Discover the heroic fantasy world of Nathan Hawke’s Gallow: The Fateguard Trilogy.
I have been Truesword to my friends, Griefbringer to my enemies. To most of you I am just another Northlander bastard here to take your women and drink your mead, but to those who know me, my name is Gallow. I fought for my king for seven long years. I have fled in defeat and I have tasted victory and I will tell you which is sweeter. Despise me, then, for I have slain more of your kin than I can count, though I remember every single face.
Collected here are the first three Gallow novels, along with a collection of framing short stories. THE FATEGUARD TRILOGY tells of the years when Gallow discovered that a man as notorious as he was cannot live a quiet life, and in the end must choose a side, even if that means betraying his own people.
And when you betray a king, you accept that there will be a reckoning. The Fateguard are coming…
Addic stopped. He blew on his hands and rubbed them together and took a moment to look at the mountains behind him. Hard to decide which he liked better: the ice-bitter clear skies of today or the blizzards that had come before. Wind and snow kept a man holed up in his hut with little to do but hope he could dig himself out again when it stopped. A clear day like this meant working, a chance to gather wood and maybe even hunt, but Modris it was cold! He stamped his feet and blew on his fingers again. It wasn’t helping. They’d gone numb a while back. His feet would follow before much longer. Cursed cold. He looked back the way he’d come, and it felt as though he’d been walking for hours but he could still see the little jagged spur that overlooked the hut where he’d been hiding these last few days.
Up on the shoulder of the mountain beyond the spur a bright flash caught his eye, a momentary glimmer in the sun. He squinted and peered but it vanished as quickly as it had come and he couldn’t make anything out. The snow, most likely, not that snow glinted like that; but what else could it be so deep in the pass?
Snow. Yes. Still, he kept looking now and then as he walked, until a wisp of cloud crossed the mountain and hid the shoulder where the old Aulian Way once ran from Varyxhun through the mountains and out the other side. The Aulians had fallen long before Addic was born, but that didn’t mean that nothing ever came over the mountains any more. The winter cold was a killer, but shadewalkers were already dead and so they came anyway.
He quickened his pace. The high road was carved into the mountainside over the knife-cut gorge of the Isset. It was hardly used at the best of times, even in summer when the snow briefly melted. No one had come through since the blizzards, and so he was left to wade thigh-deep through the snow on a narrow road he couldn’t see along a slope that would happily pitch him over a cliff if he took a wrong step. It was hard work, deadly tiring, but he didn’t have much choice now and at least the effort was keeping him warm. If he stopped to rest, he’d freeze. And it probably hadn’t been another shadewalker high up in the mountains, but if it was then he certainly didn’t want to be the first living thing it found.
By the time he ran into the forkbeards, hours later, he’d forgotten the shadewalker. By then he was so tired that his mind was wandering freely. He kept thinking how, somewhere ahead of him, one of the black lifeless trees that clung tenaciously to the gentler slopes above would have come down and blocked the road completely and he’d have to turn back, and he simply didn’t have the strength to go all the way back to his safe little hole where the forkbeards would never find him.
And there they were: four of them, forkbeards armed to the elbows and riding hardy mountain ponies along the Aulian Way where they had no possible reason to be unless they’d finally caught wind of where he was hiding; and the first thing he felt was an overwhelming relief that someone else had come this far and ploughed a path through the snow so that he wouldn’t have to, and how that was going to make his walking so much quicker and easier for the rest of the way. Took a few moments more for some sense to kick in, to realise that this far out from Varyxhun the forkbeards had come to hunt him down, winkle him out of wherever he was hiding and kill him. He might even have been flattered if he’d been carrying anything sharper than a big pile of animal pelts over his shoulder.
The crushing weight of failure hit him then, the futility of even trying to escape; and then a backhand of despair for good measure, since if the forkbeards had learned where he was hiding then someone must have told them, and there weren’t too many people that could be. Jonnic, perhaps. Brawlic, although it was hard to imagine. Achista? Little sister Achista?
His shoulders sagged. He tried to tell himself that no, she was too careful to be caught by any forkbeard, but the thought settled on him like a skin of heavy stone. He set the pelts carefully down and bowed in the snow. The forkbeards seemed bored and irritable, looking for trouble. ‘My lords!’ They were about as far from lords as Addic could imagine, but he called them that anyway in case it made a difference. Maybe they were out here on some other errand. He tried to imagine what that might be.
‘Addic.’ The forkbeard at the front beamed with pleasure, neatly murdering that little glimmer of hope. ‘Very kind of you to save us some bother.’ He swung himself down from his pony, keeping a cautious distance. It crossed Addic’s mind then that although the forkbeards had horses, they were hardly going to take the High Road at a gallop in the middle of winter when it was covered in snow, nor even at a fast trot unless they were unusually desperate to go over the edge and into the freezing Isset a hundred feet below. And if they knew him, then there was only one reason for them to be out here. He turned and ran, or tried his best to, floundering away through the snow, not straight back down the road because that would make it too easy for them but angling up among the trees. The snow shifted and slid under his feet, deep and soft. As he tried to catch his breath a spear whispered past his face.
‘Back here, Marroc. Take it like a man,’ bawled one of the forkbeards. Addic had no idea who they were. Just another band of Cithjan’s thugs out from Varyxhun. They probably looked pretty stupid, all of them and him too, not that that was much comfort. Struggling and hauling themselves up through the steep slopes and the drifted snow, slipping and sliding and almost falling with every other step, catching themselves now and then on the odd stunted tree that had somehow found a way to grow in this forsaken waste. The forkbeards were right behind him. Every lurch forward was a gamble, a test of balance and luck, waiting to see what lay under the snow, whether it would hold or shift. Sooner or later one of them would fall and wouldn’t catch himself, and then he’d be off straight down the slope, a quick bounce as he reached the road maybe and then over the edge, tumbling away among the rock and ice to the foaming waters of the Isset. Which for Addic was no worse than being caught, but for the forkbeards it was probably a worse fate than letting him get away. Perhaps desperation gave him an advantage?
But no, of course it was him that slipped and felt his legs go out from under him. He rolled onto his back, sliding faster and faster through the snow, trying to dig in his feet and achieving nothing. He could see the road below – with two more forkbeards standing on it right in his path – and then the great yawning abyss of the gorge. He threw out his arms and clawed at the slope but the snow only laughed at him, coming away in great chunks to tumble around him, past him. He caught a glimpse of the forkbeards on the road looking up. Laughing, probably, or maybe they were disappointed that the Isset and the mountainside were going to do their work for them. Maybe he could steer himself to hit them and they could all go over the edge together?
Two forkbeards on the road? He wondered for a moment where they’d come from, but then he caught a rock which sent him spinning and flipped him onto his front so he couldn’t see where he was going any more. A tree flew past, bashing him on the hip; he snatched and got half a hand to it but his fingers wouldn’t hold. Then he hit the road. One foot plunged deep into the snow and wrenched loose again with an ugly pain. His flailing hand caught hold of something and tried to cling on. The forkbeards, maybe? Again a moment of wonder, because he could have sworn he’d only seen four forkbeards with their ponies and they’d all been chasing him, so these had to have come the other way, but that couldn’t be right . . .
A hand grabbed him, and then another. He spun round, tipped over onto his back again, felt his legs go over the edge of the gorge and into the nothing, but the rest of him stopped. The forkbeards had caught him, and for one fleeting second he felt a surge of relief, though it quickly died: the forkbeards would have something far worse in mind than a quick death in the freezing waters of the Isset.
A cloud of snow blew over him. When it passed he brushed his face clear so he could see. He was right on the edge of the gorge, the Isset grinning back up at him from far below. Two men stood over him. They’d let go and they weren’t hitting him yet and so his first instinct was to get up and run, but getting back to his feet and avoiding slipping over the edge took long enough for his eyes to see who’d saved him. He had no idea who they were or what they were doing out here on the Aulian Way in the middle of winter, but they weren’t forkbeards after all.
The bigger of the two men held out a hand to steady him. They weren’t Marroc either. The big one, well, if you looked past the poorly shaven chin, everything about him said that he was a forkbeard. Big strong arms, wide shoulders, tall and muscular with those pitiless glacier eyes. The other one though . . . Holy Modris, was he an Aulian, a real live one? He was short and wiry, wasted and thin and utterly exhausted, but his skin was darker than any Marroc and his eyes were such a deep brown they were almost black. He was also bald. Their clothes didn’t say much at all except that they were dressed for the mountains.
The four forkbeards were picking their way down from the slopes above, slow and cautious now. The two men who’d saved his life looked at him blankly. They were half dead. The Aulian’s eyes were glassy, his hands limp and his breathing ragged. The big one wasn’t much better, swaying from side to side. Addic thought of the flash he’d seen from the mountain shoulder hours ago and for a moment wonder got the better of fear. ‘You crossed the Aulian Way? In winter?’
The forkbeards were almost down now and they had their shields off their backs. The first one slid onto the road in pile of snow about ten paces from where Addic was standing. He pulled out his axe but didn’t come forward, not yet. He watched warily. ‘Hand over the Marroc.’
The big man stood a little straighter. ‘Why? What’s he done?’ He was breathing hard and his shoulders quickly slumped again. He looked ready to collapse. An ally, maybe? But against four forkbeards? Addic glanced down the road, back the way he’d come.
‘Pissed me off,’ said the forkbeard with the axe. ‘Like you’re doing now.’
The stranger growled. The Aulian put a hand on his arm but the big man shook it off. ‘Three years,’ he snarled. ‘Three years I’m away and I come back to this.’ The other forkbeards were on the road now, the four of them grouping together, ready to advance. The stranger drew his sword and for a moment Addic forgot about running and stared at the blade. It was long, too long to be a Marroc edge – or a forkbeard one either – and in the winter sun it was tinged a deep red like dried blood. ‘Three years.’ The big man bared his teeth and advanced. ‘Now tell me how far it is to Varyxhun and get out of my way!’
‘Three days,’ said Addic weakly, bemused by the idea of anyone telling four angry forkbeards to get out of my way. ‘Maybe four.’ The forkbeards were peering at the stranger’s shield, an old battered round thing, painted red once before half the paint flaked off. It had seen a lot of use, that was obvious.
‘Move!’ The stranger walked straight at them.
Addic didn’t see quite what happened next. One of the forkbeards must have tried something, or else the stranger just liked picking fights when he was outnumbered and exhausted. There was a shout, a red blur and a scream and then one of the forkbeards dropped his shield and bright blood sprayed across the snow. It took Addic a moment to realise that the shield lying on the road still had a hand and half an arm holding it.
‘Nioingr!’ The other three piled into the stranger. Addic wished he had a blade of his own, and if he had might have stayed. But he didn’t, and there wasn’t anything he could do, and so he turned to flee and ran straight into the Aulian.
‘Out the way.’ He pushed past. The darkskin had a knife out but obviously didn’t know what to do with it. ‘If I were you, I’d run!’
The Aulian ignored him and took a step toward the fight. ‘Gallow!’
Addic heard the name as he fled. It stuck with him as he ran. He’d heard it somewhere before.
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