The Dinosaur Princess

Humans were abducted eons ago at a god’s whim. Empires have risen and fallen and now men ride into battle on Triceratops and their generals lead them on White Thunder T-rexes. Welcome to Paradise, and the third volume in Victor Milán’s glorious alternate fantasy universe.

The ancient gods who brought mankind to Paradise have returned to judge their human experiment. The Grey Angels, fabled ancient weapons of the gods, have come to rid the world of sin.

And if humans are deemed unworthy, they will be scourged from the face of Paradise.

The Dinosaur Princess is the newest epic fantasy adventure set in a world where knights ride armored dinosaurs into battle—available August 15th from Tor Books.

 

 

Chapter 2

The closed-fist blow rocked Rob Korrigan’s head to the right.

He reeled on his knees. Quite the punch he packs, he managed to think inside a brain that felt as if it were spinning in his skull like a child’s top, for such a swag-bellied old reaper.

“Let that be the last blow you suffer from another without taking retribution!” declared the man who stood over him, the ginger fur of his paunch practically tickling Rob’s nose in the shade of the silken pavilion atop the loaf-shaped hill.

Ah, but that clout struck me long ago, your Emp-ship, Rob thought. When I parted ways at last with my original Master Morrison, that vile, drunken, one-eyed old Scot bastard.

“Arise, Montador Robrey Korrigan,” Felipe said, “and assume the duties and privileges of a Knight and Baron of the Empire of Nuevaropa.” Rob winced to hear his full first name—for the first time in many years. Where on Paradise did the man go and dredge it up?

I must’ve babbled it in my cups. Aye—I certainly babbled it in my cups; isn’t that me to the life? Possibly to that vexer Melodía.

Felipe reached down a hand wound in bandages to cover the burst blisters. For all the presumed softness that had led to them, his Imperial Majesty latched a substantial grip on Rob’s forearm when he accepted. Gratefully, since he was still woozy. And, for a wonder, not because of a drink.

The day’s young, he thought.

The sun was high and hot and the clouds were thin, a sort of watered-milk white. A brisk wind from the ridges to the north snapped the bright banners and boomed the gold and scarlet silken canopy overhead. Rob wished he had a hat to shield his face. Sweat streamed down his forehead, stinging at his eyes and making his beard itch abominably. At that the grandesmy fellow grandees, he reminded himself, though most considerably grander—suffered considerably more. The courtiers crowded onto the hilltop wore little but fripperies of gold and glittering jewels, green and red and blue flashing darts of reflection in every direction, but if nothing else the headbands of their grand feather headdresses had to chafe, and the showy great plumes of bird and dinosaur offered little protection from the sun. And they were the lucky ones.

From behind him Rob heard a snort. That would be one of the famous war-Triceratops of his commander—and friend—Karyl Bogomirskiy. They were arrayed at the base of the hill next to the glorious but sadly few remaining hadrosaurs of the Companions of Our Lady of the Mirror—also glorious and sadly few after riding at least twice through the whole Horde during yesterday’s slaughter.

That was an uneasy pairing, and not just because Three-horns’ terrible long brow-horns were the bane of the dinosaur knights’ showily crested sackbut and morion mounts. Around and beside the two blocs were arrayed the rest of the two armies, previously hunter and hunted, who had come together yesterday to defend the Empire and people of the Tyrant’s Head from Raguel’s mad Crusade.

Rob became uncomfortably aware that thousands of eyes were on him right now. You should’ve got away whilst the getting was good, me boyo, he thought glumly. It’s well and truly stuck you are now.

The fact that the Emperor had strong hands despite their softness needn’t have surprised him. In his youth Felipe had famously pushed a pike as a simple soldier for his uncle the King of Alemania. The hand that hadn’t helped Rob up held still the longsword used to knight Rob moments before, its tip now stuck in the turf of the round hill called Le Boule, whose blade showed numerous notches that had not, by all accounts, been there yesterday. Despite the self-sacrificing efforts of his elite bodyguard, the Scarlet Tyrants, and their commander, the huge Alemán Duke Falk, on his albino Tyrant Snowflake, Felipe had struck hard blows in his own defense.

A young man and woman in the crimson and scarlet tabards of Heraldos Imperiales flanked Rob and, with respectful firmness, marched him off the top of the round hill and away from the Imperial presence and party. A murmur of commentary rippled through the onlookers: the courtiers and grandes crowded atop Le Boule and the thousands of surviving knights and common soldiers ranged on the battleground to watch the hilltop ceremony. Which, having dragged on for over an hour, was finally closing in on its climax.

Then at last the real question struck Rob. But there was no way to ask it, because the next to receive elevation was already being led before Emperor Felipe.

The unquestioned hero of the final confrontation with Raguel: Rob’s commander and best friend, Karyl Bogomirskiy.

* * *

“Arise, Mor Karyl, Duque Imperial de la Marca!”

At Felipe’s exuberant call—and Melodía did rejoice to see her father enjoying himself so hugely, as he always did a spectacle—the slight man rose from the yellow bare-scuffed dirt before him. It struck the Princess that she wore almost the same garb he did. Except that he wore a straight-bladed arming-sword instead of a curved Ovdan talwar, slung to the right hip rather than the left.

Naturally enough, she thought. After all, he rides to the fights armored like a light rider, too.

Despite the sneers of certain courtiers, most or all of whom had managed to turn up soon after the desperate battle against Raguel and his Horde had ended, she was proud of her garb and of the nickname that went with it, the Short-Haired Horse Captain. She had earned them. Unlike her titles or family name.

Even though I guess I’ll be growing my hair out again, now that I seem to be becoming a Princesa Imperial again.

Karyl stood up into a storm of cheers, in which the assembled thousands seemed to participate more eagerly than the courtiers gathered around the Emperor, even though the majority couldn’t hear a thing. They knew the man who had saved them from Raguel, though. If not by sight, then by having him excitedly pointed out by those who had been so placed as to see him on the battlefield in person.

She let her gaze slide down the slope, which had been trod almost bare of cover. A man was walking up from the base of the cone-shaped hill. He was tall, and the breeze whipped his long, fine orange hair over sharp, fine features like a banner. He moved easily, despite his twenty kilograms of steel plate armor. The harness was so gouged and battered it was hard to make out the large orange Lady’s Mirror emblazoned on a once gleaming-white breastplate. A longsword hung from his waist.

Warmth beyond the day’s heat filled her. He was the Imperial Champion,Constable of all the Empire’s armies and navies, Knight Commander of the Military Order of Our Lady of the Mirror, Jaume dels Flors. He was also her betrothed all but officially—and the lover she had driven from her over his refusal to resign command of an army ordered to a war they both agreed was unjust.

I was right, too, she thought. Somehow that doesn’t fill the hollowness his absence has left in me over these last months.

The two apprentice heralds were escorting Karyl out of the Imperial presence, keenly aware of the moment and working their dignity hard. Buthe stopped, resisting their gentle but insistent hand-pressing to get him moving again. Like the torn-up remnant of the Scarlet Tyrants standing guard around her father, heralds had nearly unlimited license in the course of their duties to lay hands on persons regardless of rank.

Melodía’s heart almost stopped. Her former commander was staring at the man who was climbing Le Boule toward him. Karyl’s features were handsome enough, she supposed, for a man of his years and their hardness, though they were more gaunt than anything else. But his gaze was sharp and merciless as an Allosaurus’s.

Karyl, she knew, believed the man approaching him so boldly had stabbed him in the back and destroyed his famous White River Legion in the River Hassling, when the Battle of Gunters Moll ended in an unexpected truce with the rebellious Princes’ Party instead of the victory Karyl and his walking-fortress Triceratops were helping the Imperial forces win. And by the man’s own regretful admission to Melodía, he was right.

They were the two most storied swordsmen in the Empire of the FangèdThrone. Not even Melodía was sure the orange-haired knight would win. And she worshipped him.

I do Karyl too, I suppose. In a very different way, of course.

Jaume stopped a pace away from Karyl. The two stood facing each other for a moment that seemed to stretch out as if a hank of Melodía’s nerves were being reeled off her on a spindle. Long turquoise eyes stared intointense eyes so dark they were almost black.

Karyl thrust out his left hand—his sword hand. Bare, wiry fingers closed on steel vambrace; steel gauntlets closed on linen-clad forearm, and the two heroes shook hands.

The applause from the massed soldiers was thunderous.

As Karyl walked on away from Jaume to join the other recently elevated nobles, one of them stepped haltingly forward and raised a hand.

Oh, no, Melodía thought.

“Pardon me all to pieces, Your Majesty,” Rob Baron Korrigan said, “butI need to ask a question.”

* * *

“Begging your pardon,” Rob said to Felipe, “but you called me Baron. What might you have meant by that, if you please?”

Felipe’s courtiers looked shocked at the question’s impertinence,gathered with the Emperor beneath the gold-and-red silk canopy and spilling down the sides of the hill. Some were his buckethead captains, others the Eight Creators, though they were got up in enough feathers,and gilt to choke Falk’s Tyrannosaurus, who was tethered well behind Le Boule, where his scent wouldn’t upset the plant-eating dinosaurs commonly used in war. But the slim young woman who stood on Felipe’s left wore not the scant yet gaudy garments of a noblewoman on such a momentous occasion, on such a warm day, but the nosehorn-leather jerkin and jackboots of a jinete. She caught Rob’s eye and gave him a slow wink.

But the Emperor smiled indulgently. “I’ve decided your service demands not just knighthood but a true patent of nobility.”

Well, there’s your mistake, Rob thought. Though, somewhat to his own amazement, he didn’t blurt that too.

He did blurt, “Baron? Of what?”

“That’s up to your liege, the Imperial Duke Karyl, to decide. We decided it in council.”

His “we” included a nod to the tall young woman by his side, her brush of dark-red hair ruffled by the fingers of a rising wind. She was plainly dressed in such a glittering gaggle, but anything but plain.

Rob’s former Horse-Captain gave him a grin that made her look like a child of fourteen—the same age as her adored baby sister, Montserrat.

“I don’t have to tell you the devastation the… recent events left behind,” Felipe said. Rob got the sense the Emperor was speaking for the benefit of far more ears than his alone. “Many lords of the affected provinces were killed, and often their entire families as well. Their fiefs stand empty. Other knights and nobles willingly joined the Crusade. Their domains are vacated too.”

His avuncular tone took on an edge for that last bit. Though it seemed treason and attainder ran too contrary to the occasion’s spirit. Which struck Rob as a sort of desperate festivity. Not unjustifiably, given that the Grey Angels were the personal servitors of the gods of this world, the Eight Creators, and that one of their Crusades was nothing less than the direct manifestation on Paradise of their awful justice. The Emp’s having fought back against Raguel’s Crusade left him and his Empire in decidedly dicey circumstances, theologically speaking.

“So I’ve decided to create or assign your Karyl a passel of loose lords,” Felipe said. “And as a Duque Imperial he naturally enjoys privilege to create ’em on his own. So you’ll accompany your new liege back to Providence, and he’ll find the proper seat for you. Not doubt it’ll be a fine one, since by all accounts you served as his strong right hand.”

Rather the left, being his spymaster and chief skulldugger, Rob thought. Then he felt the awful weight of Felipe’s words land on him like a lightning-struck titan.

“But what am I to do with the job?” he all but wailed. “I’m a peasant rogue of a minstrel and dinosaur master, not a bucket—a grande. I don’t know how to be a Baron!”

“Provided for as well,” said Felipe, whose patience seemed as boundless as his cheer today.

Rob could see how surviving the certain destruction, not just of one’s own personal arse but of family and Empire as well, could do that to a body. Especially the day after, when His Majesty and most of them had a chance to rest away most of the awful depression that followed battle.

“An important nobleman has kindly agreed to lend you a trusted, capable servant to serve as your seneschal. He’ll take the burden of managing castle and estates, wherever they may be, off your shoulders. And I believe you can trust Duke Karyl to make sure you’re not given more than you can handle at first, eh?”

Uncertainty still tied Rob’s stomach in a knot. Best to cut your losses and escape while you can, lad, he told himself, and allowed the apprentice heralds to squire him to the side with the other glittering riffraff.

Count Jaume was presented to the Emperor, his uncle and liege, and a herald began to recite his many and mighty deeds, with emphasis on the ones performed just yesterday. Rob listened with half an ear, because Baronor not—and he still couldn’t believe he was a Baron—he remained what he always was: a minstrel and a dinosaur master. Along with something of a scoundrel; but his experience suggested that was a career asset for a buckethead. He had written and sung many songs of the heroism of Jaume, as of his hero Karyl, and they had brought him silver.

And as fast as Maris’s Wheel had turned to bring him these blessings, dubious as they were, he knew it could turn back again and dump him penniless in a ditch. He might need more songs.

Meanwhile, his eye wandered out across the mingled armies. They made a brave if battered spectacle: with pride of place in the front line going to Jaume’s remnant Companions on their hadrosaurs, the surviving Tercio of Brown Nodosaurs, and Karyl’s bloc of Triceratops with tall wicker-and-lath fighting castles strapped to their backs. All were sadly reduced by yesterday’s unequal fight.

Flanking them were the other dinosaur knights of both armies, Karyl’s Fugitive Legion and Felipe’s Imperial one—which until mid-morning yesterday had been hunting Karyl and his lot. And behind them the rest: chivalry, even more defiantly colorful in their display of heraldic banners and caparisons, as if to outshine their more massively mounted kindred; professional House-soldiers in their mail and peaked helmets; Imperial peasant levies, looking less slack and disgruntled than normal, since for once they’d had some stake in fighting; Karyl’s ragtag light troops, infantry archers and Rob’s own jinetes, less irreverent than usual and for the most part paying attention.

Beyond them, he could see scores of men and women canvassing the battlefield, seeing to the wounded, animal and human. Rob’s own dinosaur grooms from Karyl’s army were among them, as well as their erstwhile opposite numbers from the Imperial camp. His boys and girls had volunteered with an alacrity that might surprise an outsider. While most of the exceedingly valuable war-dinosaurs who had any hope of recovering had been moved off the field last night, some remained who were beyond healing. Any true aspirant to Dinosaur Mastery—and Rob himself, who would’ve been out there if not for an engagement he couldn’t escape,much as he wished to—would want to ease the great beasts’ suffering in the only manner possible. Equerries performed the same final mercy for untreatably wounded horses, of which there were a good many more than dinosaurs.

Meanwhile, robed sectaries of Maia and Spada, the Creators most associated with healing and with war, searched among the most numerous casualties of all: their own kind. Hundreds had already been moved to hospital tents, improvised shelters, borrowed farmhouses nearby, and even as far as the village of Canterville several kilometers southwest, whose name had already been attached to the fight. Rob could see some being carried to ambulance wagons on makeshift stretchers.

Those who couldn’t be helped received the same grace as the injured dinosaurs and horses, delivered with lead maces and the misericordia, or mercy-dagger.

War’s a terrible mistress, Rob thought. Yet somehow we can’t quit her.

Still the Imperial Herald droned on. She was up to Jaume’s exploits in yesterday’s battle, anyway. Rob began to hope he might soon find the shelter of proper shade and ale. It’s not as if my body and soul’ve fully recovered from yesterday, he thought. Not to mention the days and weeks preceding.

The wind veered to blow from the east across the former battlefield, bringing the smell of tens of thousands of corpses, from those of children hag-ridden by the frightful Raguel to the three-ton morions of dinosaur knights, full in the faces of the nobles on their hill.

Rob blinked. His stomach gurgled unhappily but kept its place. The Emperor’s smile as he looked upon his appointed Champion never faltered. The herald kept declaiming, showing her stomach was made of the same tough leather as her lungs. But the mercantile magnate who stood three places upslope turned, the sixty-centimeter green-and-white Ridiculous Reaper plumes sticking up from his silver bonnet wavering like yarrow shoots and his brown skin gone a sickly ashen-green, and gagged, spilling pale chunky vomit down the silver-and-feathered gorget he wore and across the garnet-bossed target strapped to his bare chest. Others joined him as he fell to his knees to offer his own special sacrifice to the soil of Paradise.

The smell of death wasn’t uncommon. Even the glittering courtiers now either surrendering to sudden nausea or fighting valiant rearguard actions against it had encountered it before, surely. But a stench on this scale was anything but common. It seemed to coat your tongue and suffuse your whole body with uncleanness.

No one Rob knew of ever got used to it. You just learned to deal with it. He felt a certain stab of admiration at the Emperor’s aplomb.

Rob kept his face stiff with the reflex of a peasant who knew too well that the mere hint of a smile at his betters’ discomfiture could earn him at best a buffet, and at worst a noose. Then he remembered, Wait, I’m one of these hada now! And let himself guffaw.

And of all things, that broke him.

Thought of the Fae inevitably brought their archenemies the Grey Angels to mind. The reminder that the rudely ejected Raguel had mates shot a memory into him like a stinger-bolt in the stomach.

It was last night. Sure, he’d been thoroughly ossified—drunk enough to find himself not just pissing on the backside of the Emperor’s own tent but daring to peep inside through a small slit, which he may or may not have improved with his dagger for the purpose. But Rob had never drunk enough to make him hallucinate.

Which meant he had really seen raw horror.

He now knew a thing apparently unknown to Felipe, or anyone else in the Empire: that the Emperor’s confessor and closest confidant, the mysterious Fray Jerónimo, was himself the same terrible thing as Raguel.

A Grey Angel. Who likely enough, even now, sat in his screened cell in that selfsame pavilion not fifty yards from where Rob stood.

And thus he dropped to his knees and added the gruel, flatbread, and fatty-bacon he’d had for breakfast to the offerings he’d just been mocking from his fellow lords and ladies of Nuevaropa.

Excerpted from The Dinosaur Princess, copyright © 2017 by Victor Milan.

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