A fantasy trilogy set in a world on the cusp of a technical revolution. Science will become the new magic that will bring the world from the middle ages to the future, but at what cost? Will the Kingdoms of Men sacrifice their firstborn, crash their armies against the distant shores and set the world ablaze with their might?
The ships were barely visible from the shore, but Tam had an eagle’s eye when it came to telling shapes in the distance that could turn in a matter of hours into carnage and salt wounds. He was the lone keeper of the signalfire on Plyers’ Rock, a job for two that had dwindled as the peacetimes extended and other guards refused or fled from the assignment. In time, all that remained was a small shack on top of the cliff, a drafty skeleton of pinewood and leather that barely kept the salt in the air from his lungs. On the slopes, a handful of sheep grazed dully, his only companions, a request to the guardsmen who brought his supplies, so he would have something to occupy his mind, tending to the little bastards and getting a new coat of wool every once in a while. He had intended to eat one of them at one point, but it had been so long since he had seen blood that he couldn’t make himself spill some, even when hungry. For what was a day or a week’s hunger compared to the cavernous, empty stomach that seemed to be his life, there at the tip of the world?
Not more than twenty paces up the cliff from his home, a mound rose from the stone wall. Protected from the spray and winds by the bluff, it would light up the night for many miles westward, but no one coming from the seas would be made aware of it, a device planned generations ago against raiders from the isles at times in which the Kingdom itself was sundered, and the isles rebelled in fury. Nowadays, the King of the Mountains was also the King of the Outward Isles, and preferred to be called simply the King of the Mountains and Seas, though there were those who would scowl at that title and would deny him the courtesy of addressing him so, having their own ages-old claims to the isles in the south.
But for endless years, even before Tam had been sent to the Torch -as he liked to call his prison- no one had come from the east except some small merchant ships or fishing squiffs that had been blown that way from Bysil by unforeseen stormwalls. Nowadays, his Torch was more of a monument to the stout vigilance of his people than something that he expected to see burning in the night. Thus, the damp wood had mostly rotted on the inside of the cone, and only the newer logs seemed to be fire-worthy, but those he had brought at great pain and effort from the woods that extended a few miles from the cliff, and he hadn’t gone down there in a while.
Thus, when he saw the first ship, he was at least excited to see something other than sheepshit and spray, but that vague amusement had climbed steadily to terror when he saw the many shapes over the horizon, so hunched together in his sight that it seemed the sea itself had been raised a finger above its usual height. He knew what he had to do, his entire life had been spent for a moment like this, his only dreams of glory in the quiet nights had been of being a footnote in some war chronicle. But it seemed to him in that moment that it was unjust, his whole purpose to burn for a while, and diminish until he was only coal. Even so, he wouldn’t let his weakness overcome him, and risk being less than a man, the one that let them come without warning, and so he grabbed the fire-water and lighting stones and ran towards the Torch.
Tam sprayed the liquid over the logs, but he had forgotten to bring dry grass, and it wouldn’t light no matter how much he chipped the stones. It seemed to be hours until he crawled to the top of the bluff to see where the ships were, and they had come closer indeed. He could see what had to be at least two dozen, but he couldn’t tell what kind of ships they were or whence they came. He slided down the top back to the Torch, but after a few more tries he fell on his back, tired of running around and fighting the wind for a damp wood that would not catch fire.
If this is all your life amounts to, are you going to let it be for nothing?
He straightened with a groan and ran back towards the shack. The sheep had stopped eating and were looking at him, curious as could be. He grabbed his heavy coat from a rack by the door and put it on, and grabbed what food he could scavenge and put it in the firewood box and dragged it outside. Then he made a big pile on the floor, with his mattress, his other wool coats, the few books he had, and even his old wooden shield, and doused it all and set it on fire. He ran outside once he was sure the fire was spreading, with only his lute in his hand, not knowing if he had meant to throw it to the flames or save it. He had forgotten his sword and his bow, and now it was impossible to get them back from the chest by the bed, already burning, and even if he could, it would be pointless. He would wait by his burning home until they came, and no sword would stop them long enough for help to come. He would not run, either, no point in risking the fire burning out before its time, and without a horse, he had nowhere to reach.
So he sat a few paces away from the burning shack, looking towards the sea, wondering if they could see his little fire, and if they would understand it for what it was, a life dwindling away on salt and spray. He took his lute, and laughing, for he was finally free, he started playing all the lively tunes he had forgotten, and the sheep surrounded him, drawn towards the music or the crazied man. The music saved him in the end, for when the ships finally beached and the Exiles arrived, they saw not a man-at-arms with a glint of steel in his hand, but a singing sheepsherder covered in soot, and spared him.