Donovan rose above the warriors, lifted not by the Words but by the shoulders of those they commanded. A fresh cry rose up, and Ajel laughed, his hands held high in a celebratory wave. But Donovan did not smile at all. Such sloppy behavior in the ranks would not sit well with the man, Brasen knew. He likely tolerated it only with Ajel’s insistence. And he probably despised being hefted aloft as well, bandied about on the shoulders of men, so far from the ground. Where was the control in that?
A sudden slap on the back, and Brasen turned to see one of his men smiling with tears, reaching to hug him. He laughed and embraced him, then told him to clean up his face. Another followed, and then a third. The fourth he stopped with a shove and said that’s enough.
“Form up,” he commanded. He used no Words, but the tone of his voice cast a chill over the merriment all the same. “No one has been dismissed here.” Quickly, the warriors jumped into place, the remnant of their smiles quickly fading, and replaced with the hard blank stare of a people who know how to kill.
“Elo fre’ meson’vel,” whispered Brasen, then said aloud, “You’ve done well today,” his voice now magnified by Dei’lo. “Today, you’ve shown yourselves to be warriors. Just a few months ago a battle like the one you fought today would have been thought impossible. But with the Words in our soul, and this place at our back, the impossible has become reality.
“Even so, do not cheer too much. For this was just the beginning of pain. Today we were two thousand against three hundred. But the horde that is coming is fifty times larger. Maybe more. What will you do when they arrive at our gates? Think on that as you revel in your victory. Stay sober! This war has not yet begun.”
I love that you started with a nice, messy, kick-the-bad-guys-in-the-teeth battle!! Boo-YAH!! :-D
Thanks, Michelle. Me too. They deserve it. :)
A strong start, Michael. Thanks for inviting us to participate.
To begin, I have a couple of technical requests.
* Do you have an RSS feed available for this blog? Announcing new entries on Twitter is fine, but it would be a lot easier to find, organize, and reference these posts if they could be picked up directly by feed reader programs like Google Reader.
* Is there a way to unobtrusively provide a means to succinctly reference certain sections of each post (i.e. paragraph numbers)? This would need to be done in a fashion that does not distract from the story, but such a tool would help readers wishing to comment to easily hone in on the material they want to discuss.
Here are some initial thoughts on the chapter itself. Just small stuff.
* In the paragraph near start of the piece beginning with “No matter.” there is a change in tense in the sentence, “In a battle such as this, it is inevitable that a single enemy attacker may be missed sometimes…”. You might want to say “it was inevitable”. The phrase “with all the fighters focusing their attention on his comrades” seems awkward, too.
* You use the phrase “white death” twice in the same paragraph when the second division arrives. Can you mix this up a bit? (Maybe something like “a sheet of raw and blazing fury” for the second occurrence?)
Am I correct in thinking that this is a parallel narrative to the first part of Waymaker chapter 37? If so, it’s nice to get another Wordhavener’s perspective on this (especially if you plan to develop Brasen Stonegaurd’s character more in this novel). However, some of this is a bit redundant since we already know that this was just the first wave of the Council’s attack. If this chapter is to serve as a prologue like the ones in the first two books, you might want to end it with more of a cliffhanger.
Thanks again for the chance to be part of this process.
Thanks Simon. Great thoughts & suggestions. I’ll see what I can do about RSS and paragraph markers too. Thanks!
Wow! That’s not before-bed-time reading! Michael this is great – more than I was expecting…you know how often second or third books in a series don’t really measure up? This does.
Thanks so much, Erika. That means a lot!
Only one question…since you are posting the book on here. Does that mean that it will not be published. I would like to have a copy of it for my library.
I LOVE reading these books…spend too many nights saying just one more chapter to myself.
Thanks for the encouragement! And good news! In addition to posting the book online, I will also be publishing the book in physical form when it’s complete. Actually the online version is the pre-edited version, so the final will be even better! At least, there won’t be as many typoes… :)
You are without a doubt one of the best authors of this century! Not only do you present a message of strong Christian ethics, but you do so in a way that puts the reader into the story, making us a part of the battle.
Your Pearlsong Trilogy has served to remind me that we are indeed still in a battle and the words we speak are a powerful weapon in waging this war.
God bless you for allowing Him to create this work through you.
definatly not letting me down, I’m hooked all over again already.
I would like to share info about these books but I can’t seem to say much more than “It is as good as Lord of the Rings” Thank you for such an amazing ride!
awesome books….great stories of light and darkness colliding…i am sharing them with my family and friends! looking forward to reading on….:)
"...a work of extreme depth and breadth of vision."
-Christian Fiction Review
Michael D. Warden has been working professionally as a writer and editor since 1989. After several years as Managing Editor for a large publishing house in Colorado, he stepped into the adventure of writing full time. In addition to his fantasy trilogy The Pearlsong Refounding, he has written several non-fiction books, and contributed to more than 150 other books and magazines.