In April we ran an excerpt from The Mongoliad: Book One, a shared universe epic written by Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, Nicole Galland, Cooper Moo, Mark Teppo. Book Two is out today and we have an exclusive excerpt. Read it after the jump.
This riveting second installment in Stephenson and company’s epic tale focuses on the aftermath of the world-shattering Mongolian invasion of 1241 and the difficult paths undertaken by its most resilient survivors.
The Shield Brethren, an order of warrior monks, search for a way to overthrow the horde, even as the invaders take its members hostage. Forced to fight in the Mongols’ Circus of Swords, Haakon must prove his mettle or lose his life in the ring. His bravery may impress the enemy, but freedom remains a distant dream.
Father Rodrigo receives a prophecy from God and believes it’s his mission to deliver the message to Rome. Though a peaceful man, he resigns himself to take up arms in the name of his Lord. Joining his fight to save Christendom are the hunter Ferenc, orphan Ocyrhoe, healer Raphael, and alchemist Yasper, each searching for his place in history.
Deftly blending fact and fantasy, The Mongoliad: Book Two captures the indomitable will to survive against immense odds.
Excerpt from The Mongoliad: Book Two
Text copyright © 2012 by FOREWORLD LLC. Published by 47North
Excerpt from CHAPTER 7: A Knife in the Dark
When Percival, Vera, Roger, and Raphael understood that men-at-arms were moving through the caverns near them, their shared instinct was to think of how they might defend themselves. This was not a reflection upon their courage or their martial spirit; they simply assumed, at first, that the Livonians -- for these were almost certainly the Livonian Brothers of the Sword -- must be coming for them.
On a moment's reflection, however, they all understood the same thing at once, which was that these interlopers must have been intending to take the Shield-Maidens' fortress from within by erupting from the cellars and overwhelming the surprised defenders.
Directly on the heels of that came the realization that the invaders had no idea that Percival, Vera, Roger, and Raphael were down here.
They all moved toward the chamber's exit at the same moment. Percival happened to be closest, but Roger was quickest, shouldering his way rudely past the larger knight and getting into the passage before anyone else. "Begging your pardon," he muttered over his shoulder, "but what is about to come is not shaping up to be a warhorses-and-longswords kind of fight. It is going to be daggers in the dark."
Raphael -- bringing up the rear -- could see Percival's chest expand as he drew breath to lodge some objection. But then the breath went out of him without a word being spoken. No one could question Roger's command of close-quarters fighting. His knowledge of grips, locks, and throws was almost Talmudic, and all who had sparred with him knew better than to try to resist once he had laid a hand on one's wrist or gripped a fistful of garment.
They had left most of their weapons and all of their armor above, as it seemed foolish to go clad in heavy mail, carrying a four-foot-long sword, when creeping through a cellar to look at an old saint's bones. The men were all carrying rondel daggers, and Vera had a single-edged knife in her belt. Thus armed, they would go into combat against knights. Aboveground, in the light of day, it would make for long odds. At close quarters in the dark, however, the Livonians would be hindered by the length of their swords. And piercing mail was precisely what rondel daggers were made for.
Still, it was a desperate venture, and during the helter-skelter rush through damp and darkness that followed, Raphael had time to understand that the fight that was about to take place in the tunnels beneath Kiev would be marked down, in the annals of the Shield-Brethren, as a suicidal last stand -- supposing any news of it ever reached the surface. Just the sort of fight, in other words, that they had all been trained to undertake at a moment's notice without hesitation. Raphael was not certain that he was equal to it. The quest to find and slay the Great Khan was at least as hopeless, but the nature of that undertaking gave him much more time to prepare himself for the fate waiting at its end. This, though, had been sprung upon him and promised to be much more ignominious.
And so he was thankful in a way when he tripped over something heavy and soft on the tunnel floor, fell down full-length, and realized that he was lying on top of a dead Livonian knight. Roger had taken him from behind and shoved his rondel into some part of the man's anatomy that had brought about instantaneous death.
Running his hand down the front of the dead knight's body, Raphael found a belt buckled over his mail shirt, then followed that to the man's left hip, where he felt the cold steel pommel of a sword still in its sheath. Raphael drew this out as he clambered to his feet, and knew from its weight and the size of its handle -- big enough only for a single hand -- that it was an arming sword, relatively short bladed and not too out of place in these cramped settings. Thus fortified, he stumbled forward toward the sound of the fighting. He had fallen well behind the others as the result of his discovery of the dead Livonian. The candles had gone out. It was impossible to make any sense of what was happening. Then -- his foot encountered another body. He nudged it, heard the soft jingle of its mail, and stepped over. A few more paces and he found another corpse. Roger had taken down at least three of the Livonians before they could even become aware of his presence.
Others, sensing that something was terribly wrong, were now calling out in alarm to their brethren farther ahead. Percival, seeing that the advantage of surprise had been lost, now bellowed out the war cry of the Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae in a voice as loud and clear as the blast of a trumpet, its final syllable collapsing to a deep grunt as he hurled himself into some hapless defender. A similar cry erupted from Vera's throat, from which Raphael guessed that the two forces had smashed together in a space up ahead that was wide enough for two or three to fight abreast.
Caroming around a slight bend in the tunnel, he came in view of a chamber, dimly illuminated by the guttering, hissing flame of a torch lying on the floor -- apparently dropped by one of the Livonians. It was only a few paces ahead of him, its light partially eclipsed by the silhouette of a man, clad in mail and a helm, moving crabwise. Raphael immediately understood that this man was trying to get around behind Percival or Vera.
Raphael flexed his wrist, bringing the tip of the arming sword up, and at the same time brought his left hand across his body to grip the flat of the blade between the heel of his hand and the balls of his fingers. The technique, called half-swording, enabled finer control of the weapon's tip, and a moment later, Raphael took full advantage of it to insert the blade beneath this Livonian's aventail and ram it up into the base of his skull. The man's head snapped backward, which Raphael found odd until he realized that Vera, whipping around, had backhanded the pommel of her knife into the bridge of the fellow's nose at the same instant.
The Livonian crumpled to the floor between them, and Raphael's eyes met Vera's for an instant. Then they returned their attention back to the chamber, a wider space where at least three passageways came together. Raphael gathered quick impressions: Roger collecting a downward stab with his right arm and turning it into a hammerlock, bending his foe to the ground and prying the dagger from his hand in one fluid motion; Percival, having locked up another man's sword arm, sweeping around like a compass tracing an arc while shoving his hands downward to dislocate the shoulder. A bobbing light approached from up the leftmost tunnel -- other Livonians hurrying back to help their brethren. Raphael hefted his stolen sword and hurled it like a spear in that direction.
At the same moment, Percival's foe collapsed to the ground, snuffing out the only torch in the chamber. The left tunnel went dark as well. Raphael's thrown sword seemed to have found its mark.
"Vera! It's me," he called, groping through the dark until he felt her hair beneath his hand. She spun toward him and he felt a momentary apprehension that she would put her blade into his heart -- but instead, she gripped his elbow, patted his chest with a strong hand, and said, "You aim well, sir."
"I stand here," Percival called from off to their right. But Roger's plight they knew only from his war cry, as he went into combat with one who had, it seemed, emerged silently from the tunnel -- a more formidable foe than the others, since Roger was unable to instantly dispatch him. The combat was turning into what sounded like a grappling duel, both men going to the ground, gasping and grunting as they struggled to achieve dominance. Raphael scarcely had time to wonder what sort of man could challenge Roger in that kind of fight when he felt Vera's grip shift on his arm, and a moment later, she spun about and slammed up against his back. Other Livonians were entering the dark chamber. A voice -- not one Raphael recognized -- let out an unearthly shriek as Percival did something terrible to him. Perhaps warned off by that sound, other foes shied away, instinctively seeking the silence around Raphael and Vera -- a quiet space, but hardly empty, as they quickly discovered.
A long, exquisite confusion followed -- a shifting scrum of bodies, flick after flick of Raphael's dagger blade, the press of Vera defending his rear as they circled around each other, the clang and spark of swords striking the roof of the cave, shouts of pain, piglike grunts as blades struck home -- finally broken by a light bursting into the chamber. Raphael and Vera looked up to see Yasper holding a torch, and Finn brandishing a lance, and in the dimness behind them, Cnan darting left and right, trying to peer around their shoulders.
"They are with us," Raphael said, laying a steadying hand on Vera's knife arm, which was covered with blood to the elbow. He looked up into her face, fearing she might have been wounded during the struggle in the dark. She was blood-spattered but seemed unhurt and resolute. She gazed curiously at the newcomers, but Yasper and Finn were staring aghast at something on the other side of the chamber. Following their gaze, Raphael saw Percival -- but there was no sign of Roger.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.