Book Spotlight: Empire's Reckoning by Marian L. Thorpe
Publication Date: 30 May 2020
Publisher: Arboretum Press
How many secrets does your family have? For 13 years, Sorley has taught music alongside the man he loves, war and betrayal nearly forgotten. But behind their calm and ordered life, there are hidden truths. When a young girl’s question demands an answer, does he break the most important oath he has ever sworn by lying – or tell the truth, risking the destruction of both his family and a fragile political alliance? Empire’s Reckoning asks if love – of country, of an individual, of family – can be enough to leave behind the expectations of history and culture, and to chart a way to peace.
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The narrator of Empire’s Reckoning, Sorley, is a musician. In this scene, the gathered nobles of the country of Linrathe have come together to decide if Ruar, the fourteen-year-old son of their previous leader, should be acclaimed as Teannasach, chieftain of their people. Bhradaín is the bard to Ruar’s family, and he is manipulating the emotions of the nobles, through words and music.
We played the songs of battle, of victory and loss, and Bhradaín spoke of Ruar’s bravery and valour. The boy had been unflinching, both in the long ride north — sixteen hours a day in the saddle, scant food and scanter sleep — and on the field. I’d fought beside him, and there had been others wielding swords not just to defeat the Marai but to keep the last loyal Teannasach’s son safe. He’d killed his share of the invaders, and Bhradaín reminded the men before him of that, too.
The Eirënnen hoisted drinking cups and cheered; if there were dissenting voices, they were drowned out by the tide of approval. Bhradaín held up his hand for silence. It was late now, time for the last song of the evening.
“Many of you know the musician who accompanies me tonight,” he said. “The lord Sorley rode north with our young leader, and never left his side in the fighting. He has done much more, but we will leave that for tomorrow. Only remember this: so that Linrathe had a chance of peace, he relinquished his lands and his family, for Lord Sorley is a man of Sorham. My lord, will you sing An Dithës Braithréan for us?
Even as I nodded my assent — I could not refuse, even had I wanted to — part of my mind recognized Bhradaín’s ploy: the emphasis on my nobility, the reminder I had protected Ruar, the choice of final song, driving home to the assembled landholders of Linrathe what I had given up to buy them victory. Bhradaín gestured me to the higher stool. The hall was silent.
I had sung this song of brothers separated forever by war twice for Cillian, in love and anguish. But tonight I needed a different vision. I closed my eyes, picturing Gundarstorp, its coves and hills, the rhythm of the waves, the screams of gulls. Sheep on the hill and curlew on the moor. Roghan, chasing behind me, fighting me with wooden swords, bundling fleeces as I sheared. I plucked the strings slowly, letting my heart and my fingers suggest the wavering curlew’s cry, the susurration of water on rock, a boy’s laughter. An entire verse with only the ladhar, before I began to sing.
I didn’t try for purity: I’d never reach it. I let my voice crack and falter, and by the time I finished, tears gleamed in more than one pair of eyes in my audience. I bowed and stepped aside, unspeaking.
Bhradaín touched my shoulder. “Very well done,” he murmured. “Go straight to your room. Speak to none of them tonight, or it will lessen the effect.”
Not content with two careers as a research scientist and an educator, Marian L Thorpe decided to go back to what she’d always wanted to do and be a writer. Author of the medieval trilogy Empire's Legacy and the companion novella Oraiáphon, described as ‘historical fiction of another world’, Marian also has published short stories and poetry. Her life-long interest in Roman and post-Roman European history informs her novels, while her avocations of landscape archaeology and birding provide background to her settings. Empire’s Reckoning is the first of a planned trilogy, Empire’s Reprise.