Legacy of Ash – Matthew Ward – blog tour extract

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Matthew Ward’s Legacy of Ash – it’s a big chonky fantasy book, but more on that later!

First, an extract from the start of the book. Get yourself a brew, settle down and enjoy!


One

Preparations had taken weeks. Statues had been re-gilded. Familial portraits unveiled from dusty canvas and set in places of honour.

The stained glass of the western window glittered in the afternoon sun-light. Come the hour of Ascension it would blaze like fire and cast an image of divine Lumestra into the hall so that the sun goddess too would stand among the guests.

It would not be so elsewhere. In the houses beneath Branghall’s walls the part of Lumestra would be played by a doll, her limbs carved from firewood and her golden hair woven from last year’s straw. There, her brief reign would not end with the fading of the sun. Instead, hearth-fires would usher her home on tongues of flame.

The chasm between rich and poor, ruler and ruled, was never more evident than at Ascension. Josiri strove to be mindful of that. For all that had befallen his family, he retained comfort and privilege denied to many.

But a prison remained a prison, even if the bars were gilded and the guards polite.

Most of the guards.

“That will have to come down.” Arzro Makrov extended a finger to the portrait above High Table. “She has no place here, or anywhere else in the Tressian Republic.”

Josiri exchanged a glance with Anastacia. The seneschal’s black eyes glimmered a warning, reinforced by a slight shake of her head. Josiri ignored both and stepped closer, footsteps hollow on the hall’s flagstones. “No place?”

Makrov flinched but held his ground. “Katya Trelan was a traitor.” Impotent anger kindled. Fifteen years on, and the wound remained

raw as ever.

“This was my mother’s home,” said Josiri carefully. “She would have celebrated her fifty-fifth year this Ascension. Her body is ash, but she will be present in spirit.”

“No.”

Makrov drew his corpulent body up to its full, unimpressive height. The setting sun lent his robes the rich warmth of fresh blood. Ironic for a man so pallid. The intricate silver ward-brooch was a poor match for his stolid garb. But without it, he could not have crossed the enchanted manor wall.

Josiri’s throat tightened. He locked gazes with Makrov for a long moment, and then let his eyes fall upon the remaining “guests”. Would any offer support?

Shaisan Yanda didn’t meet his gaze, but that was to be expected. As governor of the Southshires, she was only present to ensure Josiri did nothing rash. Nonetheless, the slight curl to her lip suggested she found Makrov’s behaviour tiresome. She’d fought for the Council at Zanya, and on other battlefields besides, earning both her scars and the extra weight that came with advancing years.

As for Valmir Sark, he paid little attention. His interest lay more with ancestral finery . . . and likely in broaching Branghall’s wine cellars come Ascension. Josiri had heard enough of Sark to know he was present only to spare his family another scandal. The high-collared uniform might as well have been for show. Sark was too young to have fought against Katya’s rebellion. And as for him standing a turn on the Hadari border? The thought was laughable.

That left Anastacia, and her opinion carried no sway.

If only Calenne were there. She’d always had more success in dealing with the Council’s emissaries, and more patience. Where in Lumestra’s name was she? She’d promised.

Josiri swallowed his irritation. He’d enough enemies without adding his sister to the roster.

“The portrait remains,” he said. “This is my house. I’ll thank you to remember that.”

Makrov’s wispy grey eyebrows knotted. “Were it up to me, I’d allow it. Truly I would. But the Council insists. Katya Trelan brought nothing but division and strife. Her shadow should not mar Ascension.”

Only the slightest pause between the words imbued challenge. Josiri’s self-control, so painstakingly fortified before the meeting, slipped a notch. He shook off Anastacia’s restraining hand and took another step.

Yanda’s lips tightened to a thin, bloodless streak. Her hand closed meaningfully about the pommel of her sword. Sark gazed on with parted mouth and the first spark of true interest.

“It is my hope,” said Josiri, “that my mother’s presence will serve as a message of unity.”

Makrov stared up at the portrait. “I applaud your intent. But the law-less are not quelled by gestures, but by strong words, and stronger action.”

“I’ve given what leadership I can.”

“I know,” said Makrov. “I’ve read reports of your speeches. I’d like to hear one for myself. Tomorrow at noon?”

It was an artful twist of the knife. “If you wish.”

“Excellent.” He raised his voice. “Governor Yanda. You’ll ensure his grace isn’t speaking to an empty square? I’m sure Captain Sark will be delighted to assist.”

“Of course, my lord,” said Yanda. “And the portrait?”

Makrov locked gazes with Katya Trelan’s dead stare. “I want it taken down and burned. Her body is ash. Let her spirit join it. I can think of no stronger message of unity.”

“I won’t do it,” Josiri said through gritted teeth.

“Yes, you will.” Makrov sighed. “Your grace. Josiri. I entertained hopes that you’d lead your people out of the past. But the Council’s patience is not infinite. They may decide upon another exodus if there’s anything less than full cooperation.”

Exodus. The word sounded harmless. The reality was punishment meted out for a rebellion fifteen years in the past; families divided, stolen children shipped north to toil as little more than slaves. Makrov sought to douse a fire with tinder.

“Your mother’s memory poisons you. As it poisons your people.” Makrov set his hands on Josiri’s shoulders. “Let her go. I have.”

But he hadn’t. That was why Makrov remained the Council’s chief emissary to the Southshires, despite his advancing years and expanding waistline. His broken heart had never healed, but Katya Trelan lay fifteen years beyond his vengeance. And so he set his bitterness against her people, and against a son who he believed should have been his.

Makrov offered an avuncular smile. “You’ll thank me one day.” Josiri held his tongue, not trusting himself to reply. Makrov strode

away, Sark falling into step behind. Yanda hesitated a moment before following.

“Tomorrow at noon, your grace. I look forward to it.” Makrov spoke without turning, the words echoing along the rafters. Then he was gone.

Josiri glanced up at his mother’s portrait. Completed a year before her death, it captured to perfection the gleam of her eyes and the inscrutable perhaps-mocking, maybe-sympathetic smile. At least, Josiri thought it did. Fifteen years was a long time. He saw little of himself in his mother’s likeness, but then he’d always been more akin to his father. The same unruly blond hair and lantern jaw. The same lingering resentment at forces beyond his control.

He perched on the edge of High Table and swallowed his irritation. He couldn’t afford anger. Dignity was the cornerstone of leadership, or so his mother had preached.

“When I was a boy,” he said, “my father told me that people are scared and stupid more than they are cruel. I thought he’d handed me the key to some great mystery. Now? The longer I spend in Makrov’s company, the more I suspect my father told me what he wished were true.”

Anastacia drew closer. Her outline blurred like vapour, as it always did when her attention wandered. Like her loose tangle of snow-white curls and impish features, the robes of a Trelan seneschal were for show. A concession. Josiri wasn’t sure what Anastacia’s true form actually was. Only black, glossy eyes – long considered the eyes of a witch, or a demon, bereft of iris and sclera – offered any hint.

The Council’s proctors had captured her a year or so after the Battle of Zanya. Branghall, already a prison in all but name, had become her new home shortly after. Anastacia spoke often of what she’d done to deserve Tressian ire. The problem was, no two tales matched.

In one, she’d seduced and murdered a prominent councillor. In another, she’d instead seduced and murdered that same councillor’s husband. A third story involved ransacking a church. And then there was the tale about a choir of serenes, and indecency that left the holy women’s vows of chastity in tatters. After a dozen such stories, ranging from ribald to horrific, Josiri had stopped asking.

But somewhere along the line, they’d become friends. More than friends. If Makrov ever learned how close they were, it wouldn’t be the gallows that awaited Josiri, but the pyre.

Pallid wisps of light curled from Anastacia’s arched eyebrow. “The archimandrite is foolish in the way only clever men are. As for afraid? If he wasn’t, you’d not be his prisoner.”

Josiri snorted. “My mother casts a long shadow. But I’m not her.” “No. Your mother lost her war. You’ll win yours.” “Flatterer.”

The eyebrow twitched a fraction higher. “Isn’t that a courtier’s function?”

Genuine confusion, or another of Anastacia’s little jokes? It was always hard to be sure. “In the rest of the Republic, perhaps. In the Southshires, truth is all we can afford.”

“If you’re going to start moping, I’d like to be excused.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Josiri’s mouth. “If you don’t show your duke a little more respect, he might have you thrown from the manor.” Anastacia sniffed. “He’s welcome to try. But these stones are old, and the Council’s proctors made a thorough job of binding me to them.

You’ll fail before they do.”

“You forget, I’m a Trelan. I’m stubborn.”

“And where did stubbornness get your mother? Or your uncle, for that matter?”

Josiri’s gaze drifted back to his mother’s portrait. “What would she do?” “I doubt she’d put a mere thing, no matter how beautiful, before the lives of her people.” She shrugged. “But she was a Trelan, and some-one once told me – though I can’t remember who – that Trelans are

stubborn.”

“And none more than she,” said Josiri. “I don’t want to give up the last of her.”

Anastacia scratched at the back of her scalp – a mannerism she’d picked up off one of the servants in her frequent forays to the kitchens.

Her appetites were voracious – especially where the manor’s wine cellar was concerned.

“Might I offer some advice, as one prisoner to another?” “Of course.”

“Burn the painting. Your mother’s legacy is not in canvas and oils, but in blood.”

The words provoked a fresh spark of irritation. “Calenne doesn’t seem to think so.”

Anastacia offered no reply. Josiri couldn’t blame her for that. This particular field was well-furrowed. And besides, good advice was good advice. Katya Trelan had died to save her family. That was her true legacy.

“I should tell her how things went,” he said. “Do you know where she is?”

“Where do you think?” Anastacia’s tone grew whimsical to match her expression. “For myself, I might rearrange the window shutters on the upper floor. Just in case some helpful soul’s watching? One who might be agreeable to expressing your annoyance at the archimandrite where you cannot?”

Josiri swallowed a snort of laughter. Regardless of what his mother would have done about the painting, this she would approve of. Humiliation repaid in kind.

“That’s a grand idea.”

Anastacia sniffed again. “Of course it is. Shall we say nightfall?” That ran things close, but the timing should work. Makrov was due

to hold celebration in Eskavord’s tiny church at dusk. Afterwards, he’d make the long ride back to the fortress at Cragwatch. It all depended on whether Crovan’s people were keeping watch on the shutters.

Still, inaction gained nothing.

Josiri nodded. “Nightfall it is.”

Each creak of the stairs elicited a fearful wince, and a palm pressed harder against rough stone. Josiri told himself that the tower hadn’t endured generations of enthusiastic winds just to crumble beneath his own meagre weight. He might even have believed it, if not for that almost imperceptible rocking motion. In his great-grandfather’s time, the tower had been an observatory. Now the roof was a nest of fallen beams, and the walls stone teeth in a shattered jaw.

At least the skies were clear. The vistas almost held the terror at bay, fear paling before beauty. The town of Eskavord sprawled across the east-ern valley, smoke dancing as the Ash Wind – so named for the cinders it gusted from the distant Thrakkian border to the south – brushed the slopes of Drannan Tor. Beyond the outermost farms sprawled the eaves of Davenwood. Beyond that, further east, the high town walls of Kreska nestled in the foothills of the Greyridge Mountains. All of it within a day’s idle ride. Close at hand, and yet out of reach.

But it paid not to look too close. You might see the tabarded soldiers patrolling Eskavord’s streets, or the boarded-up houses. The foreboding gibbets on Gallows Hill. Where Josiri’s Uncle Taymor had danced a final jig – where his mother had burned, her ashes scattered so Lumestra could not easily resurrect her come the light of Third Dawn. It was worse in the month of Reaptithe. Endless supply wagons crept along the sunken roadways like columns of ants, bearing the Southshires’ bounty north.

Duke Kevor Trelan had never been more popular with his people than when he called for secession. The Council had been quick to respond. Josiri still recalled the bleak Tzadas-morning the summons had arrived at Branghall, backed by swords enough to make refusal impossible. It was the last memory he had of his father. But the Council had erred. Duke Kevor’s execution made rebellion inevitable.

Another gust assailed the tower. His panicked step clipped a fragment of stone. It ricocheted off the sun-bleached remnant of a wooden beam and clattered out over the edge.

“I suppose your demon told you where I was?”

Calenne, as usual, perched on the remnants of the old balcony – little more than a spur of timber jutting at right angles to a battered wall. Her back to a pile of rubble, she had one foot hooked across her knee. The other dangled out over the courtyard, three storeys and forty feet below. A leather-bound book lay open across her lap, pages fluttering.

“Her name is Anastacia.”

“That’s not her name.” The wind plucked a spill of black hair from behind Calenne’s ear. She tucked it back into place. “That’s what you call her.”

Calenne had disliked Anastacia from the first, though Josiri had never been clear why, and the passage of time had done little to heal the one-sided divide. Anastacia seldom reciprocated the antipathy, though whether that was because she considered herself above such things, or did so simply to irritate Calenne, Josiri wasn’t sure.

“Because that’s her wish. I don’t call you Enna any longer, do I?” Blue eyes met his then returned to the book. “What do you want?” Josiri shook his head. So very much like their mother. No admission

of wrong, just a new topic.

“I thought you’d be with me to greet Makrov.”

She licked a fingertip and turned the page. “I changed my mind.” “We were discussing the arrangements for your wedding. Or do you

no longer intend to marry at Ascension?”

“That’s why I changed my mind.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

A rare moment of hesitation. “It doesn’t matter.”

“I see.” Steeling himself, Josiri edged closer. “What are you reading?” “This?” Calenne stared down at the book. “A gift from Kasamor. The
Turn of Winter, by Iugo Maliev. I’m told it’s all the rage in Tressia.” “Any good?”

“If you admire a heroine who lets herself be blown from place to place like a leaf on the wind. It’s horrendously fascinating. Or fascinatingly horrendous. I haven’t decided yet.” She closed the book and set it on her knee. “How did the meeting go?”

“I’m to make a speech tomorrow, on the topic of unity.” She scowled. “It went that badly?”

“I didn’t have my sister there to charm him,” Josiri replied. “And . . . he reacted poorly to mother’s portrait.” No sense saying the rest. Calenne wouldn’t understand.

She sighed. “And now you know why I stayed away. If Makrov reacts like that to Katya’s image . . . I didn’t want complications. I can’t afford them. And I do want this marriage.”

Josiri didn’t have to ask what she meant. Katya in oils was bad enough. Her likeness in flesh and blood? Even with Calenne at her most demure and charming – a rarity – there was risk. With every passing year, his sister more resembled the mother she refused to acknowledge. Perhaps she’d been right to stay away.

“You think Makrov has the power to have it annulled?”

She shrugged. “Not alone. But Kasamor’s mother isn’t at all pleased at the match. I’m sure she’s allies enough to make trouble.”

“Kasamor would truly let her interfere?”

On his brief visits to Branghall, Kasamor had seemed smitten. As indeed had Calenne herself. On the other hand, Josiri had heard enough of Ebigail Kiradin, Kasamor’s mother, to suspect she possessed both the reach and influence to thwart even the course of true love, if she so chose.

“On his last visit, he told me that I was the other half of his soul. So no, I don’t believe he would. He’d sooner die, I think. And I . . . ” Calenne shook her head and stared down at the book. “It doesn’t matter.”

Josiri frowned. “What? What doesn’t matter?”

Calenne offered a small, resigned smile. “I’ve had bad dreams of late. The Black Knight. Waking up screaming doesn’t do wonders for my mood.”

The Black Knight. Viktor Akadra. The Phoenix-Slayer. The man who’d murdered their mother. He’d taken root in the dreams of a terri-fied six-year-old girl, and never let go. Josiri had lost track of how often in that first year he’d cradled Calenne as she’d slipped off to broken sleep.

“Is that why you’re back to hiding up here? He’ll not harm you, I promise.”

“I know he won’t.” Her shoulders drooped, and her tone softened. “But thanks, all the same.”

She set the book aside and joined him inside the tower proper. Josiri drew her into an embrace, reflecting, as he so often did, what a curious mix of close and distant they were. The decade between them drove them apart. He doubted he’d ever understand her. Fierce in aspect, but brittle beneath.

“The world’s against us, little sister. We Trelans have to stick together.”


Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward is published by Orbit Books and is out in paperback now.

Legacy of Ash - Matthew Ward

A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.

Ruling families — once protectors of justice and democracy — now plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives. Blinded by ambition, they remain heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.

Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.

Viktor Akadra is the Republic’s champion. A warrior without equal, he hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.

Josiri Trelanis Viktor’s sworn enemy. A political prisoner, he dreams of reigniting his mother’s failed rebellion.

And yet Calenne Trelan, Josiri’s sister, seeks only to break free of their tarnished legacy; to escape the expectation and prejudice that haunts the family name.

As war spreads across the Republic, these three must set aside their differences in order to save their home. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. And victory — if it comes at all — will demand a darker price than any of them could have imagined.

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

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