Plans that have been shaped for over a thousand years will finally be executed when dragons awake and the gates between worlds are thrown open.
Daniel and Freya, along with Alex, Vivienne, and the knight Ecgbryt, join together with the inhabitants of Nidergeard to confront the forces allied against them in this final volume of The Ancient Earth Trilogy.
Nidergeard lies exposed and the army that the dark wizard Gad has been gathering over the past years—made from giants, dragons, trolls, and yfelgopes—is finally assembled and ready to invade the nation. All that stands in their way is the Langtorr, the last standing structure in Nidergeard, and its inhabitants.
The fate of Britain—and the world—all centers around the events of a single day . . . a day when the mystery of what lies behind The Fearful Gates is revealed.
About the Author
Ross Lawhead was born in America but grew up in England. He studied screenplay writing at Bournemouth University before moving on to pencil the !Hero graphic novel and coauthor the !Hero novel trilogy with his father. He has also coauthored humorous books of poetry and created a theological superhero. Find him at rosslawhead.com/blog.
Read an Excerpt
THE FEARFUL GATES
THE ANCIENT EARTH TRILOGY BOOK THREE
By ROSS LAWHEAD
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Ross Lawhead
All rights reserved.
A Song of Leaving
Beneath the archway of the Langtorr's outer defensive wall Freya crouched over Daniel's unconscious body. He was as loose as a ragdoll, lying on the cold stone beneath the arch that led into the Langtorr courtyard. She watched his chest as it very slowly, almost imperceptibly, rose and fell. His lips were dry and cracked and his forehead glistened with sweat.
"We know not how long he has been imprisoned," one of the knights was saying. "But you can see that he is in a bad way."
"You idiot," Freya said quietly to Daniel. "I told you not to go off by yourself. What have they done to you now?" Freya looked up at Vivienne and Alex, standing around her with several other knights and a cluster of curious children. "He left us ... what? Three or four days ago, at least." She laid a hand against Daniel's cheek. His skin was cooler than hers, but he was still warm.
Vivienne consulted her watch. "It's been more like ten days ago now."
"Ten days? That long?" The vivid trances she had been in had taken more time than she realised.
"That's about when we parted," Alex, standing above them, said. "Did he go straight out and get himself caught?"
"It seems so," Vivienne said. "He was going to try to kill Kelm. He thought he could catch him off guard."
"I'd say that didn't pan out so well," Alex said. "I'm surprised he's still alive. But what happened to him? It looks like he's been hit by a truck."
"Let's not just stand around and talk about him," Freya said, hot, angry tears welling underneath her eyes. She awkwardly tried to rise and lift Daniel at the same time. She struggled with his weight and the two knights leant in to help, taking him out of her hands.
"Get him inside the Langtorr," Freya ordered. "Make him comfortable, keep him warm. Find someplace dry and out of the way. Ealdstan's study is probably best. It's up there. See that window, where the light is? Take him there."
"I'll get him settled," Vivienne said. "And try to get some water and food in him." She led away the two knights who carried Daniel's limp body between them.
Freya turned to Alex, who was still looking on. "The most important thing now is to find places for these kids to stay until we can get them all back home. I can see to rounding up the rest of them. Can you arrange your knights into some sort of guard?"
"Already done. We're seeing what we have in the way of natural defences, and I've posted sentries and scouts to seek out any hostiles that may be extant."
"Excellent. That's really great, Alex." She bit her lip and took a second to consider. "But they're going to need breaks, aren't they? Could you schedule them into watches?"
"Ah ... that's a good idea. I'll get on it."
"Thanks, Alex, that'd be great. I'm glad you're here."
"What about all these kids? Shouldn't we—"
"I'm going to look into that right now."
Alex nodded. He looked as if he wanted to say something else but turned away. He went a few steps and looked back at her. "You've changed a lot in just ten days," he said, reaching to his head where the dragonhelm silver crown of the Hero of Niðergeard rested. His fingers pushed it along the top of his head, fidgeting with it. "Are you sure you don't want this? You seem to know best what you're doing."
Freya shook her head. "I haven't earned it. You're the liberator. But I am certain that we can work together, you and I. So long as you can tell a good idea when you hear it."
Alex gave her another smile and went to round up his commanders.
The only people left in the Langtorr's courtyard were Freya and the eight children, who were trying to stay out of the way of the bustling knights.
"Okay, let's find the rest of you," she said to them, stepping into the city. "How many did you say you were? Hundreds? Really?"
They looked at each other. "Maybe a thousand!" the smallest of them, a boy, said.
"Okay, let's find them, quickly. Which way?"
They retraced their steps, the children arguing over which way they had come. They went, by Freya's bearings, vaguely east.
"So ... tell me where you're all from, and how old you are. How about you, where are you from?"
"Me? I'm from Thurso, in Caithness," the heavyset girl said. "In Scotland. I'm thirteen."
"And it's Gretchen, right?"
"Right." She nodded.
"We're from the Isle of Man. He's fourteen, I'm twelve."
"Fergus and ...?"
"Kieran. We're brothers."
"I can see the resemblance. You?"
"Cardiff. In Wales. Thirteen."
"I know where Cardiff is. What was your name again?"
"Gemma. Gemma Woodcote."
"I'm David Murray, fifteen. Southampton."
"Amanda. I'm from Scotland as well, from Glasgow. I'm twelve."
"Michael Page. Bournemouth. Fifteen."
"I'm Jodhi Gale. I'm from Bristol. I'll be fourteen next week."
Freya went over their names as she scanned their faces. "Do any of you know each other? Apart from the brothers?"
They all shook their heads.
"Really? And you said you heard a voice? All of you?"
They all agreed they had heard a voice.
"What did it say?"
"It said, 'You are the next army, I summon you.'"
"No, it said 'You of the next army—I summon thee.'"
"What did it sound like?" Freya asked. "Was it a man's voice?"
They were less sure of this.
"It wasn't really a voice," Fergus said. "You couldn't hear it with your ears, it was mostly in your head. But it was loud."
"And when you heard it, what happened?" Freya asked, kicking through a pile of dust that was once Niðergeard's outer wall. Dread was starting to cover her—dark and icy dread. This was the first time since she was little that she had properly entered the city and Niðergeard was in even worse shape up close than what it looked like from the top of the Langtorr. It would be incredibly hard to defend completely for any meaningful length of time—what could they do to help them? Walls were demolished, buildings collapsed. Did they have time to arrange the rubble into barricades of some sort? She doubted it. And the ground was solid stone, so trenches were out of the question. Niðergeard's long years of weathering any sort of siege were well and truly behind it. Whoever wanted to take the city could just walk right into it—just as she had. These children had to be got out of here. "Sorry, could you repeat that?"
"I said, we followed it—the voice."
"Did you mean to? I mean, did you have a choice?"
"Yeah, of course. Everyone in my dormitory heard it."
"You go to a boarding school?"
"Yes. We all woke up at the same time. We were arguing about whether to follow it or not. Only a few of us did in the end."
A few from every school. Every school where? In Britain? Farther? It really would be thousands in that case.
"What happened then?" Freya could hear a hubbub of children's voices in the darkness—it sounded like the start of a school assembly.
"It was like we already knew where to go," Jodhi said. "It wasn't like anything was guiding us, we just followed the way that we already knew—like going home. I walked through a hill to get here. It was really weird, but it felt natural. It felt like I was—"
The noise was loud enough now that Freya couldn't even hear Jodhi talking next to her. It was the chatter of a large group of confused children and was therefore nearly deafening. They didn't seem to be scared or upset yet, which under the circumstances was impressive.
There were also knights shouting to each other above the din. They weren't urgent voices, but commanding, trying to herd them all together. As Freya swung her flashlight's beam ahead of her, she started to get an idea of what nearly a thousand children looked like.
A knight in odd European armour approached her. "Mistress," he said. "There are untold scores of children gathering here from the tunnels. I did not think there could be so many in all the world. And there are more of them arriving by the moment. We are trying to keep them quiet—we do not know what other enemies may be abiding within the deep dark."
"What is your name?"
"Thank you, Matej, you are doing the right thing. Keep trying to round them together. I will address them all."
"Did you know what he was saying?" asked Fergus, who was standing next to her.
"Yes," she said. "There was an arch, when I was your age, I walked underneath it ... Stay here."
Freya had spotted a large rock and started to climb up it. Gretchen, Fergus, Kieran, Jodhi, and the rest followed her and waited at its base. She looked out over the sea of bobbing heads, only dimly visible in the darkness, and gave a piercing whistle. Everybody fell silent. She turned her flashlight onto herself and raised her voice.
"Hello, everybody, my name is Freya! I know you all have a lot of questions! You want to know why you're here! So do I! You want to know how you're going to get back—me too. But right now, we need to get you all to safety. If you follow me, and follow the knights, and follow each other, I will take you to Niðergeard where there is food, shelter, warmth, and, I hope, a way to get you all back. This is a dangerous place, but if you all act calmly and sensibly, you should be safe. I made it out of here once when I was your age, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that you get back home as well. So everyone stay together and follow my light!" She raised her arm and shone her flashlight out over their heads, then clambered down from the rock and started to lead everyone back to Niðergeard.
"Miss Freya," one of the boys—Michael—said. "I definitely want to get home, but what about defeating the pixies?"
"The—you know, the pixies and things. A friend of mine and I ran into them a couple weeks ago—they were playing tricks on us, and they actually tricked him into killing himself. I escaped, but I'd like to get rid of them if I can. If anyone can help me."
"I fought a witch," one of the girls said. "She tried to steal my brother."
"There was this troll thing ... in the woods."
"—Sort of floating light that would confuse people."
"There's a whole island of shape-changing seals. I barely escaped with my life. I'm pretty sure they were going to eat me."
Freya's pace slowed. "Really? You all fought these things?"
"We got rid of a couple giants. Boy, were they stupid! My brother and I are giant-killers! Rahh!"
"Shh, Fergus, calm down."
"But then what's it—what's it like up there? Is everyone freaking out or anything? Is the army hunting these things down?"
"No, you know adults—they only see what they want."
"They have an excuse for everything."
"Plus, everyone's so depressed now. They're so miserable they just wake up, go to work in their cars, come home, watch TV, and then go to bed. They never know what's going on around them—not really."
"Even when they watch the news—it's money this, money that. Terrorists everywhere. Politicians doing wrong things. They just ignore us."
"Well, it'll be harder to ignore now that they've found that you're all missing," Freya said. "And when we get you back, they'll know all about this place. Then we'll get some people down here to sort this out." If I can just keep everything together until then, Freya thought, then I'll get everyone through this. After that it will be someone else's problem. God willing, they'll completely obliterate everything down here.
"But we don't want to go home," Gemma said.
"We want to stay," said Gretchen. "That's why we answered the summons. We know why we're here, just like we knew where we were going—we're the next army. We're going to fight."
He was paralysed, terrified. He didn't know how long ago it was that Ealdstan had used him as a gateway back to his own world. Every moment passed in almost unbearable pain. It felt like he was being stretched—every cell and fibre of his body was being stretched out, pulled like bread dough, always expanding but never quite breaking, becoming thinner and thinner. Every nerve ending was on fire and every second was torture.
He would have very quickly lost his mind, he was sure, except that he had a focal point of fear to keep him centred. Over the vast plain he was being dispersed across, the Silver Rider was moving toward him, as tall as the mountain behind it, a titanic entity. When that figure had appeared to him in his visions in the Night, it had brought visions of death. But all of that had been ... hallucinations, or so he had come to believe. And now he was seeing it again, in the daylight, or so he thought. But even if it was still a hallucination, Daniel didn't like what the Silver Rider represented.
The shining knight approached him, step by step. He tried to measure the distance between them, and the length of the steps the apparition was taking. Was it just one second between those steps or hours? He couldn't say, but he dreaded every one.
The conversations Daniel had had with the Silver Rider were circular, surreal things that haunted his memory. He tried to banish them from his thoughts whenever he rematerialised in Elfland, but snatches of them crept back.
Wish for pain, the Silver Rider told him repeatedly. Pain will save you. Pain is your future.
He had been right about that last part. Daniel was certainly feeling the pain now. As for it saving him, he wasn't so certain.
The Silver Rider took another step forward and another wave of fear hit Daniel. With a staggering effort of will, he turned his head away—he couldn't bear to look at it. Death might be coming for him but at least he didn't have to watch it arrive.
He looked to the forest that he'd travelled through on his first trip here and saw a glint of sunlight rising from the treetops. To his astonishment, another apparition was approaching him. This was the Gold Rider—the one that had offered him dreams of victory. He had accepted those visions and tried to take strength from them. He wanted to reach out to it, to drag it closer, but he couldn't move. He sent all of his desire out to it, as though he could bring it closer by pure virtue of wishing.
He wanted victory to reach him before death did.
Sir David Malcolm awoke, for a change, in his own bed. He crept into consciousness timidly. Reality was something huge and intimidating that he felt would punish him very shortly.
As a young man, he had not avoided thinking about the future. But now it was something he blinded himself to. Even living from moment to moment was a strain. What had happened to him last night? He called it that to himself, "last night," although it was just as likely to have been in the daytime that he came home. Or was he brought home? He couldn't remember either way—that is, he could remember just as many times that he returned home as when he was sent home, but he couldn't tell which was the most recent remembrance.
After an hour and a half he rolled himself across the enormous bed that dominated his now very sparse Edinburgh apartment—it was like his wife had even removed the soul of the place when she left—and used his mobile phone to call his car service. He calculated a time for pickup and then set about his normal routine for putting himself together.
At 11:35 a.m., a cream-coloured BMW 760Li saloon car pulled into the small driveway outside his building. Sir David watched as the driver exited, buzzed at his door, and then returned to the car before he made his way downstairs. Without saying a word he climbed in and slammed the door shut. There was a package on the seat next to him that he pulled onto his lap. Leaning forward, he gave two thumps on the tinted-glass partition that separated him from the driver and then he settled back into the seat and tried not to twitch. As the car pulled away, he fiddled with the air-conditioning controls, causing icy-cold air to blast out of the seven vents around him.
The rides between his office and house were getting more and more intolerable. Not only did it seem to take forever, but it was always so miserably hot outside. It didn't matter that he couldn't feel it, he could see it—see the heat waves bouncing off the pavement, see the homeless men and single mothers sweating in the sunlight ... the sweaty discomfort got inside him.
Excerpted from THE FEARFUL GATES by ROSS LAWHEAD. Copyright © 2014 Ross Lawhead. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ross Lawhead in his new book “The Fearful Gates” Book Three in The Ancient Earth Trilogy published by Thomas Nelson returns us to the world of Nidergeard and Daniel Tully and Freya Reynolds. From the back cover: Plans that have been shaped for over a thousand years will finally be executed when dragons awake and the gates between worlds are thrown open. Daniel and Freya, along with Alex, Vivienne, and the knight Ecgbryt, join together with the inhabitants of Nidergeard to confront the forces allied against them in this final volume of The Ancient Earth Trilogy. Nidergeard lies exposed and the army that the dark wizard Gad has been gathering over the past years—made from giants, dragons, trolls, and yfelgopes—is finally assembled and ready to invade the nation. All that stands in their way is the Langtorr, the last standing structure in Nidergeard, and its inhabitants. The fate of Britain—and the world—all centers around the events of a single day . . . a day when the mystery of what lies behind The Fearful Gates is revealed. This is it! All the events of the previous two books has come down to this. The enemy has allied its forces and is going to do the last battle to take over Nidergeard. If you think this story has been epic until now “The Fearful Gates” is going to take you to the extreme. The good guys do not seem to be as strong as the forces opposed to them and this makes for a highly intense read. “The Fearful Gates” is the culmination of an adventure where the battle for good and evil has never been so important. This is not something that we can afford to lose. This is a page turning thriller as the war of light against darkness rages. In these pages there is much to learn of mythology and, I think, Mr. Lawhead has done an outstanding job. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”