Joshua Johnson is the author of “Gunpowder Fantasy” The Cerberus Rebellion (due to release in early July) and the creator of the Griffins & Gunpowder universe. When he isn’t working or spending time with his family, he writes novels, short stories and novellas.
He currently lives in Northern Illinois with his wife and young son.
You can visit his website at www.gunpowderfantasy.com
The Cerebrus Rebellion
One hundred years of peace and prosperity. War changes everything.
On the world of Zaria, Elves, magic and mythical beasts coexist beside rifles and railroads. The futures of two nations hang in the balance as rebels and revolutionaries trade gunfire with loyalists and tyrants.
Eadric Garrard was raised to believe that as the rightful King of Ansgar, his loyal nobles and fearful subjects answered to his every whim, no matter the cost or consequence. His decision to send his troops thousands of miles away will test that fear, and loyalty.
Raedan Clyve was ordinary until an Elven ritual involving a griffin’s heart turned him into something more. Twenty years later, he still struggles with the magics that rage through his body. His mentor holds him back from his full potential and he faces pressure to find a suitable wife and father an heir.
Hadrian Clyve has picked up where his father left off and works to expand his family’s influence amongst the Ansgari nobility. His aggressive negotiation of alliances and shrewd choice of marriage agreements has earned him respect, and resentment. When his King calls his troops to arms, Hadrian has other things in mind.
After a century of scheming and decades of preparation, Magnus Jarmann is ready to bring his family’s plans to fruition by launching a war of independence that will free his people and return his country to its rightful place among the nations of Zaria. The King’s call to arms creates an opportunity that Magnus cannot afford to miss.
In a war, little is held back; in a revolution, nothing is safe.
The day was cool and dry but a stiff wind heralded a storm. Cold; the kind that would ride over the northern mountains from the tundra beyond and blanket the city of Aetheston in snow.
His Grace Eadric Garrard, King of Ansgar and Duke of Elsdon, was deep in thought as he read a large, leather bound book. He was taller than most, and broader too, with a full head of chestnut hair and vivid green eyes. He wore loose green trousers and a white cotton shirt, buttoned three-quarters of the way to his throat.
The wind howled outside the thick window.
The study was small, meant only for the king and a single guest. A long desk cut the room in two; on one side, the king’s massive leather chair, a smaller on the other. Book lined shelves were built into two of the thick black stone walls from floor to low ceiling and a pair of lanterns flanked the oak door on the third wall. Behind the king, a stained-glass window stood in for the fourth wall. The room was near the top of Old Keep and faced north; sunlight filled the room from sunrise to sunset.
The tome was the abbreviated history of every king of Ansgar.
Robert the Unifier, the Thirty-Fourth King of Ansgar, ascended to the throne one thousand, one hundred and fifty-nine years after the founding of Aetheston, at the age of thirty-four years, Eadric read. The book had been printed, not handwritten, so it was easier to read than most of the ancient tomes in his study. Robert was so named after he married Helena of Agilard, the first daughter of the first Duke of Agilard, the Last King of Kerberos having died thirteen years earlier. Robert dedicated his reign to bringing peace and stability to the conquered lands of Kerberos. Robert fathered three sons and two daughters that survived to adulthood, including Charles, his heir.
The study door groaned open and Eadric looked up. It was his steward; the only person allowed to enter without permission. The man’s leather shoes scuffed at the stone floor as he shuffled across the room toward the king’s table. The man was short, stout and bald. He wore a simple green robe and carried a silver carafe, a cup, a dome covered plate and a folded newspaper on a tray. He set the tray on the desk and lifted the dome. Steam rose from the plate beneath; the bacon still crackled, there was some sizzle left to the small strips of steak, and scrambled eggs covered the rest of the plate. Eadric looked the tray over.
“Has it been tasted?” he asked. He saw the chunk of steak that had been cut at one end of the thick strip, and a piece of bacon half as long as the others.
“Yes, My King,” the steward confirmed.
“You may go,” Eadric said curtly. The steward nodded and turned.
Eadric waited for the door to close behind the man, then sighed. He pulled open the small drawer at the top of his desk, reached inside, and retrieved a small round tin.
He twisted the lid off the tin with practiced ease and sniffed at the black and red powder within. Satisfied that it had not been tampered with, Eadric took a heavy pinch and sprinkled the powder across the plate, careful to get every part of the meal but waste none. Another heavy pinch went into the carafe of coffee.
Eadric spent a small fortune every year to keep himself supplied with Dragonsalt. The powder was ground from the seeds of the Dragonleaf plant, which only grew in high mountain caves and passes. Each flower only produced enough seed for a pinch of salt and each plant only flowered twice a year. By itself, the powder had a bitter taste to it, but when it was mixed with anything else it had no taste at all. It had taken years of practice and experience to find the right amount: too much and his stomach burned for days, too little and it would have no effect on the poisons that it was meant to counter.
He didn’t know if he’d ever been saved by the salt, but he wasn’t about to go without it. Every meal that the king ate was prepared and escorted to him under the watchful eyes of his guards, but even with all of those precautions, Eadric knew that poisons could make their way into his meals.
Eadric poured himself a cup of coffee. The cup was made from the talon of a particularly large griffin; another method of warding off poisons. He sipped the coffee then lifted a piece of bacon and took a furtive bite; it was still floppy, the way that he liked it. The Dragonsalt had dissolved enough that all he tasted was the grease and black pepper seasoning and pork. He nodded in satisfaction to no one in particular and unfolded the newspaper.
A fist banged on the door.
“Enter,” Eadric called, his voice thick with irritation.
The door swung open again and his captain of guards stepped through it. Kendall Shield was a broad shouldered man with a strong jaw, cold gray eyes and coal black hair. He wore a green, double-breasted frock-coat with a double row of golden buttons down the front and green trousers. Over his heart was the sigil of House Garrard: a golden man with a spear in hand, set on a white and green checked field. Above it was a smaller symbol: a plain brown shield with a golden crown in the center.
Eadric could see the handle and pommel of Kendall’s greatsword Guardian over his shoulder. Kendall was the perfect fit for the gargantuan weapon: he stood more than seven feet tall. The blade was hereditary, as was the title of Lord of Shields and Protector of the King.
The Shield clan had once been called something else, but whatever that name had been, it had been lost to history twelve hundred years earlier when they had sworn themselves and their descendants to the protection of the King of Ansgar. From the twelve men that had sworn their service, a clan had emerged that now included more than twelve hundred men-at-arms. And chief among them was Kendall Shield. He was called Lord, but he held no lands; only the right to be the personal guard to the king.
A much smaller man stepped through the door behind Kendall. He was olive skinned and of average height, his brown hair damp with sweat from climbing the winding tower steps. He wore a blue sack suit with the symbol of the nation of Welos sewn over his heart. He kept his green eyes focused at Eadric’s feet. A mere messenger.
Eadric stood to greet his visitor.
“Your Grace.” Kendall went to one knee; the man behind him followed suit.
“Rise,” Eadric instructed.
“Your Grace, I bring a request from Lord Wyne,” the messenger announced.
“Considering your attire, I wouldn’t have expected it to be from anyone else,” Eadric said and snorted.
The messenger frowned. “Your Grace?”
“Never mind.” The king shook his head. Messengers, after all, were not the smartest. “Well, out with it.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” The messenger’s eyes returned to the floor. “Lord Wyne and Lord Biton Savakis wish to have a private audience with you.”
Eadric’s eyes narrowed. While it was not uncommon for the ambassadors from other lands to request audiences with him, they usually did so while he held court, or through one of his council members.
“It’s still early,” Eadric pointed out with a glance at his pocket watch. “I will see them after I break my fast. I will send someone to get them.”
“Your Grace, his Lordship—”
“His Lordship,” Eadric interrupted, “is an ambassador. A visitor in my land. I will see them when it is convenient to me. You are dismissed.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” The messenger bowed and backed out of the study; Kendall stayed.
“Have my steward prepare my parlor for visitors,” Eadric said.
Kendall nodded and withdrew.
Eadric drained his cup with a single drink, picked up the newspaper, folded it and turned for the door.