What will future minstrels sing of the days leading up to the final battle?
They will sing of the Souleaters with their stained-glass wings, who feasted upon the life-essence of mankind and brought down the First Age of Kings. And of the army of martyrs that gathered to fight them, led by the world's last surviving witches. By fire and faith they herded the great beasts into an arctic prison, where the incessant cold and long winter's darkness would rob them of strength, and hopefully of life. And the gods themselves struck the earth with great Spears, it was said, erecting a barrier born of their Wrath which would hold any surviving Souleaters prisoner until the end of time. For forty generations the Wrath held strong, so that the Second Age of Kings could thrive. But it was not truly a divine creation, merely a construct of witches, and when it finally faltered the Souleaters began their invasion.
They will sing of the Magisters, undying sorcerers who wielded a power that seemed without limit, and of how they were bound by their Law to the fates of mortal men. But no minstrel will sing of the secret that lay at the heart of that dark brotherhood, for no mortal man who learned the truth would be allowed to live. The Magisters fueled their sorcery with the life-essence of human consorts, offering up the death of innocents to assure their own immortality. Perhaps that practice was what corrupted their spirits, so that they became innately hostile to their own kind... or perhaps there was another cause. Colivar alone seemed to know the truth, but even his most ancient and determined rival Ramirus had not yet been able to pry that information out of him.
They will sing of Kamala, a red-headed child destined for poverty and abuse in the slums of Gansang, who defied the fates and became the first female to learn the art of true sorcery. But her accidental murder of Magister Raven broke the brotherhood's most sacred Law, and even her reclusive mentor Ethanus dared not give her shelter any longer. Forced to masquerade as a witch, she traveled the world in search of some knowledge or artifact that she might barter for her safety, so that she could bear the title of Magister openly and claim her proper place in the brotherhood of sorcerers.
They will sing of Danton Aurelius, who ruled the High Kingdom with an iron fist until the traitor Kostas brought him down. They will craft lamentations for the two young princes who died alongside their father, even as they celebrate the courage of Queen Gwynofar in avenging her husband's death. Alas, it was not to be the end of her trials. For when prophecy summoned her to Alkali to search for the Throne of Tears, an ancient artifact that would awaken the lyr bloodline to its full mystical potential, the gods demanded her unborn child in sacrifice, and later her beloved half-brother, Rhys.
They will sing of the Witch-Queen Siderea Aminestas, mistress of Magisters and consort to kings, whom the sorcerers abandoned when her usefulness ended. And of the Souleater who saved her life, at the cost of her human soul. Vengeance burned bright in her heart the day she fled Sankara on the back of her jewel-winged consort, seeking a land where she could plant the seeds of a new and terrible empire.
They will sing of Salvator, third son of Danton Aurelius, who set aside the vows of a Penitent monk to inherit his father's throne, rejecting the power and the protection of the Magisters in the name of his faith. Songs will be crafted to tell how he was tested by demons, doubt, and the Witch-Queen herself, even while the leaders of his Church argued over how he might best be manipulated to serve their political interests.
And last of all they will sing of the confrontation that was still to come, in which fate of the Second Age of Kings – and all of mankind – would be decided. And those who hear their songs will wonder whether a prince-turned-monk-turned-king could really save the world, when the god that he worshiped might have been the one who called for its destruction in the first place.
Celia S. Friedman (born 1957) is a science fiction and fantasy author. She has been a voracious reader from her earliest days and began writing at the age of thirteen. She studied then taught costume design at university but now writes full-time and teaches a creative writing course at a local high school.