Sorrow Part 9: The Maker of Pain

Fantasy Sorrow 9: The Maker of Pain

“Darkness awaits those blinded by the light of glory.”

Sorrow Part 9: The Maker of Pain is due for release by Musa Publishing on 24 May 2013. Here is a brief synopsis and an excerpt.

An uneasy peace has descended over the World Apparent. The Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom are recovering from the cataclysmic events of the Twelfth Reconquest, while in the south, the Djanki and the Sharib retreat to lick their wounds from the battle at Temple Rock. To the east, the divided Empire of Temeria is nearing the end of a long civil war, in which rival Generals have fought like mad dogs to seize the long-vacant Imperial Throne.

General Saqr sinks ever deeper into despair. Besieged by General Anma, her grip on his magnificent city, Hasan, the City of Eagles, tightens by the day. Saqr is out of ideas and close to madness but his secretary, the cunning Hoshea, is prepared to go to any extreme to prevent the inevitable. Having escaped the clutches of the enigmatic Moon-Walkers, Bail and Sorrow find themselves in the company of the High Bloods – a stark and remorseless mountain tribe – and Sorrow makes quite an impression.

Excerpt

The secretary was holding a very ancient book in the crook of his left arm. The pages, yellow with age and covered in stains and water marks, were covered in spiky handwriting, a difficult form of Old Temerian that Hoshea labored to understand. His lips moved silently as he traced the words with his forefinger.

After a while he stopped reading and looked up. The musty air in the cellar had thickened slightly, and the flames of the braziers flickered as if rippled by a soft breeze.

“I expected something more dramatic,” said Hoshea, doing his best to sound nonchalant. “These old grimoires speak of dog-headed apparitions, curling horns, cats-eye pupils, grinning mouths full of wolf-like teeth, and the like. Perhaps they exaggerated. I suspect that many of the old true sorcerers were rather too inclined to indulge in narcotics.”

“You will call me Lord,” hissed a sibilant voice. It was as though someone whispered in Hoshea’s ear, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

Control, control, he thought to himself. Ignore the prickling of sweat on your skin and the terrified knocking of your heart. The demon must know that you are the one in control here.

“You are mistaken,” he said, careful to speak slowly and enunciate every word, for the demon might seize on any inaccuracy of pronunciation. “I am not your servant, and you will call me Master. I summoned you, and the words of the conjurer are binding.”

Silence for a moment, and Hoshea was uncomfortably aware of the sweat trickling down his spine.

“What do you want with me, Master?” the demon said in a sulky voice. His name in the book was given as Am-Ho-Ra-Trep, or the Maker of Pain. His true demonic name was unpronounceable in the human tongue, and his true form (so the book claimed) too horrible for any human to look on without losing their sanity. Thus it was a relief that the Maker chose to remain invisible.

“That is proper obedience,” said Hoshea, “now, do you see this man before me?”

“I see him.”

“He is sorely wounded and his life hangs by a sliver. Restore him for me, but on my terms.”

A note of anxiety crept into the Maker’s hissing voice. “This one is sworn to the War God. You should petition him for aid, not me.”

“The War God does not listen to prayers. You know that. He is a harsh and unforgiving deity.”

“He is also proud, and jealous. I would be risking a great deal if I snatched one of his servants away from him.”

“Nonsense, you are more powerful by far. He is an old God, stale and failing, while you are young and vigorous.”

The Maker actually purred at these compliments, and Hoshea remembered that to a demon, flattery was an almost physical pleasure.

“Restore this man,” he commanded, growing in confidence now, “restore him to full health, strength, vitality, and more.”

“There is a price, Master.”

“I know. I am prepared to pay it.”

The Maker chuckled, a sinister throaty noise, his hot stinking breath drifting across Hoshea’s face. “Is he, though?”

Advertisements

Latest in the epic fantasy saga – Sorrow Part 6: The Field of the White Bull

Fantasy Sorrow Part 6: The Field of the White Bull

Fantasy Sorrow Part 6: The Field of the White Bull – available from Musa Publishing

SILENCE!

Here I am again. Time has played its usual tricks on me since I last posted, as has beer and my own propensity for utter, unbridled buffoonery. Consequently a lot of shit has happened and it all feels like a blurry dream. Fate mocks me as ever, but the joke is on him, one day I’ll die and he’ll be left short of morons.

Satchmo the giant border collie has gone to his new home in the country, and I gather he is causing all sorts of chaos there, as is his wont. The big soft bastard, I do miss him, even his eye-stinging flatulence and hideous latrine-breath. Bless his enormous heart.

Also, my good friend Simon Evans had a brilliant idea which he called The 900 Club. This involved four of us each writing a short story each month consisting of exactly nine hundred words. The only other rule was that it contained a two word phrase which was chosen by a different one of us each month. So Simon, his brother Paul, Adam Stones and I started the blog in January and have posted our first stories, the phrase was “no regrets”. Check it out at http://900club.wordpress.com/.

The epic fantasy tale of Sorrow continues with Part 6: The Field of the White Bull. It is the scene of a bloody battle.

The Field of the White Bull, a place if sacrifice. Every year a white bull is sacrificed and its blood drained into the soil to ensure a good harvest – an age old tradition. But today an even older tradition will be exercised, the oldest tradition of all. War.

War, too, is sacrifice, but sacrifice without reward. Occido, the god of war, is a harsh and unfeeling deity. Occido’s only rewards are death or victory. Or, if you’re lucky, both. The three Templars – Felipe de Gascur, Jean de Riparia and Guillaume the Bastard – have been conscripted by General Saqr. They are ready to die, as all Occido’s acolytes are, and they pray that he is watching.

Civil war has raged for decades in Temeria. Several generals have fought and died in an attempt to gain the imperial crown. Two remain. Saqr and Anma stake everything on one final pitched battle at The Field of the White Bull. The victor will be emperor. The loser will be lucky to get a quick death.

A great many will pay the ultimate sacrifice. And on the field of sacrifice, the war god is never sated.

In this episode, there is no shortage of bravery and camaraderie, but as so often is the case in this war, cruelty and treachery may just dictate the outcome.

Sorrow Part 6: The Field of the White Bull is released by Musa Publishing on Friday 15 February. See an excerpt below.

Excerpt

Their long march had ended here, on the ridge overlooking the crystal-clear waters of the Nephrates. When the Northerners arrived the hill was bare, but the following morning a dust-cloud had appeared in the south.

The dust was raised by the tramping feet of hundreds of Temerian soldiers marching from the city of Hasan, followed by hundreds more, brigade after brigade of infantry and cavalry. Felipe and his companions had never seen so many troops assembled in one place before, nor soldiers that wore such outlandish war-gear.

I still don’t trust those buggers,” said Jocelyn, a raddled old mercenary with a vicious cleft in his jaw carved by an axe in some ancient battle, whom the Templars had befriended.

He was glaring suspiciously at General Saqr’s elite troops, known as the Grim Reavers. Saqr had stationed an entire legion of them in five brigades just behind the Northerners and on their flanks, to help them repel the enemy assault when it came.

Nor me,” said Guillaume, “I reckon they don’t feel half as terrible as they look. Probably turn tail and leave us in the lurch as soon as things get tough, which they will.”

The Reavers certainly looked the part. Even by the standards of the Temerian military they were flamboyant. Each trooper wore a scale mail hauberk reaching to their knees, polished black leather boots with steel-plated greaves, and black breastplates covered in swirling patterns picked out in gold filigree. They carried hexagon-shaped shields inscribed with the symbol of Saqr’s family, a serpentine gold dragon swallowing its own tail, and wore faceless helmets of smooth black steel decorated with curling ram’s horns. For weapons they carried wickedly sharp halberds. The overall effect was sinister, inhuman, like figures out of a nightmare.

By contrast, the Northerners looked like a mob of beggars that had shambled onto the field by accident. Here and there a rich noble stood out, though even their gear was spotted with rust, but by and large they looked like what they were. Waifs and strays, harried fugitives from their native land, armed with the weapons they had carried with them when they fled, or otherwise managed to beg, steal or borrow.

I don’t want to die here, thought Felipe, far from home and ambition and honour. The Gods cannot have spared me so often, and let me achieve my grey hairs, just to kill me in this place.

And then the drums started to beat.

Sorrow Part 4: The Gelded Wolf – Latest in the Fantasy Series

Fantasy Fiction Sorrow Part 4: The Gelded Wolf

Sorrow Part 4: The Gelded Wolf, now available from Musa Publishing

Happy new year everybody. I meant to write this post before Christmas but was occupied by a spot of family upheaval resulting in an hitherto unexpected arrival at my house, namely Satchmo – an overweight nine year old border collie whose hobbies are howling and making camouflage shit. Thankfully though, he is house-trained and keeps an eye out for the robins who are plotting to distract me so that the bears can tinker with my miscellanea.

I’ve discovered dog-walking presents new opportunities to enrage other members of the human race, which is nice. I saw a woman get pulled over into a big patch of thick mud by a dog she clearly had no control over. What made this even more hilarious was that her dog was going for Satchmo, who just stood there minding his own camouflage business. I don’t understand why anyone would get a dog that can overpower them and then fail to teach it any manners. Needless to say, she went down like a sack of shit, star-shaped on her stupid face in the mud. Not only that, but she had the gall to grimace at ME when I informed her she was lucky it was winter and the ground was nice and soft. Do you know what she said? She said “have you ever been called an arse hole?”. I told her it was only the second time that day.

New year’s eve in Amsterdam left me in a near catatonic state for several days. Amsterdam is a bit mad on on new year’s eve. People just roam the streets letting of fireworks at random, the place was a mess the next day. The highlight was seeing a man getting sworn at by a prostitute for taking a photo of her, she called him “stupido”. Brilliant. Needless to say, my recovery from the debauchery was protracted and harrowing. Coming home late the day after new year’s day to find my loping, organ abusing younger brother, Jub, and the illustrious Satchmo going through my bins did not help matters.

My brain seems to have reassembled now so its back to business. The fourth in the fantasy series called Sorrow is now available from Musa Publishing and can also be purchased on Amazon for just 77p. You can also see it in all the usual places – Smashwords, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble etc. Below is an excerpt for your perusal. If you like fantasy, you will like this!

 

“The power struggle becomes ever more vicious, and the wolves smell blood.”

Excerpt

“Going for a spot of fresh air, Bracket?” said Felipe.

The innkeeper squeaked and the keys slipped out of his fingers, landing with a muffled thud on one of the foul wolfskin rugs.

“You should be asleep!” he yelped as Felipe’s massive form unfolded out of the darkness. A light flared as the Templar struck a tinder from the box he carried and used it to light one of the dormant tallow candles.

“Should be, but I am not,” said Felipe, raising the candle so his scarred face appeared pale and grim in the shadows, “unlike my comrades, who I have never known to sleep so sweetly, or with such military precision. They all passed out at the same time. What drug did you put in their ale?”

The innkeeper backed away until his back was pressed up against the door. Felipe could only see his outline in the gloom, and there was something odd about it. He raised the candle higher to get a better look.

“What the Hells are you wearing?” he demanded, “is that a wolfskin you have draped over your shoulders? My dear Bracket, you make a very unconvincing wolf.”

“Shut up, fool!” Bracket hissed, bending to retrieve his keys. Now Felipe could see why he had dropped them: long strips of sharpened iron were tied to the tops of his fingers, giving them the appearance of claws.

Bracket was indeed wearing a wolfskin, and not only that. The dead wolf’s head adorned the innkeeper’s, strapped in place on top of his skull, its rotting eyes staring glassily into whatever afterlife was reserved for the spirits of wolves.

Felipe was too astonished to move, allowing Bracket time to scoop up the keys and wrestle with the locks.

“I forgot you don’t drink, curse you,” he snarled, turning one key after another, “not that it matters. I will give you the same choice.”

“What choice? Come away from that door, man.”

The innkeeper ignored him, and there was the hiss of steel on leather as Felipe put the candle down and drew his sword. He advanced towards Bracket, who spun to face him.

“The choice I give everyone who comes here!” rasped the innkeeper, his red-rimmed eyes seeming to glow with a fearful light, “join The Sons of the Wolf, or die. You and your comrades, when they wake up—never fear, I have just sent them to sleep, not poisoned them—will be told to choose.”

Felipe was baffled rather than afraid. “What nonsense is this? Your wits are cracked.”

“You think so? I overheard you talking of kings earlier, and how a strong man is needed to unify the realm. I am a poor man, Felipe de Gascur, and it seems to me that the Great Houses have ruled this land for too long. The next King will not come from the nobility, but from the people, and he will be blessed by the Wolf!”

Blood, Sweat and Beers

Fantasy Fiction Sorrow Part 5: The King's Glory

Fantasy Fiction Sorrow Part 5: The King’s Glory, coming January 2013 from Musa Publishing

SILENCE!

I’m back, and I intend to rant some more, so get comfortable. I meant to rant a bit sooner than this but I’ve been very busy, so get off my back. What have I been doing? I hear you ask. Well, don’t interrupt.

Firstly, the latest in the fantasy fiction series, Sorrow Part 4: The Gelded Wolf, is now available to pre-order from Musa Publishing for just 77p. You can see an excerpt below. The release date is Friday 21 December.

Secondly, we have now approved the cover art for Sorrow Part 5: The King’s Glory (above) and I have been working on the first edits for it.

Also, I would like to thank Beauty in Ruins for reviewing The Best Weapon – (“A fresh new spin on the fantasy genre”). Click here to check out the review on the Beauty in Ruins site. The Best Weapon is a full-length novel available from Musa Publishing. Just for good measure, here is a link to the book on Amazon too (where you can see more reviews).

It has been absolutely freezing in Bristol. We have twice made the mistake of attempting an outdoor game of five-a-side on an icy pitch, only to totter around on it like a bunch of old age pensioners chasing a werthers original round an ice-rink. My already well-established reputation for slipping on my arse has now become legend. The night before last I put on a dazzling display of hapless, bambi-ing buffoonery the likes of which I will not live down for some time. I may have to kill everyone who witnessed it. Needless to say there is not a shred of skin left on my legs.

But that isn’t the worst of it. Oh no. Following one particularly painful and noisy collision with God’s green earth, I stood (after a period of Ian and his aardvarkswrithing and cursing during which I turned the freezing air purple with some choice foul language) to find my right hand covered in sticky blood. Instinctively, I muttered a few words of impotent rage and licked my fingers clean, only turn and find Ric pointing to a large hole in his elbow and saying “that’s my blood mate”. Now, if there is anyone I know who could be a werewolf, it is Ric. He is a towering lump of shaggy muscle with an enormous beard. He looks like he ought be lumbering around the Himalayas frightening sherpas. So now I am waiting for some hideous transformation to occur when the moon is full. And let me tell you, it is too cold right now to be waking up butt naked in the middle of Bristol town centre frozen to a lamp post by my own piss.

Anyhoo, I digress. Anyone doing secret santa at work? I like to draw people because I am a tight bastard who doesn’t want to spend a fiver on someone I work with.  So I did the thing on the right. I hope he likes it. Actually, that’s a lie, I don’t care if he likes it, but I hope you do.

Right, I’m off to bed, I don’t like being awake this long when I’m sober. I’ll be back before Christmas to hollar at you about Sorrow Part 4: The Gelded Wolf!

“The power struggle becomes ever more vicious, and the wolves smell blood.”

Excerpt:

“Going for a spot of fresh air, Bracket?” said Felipe.

The innkeeper squeaked and the keys slipped out of his fingers, landing with a muffled thud on one of the foul wolfskin rugs.

“You should be asleep!” he yelped as Felipe’s massive form unfolded out of the darkness. A light flared as the Templar struck a tinder from the box he carried and used it to light one of the dormant tallow candles.

“Should be, but I am not,” said Felipe, raising the candle so his scarred face appeared pale and grim in the shadows, “unlike my comrades, who I have never known to sleep so sweetly, or with such military precision. They all passed out at the same time. What drug did you put in their ale?”

The innkeeper backed away until his back was pressed up against the door. Felipe could only see his outline in the gloom, and there was something odd about it. He raised the candle higher to get a better look.

“What the Hells are you wearing?” he demanded, “is that a wolfskin you have draped over your shoulders? My dear Bracket, you make a very unconvincing wolf.”

“Shut up, fool!” Bracket hissed, bending to retrieve his keys. Now Felipe could see why he had dropped them: long strips of sharpened iron were tied to the tops of his fingers, giving them the appearance of claws.

Bracket was indeed wearing a wolfskin, and not only that. The dead wolf’s head adorned the innkeeper’s, strapped in place on top of his skull, its rotting eyes staring glassily into whatever afterlife was reserved for the spirits of wolves.

Felipe was too astonished to move, allowing Bracket time to scoop up the keys and wrestle with the locks.

“I forgot you don’t drink, curse you,” he snarled, turning one key after another, “not that it matters. I will give you the same choice.”

“What choice? Come away from that door, man.”

The innkeeper ignored him, and there was the hiss of steel on leather as Felipe put the candle down and drew his sword. He advanced towards Bracket, who spun to face him.

“The choice I give everyone who comes here!” rasped the innkeeper, his red-rimmed eyes seeming to glow with a fearful light, “join The Sons of the Wolf, or die. You and your comrades, when they wake up—never fear, I have just sent them to sleep, not poisoned them—will be told to choose.”

Felipe was baffled rather than afraid. “What nonsense is this? Your wits are cracked.”

“You think so? I overheard you talking of kings earlier, and how a strong man is needed to unify the realm. I am a poor man, Felipe de Gascur, and it seems to me that the Great Houses have ruled this land for too long. The next King will not come from the nobility, but from the people, and he will be blessed by the Wolf!”

Sorrow Part 3: The House of Unkindness

SILENCE!

I have a few things to get off my chest, so be quiet while I rant. No talking during the rant.

I have smashed my laptop. Smashed it good. The other people in the room were a bit shocked by the sudden switch from mild-mannered, whimsical drunk to a vile storm of unbridled rage but on reflection not really surprised as they know what a beast I am.

Why are laptops such bastards? I’ve had a desktop PC for years and it has never gone wrong, it works like a dream every day, always doing exactly what I tell it without any stupid questions or pausing for an hour two to mull it over. Not so with laptops, oh no, the fuckers. They just won’t cooperate. Performing updates for an hour and unable to perform any other tasks in the meantime? Bollocks. I’ve got a task for you: bounce off that wall and smash into a million pieces, that one I can perform manually, and fucking enjoyable it was too.

Laptops might be inanimate but don’t let that fool you, they’re having a great time while you grind your teeth and clench and unclench your sweaty fists, pressing control-alt-delete over and over again without any response. The last laptop I had was so enraging I had to give it to my little brother. He was present when the swirling red mist took hold, boiling my blood and sending me into a frenzied attack. The little bastard, I bet he was loving it, I beat him mercilessly as a child without a single thought for my own safety and this is the thanks I get.

I thought I might be sorry when I calmed down. Sorry that I smashed the thing I spent hundreds of pounds on in a fit of primeval fury. But I’m not. It was worth it. And what did I need it for anyway? So I could watch TV at the same time as writing? To feed the innate laziness that lies in every Cornishman? So I could lie on the couch and watch an episode of The Simpsons I’ve seen a thousand times instead of sitting at my desktop and applying myself? Not any-fucking-more. I’m a better person without that laptop: a new man!

So now I am sat at my desktop PC, away from the mind-numbing shit sandwich that is television with a spot of relaxing music (Aim featuring YZ if you must know – bad tune), channelling my aggression in a decent rant. Windows 7? Stuff it right up your pooper, all the way up there, I’m an Ubuntu desktop man till I die now, mention a laptop to me once and I will steel a bus, herd your family onto it at gunpoint and drive it through your mum’s house.

Now that you are sufficiently enlightened, here’s a brief synopsis and excerpt from the latest in our epic fantasy series, Sorrow Part 3: The House of Unkindness, available now from Musa Publishing.

“Rumour spreads. Agents are dispatched. The race for Sorrow begins.”

An uneasy peace has descended over the World Apparent. The Winter Realm and the Old Kingdom are recovering from the cataclysmic events of the Twelfth Reconquest, while in the south, the Djanki and the Sharib retreat to lick their wounds from the battle at Temple Rock. To the east, the divided Empire of Temeria is nearing the end of a long civil war, in which rival Generals have fought like mad dogs to seize the long-vacant Imperial Throne.

Bail and Sorrow wander in the wilderness, watched by the ghosts of a million dead soldiers.

Three Knights of the Temple leave Silverback on a seemingly impossible quest.

Meanwhile, Colken has an appointment with the Raven Queen, and The House of Unkindness proves to be more disturbing than he could possibly have imagined.

Excerpt
“What have you done to me?” he demanded hoarsely.

“I have done nothing, have I, Erlo?”

Erlo slowly shook his spotless head.

“No, I’m no surgeon, no witch! I ply a simpler trade.”

Wade stepped forward and reached toward Colken’s chest.

“No, Erlo, this is the work of an altogether more subtle mind.” Wade’s sickly pale face gazed in wonder as he knocked on the left side of Colken’s bandaged chest producing, to the surprise of its owner, a metallic thud.

“A subtle mind, Erlo, a subtle mind with access to the dark arts.”

Colken would normally have dismissed the captain’s chattering as nonsense, but some feeling inside him told him Wade spoke the truth.

“Strong bonds are required for a ferocious animal, Erlo. What we have here is no ordinary man, but a fierce beast from the jungle. A killer! Not in the way our deceased friend Silt was a killer, oh no, this beast does not kill out of malice or greed. No Erlo, such emotions are trivial in the jungle. He is a primeval specimen of power itself. He kills to survive!”

Wade’s speech grew impassioned and his reedy, effeminate voice took on a theatrical note as he examined Colken intently, as though he had discovered some lost, half-mythical treasure. Colken listened, searching for any word of sense that might give him some clue as to where he was and why.

“When such a beast leaves his dank, primitive shadow-world he becomes dangerous, Erlo, a cat amongst the pigeons, hmmm? The beast recognises no human law, and so powerful bonds are necessary. Unbreakable bonds. For the bird, Erlo, has caught the cat.”

With a flourish, Wade stood back and waved a bejewelled hand as two hulking orderlies sidled through the doorway and gripped Colken. Taking a shoulder each and grunting with the effort, they hauled him painfully upright.

Colken’s head swam as he was marched out of the operating room and down the corridor, followed by Wade and Erlo. He drifted in a semi-conscious state, blood loss and hunger sapping all his strength, oblivious to the clank of his chains and the grunts of the orderlies as they strained to bear his weight. He was oblivious, too, to the inane chatter of the eccentric captain as he and Erlo followed in the rear.

He passed back into unconsciousness.

Sorrow Part 2: The Burned Earth – second in the epic fantasy series

Sorrow Part 2: The Burned Earth is now available from Musa Publishing. This is the second in the epic fantasy series about the mysterious child, known as Sorrow, who is the last survivor of a little known nomadic tribe in the heart of Temeria.

Sorrow’s tribe was wiped out by unidentified raiders. The reason for this is not immediately clear, but it may have something to do with the fact that they are reputed to be the most ancient people in the World Apparent, and so descended from the very first people to crawl from its primeval ooze.

As the world slides into chaos, rumour quickly spreads about the child, and those seeking to cease power will stop at nothing to be the first to take possession of him. The real significance of the boy, however, is yet to be discovered. The race to find Sorrow has begun.

The future of the realm is at stake, but the stars are about to align…

Excerpt:

“Old instincts came to the fore, forged by his years on the streets, and he managed to spit in Asu’s eyes. Asu squealed in disgust and his grip slackened a little, allowing Bail enough leverage to butt him on the bridge of the nose. It was a feeble enough hit, but angered Asu enough to raise himself, knees straddling Bail’s chest, and rain punches down on his face.

One of the geldings stumbled as his left foreleg vanished into a pothole and snapped like a twig. He screamed and collapsed, dragging down his traces and causing the animal behind to lurch and tumble onto his flank. The remaining pair, doomed by the weight of their fallen team-mates, also went down in a tangle of thrashing limbs and writhing bodies.

Asu and Bail were thrown clear as the chariot bounced on its side and slewed into the wriggling mass of horseflesh. Bail rolled expertly when he hit the ground and escaped with cuts and bruises, but Asu was not so skilled or lucky.

General Harsu’s former concubine had come to rest on his front, and gave no sign of life when Bail struggled to his feet and limped over to inspect the body. Breathing hard, Bail drew his knife and kicked Asu in the ribs. No reaction.

Bail didn’t care to check if the boy was still breathing or not. He reached down, grasped a handful of Asu’s dust-sodden hair, yanked his head up and drew the knife across his throat. There was a brief exhalation of air, a torrent of hot blood, and Bail let the head fall forward. One more for the worms to eat, and the second he had killed that day.

“Busy morning,” he muttered, wiping his knife on Asu’s hair before slotting it back in its sheath.

Bail took stock of his injuries. His face was swelling up with bruises from the beating Asu had given him. One cheek and the side of his neck were dripping with blood from the whip, and there was a sharp growing pain under his right knee where Asu had kicked him. He was not in a good way, and to make things worse, he hadn’t been paid for his betrayal of Harsu.

He looked around. The chariot must have carried them at least a couple of miles, because there was no sign of the treaty tent or the battle they had left behind. There was no sign of anything much at all.

Bail swore, and cursed his luck. The chariot had deposited him in the Burned Earth. The dreadful wasteland stretched in all directions, grey and rocky and featureless, with only the distant mountains of the Jabal Kish to break up the monotony.

The horses were goners, their backs and limbs broken and crushed beneath the shattered bulk of the chariot. Meat for vultures, and Bail would be also unless he found some shelter, food, and water. All things the Burned Earth was famous for not possessing.

Sighing, he knelt next to Asu’s body and began to search it for anything useful.”