Three of my books are currently free to read at Amazon. The free promotion runs until Monday, July 18, 2022, 11:59 PM PDT.
Simply click on the cover images below.
Holiday with the Orcs will be free on Kindle until Saturday, 13th June. This is likely to be the last free promo I run for this title – so get it now!
Prince Hardlee has arranged a holiday in the Orkranian highlands. The mountains are supposed to be lovely at this time of year. But there is the added attraction of his favourite actress, half-elven Maegana Vulpon, who is vacationing at the temple of eternal youth in Nstaad. But the King, Hardlee’s father, does not approve of the relationship choices of his only son and heir, forcing the Prince to travel in disguise. There are also traitors about—an uncle who with eyes on the throne has learnt of the Prince’s destination and dispatched a band of cutthroats. Other dangers lurk in the Orkranian highlands. Orc raiders covet the wealth of the village of Nstaad. The Dwarf miners who work there have uncovered deposits of gold, and the Orc chief Grim Bearit wants that gold. Can a mixed band of princely retainers, halfling inn-keepers, dwarven miners, elven priests and actors resist the Orc raid?
For lovers of old-style fantasy and Oldhammer everywhere.
As the Stonehearted series nears completion I have decided to make the first book in the series free to download as an eBook.
If you haven’t read it yet, you can now get this in Kindle or ePub format from most of the normal eBook retailers. More details below.
Other books in the series will now by 99c or 99p or equivalent in other currencies, so if you like the first book in the series it will be really easy and affordable to read the others.
Words: c. 17,000
Pages: 74 (print)
Get a free eBook at: Amazon.com| Amazon.co.uk
And other Amazon stores!
Get a free eBook at: Google Play | Smashwords | Kobo | Nook | iBooks
By The Sword’s Edge is the first volume of Stonehearted, a serialized novel.
In 1370 two families are thrust together by the harsh realities of war. Lady d’Aubray holds Sarbrook castle, but has sold nearly everything to pay the ransom of her husband, who was captured in France over a decade ago. Eolande d’Aubray, the missing lord’s daughter, is desperate for her father to return. She remembers little of him, but she does know that he is the only man who can rescue her from an unwanted marriage.
William Stone has bought much of the d’Aubray estate having made a fortune as a cloth merchant, and is looking forward to seeing his two sons move up in the world. For his eldest, Richard, he hopes to make squire to Sir Robert Knolles, commander of the English army set to invade France this summer, as long as he can pay the consideration demanded by Knolles. But when Knolles and his ambitious captain, Minsterworth, visit the Stone’s to agree their terms, a tragic series of events destroys the Stone’s world forever.
For Richard Stone there is only one place to find peace.
Following on from my posts about Time’s Arrow and the cover reveal, here’s a free excerpt from my new short story.
I hope you enjoy the read and if you do stay tuned for details about how you can buy a copy of the story.
William Chan punched the number 1415 into the time machine. And followed it with the month of October and the day was 25. St. Crispin’s Day, 1415. The Battle of Agincourt. He breathed deeply, feeling the blood pump through his veins. He looked down at what he wore. A leather jerkin with a white badge and a red cross sown above his heart, green legged-hose, leather boots, a buckler shield, arrows stuffed into his belt and held together by a piece of rope on his right hip and a sword in a scabbard on his left. He stepped forward onto the central plate in the chamber of the machine. He adjusted the helmet strap under his chin and pealed back the woolen sleeve covering his wrist. He kept his finger pressed on a small button on the small black device strapped there and waited until the L.E.D. showed the time he wanted. Nine o’clock. Just half an hour, he hoped, before the first French attack. That should give him enough time to get a good vantage of the battle from the cover of the woods.
A green light flashed on the device, waiting for him. He pressed another button and held it down until the green light stopped flashing and was a solid green.
The G.P.S. should have placed him perfectly into the woods where he could watch undisturbed. But it didn’t. He was standing in a ploughed field behind a large mass of men. They were archers like him, like he was pretending to be. They were all facing away from him and most were busy with large stakes of wood, driving them with mallets or pushing them, getting their whole weight behind them so that they sank into the earth. They were building an impenetrable fence between themselves and the French mounted knights. A single line of stakes, William noted, not stakes in front of each man reaching in every ranks. That was one question answered.
“Archer! Where’s your bow? Find it and get into the ranks.”
William turned. Behind him was a grey-bearded man-at-arms riding a huge horse. He waved a rod at William and pointed towards the archers in front of them.
“Deserters will be hung.” The man nudged the flanks of his horse with his plate armored heals and the beast moved threateningly towards William. Just then there was a blast of a trumpet and the man looked towards his right, towards the centre of the English army.
William looked too. There he could see what he knew was a pitifully small number of dismounted men-at-arms. He couldn’t make them out properly across the flat field, but he knew that arrayed in the centre of the English army there would be three units, or battles, of men-at-arms; a mix of belted knights, squires and common soldiers, anyone with enough money to afford proper armor and the horses that were required. But the English men-at-arms hardly ever fought on horseback these days. Their usual strategy was to dismount and wait for their French enemies to attack. The English archers positioned on the flanks would pepper the approaching French hordes with arrows, breaking up their formations and then the English, hopefully fighting with the advantage of a hill or from behind some prepared defenses would break the enemy with their pole-axes, their cut-down lances and their swords. And here, near the small chateau of Agincourt, would occur the epitome of the English victory against the odds. Only a thousand English men-at-arms, with perhaps four thousand archers arrayed in support on the flanks, all hungry and tired from a desperate march across northern France and many suffering from the rigors of dysentery, their bowels opening without any self-control. This rag-tag of an army against the pride of French chivalry, over ten thousand men-at-arms on foot, drawn up in three great lines of attack with a thousand mounted men-at-arms on the flanks ready to disperse the English archers. But what should have been forlorn hope for the English was to be their greatest victory, with only 112 dead they would leave seven thousand French dead on the field and within five years Henry V, the English King, would have forced them into a peace that would hand him the crown of France upon the death of King Charles VI of France.
William licked his lips. It was an amazing prospect, and no-one from the 22nd century had ever seen it before.
The trumpet blared again and the man on horseback turned his horse to watch. William looked across at the banners. He could see one massive banner of cloth bearing Henry’s arms, the leopards of England quartered with the fleur-de-lis of France. He watched as the banner was raised up in the air and pointed forward. Battlefield signaling in action. Something else to add to his research paper. Another first for him.
“For flip’s sake,” growled the horseman. “We’ve only just got the bloomin’ stakes in.” William’s universal translator earpiece not only parsed Middle English, Old French and Latin into modern English, but it also, annoyingly, took most of the fun out of the swearing.
William was no longer important to the man on the horse. William watched him ride away, taking another mental note of the man’s arms that he could now more clearly on the back of his surcoat as he rode away from him towards the unit of archers. A green shield with a number of white blobs inside it –probably representing birds. Most likely, this was Sir Thomas Erpingham, charged with commanding both wings of archers. He would be a busy man that day.
William had nearly been caught out. But now he could make his way towards the woods and a safe place to watch the action. It had never been his intention to stand with either of the armies (especially not the French)—much too dangerous! And besides, from in the middle of the melee, would he really see much of what was going on? But a soldier’s disguise would help him get near enough. Even if he was to pose as an archer in the ranks (perhaps the least dangerous role on the English side), he would soon be shown up—there were no yew trees left in the 22nd century and his upper body muscles were certainly not strong enough to use one of the great English war-bows.
In front of him the archers were pulling their stakes out of the ground. They would march forward several hundred yards until they were in bow range of the French and plant their stakes again and then goad the French into attacking. And the rest would be history. William walked towards the woods on the western side of the field directly to the left of the formation of archers which faced the French army in the north. He didn’t run to get his position. There was too much to take in. It was not a simple task for the archers to pull-up the stakes they had just hammered into the ground and he noticed that many were giving up. He watched one man slip in the mud as the stake he was pulling came free. The archer landed on his backside. The men around him laughed and William couldn’t help but smile.
But the man didn’t seem to notice his comrades laughing. As he regained his feet he was staring straight at William.
“Oi! What are you looking at?”
William looked away and started walking quickly towards the woods.
“You, come here!”
TO BE CONTINUED
Battle is joined in the foothills of Orkrania! If you’re new here go back to Part 1 for the start of the novella and to find out what it’s all about.
So the battle of Nstaad began. What had started as a tavern brawl, would now become a battle fought with steel, claw and blood. Grim Bearit’s Broken Hand orcs emerged from the wooded slopes of the mountain above Nstaad with the Hard Core Boyz to the fore—hungry for blood and loot. Grim himself had his wyvern harnessed and his war lances and javelins prepared. He took to the air to survey the battlefield leaving orders to Shur Burt the shaman and his personal orcish servants to give instructions to the hobgoblin mercenaries to hold back the goblin slave-warriors until needed. Much was lost in the rush to ready for combat. And perhaps all of Grim’s intentions to use the force as a strategic reserve were not quite passed on properly. There was something about sending a force to cut off the road south of the inn for instance. The fact that Grim meant just some of the wolf-rider scouts might have been lost.
The Hard Core Boyz poured from the woods in no particular order, blinking in the sunshine that they counted as their enemy, and pretty soon the doughty band of dwarven miners under the command of Gundrun Rocksplitter heard the whooping battle cries and excited grunts of the orcs as they jogged towards the gold exchange. The dwarves paused, dressed their ranks and about turned to march steadily back up the hill intent on engaging their arch enemies, but the sharp-eyed youngster of a dwarf, who had brought the message from the inn, also saw that a veritable horde of goblins and wolf-riders were also streaming out of the woods further to the east. He stopped Gundrun to tell him and the old dwarf leader surmised that the orc and goblin army was playing one of their damned tricks and using greater numbers to envelop his own force. The death of him and all of his fellows was not going to help to either preserve the honour of dwarves in their dispute with the halflings at the inn, or preserve the gold at the exchance, which besides consisted of just a few nuggets on the counters and tables inside the exchange—pickings not being that good recently. The largest consignment that Gundrun had at the exchange was well hidden and protected inside a safe protected by runes that Gundrun was confident that no orc could open.
So Gundrun’s greater experience won over the hotheads in the party and the dwarves turned again and rushed headlong towards the inn, not even having time to destroy the bridge over the rushing stream as they did so. Not a retreat, but a tactical withdraw, Gundrun thought in his own mind.
And what of events at the inn?
You may remember that the whole cause of the barroom brawl that had developed at the inn was because of the shapeshifting dogs that burst into the tap room looking for Prince Hardlee. Well those shapeshifters had now left the dwarves behind to brawl amongst themselves and a few unlucky haflings. They’d made it to the first floor where a long uneven corridor that went the length of the inn provided access to private chambers for those guests who could afford to pay. That meant Prince Hardlee, Arfur and the retinue of four men-at-arms, all in disguise, they had taken three of the rooms between them—Hardlee and Arfur having their own rooms and the four men-at-arms (now three after the death of one in the stables courtyard) sharing another room. Their were eight rooms in total though, so the shapeshifters had to search for their prey first, sniffing at the doors to see if any human was inside. Even in human form they had a well developed sense of smell.
Prince Hardlee was enjoying a slumber after the excitement of seeing his beloved that morning. But Arfur had already heard the disturbance and was sitting with the men-at-arms waiting with weapons ready. But more of that soon.
Gundrun’s miners and the orcs of the Hard Core Boyz exchanged some arrows and crossbow bolts—across the stream as they approached the inn—the dwarves with crossbows turning to fire once they had loaded and running ahead to load again, their friends covering them with shields as they went – there were just a few so armed, but they were good shots and took down some orcs—enough to make them wary about a pursuit that was too close. But Gundrun could see the unit of goblins marching resoulely on their left flank, driven on by hobgoblins with whips, and he feared being caught in the open between the orcs and goblins. He like most dwarves felt far more comfortable with a good stone wall between him and the enemy. So he told the lads to stop their skimrishing fire and march double quick to the inn. Once there they bared the gates and set about working out how to defend the place.
Part 6 of my Oldhammer Fiction novella Holdiday in Orkrania. See Part 1 for the start and a synopsis.
The forested slopes of the mountain overlooking the village of Nstaad were quite—mostly. Apart from the sound of Grim’s wyvern snacking one of the runty goblin slaves, the place where Grim sat high in a tree watching the valley was peaceful. His army rested, waiting for the daylight and the cruel burning of the sun to pass. They planned to attack at night. So his army of orcs and goblins were down below in shelters on the forest floor, or tucked away in some of the small caves on the mountain slope. But Grim didn’t rest of sleep. He watched, always watching, to see what his enemy was doing. He had spent the last year watching the tribe of the Broken Hand from his refuge in the Orkranian mountains, waiting for an opening, an opportunity—and now one had come. The chance to seize the wealth of the miners of Nstaad and build an army to take back power over the Broken Hand tribe once more.
He stood up from the barrel on which he sat, and grabbing the trunk of the tree for support stepped towards the edge of the platform. A simple railing provided enough support for him to lean his weight on and gaze out.
Ra’zle and his goblin engineers had built him this wooden platform on his orders so that he could keep watch on Nstaad. Little seemed to be happening in the valley below—he could see the small encampment of tents outside the gold exchange. That would be their main target of course. Grim assumed that was where the gold must be, but if not they could torture the dwarves they captured until they gave up the secret of its location.
But how to best use his forces to make sure they seized what they needed—they would have the advantage of surprise and of numbers, but the dwarfs could be stubborn fighters—especially where gold was concerned.
There was a rustle of leaves behind Grim, it was Shur Burt, a shaman of Urk and self-appointed chief counsellor to the rightful king of the Broken Hand tribe.
“Whadya want?” growled Grim, not happy to be disturbed. He much preferred being alone with his own thoughts when working out a plan of battle.
Shur Burt bowed and scraped, pawing the ground ag Grim’s feet as he knelt before him. He seemed to make a speciality of grovelling, and Grim knew that he wanted something—most likely to push his own ideas.
“Oh great high king, I come to hear your words of wisdom on how we will be successful in the battle to come.”
Grim thought about asking Shur Burt for his thoughts, but paused—that would be a show of weakness that no Orc leader could afford.
“Why da ya wanta know? Just do what I telz you.”
“Of course master, never anything less, and sometimes more.”
“Uh?” Grim wasn’t sure what Shur Burt meant by that—probably the shaman’s attempt to fool him with his greater command of frilly words. The fool would suffer if he kept that up.
“As well as the sharp blades of your soldiers I can also provide much help when I call on mighty Urk to help us, but to do so I need to prepare and check that the portents allow it. Enlighten me oh mighty Grim.”
“Come here,” snapped Grim, losing his patience. He grabbed Shur Burt by the necklace of shrunken heads that he wore and dragged him to the rail of the platform that overlooked the valley below. Shur Burt gulped audibly as the force of Grim’s handling of him forced him into the rail and nearly toppled him over the edge. It was only a drop of thirty feet, but still enough to kill or seriously maim.
“There’s the valley of Nstaad. The gold exchange nearest to us on this side of the stream, and then the old coaching inn beyond the bridge, and to the far left of the inn the grove—they say an elven witch dwells there, so we’ll avoid that, but I’ll keep watch on it from above with my wyvern in case she emerges—and then,” Grim chuckled, “well you can deal wiv that can’t you?”
Shur Burt gulped and nodded. Grim relaxed his grip on the shaman and brought him back from the edge.
“And then what else? Well the Hard Core Boyz, they’ll do the main attackin’ won’t they—always do and they won’t have it any other way—they can take on the dwarves in their little house full of gold. But some of my own boyz will be right behind them—they’ll make sure everyone stays honest and don’t try ta take any gold what isn’t there’s, coz it’s all mine see?”
Shur Burt nodded furiously at that, fearing another close view of the forest floor.
Grim drummed his stubby green fingers on the railing. “Wot elze, eh? The gobboes. How best to use them? They’re disciplined. The hobgob whips keep them in check. But they’re a bit feeble if they’ze come against some dwarves direct. But they’re quick and the wolf gobs can go on ahead quick as lightening.”
“Against the halflings?” wheeled Shur Burt, hoping that his suggestion didn’t cause enough displeasure for him to get slammed against the railing again.
“The inn?” grunted Grim. “The gobboes and the hobgobs fight for money and loot so maybe—they can loot the inn and take that as payment for this month. I’ll as much gold left over as we can getz.”
Shur Burt nodded. “Of course, master. To take back what is rightfully yours from King ??”
Grim slammed Shur Burt’s head into the railing and the shaman nearly passed out with the pain—he saw a bright light that could been a million explosions inside his head combining into one. “He’s no king, awright!”
Shur Burt was in too much pain to respond at first. He crouched on the floor, feeling his head. Something felt a bit sticky in the matted grease of hair. His fingers came back coated in a sticky black liquid when he touched it—his own blood.
“Understand?” asked Grim.
Shur Burt nodded. “Yes master, I’ll steer clear of that word again. So sorry.”
“Steer clear …” pondered Grim. “Yes that’s what the gobboes should do to start with—well at least until we seez how things go. We’ll keep ‘em back in the woods. Maybe send some wolf boyz round the inn to cut off an escape. Good idea, Shur.”
Grim raised a meaty fist again over Shur Burt’s head, and the shaman cowered beneath the expected blow.
“You’re a kidder,” said Grim as he patted Shur Burt gently on the head. “You wanna get that cut looked at—looks a bit nasty.”
Grim turned to go. He’d had enough on this windy platform for the moment, and he was hungry. But then some movement down in the valley caught his eye. While he’d been conversing with the shaman, things had been happening in the valley of Nstaad. A large group of dwarves were assembled in front of the gold exchange, and were even now marching down the path towards the bridge and beyond it the inn.
Grim stood there, his jaw hanging in amazement.
“Dey’re going! They’ll have the gold wiv them. We’ve gotta move quick boyz!” he shouted. “Everyone wake up. Time to kill stunties!”
Part 5 of Holiday in Orkrania – my free Oldhammer style novella. For the start of it go back to Part 1.
Drew gritted his teeth as he polished dry another flagon. The orders for beer and ale were coming thick and fast. The taproom and the common room were both full of dwarfs who seemed intent on emptying the inn’s supplies of anything liquid. They’d have to siphon off the stream soon enough and tell the miners that it was a new transparent type of beer—very high proof, and see if they noticed. Most of them were so drunk by now that Drew doubted they would.
“And they’re paying for all of this?” asked Rose, Drew’s wife as she pushed a tap into a new barrel that Jase, their son had just rolled up from the cellar.
“They will do,” said Drew, “they will do.”
“All on credit, again, Drew? What did I tell you. We can’t run a business on credit!”
Drew blushed. He knew she was right—he was worried about it too—that the dwarves would never pay, yet he’d made the decision, to he defended it. “There’s gold in those hills, Rose. Plenty of gold. So they’re good for it—of that I’m sure.”
“Even now that you’ve turfed them out—they are taking the proverbial if you ask me before they go. If you ask me…”
Drew never did get to ask his wife the question she so wanted him to ask her. Despite the noise of two dozen dwarf miners drinking and singing, the commotion that came from the door to the stables rose above that to draw Drew’s attention.
Drew saw a Dwarf looking angry on the far side of the tap-room as the door from the stables opened, nudging his arm and causing him to spill his pint. A large dog—black and brown, a doberman, burst through the door followed by two men and two women. Apart from the hikers he didn’t have any other human guests—and besides they usually wore clothes. One of the dwarves whistled as the naked women pushed past. They seemed intent on getting through the crowd of miners as quickly as possible. The dog was growling.
Drew got onto the higher step behind the bar—better to be seen. “What’s this then. Who are you—we don’t want any actors or whores here. Where are your bloody clothes?”
That drew a round of jeers and more whistles from the drinking miners.
“Everybody shut up,” snarled one of the naked men. A squat brute of a fellow—could have been a dwarf except he had no beard and was completely bald. “Let us through or else.”
“Else what?” grumbled a grey-bearded dwarf standing at his elbow. “Who do you think you are laddie?”
“Grr, no one calls me laddie,” the man snarled again, spittle shooting from his mouth as he turned on the old dwarf miner. The doberman was at the man’s heals and barking, what almost sounded like a warning.
The greybeard wiped the man’s spittle from his beart and glaring with eyes like candles in the depths of a deep mine drew back the fist holding his pewter flagon and smashed it into the face of the bald man. The man’s head reeled, but he seemed to have been expecting it and was prepared to take the hit in the face. The elbow connected to the forearm and hand holding his dagger pumped backwards like a mechanical piston and punched the sharp point of the dagger into the old dwarf. The longbeard groaned in pain as the blade stabbed into his guts and slumped to the ground, wailing like a babe.
The response of the dwarves around the bar was rapid if predictable—let no-one tell you that dwarves are slow. Once roused to anger their ferocity can stir them to hasty action. The taproom descended into a maelstrom of punching fists, slashing daggers and whirling dwarf picks. Several miners swung and grabbed at the bald man who had stabbed their, but he was very swift. So swift in fact that before the eyes of Drew he actually disappeared from view, and instead he could hear dogs—more than just the Doberman snapping and snarling at the legs of the dwarfs, several who yelped in pain as large canines sunk into their calves and thighs.
The two women did not stand watching, but instead slashed out with theirs knives, held in a reverse grip to rake the faces of the dwarves. That’s as much damage as they could do like that—a stabbing action was better, but now that battle was joined that required getting closer to the dwarves—dangerous work when hard fists and harder picks were being swung. In fact some of those fists and picks were a danger to other dwarves.
The other man, who hadn’t disappeared pushed over two nearby tables to hold back the surging mass of angry, drunken dwarves—creating a corridor next to the bar towards the stairs and then ran quickly past them and up the stairs. Drew took a swing at him with a flagon but missed by a country mile and nearly unbalanced himself to topple to the ground.
“Everyone stop!” he shouted. “This instance.”
But no-one seemed to hear or care what he said. The he saw Jase, who had been collecting cups near the door, hit by a swinging dwarf pick. There was blood splashed up and Drew thought the worst.
Drew jumped behind the bar and pulled off the door of the cabinet underneath the bar—he could fix the lock later. He pulled out the blunderbuss that he kept there—loaded and primed, he just needed to light the fuse. He did so behind the bar and then clambered up again to face the brawling chaos of the bar.
He didn’t know where to aim it—the women and the dogs were intermingled amongst the dwarves in an ungainly fight which seemed to be going nowhere but was causing a lot of damage to the fixtures and fittings of the taproom. He didn’t have to worry about aiming though. The fuse on the blunderbuss burnt quicker than he planned and the thing fired with an explosion louder and firier thane could have imagined. Blowing a whole in the ceiling and causing a light fitting to crash to the floor—luckily no candles were lit—but everyone ducked and stopped fighting at least for a few seconds.
When the dust and smoke cleared the fighting broke out again—some of it was dwarf against naked human and dog, some of it was directed at other haflings, but sadly much of it seemed to be a squabble between dwarves.
Nevertheless, one young dwarf miner, so young that his facial hair was not much more than a tufty excuse for growth, was bundled out of the front door of the inn. “Go and get Gundrun,” he was told. “We need help down here.”
The young dwarf, who was also quite long-legged for a dwarf and thus a bit faster than most, dashed out of the inn door, through the gate of the wall that surrounded the courtyard. He turned right and around the corner of the wall began jogging up the slope of the valley towards Gundrun’s Exchange. There was a rough track that led up the slope and crossed the fast running stream that ran through Nstaad. A wooden bridge, built by dwarves spanned it, and there was a ford next to it—where the stream was shallower, but slippery rocks and the speed of the stream, fed on thawed ice, meant that crossing that way would be precarious at best.
But the young dwarf had no thought of that while he ran. Just that he was missing the fight and he wanted to do as he was told, give Gundrun the message, and then get right back to the inn as soon as he could.
Gundrun was in his element when he arrived. The old dwarf was in the front of the exchange building with a long line of miners standing queueing out of the door. These miners, who were all camped around the exchange building were newly down from the hills. They’d brought their finds with them—nuggets of gold, and now they wanted to know how much they were worth.
“Hurry it up,” grumbled one of them who was near the back of the line. “I want to get going before nightfall.”
“Why? Ready to retire are you?” grumbled another over his shoulder as he turned and glared at the impatient dwarf.
“Huh! Chance’d be a fine thing. No. These hills aren’t safe. Time to move on.”
“Nonsense …” the dwarf in front was about to continue the argument, but stopped when he saw the young, long-legged dwarf rush to the door of the exchange. Almost looked like a human he did. “Oi, where you going. There’s a line.”
The young dwarf, panting, ignored the complaints of the dwarves standing in line and pushed through to where Gundrun stood behind his counter, a small magnifying glass to wedged in one eye socket, appraising in detail the gold crystals in one quite large nugget of rock.
“Gundrun …” panted the dwarf. “Come … quick … a fight.”
Gundrun looked up the glass still in his eye and saw at extreme close up the scruffy thatch of the young dwarves beard, barely covering the lad’s acne. “Oooh,” he said and removed the magnifying glass in a hurry. “What’s that boy?”
“Fighting at the inn,” the dwarf gasped, bending over to catch his breath. “I was sent to get help.”
“What!” roared Gundrun. “Trying to evict our boys ahead of time are they? I won’t be having that.”
“Dogs and humans—no clothes on,” said the young dwarf.
“Eh? What’s that?”
“Dogs—biting at ankles, and naked women with knives.”
Several of the miners waiting in the queue had now huddled round to listen. “They’ve set dogs on our brothers have they—those bastard halflings!”
“What’s this about naked women?” said another.
“The actress perhaps—the elf girl from the temple—have you seen her…”
“OK lads, let’s not hang around fantasising,” snapped Gundrun. “Our brothers are in trouble. Grab your weapons—a helm and shield if you have one handy and let’s get down to the inn.”
There were twenty one of them all told. Gundrun gave the young lanky dwarf—Smartsch was his name—a spare axe and a shield, and grabbed his own trusty warhammer. He’d had time to slip on a coat of plates—leather with metal plates sown into the lining, and slapped a round helm on his head—that would have to do—but after all what armour and weaponry could Drew and his extended family muster—some knives and short bows at best. The dwarves would not take this lying down—oh no!
“Right then lads,” said Gundrun, looking at the motley crew of miners—most had just grabbed their picks for weapons, but some had axes as well—mostly used for chopping wood though rather than skulls—these were workers on the whole rather than warriors—although a few did have helms and swords that they’d grabbed from their tents. “Let’s not run—no point getting out of breath—need to save energies for hewing halflings, but let’s not hang about either. Let’s go!”
If you would like to read some free fiction from me then the Prologue and first two chapters from Hell has its Demons are now available – see the links on the Free Fiction page, or go to the page for Hell has its Demons.
You can also read the first two chapters of By the Sword’s Edge for free as well – again check out the Free Fiction page or the page for By the Sword’s Edge.
Regular readers of this blog will also remember that I am posting early draft chapters of the second volume of Stonehearted online – the sequel to By the Sword’s Edge. You can find a link to those chapters on the Free Fiction page and also by clicking here.
First look at chapter 3 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.
Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.
Louis propped the arbalest against the wall of the stable, bent over and clutched his aching knees. His breath came in red gasps. Raw like a side of beef. He wanted to stop. To sink to the ground and sit or lie. Like he had in the orchard under the hot sun. But there was no time. As he pulled himself upright he looked across the fields towards the town of Montdidier. Smoke rose across the horizon and tongues of flame licked into the evening sky. It had been a long day and the English had not yet departed after finishing their business. They had burnt houses, set light to the dry wheat in the farms, and worst of all, uprooted Louis’s beloved apple trees and hacked the roots to pieces. Wheat could be sown again. Trees would take years to replace.
Louis felt hot moisture on his cheeks and tasted salt on his lips. He wiped the tears away and smeared dirt and ash and blood as he did so onto the back of his hand.
He didn’t weep for the trees, but for the people of Montdidier. You could not grow new family or friends of neighbours.
As he watched Montdidier burn there was a clatter of wood. He turned, his heart racing. His arbalest had been knocked to the floor and behind stood the mercenary, Wulf, his sword drawn.
“If you want to stay alive, if you want to get your revenge one day, then you need to be more careful. Always watch your back.”
The mercenary returned his sword to his scabbard and strode away. Two horses were tied to a wooden rail nearby.
“I have a horse for you,” he said as he mounted one of them, seemingly unbothered by the weight of his armour. “Will you ride with me?”
Louis nodded, picked up his arbalest, and followed Wulf.
They rode behind the main line of houses, leading their horses behind the gardens of the finer townhouses that had belonged to the merchants of Montdidier. Some of the English were in the town by now and they wanted to avoid them so they could get away. Louis felt like a coward creeping along like that, but he knew that bravery would only lead to his death.
They came to the end of the row of gardens. A narrow alley lead out onto another short street that went over a small stone bridge and then towards Paris. They were nearly out.
Wulf motioned him to stop and in a low voice murmured, “Mount your horse. We’ll need to write like demons when we hit the open.”
“What if there are English in the way?”
Wulf grinned. Louis noticed how white the man’s teeth were. Like pearls. “In that case, we do what God made us for. We fight, and then we die.”
Louis shivered. He wasn’t ready for this. He wanted to find a corner of a garden, soft hay or grass to curl up in and hide, like he had when playing hide and go seek with his brother, when he was a child, in the orchard.
An image came into his head of Oliver leering over him where he hid behind a stack of hay in the family barn, a wicked grin on his face, a fist raised to jab down at Louis’s shoulder. His smug older brother. Where was he?
Wulf lead the way down the alley. The mercenary leant over the neck of his horse, stroking the animal’s neck to calm it, to make sure it walked slowly, ever so slowly. If their horses gave them away they might be dead men. Louis copied Wulf and patted the neck of his horse, which at his touch snickered and bent its head back towards him, its teeth bared. Louis pulled sharply on the reins, and the horse let go a louder whinny of anger as the iron bit pulled back in its mouth.
Wulf’s head snapped back. “Quiet!” he hissed.
But it was too late, and Louis’s horse, panicked by the enclosed space of the alley and the clumsiness of Louis’s horsemanship, put its head down and bit the rump of Wulf’s horse. The surprise on Wulf’s face would have been funny if the situation hadn’t been so serious. Wulf’s horse leapt forwards, hooves skidding and the dry dusty earth of the alley as it bolted into the street in front of them. Wulf clutched the reins tightly and pushed his body weight forward to prevent flying off the back of his horse and Louis just followed. What else could he do? He thumped the horse’s flanks with the heels of his boots, the weight of the hit and the leather having to do the work as he wore no spurs, and he eased the pressure on the reins. With a guttural yell he urged his horse through the alley and onto the street where he could see Wulf’s horse already galloping to the left, towards the bridge, Paris and safety.
As man and horse entered the street, Louis could not resist a glance to his right, even though he knew the head of his horse might well be tugged to the right as well in case he kept careful control of the reins. He knew it was a mistake and that he wasn’t a good enough rider to control his horse unless he was fully determined on his direction. But he couldn’t help him. An impulse of curiosity drew him to look.
And there he saw a cart, and a man that was his brother, Oliver, supervising the loading of it with bales of flour, barrels of wine, sides of meat. Servants worked under his supervision next to a communal warehouse that belonged to the merchant guild of the town. And there were men in armour standing around, some with thin long wooden bows at their sides, laughing and drinking from an opened barrel of wine. They looked up at the sound of the horses down the street, and then Louis knew he must turn away before it was too late. But before he did his eyes, even at the distance of over fifty yards met those of Oliver. The first arrow that whizzed past made him turn. He could hear shouting. He saw it was Wulf. He had reined his horse in just before the bridge, and he was shouting at Louis. Louis dug his heels again into his horses flanks and drove the beast towards the bridge.
Wulf did not wait. He was across and galloping down the tree lined road to the south, to Paris. But Louis knew he would catch him up. The arrows fired at him were wild, and the English soldiers on the street didn’t have their horses.
And he knew that one day there would be a reckoning against the man who had betrayed their country. His brother.
If you want to read the first volume of Stonehearted, By the Sword’s Edge, then click here.
First look at chapter 2 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.
Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.
Minsterworth gritted his teeth. “Tighter than that.”
Richard Stone pulled the strap harder and buckled it.
Minsterworth winced. The muscle of his leg still ached from its wounds, but those cuisses needed to fit well and not come loose. An inch of unprotected leg could be enough for another arrow or worse a blade or spear to pierce it.
Richard buckled the other strap and then fixed the greaves to the lower legs. Minsterworth sat and Richard helped him on with his tall riding boots that fitted snugly over his plate armour.
Minsterworth nodded his thanks to Richard, who returned it with a blank face. “We need to fix you with some better protection. Then you could ride in at my side.”
Richard nodded at this.
“That cross, sell it to me and I’ll give you enough marks to buy a full suite of armour. What say you?”
“I don’t want to sell the cross,” Richard replied. He was still kneeling where he had to help Minsterworth on his with his boots. He looked at the floor as he spoke those few words.
“If you want to be a priest then why don’t you shave the top of your head? Join an abbey. Become a hermit. I’ll happily help brick you in your cell if you like.”
“Don’t mock me.”
Richard got up and stared defiantly at Minsterworth. Minsterworth felt goosebumps on his arms underneath his armour. He looked at Richard’s belt. There was no knife. He was safe. Perhaps.
“Come here,” Minsterworth commanded. Richard stepped forward and into a back-handed slap from Minsterworth’s gauntlet. The blow knocked Richard back and nearly made him stumble. Minsterworth reached for the nearest item from the arming rack behind him, and pulled back mace. He waited, expecting Richard to come at him fired up and angry.
But the lad didn’t. He straightened himself up. His cheek was bleeding badly. But he paid it no heed. He didn’t look up. He just turned and walked from the tent.
Minsterworth shivered again.
If you want to read the first volume of Stonehearted, By the Sword’s Edge, then click here.