Seimon looked out over the battlefield below, taking in everything. The smell of blood, tinny on the wind mingling with the rancid stink of emptied bowels. The sight of hundreds, possibly thousands of bodies, most dead, all interlinked with ally and foe alike. The sound of pitiful cries from the few remaining wounded, crying out for help that wasn’t coming in time. But nothing matched the feeling inside. Survivors guilt, bitter and acidic on his tongue, the joy of living offering no relief from what he’d escaped.
He’d been sat in the local tavern when they’d come for him. Sat amongst his fellow farmers, shoulders tightly packed on the worn benches, every man onto his third or fourth pint of ale. That was pretty standard in Mapleshear, the gold of Vaddon Bonner stretching only to minimal wages, but the crops abundant enough for a healthy intake of beer. Long days tilling, ploughing and digging the land built up quite a thirst. Once darkness fell there were few who didn’t pile into the tavern for their share. Seimon lifted his to his mouth, his fingers tingling as the pains of the day began to wane, comfortable despite the crowded room and smell of turned earth and laboured sweat.
A bell rang and echoed from the rafters of the tavern as noise rose from outside. After cursory glances at the thick door everyone returned their attentions to their drinks and conversations, before the noisy entry of a small group of men drew their attention back. Clanking heavily five armoured men stood to attention at the entrance to the tavern ahead of the entry of another man, this ones dress far higher quality than the men around him.
“Good evening, good sirs,” he declared in a confident, firm voice, “I am Bedwyrr Stackpole, owner of these lands and Lord of all the people in it.”
A grim silence settled over the crowded room, the older men knowing what was coming, the younger sensing something wrong. Seimon was amongst the latter, barely out of his teens he could only fear the worse as the man continued.
“News may have reached your settlement that the throne of your king Iestyn sits empty in the great city of Brodon. As rightful heir to this throne I march upon the city to lay my claim. In anticipation of resistance to my passage to the throne I hereby declare the law of conscription upon every third man of fighting age. At dawn you will present yourselves to my officers in the marketplace and selections will be made. My force has made camp and is thirsty, therefore this beer will be claimed for there needs this evening. Return to your homes and assemble tomorrow.”
More clanking followed as the men vacated the doorway, to be replaced by a stream of more lightly armoured men, marching in and claiming the tapped barrels. Voices began to break into the stunned silence, as the shock set in and the more vocal youngsters began to protest.
“Quiet down lads,” called out Sion Mattick, tavern keeper, “finish up your drinks and head home, no use protesting.”
The older patrons were already on the move, setting their mugs down and making their way to the exits past the struggling soldiers, a single voice called out,
“It’s well and good that Mattick,” it was Meic Wren, village weasel, “you’re too old to be dragged off to war, it’s no concern for you.”
“Now, lad.” Sion stepped from behind his bench, his pained limp drawing everyone’s gaze, “you’re right, thanks to this, and my ageing limbs I won’t be called. But I’ll have to watch is the rest line up for their deaths in fights they didn’t ask for. In lands they don’t call home. For glories and rewards they’ll not see.”
Wren opened his mouth a few times, looking for a response before the keeper cut him off,
“See, I’ve been there son. I was dragged off myself many years ago, on another damned quest. Battle after battle I survived. Battle after battle I saw friends die. Battle after battle I lost more of myself to the slaughter at the end of my blade. Wishing for the end, but to fearful to ever let it happen, until finally my moment came. A rusting blade cut through my leg, near taking it off.”
He paused, his face full of pain, fear, and a tortured grimace only a veteran soldier would recognise, “but I didn’t die, did I. No. No I had to return, to watch generations grow to be your fathers, and the next generations to be yours, hoping for the next to be your children. Knowing sooner or later the call would come again. So don’t tell me it’s well and good. It isn’t. It’s going to be damned hard for everyone who stays, but nothing compared to those leaving are going to go through. And worse again for those who return. Now drink up, return to your women and say your goodbyes.”
Tears were falling from faces all around the room, men Seimon wouldn’t have believed capable. The older men continued their exit, most herding the youngsters along with them. Seimon had no woman to return to, there were a few girls he’d had moments with but none he wanted to see tonight. Instead he gulped down his ale, it felt thick and rotten now, not doing anything to help his dry throat now.
At dawn a weary trudging was accompanied by tears, cries and a few nervous laughs as bravado did its best to keep the men advancing. Seimon joined the throng heading to the centre of the settlement, he kept his head low, not interested in conversation now. It had been a long night. Traditionally a belly full of beer knocked him out as soon as he lay on his straw bed. Instead he’d lay awake, his stomach churning and brain imagining an endless series of gruesome deaths and injuries. Shaking off the memory he told himself there was only a one in three chance, he could be back in the fields by lunch.
As he entered the marketplace his senses felt wrong, the usual hustle of traders and villages not present, instead just loose ranks of farmers stood ahead of the more disciplined ranks of Lord Stackpole’s force. Lord Stackpole himself stood upon a platform at the edge of the central square under a row of swinging bodies. Seimon stopped, the men behind cursing gruffly as they were forced to pull up short, then cursing more violently as they saw what he saw. The bodies were recognisable as villagers, men who’d drank and toiled with them every day. Men who’d been in the pub last night. All men of fighting age. All dead.
“Move along,” a soldier in a rough leather jerkin shoved his way to them, pushing the men forward until their legs carried them on.
Seimon joined the growing crowd, the churning feeling in his stomach becoming nausea as it strove to empty itself. More men joined him, women crowding around the edges of the marketplace in the same way they did at the annual meat harvest.
“Gentlemen, good morning,” called out Lord Stackpole once it was clear everyone was assembled, “you’ll see above me the product of cowardice. Men I’m sure you’ll recognise, they attempted to escape the lawful conscription and paid with they’re lives for doing so. Unfortunately these fourteen men have given me doubts as to your loyalty to your Lord, and so in anticipation of future failed desertions the conscription will be every man of fighting age here….”
Seimon heard no more as outraged shouts and catcalls drowned out Stackpole’s voice. Numb shock and horror turned that lump in his stomach to something far more fluid, his throat burned as he coughed up the contents, splattering the men around him with its rancid odour. The reaction was minimal, he wasn’t the only one, and outrage at the pronouncement far outweighed a bit of vomit on your clothes.
The arrival of more soldiers had settled the protests and the men had been marched through the settlement onto the open fields and separated into smaller groups. One by one the groups were joined by a handful of soldiers and details were taken. Seimon scribbled his initial onto the paper, not surprised to see the majority of squiggles were just that, random marks. His aunt had taught him the basics of reading and writing before dying many winters past, it wasn’t much use to a farmer, but she’d said it was a skill for the future.
He had been conscripted to a unit of spearmen in the second reserve for Lord Stackpole’s army- reluctantly of course. The unit had been given a few days (A few days? I would think that the higer-ups would want more experiened soldires in even the most desperate situations but this is not my area of expertise so I could be wrong on this one…) drilling practice before the long march into Kriils. It was on the grasslands a few miles short of the border town of Graycott the army finally halted, weapons (What kind of weapons?) distributed and units fed. After a short rest the call to order had run through the assembled troops and Seimon had taken his place to march again. But as the army crested the hill above the town a terrifying sight was revealed. Lord Stanlow, rival of Lord Stackpole for the vacant throne, was waiting with a host far in excess of Lord Stackpole’s.
Seimon looked out over the battlefield below, taking in everything. The smell of blood, tinny on the wind, mingling with the stink of fear, sweat and far worse muck. The sight of hundreds, possibly thousands of bodies, most dead, all interlinked with ally and foe alike. The sound of pitiful cries from the few remaining wounded, crying out for help that would likely not be in time, and almost certainly not enough. But nothing matched the feeling inside. A feeling of guilt, mixed with relief.
He had been conscripted to a unit of spearmen in the second reserve for Lord Stackpole’s army- reluctantly of course. The unit had been given a few days drilling practice before the long march into Kriils. It was on the grasslands a few miles short of the border town of Graycott the army finally halted, weapons distributed and units fed. After a short rest the call to order had run through the assembled troops and Seimon had taken his place to march again. But as the army crested the hill above the town a terrifying sight was revealed. Lord Stanlow, rival of Lord Stackpole for the vacant throne, was waiting with a host far in excess of Lord Stackpole’s.
Rushed orders had the invading force take position whilst Stackpole’s honour guard accompanied him to the parley. From his position towards the back of the force Seimon could see little, but murmurings and rumours made it back to them eventually- this was an unbeatable force, outnumbered five to one, some rumours suggested far more. As the honour guard returned a flag was raised and the first troops began to advance, swordsman and militia moving to engage the advance elements of Lord Stanlow’s host. Seimon’s fellow spearmen moved forward on commands to take up the vacant space ahead and a cold feeling of dread entered the stomach of every man in the unit.
An hour after the first advance, nobody had details of the initial contact, but as wave after wave of soldiers were pressed forward, and the entire first reserve was committed to battle, the second reserve finally advance to a position in which they could see the massacre below. It was clear casualties had been heavy on both sides, but the steady stream of units advancing from this side of the plain was dwarfed by the numbers across the battlefield. It was at this point a cavalry force arrived on the East of the field, a mix of light and heavy horse advancing at a gallop into the flank of Lord Stackpole’s infantry. Lacking heavy cavalry of his own Lord Stackpole had immediately ordered his light horse to reinforce and waved the second reserve onto the field.
The reserve began to trudge down the field, swords ahead with spears following up. The light cavalry ahead reached the reinforcing cavalry of Lord Stanlow and was quickly repulsed. Unfortunately the line of retreat was blocked by the advancing swordsmen. Confusion hit the combined units as the cavalry of the enemy charged them. At this point men from Seimons unit faltered, some dropping their weapons and retreating, whilst others merely hesitated, unsure what to do. As the line became stretched, it was clear to Seimon the heavy cavalry would be upon them shortly. Throwing down his spear he quickly turned and joined his fellow recruits in fleeing.
As he reached his armies lines Seimon could see a furious Lord Stackpole hacking fiercely around him with his longsword, cutting down conscripts as the fled past him. One, clearly more travelled than the rest, dodged a swing from the mighty sword and planted a knife through a gap in Lord Stackpole’s armour, leaving it up to the hilt under his armpit. Caught by surprise Lord Stackpole sank to his knees as more men ran past to the safety of the trees behind. Seimon stopped ahead of his Lord, feeling no duty to him, instead feeling a raw anger as the potential for death dawned on him. He reached down to lift the greatsword, only to discover it’s weight was beyond his ability to swing. Abandoning the idea he instead reached for the knife- still embedded inside Lord Stackpole- and twisted, before tearing it out and pushing the man to the ground with his boots.
A cheer rose from around him as he moved into the trees, pocketing the knife as he went.
Now, some time later he watched with barely a hundred men as the victorious troops of Lord Stanlow looted the battlefield. The guilt at his murder of Lord Stackpole- aided of course by another whom he’s not seen since- combined with relief at surviving the battle. The relief was cooled by the knowledge it could only be a matter of time before the soldiers stripping corpses ahead were reformed and sent for the survivors. A fast retreat home seemed pointless given the lack of horses. Some men had left, but the majority held on, seemingly looking to Seimon for leadership or at least guidance since his killing of their former master. Seimon offered nothing, being no more than a farmer presented with an opportunity to slaughter a weakened man, he had no experience to draw on. No plan, no idea what to do next. Stackpole’s honour guard had remained with the group, offering no threat to Seimon, despite their role being that of protection, a role in which they had clearly failed.
So, after finishing The Portable Door by Tom Holt I immediately moved onto the sequel, in your dreams. At the end of the portable door Paul Carpenter had finally got the girl so I anticipated him messing things up very soon into this book.
Turns out I was wrong, he didn’t actually do anything wrong, she left him. What follows is Paul trying his best to cope without her, whilst also getting caught up on the quite literal war of office politics, plus of course making sure he was out do the door before the goblins came out to play.
This book did something sequels often do, it got longer. Much much longer, which I’m never sure I like. If I like a book I will likely order the sequel, but to find it significantly longer always worries me that what attracted me to the first book will be stretched and/or absent from the second. Fortunately I was wrong in this case, there was no stretching, instead more events were included adding to Paul’s suffering. I believe I’d read this previously as some moments felt very familiar, but my memory didn’t retain much so it was good to go through the twists and turns without knowing what’s coming next. Another reason to keep your eyes open in charity shops.
So, I always laugh at Rox for reading and rereading the same books over and over, but Iv just reread The Portable Door by Tom Holt. With a holiday fast approaching I didn’t fancy anything on my to read shelf, so browsed around and found this one. “Iv read some Tom Holt before” I thought and promptly ordered it, and only on its arrival did I realise this was the Tom Holt book Id read. Fortunately as I read I couldn’t remember how it ended, and even now it’s only starting to come back to me that I do indeed know the story.
The story focuses on Paul Carpenter, who is interviewing for a job with a company he knows nothing about, depressed in the knowledge he hasn’t got a chance of getting the job. However, somehow he does indeed get the job alongside an equally inept woman who automatically becomes the love of his life due to her being female and forced to sit in a small office with him. The job progresses dully before gradually becoming more and more peculiar and strange, when Paul realises things aren’t quite so boring and ordinary as he thought.
I enjoyed reading this, especially as I couldn’t remember the ending, which was vital as it all got a little crazy. The main character as a complete loser is a fairly common template, but it was handled well, with several moments of me mentally shouting at him to just shut up and do something about each current predicament / pathetic situation.
The fantasy situations were a little tame, but I suspect as the Company needed to get weirder it was also a growing level of curiosity for the reader as well as the completely moronic Paul Carpenter.
Due to the holiday being relaxed and providing a fair amount of time to read I was able to get started on the sequel so look forward to that review coming soon
so, despite my issues deciding what I want to read I’m still hitting the short stories regulary
The first in a related trilogy published in The Carnac Campaign, this story focuses on Illic Nightspear and his eldar exiles attempting to ambush an awakening necron force. Unfortunately it goes wrong and becomes a race back to their webway portal before the Necron Deathmarks kill them all. This story was basically pants. There was no real insight into a major character of the Eldar, no real background or insight into the history of the exiles, Rangers or characters and no actual story. Illic lines up a kill shot, necrons disappear, necrons ambush the ambushers. Beyond that point it became an exercise in introducing an Eldar before having him killed by necrons, there wasn’t even any detail to that. I’m hoping it was acting as a prologue to a meatier story in the other two short stories but I’m not holding my breath.
Sky Hunter by Graeme Lyon. 40k
Well that’s the way to drag me right back into interested. Set fairly soon after Nightspear this story focuses on the pilots of Eldar- the Crimson hunters and the pilots of the hemlock wraith fighters which apparently the Eldar consider to be anything from heretical an abomination, but that have a use against such foes as the Necrons. The story jumps quickly from character to character opening up so many distraught personalities before a segment in which a spiritseer jumps (mentally) from mind to mind of various warriors on the battlefield of Carnac witnessing death and destruction through the eyes and bodies of basically every kind of Eldar warriors in the armies Codex army book. Far better than Nightspear with a large set up for the final story of the noon. However I’m leaving that one for the moment to catch up on a different book.
The Sound that Wakes You by Ben Chessell. Fantasy
A small forgotten village on the outskirts of Bretonnia is ruled by a tyrannical former knight and his henchmen. Everyone accepts this as the norm except the troublesome son of a blacksmith, he gets a bit overexcited and attempts to start a rebellion by burning a rose bush and his father is killed before he realises acceptance isn’t the same as patience. It was ok, no real surprises and the ending was too obvious, but it was an ok little tale of Bretonnia. It feels a bit weird reading these now that The End Times are coming and the relevance will be gone, it’ll be interesting to see where the background is taken.
Spirit War by Rob Sanders. 40k
After reading the previous two stories in the Carnac Campaign book I’d had a poor experience and a better one so was interested to see where a longer ‘short story’ would go. This one sets an army of Wraithguard, Wraithblades and Wraithlords against a Necron invasion force. The ‘dead’ warriors are sent to hold back the Necrons until Eldar civilians can retreat from the world via a Webway portal. This story could have been an interesting conflict between two unliving forces, but instead just seemed to be a blur of action without giving enough detail to actually explain what was happening. When the story reached a ‘last stand’ of the Wraiths I really lost interest.
A geneticist in prison for breaking too many ethical boundaries is freed and whisked off to an obscure tropical island by a rich sponsor who wants him to complete his research, but his motives aren’t purely financial. This was a four page short story (so genuinely a short story) and initially felt a little too much like a standard accusation levelled at big pharmaceutical companies funding research outside of the law, but the twist midway through suggested some additional potential consequences of genetic manipulation. The twist made it very enjoyable.
When you’re trusted with showing a potential donator a good time and he’s assassinated what do you do? Strap him to you and fight through a city of other assassins of course. This one was stupid, but a really fun read- as well as revisiting Dubnitz of Mananns blades.
The Mouth of Chaos by Chris Dows. 40k
An Elysian Imperial Guard force drop into a fortified volcano to take out a rebel force. The idea was very James Bondesque, and it worked well initially as the high speed drop allowed for a fast pace, however the lack of breaks in the text meant it felt too much. Perhaps if I’d read it through in one sitting I’d have enjoyed the non stop pace, but as its a human force I don’t want superhuman stamina. There was a nice Imperial Guard moment at the end as the debriefing leads into the briefing for the next war zone as the survivors are directed into another battle.
The Butchers Beast by Jordan Ellinger. Fantasy
A unit of Imperial Greatswords hold the line against the forces of chaos, post battle a chaos monstrosity rampages through their camp, bringing the attentions of a vindictive Witch Hunter. The story felt too much as though it had been taken from 40k, with the witch hunters replacing the inquisition.
So, The End Times is done. I finished the Lord of the end times by Josh Reynolds. It’s hard to say how I feel about it as one or two rumours left it a little predictable, even before the book spent a lot of time telling us the world was ending.
The books set into three sections, as Middenheik falls, the incarnates plot and finally the plan to save the world is set into motion. However the three sections as far simpler-
Part one is a seemingly endless stream of cameo appearances as a means of covering pretty much everyone and killing them. If a models metal or finecast there’s a high probability they’re killed in part one. A few plastic models get killed too. Part two is a political battle between the remaining ‘heroes’ or ‘incarnates’ as nobody can decide what to do next, whilst beastmen hordes which have turned feral hurl themselves at the forest the forces of order are holding. Finally part three throws the remainders of the humans, dwarves, elves, orcs and undead into the wreckage of Middenheim to save the world- another chance to kill off characters before the climax.
The book was ok, the first section at first annoyed me, but the fast pace felt as though it were segments of battle as opposed to a conveyor belt of death. The politics of part two were a nice change of pace, though the beastmen assaults felt a distraction from the key plot more than anything. Finally the ‘final battle’ was ok, it was probably the weakest part of the book but in fairness ending a series is always tough. I felt the ending should have been less predictable- or at least not been heavily hinted at from the start.
A few interesting paragraphs came up
This felt like either a nod towards the approach taken in 40k- keeping the universe on the edge of ruin and maintaining that position. The idea of TheEnd Times has long been anticipated within 40k but never happened, instead happening in warhammer fantasy.
This a hint at the creation of the next works perhaps? The potential to create a whole new world is of course interesting instead of trying to shoehorn new elements to a long established timeline. The cynical side of me could read it as ‘less burdened by the previous designers and their creative properties’ but I think I’ll see it more as ‘less burdened by poorly selling lines (and armies)’
The series overall has been interesting, the killing off of so many established characters (and entire forces) is a brave step and hopefully has a long term consideration in place, whilst the entire resetting of the lore and background has the potential to upset a lot of long time fans. Having said that the fresh page approach should allow for a lot of freedom to create something brilliant.
My feeling on the series is that is was far too rushed, whilst the book contents were about right so many events were skimmed over or completely ignored (I hear more information was in the gaming books but I’m not spending £50-£70 on books I won’t use/ won’t need all of/ will be obsolete in a few months). Whilst a series that lingered on forever (Horus heresy) would stagnate I’d want a few more books to ensure everyone gets a final story. It would also have allowed for more spacing of deaths to prevent things feeling like a clear out.
So, four books down only one remaining. Iv just finished the rise of the horned rat by Guy Haley. This one moves away from the chaos invasion of the empire to focus on Karak Eight Peaks and the ongoing war between the dwarves, goblins and Skaven- specifically the leaders of the respective armies; belegar, skarsnik and Queek headtaker.
Overwhelming skaven force has evicted the goblins whilst the dwarfs grudgingly retreat further and further into their caves. Deaths occur on all sides and speed up the further you get into the book. What’s interesting is the inner monologues of the three main characters all focus on the passage of time and age/death catching up with them, meaning The End Times takes on a smaller more personal level.
The story was ok, combining numerous elements of the ‘traditional’ plot elements of the various armies and dropping in a whole host of characters from other books- highlights include Thanquol and Bugman, whose major contribution was to suggest a ‘world ending’ (read edition ending) wasn’t a huge deal
I’m now at a point where I have one more End Times book to read, but a, feeling a bit fatigued with the constant warhammer fantasy reading, so it may be a while before I get to it (but before the end of the month just in case of edition changing spoilers)