Will Kantal win over his king?
And will he get to fulfil his objective and become the master tactician to crack the Mandari puzzle? Well, if these questions are burning, then fortunately for you, there is an epilogue – the answer’s right here!
Maybe not all the answers you are hoping for, but something to whet the appetite. More on that below.
But in the meantime, let’s find out what became of Kantal’s plans.
Read on blog warrior.
A recap on the schedule
Here’s a recap on the dates that the blogs are going to get published:
- 26th May: Prologue (The Moment)
- 2nd June: Chapter 1 (The Now)
- 9th June: Chapter 2 (The Then | 20yrs ago)
- 16th June: Chapter 3 (The Then | 15yrs ago)
- 30th June: Chapter 4 (The Then | 13yrs ago)
- 7th July: Chapter 5 (The Then | 12yrs ago)
- 14th July: Chapter 6 (The Now)
- 21st July: Epilogue (The Future | 1yr later)
And please remember: feedback is encouraged and spread the word.
The future | 1 year later
It was success. Utter success. Of course it was success; he had planned the whole thing meticulously. He rode straight-backed, confident and eager, through the streets of Altunia, and he could feel the victory stepping closer. Success! It enriched his soul, and he thrust his great-sword into the air, roaring nothing more than a guttural scream. Two thousand voices echoed the victory; two thousand bodies that followed him to success.
Something crawled down his back, and he assumed it was sweat. But it was the late season, and it wasn’t that warm; at least it wasn’t in Ahan. He felt his brow, and noted that it was dry. But beneath the layers of leather and steel, he could be sweating, couldn’t he? Yes, that was it. It definitely wasn’t doubt.
But things were easier than he’d expected. He was quite literally strolling his horse through the lower reaches of the Old Town, stepping the mare confidently over the rounded cobbles. He’d expected a fight at the gates, a chaos of citizens and steel, but instead he’d got only nothing.
They were later than expected, floating into the estuary close to midday rather than at dawn as he’d hoped. That would have given the population sight of his coming, given them a chance to hunker down or flee. That was it for certain. The island citadel that the Mandari called Sentience – but which had been called the Foundation Isle when the Delfinians were still custodians – showed clear signs of defiance; a handful of house guards littering the gatehouse. The showing was weak as expected – the Mandari were embroiled in the diversionary tactics of Kantal’s genius – but he’d expected a greater weight of civilians. He had not expected to be able to walk straight up to the gatehouse. No; this was much easier than expected.
But was that a construct of his genius? Had he exceeded even his own high expectations? That was rare these days. He had always been able to dream. At many points of his life, it was all he had.
The interruption came from the guiding hand of his colonel, but before he responded, his mind wandered. He was drawn back to his moment of becoming, to that scene on the field of Aperta where he had faced the ashen breath of death and survived. More than survived. He’d become Mandestroy. That day he’d acted for the benefit of the colonel, intending to win favour with the untouchable echelons of the military hierarchy. Now he looked down to the colonel, and he recognised how far he’d come. Maybe he had exceeded expectations.
He was already following the suggestion of the extended arm, but he wanted his officer’s view in any case. The sweat trickled, and he started to reconsider his views. That was not expected.
“Smoke. It’s coming from the estuary.”
And it was smoke; a great fountain of it spewing into the heavens, staining the sky as the higher winds blew it ato. It was impossible to see exactly what the source was, but it didn’t require much in the way of genius to work it out. There was only one thing in the estuary that would burn so well – a fleet. Was it the Mandari fleet? Unlikely, and that meant it was his own fleet. His means of escape was going up in flames.
For just the slightest of moments he shivered, but he would not let it show. He pulled his eyes away, not wanting to be infected by events. It was irrelevant. He had considered this a one-way journey in any case.
And so what if his fleet was burning? The rewards would outweigh that cost. Enough had been paid in any case. He peered straight ahead, sparing his eyes from the smoke smeared sky by hiding behind the wings of his hood. He continued doggedly on.
Yes indeed; he had now adopted a hood. It seemed that all the world’s most fearsome combatants were doing it, so why not he? At least his troops could still see his face.
“It is unfortunate, but it will not stop us. Now, let’s focus on the task at hand.”
His colonel resumed obedience, and Kantal feigned determination. But the truth was otherwise. He was still sweating, or in fact, what he now recognised was that he wasn’t sweating at all. He was tingling right down his spine, and he knew why. He was nervous. His entire life amounted to this.
He grunted, the noise emanating from the corner of his mouth. His leather bound hand scratched at the stubble which was as good as a beard, and the satisfying sound eased him slightly – but only slightly.
But this was not the time for doubts. As they rounded the height of the incline of the Old Town and hit upon the Nerve, Kantal thrust his arm into the air and received a welcome confidence boost from his troops. He permitted himself a smile.
And he had good reason to smile. As he looked upon the gatehouse of the Foundation Isle, he saw only a smattering of guardsmen. He turned to look upon his well-ordered men, and smiled more broadly as he took in their sight. Two thousand of the bastards, each of them hand-picked and ruthless. They were seasoned siege experts, and they were coming upon a place that was barely guarded – and all because of Kantal’s genius. He looked back and smiled once more. It would take a hundred Mandahoi to stop them now.
And then he gulped.
Time in conflict took on a strange quality, as if it relaxed its formal definition and took a new, volatile one. It seemed to take one of only two characteristics as the fight flourished: it would either stagger slowly, achingly, from moment to moment; or it would take on the pace of a stallion, rushing by with just the barest recognition. Kantal could not tell which form it had taken, but as he looked to the sky, he knew that it was the former. The journey through Altunia had been stretched in his perception, but Mother Bright told the truth – it was not long past midday.
And then they were at the bridge that led to the Foundation Isle; the one named after Jinal, the invader.
His troops tramped either side of him as he stalled his horse on the near side of the bridge. No need to take her any further; she would be useless in the siege. As his potent force settled into formation – rigid rows of surly looking men in well-made flexible armour, ready to assault – he couldn’t help but smile. He jumped from his fine mare and gave her a pat on the neck before he rubbed the inside of his thighs. He still hated riding. He walked through the ranks, slaps on the shoulder encouraging him forward, but he didn’t let his gaze waver. He halted about half-way across the bridge and leaned his head back; eyes at the gatehouse; surveying the resistance. There was almost none. The city guard looked forlorn.
Almost none; not none. At the heart of the defence, right at the centre of the resistance, stood a man. A big man. A very big man.
And he was wearing the grey.
Kantal cursed to himself before he dropped his hood. One Mandahoi; so what? He would have the bastard for breakfast. Or lunch in fact. They were late.
His words travelled, like a well flighted arrow.
“You are defeated. Resistance would be wasteful. Open your gates and none shall suffer needlessly.”
He’d chosen the words carefully; he didn’t want to lie.
It was the mandahoi who responded, and Kantal recognised him. The Mandahoi warriors wore grey uniforms and cloaked their face, and yet he recognised this single man. He bloody well recognised him.
“The gates will stay locked. Leave, while you still have time.”
He thought of the plume of smoke; looked for it in fact. From the bridge it was possible to make out the flames. Definitely his fleet. One boat seemed unmolested, sailing out of the estuary, but that was irrelevant. They were here, and the boat was there. Kantal had a job to do and a king’s trust to repay.
He turned back to Keles – the mandahoi who had become a legend in his short years of service – and offered up his final piece of advice.
“Come, Keles, even you are not fool enough to think that you can win this alone.”
Just the subtlest movement, as if he snorted; in amusement perhaps? Then, with barely a command, the walls crawled with movement, and grey wraiths melted out of the parapets. There were dozens of them, a hundred perhaps, and Kantal felt a shiver go through his men. He would need to stay confident. He had to.
‘Remove the Mandahoi and you have a chance.’ But the Mandahoi were here, and yet he still had a chance. It was just incredibly slim.
He had barely any time to make his choice; you didn’t on a battlefield. Dally and you die. But the reality was that there was no choice. He spoke at the top of his lungs, infecting his troops with confidence.
“You have brought this upon yourselves.”
But there were no truths on the battlefield. Only opportunities, however remote they may seem. His men attacked.
Does it really end there?
Yes. I’m afraid it does. This is Kantal’s story, but it is at this point that he becomes embroiled in a much wider battle – not only the battle against the Mandari, but also the battle for l’Unna itself. This thread is picked up in the first part of the Age of Ku trilogy: Fear’s Union. So the answers are there – you just need to go and find them!
But in the meantime, if you’re interested in finding out what it takes to write a book, come and visit the Writing Mandestroy page where I’ve logged every draft and every hour spent writing this “short” novella. For those who have never tried their hand at writing, it’s an eye opener!
And also watch out as Mandestroy goes live on in all major online book shops at the end of the month.
But more importantly, thanks so much for reading! I really hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any feedback, please do get in touch.