While the warlike and merciless Aenir wreak havoc upon the territory outside the mountain stronghold of the clans, Sigarni, the Hawk Queen, arrives in a parallel version of her own universe through a gate in space and time. Taliesen, last of the gatekeepers, has no idea why she has come. But he knows that heroes are needed and grants her passage into the ravaged land.
Only Caswallon–loner, warrior, and thief–realizes the true extent of the danger and the mayhem that his people will come to face. As Taliesen tries to discover Sigarni’s purpose, Caswallon must attempt to unite the clans to overcome their greatest peril.
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David Gemmell was born in London, England, in the summer of 1948. Expelled from school at sixteen, he became a bouncer, working nightclubs in Soho. Born with a silver tongue, Gemmell rarely needed to bounce customers, relying instead on his gift of gab to talk his way out of trouble. This talent eventually led him to jobs as a freelancer for the London Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, and the Daily Express. His first novel, Legend, was published in 1984 and has remained in print ever since. He became a full-time writer in 1986. His books consistently top the London Times bestseller list.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Caswallon watched the murderous assault on Ateris, a strange sense of unreality gripping him. The clansman sat down on a boulder and gazed from the mountainside at the gleaming city below, white and glorious, like a child’s castle set on a carpet of green.
The enemy had surprised the city dwellers some three hours before, and black smoke billowed now from the turrets and homes. The distant sound of screaming floated to his ears, disembodied, like the echo of a nightmare upon awakening.
The clansman’s sea-green eyes narrowed as he watched the enemy hacking and slaying. He shook his head, sadness and anger competing within him. He had no love for these doomed Lowlanders and their duplicitous ways. But, equally, this wanton slaughter filled him with sorrow.
The enemy warriors were new to Caswallon. Never had he seen the horned helms of the Aenir, the double-headed axes, nor the oval shields painted with hideous faces of crimson and black. He had heard of them, of course, butchering and killing far to the south, but of their war against the Lowlanders he knew little until now.
But then, why should he? He was a clansman of the Farlain, and they had little time for Lowland politics. His was a mountain race, tough and hardy and more than solitary. The mountains were forbidden ground for any Lowlander and the clans mixed not at all with other races.
Save for trade. Clan beef and woven cloth for Lowland sugar, fruits, and iron.
In the distance Caswallon saw a young girl speared and lifted into the air, thrashing and screaming. This is war no longer, he thought, this is merely blood sport.
Tearing his gaze from the murderous scene he glanced back at the mountains rearing like spear points toward the sky, snowcapped and proud, jagged and powerful. At their center the cloud-wreathed magnificence of High Druin towered above the land. Caswallon shivered, drawing his brown leather cloak about his shoulders. It was said that the clans were vicious and hostile to outsiders, and so they were. Any Lowlander found hunting clan lands was sent home minus the fingers of his right hand. But such punishments were intended to deter poachers. The scenes of carnage on the plain below had nothing to do with such practices; this was lust of the most vile kind.
The clansman looked back at the city. Old men in white robes were being nailed to the black gates. Even at this distance Caswallon recognized Bacheron, the chief elder, a man of little honesty. Even so, he did not deserve such a death.
By all the Gods, no one deserved such a death!
On the plain three horsemen rode into sight, the leader pulling a young boy who was tied to a rope behind his mount. Caswallon recognized the boy as Gaelen, a thief and an orphan who lived on scraps and stolen fruit. The clansman’s fingers curled around the hilt of his hunting dagger as he watched the boy straining at the rope.
The lead rider, a man in shining breastplate and raven-winged helm, cut the rope and the boy began to run toward the mountains. The riders set off after him, lances leveled.
Caswallon took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. The flame-haired boy ducked and weaved, stopping to pick up a stone and hurl it at the nearest horse. The beast shied, pitching its rider.
“Good for you, Gaelen,” whispered Caswallon.
A rider in a white cloak wheeled his mount, cutting across the boy’s path. The youngster turned to sprint away and the lance took him deep in the back, lifting him from his feet and hurling him to the ground. He struggled to rise and a second rider ended his torment, slashing a sword blade to his face. The riders cantered back to the city.
Caswallon found his hands shaking uncontrollably, and his heart pounded, reflecting his anger and shame.
How could men do such a thing to a youth?
Caswallon recalled his last visit to Ateris three weeks before, when he had driven in twenty long-horned Highland cattle to the market stalls in the west of the city. He had stolen the beasts from the pastures of the Pallides two days before. At the market he had seen a crowd chasing the red-haired youngster as he sprinted through the streets, his skinny legs pounding the marble walkway, his arms pumping furiously.
Gaelen had shinned up a trellis by the side of the inn and leaped across the rooftops, stopping only to make an obscene gesture to his pursuers. Spotting Caswallon watching, he drew back his shoulders and swaggered across the rooftops. Caswallon had grinned then. He liked the boy; he had style.
The fat butcher Leon had chuckled beside him. “He’s a character, is Gaelen. Every city needs one.”
“Parents?” asked Caswallon.
“Dead. He’s been alone five years—since he was nine or ten.”
“How does he survive?”
“He steals. I let him get away with a chicken now and then. He sneaks up on me and I chase him for a while, shouting curses.”
“You like him, Leon?”
“Yes. As I like you, Caswallon, you rascal. But then he reminds me of you. You are both thieves and you are both good at what you do—and there is no evil in either of you.”
“Nice of you to say so,” said Caswallon, grinning. “Now, how much for the Pallides cattle?”
“Why do you do it?”
“What?” asked Caswallon innocently.
“Steal cattle. By all accounts you are one of the richest clansmen in the Farlain. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Tradition,” answered Caswallon. “I’m a great believer in it.”
Leon shook his head. “One of these days you’ll be caught and hanged—or worse, knowing the Pallides. You baffle me.”
“No, I don’t. I make you rich. Yours is the cheapest beef in Ateris.”
“True. How is the lovely Maeg?”
“Lungs like bellows.”
“Keeping you awake at nights, is he?”
“When I’m not out hunting,” said Caswallon with a wink.
Leon chuckled. “I’m going to be sorry when they catch you, clansman. Truly.”
For an hour they haggled over the prices until Leon parted with a small pouch of gold, which Caswallon handed to his man Arcis, a taciturn clan crofter who accompanied him on his raids.
Now Caswallon stood on the mountainside soaking in the horror of Aenir warfare. Arcis moved alongside him. Both men had heard tales of war in the south and the awful atrocities committed by the Aenir. Foremost among these was the blood-eagle: Aenir victims were nailed to trees, their ribs splayed like tiny wings, their innards held in place with wooden strips.
Caswallon had only half believed these tales. Now the evidence hung on the blood-drenched gates of Ateris.
“Go back to the valley, my friend,” Caswallon told Arcis.
“What about the cattle?”
“Drive them back into the mountains. There are no buyers today.”
“Gods, Caswallon! Why do they go on killing? There’s no one fighting them.”
“I don’t know. Tell Cambil what we have seen today.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll stay for a while.”
Arcis nodded and set off across the slopes, running smoothly.
After a while the Aenir warriors drifted into the city. The plain before the gates was littered with corpses. Caswallon moved closer, stopping when he neared the tree line. Now he could see the full scale of the horror and his anger settled, cold and malignant. The cattle dealer, Leon, lay in a pool of blood, his throat torn open. Near him was the boy thief Gaelen.
Caswallon swung away and moved back toward the trees.
I am dying. There was no doubt in Gaelen’s mind. The pain from his lower back was close to unbearable, his head ached, the blood was seeping from his left eye. For a long while he lay still, not knowing if the enemy was close by; whether indeed an Aenir warrior was at this moment poised above him with a spear or a sharp-edged sword.
Fear cut through his pain but he quelled it savagely. He could feel the soft, dusty clay against his face and smell the smoke from the burning city. He tried to open his eyes, but blood had congealed on the lashes. I have been unconscious for some time, he thought.
An hour? Less? Carefully, he moved his right arm, bringing his hand to his face, rubbing his right eye with his knuckle to free the lashes. The pain from his left eye intensified and he left it alone, sealed shut. He was facing the shuttered gates and the ghastly ornaments they now carried. Around him the crows were already settling, their sharp beaks ripping at moist flesh. Two of them had landed on the chest of Leon. Gaelen looked away. There were no Aenir in sight. Gingerly he probed the wound above his left hip, remembering the lance that had cut through him as he ran. The wound still bled on both sides, and the flesh was angry and raw to the touch.
Turning his head toward the mountains, and the tall pine trees on the nearest slope, he tried to estimate the time it would take him to reach the safety of the woods. He made an effort to stand, but a roaring began in his ears, like an angry sea. Dizziness swamped him and he lost consciousness.
When he awoke it was close to dusk. His side was still bleeding, though it had slowed to a trickle, and once again he had to clear his eye of blood. When he had done so he saw that he had crawled twenty paces. He couldn’t remember doing it, but the trail of blood and scored dust could not lie.
Behind him the city burned. It would not be long before the Aenir returned to the plain. If he was found he would be hauled back and blood-eagled like the elders.
The boy began to crawl, not daring to look up lest the distance demoralize him, forcing him to give in.
Twice he passed out for short periods. After the last he cursed himself for a fool and rolled to his back, ripping two strips of cloth from his ragged tunic. These he pressed into the wounds on his hip, grunting as the pain tore into him. They should slow the bleeding, he thought. He crawled on. The journey, begun in pain and weakness, became a torment. Delirious, Gaelen lived again the horror of the attack. He had stolen a chicken from Leon and was racing through the market when the sound of screaming women and pounding hooves made him forget the burly butcher. Hundreds of horsemen came in sight, slashing at the crowd with long swords and plunging lances.
All was chaos and the boy had been petrified. He had hidden in a barn for several hours, but then had been discovered by three Aenir soldiers. Gaelen had run through the alleys, outpacing them, but had emerged into the city square where a rider looped a rope over his shoulders, dragging him out through the broken gates. All around him were fierce-eyed warriors with horned helms, screaming and chanting, their faces bestial.
The rider with the rope hailed two others at the city gates.
“Sport, Father!” yelled the man, his voice muffled by his helm.
“From that wretch?” answered the other contemptuously, leaning across the neck of his horse. The helm he wore carried curved horns, and a face mask in bronze fashioned into a leering demon. Through the upper slits Gaelen could see a glint of ice-blue eyes, and fear turned to terror within him.
The rider who had roped Gaelen laughed. “I saw this boy on my last scouting visit. He was running from a crowd. He’s fast. I’ll wager I land him before you.”
“You couldn’t land a fish from a bowl,” said the third rider, a tall wide-shouldered warrior with an open helm. His face was broad and flat, the eyes small and glittering like blue beads. His beard was yellow and grimy, his teeth crooked and broken. “But I’ll get him, by Vatan!”
“Always the first to boast and the last to do, Tostig,” sneered the first rider.
“Be silent, Ongist,” ordered the older man in the horned helm. “All right, I’ll wager ten gold pieces I gut him.”
“Done!” The rider leaned over toward the boy, slicing the dagger through the rope. “Go on, boy, run.”
Gaelen heard the horse start after him, and throwing himself to the ground, he grabbed a rock and hurled it. The yellow-bearded warrior—Tostig?—pitched from his rearing mount.
Then the lance struck him. He tried to rise, only to see a sword blade flash down.
“Well ridden, Father!” were the last words he heard before the darkness engulfed him.
Now as he crawled all sense of time and place deserted him. He was a turtle on a beach of hot coals, slowly burning; a spider within an enamel bowl of pain, circling; a lobster within a pan as the heat rose.
But still he crawled.
Behind him walked the yellow-bearded warrior he had pitched to the ground. In his hand was a sword and upon his lips a smile.
Tostig was growing bored now. At first he had been intrigued by the wounded boy, wondering how far he could crawl, and imagining the horror and despair when he discovered the effort was for nothing. But now the boy was obviously delirious, and there was little point in wasting time. He raised the sword, pointing downward above the boy’s back.
“Kill him, my bonny, and you will follow him.”
Tostig leaped back a pace, his sword flashing up to point toward the shadow-haunted trees as a figure stepped out into the fading light. He was tall, wearing a leather cloak and carrying an iron-tipped quarterstaff. Two daggers hung from a black leather baldrick across his chest, and a long hunting knife dangled by his hip. He was green-eyed, and a dark trident beard gave him a sardonic appearance.
Tostig looked beyond the man, straining to pierce the gathering darkness of the undergrowth. The warrior seemed to be alone.
The clansman stepped forward and stopped just out of reach of the Aenir’s sword. Then he leaned on his staff and smiled. “You’re on Farlain land,” he said.
“The Aenir walk where they will,” Tostig replied.
“Not here, my bonny. Not ever. Now, what’s it to be? Do you leave or die?”
Tostig pondered a moment. His father, Asbidag, had warned the army not to alienate the clans. Not yet. One mouthful at a time, that was Asbidag’s way.
And yet this clansman had robbed Tostig of his prey.
“Who are you?” Tostig countered.
“Your heart has about five beats of life left in it, barbarian,” said Caswallon.
Tostig stared deeply into the sea-green eyes. Had he been sure the man was alone, he would have risked battle. But he was not sure. The man was too confident, too relaxed. No clansman alive would face an armed Aenir in such a way. Unless he had an edge. Tostig glanced once more at the trees. Archers no doubt had him in range at this moment.
“We will meet again,” he said, backing away down the slope.
Caswallon ignored him, and knelt by the bleeding youngster.
Gently he turned him to his back, checking his wounds. Satisfied they were plugged, he lifted the boy to his shoulder, gathered up his staff, entered the shadows, and was gone from the sight of the Aenir.
Gaelen turned in his bed and groaned as the stitches front and back pulled at tender, bruised flesh. He opened his eyes and found himself staring at a grey cave wall. The smell of burning beechwood was in his nostrils. Carefully he moved onto his good side. He was lying on a broad bed, crafted from pine and expertly joined; over his body were two woolen blankets and a bearskin cloak. The cave was large, maybe twenty paces wide and thirty deep, and at the far end it curved into a corridor. Looking back, the boy saw that the entrance was covered with a hide curtain. Gingerly he sat up. Somebody had bandaged his side and his injured eye. Gently he probed both areas. The pain was still there, but more of a throbbing reminder of the acute agony he r...
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Book Description LEGEND, 1995. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0099355116