Battle of the Excerpts

September 22, 2012 at 12:05 am (Casualties of War, fantasy, Links, writing) (, , , , )

I used to play this game with my writer friends, Ren and Justine, on a regular basis. So when my pal, Bruce, offered up an excerpt for the Word Blurb, I couldn’t resist (you can find his book blurb and bio on Monday’s posting). So here’s the excerpt he gave me and I’m countering with one from my latest fantasy novel, Casualties of War. Compare and contrast to your heart’s content. I know Bruce is wicked good, so I hope my excerpt can match his. Which is your favourite?

Excerpt: Blood of the King

Chapter 2 (Part 1)

A helm clattered off the wall walk, bouncing end over end down the stairs. It hit Khirro’s foot, startling him and sending a jolt of pain up his leg. When he looked to see what hit him, he recognized the dead eyes of a member of the king’s guard staring back at him from within the helm. A pained grimace twisted the face, blood dripped from severed tendons and ragged veins. Khirro recoiled, pain flashing down his spine. He kicked at the head, the sound of his armor scraping stone impossibly loud in his ears. His toe contacted the helmet painfully, sending it spinning across the landing. It trailed off blood spatters as it rolled to the edge then disappeared over the brink. Khirro breathed a sigh of relief.

“Help me.”

Khirro flinched. The king’s plea came again, a breathy whisper barely audible above the sounds of battle. Chickens ran about after their heads were removed, but nothing could speak without life remaining within. Khirro shifted painfully onto his side.

“My king,” he whispered.

Braymon lay in a tangled heap, hips wrenched farther than possible, one arm pinned beneath him, the other twisted behind. Blood streamed from his shaven head onto his cheeks and into his eyes, a mask of red through which little flesh showed. He blinked clearing his vision, a slow, lethargic movement, then directed his gaze toward Khirro. A pained smile twitched his lips; it quickly turned to a grimace.

“I thought you lost, lad.”

The blood drained from Khirro’s cheeks.

“No, your highness. I… I was knocked unconscious. I’ve only just woken to find you here beside me.” The lie tasted more bitter than the coppery tang of blood on his tongue.

Braymon coughed a fine spray of bloody spittle. Khirro knew it meant something inside him was bleeding.

“I’ve not much time. I need your help.”

“I owe you my life.”

“Then you can return the favor.”

Fear lumped into a mass at the back of Khirro’s throat. “What can I do?”

“The healer will know I’ve fallen,” Braymon said coughing again, face strained with the effort. “Take me to him.”

Relief. He didn’t ask to be avenged or dragged back to the battle to die a soldier’s death. Khirro glanced at the blood pooling beneath the king’s contorted body, flowing from some unseen spot under his plate mail, and pushed himself up to kneel beside Braymon to better assess his condition. The battle raged above but no one appeared on the stair.

“You shouldn’t be moved,” Khirro said after consideration. The way the king’s body twisted upon itself made him feel sick. “It would mean your life.”

Braymon shook his head minutely. “It matters not. I must get to the healer before the warmth has left my body or all is lost.”

“I don’t think–”

“Soldier,” Braymon said with a tone of command befitting a king. “If you do this thing, all else will be forgiven.”

Khirro gaped at the king’s words. He fought to keep tears at bay as guilt siphoned the strength from his limbs. His mouth moved trying to form the words to apologize for not rejoining the fight, to beg forgiveness, to explain, but his constricted throat choked them. Instead, he nodded.

“You’ll have to remove my armor to carry me.”

Khirro stripped the king’s armor as quickly and quietly as his hurts allowed. Each time he shifted the king, Braymon’s face contorted with deeper levels of pain, but he never cried out, and each piece of armor Khirro removed revealed more horror. The king’s blood-soaked underclothes stuck to him like a second skin; the jagged end of a bone punched through the flesh of one thigh; a loop of intestines protruded from a long cut in his abdomen. As he uncovered each injury, Khirro felt more grateful to be alive and whole and his own injuries seemed less significant. By the time he finished removing all the pieces, the king’s eyes were closed, his face taut with pain, cheeks pale. Khirro had to look closely to ensure he still drew breath.

“We’ve no time to lose.” Braymon said in a strained whisper. “Take me to the center keep.”

Khirro stood, teeth gritted against his own meager pain. He reached for Braymon but stopped, unsure how to proceed. He saw no way to pick up the injured man.

“Don’t concern yourself with my pain, it will end soon enough. Put me over your shoulder.”

A shudder wracked Khirro’s spine as he paused to look around. A few men ran about the courtyard below, but they were distant. Above, the fighting reached the top of the stairs. Two Kanosee soldiers—one wearing gray leather, the other the black breast plate splashed with red—hacked at soldiers of the king’s army who tried to keep them from the stairway. Khirro hoped they’d hold them long enough. He bent and hooked the king by the armpits, struggling to pull the dead weight from the ground. The king clenched his jaw, every muscle he could control straining to help.

Finally, the king’s limp form flopped over Khirro’s shoulder. He imagined he felt the soft flesh of his innards through his leather armor and his stomach flipped, forcing bile into his mouth. He swallowed it. The pain proved too much for the king and a cry tore from Braymon’s bloodied lips as his broken body pressed against Khirro’s shoulder.

Khirro looked back up the stairs, hoping no one heard. At first he thought the Gods with him as the fight continued, but one of the Erechanians fell and as the gray leather-clad Kanosee pulled his sword from the man, he leaned toward his companion and pointed down the stair.

A sword flashed and the man fell, but Khirro saw no more as he turned and rushed down the stairs, focusing on his feet hitting each one and not over-balancing under the king’s weight.

By the time he reached the bottom of the final flight, Khirro’s back and legs ached, his pulse beat in his temple as his breath came in ragged gasps. If he didn’t pause to catch his wind, he wouldn’t get much further. He stood at the foot of the switchback staircase, half-bent, and watched a pebble strike the ground near his foot. Khirro looked at it without understanding, his fatigued mind reeling from lack of oxygen, but realization came quickly. He twisted awkwardly, ignoring the pain in his back, to look up the stairs. Halfway down, the black and red mailed soldier hurried toward him, battle axe in hand.

Interestingly enough, and sheer coincidence because I wrote Reid into existence long before I knew Bruce, he and Reid, one of my main characters, actually share the same last name . Here’s my counter excerpt…let the battle begin!

Excerpt: Casualties of War

After what seemed like an eternity, the three travelers finally arrived in Anthis. As the wagon approached the school, Reid leaned forward in his seat. A solitary figure sat on the bench outside the front door. Reid recognized the short but muscular build as belonging to Nolan, one of his students. Gillis had labeled the young man as a lone wolf, and Reid considered it an apt description. Nolan offered no more friendly gestures than Dee, glaring with his black eyes through his unruly dark hair, which played mane to his bronze-skinned face. Reid drew the wagon up short.

“Wow, I didn’t expect you to be part of the welcome party,” Reid commented, trying to elicit a smile. The boy shrugged.

For the first time in hours, Dee spoke. “He would appear to be the entire welcome party,” she grunted.

 Nolan glanced her way. He pursed his lips and jutted out his chin in an open sign of aggression. Typical, thought Reid. Nolan preferred to put on a tough guy show. Reid was not sure if the boy did it out of insecurity because of his small stature, or if there were underlying stresses which Nolan kept to himself. The fact was that the young man did seem to bear a chip on his shoulder. Nolan gave Dee one last cold stare then turned to speak to Reid.

“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you. It’s dangerous. I’d rather be in my mouse-hole of a room right now as opposed to out here exposed to the elements, but a cold’s nothing compared to what I could catch in there.”

It was Reid’s turn to frown.

“What are you talking about?” Reid climbed down from the driver seat and approached the surly student. “Where is everybody, Nolan?”

Nolan crossed his arms and eyed Reid with contempt.

“If you want to know so bad, go in and see for yourself.”

Without even considering the newcomer now perched on the edge of the wagon, Reid hurried over to the door. He opened it only to find Clayton, Gillis’s brother, standing on the other side. The lanky youth looked tired, and more nerve-ridden than normal, if that were possible. What disturbed Reid more than Clayton’s anxiety and obvious fatigue was the absolute expression of horror captured in the boy’s face.

“What is it, Clay?” Reid demanded. “Where’s Gillis?”

Clayton struggled to speak, glancing out past Reid at Nolan. Abandoning his attempts to explain, he resigned himself to silence and gestured for Reid to follow.

When they entered the space that had been designated the Common Room, Reid could no longer deny that something was drastically wrong. Several of the students were there, looking severely lethargic and drawn in the face. The more shocking sight, however, was Gillis. He lay sprawled in a settee when they came in, but struggled weakly to his feet when he realized exactly who it was who had arrived. His skin was grey in color and his cheeks sunken in. He wavered where he stood, having barely managed to muster enough strength to stand in the first place.

“Tell me I’m not hallucinating, Reid,” he breathed. “You’ve been here three times already, that I can remember…I’m sorry –so sorry.”

Reid remained frozen in place, trying to grasp what exactly was going on. Finally, he faced Gillis, who was now leaning on the settee for support.

“It’s the magic plague, isn’t it?” Reid stared at his partner, his eyes filled with dread. “How?” He sat back in one of the chairs, crumpling as though he had been kicked squarely in the groin.

Gillis shook his head. “I don’t know, but it’s worse than you might think. Nattie, she’s dead, Reid. She wasn’t in the best health to begin with. She only made it three days. I don’t know how long the rest of us have either.” As he spoke, he gestured towards the sickly students huddled about the room. He sat down quickly to avoid falling over.

 Reid sat near catatonic in his chair, overwhelmed by the situation. His dream had been blossoming, growing. There was still a great deal of work that had been ahead of him, and he had known that there would be challenges, but he had never expected anything like this. It was like a giant foot had come out of nowhere, treading down with great force and crushing everything he had managed to build.

“What are we going to do?” Reid murmured. His head was spinning.

Gillis slumped back in the settee, his expression grim.

“You have to go to the University, Reid. They have the cure. You have to get them to sell it to you, or trade it to you, or something…and you have to get enough for all of us. If any of these students die, we’re done for. Please, even if you can’t get enough for me, you have to get some for Clayton. I promised our parents I’d take care of him. Instead, he has been taking care of me. He may not be showing any of the symptoms of the plague, but he has been exposed.”

“The University! They won’t give me anything. Do you know how happy they will be to see us out of business? What are a few fatalities for the sake of eliminating the competition?” Reid’s shoulders sagged. He closed his eyes, wishing he could make all of this disappear.

So there you have it! Two dark excepts from two different fantasy tales. Bruce’s book is coming soon, and if you liked the excerpt from Casualties of War, you can find it here:

Let us know what you think – writers are suckers for feedback.


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