Illustration By Bram Sels

Dust jacket by Bram Sels

An unnamed man wakes to find himself facing the loss of everything that matters most to him. Against all odds, he escapes with his life and heads out into the turbulence of the wider world, recreating himself, step by step, as he goes along. That wider world is dominated by an empire that has existed for decades in a state of near perpetual war. A host of colorful characters will help to shape the destiny of the empire, and its constantly shifting array of allies and adversaries; among them, a master military strategist, a former pacifist who inherits his father’s moribund arms business, a beautiful forger and a very lucky counterfeiter. Each of them, together with corrupt bureaucrats and the nomadic 'savages' of the title, plays a part in a gradually unfolding drama of conflict and conquest played for the highest of stakes.

A story of war, politics, intrigue, deception, and survival, Savages is a hugely ambitious, convincingly detailed novel that is impossible to set aside. Filled with schemes, counter-schemes, sudden reversals of fortune, and brilliantly described accounts of complex military encounters, it is, by any measure, an extraordinary entertainment, the work of a writer whose ambition, range, and sheer narrative power have never been more thoroughly on display.

Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies

From Publishers Weekly:

“Parker delivers another solid standalone adventure filled with political and social intrigue…there’s much to enjoy in the well-crafted action, battle sequences, and assorted political and social twists within a society in upheaval.”


“‘Playing a role’ is actually a key concept in Savages: one of the novel’s recurring themes is reinventing oneself. The nameless chieftain has a ‘fake it till you make it’ approach to employment: he basically says yes to any job he’s offered, claiming (entirely fictional) previous experience. Aimeric’s a pacifist playing at being an arms manufacturer. Both of them forge a new life, just like the counterfeiter makes fake money and the forger makes fake manuscripts. It’s all these forgeries and phony identities that somehow drive the plot.”


(an excerpt)
K. J. Parker

Something nudged his toe, and he woke up. He saw a dozen men standing over him, one of whom he recognised. "Sighvat?" he mumbled.

"Get up."

A spearpoint touched the base of his neck, the hollow where the collar-bones meet. It rested on its own weight, just enough to prick through the skin. A little pressure, such as a child would be capable of, would be enough to pierce his windpipe. "I can't," he said.

The spear lifted, just enough to allow him to move. He rolled out from under it, off the bed, onto his knees on the floor. There were spears all around him. "Sighvat," he said, "what the hell do you think you're playing at?"

"Sorry," Sighvat replied. "But I've had enough."

"What?" Made no sense. "I don't understand."

"I'm going to kill you," Sighvat said. "You're an intolerable nuisance, and I'm not putting up with it any longer."

Don't be so stupid, you don't mean that. But, in forty years of close, intimate contact, he'd never known Sighvat say anything he didn't mean. "Oh come on," he heard himself say. "You can't really be serious."


A spasm of terror; he smothered it, quickly and completely. I'm going to die now, he thought. Well, everyone dies. It's the defining characteristic of humans. He looked into Sighvat's eyes and saw nothing but distaste; a sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful man forced to do something he didn't want to, because it had to be done. Twelve men with spears, carefully placed around him in a ring. His nearest weapon, his beautiful and expensive sword, was on the far wall, dangling from a nail. Might as well have been hanging from the Moon for all the good it'd do him.

"Outside," Sighvat said.

His arms were pulled behind his back and held firmly; whoever did it had done this sort of thing before. A hand gripped his beard and pulled him to his feet. No point in trying to resist. He spoke to himself inside his head; it doesn't matter, because nothing matters. What you can't do anything about doesn't count against you; what doesn't count against you doesn't count. The voice was strong, clear-headed, sensible. He trusted it.

Broad daylight outside in the yard; that's what you get for oversleeping. There were a lot of men he didn't recognise, standing about, leaning on spears and shields. Trust Sighvat to do the thing properly; enough men, careful planning, scrupulous attention to detail. He's won, he thought, and for a moment he was nearly swept away by anger, because Sighvat couldn't win, it couldn't be allowed, because if Sighvat won it'd mean he was the better man. But; it didn't matter. Irrelevant now. He stepped out of all that, the place and time and circumstances in which it mattered who was the better man; shedding it like a soaking wet coat when you come in out of the rain. Define better, he challenged himself. Or rather, don't bother. None of this is anything to do with me any more.

"Is everyone outside?" Someone must've nodded. "Right," Sighvat said. "Turn him round so he can see."

He saw his mother and his wife; their hands were tied, and there was a man standing next to each of them. Behind them, he saw three men with pitchforks loaded with hay, and a small brass brazier he didn't recognise. Sighvat must've brought it with him. The men held the hay over the brazier until it crackled and lit.

"I want you to know I'm taking nothing out of the house," Sighvat said. "I'm not a thief."

The men pitched the burning hay up onto the thatch. All his possessions were in there, and he'd always been so attached to things. Furniture, weapons, clothes; imported, most of them, he'd spent a great deal on things, and he loved them. The heat of the burning house would wreck them all; such a waste. But there, it didn't matter. He turned his back on it.

"The livestock and the hay I'm taking as compensation," Sighvat went on. "You cheated me over the water rights and the felling rights in Long Wood, and your men killed three of mine and you never paid me anything for them. I think that's perfectly fair."

He shrugged. "You think what you like," he said.

Sighvat frowned. "The land," he said, "naturally passes to your next of kin, but we'll come to that in a moment. However, I formally lay claim to the flood meadow and West Beech, which belonged to my grandfather and which you've been in unlawful possession of ever since my uncle died." He paused. "We've got sufficient witnesses. Are you going to challenge my claim?"

He shrugged again. "I can't be bothered."

"Fine. That's settled, then. Oh, sorry, I almost forgot. Pitland and Conegar Steep were part of your wife's dowry, so they revert to her father. I make no claim to them."

But she's still alive, he thought. Then; oh.

By way of confirmation, Sighvat smiled. "Quite," he said, then nodded once. The man standing next to Torild produced a knife and, with a neat, confident flick, cut her throat, then stepped smartly aside to keep from getting soaked in blood. Her mouth opened; no sound at all. Her knees folded and she dropped like a sack.

It doesn't matter, said the voice. Nothing matters. He checked himself to see if he'd moved, and was relieved to find he hadn't.

Sighvat nodded again. His mother, this time. He felt an intolerable pressure inside him, as though he was about to swell up and burst. He forced it to subside. Doesn't matter.

"Under other circumstances," Sighvat was saying, "that'd have been an entirely indefensible act. But I needed you to see it. You do understand, don't you?"

You can answer him, said the voice, or not. Makes no difference. Besides, they loved you. If they'd survived you, they'd have spent the rest of their lives grieving. That's what love does, why it's such a very bad thing. Now you can die knowing they won't suffer.

"Thank you," he said.


"I said, thank you."

Sighvat was confused. Splendid. I've said the wrong thing, he thought. Sighvat had it all worked out in his mind; what he was going to do, what he'd say, what I'd say, his perfectly pitched replies, and I've spoilt it. Well. Hardly important, but, well.

"Your sons," Sighvat went on, "are away from home, of course. Luckily, I was able to catch them and bring them along." He snapped his fingers; the barn door opened, and Geiti and Reitung were bundled out, trussed up in ropes, stumbling, tripping over their own feet.

Oh, he thought.

"It was sort of inevitable," Sighvat said, "that one of your sons would disgrace my daughter. I guess I'd resigned myself to it, more or less from the day she was born. Both your sons, though. I confess, I hadn't prepared myself for that. Not really your fault, I suppose—"

Reitung yelled, "I didn't. I swear to God—" Someone kicked him in the face, and he stopped abruptly.

"For the record," Sighvat said, "she's admitted it. Both of them. I had to lock her up in the barn for five days, no food or water, before she confessed. Have you any idea what it felt like, having to do that to your own child? I'd rather have cut my arm off. Their fault," he added, "and therefore yours. It all comes back to you in the end. Everything."

Reitung was sobbing. He simply couldn't cope with pain. Sensitive, his mother called him; she'd said, well, why should he have to? There's nothing good about suffering. Quite right, of course. And Reitung could make a rock smile, and he worked so hard on the farm. Geiti, on the other hand, was thinking quietly, looking for a way—if I throw myself sideways, I could knock over that goon, which would give Reitung a gap to run through, except that that one'd have a clear stab at him as he passed; so, forget about that, what if—? He nearly smiled, but stopped himself in time. For Geiti the world was one enormous puzzle, riddle, intelligence test; every component of it challenging his mind and body to be resourceful, be imaginative, excel. It wore you out sometimes, just watching him think, but one time in four he'd figure it out and find a way; one in four is pretty good, when you think about it. And they'd always been on the same side, right from when Geiti was a little boy. That really was precious and rare. Geiti looked up and their eyes met; don't worry, Dad, I've got an idea, it'll be fine.

He looked away.

"There's still the matter of the chieftainship," Sighvat said. "We both know you beat me to it through bribery and undue influence, and by rights it should be mine. So, here's the deal. You transfer it to me, now, legally, due form and process. In return, one of your sons survives." He paused, then added. "You don't need to think about it, do you? Best offer you've ever had."

He nodded. "All right," he said. "Which one?"

"Ah." Sighvat smiled at him. "That's the good bit. You choose."

For a moment he was afraid it had all been in vain; that he'd cry out, weep, yell, struggle against the rope. The pressure inside him was so overwhelming he didn't know how to resist it. Somehow, from somewhere, he found the strength. "I can't do that," he said.

"No? Pity. In that case, the offer is withdrawn. Entirely up to you, of course, but—"

Up till then he'd managed, the voice had managed to persuade him that Sighvat didn't matter, that he was just the face Death had chosen to wear today; Sighvat, a disease, a fall from a horse, old age, so what? It's just death, death is unavoidable, now or later, who gives a damn? But the sheer horrifying malice of it—choose, Geiti or Reitung; don't choose, both of them. Despair is manageable. It's hope that tears you apart.

He looked at them. Reitung shouted out, "Dad, please." The words bubbled through the blood in his mouth. Geiti caught his eye and shrugged; he was saying, Don't be hard on him, Dad, you know what he's like. And choose him, not me.

That's my boy, he thought, always trying for the best possible outcome, always trying to win. Because, if Geiti volunteers, the choice is no choice and Sighvat's horrible scheme fails, and we've beaten him. All-conquering us, invincible even in defeat.

He thought; Geiti's the better man, but I think we've established, that doesn't matter. But Reitung would suffer more, he loves us so much; loves me. I will not allow love to hurt him with the greatest pain of all.

"Geiti," he said.

Reitung screamed, "No, Dad, please!" and tried to lunge forward; a hand grabbed his hair, jerked his head back, as another hand drew a sharp edge across his throat. Geiti was roaring like a bull. He closed his eyes, just for a moment.

"Good choice," Sighvat said. "The other one was pathetic." He paused for contradiction, was disappointed, continued; "Your turn. The chieftainship. Can you remember the words?"

Of course. He said them slowly and clearly; trying to remember, as he did so, why on earth it had mattered so much, once upon a time, to get this pointless thing he was now giving away to his enemy. How ridiculous. Meanwhile, he took care not to look in Geiti's direction, so as not to see the reproachful look on his face. I'll be spared all that, he thought; reproach, guilt, shame, pain. The thought made him feel almost cheerful, like when he was a boy and he'd been let off some dreaded chore; he'd somehow kidded poor Geiti into taking all that stuff on for him. Rather him than me, he thought. And Geiti will manage; he'll fight it, think it to a standstill and beat it, somehow, some day. I'd never be able to do that.

"Splendid." Sighvat was speaking again, which presumably meant he'd finished saying the magic words and the chieftainship was now duly and legally conveyed. In which case; any other business? He couldn't think of any. Sighvat turned to an older man on his left, who nodded. "That's that, then." He lifted a finger, and the man standing behind Geiti swung his hand-axe and buried it in the back of Geiti's head. He fell forward without a sound.

He looked at Sighvat, who shrugged. "Well," Sighvat said, "I think that's pretty much everything. That just leaves you."

Even now, after everything he'd seen, he still couldn't help feeling a terrible chill; like he'd felt that time when they'd had to pull the arrow out; and he'd known it was necessary, if they didn't he'd probably die, but there's no way you can really prepare for acute physical pain. He deliberately relaxed, every muscle and tendon. He could feel his heart beating fast. It doesn't matter, he told himself, because pain only matters if you survive it, and I won't be around to feel the throbbing and the ache. Or not for long, anyhow.

"Now then," Sighvat said briskly. "I've given this a great deal of careful thought, knowing you as well as I do. I thought; if I was in his shoes, what would I least want him to do to me? I guess I'll never know if I was right, but it's a chance I'll just have to take." Sighvat paused, and he thought; he's not enjoying this, the way he'd expected to. "I never wanted to be a cruel man," he went on. "But you bring out the worst in me."

Suddenly he thought; this is my last chance to say anything, my very last; now or never. So; anything? No, he decided. It's not important enough to warrant comment.

Sighvat did it with a slight twitch of the head, indicating time and direction. They pulled him to his feet, shoved his back hard to get him moving. For a moment he was mystified, until he recognised the direction; across the yard, south-east. They were going to—

It was very hard, but he caught it in time. He said nothing, and his face didn't move.

It took four of them to slide away the massive square slate well-cover. He'd forgotten that Sighvat was religious, or at least pragmatic enough not to take chances. If there really was a Great Sky-Father and a happy land beyond the setting sun, then it might also be true that a drowned man's soul was completely destroyed; and if not, well, no harm done.

He was standing on the edge of the well. No point in looking. He knew what was down there. "Well?" he heard Sighvat call out. "Is there anything you want to say?"

Three heartbeats; then something pushed hard against the small of his back. He toppled. Extreme and nauseating dizziness; then the shock as he hit the surface of the water, went under.

Bram Sels
K. J. Parker
392 pages
United States
Subterranean Press
Out of Print