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Fiction Historical

The Fort at River's Bend

A Dream of Eagles Book V, The Sorcerer Volume I

by (author) Jack Whyte

Penguin Group Canada
Initial publish date
Oct 2018
Historical, Action & Adventure, Historical
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2018
    List Price

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Now available in trade paperback.
The first of two volumes and the fifth installment in the bestselling Dream of Eagles series, Jack Whyte's Fort at River's Bend continues to delve into the political drama and intrigue behind England's greatest legend, as young Arthur climbs toward his destiny.

Merlyn Britannicus, Commander of Camulod, is tasked with educating the young Arthur Pendragon for his role as the future King of Britain. However, threats against Arthur's life drive Merlyn and the boy to flee Camulod for an abandoned Roman fort, where Merlyn hopes they will be safe from political intrigue. In the meantime, enlisting help from Arthur's close-knit group of boyhood friends--Gwin, Ghilleadh, and Bedwyr--Merlyn teaches the young king about warfare, justice, honour and the responsibilities of leadership.
     But when the tenuous peace of Camulod is threatened by unrest in neighbouring regions, Merlyn faces a dilemma. How can he prepare Arthur to be a ruler of men when he continues to train him in isolation? Merlyn knows that he must risk losing the dream of his grandfather Caius Britannicus if he is ever to fulfill it, for the day is not far off when Arthur will have to claim the sword that is his birthright: Excalibur.

About the author

Best known for his original series of Arthurian novels, A Dream of Eagles (called The Camulod Chronicles in the US), and his Knights Templar trilogy, Jack Whyte has written 10 international bestsellers. He left Scotland for Canada in 1967 to teach high-school English, but soon gravitated to life on the road as a professional singer, actor and entertainer. In the 1970s he gained a wide audience as he wrote and performed his one-man tribute to Robbie Burns across North America. Public recitals of his own narrative verse led to him being appointed the bard of the Calgary Highlanders regiment, an honour he maintains to this day. A stint as a CBC national television writer preceded a successful business career in communications, but it was his long-time interest in both the legend of King Arthur and the 5th-century Roman military occupation of Britain that dictated Jack’s destiny. Since becoming a successful author, with his books translated into many languages, Jack has made time to support upcoming authors and participate in many writer gatherings, including the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. He writes every day and resides near his favoured golf course in Kelowna, BC. He is married with five adult children.

Jack Whyte's profile page

Excerpt: The Fort at River's Bend: A Dream of Eagles Book V, The Sorcerer Volume I (by (author) Jack Whyte)

We stood together on the forward deck of a galley that moved slowly forward through a bright, still September morning, mere months after the murderous incident that had prompted our departure from Camulod. The large, square sail sagged limp in the languid, early-morning breeze that wafted the fog softly from the surface of the bay into which we drew, dispersing its drifting wreaths into nothingness. The oarsmen who propelled the vessel did so cautiously, their eyes intent upon the boatmaster, Tearlach, who directed them with arm and hand move­ments, his own eyes fixed on the wharf that stretched to meet us.
I stood on the stern deck with the galley’s captain, Connor Mac Athol—Connor, Son of Athol, Son of Iain. Connor’s father was the King of the Scots of Eire, the people whom the Romans had called the Scotii of Hibernia, and Connor of the Wooden Leg, as his men called him, was the king’s admiral in the Southern Seas. I followed his gaze now to where two other galleys, one of them dwarfing its consort, lay already moored at the long wooden pier, on the side farther from us. They were unmistakable—warships like the one in which we rode, sleek and deadly in their aggressive lines—and I could tell from Connor’s face that they were not his. They seemed to be deserted, their massive booms angled at the tops of their masts and their sails furled and bound. Beside them, the score or so of fishing boats that shared the anchorage, at that main wharf and at the smaller pier built to the south, seemed tiny. I glanced back to Connor.
“Whose are they?”
His face betrayed nothing of what he thought, but his tone betrayed tension. “They are Liam’s. The Sons of Condran.”
“What will you do?”
“Nothing. Ignore them. Then leave before they do.”
“That one is huge, larger than this.”
“Aye, it ships forty-eight oars to our thirty-six. That’s Liam’s own galley.”
“And? Will you fight them?”
His features creased in a wintry little smile. “Probably, but not here. Not in Ravenglass. This is neutral ground.”
“Forgive me, I don’t understand. What does that mean?”
He turned his head now to look at me. “Simply what it says. This is the only harbour in the entire north-west where ships can call and provision themselves in safety. It has always been that way, since the day the Romans built the fort. All warfare ceases once a ship enters this bay, otherwise it is denied entry. The fort, there, as you can see, is walled and occupied. It can’t be taken from the sea, nor can it be surprised from overland, so it sits inviolate and invio­lable, and all men use it as a base for gathering provender. We’ll rub shoulders with Liam’s men inside the town, but we’ll ignore them, as they will ignore us. If any trouble does break out, the party caus­ing it will be denied reentry in the future. No trouble ever surfaces within the town.” He smiled again. “Of course, when two groups such as ours meet here, it creates a certain tension when the time arrives to leave.”
“How? You mean there’s an advantage to being the first to leave?”
“Aye, there is. The same advantage that the smith has over the iron he works. He may swing his hammer as hard as he wishes, and the iron is pressed flat against the anvil. The coast becomes the anvil when you are the last ship out.”
“But you have three ships to their two.”
“I do, and that may make the difference. We’ll see.”
He turned his head now, his eye seeking Tearlach, and then he nodded and returned to the side rail, where he leaned forward, his attention focused closely on the spot we would occupy here in the harbour called Ravenglass. It was clear to me he had dis­missed me from his mind for the time being, absorbed now in the berthing of his long, sleek craft, which had borne us swiftly and effortlessly northward. We had skimmed around the coast of Cambria from the estuary south of it by Glevum, skirting Anglesey, the sacred Isle of the Druids, to seaward before swooping back to the coastline, driving north-east again to where the rugged coast of the region known as Cumbria waited to receive us, across from the humped shape on the horizon that Connor called the Isle of Man.
Accepting that other priorities had claim on him, I turned away and looked towards the prow, where my own party stood gaz­ing forward as raptly as Connor to the new land ahead of them. These were my friends, my family and all my world, now that we had left Camulod behind us in the distant south. Others there were who had set out with us, and those were split between the two galleys that rode as escorts at our rear, but these eleven were my special ones.
The youngest of the men, a giant who towered a hand’s width over even me, was twenty-four years old and brother to the galley’s captain, Connor, although no stranger would ever have taken them for such. Where Connor was black-haired, blue-eyed and dark of skin in the pure Celtic way, his younger brother Donuil was fair-skinned and light-haired. His face was clean-shaven in the Roman style, like my own, and his eyes seemed to change from brown to green, depending on the light.
Connor was no small man. He was above average height, huge in the shoulders and deep through the chest. Great, sweeping moustaches drooped below his chin, emphasizing the thickness of his neck, a solid pillar of muscle, and directing attention to the heavy torc, an ornate, intricately worked chieftain’s collar of solid gold, that encircled it. Yet even Connor appeared small when seen beside his younger brother. Donuil’s great height—he stood a full head taller than most full-grown men—combined with the graceful proportions of his physique to belie the true bulk of the man. His shoulders were broader than his brother Connor’s, yet seemed slighter; his chest was larger, yet seemed not so deep; and he seemed slender where his brother appeared broad and bulky—all due to his height.
Looking at Donuil now, and seeing the ease with which he stood, one arm about the waist of his wife, Shelagh, as they gazed together at the scene ahead of them, I wondered again, as I had a hundred times, about the influence this clan of aliens, this single family of Scots, had exerted upon my life.
Athol Mac Iain had not lacked progeny. All of them had, how­ever, been born in Eire, far from where I had grown up in Camulod, ignorant of their existence. One of them, his youngest daughter, Deirdre, had become my wife and had been killed while pregnant with my child. Long before her death, however, her brother Donuil had become my hostage, captured in war and held against his father’s promise of non-intervention in our ongoing conflict with the warlord Gulrhys Lot of Cornwall. None of us knew of the link that bound us until I eventually brought my wife home to Camulod and Deirdre and Donuil were reunited, each stunned by the other’s reappearance.
Another sister, Ygraine, had been wedded to my archenemy, Gulrhys Lot, to bind the early alliance between her father’s people and Cornwall. Angry and disgruntled at the treatment she endured from her inhuman spouse, she willingly fled with my cousin Uther Pendragon during a long campaign, and the two became enam­oured of each other, producing a bastard son. It was I who later found Ygraine on a lonely beach on the Cornish coast, being vio­lated by a man who was wearing my cousin’s armour, stripped from Uther’s corpse. I held her as she died, and I barely managed to rescue her infant son, Uther’s son. I leaped aboard the boat where he lay crying and drifted with it, helpless, out to sea, where we were found by yet another brother, Connor, dispatched by his father the king to meet Ygraine and bring her safely home to Eire. That same boy, Arthur Pendragon, my lifetime charge, now stood by his Uncle Donuil’s side, peering towards the land.
Remembering, I shook my head again at such a host of wild improbabilities. But I no longer thought or sought to question them. I am a Christian, by birth and upbringing, but I am also a Druidic Celt, trained by my mother’s people, the Pendragon of Cambria. The Celtic half of me has always believed in fate and the inevitability of things decreed by minds greater than human. The Christian, Roman-British half of me, thanks to my great-aunt Luceiia Varrus, has come to believe the same: some things are meant to be and will come to pass, despite the blinking disbelief of humankind. That thought brought a smile and a stirring of goose-flesh as I stared forward now to the wooden wharf that drew closer with every gentle stroke of the oars, for there stood the crowning proof of what I had been thinking.
The man who slew Uther Pendragon and stripped him of his armour was a man I had met before—an enemy, but not a mortal foe. I believed him when he told me he had not known Uther’s identity when he killed him. His surprise at learning he had slain Uther Pendragon was too genuine to doubt. And so, sickened by the carnage I had seen throughout the final battles of the campaign in Cornwall, I made no effort either to fight him or to detain him that day. I simply watched him ride away unscathed. His name was Derek, and he called himself the king of Ravenglass. Now, many years later, I recognized him easily among the crowd throng­ing the wharf.
The great galley slid smoothly to the side of the long, wooden pier, propelled by one last sweep of its thirty-six oars. The oarsmen brought their long sweeps up in unison, scattering drops of water inboard as they held the oars briefly at the vertical then brought them down, blades forward, lowering them hand over hand with the skill of long usage and dropping them in overlapping rows along the sides of the craft, atop the rows of benches. Two men crouched at prow and stern, poised to throw mooring ropes to eager hands waiting on the wharf. Four others hung far overboard, positioning great pads of hempen cushions to protect the vessel’s side against damage from the barnacle-encrusted timbers of the pier. The galley slowed, its forward motion bleeding away with the dying impetus of that final thrust until it barely moved through the water, and a stillness fell as everyone waited. Then came a gentle nudge as ship met moorings. Ropes flew outwards and were seized by willing hands, and an involuntary roar of approval came from the watching crowd, which surged forward in wel­come. Crewmen leaped down onto the dock to secure the heavy gangplank, which was already rearing high above the galley’s side, hoisted by ropes and pulleys from the recessed well in the central causeway that housed it. Momentously, ponderously, one end swung outward over the rail and was lowered gently to the dock where, in moments, it was safely grounded and secured by the waiting crewmen.
Satisfied that his vessel was securely berthed, Connor turned away from the rail and moved towards me, walking effortlessly despite the carved and tapered wooden cylinder that had replaced his right leg from the knee down. He was smiling, taking no notice now of the crowd bustling on the wharf.

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