Less than two weeks until the release of Blood of the King (Khirro’s Journey Book 1), so here’s the first sneak peek — Chapter 1. Let me know what you think.
Blood of the King (Khirro’s Journey Book 1)
A kingdom torn by war. A curse whispered by dying lips. A hero born against his will.
Khirro never wanted to be anything more than the farmer he was born to be, but a Shaman’s curse binds him to the fallen king and his life changes forever.
Driven by the Shaman’s dying words, Khirro’s journey pits him against an army of the dead, sends him through haunted lands, and thrusts him into the jaws of beasts he wouldn’t have believed existed. In one hand he carries the Shaman’s enchanted sword, a weapon he can barely use; in the other he holds a vial of the king’s blood, the hope of the kingdom. His destination: the Necromancer’s keep in the cursed land of Lakesh. Only the mysterious outlaw magician can raise the king from the dead to save them all from the undead invasion, but can Khirro live long enough to deliver the vial?
Can a coward save a kingdom?
Excerpt: Blood of the King
Wispy smoke floated across an otherwise unspoiled sky, marring it, capturing his attention, bringing him to focus. He realized there was nothing but sky and the smudge of gray—no smells, no sounds, nothing.
Smells returned first, all of them familiar—dirt and stone and dust, the scents of his life that had always been there.
The farm, then. I’m on the farm.
That didn’t feel right, didn’t explain the streak of smoke. Memories were faint, distant, as though seen through the wrong end of an eyeglass. It couldn’t be the farm, he’d left home months before…but for where?
Sound crept back into Khirro’s world. A man’s voice floated to him on the summer air, then more voices—not shouts of reverie but cries of anger and pain. Like a dam bursting, the clash of metal on metal added to the din.
The sounds jarred Khirro and memories flooded back like the tide filling a hole in the sand. Consciousness slammed down on him, brutal and unflinching. On his left, a sheer stone wall rose thirty feet or more; his right arm dangled over untold nothing. He moved his head to see and pain flooded his body, filling every joint and crevice, leaving no portion free from its touch. Something wet on his forehead and face, the taste of blood on his swollen tongue. The feel of it all filled in the last holes in his recollection: the invasion, the fight on the wall, the king and his men coming to his rescue. He’d tried to fight alongside the elite knights, but he was only a farmer forced to dress up in armor and wear a sword.
There’d be no harvest this year, not for him.
He spat weakly to clear his mouth; bloody saliva ran down his cheek into his ear. Ragged breath caught in his throat as he remembered the warrior breaching the wall, a huge man dressed in closed helm and black chain mail splashed red—paint or blood, Khirro couldn’t tell. The man easily bested him, forced him back until he stumbled over a fallen knight. He recalled the fellow’s pained groan as his foot struck his ribs, then he was tumbling end over end down the stairs, desperate to keep from going over the edge to the courtyard seventy feet below.
So that’s where he was—lying on the first landing, precariously close to death, as King Braymon and his guard defended the fortress from a Kanosee army.
Everything hurt: back, arms and legs, hips. His head pounded. Warm blood oozed down his forehead from above his hairline. His throat worked futilely; it was a struggle to draw breath. Instead of his lungs expanding in his chest, panic grew in their place. He’d survived a bombardment of fireballs and the first Kanosee breach of the fortress wall; how ironic it would be to die falling down the stairs.
When he could breathe again, he gasped air past the bloody taste on his tongue like a man breaking the surface of a lake after a long dive. He took inventory of his body, wiggling his fingers and toes, flexing his muscles. They hurt, every one of them, but they all worked.
What do I do now?
The thought was fuzzy, as though spoken by someone with a mouthful of cotton. Another thought came fast on the heels of the first: The king needs me. Even warriors as fierce as King Braymon of Erechania and his guard couldn’t defeat so many. He wanted to get up and rush to his king’s side, to stand against the enemy, but more than the pains in his body kept him from it.
He thought of Emeline, and of his unborn child. His heart contracted.
Idiot! All you had to do was push over a couple of ladders. What kind of soldier are you?
He was no soldier, that was the answer. Spade and hoe were his tools, horse and plow, not sword and dirk and catapult. But he had a duty, and he’d made a promise to Jowyn before the hellfire claimed his life. Khirro scrambled away from the edge; his head smacked the stone landing sending a fresh jolt of pain through his temples.
I don’t want to end up like Jowyn.
Fighting sounds tumbled over the edge of the walk thirty feet above, carried to Khirro on a hot summer breeze that petered out long before it reached him. The thought of King Braymon and his guards fighting for their lives filled him with guilt. He heard the king’s voice call for aid. Someone answered, far away and small, and Khirro felt relief. The clangs and clatters intensified and the king called out again, but this time his cry cut short. Khirro gasped and held his breath, waiting for a sign of what had happened.
He should be at the king’s side, repelling invaders. He was no one’s equal with a weapon, but another sword was a sword nonetheless. Pain flared as he tensed his muscles and his body tilted dangerously in the direction of the painful death awaiting at the bottom of the wall. He scrambled a few inches away from the edge, sweat beading on his brow, leather breast piece scraping on stone stair. A couple of deep breaths pained his ribs but slowed his racing heart. Part of him wondered if he could just stay there, wait for the battle to end. His sword arm would be of such little use to the king, anyway, perhaps more of a hindrance. Live to fight another day, as the saying went. His father, a lifetime farmer who never hefted a sword, would said that was a coward’s saying. His father still considered himself the best judge of such things, but ever since the accident that cost him his arm, everything Khirro did made him a coward, or useless, or no good.
He wouldn’t prove his father right.
Khirro stared up the wall at the sky, its promise of summer seeming so far away now. He gathered his strength, drew a few short, sharp breaths. The muscles in his shoulders and back bunched painfully. He stopped and released them, allowing his body to go limp again as a figure appeared at the edge of the wall above.
The angle and distance made it difficult to see the man until he leaned forward and peered directly down at Khirro. The black breastplate splashed with red made him unmistakably the same man who nearly killed him. Khirro stared up, mimicking a corpse, as anger filled his chest, partially directed at the invader for his actions, partly at himself for playing the coward his father accused him of being.
The man disappeared from sight, but only long enough for Khirro to release his held breath and half-draw another. When he returned, the Kanosee warrior held a limp form in his arms. Sunlight glinted on steel plate as, impossibly, he hefted the armored body above his head, presenting it to the heavens as if an offering to the Gods.
Something caught the man’s attention and he looked away for a second then hurriedly, ungracefully, heaved the body over the edge.
Time slowed as the limp body twisted through the air toward Khirro. He saw the blood caked on lobstered gauntlets, dents and scuffs on silver plate.,an enameled pattern scrolling across the top of the breastplate. The armor seemed familiar but his pounding head gave no help in recognizing it as the limp form tumbled toward him.
At the last moment, instinct overpowered shock, fear and pain, and Khirro rolled to the right, teetering dangerously on the landing’s edge. The body hit the stone floor beside him.
The slam of armor against stone was nearly deafening, but not loud enough to mask the sickening pop of bones snapping within. The body bounced once and came to rest, some part of it pressed against Khirro’s back, threatening to push him over the precipice. He wriggled painfully away from the edge, pushing against the unmoving body behind him.
The sounds of fighting renewed. Soldiers must have pushed past the burning catapult that had barricaded them, rushing to engage the enemy and save their king.
Where were they five minutes ago?
Khirro put the thought from his mind. He lived, after all; it was more than he could say for the man lying beside him.
Khirro lay still for a minute, unsure what to do. If he stayed put, he’d forfeit his life to a Kanosee sword as surely as if he rejoined the fray. His eyes flickered from the wall walk above to the stairs. He saw no one. If there was a best time to move—to go somewhere, to do something—itwas likely now, while the enemy was freshly engaged. He turned his head, looked at the man lying dead beside him.
The man’s cheek pressed against the stone landing was curiously flat, crushed by the fall. His eyes were closed; blood ran across his closed eyelids from a gash on his clean-shaven scalp. A scrollwork of enameled ivy crawled out from the corner of his silver breastplate and across his epaulet. Khirro stopped breathing.
It was the king dead beside him, the man who had rescued him from the red-splashed Kanosee soldier, leaping into the fight to save a lowly farmer-turned-soldier without regard for his own safety.
The king. The man who ruled the kingdom.
While Khirro had chosen to cower on the landing, struggling to find his courage as others fought for the kingdom, Braymon hadn’t hesitated a second.
And now the king was dead, and there was no one to blame but Khirro.
Guilt stirred his gut. What would this mean to the kingdom? To the war? His head swam. Did this mean he could return home, or would it mean more fighting? He thought of Emeline. It was easy to remember why he hadn’t risen after his fall down the stairs when he thought of her and of the child she carried. He only wanted to return to her, to go back to the farm and live out his life in peace and quiet. If Emeline would have him back.
The clang of steel and the shouts and screams of men fell on him like violent rain. He didn’t know how long he lay there listening and thinking, mourning and celebrating, awash in guilt and remorse and relief when another sound caught his attention. He held his breath.
A footstep on the stair?
His eyes darted toward the stone steps, but he couldn’t see beyond the king’s leg twisted at an unbelievable angle. He dared not turn his head for fear a man clad in a red-splattered breast plate may be leering at him from the stair, waiting for an excuse to fall upon him and finish the job. Thirty seconds crawled by, a minute. Khirro began to think he’d heard his own breath. For a while there was only the sound of fighting, then it came again. Not a footstep, but a groan, small and weak, but close. Khirro waited, listening, hoping. Dreading. Then another sound, a whisper.
Haltingly, Khirro moved his gaze back to the face of his king, the man who saved him, the man who so many years ago, saved the entire kingdom.
He looked into the open eyes of King Braymon.
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.
Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” then he does shovelling. The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of burlesque diva Miss Rosie Bitts.
Bruce has been writing since grade school but it wasn’t until five years ago he set his sights on becoming a full-time writer. Since then, his first short story, “Another Man’s Shoes” was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Cemetery Moon, another short, “Yardwork”, was made into a podcast in Oct., 2011 by Pseudopod and his first Icarus Fell novel, “On Unfaithful Wings”, was published to Kindle in Dec., 2011. The second Icarus Fell novel, “All Who Wander Are Lost”, was released in July, 2012, and “Blood of the King”, the first book in the two-part “Khirro’s Journey” epic fantasy, will be released on Sept. 30. He has plans for at least three more Icarus novels, several stand alones, and a possible YA fantasy co-written with his eleven-year-old daughter.