The Mongoliad is a collaborative effort from Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, and a few other authors. And thanks to the authors, here's an excerpt for you to read! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
The first novel to be released in The Foreworld Saga, The Mongoliad: Book One, is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia.
But the saga reaches the modern world via a circuitous route. In the late 19th century, Sir Richard F. Burton, an expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, is approached by a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados about translating a collection of long-lost manuscripts. Burton dies before his work is finished, and his efforts were thought lost until recently rediscovered by a team of amateur archaeologists in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy. From this collection of arcana, the incredible tale of The Mongoliad was recreated.
Full of high adventure, unforgettable characters, and unflinching battle scenes, The Mongoliad ignites a dangerous quest where willpower and blades are tested and the scope of world-building is redefined.
For more information, check out their official website.
Ögedei leaned back on silk sheets and breathed the aromatic air infusing his private chambers deep into his lungs. Jasmine and magnolia, with a hint of cedar. It wasn't the same as the rarified scent of the open steppes, but it reminded him nonetheless. In this room, away from the bowing and scraping sycophants and the watchful eyes of his guard, he could forget about the affairs of the empire for a while. His head throbbed faintly, a pressure against the crown of his skull—a lingering reminder of the wine. Dinner with Governor Mahmud Yalavach was a few hours away, and he hoped the headache would be gone by then.
The bed shifted around him, the light presence of his wives as they undid his robe and removed his fur-lined shoes. Hands ran over his muscular chest, and without opening his eyes, he caught them. He heard a quick gasp, and he knew whom he held. Jachin, the tallest. He had chosen her for her eyes, the brightest green color he had ever seen.
One of his wives put her mouth next to his ear, and he felt her breath. “So tense,” she whispered. He released his grip on the pair of fluttering hands and groped for the woman next to him. His hand brushed against her head, touching her thick braids and the thin ribbons she had woven into the strands.
“Toregene,” Ögedei murmured, rolling toward her.
She clucked her tongue, and the sound echoed in his ear. He instinctively moved away from her, and her hands slid under his body, pushing him further. He rolled onto his stomach, still trying to reach back and grab her. She evaded his clumsy grope, and tapped him lightly on the bare shoulder. “Lie still,” she admonished. “Let us see if we can't work these knots out of your back.”
Ögedei grunted and relented, letting his hands fall onto the bed. “If I had my way,” he said, “I'd stay like this all evening, in bed, surrounded by my beautiful wives. We'd make love and then eat fried dumplings, then clean off in a cold bath and take a midnight ride. Out, over the steppes.”
“As if you'd ever be able to keep up with me,” Toregene laughed.
Ögedei opened his eyes and tried to look over his shoulder. “In lovemaking or riding?”
Ögedei smiled. “Would you not leave me my pride, woman?”
Toregene snorted. “You would get it back in a morning at court. All those officials crawling on the floor, calling you High Grand Exalted Master of the World. Begging you to notice them.”
“It is our job to remind you of more important things,” Jachin said as she joined Toregene. She pressed her elbow down hard into Ögedei's shoulder, and he let out a grunt of pleasure. “Tense as a bowstring. What is it that worries you?”
The dust on his shoulders, Ögedei thought. The young emissary from his brother Chagatai. The warrior had ridden countless days across the steppe to reach Karakorum. He had slept outside, nothing but the endless bowl of the heavens over his head. There had been a horse beneath him, and the wind had flowed through him. All he had known was the grass that lay behind him and all he saw was horizon before him.
“Do you know how long it has been since I’ve been on a horse?” he said. “How long it has been since I've ridden freely across the grasses?”
Neither woman answered. Nor will they, he thought bitterly. They know as well as I. “Some nights I dream of escaping this cave,” he confessed. “I'm sitting in that room, watching an endless parade of bureaucrats and officials. They flow in like a spring river, and every time I blink, there are more of them. A flood that will overwhelm me.
“And in this dream, I escape. I leap from a balcony, and there is a strong pony waiting for me. No one can stop me. I ride out of the gates, and I keep riding forever, until I die in the saddle. But the pony doesn't stop. He keeps going, and my body rots away. My bones are scattered across the empire, and the pony doesn't stop until he reaches the place where the sky bends down and touches the ground. All that is left of me then is my hands, my fingers wound in his mane.”
Toregene worked her way down, and Ögedei felt his muscles loosen. He was tight, but it wasn't that half-remembered tightness, that lower back tension that came from being in the saddle overlong. “Tonight,” he sighed, “I have to go to dinner and eat over-spiced foreign food with golden chopsticks. I have to pretend to be interested in talking to overstuffed diplomats. That's all I am now. A man who sits on benches and chairs, who eats and talks. That is all I do.”
“Somebody has to be Khan,” said Toregene. “You've done a better job of ruling the empire than even your father.”
Ögedei scowled. “The empire rules itself. They just need someone to grovel to.” After a beat he added, “And no one compares to my father.”
He felt Jachin shift to his other side, and her elbow descended into the softer flesh below his shoulder. “Before you were Khan this was all empty grassland,” she reminded him. “Because of you, there is a palace now. The grandest palace the world has ever known.”
“It would've been better off staying grassland. A palace for the Chinese is a prison for Mongols.” He flexed his shoulders, shooing his wives off him, and sat up. Their hands were deft, but their words were not helping him relax. He looked at Jachin, and then Toregene, making sure they were paying attention to him. “Would it not be simpler if we rode off together? We could leave all of this to someone else, and go live in a ger on the edge of a river like we used to. We could live off the land again. Eat what I kill.”
His wives said nothing, but they curled up close to him, running their hands through his hair. He clasped his hands on their shoulders, feeling their warm skin. “I think when I die the empire will die with me,” he mused. “I have no worthy heirs. Kadan is too enamored with foreign religions. Khashi is more interested in chasing pretty women than fighting. Onghwe . . .” He shook his head. “Onghwe is worst of all.”
“What about Guyuk?” asked Toregene. “He will be a worthy Khan.”
“Guyuk is too quick to anger. Remember what he did in Rus.”
“Batu is an arrogant fool,” said Toregene. “Guyuk was—”
“Wars aren't won by being cruel to your own men.” Ögedei cut her off. “Guyuk is too temperamental. He does not understand how to rule. And his cousins . . . they would be like wolves in the dead of winter: they would look upon Guyuk as the weakest member of the pack.”
“They wouldn't dare!" Toregene's eyes flashed.
“They would,” Ögedei sighed. “And perhaps . . . ” His shoulders sagged and his hands pressed down more firmly on his wives' shoulders.
“What is it?” Jachin asked. “It isn't the dream of the steppe that haunts you, is it?”
Ögedei shook his head. “An emissary from Chagatai came today, bearing a message.”
“He sent some stripling to keep an eye on my drinking.”
The women were quiet for a moment, and when one of them spoke, her voice was almost too quiet to be heard. “There might be some benefit to such a man,” Jachin said. Ögedei whirled on her, and she met his gaze for an instant. She dropped her chin, but the damage was done. Ögedei had seen the sharp glitter of her eyes.
“I am Khagan,” he roared. The headache pulsed in his head, returning with furious hammering. “I will do as I please. When I please. How I please. No one—not my brother, not you, and certainly not some dust-covered, boodog-eating horse archer—will tell me what I may and may not do.”
Toregene leaned against him, her weight holding his arm down. Had he raised it to strike Jachin? He had no memory of trying. There was nothing in his head but the pounding reminder of how long it had been since he had had a drink, and that sensation only proved Jachin's point. He pulled away from Toregene, dismissing Jachin with a wave of his hand. “You can't expect a man not to drink from time to time. My father drank. His father drank. Drinking is the only freedom I still have.”
Toregene put her hands on his shoulders. Her braids brushed against his back as she rested her head against his. “Your brother's not trying to insult you, Ögedei. He just cares about you.”
“Does he?” Ögedei stared at the flickering light of the lantern hanging on the wall. “If he really cares about me, then why doesn't he come here himself?”
* * *
Ögedei could not see the sky for all the dust in the air. Men and horses—and the wind, even—had stirred up the dry ground of the Khalakhaljid Sands. The Kereyid army was endless; every time a break appeared in the clouds of dust, it was only to unleash more riders upon Genghis Khan's beleaguered army.
His mouth filled with the taste of dirt and blood, Ögedei whipped the reins of his horse and drove it on through the sands. All around him, he heard the cacophony of battle: men shouting, the clanging of swords, the shrill screams of horses dying. He could not tell if his father's armies were winning or losing. Ögedei's world was reduced to a red cloud, filled with ghosts.
He beat his heels against the ribs of his horse, trying to keep the animal under control, but it sensed his fear and refused to mind him. Starting at every clang of steel around it, the horse kept shying first one direction and then another.
He had seen seventeen winters; he did not think he would see another.
The dust swirled in front of him, billowing out from the shape of a charging horse and rider. There was something wrong with his head, and as he emerged from the cloud, Ögedei glimpsed the warrior's helmet more fully and realized the approaching rider was not from Genghis' army. The Kereyid, the long feather on his helm broken and bent, flicked his spear down and drove its point into his horse's flank.
Ögedei felt the shock of the thrust in his legs, and his horse reared, lurching to the right. The reins jerked from Ögedei's grasp, and as he tumbled toward the ground, he caught a glimpse of the sky through the dust. Blue sky.
The fall knocked the wind from his lungs and made his ears ring. He tried to spit out the dust in his throat, but nothing came out when he retched. His sword was gone, and he tried to remember when it had fallen from his grip. When his horse had thrown him, or when he had hit the ground? The dust had swallowed it up.
The ground shook. A horse. His ears were still echoing with the shock of his fall, and everything was muffled. But he could feel the horse coming at him, and he rolled to the side as the Kereyid thundered past. The tip of the man's sword caught the edge of his helmet, ringing from one of the metal studs in the leather. His head was yanked back and his helmet flew off, eagerly devoured by the dust.
The Kereyid pulled his horse to a stop, wheeling it around again, and as it trotted toward Ögedei, he slipped off its back in a fluid motion. Sword raised, he charged Ögedei.
Scrambling for the dagger in his belt, Ögedei pushed himself off the ground. The wind gusted between them, and the Kereyid's blow came slowly, as if all the particulate in the air was causing resistance against the blade.
Ögedei crouched under the strike, and thrust up into the Kereyid's belly. His dagger hit the edge of the warrior's breastplate, skipped down, and then slid into flesh. Ögedei pulled the blade along the edge of the hard breastplate and blood splashed over his hands. The Kereyid howled, and Ögedei shoved him down. He was still holding his sword, and Ögedei kicked it from his hands and then stomped on the man's face. The Kereyid continued to yell, and Ögedei kept kicking until his boots were covered in red mud.
His horse was still alive. It lay on its side, kicking and convulsing around the Kereyid's spear. Ögedei coughed and spat up sand. His legs trembled as he bent and picked up the Kereyid's sword. It was heavier than his, and the cross-guard wider and thicker than he was used to. It will do. He squeezed the hilt tightly as he staggered toward his dying horse.
It had been a good steed, sure-footed and responsive to his guidance. It had carried his uncle for several months before Jochi gave it to him. There was blood smeared on the horse's nose and its eyes were wide and frenzied. Incredibly, it was trying to stand as Ögedei approached, but its front right leg failed to hold its weight.
“Run,” Ögedei croaked. “Run to the Eternal Blue Sky.” His stroke was clumsy, but the blade was sharp enough. The horse's back legs kicked twice as it died, and Ögedei ground the heel of his hand against his face, fighting the sting of sand and salt in his eyes.
An arrow landed in the side of the dead horse, and Ögedei looked at it dumbly. It was a short Mongol arrow, but the fletching was unfamiliar. A Kereyid arrow. He was still on the battlefield. He couldn't stay here; he had to find his way out of the sand cloud. He didn't know whether to advance or fall back, wouldn't even know where to advance or fall back to. Perhaps he would never see the sky again. He was being buried underground. He wrapped his scarf over his face to keep out the dust, still tasting grit on his tongue.
Something bumped into him, and he fell back against the corpse of his pony. Wildly, he looked around, trying to spot a shadow or a shape in the dust. Who was there? Horses charged past on his right. Their hooves pounded against the sand, kicking up swirling clouds of dust. He brought up a hand to shield his face and pain lanced his neck and shoulder. Glancing down, he saw the bloody tip of an arrow protruding from beneath his chin.
His scarf was tangled in the arrow, and he couldn't reach over his shoulder to pull it out. His fingers brushed the shaft, and pain shot through his neck. Screaming, he fell to his knees.
There was blood inside his armor. His scarf was turning red, and what wasn't absorbed by the cloth was running down his chest. His hands were red too, and he realized he was kneeling in the bloody mud of his horse. He shivered, suddenly cold.
The dead Kereyid, though he didn't have much of a face left, seemed to be laughing at him. Ögedei tried to steady himself on his horse. So warm, he thought and the tears started again. He didn't try to hide them this time. He let them run. “I'm sorry,” he whispered, though there was no one there to hear him.
The Kereyid kept laughing. Ögedei could hear his voice—a roaring, rippling sound in his head, like a flash flood in the spring as it filled the dry riverbed. It wasn't just the Kereyid, it was the dead on the battlefield. All of the spirits were laughing at him now.
Dark spots swam in his vision. He dug his fingers into the short hair of the horse, and tried to remember what it was like to ride.