Authors: Ben Peek
Book Two of the Children Trilogy
For my mother who, like a spy, keeps two first names, Karen and Elaine Peek
My partner, Nikilyn Nevins, was the first reader of
, but more importantly, she was the first listener and the first sufferer. No book is made
in silence, sadly.
Tessa Kum and Kyla Ward were, once again, the fabulous first readers who took me to task for all the things I should have done but didn’t. Thanks also to Jessica Cuthbert-Smith and Joy
Chamberlain who helped its final shape emerge.
My agent, John Jarrold, is a fine human, generous with both his time and experience.
A whole lot of thanks must go to Julie Crisp, primarily. She is the ghost in the machine that makes a book a book. In particular, she is the ghost of this particular book. In the USA, Pete
Wolverton is the ghost that haunts his empire – and this book – similarly. Thanks to Sam Eades for organizing me and the publicity stuff. Huge thanks to David Atkinson from Handmade
Maps for the superb maps in
. And to Irene Holickit who translated
into German. It was my first piece of work ever translated. Similarly, thanks must go to
Laura Carr and Louise Buckley for their work on the book. And to Bella Pagan who, if for nothing else, was willing to give up a table to an Irishman and an Australian because they had beer.
To everyone else who supported the book – to the readers, reviewers, bloggers – a huge thanks as well.
The White Tree Daily
• Speaking to You Since 1032 •
On the Fiftieth Anniversary
of the Siege of Mireea
Once, the gods lived among us.
My mother told me that. My father, as well. Both were born thousands of years after the War of the Gods took place, and neither would see a living god, not before their deaths in 1023, the year
the Leerans laid siege to Mireea.
They lived their lives in the aftermath of the War of the Gods. The remains of the gods lay around them, as familiar as the tree in their yard, as the bedsheets they slept beneath. Just as we
do, my parents awoke in a world that was lit by the first part of the shattered sun rising. Throughout the day they would watch another two parts rise and fall. Outside the doors of their house,
they lived on a mountain range that had been built around a god’s corpse. It was normal to them, as normal as the coast that turned all living creatures mad, as normal as the ocean that smelt
of blood. They lived – as we all still do – among the remains of the divine beings who created our world. Beings who were dead, but also alive. Beings who were so alien to us that we
can only theorize how they saw the world that they created. We suggest, now, that the gods experienced time as a whole, that their consciousness was so complex and large that none of them
experienced time in the linear way that we mortal beings do. We believe that their holy bodies are being torn apart by time, by the collapse of their sense of self, so that the past, the present
and the future have an effect on them. It is why their very essence and power seeps into our world and changes it.
Neither my mother nor my father could explain to me why the gods went to war. In the same way, they could not explain to me why the Leerans laid siege to Mireea.
My parents did not have the chance to understand it. They died, not by sword or arrow, not from any violent act by the Leerans, but from the plague that came to the city. It was through the
kindness of others that I was cared for, but even those survivors of the siege did not understand, either, why they had been attacked. That understanding was months away, while a complete
understanding would not be available for years, not until the diaries of those who were principal figures were found, or until they themselves spoke about what happened.
From them, we (and by we, I mean historians like myself) have been able to make great strides into the lives of those who were important in the days before and after the siege. The work is not
complete, of course: there are years that are poorly documented, months that are not spoken of, and days that have, strangely, ceased to exist in any recorded form. But we have made great advances
in regards to our knowledge of Ayae and Zaifyr, two ‘cursed’ individuals, and the mercenary Bueralan Le.
was one of the many children displaced during the Innocent’s seven-hundred-year war in Sooia.
She arrived at the Mother’s Orphanage in Mireea at the age of five. Like others who grew up in state-run care, she did not speak in depth about her childhood. Many who met her noted that
she did not refer to the name of the orphanage itself, or the matron who died, tragically, in a fire shortly after her arrival. (Her name was Germaine Tislr and she was, it seems, an unpleasant
woman, but that is neither here nor there.) Still, conditions were not oppressive within the orphanage, and Ayae and the other children who were cared for within it were given an education. Shortly
after completing it, she won a cartographer’s apprenticeship with the eighty-second Samuel Orlan. She was, by all accounts, an excellent apprentice, but there is no suggestion that Orlan
considered her a successor to his name – though we do not know if he would have changed his mind, for history intervened before she finished her apprenticeship.
Shortly before the Leerans laid siege to Mireea, Ayae was attacked in Samuel Orlan’s shop. A fire started while she was inside, but afterwards it was revealed that Ayae suffered not a
single burn. Within days, she was identified by the Keepers of the Divine as a child of the gods; or, to use the more common term in Mireea at the time, Ayae was ‘cursed’. She was
infected by the power of a god, by Ger, who lay beneath her feet. Many believed that the power would soon take hold of her and consume her, as it had done to others in the past, but it did not.
Instead, the two Keepers, Fo and Bau, who had been sent to Mireea by the ‘cursed’ who ruled Yeflam, took it upon themselves to educate her. During that time, Ayae discovered that the
two immortals planned to release a plague in Mireea, which would result in the deaths of thousands. This went against the orders that Fo and Bau had been given in Yeflam, and the deaths of the two
Keepers allowed for Ayae and the survivors of the siege of Mireea to flee to Yeflam.
was originally born in Ooila, into a family of privilege and wealth. When he arrived in Mireea in 1023, however, he was the Captain of Dark, a small mercenary unit
of saboteurs. He had been exiled from his homeland seventeen years earlier after taking part in a failed revolution.
Bueralan and Dark came to Mireea upon the request of the Captain of the Spine, Aned Heast. They arrived on the day that Ayae was revealed to be ‘cursed’ and, indeed, the two met
before she was attacked. Bueralan and Dark, however, would not remain in Mireea. The ruler of Mireea, the Lady of the Spine, Muriel Wagan, ordered Dark into Leera, to learn as much about the force
that was approaching her as possible. In a last-minute addition, the famous cartographer Samuel Orlan joined them on the journey.
Orlan had his own motivations for joining Dark, but it was not until they had entered Leera that his intentions were revealed. Orlan betrayed Bueralan in a town called Dirtwater, and the
saboteur was taken captive. Shortly after, he was delivered to the Leeran general Ekar Waalstan.
It was there that Bueralan learned that the Leerans had discovered a new god. Or, that she had discovered them. It is more likely the latter than the former, in truth. The new god had no name,
but she inspired a fanaticism in her soldiers that Bueralan had not seen before. While imprisoned, he witnessed a number of blood rituals. During one such ritual, he discovered that Samuel Orlan
had returned to Dark and had convinced his soldiers that they should continue with him to Ranan, the capital of Leera. He wanted them to help him kill the new god.
Unable to free himself, Bueralan found himself back on the Mountain of Ger as the Leerans laid siege to Mireea. He was forced to lead the head of the Leeran priests into the lost city beneath
Mireea, to a temple that had been built over the body of the god Ger. The priests planned to take the last essence of the god’s power and put it into Bueralan’s body to return it to
their god. In a series of events that is not yet fully understood, a part of Ger intervened. Bueralan killed his captors and then rode to Ranan, only to discover that he was too late to save Dark.
The child god within the temple had already killed his soldiers. However, she did not kill him, and neither did she kill the cartographer Samuel Orlan. Instead, she declared both
‘god-touched’, and released them with a terrible gift.
In the long, complicated history of our world since the War of the Gods, readers will be familiar with
by another name, that of