Road Brothers: Tales from the Broken Empire is a short story collection which features 10 short stories from the lives of Jorg and his Road Brothers. They contain spoilers for the Broken Empire books, so only read them if you already finished the trilogy. 5 of the stories have previously been published in anthologies and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is also sold separately.
Table of Contents
The Nature of the Beast
A Good Name
Book cover by Pen Astridge
The book is currently only available to purchase in Kindle Edition on Amazon.
As a taster you may find an extract below from one of the stories.
Know Thyself (Excerpt)
“Honour thy father.” The words echoed from the throne as Gomst approached, hurrying the length of the black carpet that stretched from doors to dais.
Gomst passed the last pair of table-knights and stood before the king of Ancrath. Clergy, no matter their station, do not bow to crowns, but Gomst felt the pressure on his shoulders even so. He kept his gaze on the bottom step, waiting to be acknowledged.
“Honour thy father. This instruction constitutes ten percent of all the commandments that God himself felt fit to hand down on tablets of stone, does it not?”
Gomst raised his eyes to the king now. “It does, Your Highness.” He decided against adding ‘and thy mother’. King Olidan looked to be the sort of man who would not take well to sharing honour.
“I have two sons who would benefit from further education in such a commandment.” Olidan sat back in his high throne, not sprawled, but at ease. An iron circlet bound the blackness of his hair, rubies set there, bloody in the torch-light. The eyes that watched Gomst beneath it were winter-blue.
“All men benefit from such instruction, Highness.” Gomst resisted the continuing urge to bow. The bishop had called the appointment a reward for good service, but beneath the weight of Olidan’s gaze Gomst was beginning to feel that perhaps it had been a punishment.
“My eldest son has vowed to murder me, priest. What do you think to that, eh? What sentence would the church prescribe for such treason?” The king leaned forward in his chair now, as if it were just the two of them, perhaps in the snugness of the confessional.
Gomst opened his mouth, hoping that an answer might appear, but none did. “I … I understood your sons to be infants, Majesty?”
“The eldest is six. The other four.”
“Corinthians 13:11. When I was a child I spake as a child.” Gomst raised his hands. “Even our lord had a time for childish things and childish thinking.” Gomst felt himself walking a labyrinth of knife edges. He wanted neither to fail whatever test was being set nor to give offense. Olidan Ancrath was not a man you offended without consequence. “Perhaps I misunderstand, Highness. A boy of six years is surely no threat?”
“This child of six stole from the royal treasury.” The king rose from his throne. “He didn’t wander through a carelessly open door. He descended the walls of the Tall Castle and broke through the bars of a window too narrow for any man.” The king turned to study the wall to one side of his chair. His fingers traced a scar in the stonework. “My son threw a hammer at me. It missed my head by the width of a nail…” He paused as if remembering the incident. “Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt honour thy father. My boy, Jorg, broke or attempted to break three of the ten in one day.” The king returned his gaze to Gomst. “I will confess, priest, that I possess small understanding of what it is to be a father. My own offered precious little instruction in the matter. After the theft I taught the boy a lesson. A harsh lesson, but necessary. Now the child believes himself at war with me. This is a belief I could have beaten from him, but for his mother’s sake I have commissioned the services of an expert to instruct him more gently. I warn you though, Father Gomst. I expect Jorg to have come to his senses the next time he is brought before me. Or I will not be pleased.”
Gomst swallowed. “May I ask the nature of the lesson you taught your son, Highness?”
“An eye for an eye, that’s what your bible says. The boy took from me. I took from him.” King Olidan frowned.
“No, not his eye. I killed his dog.”
Father Gomst settled into his quarters that evening, a small room close to the royal chapel. He would instruct the faithful in the castle church out in the compound but for the king and his family the chapel served. Like his room the chapel too was small, and although well-appointed with sufficient gold upon the altar, the place had an air of neglect about it, the dust thick upon the pews.
The last incumbent, Father Hermest, had succumbed to a winter flu two years earlier and it seemed his ghost had been considered sufficient moral guidance for the Ancraths up until the king’s recent epiphany that religion might actually be useful in controlling his apparently murderous offspring.
Father Hermest had left nothing to mark his decade of service save an abundance of incense packed into a large cupboard in Gomst’s room, a bible, and a sampler on the wall bearing the instruction ‘Know Thyself’.
Before he laid down in his narrow bed Gomst went to bolt his door. The sampler caught his eye. Two words. Temet nosce. They said it was Socrates who first uttered them, though who could say after such a span of years. Socrates died for honour, he drank his draft of hemlock and went to the shores of the Styx long before Jesus was birthed of a virgin. Know thyself. Sound instruction for men of honour perhaps, but poison when poured into the ear of the ignoble. Gomst knew too much of himself for his liking.
Morning found Gomst shivering beneath his thin blanket. He put on his priest’s robe and stood once more the impostor, claiming the authority of the almighty whilst knowing himself a fraud at every moment, weak, impure, unworthy.
He broke his fast in the great hall, dining with Friar Glen, a brother from the monastery out in Vieux who had been brought in after Father Hermest’s death to keep order in the castle church until a replacement arrived.
“I’m to see to the princes’ religious instruction, Brother.” Gomst brushed crumbs from his beard and reached for another roll. “Where might I find them at this hour?”
“Those two devils? You’ll need the patience of an angel there, Father. And a stout cane.” The friar made an ugly smile as if imagining applying that cane himself. “They should be with their nurses up by the queen’s quarters, but most likely you’ll have to join in the hunt for them. The dungeons might be able to hold them but I’m not even sure about that.”