An island beset by the Sea God's wrath. Once a mighty kingdom, now six provinces torn apart by treacherous barons. In one province, two young lovers strive to stay together when all else prises them apart.

Lissane and Erun must survive to guide their people through
the coming storm. The odds are stacked against them. Erun,
dreamer and fool, is chosen for a dark path, whilst Lissane is given
away by her father the baron to wed the brutal son of a rival ruler.
Meanwhile, at the far side of the world, a sorcerer has freed the fire
demon, Ashmali, setting off a chain of events that could ultimately
bring about Gol's long foretold ruin.

Caught between rising seas, civil
war, and approaching fire, the continent's time is fast running out.
Gol is book one in the forthcoming Legends of Ansu series. Within lies an epic tale of love, hatred, vengeance and destruction.
In Gol, the high courage of a few individuals is all that stands
against the will of fickle gods and the treachery of men.


Chapter 1

The Baron's Daughter

"Cut him, damn you!" Eon Barola leaned out from the battlements of the high keep where he held power to vent his frustration down on his encumbered son.

"Kill the bastard before he makes a eunuch of you!" The Baron wiped sweat from his face and cursed his son's incompetence.

This show was becoming a farce. A sorry joke. The lord of Barola Province watched with growing anger as his second son failed to get passed the prisoner's guard. Aldo was proficient but he lacked Rosco's aggression or Paolo's finesse. His other boys would have skewered the Treggaran by now. Paolo particularly would have made a fine show of the spectacle—a swift disembowelment or else an intricate display of thrust and parry culminating in the enemy's ritual beheading. Aldo was making hard work of this.

Eon's soldiers had captured the Treggarans last week in a raid across the border. There had been nine of them, dragged, chained and beaten, beneath the gatehouse of his castle. Only three remained living. Rosco had butchered two with an axe whilst Paolo had worked his skill on four in the dungeons below, just to ease his boredom. That had left three, and Paolo had done for two in as many minutes.

Eon winced as the prisoner ducked beneath a clumsy sweep from Aldo's sword. He lunged low, getting a clean slice at his son; opening his forearm from wrist to elbow. "Idiot boy…! Finish him before you disgrace us all," the Baron yelled down from the keep's high parapet. He could see Paolo and Rosco grinning and making lewd gestures at their brother.

Aldo, red faced and angry, launched himself at his opponent in a savage series of hack and slice, but each blow was countered by calm disdain from the Treggaran. The man was a fine swordsman and Eon Barola was getting increasingly vexed by his middle son's growing clumsiness. Finally he lost all patience and signalled Paolo, bidding him finish this fiasco. His youngest grinned, shrugged and preened, before sauntering down the steps leading to the fighting pit below. From there Paolo watched with arms folded, awaiting his chance.

The Treggaran was on the attack again, short sword stabbing—cobra swift—feinting left and right; probing, waiting for that fatal opening. It wouldn't be long. Aldo dwarfed the Treggaran, all Eon Barola's sons were big men, but Aldo was sweating and coughing, defending himself with desperation rather than skill.

Paolo, bored now, snapped his fingers, and a man-at-arms tossed him down a crossbow, cranked with bolt ready. Paolo levelled the weapon. He watched, waited, then squeezed—just as Aldo slipped on a loose stone and sprawled akimbo.

The Treggaran closed for the kill, but Paolo's bolt seared through his right thigh making him lose balance and pitch forward over the prone and sweating Aldo. Together the two rolled and bit chunks off each other in the bloody, dusty ground. Paolo, laughing at the spectacle, retrieved another bolt from the guard, and quickly reloaded the crossbow. This one thudded into the Treggaran's left buttock, pinning him to the ground as he yelled out at the lancing pain.

Aldo rolled free, regained his feet, and still puffing, reclaimed his sword. The Treggaran was a brave man. He waited with sword held ready as the red-faced Aldo lumbered close. But Paolo robbed his brother of his chance. A third bolt entered the prisoner's mouth, passing through the base of his skull—killing him instantly. Paolo sighed as the Treggaran crumpled and stilled, his lifeblood pooling crimson around him.

"Shadowman take you, Paolo… I was about to finish him. He was my kill!" Aldo launched a meaty fist at his laughing brother. Paolo caught it mid swing. He twisted Aldo's arm, locking it behind his brother's back before sending him sprawling again. "That's where you should stay, brother." Paolo dusted his embroidered doublet with customary fastidiousness. "Down in the pit all covered in—" "Enough…!" the Baron boomed down from the keep's parapet above. "Paolo, I would speak with you. Bring your idiot brother and Rosco too, if he's at hand." The eldest son had left the arena before the fight was over, to quench his varied appetites.

"I have matters to discuss with you three," continued the Baron, his canine bark reaching them easily despite the distance. "Oh, and feed that dead Treggaran to the fishes." Paolo signalled two men-at-arms to carry the prisoner's corpse down to the postern—a gift to the Sea God.

Paolo awarded his scowling brother a mocking grin, before entering the doorway opening into the keep. He then began winding his way up the long stairwell to join his brooding father on the high parapet above. Aldo followed, still cursing and sulking, and moments later the shaven-headed Rosco bulked through the doorway, emerging into the afternoon sun like a child's nightmare.

It was late summer in Barola Province, a rich lush corner of the continent called Gol. The land visible across the bay looked verdant and lush, and the sea breeze lifted the golden hawk on its scarlet field—the high emblem of Barola, fluttering on its pole thirty feet above the roof of the keep.

The Baron's Keep dominated Castle Barola. Its southernmost wall fell sheer to the sea-washed rocks far below, and its lofty elevation awarded far reaching views of both causeway and town.

Eon rubbed his close-cropped beard and watched with cold dispassion as his boys approached. He ignored them for a time. Instead he let his dark gaze survey the bay, as was so often his habit; taking in the tall palms, the long sandy beaches and gentle wooded slopes framing the town at the causeway's far end.

Eon studied Barola Town for a time as his sons coughed and muttered close by. It was half a mile away across the water, a mish-mash of huts and smoky crofts, where dogs barked and fowl squawked as naked children chased them through the dusty lanes with sticks; and where women chored and men hauled in the day's catch. They were his people: the Barolans. His to rule and his to tax. And tax he did—heavily. Eon's keen gaze took in the causeway's length. Cobbled and sloping, it bridged castle to town when the waves allowed.

The tide was out now and the embankment showed high above the weed-strewn rocks, running arrow straight to the gatehouse and outer barbican. Eon could see tiny figures far out on the causeway, it was market day tomorrow and traders would be arriving soon in preparation—all would be bustle and excitement. At last content with his perusal, the Baron turned to his sons.

"Your sister is to marry." It was a statement leaving no room for response. "A month hence she will be betrothed to Varentin Gallante. I have written House Gallante—all is arranged." Gallante: a ridiculous name for a baron that poisoned his own father, and then smothered his mother while she slept. Still, the alliance should prove convenient and aid our struggle with Treggara.

"Varentin's a pompous turd." That was Rosco. Eon's eldest and biggest was broad in face and body. Heavily muscled and square of jaw, with flat broken nose and narrow set, squinty-brown eyes glaring out beneath heavy beetlebrows. "Liss'l run rings round him." He leaned forward and spat out over the battlements. "Those Galanians are two-faced dogs, Father."

Eon awarded his first-born a withering stare. "Thank you for your input, Rosco, but if you intend to keep your wits in your groin refrain from opening your mouth again." Rosco made to respond but his father's glare stopped him. "I will need you boys to put on some kind of show for the wedding—not your usual dog and cock fights—something more elaborate. Are there any other prisoners left in the dungeons?"

"Pitiful things, Father," responded Paolo as he studied a manicured nail. "I've worked on a few so I doubt they'll live much longer. The rats have been at them too—and they smell… Should we send out another raiding party? I'll be happy to lead."

"The Treggarans won't be fooled so easily next time," answered the Baron. "Leave it for now, Paolo. I shall think on this. In the meanwhile, you three keep a watch over your little sister; she's bound to be petulant when she hears she's to be wed. I don't want her doing anything stupid like her mother." "Lissane deserves better than Varentin Gallante," blurted Rosco, who harboured an unsavoury fondness for his sister, ever since he had happened into her chambers whilst she was disrobing. She'd fought off his advances like a she-wolf but Rosco owned to optimism. Until now... all the Galanians were fit for was buggering each other. Damn you, Father…

"Lissane will do as she is bidden," snapped the Baron. He needed this alliance to work. With Galania on side they could put paid to Treggara's ambitions and then turn toward Dovesi Province, capturing Torvosa City by stealth. Duke Toreno was far too trusting: his patrician-head lost in the stars, and his son, big honest Clarde, much too noble of heart—fools, the pair of them. With House Dovess undone, its lapdog Sarfania would soon collapse, leaving only Rodrutha in the far north—and they were all mad anyway and thus of small account.

Rosco was right about Varentin: the boy was a spoilt turd—but that would work to Barola's advantage too. Eon would steer House Gallante's heir through Lissane; the girl had his wit and her mother's lost charms.

Discounting bleak Rodrutha, (which was easy) Eon Barola would be overlord of Gol inside three years. It was something he had yearned for since the Rebellion saw off the last of the Kings. The Baron's eyes misted over as he visualised his final triumph at Torvosa Castle. It was simply a matter of planning: the odd poisonous letter, an occasional discreet knife in the night.

Gol shall be mine…

Eon dismissed his sons without further word and turned to peruse his view again. The Baron's shrewd black eyes studied the numerous figures down on the causeway, much nearer now, fast approaching the bailey and outer keep.

There were creaking wains and carts, farmers guiding stock, and traders with their variable wares. He saw beggars, merchants, even brightly garbed astrologers, and one or two foreigners—Dovesian by their look, with stiff proud gait and sullen faces. All were arriving for market day tomorrow.

Eon was about to turn away when he saw her. She was walking beside a tall gangly youth who was laughing and grinning like a fool. Lissane...daughter...she had disobeyed him again, strolling into town like a common fishwife after getting her idiot maid Belshareze to cover for her. I'll have that servant beaten… Eon's mood blackened further as he saw her laugh at something the boy said. He turned.

"Wait!" the Baron's curt bark stopped his sons before they vanished below. "Who is that stripling accompanying your sister down there?" He pointed across to where the two figures could be seen strolling along the causeway. Eon Barola was livid. He had bid Lissane stay away from Barola Town on pain of incarceration, yet she'd dared thwart his wishes—again. He'd spared the rod too often with that girl, he decided. It was Aldo that answered him. The middle son finally having recovered from his sulk. "Erun Cade, he's called," said Aldo, nursing his bloodied arm and wincing. "He's a by-blow of Garret the smith; you know the smithy in the wood at the edge of town." The Baron nodded impatiently. Of course he knew it, and Garret Cade had fought for him during the Rebellion…why was his son so obtuse? <

"The boy's a useless mooncalf," continued Aldo, oblivious to his father's thunderous brow, "and I hear his father's got no time for him… the mother died some while back during the winter blights."

Aldo was pleased with himself now. It had long been a habit of his to study the doings and goings of the townsfolk. He liked to bully them whenever possible, it made him feel important. Aldo liked feeling important and he was in his element at present.

"He claims to be a poet," he continued, "or so they say…a dreamer, certainly. I've seen him with our sister before." This last statement was a lie but one that worked, the Baron's face was darkening by the minute."Paolo, you will address that youth some place quiet," said Eon Barola. Paolo smiled his cat-cream smile. "Go now," he motioned them take their leave, "bid the guard inform your sister I would speak with her soonest."

The Baron showed them his back and resumed his study of the afternoon. But the beauty had fled the bay. Instead Eon saw his dead wife's face awarding him that baleful stare. She is too like you, Leanna…it might prove her undoing yet…

Eon turned from his repose and made swift short strides toward the door leading to the stairwell below. His eyes black as betrayal and mind laden with guilt, Eon would seek accustomed solace in drink. He'd turn his sharp mind to other matters while he awaited his troublesome daughter in his study. ***

Lissane was worried as could be. They were too close to the castle. If they were spotted her father would be livid. But Erun wouldn't listen to her fretting. He had told her not to fuss with that big sunny smile of his and she (idiot that she was) had believed him. And now her father's castle loomed above—a grim statement of everything she loathed and wanted to escape from (though not in the way that her mother had.

Mother took the easy way out.
But her mother was as different to Lissane as the seas were to land. Leanna Barola had sported long plaits of wheat-golden hair. Lissane's locks were glossy raven-black, tumbling from her shoulders in a wild cascade, halting inches above her waist. She was taller than her mother too, with large violet eyes that could see through fools in an instant, and a pale completion and patrician nose that bespoke good breeding.

Leanna had tanned easily, her skin olive and her eyes a softer blue than her daughter's. Lissane shunned the summer sun lest she burn as she had in the past. Her mother had been kindly to servants and fond of animals and birds. Lissane cared little for either, saving Belshareze, her maid and only confidante. She wasn't cruel though—not like her brothers—just proud and remote, except when sharing smiles with Erun Cade.

Castle Barola dominated the bay surrounding it. The stone claws of the outer walls clung tenaciously to sheer rocks beneath. A fortress build to withstand storm and siege. From a distance Castle Barola resembled a great dragon, coiled and wary, waiting to take flight.

The outer walls were eighty foot in height and twelve foot thick. Beyond these a maze of buildings: barracks, stables, taverns, armouries and stock enclosures, led to an inner ring of curtain wall rising another fifty feet. Within this second wall were contained the fighting pits and training ground, together with the dank grill-covered hole that led down, via torch lit stairs to the oubliette below.

At the southern end of the castle reared the High Keep: a square bluff of crenulated granite, its parapet brooding sixty foot above the inner wall, dominating both bay and countryside around. The Baron's Roost, the town's folk called it, and steered well away.

It was Lissane's father's habit to gaze out from that high place every morning, surveying all that he owned while his lips supped on the fruit of his vineyards. There were few times when Eon Barola wasn't in his cups these days.

Even now Lissane could feel his weighty presence frowning down at her, (although at this hour he was usually in his study) sense those obsidian-hard eyes boring inside her skull: probing, questioning, demanding and coercing. No wonder her sweet mother had thrown herself from the keep that stormy winter's night. Baron Barola was a monster and his sons were worse, particularly one of them. Lissane, resilient and resourceful, had learnt to survive…but to protect her lover from their claws? That was a task beyond even her skills. The only solution was to escape. Lissane and Erun Cade were working on that.

"We had best part company," Lissane told her lover. If Father knew what you did last night, my darling, he'd have you gelded, disembowelled, and flayed dry from the castle walls. And I would be flogged like a common whore by Grudge, or worse, Paolo himself. She looked up and frowned, knowing how stupid this was. "We're too near the castle, someone might see us," she urged him.

Erun Cade grinned at her. He was too cocksure—the only fault she saw in him saving perhaps his naivety. "Let them look," Erun said, squeezing her arm. He was seventeen, a year younger than she, and handsome in a gap-toothed freckled way. Long limbed and agile though spare of frame, his hair a tangled tumble of reddish brown, with eyes a mischievous sparkle of blue-grey—the colour of winter seas, she had often thought.

They had met during market day inside the castle walls just a few weeks past. He'd been with his father, the dour farrier, Garret Cade. Their eyes had danced back and forth in the crowd, and later that night she'd sent Bel to flush Erun Cade out from one of the taverns.

This was all her fault, Lissane had known the risk she was taking, but the thought of defying her father (though terrifying) was exciting and cause enough. Lissane had none of Erun's bra

sh youthful confidence. She knew what her family were like. "I'll fight any of them or all at once," he told her, grinning. "I'm not scared, Liss, and I want to scream out your name so all know how much I love you."

"You're a fool, Erun Cade," she muttered, shaking free of his grasp as they approached the outer gatehouse from where the bailey loomed squat and baleful. Lissane was angry with herself now, and worried. "And you're making me a fool too. You haven't a clue what you are saying, my love. I'm the Baron's daughter."

"I don't care. I love you, Liss." That was that. Simple. If only it were so, but he just couldn't see it. To Erun Cade, nothing was impossible. <

Lissane reached out and squeezed his hand briefly and then turned away. "I love you too, you lump-head… but it's too risky going inside together: If he finds out…?"

"I'm not frightened of him."

"Well then you really are stupid, my love," she responded, before covering her face in a vain attempt to hide her presence before the gate guards. "Everyone is frightened of Father, and for good reason."

"We'll journey west," he was ignoring her, "cross the mountains and make for Torvosa City. They say Duke Toreno is a fair man."

"And my father will uproot those mountains one by one until he finds us. I told you, Erun, there is only one way to escape. The sea...the City States, or else Rakeel and the Great Continent. We can lose ourselves in its vastness."

"Then we will do it tomorrow," he insisted. <

"No," Lissane shook her head. "It has to be planned… thought out—Father has spies everywhere. We'll have to steal a boat—and one seaworthy at that."

"I've got a boat hidden outside the village."

Lissane froze, hearing a shout from the gatehouse and, looking ahead, saw two burly men-at-arms carrying halberds, their steel glinting in the sun. They were approaching at speed. Lissane's heart skipped a beat. She knew he'd seen them. They were idiots, she and her lover… stupid bloody idiots.

"You had best turn back, my love," she told him, waving him away, "and quickly before you come within crossbow range of the bailey walls," she urged him. "Flee while you still can, Erun. I think my father has seen us; those guards are coming our way. Go!"

Lissane pushed her lover away and then turned to await the two pike-men, now hastening along the causeway with purpose in their strides. Lissane set her jaw and strutted arrogantly toward them, awarding the pair a wintry look as their crossed halberds blocked her way forward.

A distance behind her, Erun Cade clenched his fists in frustration and rage. He hesitated a moment and then, defeated and glum, turned and trudged moodily back toward Barola Town. If he had a sword he would have faced those guards like a man.

Erun Cade's face reddened with anger at both himself and her family; at his sides, his fists were clenching and unclenching with violent frustration. You had better not hurt her, Baron…

Everyone knew how Baroness Leanna had been driven to madness by the cruelty of her husband. Erun Cade vowed he'd kill Eon Barola and his sons should they hurt Lissane too. He would do for them all...somehow.Lissane Barola felt the familiar dread as she faced down the guards with her best imperial stare. "Well?" she glared at the bigger of the two, the one whose broad yellow sash cutting diagonal across his hauberk marked him as the leader. "What is this nonsense?"

"My lady, your lord father has requested your presence at his study at once," answered the man, sweating profusely, weighed down by heavy kettle-helm and hauberk. The Baron insisted that his men-at-arms wore full mail and helm whilst on duty at all times: even though the Treggarans would never dare a raid on the castle itself.

"Is it customary to accost the Baron's daughter as though she were a common wench?" Lissane snapped at him. "Stand aside! I'll make my own way to the keep. I am well aware of the placement of my father's study." The guard took a step backward, his eyes uncertain beneath the helm.

Lissane brushed passed the two soldiers as though they were invisible. Despite that they insisted in flanking her until she arrived, red-faced and jittery at the Barbican's gates. She turned once; there was no sign of Erun Cade lingering on the causeway, or else loitering with those traders at the far side. Lissane felt a wash of relief dampen her eyelids.

Flee, my love…get out of Barola while you can. It's too late for us but you can still escape them. <

There were fresh crowds filing the causeway now as afternoon waned and rising waves began reclaiming the weed-strewn rocks. High tide was approaching fast. Very soon Castle Barola would be an island again, until the following morning. Time enough for her lover to escape. She prayed to Zansuat, God of the Oceans, that Erun Cade made good use of it.

gatehouse swallowed her in. It stood on an outcrop, fifty foot short of the larger island where bulked the castle main. The wave-tossed gap was bridged by a long drawbridge: a huge construction of oak and iron, weathered and bleached by wind and sea—wide enough for ten men to march abreast or four horses to trot.

Lissane hurried across it, the guards following noisily behind and the white foam of crashing water eddying thirty feet below her feet. The men at arms saluted and then let Lissane be when she reached the main gates. She ignored them as she stepped beneath the massive portcullis, entering the dank, mouldy tunnel that bored gloomy through the outer wall.

In seconds she was through it and back in the sunshine again. Lissane squinted at the glare as she ventured inside Castle Barola for the first time that day. She emerged from the shadow of the walls to weave her way through the various buildings: the castle smithy, stables; the latrines and barracks and such, ignoring discreet stares and polite nods from any passing, and making brief and brisk for the second gate.

Here another tunnel, lit by murder holes and firelight from above, opened into sunlight and the inner castle with its fighting pits and training grounds. Edgy and nervous, Lissane walked on up toward the southern end.

The Keep loomed ahead—a cold, grey finger swallowing the evening's light. Sheep-cropped grass led up to its circular granite base. The oak door yawned ajar as she clonked the latch free. Lissane entered within, her violet eyes adjusting to the torch-lit smoky corridor ahead.

Lissane passed by the feasting hall with its sconces, benches and roaring hearth. She reached the stairwell and, with heart heavy as lead, the Baron's daughter commenced the long, spiralling climb way up to her father's study.

Despite her own chamber being within it, Lissane hated the keep with its twisting stairwell and dimly lit latrines and draughty guardrooms. It was dark here. Always cold—even in summer. The arrow slits were the only windows allowing light before reaching her bower and the Baron's airy quarters high above.

And above those sumptuous rooms stood the lofty parapet from where her mother had jumped on that storm-cursed winter's night, twelve years earlier. Lissane had despised her mother since then. Leanna had escaped, leaving her five year old daughter to grow up with the monsters that were her remaining family.

She passed her rooms, there was no sign of Bel her maid, but that wasn't surprising. At last, Lissane reached the top level where her father resided. She approached his iron- studded door, nodding to the huge bearded guard standing so silently there. He bowed stiffly to her in return and motioned her inside.

Lissane liked Grale. He was still Barola's champion, despite being over sixty years of age. He'd fought in the King's army as a lad and had many a tale to tell. Lissane knew Grale for one of the few honest men her father employed. She could trust him, which was a rarity in Castle Barola these days.

Grale's back was arrow-straight; he was still as strong as Rosco, her eldest brother, despite the latter being nearly thirty years his junior. The champion's greying hair and beard melded into one shaggy, bear-like fuzz, almost occluding his grizzled face. Despite his fierce appearance, Grale's smile was one of the few kindnesses she had ever known. Particularly after Leanna had died and she had so needed a friend. Lissane took a deep breath, awarded Grale a valiant smile and then rapped once loudly on the door.

"Enter," said a dark voice within. Lissane steeled her nerves and pushed the door open. Inside the Baron waited, an uncorked bottle in one hand while the other fondled the golden hilt of his jewelled dagger. Lissane shut the door behind her and took a step forward to confront her father once again.

Ten thousand miles away a mountain spewed fire on its surrounding island and the cool blue waters of a nameless sea. The earth shook and quivered. Thunder rolled as rocks crashed through valleys and trees sizzled as flames ate them whole.

Within hours the entire island was nothing more than a scorched grey pile of ash. No bird sang and no beast clambered below. All was smoking death and ruin. The sea surrounding the island's forgotten coves hissed and bubbled, sending steamy vapours high up into the atmosphere. Way up there the skies were choked with bitter dust.

>A huge rent had opened inside the mountain. Formerly it had been a cave. A vast cavern containing the essence of the fire Elemental, Ashmali. A Demon so terrible the gods themselves had entombed him lest his wanton flames consume the world.

For many millennia island and mountain kept their prisoner secret. Occasionally Ashmali's breath would seep out, scorching slopes and blazing through heather. But the invisible bonds restricting the Demon stopped him causing any further ruin. And so things stayed until that dark hour the sorcerer arrived and broke the age old spell.