For those very few not already in the know, my first ever book is now out there in the world (links below) and I thought I’d share a bit on here for those who’ve not yet gone out and bought it. A while back I put up a draft of the book’s prologue on the website and now that it’s all edited and the book is out and ready, I’ve decided to put up an updated teaser for all you people who want a sneaky look at how Rhia’s adventure begins – enjoy!
Rhia screamed the War God’s name with a joyful rage as hot blood spattered on her face. Rhia was small and the Gorvic was big, but he was already on his knees thanks to the axe she’d left lodged in his stomach. At first his hands had clutched at the haft, trying to drag the weapon from her grip or else pull it from his wound, and for a moment Rhia had lost her balance. But then she’d simply abandoned her axe and grabbed a fistful of blonde hair, yanking his head back hard before her knife opened up his throat. Bright red now sprayed both on Rhia and on the grass below, and the young woman felt the thrill of battle rise up in her like a flood, erupting from her mouth in another bellowed warcry;
The Gorvic’s body jerked and twisted in her grip and she let go the hank of hair, leaving the dying man to collapse on 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. Belenos had been shining overhead when the two warbands first faced each other across the little ford, 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 or dying all around. 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 far away from the tranquil valley it had been this morning. Though the change in its image was as nothing to the change in the sounds of this once-quiet place.
This morning Broken Stream had known little noise but the trickling of the waters and the singing of the birds. 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. Then the two sides had charged, and the insults and challenges had changed to warcries and screams, and the sound of iron meeting iron and of iron meeting flesh had combined to fill the valley with the dreadful song of battle. And Rhianwyn, daughter of Carradan, revelled in it.
She cast her eyes around to find another Gorvic to fight, her eyes wide and almost feverish, her hands shaking in anticipation. This was her first true battle, the first time she had taken the field to defend 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 long knife and narrow axe. Remembering that the latter weapon was still embedded in a Gorvic’s guts, she crouched down and began 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. She held the weapon high above her head as she looked around the bloody field. Nearly all the Gorvicae 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 their warrior elite. These were 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. Twin snakes writhed up her arms from wrist to shoulder, one of them continuing up her neck and around the ear to cover her cheek. She was liberally sprinkled with blood and grime by now, and sweat and struggle had caused much of the warpaint to smudge or fade, risking the chance of the gods losing sight of her in all the chaos. The men of the Gadarim had no such concern.
Though they had painted over them before the battle to make them brighter, the spirals and whorls on their bodies had been tattooed there to shine forever, ensuring that Taran and Mabonac would never lose sight of their most favoured warriors. For the most part only their faces had mere woad to decorate them today, the honour of permanency there being reserved for the greatest of fighters. Rhia wondered for a wistful moment if she might know that honour someday, but she shook her head at such a foolish notion. Female Gadarim were a rare thing. Instead she settled for looking 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.
Rhia screamed as she raised the axe and sprinted towards the Gorvic, whose eyes widened as she charged him. The thrill of battle was pulsing through her like blazing fire in her veins, 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 for 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 regained her balance and swung back at the sheepish man, who raised his sword in a clumsy block which barely kept the axe-blade from his neck. Rhia thrust her long knife at his stomach. It was shorter than the Gorvic’s sword, but that was still holding off her axe, and she came within a hairsbreadth of gutting him before he twisted away.
The two broke apart and Rhia watched the man eagerly, her eyes as wide with excitement as his were wide with fear. He was licking his lips nervously, his grip on the sword clearly tenuous, and the daughter of Carradan smiled, licking her own lips with glee as she sprang forwards at her enemy. She swung the axe in three quick blows at 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 came a fraction closer to splitting his skull.
Finally the hammering strikes became too much for the feeble man, and the sword fell from his nerveless fingers. Rhia bared her teeth and put all her weight into a swing that would cave in his head, but the Gorvic ducked and rolled before the blow could land. Once again Rhia stumbled off-balance, dropping to one knee this time. The man took a coward’s advantage of the pause and was soon sprinting towards the stream for all he was worth. Rhia made to follow but after only a few paces she knew it would be no good. The man was already in the water and he would cross it and be among his own people before she could catch him up. She screamed after him;
‘You bollockless piss-drinker!’
A few chuckles from nearby told her that her fellow Caderyn were appreciating her wit. She turned to see Barden and his wife Peira laughing with the others as they watched the Gorvic run. Peira was beautiful, she thought without envy, and the blue and red that covered her only accentuated her looks. 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 had crossed the ford and, after sweeping up her former opponent’s sword, Rhia joined her comrades as they gathered in a half-circle to watch the last fights, leaving space beside the stream so that the fled Gorvicae could watch too. Her belted tunic was splattered with mud and blood and she paused to wipe the gore from her axe and knife. She was disgusted to find that her newly-won sword was completely clean, but she supposed that at least it meant that no Caderyn had been struck by such a coward. I should probably give this a name now that it’s mine, she thought. Doubtless it’ll see better service with me than it did with that craven bastard!
There were only four foes left who’d neither fallen nor run, all of them with the limewashed hair of the Gorvicae Gadarim. One man had already been dealt a wound that left his right leg a red mess, and he now sat on the edge of the circle, 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 forth to meet his counterpart.
Like the Gorvicae’s elite, the Caderyn Gadarim tattooed their battlemarks onto their bodies and painted over them for war but, unlike the Gorvic warriors, the Caderyn men left their long hair dark and bleached 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 casually 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 knew his reputation. The white-haired warrior showed no fear however and bellowed his name as he stepped up to face him.
‘Face me and tremble; I am the Leaping Wolf!’
He pounded his chest with one fist and Rhia saw thick 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!’
His lip curled upwards and he moved towards the other man, his long sword held at the ready. The Gorvic called Leaping Wolf didn’t wait for him and lived up to his name by springing at his adversary, his iron blade pointed forwards in a lunge towards his chest. Madoc swayed to his right and parried the sword down, leaving his left hand outstretched to slam the forearm into 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. 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 his palm into Madoc’s chest, forcing him back. The two Gadarim paused for breath, their eyes locked.
Rhia was cheering herself hoarse for her champion, the nervous energy of the fighting still pulsing through her body. She screamed for the Smiling Fox to batter down the Leaping Wolf, to win the day for the Caderyn in a welter of bloody gore. She watched the finest warrior of her people and almost forgot that he’d seen forty winters of this world, more than twice how many she had seen. Right then she felt a stirring for him, as no doubt did every other woman there, as he moved forward and started hammering hard at his enemy once again.
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 with immense skill and dexterity. But Madoc was the greatest swordsman that anyone could remember and it wasn’t long before the Gorvic was forced onto the defensive. Rhia cheered and cheered again as Madoc swiped his attacks aside and swung blow after fearful blow at his fellow Gadarim, until something happened that was so fast that even Rhia’s young eyes missed it. Later, she was told that Madoc had feinted a thrust and then twisted away, slicing 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 on his painted 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 up. The Gorvic took it with a nod and heaved himself to his feet as Madoc spoke, loud enough for everyone 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 of them. She wanted Madoc to take the bastard’s head, not take his bloody 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 Caderyn who’d bested 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 as four hundred men and women stared at them, waiting for the next words to come 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 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 sullenly away, their heads bowed, while Gawan son of Dearg and Madoc son of Derfel embraced each other like brothers, the other warriors cheering all 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 to steal 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 after his daughter’s first taste of battle.