Read a free Mongoliad prequel and check out an exclusive map of Neal Stephenson's epic!

The second volume of The Mongoliad, the "secret history" epic by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and their collaborators, is out now. To celebrate, we've got an exclusive first look at a map that shows the territory that the Shield Brethren travel in the book. Check out the full version below.

Also, we've got an exclusive link to download a free prequel to The Mongoliad by Mark Teppo, one of the contributors to the series. You can download a free copy of Teppo's story "The Dreamer" here, only via io9 for now. It's about a young Christian soldier who starts having visions during the fifth crusade, and struggles to reconcile his roles as Christian and soldier, eventually seeking out the great pacificist, St. Francis of Assisi.

Also, check out some more exclusive artwork below, plus an essay by Teppo and Cooper Moo on the five coolest medieval weapons!

First of all, here's the full size version of the map above, which we're getting your exclusive first look at. Click to enlarge:

Read a free Mongoliad prequel and check out an exclusive map of Neal Stephenson's epic!

Read a free Mongoliad prequel and check out an exclusive map of Neal Stephenson's epic!

Second of all, here's some exclusive artwork showing Gansukh, one of the main characters in the first two volumes of The Mongoliad. This illustration appears in the Hardcover and digital editions of The Mongoliad: Book One Collector's Edition. Both The Mongoliad: Book One Collector's Edition and The Mongoliad: Book Two Collector's Edition will release on October 30, 2012.

And here's the essay by Teppo and Moo about medieval weapons:

Five Favorite Medieval Weapons

by Cooper Moo & Mark Teppo

Once upon a time, a bunch of ne'er do well writers decided they really should live up to the old adage of ‘write what you know,' and so they decided to learn how to fight with swords — the right proper medieval way. It was all research, they told one another, for this long-form adventure novel they had decided to write collaboratively: The Mongoliad. The West, you see, has a long and vibrant history of martial arts, and what better way to showcase those arts than a secret history of what really happened in the fall of 1241 when the Mongol Empire came a-knocking.

We won't pretend to be experts, but along the way, we learned a little something about medieval weaponry. Enough to be dangerous to ourselves, but also enough to be the guys who just might save everyone if there's ever a zombie apocalypse.

The Saber
Weapon design was heavily Darwinian. On the Eurasian steppe, the Mongol warriors were highly mobile due to their agile ponies and excellent horsemanship, which is why their swords were one-handed sabers. While effective cutting and thrusting, the curved blade was designed primarily for slashing attacks from horseback.

Read a free Mongoliad prequel and check out an exclusive map of Neal Stephenson's epic!

European Long Sword
In the West, there wasn't as much riding around. Enemies came at you from the front, and your weapon was meant to keep them at a distance but still manage to do the deed when the time came. The deadliest part of the long sword? The eight inches at the tip. That's the part the other guy was trying to bury in your head. Long arms helped, but they hadn't quite figured out how to breed for specific genetic markers yet.

The one pictured here is a modern version made by Angus Trim, a Seattle-based sword maker. It's the classic Viking-era sword that remained in heavy use through the medieval period.

The Mongol Short Bow
Mongolian warriors were renowned for their ability to shoot accurately while riding a horse a full gallop, sometimes hiding behind the horse and shooting over its back. They fought in agile groups (usually numbering ten known as an arban), and they'd sweep in, pepper their foes with many arrows, and be gone before any of the European knights could even manage to scratch their arses.

The European Long Bow
The long bow stood up to six feet in height, typically taller than the actual bowman himself, which is not to be read as any sort of overcompensation. Really. What they lacked for in range (about half of that a Mongol bow could reach), they made up for with power. The three-foot arrows could penetrate armor. And the flesh underneath. And the horse the guy was sitting on.

The Morning Star
The morning star was a key element of the medieval arms race and there were a number of variations, but they all worked off the basic principle: take a stick and put a metal cap on it, with spikes. The more dangerous iterations substituted a length of chain between the spiked ball and the handle. It was the best of all words, really, both a crushing and stabbing weapon. That is, if you didn't hit yourself in the back of the head with it.