We’re delighted to share with you the second chapter of Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell. We know, we’re SO nice. You can catch up on the first chapter here.
Tyrant’s Throne, the 4th book in the Greatcoats series, will be published on 20th April 2017 in the UK and 6th June 2017 in the USA. And even better – if you preorder the book and send us proof, you can receive The Secrets of the Greatcoats, an exclusive collection of never-before-seen information about the world of the Greatcoats, including the final letters King Paelis wrote to our three heroes Falcio, Kest and Brasti. For more details, see here.
So, without further pre-ample, here is the second chapter in the truly brilliant Tyrant’s Throne …
The Reluctant Jury
This man had your husband killed!’ Chalmers cried out, still straining against the grip of the guardsmen restraining her. ‘His troops surround your parents’ keep even as your sister languishes in a cage below this very deck. Would you betray your own family for—?’
Lady Cestina gripped the Greatcoat’s jaw with her hand, pressing her fingernails into the flesh. ‘My family betrayed me – they refused to even listen to my plans; instead they fawn and cower before that old crone Duchess Ossia! The bitch trades away the future of our duchy to that foolish child in Aramor – but she will never be crowned Queen, not as long as those of us with noble breeding stand up for our freedoms.’
Evidalle took this as his cue to address the assembled nobles. ‘Lords and Daminas, Viscounts and Viscountesses, we have brought you here not only to witness our wedding, but to unite with us in a far greater purpose.’
The scraping of chair legs against the polished oak deck drew attention to a man of middle years with streaks of grey in his dark hair rising to his feet. ‘You intend to take Duchess Ossia’s throne for yourself?’
‘I intend something far grander than that, Lord Braimond. I would see us put an end to the reign of the Dukes once and for all!’
The musicians stopped playing as astonishment spread across the wedding barge, the guests erupting in furious whispers.
‘Here me out,’ Evidalle said, raising his hands for quiet. ‘We have a chance, right now, while those who have held us beneath their thumb for too long now struggle to restore order to the country. Castle Aramor is in ruins, the Dukes of Hervor, Orison and Luth are dead, their thrones sitting empty – so let us ensure they remain so. Let us become once and for all masters of our own domains, free from interference by the Crown, free from the petty, intrusive demands of weak and ageing Dukes who understand nothing of our lives and needs.’ He strode over to where his guards held Chalmers and wrapped a hand around her neck. ‘And above all, free from the tyranny of those who would seek to impose their laws on our lands.’
Lord Braimond shook his head in disbelief. ‘Have you lost your mind? You would set us at war with the Greatcoats: the very men and women who not three months ago fought and killed a God!’
‘Theatrics,’ Evidalle countered, his eyes still on Chalmers. ‘Stories. The Trattari are flesh and blood, just like this one. The Bardatti turn their petty exploits into legends to instil fear in us – well, we too can turn such tales to our benefit. I spread the story of a delicately nurtured girl, stripped of her rights and soon to be ravaged by the big bad nobleman, and sure enough, one of the Trattari comes running right into my little trap.’
Lady Rochlan set down her wine goblet and rose from her chair, signalling with a shake of her head for her Knight to remain where he was. ‘What purpose has this ploy of yours served, Evidalle? You cannot expect us to believe that this rather shabby Greatcoat you have captured was your intended prize.’
‘My venture was a fishing expedition, I admit,’ Evidalle said, keeping his hand around Chalmers’ neck. ‘I would have preferred to have reeled in a nice big trout, perhaps even their so-called First Cantor, or the one who once claimed to be the Saint of Swords – but see how easily my lure has taken this little catfish? She will do just fine for a start.’
Chalmers, struggling to speak, wheezed, ‘The start of what?’
The Margrave leaned in closer. ‘War, my little minnow. When word of what I have begun here spreads, nobles across the country will set their own traps. The would-be Queen and her puppet Dukes won’t be able to protect their precious Greatcoats, and they will soon see that the only laws we will abide on our lands are the ones we choose for ourselves.’
He turned his gaze back to his guests. ‘Who will join me in the fight to free our country? Who will be the first to drive their dagger into the Trattari’s heart before we send her body floating along the river that it may find its way to Duchess Ossia’s doorstep?’
‘You—’ Chalmers started coughing.
Evidalle lightened his grip. ‘What’s that?’
‘You forgot something,’ Chalmers spat, ‘you repulsive man-child – you damned, damnable dung-eating worm—’
Several of the guardsmen raised their weapons to strike, but the Margrave shook his head and they stayed their hands. The smile he gave Chalmers was almost generous. ‘Go on, then. You’re bordering on poetry now. What final devastating curse would you utter for me?’
Chalmers tried to draw breath, but Evidalle had begun squeezing again.
‘The Greatcoats are coming.’
Evidalle stared at Chalmers – who looked surprised herself, for she was too busy being choked to have spoken. The Margrave spun around and started peering into the crowd of faces.
‘Show yourself,’ he demanded. ‘Who dares to say those words in my presence?’
No one answered. No one moved.
The Greatcoats are coming.
The words hung in the air like an incantation meant to conjure up swordsmen from thin air. The guards and guests had started looking around themselves, as if at any moment the sounds of horses’ hooves might echo along the wedding barge’s highly polished oak planking. The Knights kept their hands on the hilts of their swords, awaiting an invasion that never came.
Finally Evidalle broke the silence with a dismissive snort. ‘By the Saints dead and living, just look at all of you! Does the mere mention of their names steal the air from your lungs? Greatcoats? You fear a paltry few disgraced magistrates who march to the tune of the bastard child of a dead King?’
‘It’s not only the Greatcoats,’ Lady Rochlan pointed out. ‘Many of us have had to deal with their juries even after the magistrates themselves have left our lands. You play a dangerous game, Margrave.’
With his free hand, Evidalle grabbed at the front of Chalmers’ coat and tore a button free. ‘Is this what concerns you? These little symbols of their office?’ He tossed it on the deck and watched it roll away. ‘Come then, let us see who picks up the coin and swears themselves to the Trattari’s cause. Let us see what kind of jury she will find here.’
One by one, Evidalle tore off the remaining buttons, throwing them to the deck as the wedding guests watched in uncomfortable silence. He was about to throw the last button when he paused to look at it, then let go of the girl so that he could peel away the leather shell that covered the gold coin underneath: the payment every juror would take in exchange for their vow to uphold a verdict.
When nothing came away, Evidalle stared at the young woman’s coat. ‘This isn’t even a true coat of office!’
Chalmers looked stricken, but her voice remained defiant. ‘I may not have the clothes, you bastard, but I am as much a Greatcoat as any of you have ever known.’ She turned her gaze to the wedding guests. ‘I have come to enforce a lawful verdict against this man. Those few among you who still remember a time when your heart knew honour and duty are hereby summoned to serve as my jurors.’
Evidalle’s fury wiped out any trace of refinement as he screamed, ‘You stupid child, you’ve wasted my time! All my efforts, for nothing!’ He threw away the remaining button and it hit the seasick servant who had been doing his best to keep the guests’ goblets filled with wine.
The Margrave caught sight of the cleric in grey robes standing a few yards away. ‘You, cleric, what number is most sacred to the Gods?’
The hooded monk tilted his head slightly. ‘That’s . . . an excellent question. One could argue that six is the number most beloved of the Gods, for that is how many we recognise in Tristia. On the other hand, since by all accounts they’re now dead, it’s hard to say whether—’
‘Just give me a number, damn you! A bigger one.’
The cleric paused. ‘Twelve – if for no other reason tha—’
‘Fine.’ Evidalle turned to his guardsmen. ‘Release her.’
Chalmers immediately reached down to grab her weapon from the deck, but one of the guards kicked her in the arse and she fell to her hands and knees.
Evidalle turned to the audience, the smile returning to his face. ‘Well, my Lords and Ladies? The Trattari needs twelve jurors. Who among you will take up her cause? Who will—?’
A rustle of cloth nearby caught the attention of both the guards and the Margrave. The monk in grey was kneeling to pick up one of the buttons from the ground.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Evidalle asked.
‘Taking my payment,’ the monk replied, carefully examining the plain round piece of leather-covered wood as he held it up to the sun. ‘I’ll serve on her jury.’
One of the clerics in green, a servant of the dead God Coin, stepped forward and grabbed the monk by the front of his robes. ‘What heresy is this?’ he demanded. ‘Who are you, that you would dare risk the wrath of the Gods?’
The monk in grey shrugged. ‘Alas, I’ve never had much use for religion, your Holiness.’ He pocketed the button and then placed his hand on the cleric’s wrist and gently but firmly removed it. ‘However, if any deity wishes to register a formal complaint, they may meet me in the duelling circle at their convenience. As it happens, I’ve already seen at least one God die that way.’
The cleric in green drew away in disgust. ‘You’re no monk, to speak such blasphemy.’
‘I confess, you are correct, Venerati.’ The monk raised both arms above his head and his sleeves slid down, revealing that he was missing his right hand. With his left he tore off the robes, revealing the long leather coat beneath and the shield strapped to his back. As he walked past the shocked guards to stand with Chalmers, he said, ‘My name is Kest Murrowson, a magistrate of the Greatcoats.’ He paused for effect, before adding unnecessarily, ‘And I am the Queen’s Shield.’
The guards began to close in on the two Greatcoats.
‘Thanks for the support,’ Chalmers said. ‘Though it would have been more helpful if you’d brought, you know, a sword or something.’
Kest removed the shield from his back and slipped it onto his arm. ‘I do all right with this.’
Lady Rochlan strode forward. ‘You see now, Margrave Evidalle? Already your arrogant scheme has put all of our lives in danger.’ To Kest she added, ‘I have no part in this, Trattari. I am loyal to the Duchess Ossia.’
Evidalle’s face grew ugly at this first tentative hint of rebellion. ‘You stupid cow – you think this one man changes anything? You think the Greatcoats will save any of you from my wrath?’ He reached to grab at her, only to scream with such anguish that the seabirds went fleeing from the topmast.
The Margrave stared down in horror at the arrow sprouting from his hand.
‘I believe this Chalmers person did, in fact, warn you about what would happen if those greedy fingers of yours went places they didn’t belong,’ said the cook’s assistant. In his left hand was a short bow made of some pale yellow wood. His right reached down to pick up the remainder of a roast chicken.
‘You know, they have plenty of poultry at Aramor,’ Kest said.
One of the guardsmen strode over to the cook’s assistant. ‘Who the devil are you?’
‘Just a minute,’ the assistant replied. ‘Kest, chickens in the south just taste better. You know that. Besides, the new royal chef over-spices everything.’ He turned his attention back to the guardsman and tossed him the carcase of the chicken before wiping his hand on his shirt and absently pulling another arrow out from behind the spit. ‘To answer your question, friend, my name is Brasti Goodbow, and I am the Queen’s Jest.’
‘Treason!’ Evidalle squeaked, his voice breaking. As a squat man carrying a healer’s silver case started making his way towards the Margrave, several clerics fell in close behind, all muttering prayers to their various Gods. Evidalle’s eyes went to the guardsmen. ‘Kill them, you fools,’ he commanded. ‘There are only two real Greatcoats to deal with—’
‘About that,’ Kest said. He picked up another of the buttons and tossed it over the heads of the wedding party towards the back of the ship. The eyes of the assembled guests followed its trajectory until a hand reached up and snatched the button from the air.
Shocked gasps erupted from the crowd, who’d all risen from their seats to see who had dared to catch it.
I stuck the button in the pocket of my livery and returned to refilling Lady Rochlan’s wine before setting the flagon down on the table beside her, being careful to prevent its contents spilling on her fine white feather-trimmed dress. She’d been polite to me all afternoon, despite thinking me a servant, and besides, the wine looked like a decent claret and there was a reasonable chance I’d soon be thirsty. Also, I was still feeling a bit seasick. ‘Pardon me, my Lady,’ I said, and reached past her leg to where one of my rapiers was strapped under the table.
She put a hand on my arm. ‘There are far too many of them, you silly fool. You’ll only die here if you try to fight.’
I patted her hand before removing it, oddly touched by her concern, though I wasn’t entirely sure that she’d figured out who I was; maybe she simply didn’t want to lose a reasonably competent servant.
I withdrew my blade and leaped onto the table, knocking over a full plate of duck – but not spilling the claret and, most importantly, not falling on my arse.
Evidalle grimaced in pain as the healer poured a dark, viscous fluid around the spot where the arrow still pierced his hand. ‘Who in all the hells are you?’ he asked.
I smiled. ‘My name, your Lordship, is Falcio val Mond.’ My throat felt a bit dry, a product of having to maintain a servant’s silence all day, so I reached down and took a swig from the wine – and I was right, it was an excellent vintage – before I added, ‘I am the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, also called the King’s Heart. You might not know it yet, Margrave Evidalle, but you are having a very bad day.