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The Gathering of the Storm

William Napier

LIST OF PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS

Characters marked with an asterisk were real historical figures. The rest might have been.

Aetius* (pronounced Eye-EE-shuss) – Gaius Flavius Aetius, born 15 August, 398, in the frontier town of Silestria, in modern-day Bulgaria. The son of Gaudentius, Master-General of Cavalry, and himself later Master- General of the Roman Armies of the West

Aladar – Hun warrior, the son of Chanat, and one of the eight chosen men

Amalasuntha* – only daughter of King Theodoric of the Visigoths

Athenais* – daughter of Leontius, a Professor at Athens, and later the wife of the Emperor Theodosius II

Attila* – born 15 August 398. The King of the Huns

Bayan-Kasgar – general and later king of the People of Oroncha

Bela – Hun warrior, one of the eight chosen men

Bleda* (pronounced BLAY-da) – Elder brother of Attila

Candac – Hun warrior, one of the eight chosen men

Chanat – Hun warrior, one of the eight chosen men

Charaton (pronounced Karaton) – chief of the White Huns

Checa* – Queen Checa, first wife of Attila

Csaba – Hun warrior, one of the eight chosen men

Dengizek* – eldest son of Attila

Ellak* – second son of Attila

Enkhtuya – a witch of the Kutrigur Huns

Galla Placidia* (pronounced Galla Pla-SID-ia) – born 388. Sister of Emperor Honorius, mother of Emperor Valentinian III

Genseric* – born 389 near Lake Balaton, modern-day Hungary. King of the Vandals from 428

Geukchu – Hun warrior, one of the eight chosen men

Honoria* – born 422, daughter of Galla Placidia, sister of Valentinian III

Honorius* – born 390. Emperor of the Western Empire until 423

Juchi – Hun warrior, one of the eight chosen men

Kouridach (pronounced Kuridak) – chief of the Hepthalite Huns

Little Bird – a Hun shaman

Mundzuk* – older brother of Ruga, and briefly King of the Huns

Noyan – Hun warrior, one of the eight chosen men

Orestes* – a Greek slave by birth, and lifelong companion of Attila

Pulcheria* – sister to the Emperor Theodosius II

Ruga* – younger brother of Mundzuk, and later King of the Huns

Sky-in-Tatters – chief of the Kutrigur Huns

Theodoric* – son of Alaric, and himself King of the Visigoths, 419-451

Theodoric the Younger* – the first of Theodoric’s six sons

Theodosius II*, nicknamed ‘Kalligraphos’, the Calligrapher – Emperor of the Eastern Empire, 408-450

Tokuz-Ok, ‘Nine Arrows’ – God-King of the People of Oroncha

Torismond* – the second of King Theodoric’s six sons

Valentinian* – born 419, Emperor of the Western Empire, 425-455

Yesukai – Hun warrior, one of the eight chosen men

PROLOGUE

Thirty years passed after the Hun boy, Prince Attila, was sent into exile, and the world knew an uneasy peace. What he experienced during that exile in the unimaginable wastes of Scythia, with only his faithful Greek slave Orestes for company, none can tell. But one can surmise well enough. For scripture warns us that man is born to sorrow as the sparks fly upward. And exceptional men are born to exceptional sorrow.

In the first volume of my chronicle, I, Priscus of Panium, told of Attila’s boyhood as a hostage in Rome, of his escape and flight through an Italy ravaged and laid waste by the Goths, and of his doomed return to his Hun homelands. In this, my second volume, I shall tell of what came thereafter: of Attila’s return from the haunted wilderness, and the blood-darkened day on which he made himself king; and of how he gathered all the tribes of his own and kindred peoples and welded them into an army vast and terrible enough to fulfil his final ambition. To turn upon the Empire of Rome, that hated Empire which had tormented his boyhood, destroyed his youth, and humiliated his people during the long years of his exile. To make all ready for his long-meditated and apocalyptic vengeance.

Then let our story resume.

Part I

THE COMING OF THE KING

1

THE STONE HORSEMAN

The steppes of Scythia, near the River Borysthenes, autumn, AD 441

The old Hun warrior pulled his mount to a halt and squinted eastwards. The strange horseman was still there. He had been there for a day and a night under the hot sun and the cold moon and he had not moved. There was something about him not of this world and the old warrior shivered.

It was the Month of Storms, though no storms had come yet, and the sky was growing dark with waiting. The wind gusted hard through the brown and dying feathergrass, and in the watercourses of the steppes, dried by six months of summer sun, it whipped up spiral devils of forlorn dust. Grey clouds shifted restlessly in the sky, the horses in the corrals were skittish and high-tailed, and the dogs cocked their ears and whimpered uneasily under the wagons. It was a day of expectation, of pent-up energy. Behind the curtain of the world the spirits were once again stirring and awakening, considering in their minds some fresh irruption of their limitless power and playfulness into the world of men, which men might wonder at and worship but never understand.

Some said later, after the dreamlike events of that day, that they had seen lightning come sheer out of the sky where no thunder-clouds were. Others had seen the shadow of a gigantic eagle pass over the earth, near the gravemound out on the plain.

The unknown horseman sat his squat little skewbald stallion on top of the long grave-mound of Mundzuk, the brother of old King Ruga, who had died thirty years ago or more. The songs of the tribe used to say that Mundzuk had not died, but had been miraculously snatched away into heaven by a giant eagle, Astur himself, the Father of the Gods. They said that Mundzuk was taken off, with hecatombs of slain horses and all his most beautiful wives and slavegirls, in the noonday of his strong manhood into the Eternal Blue Sky, to live with his ancestors for ever,

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