|The Steel Remains|
The Steel Remains cover.
Richard K. Morgan
Gollancz (UK), Del Rey (US)
Aug 2008 (UK), Jan 2009 (US)
The Steel Remains is the first book in the series A Land Fit For Heroes by Richard K. Morgan, published in 2008.
A dark lord will rise. Such is the prophecy that dogs Ringil Eskiath—Gil, for short—a washed-up mercenary and onetime war hero whose cynicism is surpassed only by the speed of his sword. Gil is estranged from his aristocratic family, but when his mother enlists his help in freeing a cousin sold into slavery, Gil sets out to track her down. But it soon becomes apparent that more is at stake than the fate of one young woman. Grim sorceries are awakening in the land. Some speak in whispers of the return of the Aldrain, a race of widely feared, cruel yet beautiful demons. Now Gil and two old comrades are all that stand in the way of a prophecy whose fulfillment will drown an entire world in blood. But with heroes like these, the cure is likely to be worse than the disease.
--From the Hardcover edition.
The Steel Remains tells the story of three heroes, Ringil, Egar, and Archeth. Though each of their stories is told separately throughout most of the book, they are all brought together towards the end when they fight the dwenda. The setting takes place roughly seven years after a great war against The Scaled Folk. The powerful Yhelteth Empire to the south is having a deteriorating relationship with the Trelayne League, who has recently started trading in slaves again.
Ringil is first introduced while he is living in Gallows Water, a small village. He is a war hero, but is living only on his stories. Ringil is approached by his mother, Ishil, who he hasn't seen in three years. She asks him to help rescue his cousin, Sherin, who has been sold into slavery due to debts incurred by her dead husband. Ishil cannot do it herself because slavery is now legal, and due to her higher position in Trelayne society, she cannot be seen going against the edicts. Also, Ringil has ties with the lower elements of society in Trelayne. Ringil agrees, and accompanies her to Trelayne.
Ringil starts by visiting an old friend, Milacar, to find his cousin. Milacar is a self-described criminal, though he lives in a mansion in The Glades, he has ties with the Marsh Brotherhood. Ringil and Milacar had a sexual relationship when Ringil was about 15, which they rekindle during this brief visit. Milacar eventually warns Ringil about what he's getting in to, and tells him about a dwenda in Etterkal.
When Ringil returns to the family house very early in the morning, he meets his mother and father, who has been talking with Murmin Kaad. Ringil has a very poor relationship with his father, and doesn't respect Kaad, either. They offer their "help" to Ringil, but it comes off as an insinuation as an attempt to prevent Ringil from going to Etterkal. In anger, Ringil throws hot tea into the face of Kaad.
Ringil goes to the town of Ekelim to see a proprietor, Shalak, to ask him how to kill a dwenda. Ringil knows him from the past, and Shalak is an expert in Aldrain lore (the species of the dwenda). The Committee for Public Morals no longer allows him to sell Aldrain artifacts, but he does tell him some of the history and stories of the Aldrain, and how the Kiriath defeated them thousands of years ago with machines.
While visiting Shalak, there is a fight outside involving an old war veteran named Darby and some guards of The Watch. Ringil steps in to break up the fight and smooth things over, saving the old man, who he pities.
When Ringil returns home, he finds Iscon Kaad there, the son of Murmin Kaad. Murmin is seriously injured from the hot tea Ringil threw in his face, and calls Ringil out for a duel for the dishonor. Ringil does not take it very seriously, but agrees to it, which will happen in two days.
During these events, there was a wisp-like girl who appeared to Ringil as a staff person of the house. She is the one who gave Ringil the flagon of tea that he threw at Kaad. He now learns from a young boy who works at the house that there is nobody of that description who works there. Ringil gives the young boy a message to send to Shalak.
The next morning, Ringil goes to the Eastern Gate, reliving some painful memories from his past. When he was young, he had a relationship with a boy named Jelim. Homosexuality is outlawed by the Committee for Public Morals, and when they were caught, Jelim was sentenced to death by being impaled and locked in a cage at the Eastern Gate to die. Ringil was spared due to his family's standing. Young Ringil snuck out of his house shortly after to see Jelim in the cage and came across some children throwing rocks at it. In anger, Ringil killed one of the children. While Ringil is remembering this, he speaks to a fortune teller nearby. He does not want his fortune told to him, but she does tell him that a "dark lord will rise".
Ringil returns home and finds his brother, Gingren Junior, and his father talking. His father does not believe the duel with Iscon Kaad is necessary, but they argue. During this time, Ringil recalls a time when he was raped as an initiation at the Academy, and his brother did not help him. His brother says that he is there to help, but Ringil does not want it. They warn him about Iscon, that it is very serious.
Later, Ringil works with Milacar to get in to Etterkal. The slave traders are a strong group with lots of protection. Milacar sets up Ringil with two men of the Marsh Brotherhood, Girsh and Eril, to go to Etterkal. They go to a slave emporium to see a slave trader named Terip Hale. Ringil is there under a pseudonym and tells Hale that he is shopping for a slave girl. He specifically asks for a girl that is barren, which matches the description of Sherin. When Ringil is taken to inspect the girls, he is ambushed by Terip Hale's men. Ringil and the two Marsh Brotherhood men take them on and defeat them. Ringil now learns from Terip that the dwenda is taking all the marsh-blood women who can't breed. Having Ringil come and ask for that same exact thing spooked him, and is the reason he set up the ambush.
Ringil goes to free the slaves after dealing with Terip Hale. The dwenda appears and kills Girsh. Ringil tells Eril to leave, and Ringil takes on the dwenda in battle. The dwenda is too fast for Ringil, kicks Ringil down, knocking him unconscious. When he awakes, Ringil is in a different world. The dwenda appears "beautiful beyond words". The dwenda says that pulling him there was the only way to end the fight without killing Ringil. He explains that they are in The Ageless Realm. Ringil is strongly attracted to the dwenda, and the end up having sex with each other. When Ringil wakes up, the dwenda explains that a day has passed, and that Darby has died as his second in the duel with Kaad. He tells him that there are those who have no wish to see Ringil get killed in squabbles of petty honor. The dwenda reveals that his name is Seethlaw. Ringil is angry, but Seethlaw forces him to lose consciousness again.
The story continues with Ringil in the Aldrain marches, things ebbing and flowing, with time being hard to follow. Ringil has various dream like interactions with alternate realities. In the marches there is still a moon in the sky (instead of the band), which surprises Ringil. They encounter the akyia, also known as the merroigai, strange creatures with lamprey-like mouthes. Seethlaw shows them great respect.
Seethlaw and Ringil have sex again, and afterwards talk about magic. He explains a little of the aspect storm in The Ageless Realm. A female dwenda named Risgillen shows up in dwenda battle armor. She is tolerant but somewhat hostile of Ringil's presence, threatening him if he hurts Seethlaw.
Together with several other dwenda they continue in the marches, and they return to the real world. They tell Ringil that they are at their destination of Hannais M'hen the Cursed, where there is a statue. The statue works as a sort of beacon or marker for the dwenda. One of the dwenda, Pelmarag, tells him a story:
- About a month and a half ago, Tarnval, Ashgrin's brother, decided to take a frontal assault at Hannais M'hen, to take it back for the dwenda to undo what the Kiriath had done to the dwenda. Tarnval did not like Seethlaw's stealthy ways, so he took 3 dozen dwenda, some of them storm-callers, to take it back. They unleashed the Talons of the Sun through the aspect storm before deploying, clearing a path. They then came to realize that they were a thousand miles southwest of Hannais M'hen, in seawater, because some "idiot" moved the statue. Many of the dwenda died in battle, and as they were leaving, several more died due to the storm stress on the way out, including Tarnval.
Ringil realizes that Hannais M'hen is Ennishmin, and this ties in to Archeth's story where she was deployed to Ennishmin due to a great, mysterious battle there.
As they continue, they come upon curio scavengers, and Seethlaw uses spells to hide them from the humans. They come across a large, amazing bridge which is magically hidden to humans. They pick up more dwenda, and eventually come across a giant weapon that the Kiriath had inflicted upon the Aldrain destroying their greatest city, Enheed-idrishinir. In discussion with Seethlaw Ringil discovers that the reason the dwenda wanted to attack Ennishmin was to take it back for the Chancellery of Trelayne from the Yhelteth Empire who had savagely taken it in the past. This would make it appear that the Chancellery had broken the accords and bring them into war. This would weaken both sides (with the dwenda helping Trelayne to even the scales), and then walk in and take over the world. Seethlaw explains that the Aldrain dominated the world for millennia before human history began, that they coexisted with humans peacefully for some time.
At this point, Ringil sees human heads on tree stumps. Seethlaw explains that they are warnings to the slaves they are keeping if they try to escape. The heads remain alive forever so long as the roots have water. They are keeping the marsh-blood slaves to honor them and they plan to sacrifice them. Thousands of years ago, the Naom plain clans were favored retainers to the dwenda, with which they mingled their blood. Women who are unable to conceive have the strongest bloodline.
Ringil finds Sherin and tells her his is there to take her home. They plan to stay the night at a scavenger camp, and then take a ferry across the water and walk to Pranderghal. Ringil is now starting to lose his memories of the time in the marches (the "gray places"). In Pranderghal, Ringil, Sherin, and the dwenda go to an inn to eat and drink. It is here that Ringil runs into his old friend from the war, Egar. (Continued below.)
Egar is the clanmaster of the Skaranak. He is first introduced as he is herding buffalo. A surprise attack of 'ware runners kills a young boy named Runi who is helping with the herd. Egar and another helper named Klarn defeat the runners.
Egar takes Runi's body home. Runi's mother is distraught, and is hit by the shaman Poltar. Egar, who does not have much respect for the shaman's religion, punches Poltar and threatens him.
Poltar arrives at Ishlin-ichan. He goes to the brothel of Madam Anjana, where he has visited before. Poltar plays out a torturous scene with a girl on the top floor of the brothel. After finishing, Kelgris takes possession of the girl. Kelgris tells Poltar that they have heard his prayers, she belittles him, and says if he pleases the gods they may do something to vindicate him for what Egar did. She also tells Poltar to be chaste and breaks his penis. The girl is left dead.
Poltar has been waiting for a sign from the Sky Dwellers which finally arrives. Ergund, Egar's brother, comes to talk to him. Ergund tells Poltar of his dream which is a message to Poltar. In his dream, a walking she-wolf (Kelgris) tells Ergund that it had a message for Poltar, that Egar's time as clanmaster is over. Ergund expresses his frustration with Egar, but he doesn't want to be clanmaster.
There is a religious celebration going on where Poltar plays an important part. Afterwards, while Poltar is staying out in the cold, Kelgris appears as a wolf standing like a human.
Egar goes out with Marnak on a "tradition" to go visit his father's grave to hold a vigil. A cloaked figure appears out of nowhere and warns Egar this his brothers are coming to murder him, and then disappears. He sees silhouetted riders approaching. Alrag, Ergund, and Ershal, Egar's brothers, and four mercenaries approach Egar. Egar kills three of the mercenaries and the fourth flees. Ershal shoots Egar's horse. A cloaked figure appears between Egar and Ershal just as Ershal fires an arrow. The figure summons at least six men made of woven grass. Alrag and Ergund are killed by the grass creatures. Ershal flees on his horse. Egar asks the figure for his name, and he tells Egar that he is Takavach, one of the Sky Dwellers. Egar wants to follow and kill Ershal, but Takavach warns him about Kelgris, and eventually Egar gives in.
Egar's story continues below with Ringil.
The emperor of the Yhelteth Empire summons Archeth, who is at the docks working on an old Kiriath fireship. The emperor is in the Chamber of Confidences, and sends Archeth on a quest to Khangset. There are incoherent reports of an attack on Khangset, possibly involving sorcery. The emperor decides to send a harem girl, named Ishgrim to Archeth's bedchamber for when Archeth returns.
Archeth arrives at Khangset, and it is smoldering. Hundreds are dead, and the town is completely demolished. It was attacked four days ago. Shanta, Menkarak, and Captain Rakan are with her, and they go down to talk to a survivor. The survivor says her name is Elith from Ennishmin. She tells Archeth about angels descending from the band, to destroy the humans. She explains that during the war she prayed to the dwenda to come and save the people of Ennishmin. The scaled folk were coming from the north and the imperial soldiers from the south. The dwenda never came and the city was destroyed. She now claims the dwenda are what came now to Khangset.
Archeth returns home with Elith, and sends Elith to the guest chambers. Archeth goes to see the emperor. The emperor and Menkarak are waiting for her. Menkarak claims Archeth overstepped her bounds during the trip to Khangset. Menkarak gets kicked out of the court by the emperor, who does not really like the man. Archeth explains there was a stone idol overlooking Khangset made of a black crystalline rock called glirsht. Elith brought it to Khangset and made sacrifices to it. Archeth believes it may have acted as a beacon. Archeth convinces the emperor to let her have more time to talk to Elith. The emperor has Archeth consult the helmsmen about what to do.
Archeth goes home and finds Ishgrim in her bed. She tells Ishgrim to go to bed, and they will talk in the morning. Archeth goes to the study to talk with Angfal.
Archeth goes to the palace at first light. She has a recollection of a moving speech by emperor Jhiral about it not being a time of warfare and privation. The previous night, Archeth told the helmsman that the dwenda are back. The helmsman asserts that the dwenda had left thousands of years ago.
Archeth tells the emperor about the dwenda. She says that there might be something special about Ennishmin. It was the site of a decisive battle against the dwenda. The swamps at the eastern end of the province are not wholly natural. They were created by some cataclysmic weapon the Kiriath deployed there. She wonders if the weapon didn't have some effect on the barriers between worlds, possibly making them easier to breach than elsewhere. Archeth asks the emperor for a thousand men to investigate Ennishmin, but he tells her to get proof first. When she returns home, she finds Kefanin bloody on the floor. He tells Archeth that they tried to stop some Citadel livery who took Elith. Kefanin is hurt, but not fatally.
Archeth runs along the roofs to catch them. She kills all but two of the Citadel livery when she finds them, including the invigilator-advocate.
The emperor is mad with her for attacking the Citadel men. Archeth is thinking that the Citadel will have an inquisition, and will drag Elith into it. The emperor tells her not to worry, he made his father a promise on his deathbed, and he won't hand Archeth over "to that scum". They create a plan for her to disappear for a while, that she will go to Ennishmin.
She is in Ennishmin for two weeks without making any progress when she runs in to Ringil and Egar. Archeth's story continues below.
Ringil and EgarEdit
In Pranderghal at an inn, Ringil is there with Sherin and the dwenda when they run in to Egar. Egar explains to Ringil that a dark figure (Takavach) sent him here to save Ringil. Seethlaw tries to use magic to make Egar go away. Ringil upends the table and a fight breaks out. Egar and Ringil grab Sherin and run. Egar kills a couple dwenda. They then steal a ferry and float downriver.
They are later caught as boat thieves, when Archeth comes across them at Beksanara.
The Fight with the DwendaEdit
The three heroes decide to make a stand against the dwenda. They make preparations with Faileh Rakan and his men. Ringil uses krin to enhance his speed. During the fight, they kill many of the dwenda. Rakan and many of the men are killed. Ringil is injured with a scar across his face. Ringil battles Seethlaw and kills him.
Afterwards, the heroes talk for a few days. They discover that all of the slaves heads were attached to the tree stumps. Ringil and Sherin leave. Egar plans to go back with Archeth.
Milacar awakes from a dream involving Kelgris. Ringil is hiding in the room. Ringil has realized that when he awoke after the first encounter with Seethlaw that it was at Milacar's old place at Replete Cargo Street. Ringil now knows that Milacar was involved with Seethlaw. Milacar claims not to be part of the cabal, but that everyone is involved in a way. Ringil then kills Milacar.