Lord Marshal Kroy, the leader of the Union Army, leads an attack on a band of Northern Barbarians ruled by a vicious warlord known only as Black Dow. Lord Marshal Kroy is an old veteran in the service of a kingdom known as the Union. He is tasked with invading a wild country called the North where he must defeat the barbarian armies of Black Dow, the vicious warlord. The Heroes tells the story of a climactic three day battle between the two sides that takes place around an eponymous stone formation on a hilltop.
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Aside from Kroy and Dow, the story is primarily told from the point of view of three main characters: Bremer, a seasoned Union soldier with a squeaky voice; Craw, an old Northern soldier who has seen one too many battles; and Calder, a foppish Northern prince who resents the fact that Black Dow has usurped his throne.
Craw defends the Heroes hilltop in the opening scene, repelling an advance attack from some rebel Northmen in the service of the Union. Back in the Northern camp, Black Dow's enforcer, a brute named Shivers, releases Calder from imprisonment. Calder is summoned before Dow and Dow tells Calder that he wants the young prince to take a leadership role in the coming battle. The implication is that Dow would like to see the effete Calder killed in battle. Unwilling to accept that fate, Calder goes about collecting allies among the Northern warlords but doesn't find many takers. His one friend, the father of his wife, advises him to stop moving against Dow if he wants to stay alive.
In the Union camp, and ancient socerer named Bayaz who founded the Union centuries ago shows up to help General Kroy defeat the Northmen. He brings a new invention of his: gunpowder. The Union uses Bayaz's explosives to retake the Heroes hilltop and attack a village in the valley to the east. The Northmen prove a stubborn opponent and the battle ends in a stalemate.
After the fighting subsides, Black Dow uncovers Calder's plotting and sentences the young prince to trial by combat. Calder accepts his fate, realizing there is no way he can best Dow in hand to hand combat. He steps into the ring with Dow, but Dow is arrogant. He insults his goon, Shivers one too many times. Shivers, finally fed up with his master's attitude, plants an axe in Dow's skull. Calder, thanks to his bloodline and keen intellect, is declared King of the Northmen.
In the aftermath of the combat, Bayaz approaches Calder and explains to him his ulterior motives for engineering the fight over the Heroes. The entire battle and all the lives lost were just a pretext for Bayaz to rearrange the deck of leadership in the North. With Dow out of the way, Bayaz explains that Calder will serve as his puppet on the Northern throne. The implicit threat is that if Calder doesn't tow the line, he will be summarily executed. In the end, neither army wins, but Bayaz gets what he wants.
Best part of story, including ending:
The Heroes is a very tight narrative with excellent characters that includes a thoughtful discussion of the futility of war.
Best scene in story:
Bayaz leaves the Union camp to meet with Calder and explain his entire rationale for waging a pointless war.
Opinion about the main character:
Calder is equally likable and obsequious. In a world filled with brutal warlords, he comes off as a bit of an underdog which makes him easy to root for.