I've posted samples on my Kickstarter website before, but I thought it might be interesting to join all the indie fun with Sample Sunday. I've seen some other indies doing this, and it seems like a decent enough idea. So here's one of my favorite passages from The Door to Canellin for your enjoyment! Be sure to check back next week for a special treat... I'll be posting an excerpt from the yet-unpublished sequel, The Door to Justice!
Wes sat beside their campfire with Magic 101 open across his lap. A magelight hovered by his left ear, providing enough illumination to read by. Gideon crouched nearby, a pair of rabbits skewered on the stick he held above the flames. As the rabbits began to sizzle, Gideon spoke.
Wes,” he said quietly, “that spell you used. The one that transported the dragonmen away. Could it not be used to send us to our destination?”
Gideon. “I suppose that makes sense, lad.” He pulled out his dagger and poked at the roasting rabbits. Apparently deciding they weren’t done cooking, he wiped his dagger on his trousers and returned the skewer to its place over the flames, propping it on a log.
“Shame, though,” he said, pulling a whetstone from his pack and swiping his dagger against the rough edge with a slow rasp. “It would have made this journey more than a bit easier, not to mention shorter!”
He was glad
Gideon was with him. He didn’t think he could have come this far, or even made the attempt, without the grizzled veteran’s support. Gideon was a solid friend, the kind of man you could look to for loyalty and aid in your darkest hour. He was good company, too, his witty chat doing a great deal to put Wes at ease in their perilous situation. Aside from being a good companion, Gideon was a capable soldier. He was a big man, about six foot in height and broad shouldered, in excellent physical condition despite his years. His face might show lines of experience and age, and his beard might be speckled with gray, but he was certainly in better shape than most younger men Wes knew back home. Most importantly, the man would do anything to protect his friends, and Wes felt lucky to be counted among them.
Gideon,” said Wes around a mouthful of rabbit, “tell me about your sons.”
“I heard the other guardsmen back at the keep talking about them a couple times, and I know they were heroes in the war, but you’ve never mentioned them.” He looked up at the old soldier, wiping grease from his chin. “They died, didn’t they? In the last Dragonwar?”
“Aye, lad, they died.”
Gideon’s voice took on a somber tone. “And only one could be counted a hero.”
“The boys were young when the war broke out,
Randall just twelve and Conner eleven. I was called off with the rest of the guard to join the main army to battle the threat, leaving Alanna to tend the boys alone. She and my lads left our cottage and went to the country to stay with her parents and sister until my return. It was supposed to be a short, easy war, and we were to be back home by harvest.
“We marched to the border, where the fighting was most fierce, and I got my first taste of real battle. It was a sour taste, that I can tell you honestly, lad. Stories of war always seem full of glory and excitement, but that’s not the way of it at all. It was also apparent almost from the start that this would be no short task.” He shook his head. “Not short at all. I spent six years of that bloody war fighting along that border. I used to keep track of the number of times we gained and lost a particular piece of ground, but it was no use, it happened too often. I was a good soldier, though. I went where I was told, did as I was ordered, and battled my foes with all my strength. On more than one occasion, my unit was so depleted that we were absorbed into other commands. We were constantly being pushed back, giving ground to the enemy.” His voice was heavy with emotion. “It was, at the time, the worst experience of my life.”
“It sounds horrible,” said
Wes. “In books, it always sounds more… adventurous, I guess.”
“Then the people writing about it have never actually seen a battlefield. People die. People you care about. After six years, I was the only man left alive from my original unit. The very last.”
Gideon bowed his head.
“Over the years, I had not gone unnoticed by my commanders. I had been steadily promoted, sometimes by the captains and generals who commanded us, and sometimes by battlefield necessity. Eventually, I was transferred to the King’s Regiment with the rank of first lieutenant, and given command of my own platoon.
“One day a runner came in from one of our rear encampments with a message for me. My sons had ridden into the camp in the small hours of the morning, looking for me. I was overjoyed! I had received no news of them for months, no letters from home, and had not seen them at all since I left in the first year of the war. I immediately took to horse and practically flew to the rear camp.
“When I arrived, I almost didn’t recognize the lads, but they knew me. Conner was embracing me almost before I dismounted, tears running down his face in a torrent.
Randall was more reticent, standing back a bit and regarding me with a strange look. When I approached him, he forestalled me with a single dire pronouncement.
“ ‘Mother is dead,’ he said.”
“I couldn’t speak, couldn’t think. I placed my hands on his shoulders, but my legs would no longer support me. I fell to my knees, unable to grasp the sense of it.”
Gideon cleared his throat. “All I could say was, ‘How?’”
“Conner was the one to explain, gently. The war had been going badly for several years now, particularly on the opposite border. It’s hard to fight a two front war, and we were not having much success. The dragonmen had advanced far enough into our lands to overrun several towns and even a few of the smaller cities. My little village, near to the city of
, managed to last a good while, but eventually, it fell, as did the city. The little farm where my family had taken refuge… it was gone. Alanna’s father and the boys had managed to flee, but not before Alanna, her sister Chalanar Deanna, and their mother, Sinead, were slaughtered by the beasts.”
Gideon, I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me any more, it’s okay.”
Gideon replied. “It was many years ago, the pain’s not as fresh as it once was.” He wiped at his eyes. “It’s still there, though.” He cleared his throat and continued his tale.
“The lads were determined to join the fighting, and indeed, both were of an age for it. I petitioned my commanders to allow them to join my regiment, although not under my direct command. Reluctantly, it was agreed, so long as I did nothing to arrange any special treatment for them. Still, I was able to prevail upon their commanders to allow me to watch their progress. I made sure that the men who were training them were the best we had, ensuring that they’d learn the skills necessary to keep them alive. Both my lads were apt pupils, especially Conner, and were soon acquitting themselves well in battle.
“For three years, we fought, gaining ground, losing ground. The lads advanced through the ranks much as I had. Even quicker, in truth.
Randall was a corporal for one of the most respected platoons in the regiment, and Conner… Conner had caught the interest of the highest general in our army, and thus the attention of the king as well. He was transferred into the King’s Own Guard, an elite troop whose only purpose was to keep King safe in battle. Our king was not a complacent one, and was often to be found in the thick of the fighting, and the King’s Own were always right there with him. Edward
“The time came for a final push, our last attempt to force the invaders back to their own territory. The war had turned in our favor in the last year, and we were optimistic that we could end it with one decisive stroke. The invaders had been contained in a corridor of troops with their only escape route being back to their own lands, and we had them outnumbered nearly three to one.
“Little did we know there were traitors among us.”
“My platoon led the initial attack, with
Randall’s following to the east. The king came behind with a full regiment, spreading out and cutting off the invaders from pushing past us. The newly-named High Lord held back with the reserves. Ours, though, was the main thrust, pushing the dragonmen and the human mercenaries and thralls in their employ along the corridor we’d created.
“The assault went well at first, but no battle plan ever survives the first engagement with the enemy, so I’m told. The invaders turned and began striking back with more ferocity than we could have expected. I found myself back to back with Randall as both our platoons were nearly overrun, battling the beasts furiously. We were surrounded, swords rising and falling in terrible rhythm as we fought. Then, the sound of a battle horn rose over the ranks of the invaders, deep and ominous. The attackers seemed to halt, one and all. My son turned to me and spoke in the sudden quiet. ‘I’m sorry for this,’ he said without explanation. The next thing I knew, his arm lashed out, and I barely saw the hilt of his blade approaching before it struck my skull, and everything went black.”
“He hit you?!”
Wes was shocked. “Why? What happened?”
“I’m not really sure of all the details, but it became obvious that our army was being betrayed from within. Fully one third of our troops turned on us when that horn sounded. When I regained my senses, I found myself alone among the dead, behind the enemy line, the fighting far off in the wrong direction. I rushed toward the sound of battle, hoping beyond hope to find the king alive and pushing the traitors back with the invaders. It hadn’t even dawned on me then that
Randall was one of those traitors.
“I finally reached the line and found a melee. The battle raged all around me as I hacked my way through, desperate to find my king. Our troops were engaging men they had fought beside only hours before, as well as hordes of dragonmen. I forced my way inward, trying to get to the center of battle, where I knew I would find the king. When I finally got to high ground and could see the battle unfolding below me, I was horrified. There in the distance was the king’s party, surrounded by dragonmen and turncoats, cut off from his troops. He and the few members of the King’s Own that I could see were fighting a desperate battle just to stay alive. The turncoats… they were beginning to transform, becoming dragonmen themselves. Not a quick transformation, though. You could still see the faces of men you once knew, hear their battle cries as scales spread slowly across their flesh.
“Inside the ring of attackers, the king and five of his guard were holding their own, but barely. I spied Conner among them, a bloody wound in his side, fighting valiantly to protect the king. I began working my way through the carnage to reach them. By the time I got close enough, only Conner and
King were left, with four half-transformed men attacking them. I leaped into the fray, engaging one of the traitors while two struck at the king. I was back to back with Conner, who was facing his own attacker. After a few vicious blows, I was able to strike my opponent down, and I turned in time to see Conner run through the chest by a savage thrust. The traitor twisted his blade free and leaped at the king’s unprotected back as Conner collapsed. Without thinking, I struck out, taking off the man’s sword arm at the elbow. He turned to face me, roaring in pain, and I thrust my sword through his belly in a rage. Our gazes met, and a sob escaped me as I looked into the eyes of my oldest son.” Edward
Randall?” Wes was aghast, seeing tears running unashamedly down Gideon’s cheeks. “You killed your son? He killed his brother?”
“Aye, lad, he did, and I did, though it wasn’t a quick death for
Randall. I had time to ask him why.
“ ‘Where were you when mother died,’ he asked me with contempt, straining to get the words out through the pain. ‘Where were you when we had to hide in a midden heap? The dragon promised me power, life everlasting. What have you ever given me?’
“I was a good soldier, though. I was always a good soldier. I had no time to waste on a traitor. My king had dispatched his opponents, but he was sorely wounded, and left with no defenders. We were also still trapped in the middle of a pitched battle.
“I fought that day at the side of my king. The battle raged for what seemed like days. Loyal troops joined us and split off several times throughout the day, but
King refused to quit the field of battle. Then, as the sun was sinking, the sound of trumpets reached us. Over the hill charged the high lord with his reserves, and more, he had gathered in the stragglers and broken regiments and even the walking wounded to swell his ranks to bursting. Their numbers turned the tide of the battle. Within an hour, the Dragon’s forces were in full rout, pushed back into the corridor of troops we’d prepared for them. We expected them to turn and fight again, but their retreat continued on over the border as we harried them. Within a week, the war was over. We had won.” He sighed again, brushing the wetness from his cheeks. “I had lost, but we had won. For my part in fighting alongside my king, I was offered a command in the capital. I couldn’t bear it. I declined, and returned to my home. But it wasn’t my home any longer.” Edward
Gideon. I didn’t know. I knew they were dead, but not that way.” He shook his head. “Not… like that.”
“Lad, there’s not a thing for you to be sorry about. It’s good to remember them, warts and all, and my dear Alanna too. My family was everything to me, and the pain of their loss is still bitter, but I’d not lose the pain if it meant losing my memories of them.”
Gideon put his hand on Wes’ shoulder and squeezed. “In truth, you remind me somewhat of my son, Conner.”
Wes, it’s there to see. You’re polite, thoughtful, studious, brave… all the best qualities a young man should have.”
“Is that what this is? You’re here because you think I’m like your son?”
Wes turned to face Gideon, his ire building. “You don’t know me, Gideon. You know me here, but not back home, not the real me. Things are a mess back there! I’ve screwed things up so bad that I thought about not going back! I’ve messed up my Dad’s life, destroyed my future, and made it impossible for anyone to like me!” He turned away quickly, swinging the side of his fist against the bark of the tree. “If anything,” he said in disgust, “I’m more like Randall than Conner.”
Gideon quietly, “don’t ever say that again. Randall was my son, and I loved him dearly, but he betrayed his king and his entire race. He betrayed everything I ever believed in. Nothing you could have done on your world could be as bad as that.”
“Shows what you know,” said
“Indeed it does, lad,” said
Gideon. “Indeed it does.”
Gideon,” he said tentatively, “I’m sorry.”
Wes, I know.”
“I’ll set wards tonight so you don’t have to keep watch.” He tried to make his tone friendly, to recapture the feeling they’d had before his outburst.
“You do that, lad,” said
Gideon in a neutral voice.