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Stuff of Legends

Ian Gibson - Author

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ISBN 9781101188842 | 304 pages | 27 Jul 2010 | Ace | 18 - AND UP
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A true legend rescues maidens...pillages temples...and slaughters evil hordes...
But what does he do when all the fun is over?

When an annoyingly eager young man by the name of Eliott, his Elvish guardian, and a bard-for-hire magically drop into the life of former hero Jordan the Red, the aged warrior wants nothing to do with them. He's had enough of battling the world. But Eliott wants an adventure with the legendary, sword-swinging soldier of fortune-and this hero is about to be forced out of retirement.

Prologue

After the howl of battle died away, and the last of the monsters guarding the innermost sanctum at the heart of the glacier lay fallen on the ice, and the Witch Queen herself went fleeing into the frozen wastes, the conquering hero strode into the throne room of his enemy…

The throne was magnificent, in an artisan-evil way. The iron spikes had skulls impaled on them, and the skulls were carved with baleful runes. The seat was formed from broken swords and twisted spears, and upholstered with chips of bone. Jags of ice and spines of frost encrusted it from the floor up, while artfully drizzled coagulate gore dripped down from the cup holder in the arm. This was a throne that declared: Tremble and despair. And whatever you do, don't try to sit down.

Jordan the Red planted his boot against the unholy throne, braced his broad shoulders against the wall, and with one mighty shove sent it crashing down from the dais.

"The ice demons rule no more," he shouted, and the vast dome of the chamber echoed his victory. "Their armies have been defeated. This land is free!"

A blast of arctic wind swept through the throne room, blowing back his long, fiery hair and billowing his wolfskin cloak dramatically behind him. He raised his sword and saluted the heavens.

Then, out of the corner of his mouth, he added, "You got all that?"

At the foot of the dais, Jordan's bard, Shango, glanced up from his furious note taking. "Got the kick, working on the pose right now. Hold still and keep flourishing that blade while I find a way to fit 'o'erthrown' in. Y'know, for the pun. Very popular right now, puns."

"Hurry up; I'm freezing in this loincloth." Jordan shifted his weight from foot to foot. "You sure I can't wear pants?"

"Ceremonial," Shango answered, flashing him a grin with two missing front teeth. "Glister worked it all out. Good luck finding a barbarian tribe who'd let you kill their demon foes in pants. Who's this so-called hero with no knees, they'd say. Look at him, not freezing his nether-bits off."

"Fine, sure," said Jordan, too cold to argue. "How soon can we get back to the tribe, anyway? I need a sandwich. A hot pig sandwich, and some of Thorving's spiced wine…Hell, I'm looking forward to seeing that ugly son of a bear's face again. When I tell him and the Brothers about that last fight, when that thing with the horns came out of the wall— What?"

Shango said nothing, but it was an all-too-familiar nothing, a focused silence that bard after bard had used to avoid mentioning unpleasant details.

Jordan lowered his sword. "Thorving's dead, isn't he?"

"I really can't say."

"How 'bout the Brothers. Are they dead, too?"

"Jordan…"

"Is anyone still alive out there? Damn it, who'd I free this land for if they're all dead!"

The bard stopped immortalizing Jordan's feats of valor. "All right, off the record. They're doing the Clash of Armies thing against the ice demons out on the tundra right now. Outnumbered but unwavering, you know? It'll be very dramatic, very moving, when you find their bodies. Don't look at me like that. Jordan, we're creating an epic, not some cheap tavern anecdote. You can't make history without breaking eggs—or, in this case, barbarians. Shall we get back to work?"

"History. Got it." With a stiffness in his limbs that he forced himself to blame on the cold, Jordan resumed his heroic pose. After six years in the business, he could have struck that pose in his sleep—and did, if he could believe what giggling barmaids told him. Better to think about those times than to dwell on a battle he was already too late to join, or what he would find in its aftermath.

"Perfect. That's perfect," his bard kept repeating. "Best stuff I've ever written. I tell you, this one's going to take you to the top. They'll know your name across the continent—hell, they'll know it on lost continents. I can feel it. This story's going to be told for years."

"Great," said Jordan. "Years. Can't wait to hear it all again when I'm old and dead."

***

"A thousand ice demons flung themselves against the shields of the barbarian army, cracking the defenders' line with frost-barbed claws and the howling fury of an arctic wind. Hardened Northmen fell and died, were torn apart and left on the frozen mountainside, and the jagged cliffs and crevasses echoed the mad cries of the demons in their victory.

"But the demons knew not that their doom was at hand, for in the frozen heart of their citadel, Jordan the Red—Hey! Hey, I'm trying to perform here!"

A bottle smashed against the wall behind the stage, and Cyral immediately regretted drawing attention from the bar fight at the other end of the tavern. He grabbed his hat and ducked behind the ragged curtain as broken glass rained down.

The tavern was called the Ugly Crowd, and the bards who performed there were the kind who couldn't get work anywhere else—the incompetents, the drunks, and the desperately unknown. Cyral had a good voice and no money to buy even the cheapest gin, but he was beginning to think he had a death wish.

He shot through a rapid breathing exercise. This was the good part, the climactic confrontation between Jordan the Red and the Witch Queen of Hellsbrogdt, where he toppled her throne and drove her into the arctic desolation where only madness grew. If this couldn't capture their attention, then he had no business standing on this stage.

Steeling his nerve, he stepped out from behind the curtain.

The audience was waiting for him. They had taken the time to aim.

He plunged ahead anyway. "In…in the heart of the frozen citadel, Jordan the Red came upon the unholy queen—"

It must have been something in his inflection, thought Cyral, as they threw him out the back door. The phrase had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

"Illiterate rabble," he swore back at them, when the door was solidly shut.

Then he limped away, going over the approved litanies of self-pity—why him, it wasn't fair, alas and ouch—before settling on one he could believe in: this wasn't right. By all the laws of narrative, this evening should have been his big break, not the minor sprain it felt like.

He had worked for this. He had pinched and scratched his way through an apprenticeship at the Guild of Actors and Orators, and done his journeyman time heralding an unsung nobleman. A month ago, he had appeared before the Panel of Celebrity Judges and earned the right to perform his own compositions and those of the famous bards who had gone before. He had saved every dollar and bought the license to this performance of "Jordan the Red and the Ice Demons of Brok."

As he left the alley, a taverner coming out the front door of the Ugly Crowd saw him and swaggered over, chuckling. "You know what your problem is?"

Cyral, who had a fairly educated guess, shook his head. "No, sir. What's my problem?"

"You're boring! No, listen to me. You. Were. Boring."

"…I was telling a saga of Jordan the Red. It's got everything. Bravery, sacrifice, swordfights, monsters, an evil queen—how can that be boring?"

The taverner looked at him skeptically, as if no one could genuinely be so slow at understanding a simple concept. "We've heard it. Heard it all way too many times before."

"It's a classic," said Cyral.

"It's old. Maybe it had some punch when it got written, but today, it's old, boring crap. Only kids still think Jordan the Red is hot stuff. Find something new, or find another audience."

Delighted at the wit and candor of his own artistic criticism, the taverner strolled cheerfully away into the thronged streets of Palace Hills. Cyral stared after him, choking back indignation and disbelief.

"Jordan the Red is not just a children's hero. His adventures are among the finest heroic sagas of our age. I'll show you something new." To his own astonishment, he was shouting. "I'll come back with the greatest adventure story you've ever heard!"

Seizing the unexpected opportunity and cue for passion, he tore off one of his boots and flung it down the street in defiance of all critics, fates, and muses. He would find a hero and they would create an epic to stand with the canon of Jordan the Red's finest bards. All he needed to do was connect with a willing adventurer, and somewhere in this city was a talent agent to provide him with one.

Firm of purpose and destined for fame, Cyral set out.

Then he limped back and retrieved his boot, because the cobbled streets were wet and muddy, and he had no second pair.

"A winning fantasy, this satirical, rollicking adventure . . . keeps a light, amused and snappy tone, with allusions to popular culture ("The Duke of Yorker" magazine, for instance), fun with names and an especially effective satire of Hollywood talent packaging. A satisfying and involved climax renders a fairy tale ending with an upward lilt, leaving the reader ready for new adventures."
-Publishers Weekly for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

"Laugh-out-loud funny. A send-up of scores of fantasy novels of time past. I'd certainly recommend it."
-Glen Cook

"If Conan the Barbarian met Entourage, you'd get Stuff of Legends. A pleasure to read."
-Jody Lynn Nye, co-author of Myth-Chief

"This debut novel is witty, creative, and completely enjoyable...Full of adventure, clever puns, and satirical characters, fantasy fans will love Gibson's good-natured humor and smart writing. I was impressed with this strong debut."
-Scifichick.com

"If you like the early work of Pratchett, stories by Esther Friesner, or the Goblin books by Jim C. Hines, then Stuff of Legends is a work to add to your shelves. I, for one, am looking forward to more stories from Gibson's pen."
-Graspingforthewind.com

Essay from the Editor on Stuff of Legends

I was fortunate to read Ian Gibson's Stuff of Legends, out this month, in manuscript form as a judge for the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award. I immediately fell for the book's characters and wit and my fellow judge from Penguin Classics was also charmed. Together our rave reviews and those of readers online helped propel S.O.L. to one of three finalist spots in the contest, and soon after I was engaging in long editorial discussions with Ian about the innate humor of moustaches.

Writing humorous fantasy is hard. Many make the attempt; few succeed. Stuff of Legends doesn't just conquer funny. It kills it. Then it burns its fields and listens to the lamentations of its women. Coincidentally, the book's protagonist has been known to do the same to goblin armies, barbarian hordes, and the occasional Amazonian warrior-queen.

I'm referring of course to Jordan the Red, once the dragon-hacking, barmaid-bunking hero of such classic lyrical sagas as "The Ice Demons of Brok" and "Thundersphere," who now enjoys his golden years in the sleepy village of Cheese. That is until he's yanked out of retirement by an overeager fan and thrust into the starring role of a new adventure. This time he faces-off against his most dangerous enemy yet: his talent agent.

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