From the in-progress sequel to The Hordes of Chanakra.
How strange, Keven thought, to treat his own father, the King of Aerioch, as a servant.
The seeming Shillond had given Keven was that of a moderately well-to-do merchant. Marek’s, of a simple workingman, shorter and broader than Marek’s natural giant size. Mute, of course, given his inability to speak Chanakran.
Keven wondered for a moment where Kaila had gotten the coin to fund their ruse then decided he did not want to know.
The cafe sat across the square from the North Gate. The gate proper stood open but twin portcullises blocked the passage through the wall. The setting sun cast long shadows across the square, a square filled with people seeking exit from the city.
Keven took a sip of his ale and let his gaze drift over the square. Large crowd, clamoring at the gate seeking egress.
Keven nudged Marek and nodded in the direction of the gate. Spear armed soldiers barred the way as the inner portcullis rose. Keven watched as the soldiers ushered two carts, a wagon, and a half-dozen people on foot through the now open gateway. One person tried to dash through only to face a leveled spear. The man backed away.
The portcullis dropped, leaving the little party isolated within the gateway. Keven could not see, but he could imagine the arrow slots to either side and the murder holes in the roof ready at any instant to rain death on those within.
A green glow descended from the ceiling of the gateway and washed over the people within. It held for several heartbeats then faded. Keven fancied he could hear a shout within the gateway. No. He must have imagined it. How could he hear even spoken word over the clamor of the crowd?
The outer portcullis rose and the party within the gatehouse departed. Another party, from outside, entered. As Keven watched, the outer portcullis closed and the inner opened.
So, Keven thought, they were only interested in those leaving the city, not those entering. No doubt they sought him and his companions.
Motion to his left caught Keven’s attention. He turned his head. Marek seemed different. Was he taller than a moment before? Yes. Yes he was.
“Come,” he said, still playing his role. “We have business to be about.”
Marek cocked his head to one side, staring at Keven then his eyes grew wide. He nodded and rose.
Keven dropped some coins on the table as he stood. Marek was definitely taller, his body shaped shifted from the stocky shape of a serving man to the more defined musculature of a seasoned warrior.
The spell, Keven thought. Whatever spell had caused that green light had, weakened by distance perhaps, had started to dissolve their seemings, their magic disguises.
Ahead, Marek pushed through the crowd, forcing a passage between the people and the buildings. Keven followed in his wake. Despite their faltering seemings, changing their appearance and their voices, Marek retained his true size and strength.
Marek now stood a full head taller than the tallest other person visible, his true size. Instead of the clothes of a man serving a moderately successful merchant, he wore a simple tunic and breeches. His hair had extended to below his shoulders, the length it had grown to during his captivity.
Keven looked down. His own seeming was likewise gone.
“There!” The shout came from the soldiers at the gate. “Stop that man!”
In the confusion, Marek snatched a pole from an awning that shaded a shop’s entrance. He swept the tip of the pole at knee height. Keven heard the thumps as the pole struck several men who did not move back fast enough. Marek reversed the poll, bringing the opposite end back around at head height. The crowd retreated further.
For a moment Keven hesitated. Marek’s great size marked him but Keven’s appearance did not stand out. No one had yet noted him. If he slipped away he could come back with the others and, what? Rescue his father? And if they decided not to capture but simply to kill?
He regretted that he did not have a sword as he drew the dagger from his belt.
Marek had turned, seeking to drive his way farther from the gate. Despite no longer needing to maintain their subterfuge he still had not spoken.
A stocky tough moved into the gap between Keven and Marek’s turned back, a club upraised in his hand.
Keven struck. His dagger bit deep between the ribs of the tough. The tough stiffened and dropped the club. With a practiced twist Keven drew the dagger free and pushed the falling body of the tough aside. The body fell to the ground, twitching. Keven leapt lightly over it and shouted, “Run, father!”
Marek thrust three times with the staff. Three men fell gasping to the ground, curled around their own bruised guts. Marek darted forward. Following, Keven scooped up another of the awning poles and slid his dagger back into its sheath. A staff would be a better weapon in this crowd than his dagger.
Keven kept close behind Marek, striking judiciously with the staff to keep the disorganized crowd from closing too near behind them. He spared a glance in the distance behind and saw the detail of soldiers from the gate forcing its way through the crowd.
Unshy about using their spears to speed the crowd’s separation the soldiers were gaining.
They were not going to escape.
Keven struck twice, knocking two more of the surging crowd back. It was not enough. Whether the soldiers reached them first or the crowd pulled them down by sheer numbers, they could not keep fighting long.
Ahead of him, Marek ducked behind a vendor’s cart, squeezing between the cart and one of the many mud-brick buildings. Keven followed, pivoting and backing into the tight space. Now with the cart to one side, the building to the other, and his father behind him he only needed to worry about the few who could reach him from the front. The cart began to rock as the crowd surged against it. Keven stepped back then stopped. A gap appeared in the wall of the building, one of the many constricted alleys.
“Father!” he called. “This way!”
“Go,” Marek said.
Keven unleashed a flurry of strikes, taking down three of the pressing crowd so that their falling bodies momentarily blocked the opening between the cart and the wall. He turned and dashed into the alley. Behind him he heard a loud groan.
Keven turned back toward the opening of the alley. Marek stood, back to him, in the entrance to the alley. His hands stretched in front of him, pulling at something. Marek groaned again and fell backward accompanied by the sound of a loud crash.
As Marek rose to his feet, Keven saw beyond him the overturned cart plugging, for now at least, the entrance to the alley.
“Run, Keven, run.”
Keven nodded, turned and ran.
There. The ruddy light ahead marked the end of the alley. A form stepped into light just beyond the end of the alley and turned, a man–no armor that Keven could see, but armed with a long poignard. Keven scrambled at his belt. He had lost the staff on entering the alley. His dagger would have to serve.
Keven’s hand closed on the hilt. A hiss went past his left ear. A dagger hilt sprouted from the chest of the man blocking the exit to the alley. Keven leaned back, stamping to a stop as the man dropped his poignard, clutched at the dagger hilt, and sank to the ground. Keven looked back to see his father grinning.
“You forget, I wasn’t raised to royalty, boy,” Marek said. “Now move.”
Keven lightly hopped over the body at the exit from the alley and looked around. Not a street, but a small courtyard. More of the tiny alleys broke from it. He looked left, then right, then chose the alley to the left. Behind him, he heard the soft sounds of his father following.
He paused before the exit from the next alley to catch his breath.
As he was about to continue Marek said, “Hold, Keven.”
“We cannot remain, father,” Keven said. “They will search and….”
“Nor can we run,” Marek said. “Let anyone see us and word will spread.”
Marek grinned, a bright spot in the fading light. “Perhaps we may hide in a place they will not think to look.” He looked up then gestured down at where a rude ladder, consisting of a single pole with pegs hammered alternately up two sides, lay along the foot of a wall.
Keven followed Marek’s gaze and nodded.
Together, they wrestled the ladder upright and leaned it against the wall. It reached to just shy of the roof, but close enough that Keven thought he could reach it. Marek certainly could.
“You first, father,” Marek said.
“No, Keven, you….”
“Father, I may not be able to reach. In that case…”
“Well thought, my son. Very well.”
Marek swiftly ascended the ladder, with a grace that belied his size. Keven followed near as swift. At the top, precariously balanced on the top rung, his fingers just overtopped the lip of the roof. He stretched, seeking a more secure grip. The ladder shifted under him, falling with a clatter to the dirt below. Keven hung by one hand, swinging the other up in an effort to grasp the rooftop.
Strong hands grasped Keven by the arm. Above him Marek heaved. Keven felt himself lifted until he rolled onto the roof.
Marek gathered Keven in a rough embrace. “I will never let you fall, son. Never. Remember that.”
Keven returned the embrace. “Nor I you, father. I swear it.”
If you liked the snippet you might like the first book in the series.
When even the gods are at a loss, all they can offer is a spark of hope.
Kreg lived an ordinary life as a computer consultant–safe, secure…dull. He was content, with his hobbies and a passion for history.
Thrice weekly judo classes and weekends at the archery range imagining he was at Agincourt or Crecy let him at least pretend to excitement in his life.
When Kreg saw a rape in progress he tried to be the hero and was struck from behind. He woke in a world he had never imagined, a world of blood and pain, a world that seemed mired in the Middle Ages. Trapped and despairing he met and befriended the rough swordsmistress Kaila and her wizardly father. With new friends came new foes, a horde that poured from the small nation next door in seemingly endless numbers that threatened everything his new friends cared about.
Now, Kreg was in a race against time to find the source of this horde, and to stop it before everything he had come to care about ended in fire and death.