Due to the sad demise of Samhain Publishing the Samhain editions of my Fifth Planet series are no longer available. However, I am now in the process of publishing all three titles with Create Space with exciting new covers. The new version of THE SWORD LORD is now available. SWORD EMPIRE and SWORD DESTINY will follow as soon as possible. The third planet trilogy, THE GODS OF ICE, THE GODS OF BLOOD, and THE GODS OF FIRE are already published with Create Space. All six of my epic sword and space fantasy series set in the time between the last two ice ages will again be available.
For a taster here is the first chapter of THE SWORD LORD.
They came from Dooma, the fifth planet in the solar system, a planet destined to destroy itself in the holocaust war between the two great continents of Alpha and Ghedda. They came in separate expeditions, each one seeking a potential refuge on the third planet, the only other inhabitable planet in the solar system.
They came in the dawn of time, when the Earth was young, to discover an ancient India, where the splendid kingdom of Karakhor was locked in its own deathly struggle with the massed forces of Maghalla and their allies of sub-human tribes.
And so began the tragic double love story; of Kananda, the First Prince of Golden Karakhor, for Zela, his beautiful golden-haired Alphan Goddess from the Stars -- and of his sister Maryam, the wild rebellious princess of Karakhor, who was fated to love, and be loved, by Raven, the ruthless, blue-skinned Sword Lord of Ghedda.
From the exotic mists of Vedic mythology, to the harsh and barbaric Gheddan Empire, where the law of the Sword is carried godlessly into the space age -- and back again to the great climatic war of the Mahabarata, THE FIFTH PLANET chronicles the last desperate days of one world, and the grim, blood-stained beginnings of another.
The preparations for the wedding had lasted for twenty eight days, and Maryam, Princess of Karakhor, had steeled herself to face her duty.
She had always known that when it came her wedding would be a political one, arranged by her father and his advisors in the best interests of the City and Empire, and now, in her eighteenth summer it was time. Her mother had told her what was expected of her and what she must do. All that was left to her was to pray to the gods that the husband she had never seen would be young, and kind, and handsome, and that as the seasons passed they would learn to love each other.
And now her husband-to-be was encamped outside the city with a huge entourage of warriors, nobles, priests and chieftains, their bright pavilions filling the open plain beyond the blue river in a heaving patchwork of tents and men, cooking fires and chariots, weapon stacks and banners. They were a small army, too many of them to be housed in the city itself. The central pavilion that was occupied by the man who was to be her New Lord and Master was the most magnificent of them all, a splendid erection of blue and gold silks flying the savage Black Leopard banner of Maghalla.
Maryam could see it all from the window of her bridal chamber high in the swan neck tower of the west wing of the Royal Palace, although she was too distant to pick out the faces of individual men. She did not need to, for since the arrival of her intended groom and his wedding party she had sensed the change in those around her, and she had heard whispered the name by which her Lord-to-be was known.
“Sardar of Maghalla, Sardar The Merciless.”
So he was not a kind and gentle man, of that much she was now certain.
For a while she had continued to pray that he might still be young and handsome, but even those hopes had quickly faded. Her mother and the other wives of Kara-Rashna, her sister and all her other attendants, had gradually become reluctant to reassure her on those matters, and had finally become evasive so that she had ceased to ask.
Since the arrival of the bridal party she had seen nothing of her father or brothers, or of any of the males of her household. Custom demanded that she remained in her bridal chamber in a purifying period of bathing and prayer, attended and visited only by other females. But the joy had gone from her mother’s face and her visits had become less frequent, and Maryam had seen the wet tears in the soft eyes of her half-sister Namita.
Inside the city, night and day, on all the altars before all the splendid temples, the scared fires had burned constantly over the past four weeks, wafting the holy flames and smoke and sweet-smelling incense to the blue or star-lit heavens. The priests had prayed and made sacrifices and intoned the sacred mantas to Indra, Varuna and Agni. All that was due to the entire mighty pantheon of the known gods had been offered in incessant entreaty for their benevolence and favour.
Maryam knew in her heart it had all been in vain. This was her wedding day, and the gods were not smiling upon her.
One of her attendants, smiling faintly, offered her a hand mirror, and Maryam looked critically at her own reflection. She was beautiful. She knew she was beautiful because all those around her had always told her so. Her sister and her hand-maidens envied her, the young men of the palace composed sonnets and heaped her with flattery and praises, and even her own brothers smiled and admitted that she was beautiful. But today there was a tinge of paleness to her flawless, dusky cheeks. There were faint lines of stress and tension at the corners of her honey-brown eyes that lacked their normal sparkle. Her mouth was too grim. Her glorious black hair had been washed and oiled, scented and braided, and garlanded with white flowers, but still it seemed to lack its normal shine and lustre. Despite all her bridal finery, the pure white sari, the golden sashes and bangles, and the fortune in sparkling jewels with which she was draped and encrusted, she did not feel beautiful.
She turned her head to look at Namita, her younger half sister who was also her chief bridesmaid. Namita, dressed in yellow and blue silks to honour Maghalla, and almost as bejeweled as the bride, cast her eyes downward and could not meet her gaze.
Maryam smiled sadly. “Sardar is not handsome, is he?”
Namita hung her head mutely. Her shoulders made an attempt to shrug.
“Sardar is not young, is he?”
There was still no answer.
Maryam put her hand to Namita’s chin and lifted gently. Wet eyes stared back at her and then Namita threw her arms around her sister and began to sob.
“Sardar the Merciless,” Maryam said bitterly. “Is old and ugly.”
The other girls who were her attendants, three daughters of the three noblest houses of Karakhor, drew back uncomfortably and exchanged distressed glances. Two of them also began to silently weep.
After a moment Maryam pulled a silk handkerchief from beneath one of her golden wrist bangles and tenderly dried Namita’s eyes. “Tell me what you know,” she ordered. “I must face my betrothed in an hour. In two he will be my husband. It will be best if I go prepared.”
Namita choked and cleared her throat. “No one knew,” she whispered. “No one knew until he appeared at our gates. Even Jahan did not know. His spies send endless reports to tell him how many warriors Maghalla can raise, how many spears, how many war elephants, how many chariots. It is said that Jahan knows every word that is spoken in Maghalla’s secret councils. But no one thought it necessary to tell him of this.”
“That Sardar is old and ugly.” Maryam grimaced. “Men would not think that such things are important. Men are fools who think only of war and politics.”
“Our father is furious, and so is Lord Jahan.” Namita weakly defended them. “Kara-Rashna has sworn that those of his council who urged and advised this marriage will pay with their heads -- and Jahan has threatened to whip every spy in his employ. Your brother Kananda wants war with Maghalla now, rather than see this marriage go ahead, and there are many who would unsheathe their swords beside him.”
“But the marriage will go ahead,” Maryam knew, and her tone was heavy with despair, “Because Karakhor needs this alliance with Maghalla.”
“Yes,” Namita said wretchedly. “I have heard our uncles say that to cancel the marriage now will be a terrible insult to Maghalla. Now that Sardar has arrived with his wedding party we cannot send them away without their promised bride. It will mean a certain and terrible war. Even so they are divided as to what we should do.”
“And what does my father say?”
“Kara-Rashna rages. But he says that now the honour of Karakhor is also at stake. He does not fear war, but he will not lose honour.”
“Our father was always a proud man, a noble King.” Maryam spoke with a ring of pride in her own voice, although her heart felt cold and dead as ice inside her breast.
Namita nodded, and again all four of the bridal attendants were helplessly weeping.
“Shut up, all of you!” Maryam snapped and stamped her foot. “I am a Princess of Karakhor. I know my duty. And if this is what it must be, then I will do it.” Her chin thrust defiantly forward, and with more courage than she felt she finished bravely. “I will not be the first young bride who goes to an old and ugly husband. It happens more often than not.”
There was a shuffling of feet, a drying of eyes, and reluctantly the girls continued their tasks, straightening folds in the silk sari and the fine lace shawls, loading her arms, wrists and throat with even more gold and jewels. The gemstones were all white diamonds and blue sapphires. They seated her gently to ease soft slippers on to her feet, and each slipper was almost invisible beneath its scintillating layer of fine blue stones. Maryam stared down at them gloomily, and reflected that each shoe was worth a fortune beyond the wildest dreams of almost all of her father’s subjects, but that neither could buy back the lost days of her childhood and freedom. Suddenly, with an awful urgency and poignancy, all that her breaking heart wanted was to be a child again.
The morning sunlight streamed through the high tower window, and its passage round her chamber marked the moving hours of the day. The hours were passing too quickly.
I am a Princess of Karakhor, she told herself resolutely. I will do my duty. She repeated the vow over and over in her mind, like one of the boring mantras of the priests.
Her hand-maidens worked in silence, and when they were satisfied that there were no more adjustments that could be made they stood back and simply waited.
The inexorable line that divided sunlight from shadow continued its remorseless progress round the walls, lighting up the rich silk drapes with their embroideries, where deer and other gentle animals played and grazed, and birds and butterflies fluttered over glades of cool shade and running water. The line passed over the tall vases of fresh cut flowers, and the wall niches where the statues of the gods were enthroned. The sunlight reached the impassive face of Varuna, the Supreme God above all others, and her time had run out. It was noon, the God had no reprieve to offer her, and her father’s knock sounded on the door.
The girls looked at each other, and then slowly Namita moved to open the door. The others helped Maryam to rise to her feet. She faced her father in the open doorway.
Kara-Rashna, King of Karakhor, Lord of the Golden City, and of the greatest and most far-flung Empire that the world had ever known, still looked every inch of every one of all his royal titles. That is until he moved, for only then did the stiff right arm and leg show that he was no longer the strong young lion of his youth. His beard and moustaches, despite being carefully oiled and tinted, still showed touches of the grey that was now in his eyebrows and hair. His turban and tunic were resplendent with every known gemstone, the blood-red of rubies and the green of emeralds, mixing with the white and blue of diamonds and sapphires, all of them set in pendants, rings and bracelets of gold. For gold was the symbol of Karakhor. Gold spoke of her immense wealth, which in turn spoke of her prestige and power.
Kara-Rashna was all-powerful, all-mighty, all-merciful, descended from the gods, and almost their equal. Yet today he was struck dumb. It might have been her own compelling beauty, Maryam thought fleetingly, or his own parental pride, but mostly she realized, it was pain and embarrassment.
“My daughter -- ” Kara-Rashna began, but then his words stumbled and failed him.
Beside him was Kaseem, the High Priest of Karakhor, the holiest of all the holy men and Brahmins who filled the many temples. Behind him two more priests in their simple white robes, and behind them a small escort of the palace guard in gleaming bronze and leather. All of them looked uncomfortable.
Maryam steeled herself anew, and drew a deep breath as she stepped forward and offered her right hand. The gold bangles shook only slightly on her slim wrist.
“I know, father,” she said softly, “ And I understand.”
A tear glistened in the corner of his eye, but willpower held it back as he forced the grimace of a smile. He took her right hand in his left and turned. The priests moved aside. The guards parted to let them through. Maryam walked bravely beside her father and the small procession formed behind them as they reached and began to descend the circular stone stairway that led down from the tower.
I am a Princess of Karakhor, Maryam repeated stubbornly in her mind. I will do my duty.
The silent vow was hollow, and no longer gave her comfort. The face of her father, and the crushed and wretched face of Kaseem, who had also loved her as devotedly as any uncle, all boded ill. She began to fear that Sardar was not merely old and ordinarily ugly. There was something more.
They reached the foot of the staircase and progressed along a stone-pillared corridor to reach the Great Hall of the palace. Here a great throng awaited them, her mother, her aunts, her uncles and her brothers, and all the great heads and nobles of the powerful bloodlines that made up the great houses of Karakhor. All of them wedding guests dressed in their most colourful finery. There were a few polite handclaps, a few forced smiles, but no real joy. She looked into the face of Jahan, the Warmaster General of Karakhor, an honourary uncle, but the one whom she loved best of all, and although he met her eye without blinking his grizzled face was a mask of iron. Beside him stood Kananda, her full brother, looking as though a caged tiger savaged his breast from the inside.
Maryam’s heart sank even further inside her. She looked away from them, through the avenue formed by their waiting bodies to the high arched doorway that opened out on to the courtyard at the far end of the hall. Outside in the courtyard the wedding party from Maghalla waited with as many of their entourage as could be crowded between the enflanking colonnades. The musicians were playing and there was the sound of coarse laughter and merriment. The sacrificial altar burned with high bright flames before the fountains in the center of the courtyard. She could see their glitter and the plumes of white smoke reaching into the blue sky.
Her father would give her hand into the hand of Sardar of Maghalla and speak the holy words of bride-giving. Kaseem would offer sacred prayers and blessings. The fires would flare and Sardar would lead her three times around the sacred flames and the ritual would be complete. Sardar The Merciless would be her new Lord and Master.
Maryam held her head high, her chin forward, gripped hard on the cold hand of Kara-Rashna, and took the first step down the long hall to the open courtyard. I am a Princess of Karakhor, her strong will insisted. I will do my duty.
Her procession swelled behind her and a trumpet fanfare filled the great dome ceiling and the arches above as the heralds stationed either side of the doorway saw her approach. The sound was joyful, exhilarating, and fought bravely against the subdued silence of her family and courtiers behind her. The trumpeters lining the walls above the courtyard took up the soaring fanfare, drums rolled, the conch shells blared, and Maryam stepped out into the sunlight.
She blinked her eyes, almost blinded by the glare. Her ears were momentarily deafened by the great roar of approval that rose from the massed throats of Maghalla. All her senses reeled, the smells of roasting meats, fresh flowers and fruits, incense and a thousand perfumes, all assailed her nostrils; and the sweet sting of the sacred smoke from burning sandalwood was a cloying taste in her throat. She swayed for a moment, recovered her balance, and opened her eyes.
A sea of faces stared up at her, cheering, shouting, pounding each other’s backs or pounding fists into palms. The men of Maghalla were clearly not disappointed with their new princess. Their women laughed and clapped more politely, and some of them had the grace to look jealous. They were rough faces, many of them brutish, but Maryam looked for only one.
Sardar of Maghalla was unmistakable. He stood a pace forward of all the rest with a small knot of resplendent chieftains and lords behind him. He wore tunic, turban and pantaloons of blue and gold, and his jewels were blue sapphires and yellow amber. A huge curved sword and an equally wicked-looking curved dagger with ceremonial jewel-encrusted hilts were thrust through the red sash at his waist. His hands were planted on his hips with the stubby fingers spread wide to display a score of glittering rings. A mailed warrior who could have dwarfed an ox held the Black Leopard banner so that it floated boldly above his master’s head.
Sardar was broad and squat, with shoulders even wider than his banner bearer, and his arms were long and powerful. There were tufts of thick black hair at his wrists and at the neck of his tunic, suggesting a hairy body that would be more like that of an animal than a man. He was not old, no more than forty years, but that was no consolation as Maryam stared at his face.
Sardar wore a fearsome grin on features that would have been ugly even before they had been brutally scarred. It was a face more ape-like than human, black and wrinkled with bloated lips and wide-flared nostrils. The deep set eyes were coal black in red-veined whites, and reminded Maryam of a wild pig she had seen once in a cage on the market. The scar tissue that gave the final touch of horror began just below the left eye, slashed through the corner of the mouth, and finished in an unnaturally deep cleft at the chin. It was a face that she could not have imagined in her worst nightmare.
The shock as the blood drained swiftly from her own face only caused more laughter from the crowd below. Sardar saw her repugnance and only grinned the wider. She saw that his teeth were rotten and knew that his breath must stink. The brave words -- I am Princess of Karakhor. I will do my duty -- no longer echoed in her mind.
Stunned she allowed herself to be led down the broad swathe of marble steps into the courtyard, until her father stopped her face-to-face with the horror that was to be her husband. Behind her Kaseem was reciting a blessing and the other priests were chanting mantras, and in a half swoon the awful, sub-human face of Sardar seemed to dissolve, only to harden again as she forced herself to hold tight to her senses. The pig eyes burned hotly into her own and she saw that there could never be love there, only a fierce unbridled lust.
Her father had lifted her limp hand forward to place it in the rough, hairy palm of Sardar. Kaseem and the other priests fell silent, and even the crowd was hushed. The fanfare gave one last trumpet flourish and fell away into silence.
“Sardar, Lord of all Maghalla,” Kara-Rashna began his address in flat and hollow tones. “This is my First Daughter Maryam, beloved of all Karakhor. Take her hand and walk the sacred circuits thrice round the sacred flame. Let her be from this day forth, your own true and faithful wife.”
The speech should have been longer, with more flowering phrases invoking the gods and extolling the virtues of both bride and groom, but Kara-Rashna had to pause, to steel his own heart before he continued. Sardar was oblivious to such subtleties and to the responses he was expected to make. He tightened his grasp on Maryam’s hand, clearly eager to lead her around the flames with no further delay.
Maryam stared into his eyes, and suddenly the iron will that had determined that she must do her duty turned a swift, soul-searching circle in her mind. She was a Princess of Karakhor, and she would not accept this cruel trick of fate. As firmly as she had determined to endure and obey only a few moments before, she now decided with death-defying finality that she would not. Like a flash of fire the word burned behind her eyes and was ripped from her constricted throat.
“NO!” She shouted, and tore her hand from the bestial grasp that held it.
She flung herself backward, but the crush of those behind her blocked her immediate escape.
“No,” she shouted again, defiant and trembling. “I will not marry him.”
There was a stunned gasp from the mass of on-lookers. Time froze. Kara-Rashna turned to stare at his daughter with a look of confusion. The face of Sardar grew black and even uglier with rage.
“What is this?” he snarled. “You are mine, woman. In Maghalla you will learn how to behave.” He stepped forward, snatched her hand again and dragged her toward him. Maryam struggled but this time his iron grip was prepared and she could not break it.
“Leave her,” a cold voice demanded. And suddenly her full brother Kananda was at her side. His left hand clamped upon her upper wrist, side by side with Sardar’s. For a moment she thought that her bones would be crushed between them, and she heard the scrape of steel upon scabbard as Kananda’s right hand half drew the sword at his waist.
“Gently, Lord Prince.” Jahan hissed in Kananda’s ear. The old Warmaster’s left hand was heavy upon Kananda’s elbow, preventing him from drawing his sword and pushing it back a few inches into the scabbard. But Jahan’s own right hand was resting on the hilt of his own sword.
Sardar stepped back, his face flushed now with rage. His own hand dropped to his sword-hilt and on both sides a score of blades cleared the first few inches of their scabbards. Maghalla and Karakhor backed apart.
“What insult is this?” Sardar roared, turning his anger against the flustered king.
Kara-Rashna was hesitant a moment longer, and then he sighed, almost it seemed, with relief. He stared from the grotesque face of his almost son-in-law to the white-lipped mask of his daughter, and then to his oldest and dearest friend.
“It seems our daughter shames us,” he said quietly. The reproach in his voice was for himself alone, and he too dropped his hand lightly on his own sword.
Jahan nodded, and in his eyes there was almost a smile. He glanced upward and both Kara-Rashna and Sardar followed his meaningful gaze. The trumpeters lining the courtyard walls had vanished, and from behind them had stepped forward ranks of archers. At Jahan’s almost imperceptible nod each man nocked an arrow to his bow. As always, the Warmaster General had been ready for anything.
“A trap,” One of Sardar’s chieftains snarled, his anger laced with fear.
“No trap,” Kara-Rashna reassured them all, “Just a misunderstanding.”
“I think,” Jahan said politely to Sardar, “That our daughter is unwell. You can see for yourself how pale she is, how near to fainting. We regret that for today the wedding must be postponed.”
“If there is no marriage, there is no peace.” Sardar bellowed. “This insult can only be wiped out with blood.”
He glared hatefully at his intended bride, and Kananda carefully handed his sister back to her attendants and their mother. The rank of his brothers and uncles re-formed behind him. Maryam stared at their defensive backs and listened to Sardar’s vile threats and cursing.
With tears in her eyes and her heart beating wildly Maryam knew that she had won. Her father had relented and Karakhor would not force her into this marriage. She found her feet and fled back into the palace with her mother and her attendants running behind her.
She had failed in her duty, and had been reprieved, but at what terrible cost for the future she could not even begin to know.