Iarraindorn was released on 1 June 2021. Read on for the latest sample chapter, and if you like what you read then order the book in hardcover, paperback or e-reader format via the Universal Book Link.
Several weeks after Anael had begun training Nuadhu and Pwyll, Judoc arrived in the town with a force of twenty warriors on horseback.
Although the warriors in Liuerpwl used lime to bleach and spike their hair in the traditional manner, in the town they were seen most often in normal clothing. Judoc’s companions, on the other hand, were all topless and had their chests and faces patterned with blue woad. It was easy to see how fearsome a foe in battle or village suffering a raid might find these white haired, blue painted beasts, especially with their howling war cry.
There was no howling when they rode into the town, thankfully, but they caused enough of a stir despite that. Women hastily called children at play back to their houses, those on guard called for reinforcements, and farmers ran back from their fields to face the newcomers.
Nuadhu was among a group of children close to coming of age, fighting together using wooden swords, while Anael and Pwyll both watched. When she heard the thunder of hoof beats, she instructed them all to stay together and stay out of the way, before drawing her sword and running towards the commotion. The children’s instructor knew better than to second guess her and herded them further away from the potential danger.
“Make way!” The front rider bellowed. “Make way for Judoc, son of Drustan, king of the Brigantes!”
At Judoc’s name, Anael and the others with weapons drawn all raised them into the air. A cheer went up as the warriors rode past the salutes and, freed from the arms of worrying parents, children ran after the procession shouting and laughing.
Once the warriors dismounted, it was immediately clear who Judoc was. He stood a head taller than the tallest of his entourage, the torc at his neck gold where the others wore silver and while he was as bare chested as the others he had a cloak about his shoulders held in place by a golden brooch.
He was broad shouldered, thick necked, with a bushy red beard at odds with his white hair. His eyes were cold, no trace of human warmth in them, and one wider than the other so that he always looked as though he was glowering.
One of the other warriors drew in close to Judoc. He was perhaps fifteen, shorter and scrawnier than his father with only the threat of a beard, but the family resemblance was immediately apparent. Side by side they waited, until Elisedd presented himself and knelt before the king with his sword out in front of him.
Judoc bid Elisedd to rise with a gesture and then regarded the man for several moments. Finally, he slapped the chief’s stomach and laughed. There was no humour in the sound. “I continue to be shocked that nobody has killed you in single combat for an easy promotion, old man.”
Elisedd bore the insult stoically, while his people watched with clear embarrassment.
“How can I serve you, my king?” He said as though the jest at his expense had never happened. “We were not forewarned of your visit, so could make no preparations…”
Judoc waved away the apology. “Not to worry. My business here should be brief enough.” He looked around at the assembled townspeople. “Where is the boy?”
“The boy?” Elisedd asked.
“Don’t play the fool with me, Elisedd.” Judoc said, raising his voice. “The boy. The one the demons of the Otherworld tried to claim ten years ago.”
Anael cast about, to see if she could slip away unnoticed through the crowd to get to Nuadhu. But before she could move she saw him, moving with purpose towards the king, Pwyll trailing behind him. He stopped at Elisedd’s side, dropped to his knees and presented his wooden sword to Judoc.
There was laughter all around, including from Judoc’s warriors, but the king himself stayed stern and it died away quickly. He gestured for the boy to get to his feet and Nuadhu did, standing as tall as he could and puffing out his chest.
“Who are you, boy?” Judoc demanded.
“I am Nuadhu, son of Caiside, my king. I am the boy you are seeking.”
Anael edged forward, mentally preparing herself to spring forward and fight off all the visiting warriors. Nobody noticed, as all eyes were on Nuadhu.
“Is that so?” Judoc looked briefly at Elisedd. “There is more iron in this boy than in you, Elisedd. Perhaps he ought to be the chief of Liuerpwl. Where are this boy’s parents?”
Caiside and Genovefa both appeared out of the crowd, shuffling nervously. They took a knee and intoned “my king,” reluctant to get too close to Judoc.
“Ah, not as bold as your boy, I see. Or as the boy hovering not too far behind him whom I presume from the likeness must be his younger brother. Tell me, is it true? Did the horrors that visited this town ten years ago come seeking your son?”
Caiside floundered, but Genovefa spoke up. “It is true, my king. They sought my son as I was giving him birth.”
The king narrowed his eyes and ran a hand through his beard. “It is true then. I had feared as much.” He nodded to his warriors, several of whom moved to put themselves between Nuadhu and his parents. “My sorrow will not make up for what I must do, but I offer you it nonetheless.”
Many things happened at once. The warriors drew their weapons, making the townsfolk draw back. Some cried out in distress. Caiside and Genovefa tried to push forward, but found themselves gripped and held fast by the warriors facing them. Anael drew her sword. Judoc grabbed Nuadhu by the arm and drew a dagger, and when he realised what was happening Elisedd took hold of Pwyll to keep him back.
“Get off me!” Nuadhu shouted, struggling.
Judoc didn’t respond, except to thrust the dagger at his heart.
Nuadhu shifted his weight and, with his free hand, punched at the weapon. His fist caught the flat of the blade and although the impact drew blood, it also bent and snapped the dagger. Judoc was taken aback enough by this to let go of the hilt.
Anael managed to force an opponent to the ground and then leap over him to get on the other side of the line of warriors.
“I see there is iron in your fists as well as your will!” Judoc snarled as he seized Nuadhu with both hands. “That will not spare you!”
Nuadhu continued to struggle and managed to catch Judoc in the jaw, sending him staggering backwards. Then Anael was at his side, her sword between the boy and the king. Nuadhu turned towards Elisedd, who panicked and shoved Pwyll towards him before fleeing.
Anael kept the brothers close behind her and stepped away, as now all the warriors advanced upon her.
“Don’t interfere with this, woman.” Judoc said, stern but calm having composed himself once more. “That boy must die.”
“You won’t have him!” Anael said.
“No? Do you really think that this one town can hold off the full force of my kingdom – or even that they’ll be willing to?”
Anael cast about. The townspeople were still staring, anxiety in their faces and their hands gripping their loved ones tightly. Everyone was scared. Caiside and Genovefa most of all.
Judoc followed her gaze. “Seize the parents!” He commanded. Two warriors grabbed them, forcing them forward to face Anael and their sons, then putting a sword to their throats. “Boy. Nuadhu, son of Caiside, I hold your parents’ lives in my hand. With a nod from me they will die. Is that really the price you want to pay for your own miserable life?”
Anael managed to keep Nuadhu from charging forward, but it was a struggle. “Why do you want to kill me?” He shouted, the tears on his cheeks echoing in his voice.
“I don’t want to kill you, boy.” Judoc’s tone softened, becoming almost sympathetic. “But as a king I must put the well-being of my whole kingdom before any one person, and if you live, we will all suffer the wrath of the Otherworld.”
“That’s not true!” Anael shouted. “Nuadhu is the only hope any of us have to survive the wrath of the Adversary!”
“What would you know of it, woman?”
In an instant Anael’s wings were visible on her back and her whole body was glowing with golden light. “I know far more than you ever will, Judoc son of Drustan. Let the boy’s parents go, leave this village and put your faith in the Champion as your only hope.”
Judoc gave the slightest of nod. The two warriors holding Caiside and Genovefa pulled their heads back and cut. They screamed. The townspeople cried out, the splatter of blood snapping them from the trance fear had put them in. Nuadhu and Pwyll both roared with grief and anger.
Anael knew that the whole situation would be lost if she didn’t act fast. She shoved the brothers hard, knocking them to the ground so that they couldn’t attack in their grief and get themselves killed. Then she was sprinting at Judoc, and the warriors were drawing around their king to protect him. She could have cut through them all, but in that time she had no way to guarantee Nuadhu’s safety. So instead she drew her knife and threw.
Then she was back with the brothers and picking them up in her arms before they could object. She flapped her wings, the beat rapid and deafening, creating its own wind. Once she was in the air, at least, they would be safe.
Once they were high enough in the sky, she took a moment to look down on the town. The death of Nuadhu and Pwyll’s parents had spurred the people to take up arms against their king, and the song of iron rang out over ground quickly sodden with blood. Liuerpwl’s warriors were standing their ground well enough with her training, but some of Judoc’s force were on horseback once more, running down farmers, fishermen, mothers and children.
Judoc’s men howled and whooped as they killed, all force and fury. It wouldn’t be long until the fires started, and all that would remain of the town Anael had saved and helped defend would be the heads of its people, taken as prizes. She turned away, seeking out somewhere they could set down in relative safety.
They landed in a forest, miles to the south, beyond the reach of the river and with no human habitation within a day’s walk. Once they were on the ground, Anael returned to a human form again. Pwyll was still crying, while Nuadhu roared and howled, kicking up clumps of grass and punching at trees, tearing up the bark but also bloodying his knuckles. Anael tried to stop him, to take hold of him and offer comfort but he pushed her away.
“I will kill him!” He shouted. “I will kill Judoc!”
“Nuadhu,” Anael said as gently as she could, “Judoc has destroyed Liuerpwl and we won’t be safe anywhere in Brigantia. We will need to stay on the move and go south whilst I continue your training.”
“What good is my training if I can’t avenge my parents?”
“If you don’t train and fulfil your destiny, then your parents will have died in vain. You are the Champion of Man, and that means that you have a responsibility to fight the battles that nobody else can.” “Fine,” Nuadhu punched the tree next to him one last time for good measure. “But I won’t forget my parents. Judoc said that I have iron in my fists, and so I will take that as my name. It will be Nuadhu Iarraindorn who ends his life.”