The Heron Kings Chapter 1

The Heron Kings Chapter 1

The Heron Kings Eric Lewis author dark fantasy grimdark fantasy Dishonored 2 Addermire solution Dishonored Rune Chassepot bayonet Inkarnate vs Wonderdraft theme RJ Barker The Bone Ships Jonathan French The Grey Bastards Josiah Bancroft The Hod King Senlin Ascends Windlass Towton Sword Peter McLean Priest of Bones Priest of Lies Priest of Gallows heron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel addermire solution inkarnate maps senlin ascends dishonored runes amazon

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Chapter One

An Absurd World


“It has become fashionable, in our study of the histories of the Heron Kings, to fixate on this one figure or that and mythologize them as being the critical character, the defining embodiment of the whole. One hero, one villain, one great story! This is human nature, but of course it is folly. Not one of them could ever have accomplished what they did alone. It was only together, as one extraordinary group of ordinary people, that they changed the course of history. This is the uncomfortable truth that our vestigial nobility would have the Commons forget. All the more vital, then, that they do not forget.”

—From a censored excerpt of Professor Emeritus Rigobert’s retirement speech, University of Murento


A fresh spurt of blood spattered into Alessia’s face, painting a smear across her cheek. She didn’t flinch this time, barely noticed it with all her attention focused on the task at hand – the sharp instruments, the rent flesh, her own precise movements. The soldier lying before her howled, and the walls of the temple chamber echoed it back tenfold.

“Mother of gods, stop!”

“Oh, shut up,” said Alessia, bracing her elbow against his clavicle to try and stop the squirming. “And hold still, you’re only making it worse.”

You’re makin’ it worse! It hurts!”

“Good! That’s how you know you’re not dead. Which is probably what you deserve, but not…quite…yet.” She stabbed her needle around the jagged hole in his side again. One last time and it’d be over, one last time he screamed.

“Aargh! Damned evil witches, damned temples—”

Alessia slapped her victim, hard. “Insult me all you like, but you will not blaspheme against the Polytheon in here. There, done. You’ll live, for what it’s worth.”

With the bleeding stopped Alessia turned away, bone-weary. Across the nave a dozen and more like scenes played out – some with screamed profanities, some with moans, and some in silence. The sisters flitted about like angels of death, praying for the lost souls of some and sending others back into the world for another measure of misery.

The convent temple was a circular, sepulchral space of hewn stone, capped by a great dome painted with frescoes of gods and saints and men reaching up toward a precious disc of colored glass at its apex that turned noonday sunlight blue. In days of peace that seemed now so ancient, worshipers would assemble around that circle to receive the benediction of the gods from the Mother tending the altar. Now the greatest blessing to be hoped for was survival, and a hazy mist of steam and desperate sweat hung in the air. Alessia dipped her hands into the basin set in the midst of it all, the water near scalding though she’d been scrubbed too numb to feel it. A young acolyte rushed past to replace the pink rags on the altar with fresh ones before disappearing again.

“You enjoyed that.” The accusing voice behind her did make her flinch, even after three years. Still, she tried and failed to hold back a little grin.

“Is it not proper,” Alessia said, turning slowly, “to take joy from one’s work, Mother?”

“Don’t play clever with me girl, you well know what I mean.” Mother Tanusia was herself covered in gore that lent her glare of disapproval an unsettling aspect.

“Well, why not? Hard to drum up much sympathy – these men are the lucky ones. Those they killed not as much.”

Tanusia shook a gnarly finger in Alessia’s red-streaked face. “That is not your concern, nor mine! Nothing outside these walls is. I’ve told you a thousand times.”

“I know, I know. Where’s this lot from, anyway?”

“Who can say anymore?” Tanusia sighed. “Some pointless skirmish not far away, come to us from both sides. Hard to believe, but it was less savage when it was professionals doing the fighting. These poor fools know nothing but to hack at each other like lunatics. This war has to end soon. They’re running out of men to fight it.”

“Maybe they’ll start drafting women.”

“Don’t you even think that! You just try to find new reserves of patience and sympathy. Be a shame for a bright thing like you to turn cynic so young.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“And remember, this temple serves as a hospital, not a torture chamber. Try to find some opiphine, or wolfsbane, something before you cut men open again.” There’d been no opiphine to be found since the first season of the war.

“Yes, Mother.” As Tanusia turned away to some other task, Alessia’s patient put an emphasis on the point by crying out anew.

“And will you please shut him up!”

Yes, Mother.”



Alessia and a few other sisters sat sprawled on benches in the corner, too tired even to stagger back to the dormitory. Those men who were going to die had mostly done so, and the ones who weren’t lay unconscious on the cots that littered the place.

“Are we done?” she asked nobody in particular.

“Done, for now.” Sister Livielle started to force herself to her feet. “Almost. I need to check the bandage on that head wound.”

“I’ll do it, you get some rest.”

“Needn’t tell me twice….”

Alessia forced herself to her feet, regarding Livielle with affectionate amusement. “Gods spare you dreams of today, love.”

While Liv dozed Alessia made one last round of inspections. As she was trudging back to the bench one of the soldiers she’d worked on turned his pained gaze toward her.


“Yes, what is it?”

“I’m sorry. For…what I said earlier. The pain….”

She sighed heavily. She was tired and annoyed, and in no mood to play nursemaid. Patience and sympathy. “Forget about it. You just worry about getting better so you can get off that bed and make room for someone else.”

“Yes ma’am. I just wonder…if it all even made any difference.”

Alessia wondered that herself more and more, despite her oath of neutrality. Argovan and Bergovny were two kingdoms sharing one peninsula, and little difference between them. The brief moment of unity forged by the old high king had been shattered when his death was followed soon after – some might say suspiciously – by that of his young son. It left a Bergovan duke and the king’s second wife, an Argovani countess, both claiming the throne, and two years of war had failed to settle the matter. Much like the twinned countries themselves, Alessia saw no cause to prefer one faction over the other, for each spilled their enemy’s blood just as easily, the wounded each sought the sanctuary of the Polytheon. Though she’d never intended it, the conversion of the temple house into a makeshift hospital had given the novice sister the skills of an advanced physic, and there was no sign that her training was likely to ease off anytime soon.

Fatigue only somewhat blunted the shock when her thoughts were interrupted by the boom of the temple’s wide double doors being struck from outside. What now? she thought with consternation as they rumbled open.

Two columns of armed men marched into the nave, led by an aged, grim-looking brute with black sable draped over his shoulders and dull mail armor from neck to knee. He carried a high-crowned helm in his right hand while the left cradled the hilt of a long, ugly sword at his hip. “Who’s in charge here?” The warlord wrinkled his nose at the stench of putrefying viscera while scanning the long nave, taking in the rows of wounded, the sisters, the acolytes, the bits of discarded bandage strewn about.

“Go fetch Mother,” Alessia whispered to Livielle, “quickly.” She stepped forward. “May the gods light your path, Lord…?”

“Taurix,” the man spat. “High Marshal to King Pharamund.”

“Taurix. Welcome to the temple of the Artameran Polyth—”

“Whatever. I’m told that piece of shit Ludolphus what calls himself a general passed this way. Is that so?”

Alessia curtsied as she’d been taught to do before the high and mighty, ridiculous in her cold, blood-drenched habit. “I’m sorry, but we don’t ask the names of those who visit, only that they come and go in peace.”

Taurix sighed. “He would’ve left some wounded men with you.”

Is he serious? Alessia looked him square in the eye. “Well as you can see we get wounded with some regularity. You’ll have to be more specific. There is a war on, you know.”

Taurix stared back down at her unblinkingly, and for a few seconds Alessia was sure he was going to run her through with that nasty sword. Oh, that was stupid, she thought.

Instead he broke into a hard chuckle. “It’s well that you keep that mouth behind these walls, girl. Few live to speak that way to a lord of the Marches a second time.”

What goes on here?” Mother Tanusia’s voice boomed as she strode from the rectory office. “So, has the royal struggle finally spread across the sea to Holy Artamera that an army invades a house of the Polytheon?”

Taurix turned to the woman, noted the stripe on her habit that signified her authority. “Not at all, Mother. At least not yet. In fact we’re grateful for the care of His Grace’s soldiers. Your house should look to be richly rewarded once these treasonous rebels are put down.”

“That we should live to see that day is all the reward we desire, my lord,” Tanusia replied with barely concealed sarcasm.

“Yet, it seems you’ve made an unfortunate mistake.” Taurix’s tone suddenly became lighter, even more terrifying.


“Indeed. For I see that in addition to the king’s loyal defenders, you have among you a number of those very traitors.” Taurix tossed his helmet to another of his company, then stepped slowly over to a fellow with an amputated leg lying on one of the cots, insensate from the brandy it’d taken to calm him. Though blooded and torn, his tunic still bore the green badges of General Ludolphus and Countess Engwara – the ‘treasonous rebels’. “Allow me, Mother, to lighten your burden.”

Before any could react he plunged his sword through the man’s belly and the cot, the tip stopping just short of the stone floor. The man jerked, eyes wide. Alessia let out a short, shrill scream and the acolytes and most of the sisters scattered from the nave in horror.

No! How dare you!” Tanusia roared with such fury that some of Taurix’s own men took half a step backward. She ran to the doomed patient just as he slipped away into death, gurgling blood. “This house is sacred ground, you’ve no right—”

“Don’t lecture me, woman. Your temple’s inviolate only so long as you keep your oath to take part in no wars.”

“We’ve taken no part!”

“No? Look around – giving aid and comfort to the enemy seems to me to be very much taking part.”

“But…that’s absurd.”

“It’s an absurd world we live in, Mother.” He moved to the next patient and raised his sword again. Alessia’s patient. She moved to dive between Taurix and his victim, and with barely a thought the lord turned and struck her across the jaw, sending her flying backward. “Go among them,” he said to his retinue. “Root out the traitors.” While Taurix dispatched the man beneath him the others fanned out across the chamber, checking each patient for identifying badges or marks. A few wounded tried to crawl away, succeeding only in making themselves targets. Screams rang out anew.

Powerless to stop the slaughter, Tanusia crept along the wall to where Alessia lay dazed, watching helplessly as nearly half the lives they’d fought to save were snuffed out. “You…sick butcher,” the Mother hissed.

“Spare me the dramatics. As that cheeky bitch on the floor pointed out, there’s a war on! If you dare harbor criminals again, expect to be considered a military target. Next time it won’t be a smack in the mouth. Understood?”

Tanusia glared up at Taurix as she cradled Alessia in her arms. “Yes,” she answered with bitterness.

“Yes, what?

“Yes, lord.”


Alessia spat into the cloth, the blood her own this time. The whole right side of her face throbbed. Punishment from the gods for enjoying my job too much. The damage seemed limited to one lost tooth – a far lighter penance than her patients had suffered.

Livielle touched her gently, as if she were a drifty snowman to collapse at the barest mishandling. “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” Alessia answered, trying a weak smile and feeling another trickle on her chin. “Fine enough.” They’d finished the disposal of the new-made corpses, and that dark work weighed on them both. “I just can’t believe Mother groveled before that bastard, said ‘yes, lord’ like some fellating harlot….”

“What else could she do? What could anyone do?” For once Livielle forgot to pretend shock at such crude language.

“I don’t know. Something.”

“Like get her face bashed in? Didn’t do you much good.”

“That was dumb. But I couldn’t just stand there and watch those people get stuck like pigs.” Alessia flung a blooded rag into a bucket, very tired all of a sudden.

“Best not think on it anymore,” said Livielle. “At least no other sisters were hurt, though the acolytes are still shaken poor dears.” She leaned in closer. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but…you already have a bit of a following.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Charging a monster like that, are you kidding? Sister Evandri’s calling you ‘the warrior priestess’.”

“Wha— That’s heresy!”

“Just a little one. The gods won’t mind.”

“Well it’s stupid.” Alessia scowled. “Tell her to stop it. Anyway the question now’s what to do about—”

“Sisters!” The cry came from Eudo, a simpleton who tended ground at the temple, and the only male with leave to come and go without escort. He tottered into the nave with a trembling lip.

“Eudo,” Alessia asked, speaking softly to try and calm him, “what frights you so?”

“Peoples is come!” He danced from one foot to the other and whined.

“More soldiers, like yesterday?”

“No, lowfolks. Some looks hurted.”

“No rest for the wicked,” sighed Livielle. “Very well, Eudo, open the doors and we’ll get—”

“Wait.” Mother Tanusia appeared between them. “We must know where they come from first…who they bend knee to.” Some light, some strength had gone out of the woman since the confrontation. She would not meet either of the sisters’ eyes, nor even Eudo’s.

“What’s that matter?” asked Livielle.

Alessia already knew the answer, and her stomach churned at it. “Because we can’t risk the wrath of the great warlord a second time. That’s it, isn’t it?”

Tanusia nodded. “I’ve no choice. I won’t endanger the lives of the sisters and acolytes.”

“But charity is one of the gods’ commands,” Livielle insisted, “doubly so in time of war! How can we not—”

“If that beast decides to pay us another visit we won’t be providing charity to anyone at all. It seems this war has elevated a very different breed, and we must navigate them as best we can.”

Alessia felt bile mixing with the blood in her mouth. “So we pick sides and turn away whoever happens to be on the wrong one? What happens when Engwara gets herself one of these breed, comes and says the exact same thing? Who do you obey then? Or will you just shut out the world entire and wait for them to burn the temple down around us?”

Tanusia’s face reddened. “What would you have me do? What course would you suggest, sister?” Alessia just quivered in wordless, impotent rage. “Then hold your tongue and be content.”

She sent Eudo to a high window to question them. The peasants were the few to escape Taurix’s latest raids, and they piled against the door crying, “Help us, by the gods!” because they’d been preached to all their lives about the charity of the Artameran Polytheon.

“That’s it then,” said Tanusia when Eudo brought an answer, defeated. “They’re Baroness Brathilde’s landbound. Whether they will it or no those people are enemies of Taurix, of Pharamund. We mustn’t let them inside.”

The gathered sisters stared at Tanusia as if she’d grown horns. “You can’t be serious,” Alessia said. “You’re condemning—”

Tanusia cut her off with a swipe of her hand. “The doors stay shut! That’s final.”

“Aye,” growled Alessia, “well gods damn us then.”


The wounded pushed higher and harder against the doors and pelted the building with cries, with curses and finally with rocks. Tanusia shut herself inside her cell with fists tight against her ears. Two days it persisted, and more than once Alessia moved to unbar the doors only to find Eudo parked there like a stone gargoyle, even to sleep. If she tried to sneak past he’d pop an eye open and whine, “Mother said no,” obedient to Tanusia’s command even if he did not understand it.

The pleas outside faded, then were gone. Tanusia emerged from her cell red-eyed and ordered the bar lifted. The doors opened and the late-day sun poured in orange light carrying with it a too-familiar smell, and as they swung inward bodies stiff with rigor mortis dropped to the ground. The outsides of the doors were riddled with gouges matched by splinters buried under the fingernails of the dead.



If you enjoyed this first chapter, please check out the rest of the novel:

heron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel addermire solution inkarnate maps senlin ascends dishonored runes amazonheron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel addermire solution inkarnate maps senlin ascends dishonored runes amazonheron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel addermire solution inkarnate maps senlin ascends dishonored runes amazonheron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel addermire solution inkarnate maps senlin ascends dishonored runes amazonheron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel addermire solution inkarnate maps senlin ascends dishonored runes amazon



The Heron Kings Eric Lewis author dark fantasy grimdark fantasy Dishonored 2 Addermire solution Dishonored Rune Chassepot bayonet Inkarnate vs Wonderdraft theme RJ Barker The Bone Ships Jonathan French The Grey Bastards Josiah Bancroft The Hod King Senlin Ascends Windlass Towton Sword Peter McLean Priest of Bones Priest of Lies Priest of Gallows heron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel