Sword of Justice (Novel)

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Sword of Justice
Author(s) Chris Wraight
Followed by Sword of Vengeance

Sword of Justice. is a novel by Chris Wraight, the first in his duology featuring Imperial Knights Ludwig Schwarzhelm and Kurt Helborg.

It was re-published in the omnibus Swords of the Emperor, with the companion short story Feast of Horrors.

Cover Description

Ludwig Schwarzhelm, Emperor's Champion, is sent to Averland to oversee the inauguration of a new Elector Count. Beset by greenskins and hampered on all sides by the ambitions of rival princes, he is soon fighting to keep the fractious province together. But powerful forces in Altdorf seem determined to see him fail. Suspicion falls on even his most trusted allies. When all is at its bleakest, the mark of Chaos and the full horror of his task is finally revealed. Alone, and doubted by those closest to him, this will be Schwarzhelm's greatest ever challenge, one on which the destiny of the Empire itself depends.

Plot Summary

In response to the latest Beastman uprising, the Empire dispatches not one, but two armies: one led by Schwarzhelm and another by Helborg. Schwarzhelm's force takes heavy losses, largely because part of his strength has been posted to keep the road open for Helborg's advance, though Helborg is nowhere to be seen. Though grossly outnumbered by the Beastmen, the Imperial Army is victorious when Schwarzhelm slays their shaman, Rahgram, in single combat. Just then, Helborg and the Reiksguard arrive to pursue the retreating beastmen. Helborg promises that full credit for the victory will go to the Emperor's Champion, but Schwarzhelm is unable to hide his resentment that Helborg was late in arriving, nor shake his niggling suspicion that Helborg deliberately delayed his march, for his own reasons.

After the campaign, Schwarzhelm offers a junior halberdier officer, Markus Bloch, a place in his retinue, as commendation for his bravery and initiative during the battle. Bloch does not hesitate to accept.

Back in Altdorf, Schwarzhelm and Helborg are feted in a victory parade (a charade that Schwarzhelm absolutely loathes), and then he is summoned to the Emperor's presence. Karl has a new task for his Champion: years have passed since Marius Leitdorf's death, yet no new Count has been elected for Averland. There are two contenders, neither of whom is an ideal candidate, but Karl says the issue has remained undecided for too long, and asks Schwarzhelm to preside over the dispute. Schwarzhelm protests that he is not a diplomat or a legal scholar, but Karl replies that he is something much more important: a living symbol of Imperial law.

Before leaving Altdorf, Schwarzhelm consults with his chief spy, Pieter Verstohlen, and his old swordmaster, retired Imperial general Heinrich Lassus, who brief him on the succession dispute. There are only two candidates:

  • Rufus Leitdorf, Marius's second son, has the Leitdorf name, which is both a blessing and a curse; many traditionalists support the son of the last Count, but just as many remember the rumors that Marius was insane, and wonder if it is a family sickness. Furthermore, as a second son, Rufus was never prepared to take his father's position, since his now dead elder brother was the heir-presumptive. Rufus himself, Schwarzhelm is warned, is by reputation a fairly traditional aristocrat: spoiled, vain, and empty-headed.
  • Heinz-Mark Grosslich is a distant descendant of a once-powerful family, who enjoys both immense popularity among the common people, and the financial support of Ferenc Alptraum, whose family wants to regain their prominence in Averland politics, even if Ferenc does not have enough support to become Count himself. In spite of his popularity, most of the aristocracy are skeptical of his birth (there are even rumors that he is illegitimate).

Just to complicate things, the merchants' guilds, which still enjoy immense profits from Averland's trade, would be content to have no Count elected, and might well use their formidable resources to frustrate both candidates' claims.

Feast of Horrors

Schwarzhelm travels to Ostland, alone except for his squire, where they are welcomed into the mansion of the powerful van Rauken family. The lord of the manor puts on a lavish feast, but Schwarzhelm touches nothing, saying he prefers strips of rough jerky from his belt. As the feast ends and the company heads upstairs to bed, Schwarzhelm advises his squire to be on his guard, and not to touch the food - even as Schwazhelm lifts a stuffed pig's bladder from the table and decides to take it to his room.

Later that night, an assassin enters Schwarzhelm's room and stabs the knight in bed with a dagger - but is shocked to see the lump under the sheets is a pig's bladder, just before Schwarzhelm steps out of the shadows and kills him. Without his armor, Schwarzhelm rushes downstairs to the cellar kitchens, where the other inhabitants of the castle are "enjoying" a grotesque parody of the earlier feast, stuffing each other full of delicacies and gleefully allowing themselves to be devoured by daemons of Nurgle. Schwarzhelm frees his squire from the daemons and tells him to run outside and fetch help, while Schwarzhelm fights his way to the leader, a spider-like creature who disguised itself as one of the scullery maids. The daemon taunts Schwarzhelm that his life would be richer if he unbent enough to enjoy the odd bit of luxury, be it food or women; after all, his great rival is a notorious womanizer, but it only enhances his heroic reputation. Unmoved, Schwarzhelm cuts the daemon in half with the Rechstahl.

After setting the mansion to the torch, Schwarzhelm goes outside and finds his squire, half-blinded by terror, and already showing the telltale signs of infection - his hunger got the better of him, and he could not resist grabbing a tainted morsel from the feast table. Sadly, Schwarzhelm raises his sword to dispatch the boy, knowing he has no choice.

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