This is the second preview piece for my upcoming ebook The Young Hounds. Many years before the book’s events, the cruel duke Tarquin takes up the quest of sacred Vengeance and rides with violence into the east. What follows is a short history of Tarquin’s journey to his ultimate fate.
Six hundred years and twenty since Iodenos Rodos founded again The Empire, the Dread Winter was visited upon the western provinces. In the countries of the Delquins and the Norians, one in every six died of hunger or of disease. In every village the people wailed to the gods for relief but the gods remained silent. In every city, strange cults arose in service of strange deities, but these foreigners brought no aid. The dukes and great counts of the western realms, together called Sedonia since ancient times, despaired for they too felt the chill of this evil winter crawling through their royal houses.
Many great priests dwelt in the countries of the Delquins and the Norians and they beseeched their gods for some good sign. Following the knowledge of this sign, many did come to the city of Nacursa in the dukedom of Reudt so that three hundred priests came there. Greatest among these were Margot of Mumura who was secret pontiff to Hydonia whose voice is command, Deglen called the Bastard who was pontiff to Endres (who is also called Joria) who feeds the multitude, and Armaly who was archbishop of the great city Dolchesse in Dalcusa. Together they sought the guidance of their gods in order to dispel the curse laid upon their beloved land.
Twice seven days and four days more within the holy precinct of Nacursa sat the initiated. The fame of these priests and of their great work drew pilgrims and seekers from many places, these who had not yet abandoned the gods. The city of Nacursa grew in population four times its size with those waiting for the verdict of the divine. Dukes and great counts pitched their pavilions and even those who hated fiercely the duke of Reudt came to wonder at the magic being worked within the city.
Then from the holy precinct came Armaly of Dolchesse and Deglen the Bastard and Margot of Mumura and thirty priests who they had selected. They had entreated the gods, said they, and had been given the answer. A great crime had been committed long ago and never redeemed. This was the ignoble death and humiliation of Lysistos Theros, emperor of The City, guardian of the east and the west, beloved by the gods and keeper of their most sacred mysteries. He traveled east to achieve the glory of The Empire and failed. This was Fate and beyond the powers of mortals or gods. But for the sin of leaving his body in the east, him beloved of the gods of The City, the gods turned away from The City. They allowed The Empire to divide itself, and never to regain its former glories. They allowed barbarians to defile lands once held sanctuary. They allowed this great evil, the Dread Winter, to take hold of the lands of the Armics. All because the people of The Empire had so angered the gods by abandoning their Son to endless torture of the soul.
The favor of the gods would never return, they said, unless this crime be redeemed. These words they prayed to the memory of The Emperor Undead.
On the same night as these words were proclaimed, an angel of the air appeared in the pavilion of Tarquin duke of Dalcusa.
Said the angel:
TARQUIN I AM CALLED ABREL-ASHMAL
SOUL BUT NOT SOUL
MIND BUT NOT MIND
BLOOD CLEAN YE OFTEN TO VALUE WHITE
WHITE ARE YE KNOWN AS FOR YE ARE BLIND
DEATH WILL DEAL DEATH
BLOOD WILL GET BLOOD
SEEK YE THE HOUSE OF THE DEATHLESS ONE
SO SAY THE GODS WHICH HAVE SPARED YE YET
IN SERVICE OF THEM BLOOD NEED NOT WASH
BLOOD TO CLEAN BLOOD
DEATH TO PURGE DEATH
FEAR FOR YOUR SOUL IS KNOWN WELL REPENT
CRY FOR YOUR DEEDS ARE KNOWN WELL REPENT
HEED YE THE CALLING OF YOUR GREAT LORDS
VOICE OF THE GODS I ABREL-ASHMAL
SOUL BEYOND SOUL
MIND BEYOND MIND
In that hour Tarquin pledged himself to redeem the Ancient Sin.
Indeed was Tarquin duke of Dalcusa called the White for his great cruelty, his hatred of life. Many years had his people groaned more from Tarquin’s hand than the hand of Winter self. Yet the angel came to him and offered his soul peace.
So Tarquin the White went into the city called Nacursa and to its holy precinct where sat the gathered priests. Many were astonished at this, a man so hateful to the gods as he still entering the place they held dear. Yet no god struck him down. Tarquin bowed his head and said he came to pay homage to the gods and to do their bidding in the east. And Armaly of Dolchesse, who would be called the Righteous, accepted his homage. She then bathed the hands of Tarquin and cast a blessing upon him. And six others also bowed and swore their oaths, and Armaly took their homage and washed and blessed them also.
And many were astonished, saying that this great and hateful duke must have come under a powerful spell to pay homage to priests. Others thought long upon the words of the Prayer which had moved this ruler to act.
Tarquin returned to his dukedom of Dalcusa, setting himself grandly in his castle Alquinain near the cathedral city of Dolchesse. From here he had printed the words of the Prayer seven times and by seven heralds he sent the word through his land. Arise! said the herald. Save your land, so your children and theirs may prosper! Many heard and did not believe, but many believed and waited to be called.
The many nobles and captains of Dalcusa were summoned to Alquinain for the feast of Redenia who warms the world. There Tarquin provided for them well and they made all the rituals owed to Redenia. He gathered the lords of his realm together in the hall of his castle and told them all he intended: to travel east into Orris and do battle with the Kossors which had in ancient times laid low that Emperor of which the Prayer spoke, and in that battle recover the body of The Emperor Undead and destroy the house which preserved his humiliation. He meant to raise a great army for this undertaking and would do it with the blessing of his nobles if he was able.
A furor grew at these words and many lords were fiercely angry. Count Leuc of Guelsia, a mighty lord, complained at Tarquin’s abandoning the realm in its most dire need. All knew of the suffering of their people. All had seen proud horses collapse of a sudden and all had endured meager food at their own tables these last years. To leave Dalcusa while it withered so would be a sin beyond all others. The majority of the lords agreed with Count Leuc and said not to go. They said that they would seize the realm if the throne was left. So the duke told them to go and prepare themselves to do so; as for him, he had been called by the gods to go to the east and he would trust in the gods and their power.
Count Leuc and many of the lords then made ready to leave. They emerged to discover that the castle had been besieged by ten thousand peasants with staves and clubs, all who had heard the word of the Prayer and come to fight for their future generations. So Count Leuc and those who had followed him returned to the hall and delivered themselves into the duke’s mercy. Immediately, Count Leuc’s head was stricken off by Urien, called the Hound, a constant companion of the duke’s. Then Tarquin asked if the others would support him in going to the east, and they swore that they would.
Then came the duke’s children, Teia count of ancestral Ardule and Tolinder count of Magsa, who had come with the great army of peasants, and they too swore to go east. Tarquin said that this was good. Tarquin then told his many lords to go into their lands and muster their forces. Upon the feast of the first emperor, he would begin the march east. For those who failed to contribute, he promised that the vengeance he sought against the Kossors would be visited twelvefold upon them.
So, saying the words of the Prayer and promising to raise many soldiers for the cause of Vengeance, these lords returned to their own lands and pondered how best to answer their duke’s call. Tarquin himself spent these months arming five hundred good knights and many soldiers and archers.
Several lords sent gifts of coin, and Tarquin said that this was good. Others sent weapons, wagons, and other supplies, and Tarquin said that this was good. Still others came themselves, ready to war against the Kossors at the side of their duke, and these Tarquin loved the best. But those who had sent nothing by the Cariad were remembered grimly by the duke.
Upon the day of Cares the first emperor, Tarquin the White gathered his lords together in his hall to witness the coronation of Tarquin’s young daughter Theara as duke of Dalcusa. As she was but a baby, her mother and Tarquin’s consort, the wise Oamra of Kyne, would rule as regent in her stead. Those lords who would remain, having sent gifts or younger kin rather than going themselves, all did homage to Theara and pledged to uphold her rule. Secretly, Tarquin told his wife Oamra those lords who had defied him and instructed her to destroy them, which she promised to do.
So it was that on the feast of Cares Nominos Tullios, Tarquin the White led his many thousands from the city of Dolchesse towards the hostile east.
Other lords of other lands heard the call of the Prayer and gathered in their cities to follow this quest for Vengeance. The priests of many great gods entreated nobles small and great, even sending to the emperor of the Latter Empire for allegiance in this cause. Tarquin did not wait for them. On the feast of Cares he left to go seek the Vengeance of the gods.
In the towns passed by the army of Tarquin the White, the call was made for all those of sound body and mind to join the quest. Those who obstructed the quest were put to the sword, their lands torched. All stock and all goods were given to the duke so that the gods could have their victory. And when they passed through the lands of Wencorea and Tenfia the same call was made, and the same fate given to those who stood in their way. Many lords and captains of these countries came to aid Tarquin and he received them with cheer.
Many weeks it took the vengeant army of Tarquin to cross through Delquinia and past the borders which marked the enduring Empire of Arma. Into this land, Tarquin and his allies came armed with copies of the Prayer and of the Missives sent by the Nacursan Order to the Emperor. By this they hoped to be spared the wrath of the imperial soldiers. But Tarquin’s burning faith did not allow him to be silent, and many were slain at the hands of the Dalcusans. Through the Armadan lands the war party of Tarquin was shadowed by eagles. The great captains under Tarquin’s service begged their duke not to stray too far from the road and Tarquin saw their words were good.
When they came to The City they were awed at its mighty walls and towers which threw argent light out to break the darkness. They were met at the gates by the champions of The City. Their chief was Kerne, master of champions to the emperor, prefect of The City, watcher of eagles. Three armies surrounded the Delquins, said Kerne. If the emperor wished it they would be crushed. Only lay down their arms and the emperor would not wish it so. Then Tarquin asked worshipfully if the Prayer and the Missives had been received, as the poor assembly which followed him sought only to redeem the ancient sins of which they spoke. So Kerne said to him Bring those of your council and come with us to the Palace of the Purple.
So Tarquin the White laid down his sword and came with Kerne into The City. And with Tarquin came his children Teia and Tolinder, and his faithful ally Urien the Hound. And Ludmilla his magister came. And came the great knights Eon and Lucien, and Count Eglin Shortarm, and Jonice with the fierce brow, and the hermit Gonul who was said to be possessed by an angel of the air. All these passed through the gates into The City, while the rest remained outside those stout walls.
Led by Kerne the legate and the champions of The City, Tarquin and his council approached the palace called Tyria, ringed by great battlements and hung with banners of blackest purple. At this magnificence all marveled. This had been left to the emperors by the gods despite their evil sin. How much greater would the rewards be for those who exorcised it? These thoughts laid on the minds of all the western lords as they entered the imperial palace.
For two thousand years had the emperors sat upon the Chair of Majesty within the Purple and cast judgment upon those below them. In such wise did Cleodora, emperor of The City, meet the vengeants. Tarquin the White fell upon his knees and pleaded with her in the name of those wiser than he to support their quest against the Kossors. He told her of the great glory awaiting those who completed this Vengeance.
From that Chair did Cleodora cast her judgment upon Tarquin. She told the noble people of her court that she had been told the words of the Prayer and of the Missives and thought on them deeply. She could offer the vengeants her blessing and safe passage through the lands she ruled but no more, for her own augurs had warned her from leaving the walls of The City. In exchange for this, Tarquin swore himself to the service of the emperor while in the east, to conquer in the name of Arma and redeem the sin left rotting so long. So she blessed him and sent him with two legions to the borders of her realm.
These legions which accompanied the vengeant army were led by legates called Erastus and Tychos. They met with Tarquin and said that they had heard the words of the Prayer and thought them good. Tarquin was pleased and invited them to join his council, so that they stood at ten and two, which all thought to be an auspicious number. Tarquin said that they would pass through the lands called Paxia and come into the empire of the Kossors. The lords of Paxia were weak, said the legates, and would not withstand their combined force.
Seven days and then one night passed and the vengeants had crossed into Paxia. In that last night, a sign was seen in the sky. It was agreed by Ludmilla and all those versed in magic that this was a sign portending good and bad. There would be a great victory but also a sorrow.
And Tarquin said So is it always.
In the land of Paxia, the vengeants were beset by cowards who pinched at their sides like gadflies. Many captains and many lords became restless, and the centurions of the legions ached for their homes. The kings of Paxia owed homage to the emperor, so in the mind of Tarquin, all this land was his home. But he suffered the frustration of his countrymen and the wailing of the imperials.
There was a village called Nurennos which the legates Erastus and Tychos advised the duke Tarquin would be fitting to refresh his army. The lands surrounding were fruitful yet poorly defended, and in any case belonged by debt to a cousin of Erastus’s.
But here, from an obscure mist, appeared fully fifty thousand warriors, ahorse and on foot, flying banners high against the duke. These were not only Paxians but Kossors too, bought by arcane means to stop the vengeant quest.
Tarquin called his council and asked their advice. All said that they must make their stand here. So ten and two agreed and the twenty thousand commanded by duke and council stood against more than twice their number on the fertile fields of Paxia. The magicians wove their wards, studied their signs, and were satisfied.
In the first action, the spears and swords of the vengeants met the spears and swords of the Kossors, and arrows drew a veil of death over the morning. The vengeants fell back in poor repair but their spirit was not yet broken. Again Tarquin called his council, but now it stood at only ten. The legions and their legates had departed.
Teia and Tolinder, and Urien the Hound, and Jonice the knight, called for the legates to be pursued and killed. Tarquin knew that they must continue first against the Kossors, and said so with force. All his council and all his captains would mount again to drive the Kossors back and thus continue on their quest. They swore on the Prayer and girded themselves to fight on.
In the second action, the spears and swords of the vengeants clashed with the spears and swords of the Kossors, and arrows drew a funeral shroud over the land. In the din of combat died Jonice, and Count Eglin, and Lucien left his brother Eon alone in the world, and also died Urien whose faith had never wavered. And Tarquin the White had his horse killed from under him. A knight of the Kossors called Abebe recognized the duke and took him prisoner.
With great ignominy and in the swamp of treason was the duke of Dalcusa brought to his end.
So in chains was Tarquin the White delivered to the pavilion of Rasagertes, anax of Paxia. Succored by the sumptuous incense and the music of lyre and flute, this monarch asked why Tarquin had come with violence into his land.
Said Tarquin the White that this land owed itself to the emperor in The City, of whom he was emissary and avenger. Instead of paying proper homage this people had sold themselves as if they were meat to Kossors. The feathers of the Peacock Crown had long been painted in Paxian humor. For this reason the Paxians had debased themselves? A curse he laid upon this wretched crown of Paxia. If it had been in Tarquin’s power he would have killed every person living within Paxia, for they now killed his people in Dalcusa by prolonging this Ancient Sin. In the days to come, he swore, The Emperor Undead would stalk the halls of the anakene palaces to rip out the hearts of those who had kept his soul exiled and imprisoned. The gods themselves would lift Tarquin up to watch their vengeance return to the land of Paxia.
Rasagertes thought upon these words. Without speaking, and in great sorrow for he knew the words must be true, he ordered Tarquin to be dragged from his presence. By horses was the duke dragged unto the road, and there he was bound to a stake and stabbed through the heart by a sword. In this way died Tarquin the White, fired by the Prayer of Vengeance and never left by his angel even to the moment of his death.
Tarquin’s children, Teia and Tolinder, retreated from Nurennos still alive. They would go on to achieve new crowns in the lands east of the Latter Empire. But that story is not this, as this story is complete.