The War of the Black Tower:
Part One of A Dark Epic Fantasy Trilogy
by Jack Conner
When a dark power rises, only a doomed prince can stand against it.
The War of the Black Tower: Part One of a Dark Epic Fantasy Trilogy is a swashbuckling epic adventure. Imagine the reach of J.R.R. Tolkien, the propulsive action of Robert E. Howard and the modern grit of George R. R. Martin, and you'll have some idea of the thrills awaiting you in The War of the Black Tower: Part One of a Dark Epic Fantasy Trilogy.
Baleron is the youngest son of the king of Havensrike, a land eternally at war with the dark empire of Oslog to the south. Ruled by Gilgaroth, the legions of Oslog have continually striven to tear down the works of man and sweep the world in darkness. For eons the dark masses have awaited their lord's Chosen One, he who will be appointed by Gilgaroth to usher in the next age of shadow.
That time is now. Baleron, though a womanizer and rogue, the black sheep of the royal family one step from being kicked out of the castle, is loyal to the kingdoms of the north and wants only to redeem himself in his father's eyes. But as Baleron leads his sister Rolenya's wedding party through the treacherous Aragst Mountains, they're set upon by the dark powers, and the thralls of Gilgaroth call out to Baleron in worship, calling him the Chosen One.
They were almost on him. Baleron’s blood chilled to hear their howls at his back as he rode through the forest, Salthrick beside him, both ducking their heads to avoid branches dripping with moss. Sweat soaked his hair and trickled between his shoulder blades under his plate mail.
An arrow whistled by his cheek, so near it almost burned.
“Un rostrig cun Gilgaroth!” a Borchstog called behind him. “U Asguilar!”
“They’re closer,” Baleron said.
“Almost there,” Salthrick said. “I think I can—”
They burst from the forest wall. Unimpeded by roots and branches, their horses raced toward the bulk of Ichil Keep that reared against the sky, grim and gray, pocked by lichen and moss. Baleron turned his head to see the Borchstogs reach the edge of the forest and pause. The sun would pain them, the clearing before the keep intimidate them. Thank the gods, he thought.
The great iron doors of Ichil banged open, and Baleron and Salthrick darted inside. The courtyard was a great, bustling place like the rest of the keep, one of the largest of the border fortresses.
Baleron swung down as his brother Haben, one of the king’s eldest sons as well as the lord of the keep, approached, looking breathless and surrounded by a small group of nobles.
“Bal! All you all right? I was watching from the wall.”
“I’m fine.” Baleron’s chest still burned from the exertion. Behind him the gates slammed closed. “A scouting party, I think.”
“But it’s day!” one of the nobles said. Some of the others regarded Baleron with open disdain. “The creatures never attack under the sun.”
“Baleron’s right,” Salthrick said. His handsome, black-bearded face was flushed and sweaty. To him the nobles listened. “It was an organized band. Maybe part of a bigger group, I don’t know.”
“We were just going down the road when they attacked,” Baleron said. Then, to Haben: “You might want to prepare your soldiers. Just in case.”
Haben nodded. Turning to one of his retinue, he said, “General, prepare the men. It’s probably nothing that could hurt us, but it pays to be ready.” The noble bowed and departed. Others frowned at Baleron.
They’ve heard of me even out here. Perhaps I should have stayed in Glorifel.
Salthrick handed him his flask, and Baleron knocked back a steadying draught.
Haben sipped from it next. He and Salthrick were old friends and he did not begrudge the captain’s spittle.
“I’m sorry for your reception, Bal,” Haben said, and from his tone Baleron wasn’t sure he meant the Borchstogs or the nobles. “I was delighted when I got word you were coming to visit us. You haven’t ventured to the border in some time.”
“There were ... circumstances.”
“Was it ... another duel?”
Baleron grimaced. “Duke Eplan.”
“I told him he was mad,” Salthrick said.
Haben hesitated, as if loathe to ask the obvious question, then asked anyway: “Did you win?” Before Baleron could reply, Haben answered himself. “Of course you did. So now you’ve earned the enmity of House Eplan, too. It’s no wonder you had to get out of Glorifel. The downward spiral continues.”
Baleron went through the motions of stuffing and lighting a pipe, which hopefully concealed his shaking fingers. “He tried to cut off my head, Hab. Giving him his third blood was the only way to end the fight.”
Haben tugged thoughtfully at his mustache. “Why don’t you two get cleaned up and meet me and the others for dinner?” With his hangers-on, he vanished.
“Dinner sounds good,” Salthrick said, patting his belly. “I could eat a gaurock.”
It took nearly an hour to get cleaned up, and Baleron was glad of the guest quarters Haben had lent him. They weren’t spacious, but they were warm. Servants helped clean him and took his armor away to be polished while Baleron donned a robe and descended into the natural spring baths; Ichil Keep boasted a hot, steamy natural bath adjacent to the catacombs, and Baleron luxuriated in the feel of the hot water against his skin as he lathered himself and dunked his head, again and again. His fingers still twitched from nervousness.
I’m not cut out for this. Splashing his face, he pictured the eyes of the Borchstogs that had almost ridden him down, fierce and red. He had participated in small skirmishes before, but to be surrounded by the enemy, as he and Salthrick had been on the road ...
We were damned lucky we made it out. Salthrick was right; we should have traveled with a company. Baleron had wanted to keep his profile low, and his ability to travel swift, but that clearly been a mistaken impulse. The Borchstogs, though ...
Why would an enemy scouting party risk coming so close to the city of Ichil and its formidable castle? Could they mean to attack? At the thought, Baleron’s belly burned with acid. Keep it together, Bal. If it all goes to hell, Haben will alert Master Turran. The sorcerer’ll send for a host of riders to relieve us from another fortress.
But wouldn’t the Borchstogs know that?
He wasn’t the only one to come to the baths. Several other nobles had decided to partake, as well, and they gave him a wide berth. He was used to the treatment. Done, he dressed and made his way to the Lord’s Tower, entering the great dining hall where candelabras blazed with light and servants walked about with glasses of wine. There were already two score of guests here. Salthrick flirted with the serving girls.
The new night loomed black and cold outside, and a brooding thunderhead gathered to the south. Baleron ventured onto the terrace to watch the storm come in. From up here he could see the cleared slope south of the keep, then the tangled forest that led all the way to the foothills of the Aragst Mountains, the vast range running the width of the continent, from sea to sea, that separated the free kingdoms of the Crescent Alliance and the soft northlands they guarded from the empire of Oslog, where the Breaker ruled in all his terrible might and majesty.
“Rain will do us good,” a voice said from behind, and Baleron turned to see Haben. A stiff breeze had begun to blow, and Haben’s hair rustled in the wind.
“What are you doing out here? You should be inside, entertaining your proper guests.”
“And you’re not proper? What is this, Bal—self pity?”
Baleron sipped his wine, which was quite fine. “Far from it,” he said. “Just doing my part to maintain the festivities.” He flicked his gaze inside, to the finely-dressed nobles, some of whom lived in the city of Ichil, some of whom had come to visit. Haben was a well-liked figure in the kingdom, and most agreed that he would one day be king; he was rarely without visitors.
“It’s not as if you have the plague,” Haben said. “They wouldn’t run screaming if you joined us.”
“Oh, I’ll join you. When dinner’s served, I’ll be the first one at the table. I need something to soak up all this wine.”
Haben leaned against the balustrade. “You did well today, truly. You alerted us to a grave danger and lived. I’ve heard several people commenting on it. I’ll make sure Father hears of it.”
“It’ll take more than me running away from the enemy to make him forgive me, Hab.”
“Oh, I don’t know. It was your own fault that landed you in this position, and the hole that you dug by your own labors may also be escaped the same way.”
He steered Baleron inside, and the younger prince surrendered. He was beginning to smell the savory scents of dinner—roast venison and potatoes and custard, for a start. Servants came out of the kitchens wheeling gleaming plates laden with delicious morsels, and Baleron took a seat next to Salthrick. Normally commoners would not have been permitted at the table, but Salthrick’s friendship with Haben ran deep. Before becoming the captain of Baleron’s guard, Salthrick had been in Haben’s. Baleron had never been sure exactly what Salthrick had done to deserve such dishonor as being removed from his brother’s side and assigned to him, but he was sure it was something suitably vile.
At the head of the table Haben toasted his visiting brother.
“To Prince Baleron!” the guests echoed, with somewhat less enthusiasm.
Dinner commenced, one course after another—roast pheasant, peas and rice, salmon encrusted with walnuts. More toasts followed, a toast to the king, the kingdom, a toast to the serving girl, and so on. Finally a toast came that Baleron took interest in.
“To Rolenya, fairest flower in the land!”
At the head of the table, Haben smiled broadly. “May her wedding be joyful, and her marriage be moreso.”
“Ah, sod the bastard!” someone said. “I was hoping she’d be mine!”
Coarse laughter followed, and Baleron stabbed his fork at the man who’d spoken. “That’s my sister you’re talking about. But you have a point. He doesn’t deserve her.”
“No one could,” Salthrick said.
Dinner resumed. There was more talk of Rolenya and her wedding. Some said it would be the grandest affair in the history of either Havensrike or Felgrad, but Baleron barely listened. To his left the comely Lydia Tines giggled and flirted with him. She was young and blushing and wed, and she had heard of Baleron’s supposed valor earlier.
“You were so brave,” she said, more than once, leaning over so that he could catch a glimpse of her cleavage, and squeezing his bicep. “I heard you slew a dozen Borchstogs in your encounter, all by yourself.”
Thank you, Haben. “That number might be a bit inflated.”
“Oh, I doubt that.” She raised her glass to him. “My hero!”
Salthrick nudged Baleron. “Not again, Bal. Her father-in-law is General Tines.”
“I was just in town visiting my sister,” Lydia went on. “Just me and a few retainers. You know, it is so rare that I journey out without a chaperone.”
That couldn’t be clearer, could it? “Your husband didn’t know I would be here.” Baleron said.
Leaning over, she whispered, “Perhaps we should take advantage of that.”
After dinner they retired to her guest quarters, which Baleron was surprised to find were even smaller than his own—Haben truly had given him one of the nicest available suites—and she proceeded to show him why her husband rarely let her out of the house unescorted. Her only nod to discretion was her ability to achieve pleasure in relative silence, obviously a skill acquired to facilitate such trysts. Of course, plenty had noticed her talking with him at dinner, and Baleron knew, not without a twinge of sadness, that word would get out. It would not be long before Baleron had to sharpen his dueling blade again.
Afterwards, as they lay panting in her narrow bed, fierce rapping issued from the door.
“Hells,” Baleron said. “Please don’t tell me your husband followed you.”
A servant’s voice called through the door: “It’s the Borchstogs, my lady! They’re attacking!”
Read this book! Breathtaking action and very cinematic. I would KILL to see this made into a movie. The writing is tight and evocative. Baleron is a great main character, conflicted but noble. The villains are terrifying. Really a wonderful epic fantasy all around, layered with darkness. Definitely fantasy for adults. But it’s terrific. If you like sword and sorcery or high fantasy, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
From the Author
I write epic fantasy, high fantasy, sword and sorcery, weird fiction, steampunk, adventure, epic war fantasy, horror fantasy, epic battle fantasy, dystopian fiction, all with a focus on atmosphere and fast pacing.
I love Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Breaking Bad, Buffy, Mexican food, Star Wars, Casablanca, King Kong, and pizza. Deep dish.
I have a wife and two cats (though the cats would probably want me to put them first!).
I want my readers to have a great time with my writing, no matter the genre. I hope you have as much fun reading my novels as I do writing them.
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Until next time, happy reading!