All seven authors of the first novel of The Mongoliad have signed a galley copy to be given to one lucky Boing Boing reader!
The trailer above stars Neal "Mr. Excitement" Stephenson describing the book in his usual bombastic style.
See below for the contest rules, and the exclusive excerpt from the novel.
On April 24, from the minds of Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear comes The Mongoliad Trilogy, the first installment in the Foreworld Saga, a collaborative series unlike any other that will enthrall fans of fantasy, martial arts, and historical fiction.
The Foreworld medieval adventure saga was actually born out of swordfighting. Stephenson and the other authors are avid practitioners of Western martial arts and they are part of an enthusiastic study group in Seattle. io9.com reports that Stephenson realized that the descriptions of swordfighting in his novels would have been much better with contributions from people with fighting expertise. Thus the idea for a saga about the complex, bloody history of Western martial arts was born, featuring Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, E.D. deBirmingham, Joseph Brassey, Erik Bear, and Cooper Moo.
The first novel to be released in the saga, The Mongoliad: Book One is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia.
But the saga unfolds on a truly grand scale for it comes to the modern world via a circuitous route. In the late 19th century, Sir Richard F. Burton, an expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, is approached by a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados about translating a collection of long-lost manuscripts. Burton dies before his work is finished, and his efforts were thought lost until recently rediscovered by a team of amateur archaeologists in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy. From this collection of arcana, the incredible tale of The Mongoliad was recreated.
More than just a story, The Mongoliad is an sweeping narrative firmly rooted in history, taking readers back to a time when Europeans thought that the Mongol Horde was about to destroy their world -- and it was up to the exploits of one small band of mystics and warriors to turn the tide of history.
Full of high adventure, unforgettable characters, and unflinching battle scenes, The Mongoliad ignites a dangerous quest where willpower and blades are tested and the scope of world-building is redefined.
CONTEST RULES: Write a 9-sentence short story and post it in the comments. The first letter of the first sentence must start with the letter M. The first letter of the second sentence must start with the letter O.The first letter of the third sentence must start with the letter N. In other words, the first letter of each sentence must spell out M.O.N.G.O.L.I.A.D. I will pick my favorite story and have the book sent to the author. The deadline is April 19 at midnight Pacific time.
The Monogoliad, Book One. Excerpt from CHAPTER 11: The Bankhar.
The reeds were tall enough to hide Cnan, as long as she skittered through them in a crouch. She could not see more than arm's length in any direction, and so she paused every so often to check the direction of the sun and make sure she had not strayed from her line: straight along the slowest, shallowest flow of the main channel, close enough to the bank that the reeds remained high, not so close that the ground beneath her feet turned into sucking mud. This path would cut between the Mongols who were surrounding the huts on the opposite side of the swale and the main force on the near side. The only thing the least bit chancy about it was that it might bring her nearer to the patrol Raphael had noticed crossing between the Mongol groups; but all she need do is keep her wits about her and squat low if she heard hoof beats. Gazing into the sun, they would never see her. Her movements might shake the tops of the reeds. But here fortune was with her again, for the southwest breeze was shaking all of the reeds, and as long as she didn't do anything stupid, like move in a perfectly straight line or trample the stalks into the mud, she would be hard to detect.
Those men were distracted anyway -- she could tell as much from their shouts. Trying to deliver some urgent news to the main group, but unable to make themselves heard over the wind whispering through a million stalks.
This was hardly a way for Cnan to make good time, but before long she would be past them and into a section where she could make her way down disused channels or dart from one stone outcropping to the next, favoring the long shadows of the late evening.
The more she could collect from sounds, the less she needed to risk looking. Splashing hooves told her that the patrol had found a ford. Light clashing at first as the horses -- she guessed four of them -- trotted through ankle-deep water. Then deeper sloshing as they went in up to their knees, followed by near silence as they passed through the gut of the channel, the horses' bellies, she imagined, carving wakes in the stream like boats' hulls. Then relieved and satisfied words from the riders as they felt the ground angle upward again, sporadic liquid bursts as knees broke the surface, and then the same series of noises, reversed in order, until hooves were once again thumping on solid ground -- this side of the river, perhaps an arrow-shot ahead of her.
She was about to risk movement again when her ears picked up something else: another creature emerging from the river, following in the wake of the horses. Not a man, for it went on four feet, but too small for a horse.
Then a shuddering, flopping noise, enveloped in a hiss of spray.
She crouched and froze. It was a dog. It had entered the ford at the same time as the four riders, but fallen behind as its paws floated free of the river bottom, forcing it to paddle across the main stream, fighting the current the whole way. Finally it had trotted up onto the shore and shaken itself. It let out a suggestion of a whine, seeing how far behind it had fallen, then sprang forward, running to make up for lost time. Then, just before entering the tunnel that the horses had trampled through the reeds, the dog stopped.
Stopped, and sniffed the air.
It happened to be straight downwind of her.
Dogs had poor eyesight. She rose just high enough to see it. She did not recognize it at first because she had been imagining something in the way of a hound, small and lithe. But what she saw, casting about for her scent, looked more like a bear. She'd seen them before. She'd even been chased by them. And she had watched others, not as skillful at evading pursuit or climbing trees, being torn apart by them. This was a bankhar: one of the heavy-boned mastiffs that the Mongols kept roped outside their tents as watchdogs.
They must have been using it to track Istvan.
And it knew she was here. That was obvious from its posture: it stood on its stout, corded legs as still as she was. Other than a slight quiver of its flanks, the only thing it moved was its nostrils. It would hold this stillness for as long as it took to catch a definite scent or hear some movement. Then every muscle in its body would go into action. If it was like the others she had seen, it had twice her weight, and could run at double her speed.
Again a faint whine. The great head lifted and turned. The massive jaws opened in a slow pant. The bankhar was trying to make sense of the new spoor. Watching it, she found herself wondering what it could guess about her. The scent it had found was human, but not the one it had been tracking for the last couple of days. Her scent would betray her sex, obviously, but could it tell if she was frightened? She wasn't. Not yet; but she would be soon.
She couldn't run. To trigger the chase instinct of a bankhar was death -- about the worst kind of death imaginable. Better to stand and face it.
It gave out a low, gruff bark, declining to a suspicious growl, and began trotting toward her, lowering its head and casting its heavy muzzle back and forth.
Cnan backtracked along the trail of parted reeds she had made in her own wake. Putting more distance between herself and the dog couldn't hurt, as long as she did it quietly -- and she could move very quietly. There were no trees to climb. She couldn't outrun a bankhar on open ground. She could probably outswim it, though. But first she would have to get to water that was deep enough for swimming and too deep for the dog's paws to get purchase on the bottom. She remembered a backwater, about a stone's throw behind her where she had suddenly slipped knee-deep into a stagnant pool. A lateral sprint out of the reeds, across the intervening sandbar, and straight for the water might work. But it was her last resort; it would betray her position, not only to the bankhar, which would come right at her, but to the four Mongol riders now picking their path up a rocky stretch of riverbank, still oblivious to the fact that their dog was on the trail of new and unexpected prey.
He -- for she could see now that it was an ungelded male -- let out a little woof and broke into a trot, confident now that she was worth chasing. She began retreating with greater speed and more noise, fighting what the Shield-Brothers referred to as the fobo, the irrational fear that would, if you let it rise out of its hole, seize control of your body and make you do things that would assuredly lead to your death. In this case, the fobo was telling her to turn on her heel and run for it.
The ground grew muckier under her feet. She risked a quick look, saw the dark backwater growing closer and closer, but it was shallow enough that the bankhar could wade it, and it was separated from the main channel by a sandbar, which she would have to cross before the creature plunged its fangs into her leg.
She prepared to slip off her tunic. She could trail it behind herself as she ran. The dog would snap at it, rip it out of her grasp, waste a few moments shaking it like a squirrel while she dove naked into the water and swam away . . .
Or was that the fobo trying to bubble up?
A whine from the bankhar quickly rose to a shrill bark. It was very close now.
Her feet felt the backwater's slimy edge. This was foolish.
She stood tall and faced the dog. Startled, it plowed to a stop. Then it barked loudly and steadily, alerting its masters. She glanced over its head and saw the four Mongols. One had reached the top of the bank and was looking in her direction. The other three abandoned their climb, turned, and began picking their way down the bank to see what was happening. They first spotted the bankhar, then her, and pointed, exclaimed, stood high in their stirrups to get a clearer view -- and reached for their bows.
Keeping the bankhar in sight but not staring it in the eye, Cnan slowly sidestepped, going knee-deep into the stagnant water, a loop of current only a couple of arm-spans across. The bankhar started after her, stopped, growled, barked again. A bluff charge, trying to make her panic and break for it.
She did not like dogs, but she understood them in the same way as she understood men: they needed a leader. A boss. And if you weren't the boss, the dog would appoint himself to the position. It had nothing to do with size. She had seen a rat-chaser dominate a lumbering wolfhound with the sheer force of its personality.
She locked her eyes on the bankhar and willed it to submit.
A rumbling growl emerged from its huge chest.
She backed up out of the water and onto the sandbar.
One of the Mongols was riding straight for her. She could feel the terror rising in her chest, her heart hammering at the underside of her breastbone, booming in her ears.
The Mongol called out a word of command. The bankhar looked back at him, remembered who was boss, bounded into the water and came up on the sandbar, close enough that he could have reached Cnan's throat with a single lunge. Only some cautious instinct, a concern that Cnan was more than she seemed, prevented him from killing her then and there.
Her fear took charge. She knew she was about to die -- if not ripped apart by the bankhar, then shot through and through by the Mongol following after or the two behind him. Her heart slammed with such force that she could feel it in the soles of her feet.
The dog looked beyond her suddenly, then crouched and quailed. A word of astonishment escaped from the Mongol's lips.
Cnan swiveled in the water and mud just in time to see a colossus thundering up out of the river's channel, over the crest of the little sandbar, then springing nearly over her head, hooves plowing the air. She fell to the ground more from vertigo than anything else and lost sight of it for a moment. Twisting about again, she saw the bankhar somersault backwards, a red missile hurtling from its shoulders to tumble along the sandbar.
Stumbling in reeds and muck, catching herself and straightening, she identified the colossus: a man on a horse. The setting sun was on his back, and his armor shined in her eyes. His left hand held the steed's reins, his right gripped a short staff whose head was lazily orbited by a fist-size lump of black iron studded with spikes. The spikes threw off a thick spray of dog's blood.
The bankhar had skidded to a halt and lay on its back, one hind leg jerking. Half its head was missing.
The interval between the bankhar and the lead Mongol was a long stone's throw. Percival, in full gallop, took it in a few thundering hoof-strikes. The iron ball, tracing an unhurried and inexorable path at the end of its taut chain, accelerated suddenly and passed without apparent loss of speed into the side of the Mongol's face -- for he was attempting to turn away -- and out the back of his skull.
Percival studied the reeds. "A spare!" he remarked casually.
She was dumbfounded for a moment, then realized that he was addressing her.
"Should I -- " she fumbled.
"No. Reach the other side of the river," he said, and, ignoring the two Mongols who were down at the river's level, spurred his destrier forward hard and steered it directly toward what looked like a low place in the bank. The steed faltered then understood, drove itself at the notch in the skyline, and attempted the leap. Its front hooves came up on the top. Its hind legs had to scrabble at the bank for a few anxious moments, peeling off shovel-loads of dusty earth. But then its massive hindquarters bucked up into the air, and it was on the lip of the scarp. With a cry of triumph or encouragement, Percival drove it hard to the left, headed, apparently, straight for the lone Mongol who had made it to the top earlier.
And then Cnan lost sight of him.
The two Mongols remaining on the sandbar were finally unlimbering their bows. She doubted that they could hit her from this distance if she kept moving and made use of cover, but one could never tell when a lucky shot might strike home, and so she was disinclined to wait around and see what happened. She completed the move she had been trying to make while fleeing the bankhar, sidestepping across the bar to the main channel of the river. She had to take her eyes away from the Mongols for a few moments as she picked her way over a slimy fallen log.
When she looked back, one of the Mongols was settling awkwardly to his knees, reaching up as if to make some adjustment in his helmet. Then she noticed a shaft going in one side of his neck, angled downward, and she concluded that an arrow fired from the other side of the river had struck him.
She turned, dove, and swam for a dozen strokes. The current was sweeping her downstream toward the concealed archer, but she reckoned that was no bad thing, and so she did not fight it, putting all of her energy instead into crossing the channel.
When she felt the bank rising beneath her feet again, she turned to look, letting only the top few inches of her head jut out of the stream. Now came the same thunder in the earth that had preceded the demise of the bankhar, and sure enough Percival's head, and that of his war-horse, rose majestically above the edge of the bank. He had holstered the flail he'd used to such effect against the dog and the first Mongol, and now held a bloody lance in one hand and a teardrop-shaped shield in the other. Two arrows jutted from the shield, suggesting that the second Mongol had put up more of a fight. Thus encumbered, he let the horse find its own way down to the riverbank. Percival kept a sharp eye on the one surviving Mongol, who had sought cover in the reeds and was raising his bow. Percival was plainly visible from the bank's top. With an easy plunge of his shield, the armored knight collected a third arrow that would have pierced his mount's shoulder.
A shaft flew directly over Cnan's head and arced downward into the reeds; a bowman on her side of the bank -- she guessed it was Raphael -- was hoping for a lucky shot.
The destrier crashed down into the reed-bed, Percival leaning so far back that, for a moment, he was nearly supine on its quarters. After a few moments of staggering about and realigning, horse and rider were once again united; and Percival now did something that, hard as it was to believe, made Cnan feel sorry for the Mongol: he wheeled on the firmer, sandy bed, and charged, lance fixed at a low angle.
The Mongol understood perfectly well what was about to happen. He leapt up and ran, zig-zagging along the bank, feet sending up silver spray. Like a million terrified victims who had been caught out in the open by the riders of the Khan's hordes, he was now presented with a nasty choice: be trampled into the muck, spine and ribs crushed like so many crusts of bread, or have an eight-foot-long lance skewer his guts.
The Mongol spun about at the last instant, screaming his rage, and chose the lance. Percival gave it to him, hefted until the man's feet dangled, then rode on, torquing the corpse through the reeds until it slid off like a knotted rag. Glittering tails of spray from the horse's hooves almost hid the gore.
Cnan turned away with a sick sensation in her stomach then climbed into a cleft on the northern bank, where she suspected that Raphael was hiding in some gnarly scrub. And that was where she found him, though he had already turned his back to her and was clambering through loose soil toward the crest. As he neared the top, he slowed, crouched, and held out a cautioning hand, warning her not to pop her head up. Then he seemed to change his mind. He'd seen something from the crest that let him know they were all right. He vaulted onto flat ground, resumed his squat, and gave Cnan a hand up. From any of the others -- with, as always, the exception of Percival -- she would not have taken kindly to this gesture. She was perfectly capable . . . but something in Raphael's manner always let her know that between her and him, things were simple and fine, and so she slapped her hand into his and kicked against the bank with both feet until he'd hauled her over the top.
Below and behind them, Percival was collecting the Mongols' horses, stringing them out on a line so that they could be led.
"Spares," Cnan said.
"Good," Raphael answered, and nodded across the river: not along the main channel, but to the south bank, which Cnan, trapped in the low reeds, had not been able to see until now. The first thing she noticed was the reed-hung corpse of the Mongol whom Percival had run down and slain during his foray over the bank's top. But then her eyes were drawn by movement farther off.
The hilltop where the main body of the Mongol force had gathered a while ago was now bare, but something like an avalanche or mudslide seemed to be flowing down its near side, throwing up a dusty plume that glowed like fire in the light of the setting sun.
They had been seen. The Mongols were coming for them.
"Gorgeous, in its way," Raphael remarked dryly, "but I don't recommend we marvel much longer. You, at any rate, are unlikely to take in any new or useful impressions."
"What the hell are you doing then?" she snapped.
"I believe I shall tarry, in case Percival needs assistance. I may be able to help him manage the spares, or slow the Mongols when they reach the bank's edge."
"Did you have anything in mind for me?"
"Look in on Eleazar."
"And where is Eleazar?"
"Likely visiting whomever is surrounded in that farm," Raphael said, and he swiveled on deft toes, keeping as low as possible, to gaze in the opposite direction. "Judging from the number of dead and screaming Mongols in its vicinity, I wager it's Istvan."
To Cnan, this did not sound like a plan, or even the beginnings of one, but she knew better than to expect something fully thought-out, and she approved of anything that would take her away from the forty or so horsemen coming for them across the floodplain.
Not far away, Raphael had tied his horse to a lance thrust into the ground. Trailing behind it on a lead, head down, pushing its nose through grass, was the pony Cnan had been riding. She unwound the taut lead from Raphael's saddle and sprang onto the pony's back with a confidence that surprised her. She was not above hoping that one of her companions might have witnessed her dexterity.
She pulled hard on the right rein and dug her heels, then shouted in the way that the men did when they really wanted their mounts to sit up and take notice, and indeed the pony reacted with a neck-arching start and broke into a gallop.
She was now riding hell-for-leather into the battle unfolding in the little farm. This was about half a verst away, on a weak rise that kept it above seasonal floods. From their former vantage point, they'd been able to make out very little of the stead, but now, closer, Cnan could see that it was an untidy warren of lean-tos, outbuildings, sheds, sties, smokehouses, coops, and stables. Not satisfied with that, the residents had added a haphazard assortment of peat ricks, haystacks, trellises, hutches, and beehives.
Cnan, in the last couple of years, had become a connoisseur of hiding-places, shunning the open and gravitating toward the hidden, the complex, the knotted and gnarled -- anyplace confusing and nasty for warriors and hunters. Had she been chased across the floodplain by Mongols -- as, come to think of it, was now the case -- she'd have gone straight to this farm. She'd have kindled a fire in the hearth, done all she could to make them think she was lodged in the main house, and then she'd have crept to its outskirts, buried herself in dung or straw, and peered out at them.
Waited them out. Watched and learned.
Istvan had likely done something similar. Cnan could not know this for certain -- she had not yet reached the farm -- but Raphael seemed to think Istvan was still alive, and it was simply not possible that he could have survived any other way.
Drawing closer, she saw evidence of a fray: Mongol bodies draped over split-rail fences, then what might have been a Russian noble in a black cape, sprawled and muddy in a hog-wallow. More Mongols lay curled like fetuses around moldy bits of tossed haystack -- along with one dead cow, its flank covered with arrows. Someone had cut the animal's throat and taken shelter behind the dead bulk.
Istvan had done more than just hide and watch. Some of the dead lay where they had fallen, but others had been arranged in grotesque postures. At some point -- and recently, since only a little while ago they had seen ten live Mongols surrounding this place -- Istvan had crept from concealment and gone to work with fast, eager blades, at close quarters. For the Mongols, keen on killing their prey, had committed the error of dismounting and entering that filthy and tumbledown maze. Not understanding that the one they'd been hunting was no terrified fugitive. Not just another gleaner, run to ground, praying that he could find some way to slip out of the noose.
Istvan had been waiting for them, chewing his mushrooms, timing it, perhaps, so that the ecstasy would come over him at just the right moment.
It had been a long day of odd and unforgettable sights, and now, another presented itself: a Mongol backing away from the corner of a poultry hutch, slashing and thrusting with a short curved blade. He cared nothing for what lay behind his stumbling feet, but stared in horror and grunted like a whipped donkey -- for the last second of his life.
From around the hutch, striking from on high like a silver bolt, a six-foot sword caught the Mongol where neck joins the shoulder, sliced down through his torso, and emerged from his opposite side, just above the hipbone. The two halves of him fell in opposite directions, intestines boiling out, as if they'd waited twenty years for an opportunity to leap free.
Not Istvan's work -- that huge sword.
Eleazar stepped into view, making no effort to break the sword's momentum but letting it follow through, raising his hands above his head to keep its tip from plunging into the ground. He gracefully stepped around with the sword's point as the center of his arc, checking behind to make sure that no one else was creeping up.
Getting caught in this melee was not going to help Cnan, and might complicate matters for Eleazar and (assuming he was in there somewhere) Istvan, and so she drew back and spoke calmly to her mount, peeling off from her course and convincing the horse to adopt a judicious trotting gait.
Not a horse person, she'd been slow to understand the others' fascination with spares. It made sense abstractly, of course. But it had taken the sight of the onrushing horde to really fix it in her mind. Several Mongol ponies were now wandering aimlessly about the perimeter of the farmstead, nosing about for forage. Thanks to Istvan, who had apparently shot some of their owners from cover -- she recognized his shafts projecting from the Mongols' bodies -- they were now spares and she reckoned she could do something useful by rounding them up. To her they paid little heed, but they were social animals, and not above joining a herd. So she devoted a little while to gathering up the ponies and leading them in a slow whorl around the farmstead while she counted dead Mongols and waited for the final few to be hunted down by Istvan and Eleazar. The ponies became used to her, and she began speaking to them in Turkic, with which they seemed familiar.
The two knights finally emerged from the warren, and at the same moment, Raphael and Percival came galloping in from the riverbank. Istvan, red with gore, led a few more spares, and Percival, nearly pristine, tugged at a balky string of four. They now had three or four mounts for each of their group.
Cnan joined them. An interesting conversation might now have passed between Istvan and the others, but of course there was no time. Indeed the first and most impetuous of the Mongol outriders was already cresting the bank, though this had to be guessed by sound, rather than sight, as the sun was well down and the scene lit only by grey twilight.
"The woods?" Percival suggested, raising his clutch of reins. "It's either brambles or arrows. I prefer brambles."
"Follow," said Istvan.
So they followed. And the Mongols followed them.