Ta-da. Yet another hopelessly unedited, entirely out-of-context excerpt from my 100k word novel without a name! Starting next week I am going to dive into my second draft, so I thought I’d go on an excerpt spree for sentimentality’s sake. More likely I’m going to end up cringing at this later.
The drunken soldier’s voice wriggled like a worm unwelcome into Aleron’s ear. His fingers twitched around the handle of his tankard as he willed himself against bouncing to his feet and causing a scene right there in the middle of the tavern. But each word that dripped off the drunkard’s lips set his teeth grinding, and not even the bard’s thunderous lute strumming could muffle the blathering. The man in question, who sat spilling out of his jerkin onto a table behind Aleron, was surrounded by three other poxy-faced soldiers. Their viscous laughter trailed after his every word, and Aleron wouldn’t have been so bothered if it were not for the nature of their ‘conversation.’
“Bleated like a sheep, he did!” the soldier garbled. “Wept for his dear ol’ mum breaths before I sep’rated his body from his head! Thought he was some Titan, but I’ve never seen a Titan bleed so redly before!” This earned him a hearty round of guffaws from his comrades. “I dare any imp to run me through! I stood before the hoards of them, and I roared, Do me your worst! But their skinny swords cracked clean like glass against my blade. I tell yez, all them Armaxese and Syonseeri are no better than the dirt I piss on. Craven louts, ev’ry one of them.”
Aleron stared fiercely into his mug. Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved, he thought. Keep your stupid head low.
All at once, he pushed back from the table, the legs of his chair skidding along the floor. He stood, rolled his sleeves to his elbows, and turned to face the dribbling entourage.
“Them slate-skins and imp-eyes…they’re the real leeches o’ the realm. Eatin’ our food and buildin’ their huts on our soil! They call themselves Titans — harmph! Why, just the sight o’ one of them makes me want to —”
“Gouge their imp eyes out? Rip their leech tongues from their mouths and force them to chew on their own taste buds?”
The soldier’s bottom lip hung like a dead slug, his voice suddenly lost as he beheld Aleron. Clad in dirty riding clothes with nothing but a stocky blade holstered to his belt, seventeen year old Aleron Aardale was not the most menacing of sights. He was all shoulder blades and grasshopper limbs, with dark skin that smoldered under the velvet light of the fire and tight-sprung hair that cast coiled shadows over his forehead. While not intimidating, he was dramatic: a faded white scar etched over his brow and across his right eye, and he had lips that seemed to be created for the sole purpose of smirking.
“Oh, please don’t stop on my account,” he said. “I find it ever so fascinating, how many ways a man can squash a rat. May I offer any suggestions? I find it’s very effective to cut their toes off one by one before you cave in their brains. Adds for a striking dimension to torture.”
Get out. Get out before you make the big man with the sword angry. Yes, that would be the rational thing to do. But for all his supposed sense, Aleron’s boots remained sealed to the floor, and his eyes held the soldier’s, searching, digging, reaching for any reaction.
At first he thought it was fury that roiled in the soldier’s eyes, but then the man’s whiskered chin shook, and he burst forth in a raucous fit of laughter. His companions joined in, their guffaws taking turns slapping Aleron across the face. He could feel his ears smoking, burning off the fumes of his fury, and he was about to open his mouth when the soldier spoke.
“Well the lowest of the louts has come to play t’night! Isn’t this a pretty twist, boys?”
His friends nodded, their eyes laced with drink.
“Pretty as a garden sparrow.”
“Bleed me dry it if I don’t cry!”
“Cut off their toes before crackin’ their skulls, you say?” the soldier continued. “Must say I quite like that one. Let’s try it out on you, shall we?” A shadow darkened his eyes, and a grin slithered across his lips as his hand itched for the longsword at his hip.
“Hold there, good sir!” Aleron said quickly as he took a step back into the table. “There’s no need to resort to such base acts. I’m only trying to help you, after all. You see, friend, we’re on the same side!”
The soldier snorted, and his fingers found the hilt of his blade. “Friend? All I see before me is a cowardly slate-skin, some Syonseeri spy tryin’ to reap me of secrets.”
“I assure you, if I were hunting down Edylarion strategies than you would be the last sorry sod I went to.”
The soldier’s jaw clenched in iron, and he stormed to his feet, swaying a bit as the mead overtook him. The other men stood beside him, and suddenly all of their hands were at their swords, as if daring Aleron to breathe another word.
He nearly knocked over a bench as he took another step back. You bloody fool. You should’ve left while you could. “The Hawk of Highfeather!” he blurted out as his heart leapt into his mouth. His eyes shifted among the reddened men. “Surely you’ve heard of him?”
They paused, if ever so slightly, and the soldier curled his upper lip. “What’re you playin’ at?”
“I’m offended! Don’t you recognize me?”
Aleron found delight in watching the slow trudge of understanding across their thick brows.
The man on the right was the first to voice it. “You’re…the Hawk of Highfeather?”
A smirk traipsed along Aleron’s lips. “The Hawk of Highfeather. Wielder of Words. Black Breath. I go by many names; call me what you like. But in the end I am the same man. A man of Madric’s army. A man whom you should think twice of before calling a slate-skinned lout.”
He held onto the thread of hope that it wasn’t disgust, but consideration that crossed their eyes. Perhaps they would erupt in laughter again and go back to their drinks, slurring on about their great conquests against the rats of the East. Maybe…just maybe telling them that he was the Hawk of Highfeather would earn him a strand of respect.
But, as the case often was, Aleron should’ve listened to the prying voice in his head telling him to shut his damn mouth.
“You’re telling me,” the soldier said slowly, his words seeping together, “that the great Hawk of Highfeather, the messenger of the Rosewater War, the breather of a thousand fates…is a soot-faced, Syonseeri boy?”
Ouch. Aleron offered up a feeble grin. “In the flesh.”
With that, the men quaked in wet, sopping laughter, and for the briefest echo of a second, Aleron prayed that it was all in good jest. His voice melded into theirs with a nervous chuckle, and all the while he inched away from the table towards the door at the other end of the tavern.
But blackness bled into their laughs, and the silver sound of four swords being unsheathed at once grated against Aleron’s ears. The bard’s playing dropped off on a sour note, and a procession of drink-addled gasps traveled through the room. Everything was still, and the soldier’s gray eyes glinted in an unspoken dare.
Aleron turned on his heels so quickly that the wooden boards beneath his feet squealed in protest, and with a flap of his cloak he shoved past the other tavern-goers, tripping over benches and kicking aside empty flagons on his break to the door. He heard the clamber of chair legs behind him, but didn’t dare turn back his gaze as he clipped a barmaid on the shoulder. “Sorry,” he mumbled before leaping over the legs of a plastered man on the floor.
A series of muddled shouts spilled after him, but he was already at the door, kicking it open and disappearing into the night.