Welcome to the Monday Morsel feature, where I share short extracts from the first draft of my adult epic fantasy/fantasy romance, In the Company of the Dead. By special request of Chris Mentzer, we have a longer excerpt today. I’ll also be featuring some free fiction in April as part of the A – Z Blogging Challenge.
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Out of the blinding brilliance, something struck him hard, and a great weight knocked him to the ground, forcing the breath from his body. What? Who? He blinked tears from his eyes, and scrabbled for his sword hilt while struggling for breath. Whatever had hit him still pinned him to the ground. Squinting at the shape resolved it into the outline of a man in time to see a fist aimed at his head.
Lyram tried to throw himself backwards, but the man’s weight held him down. The fist missed, and he struck his head on the cobbles. His right hand was trapped under him, pins and needles prickling his flesh. He curled his left arm around awkwardly, reaching for his knife.
The assailant aimed another blow at his head, and Lyram bucked his hips, throwing the man off balance. The shift in the man’s weight allowed him grab his dagger, and he fumbled the weapon from its sheath. It slipped free of his two-fingered grip. The clatter of the blade on the cobbles sounded as mournful as the cry of a wild goose.
Eye to eye with his attacker, he fumbled instead for the man’s belt, feeling along its length for his dagger. A guard; not one of his. A castle guard. A curious blankness suffused the man’s features, and almost belatedly he swung another fist at Lyram. Their proximity made the blow awkward, and Lyram jerked his ahead aside. The man’s breath stank. Lyram found the hilt of the man’s knife.
Yanking it free, he thrust upwards. The man spasmed, and then his hands closed on Lyram’s throat. With his air choked off, Lyram stabbed again, and again, trying to find some vital organ. The choking grip tightened. He fought for air. Dizziness washed over him as his straining lungs burned to breathe. Black spots danced in his vision. He stabbed again, but the blow lacked strength. The next time, the blade tumbled from his fingers.
A glittering blade sliced through his shrinking vision. Blood gushed across his face, almost scalding in the cool spring morning. The blow hurled the assailant from him, and Lyram sucked in a huge breath of air.
Ellaeva appeared, blood dripping from the silver length of her blade. She extended one pale hand. Her left-hand. He fought the urge to laugh hysterically, recognising the effects of not enough air. Ciotach an Bhais. The left hand of death indeed.
She hauled him to his feet with more strength than her frame should hold, and he stood swaying on his feet. The attacker lay in a pool of his own blood, his eyes open and staring in death. The fresh reek said the corpse had opened its bowels. The man possessed unfamiliar features, and Lyram thought he was acquainted with every guard by now, up to and including their first names.
The castellan raced across the courtyard, and everyone within eyeshot had stopped to stare.
‘Ahura take me, ‘tis Adlin.’ Sir Janun made the sign of the goddess, brow, lips and breast, for the mind, the breath, and the heart, which all ceased in death. ‘But why?’
Releasing Ellaeva’s hand, Lyram crouched to examine the corpse. The stink he had taken for bad breath lingered. It was sweet, like rotting flesh. In addition, the man was unshaven. Even the most slovenly sergeant would take a soldier to task for looking like this. Unless… He opened the man’s shirt – no mail, another telltale – and found bandages wound around his midsection, stained with blood. The very edges of the stain had a sickly green tinge to them. Not only blood, then. This man had been bound for Ahura’s arms even before Ellaeva cut him down. Had the castellan said Adlin? Lyram had met the man a handful of times, he was sure, but no matter how he peered at the dead man’s features, he couldn’t catch but a glimpse of a resemblance. He’d been the man badly wounded by flying fragments of stone from the catapult bombardment, hadn’t he?
Ellaeva squatted comfortably beside him, her gaze flickering across the corpse. He imagined she saw every detail there was to see in that glance. She stretched one hand out to touch the man’s flesh, and snatched it away as though burned, her breath hissing through her teeth.
‘Rahmyrrin,’ she said, too soft for the watching circle of onlookers to hear.
At that moment, a wet cloth dropped over Lyram’s shoulder, and he looked up into Everard’s wide eyes.
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Thanks for dropping by! Don't forget, this is a first draft, and as such won't be perfect. If you like what you read, and are so inclined, show your support by leaving a comment, and In the Company of the Dead will be available in the future. I aim to have the first draft finished by the end of March. If you'd like to sample more of my writing, check out my novella Confronting the Demon.
If this is your first visit to Monday Morsels, find others in the series by clicking on the ‘Monday morsel’ tag, or go to the first installment.
More about In the Company of the Dead:
Lyram already crossed a prince, and now he finds himself on the brink of crossing a god.
Son of a duke and second in line for the throne, Lyram is exiled to a lonely castle after assaulting the crown prince. When a hostile army arrives to besiege the castle, he believes the prince wants him removed – permanently.
As though answering their prayers, Ellaeva, the Battle Priestess of the death goddess, arrives unexpectedly. But she has not come to break the siege. Instead, she is in pursuit of a necromancer of the evil god of decay. When misfortune after misfortune befalls the beleaguered defenders, Lyram realises the necromancer is hidden within the walls, sabotaging the very defence.
Against the backdrop of clashing gods, Lyram must fight to save himself from the political machinations of his prince, and the dread plans of a necromancer. But as the siege lengthens, he realises the greatest threat may come from another quarter — a woman sworn body and soul to a god tempts him to pay a terrible price.
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