Here’s the first snippet from Wrath of the Usurper, coming on 30 May!
Seige of Boirton
15th of Pargan, Cycle 1000 Post Sundering
Tarjak pushed the slave girl to the side and snarled, “Food, drink, now!”
As the young woman crawled away, Tarjak smiled. She was a soft, southern thing, one of their nobles that his men had captured or so she had claimed. He, of course, had claimed her and it had not taken long to break her to his will. It had given him a unique feeling of power to take a proud and arrogant woman and make her into an abject slave. It was something he rather enjoyed.
“Tarjak,” a soft voice spoke nearby, “Hard at work, I see.”
Tarjak whipped to his feet with the speed and grace which had made him his clan’s chieftain. His sword in hand, he confronted the shadowy figure who stood at the end of his fur bedrolls. His blade lowered, though, as he recognized the hooded figure who clutched at a staff. “Oh,” Tarjak grunted, “It’s you… my Lord.” It grated on him to say the last, but he knew better than to deny the wizard his due. Tarjak knew well that he owed much of his own position and power to the other man.
Xavien gave Tarjak a smile, “If you are busy, I could always come back.” The softness of his voice didn’t fool Tarjak. It was as much a rebuke as if he had slapped Tarjak in the face.
Tarjak knelt, “My apologies, I am fully at your command, my Lord.” He felt sweat break out on his forehead and his back tingled in anticipation of pain. Xavien’s favorite tools were fear and pain, Tarjak knew. It was part of why he was so effective at gaining the loyalty of his fellow Semat Armen… those were some of the only techniques they respected.
“Good,” Xavien’s dark eyes went to the slave girl, “I don’t mind that you find ways to pass the time here in the south… but the time has come to end this siege, before it costs you too much.”
“What?” Tarjak asked. “But, we’ve taken so much loot, so many slaves, and many stockpiles of food. Why withdraw now?” Even as he said it, he realized his mistake.
Green energy lanced out and Tarjak dropped to the ground, his teeth clenched on a scream. As an Armen warrior, he knew pain, both how to give it and how to take it. As the chieftain of his clan, he knew that his survival required he not show any sign of weakness… and shrieking like a girl as the green energy seared his flesh was not something that would make him appear strong.
“Tarjak…” Xavien shook his head and ceased his torment. “My main complaint about your people is how you don’t have any tact… I fear I will have to break you to get you to show courtesy… and then you would be of no more use than the girl there.” Xavien chuckled a bit, “Though I’ll admit, I’d find you more attractive than her. At least you’ve some muscle on you.”
Tarjak tasted blood from where his teeth had torn the inside of his lips. He also smelled scorched hair and had little doubt that his skin would show the effects of Xavien’s attack in broad scorches and pain that would last for weeks. He rose to his knees again, though, and waited silently, either for more punishment or for his master to speak. To do otherwise would just bring worse.
“However, since you clearly didn’t understand me and no doubt you’ll have to argue down your tribesmen, I’ll tell you why.” Xavien leaned on his staff and Tarken could see that the wizard actually looked tired. Which means something wore him down, Tarjak realized with shock. Over the years that he had known Xavien, Tarjak had seen at least a dozen shamans challenge the wizard only to die, often in painful or embarrassing fashions. None of them, to include the most powerful shamans of the Semat, had been able to give him pause. If something had worn him, tired him… it must be a terrible foe indeed. Tarjak wasn’t quite certain whether to hope the foe had defeated his master or been defeated. While my fate is tied to his… I hate him enough to hope for his death, he thought, and I would go to the spirits a happy man to know he had been brought low.
“The Duchy of Boir has begun to re-consolidate,” Xavien said. “Though no one force is strong enough to face your entire army, as yet, it is only a matter of time. Also, your blow here has embarrassed them and shamed their military. Better for you to withdraw before they have some opportunity to gain even a minor victory against your men to give them hope.” Xavien paused and Tarjak nodded slightly to show that he understood. “Then, too, I’ve another task for my Noric allies and a very important task for some of your warriors when you reach the Lonely Isle… that is Nasar Ind as your people call it.”
“War with Hall Prakka?” Tarjak asked eagerly. While fighting the soldiers of Boir was enjoyable enough, the mercenaries and soldiers of Hall Prakka were more likely to fight in close combat and less reliant upon magic and deception. It felt more pure, somehow, to engage in that manner of war. Plus, he liked the mixed blooded women of Nasar Ind. They had spine and stubbornness. He had once captured a powerful priestess there… and he still remembered with pleasure how long it had taken his shamans to break her… and how he had used her body in that time.
“That is coming, yes. For now, I just want some of your more eager and disposable warriors,” Xavien said. “Men who will throw themselves at the enemy because they think themselves invincible,
Tarjak smiled, “You want fodder.” He thought of the young, eager warriors who always caused him problems and were most likely to challenge his authority. “I can give you those, my Lord.”
“Good,” Xavien said. “They will act as your rear guard… and I suspect they’ll take the highest of your casualties. I want you to take your finest warriors with you in the first movements. Leave the Norics to me… and make certain that your most reckless and bloodthirsty warriors are at the back.”
Tarjak nodded, even as he thought of how that would affect his people. They had always sent the most reckless warriors into combat first, to thin their numbers and to give the survivors combat experience. It also let more experienced warriors survive to face the enemy feeling well-rested and ready. This would be no different, save that his best and most loyal tribes would be the first to leave. They would be able to take most of the supplies from the raid camps at Nasar Ind. The other tribes, when they reached there, would have to forage or raid for supplies to make the final voyage to their homeland in the north. Also, as summer departed, the northern seas would grow more and more dangerous. Whatever forces trailed the furthest back would not only lose more warriors to the enemy… they’d lose many men to the seas.
Probably lose the iron ships, too, he thought darkly. He had been forced to leave those ships in the hands of the tribes who had seized them… for now. He had one as well, but the southerners had recaptured it. It embarrassed him that his sloop, once the largest among the Semat Armen was now tiny in comparison to the three iron ships that some of the other chieftains held. Still, they had taken terrible casualties in capturing those ships. Still, if those tribes lost the iron ships on the rough seas, at least the southerners wouldn’t have them. “I’ll see to it all, my Lord.”
Xavien gave him a final nod, “Good.” The wizard turned away, headed for the tent door. Over his shoulder, he spoke, his voice soft, “Soon the time will come when your people will claim these lands.”
Tarjak nodded, though in reality he didn’t want his tribe to live in these soft lands. The had already become sluggish and soft in the siege. He looked over as the slave girl brought him a tray with a glass of southern wine and slices of meat. Tarjak gave her a friendly smile as he took the tray. He reached out a hand and brought her to her feet.
Tarjak could feel the rapid, nervous beats of her heart, as fear worked through her veins. Tarjak’s smile turned ugly as he brought his sword up, under her ribs. The woman let out a gurgling shriek and Tarjak felt hot blood gush over his arms. He smiled as she sagged, a look of shock and terror on her face. “Why…” she gasped.
“You were a good slave,” Tarjak said. “But you saw too much. Besides, you are to soft to bear my seed… and I know you are pregnant and I’ll not see my blood diluted with the weaklings of the south.” He wiped his blade on part of her ruined silks and let her fall to the floor. He watched as she crawled away, leaving a vast trail of blood across the furs and carpets of his tent. Tarjak might enjoy the softness of the south, but he did not need it. Harshness and hardness had shaped him and his people… at the command of Hall Armath, the Dark Warrior.
Whatever the wizard thought, they would follow the Dark Warrior’s commands. They would be his people: savage, vicious, and harder than the stone of the mountains.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!