The Plains of Shadow

The Plains of Shadow by Cora BuhlertLong before Kurval became King of Azakoria, he was a guard captain in service to the tyrannical King Talgat of the land Temirzhan beyond the sea.

One day, Talgat orders Kurval to escort the condemned witch Aelisia to the Plains of Shadow and behead her, so her blood may feed the dark gods who dwell there.

However, Kurval does not want to execute the sentence, once he learns that Aelisia is innocent of the crimes of which she has been accused.

But if he lets Aelisia go free, Kurval will not only have to face the wrath of Talgat, but also the fury of the dark gods who dwell upon the Plains of Shadow.

This is a novelette of 9800 words or approx. 33 print pages in the Kurval sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

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More information:

  • The Plains of Shadow is a novelette of 9800 words or approximately 35 print pages in the Kurval series, but may be read as a standalone. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • The basic idea for what would eventually become The Plains of Shadow, particularly the plot of a reluctant guard captain ordered to execute a prisoner for whom he feels sympathy, has been kicking around in my mind for a while now, though I initially intended it to be Thurvok’s origin story. However, the story is too grim for Thurvok and never quite worked with him, so I gave it to Kurval instead.
  • The Thurvok stories sit on the lighter end of the sword and sorcery spectrum, in spite of plenty of monsters, skeletons and resurrected corpses, and closer to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser (though there are plenty of dark Leiber stories as well) than to Conan and Jirel of Joiry. “King’s Justice” is more Robert E. Howard, particularly the Kull stories and The Hour of the Dragon/Conan the Conqueror. Though the ending is happier than what Howard or Moore would have written.
  • The other inspiration for The Plains of Shadow was a piece of fantasy art, namely this image of a warrior confronting a smoke monster by Nele Diehl.
  • The Plains of Shadow, where it’s always dark, were inspired by various perpetually dark lands of fantasy such as Fritz Leiber’s Shadowlands, Simon R. Green’s Darkwood and Nightside (which were strongly inspired by Leiber) and various others.
  • Coincidentally, I also know a town where it really seems to be dark almost all of the time. For while, I had to drive through that town on my way to work. And on the way home in the winter, even when it had been a clear day and fairly light before, by the time I had passed that town, it would inevitably be dark.
  • The dark gods who dwell in the Plains of Shadow not only foretell the future arc of the series – after all, I already knew that Kurval really would become kind one day – but also hint at a potential danger for Kurval. After all, they have tasted his blood and they want more.
  • Unlike most of my other stories, the Kurval series is credited to Richard Blakemore, whom regular readers will recognise as the pulp writer protagonist of the Silencer series. As for why my sword and sorcery fiction is credited to Richard Blakemore, in the Silencer story Mean Streets and Dead Alleys, Richard purchases the January 1936 issue of Weird Tales and is pleased to find a new instalment of a Conan serial by Robert E. Howard, a Jirel of Joiry novelette by C.L. Moore, a Jules de Grandin novelette by Seabury Quinn as well as one of Margaret Brundage’s famous covers. He also muses that he would like to take a stab at writing something like that one day. This throwaway scene got me thinking, “What if Richard actually did write a sword and sorcery series for Jake Levonsky?”
  • When I found myself writing what would become the first Thurvok adventure for the July short story challenge sometime later, I suddenly wondered, “What if this was Richard Blakemore’s lost sword and sorcery series?” And so I decided to credit the story to Richard and pass myself off as the editor who rediscovered him. I even created a blog, a Twitter account and an Amazon author page for Richard and filled out a Smashwords interview in his persona.
  • The cover is stock art by Tithi Luadthong, who also does the covers for my In Love and War space opera series.
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