Excerpt: Blood of the King
Hey, guys! Remember that killer cover I posted the other day? It was my friend’s fantasy novel, Blood of the King. I have an excerpt of the book here for you. Enjoy!
Blood of the King (Khirro’s Journey Book 1)
Some heroes are born; some are created in the most dire of circumstances, forged in fire or carved of stone. Some don’t want to be heroes.
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
The healer dabbed a poultice on the short gash above Khirro’s right eye. Whatever he applied to the wounds felt like nothing Khirro had experienced before—the cuts and bruises tingled with an unsettling but not unpleasant warmth; his flesh convulsed and quivered each time the poultice touched him. In his head, he heard his mother telling his four-year-old-self the story of a wizard who befriended a boy so he could cook him in a pie to feed his pet troll for dessert. In the story, the boy found himself in that predicament because he hadn’t listened to his mother, of course.
At that moment, Khirro could identify with the boy in the story.
“Relax,” the healer said noticing the tension in his limbs. “I will not hurt you.”
Khirro let out a shuddering breath, forcing his muscles to unknot. Despite being only inches away, the darkness shrouding the healer’s face revealed nothing. Occasionally, Khirro thought he saw a glint as torchlight caught the healer’s eye, but it was gone so quickly, he couldn’t be sure he saw even that.
“You needn’t take me with you, Master Sha– Master Healer,” Khirro said. “The king saved my life. I wouldn’t betray him.”
With Rudric and Gendred gone bearing the king’s body away in a canvas sack, the room gathered his words and cast them into the space above to reverberate in the ceiling. The Shaman finished up with the gash on his forehead and moved to an abrasion on his cheek.
“None can know of our journey.” He leaned close and Khirro smelled the scent of his breath: sweet and musty, acrid and mild—mint, cinnamon, and mold. It changed with each word so Khirro couldn’t identify any one odor. “It may not seem it, given our destination, but I take you with us to protect you.”
“But I’d never tell.”
“If you are with us, there is no chance a pint of ale or a pretty girl loosens your tongue. There are those who would do anything to find out what you know.”
Khirro shifted uncomfortably at the healer’s words. “I have a lady who’s with child. Can’t I return to her, leave this all behind.?”
The healer paused as though considering his request. The thought of returning home bolstered Khirro only slightly. There would be struggles there, too, but of a vastly different nature.
“Our enemies are resourceful. It will not be long before they discover the king has fallen. If your involvement is discovered, neither you nor your family is safe. It is better for all if you are with us.”
“But what if they find out anyway? They could still go after my family.”
“For what, Khirro? You would never know they threatened those you love, so they would gain nothing from it.”
Khirro noticed tension crawling back into his muscles at the Shaman’s words: for his family to be safe, he must allow them to drag him to the cursed earth of Lakesh. The healer returned to his ministrations while Khirro’s thoughts strayed to Emeline. The thought of her made his heart ache. He wondered if he’d see her again, if they would ever live their lives together—a question in need of answer whether the haunted land lurked in his future or not.
“Why Lakesh, Master Healer?”
“You watched as I drew the last living blood from the king.” He moved his attention to a cut on Khirro’s forearm. “With this, the king may be raised from the fields of the dead, but I have not the skills to perform such acts. Only the Necromancer possesses such ability.”
“But…Lakesh. Is there no one else?”
Khirro shuddered. Lakesh—the haunted land, the cursed earth, country of magic and shadows and evil. The name alone instilled fear. People said no man who crossed the Little Sea into Lakesh ever returned.
“There is only one Necromancer, can only ever be one, and he is the only one who can do what needs be done. You will be safe with me, for I have safe passage through the dark land. Darestat was once my master, you see.”
Khirro’s eyes widened although this revelation no longer surprised him. “So it’s true. You’re more than a Master Healer.”
“Yes. I am Bale, the king’s Shaman.”
“Did the king know?”
“Of course. It was the king’s plan to be raised if he fell. The drawing of lifeblood is something no mere healer can do.”
The Shaman rolled Khirro on his side facing the wall to work on his back, applying the poultice and murmuring the occasional unrecognizable word under his breath. His cold, strong hands made Khirro tense as they fell silent again. The dark magic made his hurts feel better, but what would it mean in the future? Could it taint him? If he could walk away from this evil, he would, but doing so would mean his life, maybe others.
When he completed his work, the Shaman stood and gestured for Khirro to do the same. With teeth gritted against the expected pain, Khirro pushed himself first to a sitting position, then rose to his feet. His tendons creaked, joints popped, but his injuries felt like they had occurred a week or more before and were in the final stages of healing.
“How…?” he began but stopped. This is magic. He didn’t want to know any more about it.
“The entire kingdom is in your debt, though they may never know it.”
Khirro’s lips twitched into a self-conscious smile. Despite the fear and shame, confusion and embarrassment, pride dwelled within him. He had done something heroic, hadn’t he? Someone else might have left the king there, but he’d done the right thing.
The door swung open, startling Khirro out of his self-congratulation, and Rudric and Gendred entered, their faces damp with sweat.
“The deed is done,” Rudric said in a reverent tone. Gendred said nothing, his face frozen in the same stern expression that never seemed to leave it.
“And none saw you? The body will not be discovered?”
“There is naught to find but ashes and bone,” Gendred snapped and cast a seething glance at Khirro. “You needn’t question me, Shaman.”
The air in the room became heavy and thick. To avoid confrontation, Khirro went to where his clothes and armor lay in a heap. He dressed hurriedly, promising himself to wash the acidic smell of urine from his breeches the first time they were near water. He pulled his leather cuirass on, cinching the straps when a thought came to him.
The three men looked at him; Khirro raised his eyes from his buckles as they regarded him.
“The king’s armor lays abandoned on the stairs to the North tower.”
Gendred spat a curse into the cloying air. The Shaman moved toward the door, robe swaying with the movement. He waved his hand, rippling the air, and stood rigid, staring at the door.
“It is too late. We must go.”
Gendred glowered at Khirro, plainly blaming him for the oversight. Khirro averted his eyes from the grim-faced warrior, directing his attention instead to fumbling with the straps of his cuirass. He nearly jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. He looked up nervously, fearing retribution, but it was Rudric standing before him, not Gendred.
“It’s all right. You did what needed to be done. No man could expect more.” He stepped back to survey Khirro. “You lost your helm and sword in the fight.”
“What good is a sword to a farmer?” Gendred snorted.
Rudric ignored him. “I’ll get you replacements.”
Khirro nodded, thanking him with a barely perceptible smile. The officer of the Kingsblade stole from the room, returning moments later with a short sword and an open-faced helm. Rudric handed them to him with a shrug.
“Closest I could find. The previous owner won’t miss them.”
“Thank you.” Khirro wondered who the previous owner had been and what happened to him. “You needn’t have troubled yourself.”
“You’re a hero of the kingdom.” Rudric put his hand on Khirro’s shoulder again. “It’s no trouble.”
Gendred interrupted their exchange with a disgusted grunt. “How do you propose to leave this place, Shaman? Shall we march out the door to the rear gate? Two officers, a magic man and a farmer shouldn’t attract much attention.”
The Shaman ignored Gendred’s baiting and moved to the wall at the back of the room.
“The king’s armor has been discovered,” Gendred continued. “Perhaps they’ll return it to us, then hang us as traitors to the crown.”
“Hold your tongue for once, Gendred,” Rudric said, his tone calm but icy, the voice of command. Gendred sneered but fell silent. Watching their exchange, even Khirro saw the hostility between them seething beneath the surface. Perhaps only duty kept them from each others’ throats.
The Shaman raised his arms, the wide sleeves of his robe falling back from long fingers, veins showing blue beneath translucent flesh. He muttered indistinguishable words, then placed his hand on first one stone, then another, then a third. A section of wall before him swung inward revealing a passage leading into darkness. Khirro squinted but inky blackness devoured the light only a few feet beyond the opening. The Shaman didn’t say anything, didn’t tell them to follow, he simply stepped across the threshold into the passage. The dark engulfed him as completely as it did the light from the torches, making it seem like the black-clad healer vanished.
Gendred took a torch from its wall sconce and plunged into the passage after the Shaman, the flame barely holding the darkness at bay. Rudric plucked another torch from the wall and ushered Khirro into the passage before him.
Damp, cool air touched Khirro’s face. It smelled of earth and mold, of ancient times and long gone people. The passageway must have lain unused for many years, maybe centuries, forgotten.
What other secrets does the Shaman keep?
Khirro put one tentative foot in front of the other, eyes on Gendred’s torch bobbing ahead of him, Rudric’s torch close behind lighting his way. He looked over his shoulder, past the officer, and saw the dull gray square of doorway disappear as the wall swung closed with the sound of rock grinding on rock, shutting out the room, closing on his life and everything he knew.
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.