Its Tuesday! Time for another teaser from Quest of the Dreamwalker.
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The sparse foam dissipated quickly from Captain Khoury’s ale as he struggled to remember the last time a death had truly touched him. Today he’d been furious with that bastard Ranceforth and his cowardly tactics, but he felt no grief for those who’d died on the battlefield. Years of service as a Sword had numbed him to such losses, yet he found his apathy unsettling. When had he become a stone-cold killer?
He drank the quiet ale, letting the cool liquid soothe his roughened throat. The lull of day’s end washed away his irritation until only the clenched muscles of his jaw hinted at his inner discontent. He leaned heavy elbows on the small table in the corner, watching his lieutenant sort coins with sure fingers.
An uncommon mercenary, Violet Meade was as good with money as she was with a blade. The coins slid and clinked on the polished wood surface without interruption even as she glanced at the wound on the side of his head.
“You should get that looked at,” she said. Her voice was girlishly sweet though he’d heard her unleash a torrent of expletives that would blister a man’s ears.
He touched light fingers to his temple and, seeing no blood on them, sniffed dismissively. The blow had knocked his helm from his head and left his ears ringing, but he’d been too angry to care. Besides, the ale had already taken the edge off the dull throb behind his eyes. Forcing a half-smile, he said, “I’m fine. Keep counting, Vi.”
She pursed her lips in irritation but returned to her work. He watched her for a moment, her battle-smudged fingers flicking the coins to their respective piles. Her thick black hair, cropped unfashionably short, had been left in spiky disarray by her helm and a florid bruise temporarily marred her smooth fawn-colored cheek. He was lucky to have her in his corps but he didn’t like her fretting over him. Archer was bad enough.
A gangly warrior, all elbows and knees, stumbled up to the table and saluted. “C-C-Captain Khoury, sir.”
“What is it?” Khoury asked, looking up. Shocked by the warrior’s youth, he found himself searching for a darkening of scruff on the smooth cheeks. Surely, he hadn’t led this boy into battle today.
“Um, you wouldn’t know me, Captain sir, but Ellis. Roger Ellis, that is. I mean, Lieutenant Ellis sent me to gather the coin. For the other Swords, that is.” His head bobbed like a nervous goose as the youth’s slender fingers twisted the edge of his stained cloak.
Khoury didn’t ask the youth’s name; he didn’t want to know. “Did you fight today?”
The young warrior’s eyes darted nervously. “Yes, yes sir, I did. Killed t-two of the bastards. All on my own.”
Khoury’s eyes narrowed.
“Well, actually. I did have a little help. With the one.” The young man looked down at the twisted cloak in his hands.
Was I ever that young? Khoury marveled.
“Good work,” was all he said, making the young man straighten with pride. “Tell Ellis I’ll send the money when we’re done counting.”
The lad bobbed his head a few more times to take his leave and then scurried out the door. No doubt he’d be telling his drinking buddies how he’d met “the captain.” Khoury sighed.
A bulky Northerner with tawny eyes, a ginger beard, and auburn hair dropped heavily into the only other chair. Grinning, he slammed three brews down on the table, sloshing ale across the stained wood, the stacked coins, and Khoury’s arm.
“Damned sloppy drunk.” The captain scowled, shaking the ale from his hand.
The Northerner’s name was Reid Tarhill, but he insisted everyone call him Archer. In a profession rife with haunted pasts and best-forgotten deeds, it was common enough for a man to choose a new name. Khoury knew that better than most.
“Better sloppy than morbid,” Archer said, fixing the captain with a pointed stare. “Cheer up, you old sourpuss.”
Violet stifled a chuckle, and the captain’s scowl deepened.
Archer ignored Khoury’s displeasure, sliding one mug to the captain and the other to Violet. “Anyone looking at you would think we got drubbed good and proper,” he said. “But we got paid, didn’t we?”
“That we did.” Khoury eyed the gold glinting dully on the table. Blood money, he thought. Nothing but blood money. His ghosts would be ashamed.
“A quick battle it was, too,” Violet added.
Not a battle—a slaughter, he added to himself. The peasants’ frightened faces as his horsemen bore down on them broke through the comfort of his alcoholic fog. Damn Ranceforth! And damn the gold, he thought. But if Khoury was angry at anyone, it was himself. Old Khoury had taught him better.
He chased his anger with more ale, drinking deeply from the new mug, his lip curling at its rancid taste.
Like what you’re reading? Quest of the Dreamwalker is available for preorder now at a reduced price on Amazon. Trade paperbacks and ebooks will release on October 8th.