Ambition. It’s such a double-edged sword. Without it, we flounder, drifting along aimlessly and accomplishing little. But too much of it turns us into greedy, morally bankrupt fiends only interested in our own pleasure.
I explore this concept in my new novel, The Sword and the Sorcerer. The antagonists in the story (they’re not all villains per se) suffer from this malady of too much ambition in varying degrees. In every case, it leads to tragic consequences.
Lord Vicia: Over-reaching
The novel begins with Lord Vicia of Eldenberg’s Council of Elders murdering Gothemus Draco, world’s most powerful sorcerer. Gothemus holds the lynchpin to the balance of power in the world, and Vicia convinces her colleagues on the Council she can kill him and steal the powerful artifact he uses to control things.
She cloaks this plot in patriotism, suggesting to the other Elders it will benefit Eldenberg, making it the most powerful city-state. But it is really her own aims she is feeding.
“Very well then,” Vicia said. “I shall move forward with my plan. I will deliver the Eye of the Dragon to the Council of Elders, we will master it, and Eldenberg will become the foremost power in the world.”
She smiled at the hear-hears she got from everyone but Lord Hedron. Now she just needed Elmanax to do his part. As long as the gnome could deliver what he promised, she was going to be president of the Council of Elders and the most powerful woman in the Known World.
Unfortunately for Lord Vicia, things start going wrong from the moment she kills Gothemus Draco. His magic lives on after his death, making it impossible for her to get the Eye. Her ally Elmanax is only using her to get the Eye for himself. And Gothemus’s son Calibot shows up to claim his father’s body and further interferes with her plans.
Her ambition is so great, it drives her to commit murder. It also causes her to reach for things that are beyond her skill. she makes an alliance with a revenge-driven gnome, foolishly believing first that he will do what he promised and then that she can defeat him in magical combat if he tries to betray her. Over the course of the narrative, Vicia’s position swirls further and further out of control until she becomes a pawn in her own game.
Zod: Blinded to Betrayal
Likewise, Gothemus’s brother Zod is unable to see the consequences of his ambition until it is far too late. In their younger days, Gothemus and Zod stole and plundered until they acquired the Eye of the Dragon. This mystical gem allows a magician to master the dangerous Wild Lands, making them safe to travel across. Gothemus and Zod establish a mining operation, and the two of them become ironmongers to the rest of the world, getting rich and powerful in the process.
Zod harbors dreams of being king, subjugating the other warlords and city-states under his rule with help from Gothemus. His brother has promised him Wyrmblade, a powerful sword that should make him invincible.
But when Gothemus dies, he bequeaths the weapon to his son Calibot instead. This is a double betrayal, because Calibot is a poet, not a warrior, and he has no interest in a magical sword.
Zod was disgusted. Why the hell would Gothemus give his useless whelp Wyrmblade? Calibot’s only skills were crafting pretty words and providing Devon Middleton someone to screw, and Zod was dubious about how good his nephew was at either job. What did he need with Wyrmblade? He certainly couldn’t wield it.
More importantly, Gothemus had promised the sword to Zod. Why had he betrayed him this way? Zod was going to become King of the Known World. Wyrmblade and Gothemus’s magic would have made that possible. Once he established himself, he wouldn’t need Gothemus anymore.
But that wasn’t the point. They were supposed to be doing this together. That’s the way it had always been. Gothemus provided brains, Zod muscle, and they conquered anyone and anything that got in their way. They were inches away from conquering the whole world!
And then Gothemus had gone and gotten himself murdered and given the sword to the ungrateful bastard he’d sired, who cared nothing for Gothemus, Zod, or their ambitions. Damn Gothemus for making this mess and damn his little-shit nephew for not doing the right thing and handing over the sword.
Zod’s ambition to be lord over all blinds him to the most important truth in his life — his brother isn’t loyal to him. They may have adventured together and built the Known World’s power structure, but Gothemus didn’t see things the way Zod did, that they would always do it together. Gothemus had other ideas, and Zod doesn’t notice until too late.
Gothemus: Missed Love
Despite being murdered in the opening chapter, Gothemus is one of the largest characters in the book. He has left behind a number of posthumous spells for his son, his death throws the entire world into chaos, and Calibot is haunted by the failed relationship with his father he never got to repair.
Gothemus was the most ambitious person of them all. His goals are so far-reaching, he successfully manipulates his son after death. He envisions a particular destiny for Calibot, and he destroys his brother’s position to make it happen.
But he ignores one very important fact: Calibot wants none of it. He just wants his father’s love and to be able to write poetry. Gothemus has no time for either of these desires. Later in the novel, Calibot reveals fully how he feels.
“Damn him anyway,” Calibot said.
“For putting you in this position?”
“For not being a father!” Calibot said, suddenly turning savage. “He cast this elaborate spell, so he could give me his final instructions on how to get the Eye of the Dragon. He put all this thought into this careful strategy for me to get my ‘birthrights.’ But he never said, ‘I love you.’ He didn’t even say goodbye!
“And now he wants me to use this stupid magic sword to break into his tower to retrieve another artifact. I don’t know what it’s for. I don’t know what to do with it, but, by the gods, I have to go get it and make sure it doesn’t fall into the hands of his brother or the gnome they stole it from.
“And then I’ve got to listen to everybody we meet tell me how wonderful he was. They all want me to know how much they admired him. Everyone wants to make sure I understand what an honor it was to know him. They didn’t know him! If they did, they’d have despised him. He was a son of a bitch, who only gave a damn about his schemes.”
Gothemus spent so much time developing his master plan, focusing on his ambition, he missed the opportunity to love. Calibot wanted his approval desperately, and he couldn’t get it because Gothemus was ambitious. Gothemus lost the most important thing he had — his son’s love — because he only cared about his achievements.
Ambition is a double-edged sword. It provides the motivation to live. It gives us something to work towards. But, unfettered, it also destroys. Lord Vicia, Zod, and Gothemus all have their plans thwarted because they allow their ambitions to develop into obsessions rather than simple motivation. It’s a classic, destructive trait for a villain.
The Sword and the Sorcerer is available now. Click on the links below to purchase it. Twenty percent of the sales benefit Freedom to Marry, the national campaign for marriage equality.