Well we all have to start somewhere so here we go; I won’t be posting many of these but below is a sample chapter from Wildcat, one of the two book series I’m working on at the moment (taking a brief break from OLK which is as good as finished but I’ll be posting about that as well soon!).
This series is still in the early stages and I’ll be doing a hefty bit of editing but the main thing I want to know is – would reading this make you want to keep reading and if so, why so? If not, why not?
At Broken Stream
Rhia screamed out the name of the War God with a fiercely joyful rage as her enemy’s blood spurted from his throat. The Gorvicae warrior had dropped to his knees when her pick-like axe had thudded into his stomach and his hands had clutched at the haft with impressive strength, either to drag the weapon from her or to pull it from his wound. For a moment Rhia had lost her balance, but then she’d simply abandoned the weapon and grabbed a handful of the blonde man’s hair, yanking his head back violently before taking his throat with her blade. Bright red now sprayed liberally on the green of the grass and the young woman felt the thrill of battle rise up inside her like a flood, erupting from her mouth in another bellowed warcry;
The man’s body jerked and twisted in her grip and she let go the hank of hair and let the dying warrior collapse onto the muddy ground. When they’d arrived at Broken Stream the fields had been nothing but a vibrant green on both sides of the water. The sun had been shining overhead as the two warbands had faced each other over the little ford which gave this place its name, and the stream had been clear and bright and gurgling merrily along its way.
Now the sky was overcast and warriors from both sides lay dead and dying all around her. The ground had been churned up into a treacherous mire of mud and the stream was now tainted by the blood of wounded fighters. The scene might have been another world entirely, somewhere miles and miles away from the tranquil valley it had been this morning, though the change in image was as nothing to the change in sound that had happened here.
This morning Broken Stream had known little noise but the trickling of the waters and the singing of the birds. And then the Gorvicae had come and they and the Caderyn had traded insults and boasts, jeers and challenges and the air had been alive with the voices of warriors, all daring each other to attack first and die. And then the two sides had charged in, and the insults and challenges had changed to warcries and screams, and the ring of iron meeting iron or of iron meeting flesh had combined to fill the valley with the dreadful song of battle.
Rhia cast her eyes around to find another Gorvic warrior to fight, her eyes wide and almost feverish, her hands shaking in anticipation. This was her first true battle, the first time she had fought for her people, and the fear she’d felt before it had melted away into something like lust as she sought out another victim for her axe or for her blade. Remembering that the former weapon was still lodged in a Gorvic’s stomach, she crouched down and started working it free of its fleshy prison, all the while looking around her at the carnage.
Even with her limited experience, Rhia could tell the Caderyn had all but won and she screamed out in wordless triumph as her axe came free of her enemy, holding the weapon high above her head as she looked around the bloody field. Nearly all the Gorvicae warriors were fleeing back across the stream, only a few dozen still fighting of the two hundred who’d come here this morning. Rhia saw Caderyn fighters encircling the few who were still refusing to run away and her breath caught in her throat as she took in the long iron swords and rigid white hair of the warrior elite. The Gadarim: The Mighty.
The finest of the Gorvicae fought with their hair twisted into spikes and bleached blindingly white with lime and Rhia knew that, like the Gadarim of her own people, the patterns on their skin were made of more than simple woad. Rhia, like every warrior on that field, had painted her body with swirling shapes of bright blue to attract the favour of the gods and inspire terror in her enemies. Twisting snakes writhed up both of her arms from wrist to shoulder, the one on her right continuing up along her neck and then around to cover her cheek. She was liberally sprinkled with blood and grime by now and sweat and struggling had caused much of the beautiful warpaint to smudge or fade, risking the chance of the gods losing sight of her in all the chaos. The warriors of the Gadarim had no such concern.
Though they had painted over them before the battle to make them seem brighter, Rhia knew that the spirals and whorls on their bodies had been tattooed there to shine forever, ensuring that Taran and the others would never lose sight of their most favoured warriors. Only their faces had mere woad to decorate them today, the honour of permanency there being reserved for only the greatest of the warriors. Rhia wondered for a wistful moment if she might know that honour someday but she shook her head at the foolish notion and looked around for more Gorvicae to kill. She spotted one, a lad of about her own years, who seemed torn between running back across the stream and running forwards to where the Gadarim fought. She decided to make his mind up for him.
Rhianwyn, daughter of Carradan, screamed as she raised the axe above her head and sprinted at the Gorvic, whose young eyes widened as she charged. The thrill of battle was pulsing through her like fire and she grinned fiercely as she saw how that fire was absent in her enemy. The boy was pale beneath his woad and he shrank away as her axe swung at his head. The resulting miss caused Rhia to stumble and a bolder fighter might have taken advantage of it but the Gorvic simply backed away further, apparently forgetting the iron sword held in his hand. The Caderyn warrior regained her balance and swung back at the sheepish man, who raised his sword in a clumsy block which barely managed to keep the axe-blade from his neck. Rhia lunged her own blade at his stomach, it was shorter than the Gorvic’s sword but that was still holding off her axe from his face and she came within a hairsbreadth of gutting him before he twisted his body away.
The two broke apart and Rhia watched the man eagerly, her eyes as wide with excitement as his were with fear. He was licking his lips nervously, his grip on the sword clearly tenuous, and the daughter of Carradan did not hesitate to attack again. She swung the axe in three quick blows to his head, forcing him to cower behind his sword. Rhia kept on striking, screaming out in what was either rage or passion though she had no idea which one, and each time it seemed the axe got that little bit closer to his skull.
Finally the hammering strikes became too much for this weak man and the sword dropped from his nerveless fingers. Rhia bared her teeth with glee as she put all her weight into a swing that would cave in his head but the Gorvic ducked and rolled before the blow could land and once again Rhia stumbled off-balance, actually falling down onto a knee this time. The man took full advantage of the pause and was soon sprinting for all he was worth towards the stream. Rhia made to follow but after only a few paces she knew it would be no good. The man was already at the stream and he would cross it and be among his own people long before she could catch up. She screamed after him;
‘You bollockless piss-drinker!’
A few chuckles from nearby told her that the other Caderyn warriors were appreciating her wit. She turned to see Barden and his new wife, Peira, laughing with the others as they watched the Gorvicae run. Peira was beautiful, she thought, and the blue and red that covered her only accentuated that beauty. Not that she’ll be out here to wear those colours for long now, not once her belly starts to swell. War was no place for new mothers.
A quick glance around her showed that nearly all of their enemies had been slain or crossed the ford and, after sweeping up her former opponent’s dropped sword, Rhia joined her fellows as they gathered around in a half-circle to view the last fights taking place, leaving space beside the stream so that the fled Gorvicae could watch as well. Her belted tunic was spattered with mud and blood and she paused to wipe the gore from her axe and short blade. She was disgusted to find that her new-won sword was completely clean, but supposed that it at least meant that no Caderyn had been struck by such a coward.
There were only four men left who’d neither fallen nor run, all of them with the spiked white hair of the Gorvicae Gadarim. One man had already been dealt a wound that left his right leg a red mess and was now sitting on the edge of the circle with a Caderyn warrior putting pressure on the gash. Another of them now stood in front of his two remaining comrades and Rhia watched in awe as one of her own Gadarim stepped forward to meet his counterpart.
Like the Gorvicae elite, the Caderyn Gadarim tattooed their battle-marks onto their bodies and then painted over them for war but, unlike the Gorvic warriors, the Caderyn men left their long hair dark and bleached only their moustaches and beards to shining white. The man currently taking the challenge, Madoc, had pulled his long beard into a single sharp spike and was twirling his sword easily around his wrist as he moved forwards. Madoc was arguably the best swordsman of all the tribes and Rhia had no doubt that the Gorvic man knew his reputation. The white-haired warrior showed no fear however and stepped up to him and bellowed his name.
‘Face me and tremble; I am the Leaping Wolf!’
He pounded his chest with one fist and Rhia saw the muscle shake under the impact. Madoc made the same gesture and then spread his arms wide.
‘Face me and tremble; I am the Smiling Fox!’
He curled his lip upwards a fraction and moved towards the other man. The Gorvic called Leaping Wolf didn’t wait for him and lived up to his Warrior Name by springing at his adversary, iron blade pointed forwards in a lunge towards the chest. Madoc swayed to his right and parried the sword down, leaving his left arm outstretched to slam the bone of his forearm against Leaping Wolf’s face. The Gorvic saw it coming and pulled back just in time, swiping his blade low at Madoc’s legs as he did so. The Caderyn fighter hopped back out of range and then went forwards again, this time hacking down at the Gorvic’s right shoulder. The man blocked the cut and shoved an open palm into Madoc’s chest to force him away and the two Gadarim paused a moment for breath, eyes locked.
Rhia was cheering herself hoarse for her fighter, the nervous energy of the fighting still pulsing through her body. She screamed to see the Smiling Fox batter down Leaping Wolf and win the day for the Caderyn in a welter of his gore. She watched the finest warrior of her people and almost forgot that he’d seen forty summers of this world, more than twice how many she’d seen, and that he was so close to her own father that he was practically her uncle. Right then she felt a stirring for him, as no doubt did every other woman there, as he moved forward again and started hammering at his foe once more.
The Gorvic managed to block and counter several times and more than once it was only Madoc’s inhuman speed that saved his head from being struck from his shoulders. Leaping Wolf was a strong man and clearly an exceptional fighter, swaying and cutting at his enemy with skill and dexterity. But Madoc was the greatest swordsman that anyone anywhere could remember and it wasn’t long before the Gorvic warrior was forced to the defensive. Rhia cheered and cheered again as Madoc swiped aside attempted counters and swung blow after fearful blow at his fellow Gadarim until something happened that was so fast that even Rhia’s eyes missed it completely. Later, she was told that Madoc had feinted a thrust and then twisted away, slicing across the Gorvic’s forearm and then whipping the blade back across his torso. All Rhia saw was Leaping Wolf dropping his sword in surprise and then a thin line of red appearing across the muscle of his chest.
Madoc stepped back and his opponent dropped to one knee and the shouting from the Caderyn redoubled in volume, even as cries of dismay could be heard from the Gorvicae across the stream. Rhia looked forward keenly even as her own voice joined the others, eager to see if Leaping Wolf had been killed. The man kept his head down for a moment but then Rhia almost groaned in disappointment, for it seemed the cut was shallow and Madoc himself offered a hand to help him to his feet. The Gorvic took it with a nod and heaved himself up and Madoc spoke loud enough for all to hear.
Rhia wanted to scream out no, she wanted to call the Gorvicae back across that damnable stream and keep fighting until she’d killed her fill. She wanted Madoc to take the bastard’s head, not take his hand. All around her was silence as she was certain many others shared the same thoughts that she did. The air, which until moments ago had been full of the sounds of battle, was now eerily still and the tension was almost something physical that she could reach out and touch with her hands.
The man called Leaping Wolf bowed his head a little to the man who’d beaten him.
‘I am Gawan, son of Dearg.’
Madoc returned the bow solemnly.
‘I am Madoc, son of Derfel.’
There was another pause, another moment of terrible silence where four hundred men and women stared and waited for the next words from the Gorvic’s mouth. He cast his eyes about the field and when he spoke his voice was clear and strong, even in his defeat. He gave a single nod.
The field erupted in another round of cheers and even Rhia raised her voice as unexpected relief overrode her disappointment. Her eagerness to keep going and keep killing was dimmed to almost nothing as a wave of happiness and, more palpably, weariness washed over her. Her legs felt almost hollow and her shoulders ached horribly and she realised she didn’t really want to keep fighting after all. She wanted to sit, to drink, to sleep, to laugh with her friends and celebrate their victory.
Across the stream the Gorvicae marched away sullenly, heads bowed, while Gawan son of Dearg and Madoc son of Derfel embraced each other like brothers as the warriors cheered around them. Tonight, the Gadarim of both sides would drink together at one fire, and then the Caderyn could go back to their farms and villages, and the land the Gorvicae had tried stealing would be securely theirs once more. Rhia looked down at her clean new sword and smiled at what looked like good craftsmanship. Within a few days she would be home again. And her father would surely be proud of her first taste of battle.