A very tiny piece of Connor Mac Niall’s journal (written many, many years after the events of Ravenmarked and Bloodbonded):
It changes a man, this battle. War. It changes a man.
You know that growing up. I wasn’t a stranger to violence. I started hunting when I was . . . I don’t know. Three? Four? My father taught me to use a knife early, and I remember helping him with tanning. I brought down my first deer when I was seven. Taking the life of an animal wasn’t hard. It was necessary. Still, it took a long time to stop shaking after that kill. But no steak before or since has tasted so good.
It was always repugnant to my mother. She’s Sidh. She never understood why I needed meat. But the human side of me craved it. I couldn’t understand how they could go without it, the Sidh.
I fear I’m a great disappointment to my mother.
Others have written of my privileged childhood. It’s both the easiest and hardest thing in the world to be the son of a duke. My father was a good man—one of the few truly good men I’ve ever met. He was kind and hospitable and strong. He was faithful to his wife as long as she was alive—at least, in body. I know he had feelings for my mother before his wife died, but she tells me that they avoided each other once those feelings grew too strong to ignore. She didn’t want to be any married man’s mistress, and he didn’t want to destroy his family. Whatever his failings, though, I know he loved his wife and his daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren.
He was a good man. But he made mistakes, and even a good man isn’t good enough to tame a spirit that longs for other things. He taught me everything he could teach me, but he never taught me that war would take root in my soul and change me from the inside out.
I joined the wolf tribe on Taura at fourteen, and it was there that I met the woman who would influence me more than any other aside from my mother and—well, we’ll talk about the other one later. When I was fourteen, I met the Morrag.
My initiation is chronicled elsewhere, too. I don’t see a reason to rehash it. But I want to make it clear: The Morrag was not the reason for my descent into madness. I thought she was. But the years give perspective, and now I realize—the Morrag saved me.
Well, the Morrag and Alshada. But that’s another piece of the story.
I left home when I was seventeen. I went home once a year to participate in the tribal hunt, but I always left as soon as it was over. Hunting kept the Morrag away. I didn’t want to give her more of a toehold in my life. When the other warriors paired off with wives, sweethearts, and earth guardians, I left.
The Morrag quickened when I was nineteen, and a year later, my father and sisters were murdered. I won’t go into those things now, either. That’s not what this is about. But after the massacre, I stayed in the south. I hunted and then left Taura every year. I only stayed long enough to sate the Morrag.
I told Mairead that I worked as a freelance for eight years before I met her, and that’s mostly true. After Aine, after the Morrag quickened, I didn’t want to stay anywhere for too long. I escorted merchants and nobles, and I made good money. I liked freelance work. I had some favorite clients. Declan Mac Clennon was a great friend, and working on his ranch—escorting his cattle trains south and living with his ranchhands—that was some of the best time I spent anywhere until I met Mairead.
But there were other times, too. And those times—those were the times that changed me.
I left Declan’s employ because I got bored and tired of all the cold northern plains. And I think I was just restless, too. I feared staying in one place too long. There were pretty girls in the villages around the ranch, and the more I knew of them, the more I risked growing too close. After Aine, I didn’t want that. I didn’t want any woman to be too attached to me, either. I stayed away from girls unless we were on the road. You don’t piss where you sleep.
So I left Declan and found work in the south for a time. I met Helene, and she paid me well and hired me as often as she could find a reason to. But when she started getting too close—when I started to fear she wanted more than just a lover—I left. I went east. And it was there that I changed.
There are places along the border of Dal’Imur and Tal’Amun that still battle each other, even after all these centuries. Beyond the Zhasta Mountains, on the inland side, there are vast grassy plains where native people live along the rivers and lakes that eventually head to the Eastern Sea. The royals don’t give a damn about these people, most of the time. They only care when there’s a border dispute. And I found myself right in the middle of one when I was twenty-three.
But I should back up. You should know—I never killed a man till the day I saved Aine, and then it was under the influence of the Morrag. I remember very little of it, but I do recall the feel of sword biting into soft flesh and the sound of men screaming in pain.
Or perhaps those are memories from the war. I can’t always tell.
In any case, killing a man had become . . . if not easy, at least something I could stomach by the time I went east. A few years of drink and easy women had hardened my heart as well, and I had no qualms about signing up on the Tal’Amuni side of things. My new commander saw right away that I was more than just arrow fodder, and he gave me command of a small unit. Reconnaissance. Good work, when you can get it. You don’t have to see all the killing.
I didn’t mind the men, either. A ragtag bunch we were. Men from all over the world came to fight with the Tal’Amuni. They paid well, and spoils were ours for the taking. Ivan, he was from somewhere in Sveklant—I never knew where. We compared tattoos. He had more than I could count, and seeing the man without his tunic was like reading a book of his travels.
Ji’in was Dal’Imuri, but he was a big man and assassin trained. He had none of the lithe, easy movements I’d always heard about. He brutalized everything he touched. But he obeyed me. At least, at first.
When I started, the work was easy. Our commander just wanted recon—he only needed to know about fortresses and villages that might resist. I went in with a few men, gathered information, and reported back. Then we moved on while he came behind and slaughtered. I didn’t have to see it.
But I heard stories.