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Unholy War
Journeys
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-269-9
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 222 Pages
Published: October 2015

From inside the flap

Sultan Beyazid, ruler of the Holy Lands, is convinced there is no coincidence when the leading rabbi and Magical gate guardian of Zyonn is murdered in the temple at the same time he receives confirmation that a large Christian army is en route. He begins defensive preparations, recognizing not all of his subjects will be loyal to him.

The Christians travel in two groups, one by sea and the other by land. While sailing, Duke Reginald Lattimore of Saelym develops an unexpected camaraderie with one of the imperial noblemen traveling with him. Meanwhile, the men traveling by land reach the Grecian capital of Hellenopolis, where they receive a lukewarm greeting. Some of the Latin crusaders are attacked by the Grecians as they’re leaving the city, and the Latin Emperor Clytus swears vengeance, giving his antagonist Robert Claybourne temporary control of the army.

In Myrridia, the regents scramble to ensure they have control of Rhennsbury’s Magical gateway as the popes in Lativium plan a Magical attack on the recalcitrant kingdom.

Unholy War (Excerpt)


INTERLUDE

April 1042

Lativium, Holy Latin Empire

Cardinal Desmond de Rhone woke in the predawn hours to the sound of early morning birdsong. He stretched before rising from his bed. Today he would be invested as Lativium's third pope after one of the quietest papal votes in history. Several cardinals, those traveling with the crusading army, had already cast their votes in absentia, immediately after Pope Celestine's death. These men had been hand-picked for the military assignment months before, due to their unwavering loyalty to Pope Benedict and his ambitions for the church. Many were the same ones who had traveled beyond the borders of the Holy Latin Empire to announce the crusade. Desmond had been included in the plan to murder Celestine during the Easter Mass, though he had played no active role in it. He'd been Benedict's planned successor to Celestine since not long after his arrival in Lativium in 1027.

Desmond had attended the holiday Mass and observed many of the noblemen as they'd taken Communion. His eyes had narrowed to slits when Kings Frederich DiStephane and Robert Claybourne had taken their turns. While he'd rejoiced to hear of the developing strain between the two neighboring monarchs, memories of Frederich's return to Esterlyn after his abduction still rankled. He was mollified only by Benedict's promise that anyone who spoke against the Holy Fathers would eventually perish, and while Frederich might not qualify for that, Robert Claybourne certainly did due to his ongoing refusal to join the empire. Since the holiday, his temper had cooled, as he'd recognized the possibility that neither king would return from the Holy Lands.

Desmond now donned his dressing gown and went to his bedroom window and drew the tapestry aside. The sky was beginning to lighten. Servants would arrive shortly to prepare him for his investiture. He felt a nervous excitement at the prospect. Popes Benedict and Pius would officiate at the service, and all of the cardinals remaining in Lativium would be in attendance. Several days prior, the cardinals had completed their voting, and the smoke rising from the cathedral turned to white. The citizens of Lativium cheered, knowing a new pope had been elected. They had no idea that this vote's outcome was predetermined. Benedict had only waited for the right opportunity to have Celestine removed.

That opportunity had come with the call to crusade. Benedict had seen a chance to resolve several problems at one time, and half a dozen years ago began suggesting the idea of a crusade to the Holy Lands as a viable option for the empire. A couple of years later, another situation had developed within Lativium, making a crusade the only option. Now that planning had come to fruition and the most senior pope was dead as a result.

Desmond sat and stood as needed, while the servants dressed him in white papal robes. He would receive his other vestments during the investiture. One manservant trimmed his iron-gray tonsure, mustache and beard before helping him into the heavy outermost robe of office. The white fabric had been woven with so many gold and silver metallic threads that it hung stiffly to the floor. Desmond would have a difficult time sitting in it later, but he didn't worry about that fact now.

Once he was ready, a pair of cardinals arrived at his chamber and escorted him to the entrance. He began his processional walk to San Pietro's Cathedral with the cardinals on either side of him. People lined the streets and cheered as he passed. Desmond acknowledged none of them, instead keeping his gaze focused on the path before him. The walk felt interminable and he failed to notice the fine spring morning unfolding around him or the flowers being strewn before and behind him.

When they arrived at the cathedral, they climbed the stairs, the cardinals now a few steps to his rear. When he reached the top, Desmond turned and gave a single wave to the crowd gathered below before proceeding into the cathedral. He stopped just inside, to allow his eyes to adjust to the dimness.

"Excellent," came Pius' voice just to his right. "In a few moments, Benedict and I will walk down the aisle and take our places at the altar. Cardinal Ricardo will let you know when 'tis time for you to come."

Desmond inclined his head. The rest of the ceremony had been rehearsed the day before. His only concern now was prostrating himself before the other two pontiffs due to his stiff garments. He waited for the signal from Ricardo, who made a gesture when the boys' choir began a hymn of praise.

Desmond walked slowly along the aisle, his spine ramrod straight, his gaze focused ahead, where Benedict and Pius stood. The cathedral glowed from the light given off by several glowing spheres, in shades of white, gold and silver. Candles flickered from the altar, and the air of Magic throughout the nave was as heavy as the smoke from the incense. The only thing out of the ordinary was the absence of the emperor, Clytus. Today the empress Joanna sat with her three young children in attendance, her expression bored.

When Desmond arrived before the dais, he turned to face those gathered and inclined his head to acknowledge his acceptance of the vote. He turned back to face Benedict and Pius, meeting each man's gaze momentarily. He eased to the floor, face-down, his robe adjusting to the move with the efficient aid of Ricardo.

"Cardinal Desmond de Rhone," Benedict began in his deep voice. "Do you come before God, Christ and this assembly in a state of Grace?"

"I do, Holy Father."

"Do you willingly accept the burden of shepherd to the One True Church of Christ?"

"I do."

"Will you dispense justice and mercy as required?"

"I will."

"Please rise, Pope Honorius III."

Ricardo was at Desmond's side to aid him. A few moments later, Desmond stood before Pius and Benedict, his head bowed, listening as Pius prayed in Latin. He then received Communion from them. This was the part of the ceremony when his Magic would become enhanced. A powerful, mind-altering herb had been added to wafer and wine. A small dose was given to newly appointed cardinals, but popes received a much larger, more potent one.

Even though he was expecting a change, Desmond was unprepared for the magnitude of what hit him. Raw power surged through his veins and along his nerves after a couple of swallows of the wine. Blue-white lightning prickled at his fingertips and his vision reflexively opened onto several non-physical planes. He would learn to control this new level of power in the coming weeks, but for now he was at the mercy of it. He tried closing his eyes, feeling vertigo and disorientation, but it didn't help. Ricardo gently grasped his elbow and held him steady. He hoped he didn't suffer a seizure; that would be too humiliating in such a public forum.

He was minimally aware of alb and stole being placed over his shoulders and barely noticed when the white papal cap and miter were placed on his head. His whole body now sang with the power that coursed through him. It was much more than he'd dreamt possible, so much more than when he had become cardinal. At some point, someone, presumably Ricardo, led him to one of the papal thrones and assisted him with sitting, so that a line of cardinals could come to profess their devotion and receive his blessing. The words came automatically to his lips, and he passed the remainder of the ceremony in a daze.

Several hours later, Desmond, now Honorius, watched from a chair as servants turned down his new bed. His effects had been moved from the cardinals' residence into a new papal apartment while his investiture was underway. He had yet to explore his sumptuous surroundings. Right now he felt inexplicably exhausted and wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep.

A rap sounded at his door and a servant responded, leading Benedict into the bedchamber. He dismissed the servants and led Honorius to the bed. "Sit," he commanded.

Honorius complied and Benedict smiled. "You will be fine. 'Tis just the first time - it is quite the adjustment. You did well today. Pius swooned at his investiture, but you are strong-willed, as am I."

He withdrew a small linen packet from his robe. "Here is more deus mortalum," he said. "You need just a small amount, crushed and mixed into wine or burned with incense every fortnight or so. Otherwise, you will become most uncomfortable. Pius and I have a private supper monthly, when we ingest; you will now join us. 'Tis also the perfect opportunity for us to discuss our plans for the future, including those for Myrridia now that its interfering gate guardian has gone to the Holy Lands."

Honorius' fatigue vanished. "Gate guardian?" he repeated, accepting the packet from Benedict.

Benedict's smile was sly; he'd suspected that revelation would get Honorius' attention. "Aye. Rhennsbury has a Magical gateway, as does Zyonn. The church wishes to control both. Robert Claybourne is Rhennsbury's gate guardian, though I believe him unaware of that. His immediate ancestors had no Magic, so 'tis doubtful the knowledge passed down through the generations. Besides, I would have expected him to have remained home if he knew of it, regardless of what threats we made to the kingdom."

"Or he left his sister to guard it," Honorius pointed out. "She is a bigger heretic than he is and much stronger Magically."

"You have the right of it there," Benedict said and then let out a sound of disgust. "However, papal troops will leave for Myrridia in the coming weeks, with cardinals leading them. We will use a temporary gateway to get close to Rhennsbury and attack the castle Magically. That reminds me: tomorrow you will tour the papal dungeons. Religious prisoners, especially heretics, make excellent sacrifices to keep a temporary Magical gateway functional for extended periods."

He leaned in closer to Honorius. "Guard that packet, Your Holiness, as supplies are currently limited... ."