The Bindings of Woe by Connor Jackson
Series: Chain of Worlds
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: 16+
Published: June 21, 2022
The world of Gaia is in turmoil. Humans, goblins, and dwarves try to live their lives as best they can under the rule of the sovereigns—the strange and powerful race whose empire stretches to all corners of the known world—but order and stability seem to be fading. The quality of life has lessened, the strength and control of the Sovereign Empire has weakened, and a large movement of rebels, though many would call them terrorists, known as the Lost Seekers, are causing waves throughout the lands.
Nowhere are these changes felt more than the Isles, a small human province of islands, where sixteen-year-old Carver lives with his family and best friend, Helena, in the remote village of Verrel. During a routine trip to the provincial capital of Caswen, Carver and Helena suddenly find themselves in the middle of a violent conflict between the powers of the world, and soon after find themselves being hunted for reasons they do not understand.
Now pulled into events they never dreamed of experiencing, Carver and Helena, along with some close companions, are forced to fight for their lives during a journey of hardships. Monstrous beasts, hostile factions, and even nature itself plague their quest to find safety and seek answers, and nothing is gained without a struggle. However, their continued survival may be out of their control as the powers of the world vie for dominance against one another . . . by any means necessary.
Bookshop.org – https://bookshop.org/books/the-bindings-of-woe/9781039128439
Author Bio & Information
Connor A. Jackson is an avid fan of video games and fantasy/sci-fi stories. Inspired by such tales, and tired of encountering stories that import real-world politics and agendas into their narratives and development, he finally decided to write a fantasy story of his own in the hopes of telling a captivating tale that anyone, from any group or walk of life, can enjoy. Connor lives in British Columbia, Canada, with his wife.
Author Website: https://www.chainofworlds.com/
Publisher Site: https://books.friesenpress.com/store/title/119734000211886194
“How many times have you been to Caswen, Helena?”
Helena looked surprised, as if she had been startled by the sudden question. “Um … a few times, maybe like three or four. I don’t know, why?”
“Just curious. You seem really excited to go is all.”
“I like going. I think it’s incredible. The huge stone wall that surrounds the city, the sheer amount of people living inside, and the things you can buy at the Inner Market are amazing. Like last time I went, when my parents took me along for their business with some of the city blacksmiths, I found that book about the invasion of the tartaruns. Remember, the one made up of old translated journal entries from soldiers? You can’t get that kind of stuff unless you go to the city.”
“Yeah, I remember. Did you ever finish reading it?”
“No. I stopped about halfway through. I kept thinking the journal entries would get better, but they just kept getting sadder and more depressing. Nearly every entry was about how the tartaruns captured another city or butchered another army. Besides, I already know how it ended. We all learned the history of the Tartarun Invasion from our lessons, so unless I wanted to read more firsthand accounts of how horrible it was, there wasn’t really any point of continuing.”
“Well, what did you expect to read?” Carver asked with a chuckle. “They were combat diaries from people who actually fought in the war, which we were pretty much losing for the most part until everyone signed that treaty at the end.”
“The Stalemate Treaty, Carver. Because both sides were stuck in a stalemate that neither could break. And everyone didn’t just sign a treaty all at once at the end. The goblins signed it on their own first, and it was only the liberated colony kingdoms of Mahkoua that broke away from the rest of the Old Goblin Empire, which was still held by the tartaruns, and even then some of the current colony kingdoms were left out of it.”
“Okay, sure, whatever. But everyone did sign it in the end.”
“The humans signed it quickly after the goblins did, yeah, but it took the dwarves a while after that until they signed it too and left a fifth of their lands under tartarun control. The Stalemate Treaty wasn’t a collective choice by the northern races, Carver. The humans signing it and leaving the dwarves on their own is a big reason why Terraland isn’t part of the Dwarven Commonwealth anymore. Don’t you pay attention to anything we learn at the schoolhouse?”
“I don’t care about the details of changing kingdom borders or treaty signing stuff. It was forever ago, anyway. Back before people started to count the years. Who cares what happened back then?”
Helena gave Carver a disgruntled glare. “It was somewhere close to three hundred years ago. And people did count the years back then. The dwarves had a calendar for who knows how many centuries during the Lost Years, before it was reset by—” Helena stopped and rubbed her face. “Oh, you don’t care, whatever. But it is interesting. And it’s important to learn what happened in the past, so it doesn’t happen again in the future—at least not the bad things.”
“Pfft,” Carver waved his hand toward Helena as if to deflect her words back at her face. “I don’t think we need to worry about tartaruns attacking us, seeing as the sovereigns wiped them all out. So, we can’t make sure it doesn’t happen again since it literally can’t happen again,” he stated with confidence.
Helena rolled her eyes. “Whatever. It’s still sad to read about it. Hearing what happened from the history tome in class is one thing, but reading the individual notes of people who were actually in the war was too much. I thought the book would be like an in-depth history tome, with facts and secrets I didn’t know, but it was just depressing letters to loved ones and reports about defeats and pyrrhic victories. Nothing happy at all.”
Helena crossed her arms as if attempting to guard herself from the memory of the pages.
A moment of silence sprouted between the two friends as they strolled deeper into the village, but then Carver erupted with a mocking voice. “Oh, well, today all my friends were torn apart by ten-foot-tall, gray-scaled monster men, but I sure do love this fresh air. I think I’ll go carve a statue using the wood from my ruined home. Oh, look, there’s a horde of tartaruns coming to kill me. At least it’s a nice day.” He gave Helena a smug grin.
“Piss off,” Helena joked, giving Carver a push. He laughed as he retained his balance and found his place back beside Helena.
“Hey, guys!” a young male voice called from behind them.
Carver and Helena stopped and looked back, both of them recognizing the voice. A teenage boy of a similar age to themselves was jogging toward them. His cheeks and upper lip showed the faint signs of hair growth that Carver’s lacked, and his dirty blond hair would have hung down to his shoulders were it not tied into a thick ponytail. Beside him, matching his speed, was a girl of similar age. She had short hair, the same dirty blond as the boy’s, that barely passed her ears, with bangs down to her eyebrows. They stopped a few feet away from Carver and Helena, both of them out of breath.
“Hey, guys, what’s going on?” Carver asked.
The boy met Carver’s gaze with his bright-blue eyes. “Guess what we just heard?” he said, huffing.
“What?” Helena asked, looking from the boy to the girl, not quite sure if she should be excited or worried.
The boy looked over at Helena. “So, we heard you’ll both be in the city today, delivering the tax and trading, right? Well, guess what?”
Carver and Helena both shot the boy a look of annoyance, waiting for him to get on with it.
“There’s going to be sovereigns there!” the girl blurted out, stealing the boy’s thunder.
Helena gasped with a look of equal parts disbelief and excitement. “For real?”
“Yeah!” the boy said. “Our grandfather just dropped off some barrels of fish from his fishery in Leydes—”
“For your trip to Caswen today,” the girl butted in.
“They know that, sis. Anyway, traders from Caswen told him a sovereign ship has been docked in the Caswen port for the last few days!”
“We made him tell us all the details before he took the barrels to the stables,” the girl added with a bright smile.
At that, Carver and Helena shot each other a look.
“I guess we know why the barrels were late,” Carver said, voicing what they were both thinking.
Helena grinned, then turned her attention back to the others. “Why would sovereigns be at Caswen? They’re not supposed to collect the tax until it’s been sailed over to the mainland and joined with the rest of Terraland’s taxes.”
“We don’t know. All we know is there’s apparently a sovereign ship there,” the girl answered.
Carver turned once again to Helena. “Do you think we’ll see any? Actual sovereigns, I mean?”
“I hope so. I’ve always wanted to see one. So far, Seb is the only one of us to have seen one, and that was years ago,” Helena said, directing her hand toward the blue-eyed boy.
“Yeah, but I didn’t get to see it close up, though. I already told you guys the story after it happened. I saw a huge ship sailing by while I was out fishing with my grandfather during a visit, and I saw one of them standing on the deck. It was pretty far away, and all I could see was a tall, blurry figure, but I could tell it wasn’t a human or a dwarf, and it definitely wasn’t a goblin.”
“That’s still better than any of us. We’ve only heard about them in our teachings,” Helena said.
“Nina would have seen it too if she hadn’t been sick with a fever at home,” Sebastian said, nudging his sister with his elbow.
“I’m glad I missed it,” Nina replied. “They sound awful from what we’ve been told about them. Seven feet tall, always bald, with no ears or nose, weird X-shaped bone feet with claws. I can’t imagine having them patrolling around the village, hunting for people who develop sorcery like we hear they do on the mainland and the bigger towns around here. It sounds so creepy.” She shivered and gave Sebastian a sharp glance with her matching blue eyes.
Sebastian received Nina’s glance and chuckled. “You sound like you think the sovereigns are going to come and take you away. They only take people who develop sorcery, like you just said, and since sorcery apparently only shows up in a person during the beginnings of puberty, if they develop it at all, I think we’re all going to be fine. The four of us are well past the point of sorcery and the power to use magic unlocking in ourselves. Unless one of us developed sorcery, learned how to channel it into magic, and has been hiding it,” Sebastian finished with a jesting look toward Carver and Helena.
Carver threw up his hands and grinned. “Yep, you caught us! We’re secret sorcerers. I can shoot fire from my hands, and Helena can heal wounds with her mind.” Carver lowered his hands and nudged Helena’s shoulder with his elbow. “She had to get good at healing herself since I always kick her ass when we practice fighting together.”
Helena jabbed her elbow into Carver’s arm with much more force than he had to hers. “I’m sorry, but who knocked your ass down and pinned you to the dirt earlier?”
“That doesn’t count. I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I know. You don’t pay attention to anything, Carver,” Helena said with a smile. “But anyways, I bet that’s why the sovereigns are at Caswen right now. They’re looking for people in the city who developed sorcery and haven’t turned themselves in.”
“Maybe. But that seems like a weird coincidence that they’d be looking on the same day as the taxes are supposed to be collected.”
“If you guys see any sovereigns up close in the city, you have to tell us about it, especially about the bone-claw feet, whatever that means,” Sebastian said.
Carver shrugged. “We’ll try our best, but we probably won’t see any. We’re going to be stuck at the Outer Market all day. I seriously doubt the sovereigns would go anywhere near there.”
Sebastian tilted his head. “Why wouldn’t they? It’s where the taxes are coming in from all the settlements, and they could check everyone who shows up for sorcery—however it is they check for it.”
“If that’s the reason then why don’t we hear about them being at the Outer Market every year? I think they’ll only be inside the city,” Carver said.
Helena gave Carver a quick smack to the shoulder. “Well, then that’s even more reason for us to do a good job. If we finish early, we can go into the city and try to see one.”
“Maybe,” Carver said, rubbing his shoulder.
“It’s about time we actually saw a sovereign,” Helena continued. “We hear about them all the time—how they wiped out the tartaruns with their sorcery and conquered the world, making everyone learn and speak their language as well as making us pay them these taxes once a year, but we never see them. It’s crazy. Why do we almost never hear of them coming to our islands? And when they do, why have we never had one come to our village and look around for people who develop sorcery? It’s like they don’t exist, or we don’t exist to them.”
Sebastian opened his mouth. “I think—”
“Hey, Carver!” another voice called out from behind the siblings, cutting Sebastian off.
Carver looked up and saw that it was his father waving at him and Helena.
“You two ready?”
“Already?” Carver called back in confusion.
“Yep. Helena’s parents already loaded their wagon, remember? I just had to hitch it to the horses and get everyone else ready for the ride. And Duncan showed up right after the two of you left. So, let’s go.”
“Alright, see you guys,” Carver said to Sebastian and Nina, then walked toward his father.
“Bye,” Helena said, following Carver.
“Bye,” Sebastian and Nina said, waving.
“Make sure to look out for any sovereigns!” Sebastian added.
“We will, don’t worry,” Carver replied without turning around.