Yesterday, I introduced you to the book I wrote in 3 days, ‘The Queen of Shadows’. Well, at least to one of the better bits of it.
In order to setup tomorrow’s excerpt from the sequel, ‘The Road to Faloan’, I wanted to share another bit today.
The characters from this novel also exist in the rewrite, ‘The Chronicles of Darius’, though slightly changed. Still, you can get a sense of who they are from these excerpts.
© 2010 Patrick Hester, All Rights Reserved
The Queen of Shadows
Chapter 33 Excerpt
He’d heard one of the older women at the Tower once say something along the lines of, “How cruel the Hands of Fate should you tempt them with your good fortune,”. Jared had never really understood that, nor believed in it. But now, staring into the eyes of the man who haunted his dreams, he began to see. It was as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds to burn away the morning mist and leave the land crisp and clear again.
For a time he had been happy. The horrors of the recent past dulled by warm food and a dry place to sleep. It became something akin to a dream as he walked hand in hand with Tamra, losing himself in her eyes, dreaming of her lips pressed against his, of her body pressed against his. His body healed and the aches and pains slowly went away, replaced by more honest ones as he worked for his room and board at The Waystation under Old Bart’s watchful eye.
Yet, he was happy. Content.
And now he paid the price for his happiness, for his pride in his work. Kaine had come for him.
How long had he tried to recall the man’s name without success? Each night for so many nights uncounted, his dreams had been filled by this man’s face, his cold, dead eyes staring in glee as he inflicted yet another torture on Jared’s battered body. But the name had escaped him, almost as if it could not pass his lips for to do so would call him down upon them like some great demon out of hearth tales. And yet he was here, standing in the inn’s common room, staring at Jared with those same eyes. The word couldn’t help but slip past his lips now.
“Kaine,” he whispered, and Kaine smiled. It was the sort of smile that turned Jared’s bones to mush and he expected to hear a moan or scream issue forth from his body, but no sound formed. He couldn’t move. Terror held him in its grip.
With the ease of a courtier, Kaine crossed the room and took the chair across from them, his eyes never leaving Jared’s. He wore a dark chainmail shirt and breeches with leather chaps over them. Jared could make out no other details as Kaine’s long cloak swayed back and forth before he sat down.
Beneath the table, Tamra’s hand still clasped his, though her grip had become like iron. He dared not look at her for fear he would draw Kaine’s attention to her. He wanted to shout at her, tell her to run, anything, but his voice was lost to him and he could not find it. Cold sweat began to run down his back as Kaine reached across the table and lifted his ale, sniffing it, then returning it to the table, nose crinkled with distaste.
“You are rested?” he asked slowly, his voice smooth as silk yet cutting through Jared like a knife. He couldn’t get the image of Orc hands obeying that voice, of claws reaching for him, tearing at his soul. “Yes,” he said with a glance toward Tamra, “I would say you are.” Again, Jared wanted to howl, but he was completely frozen. Kaine had found him. The Fates were cruel.
“I will give you a choice, Jared,” Kaine began with a smile. But there was no warmth in that smile, only cold death. Jared shivered. “Come with me now, without incident, and I will let this place stand and all within it go about their business unmolested. Resist me, in any way, and I will burn it to the ground, with the town around it as well. And the people . . ” he trailed off. Smiling again, he finished, “they will suffer greatly. You, above all others, know that I can make them suffer.” Finished, he reached a glove covered hand across the table as if to place it on top of Jared’s left hand. Suddenly finding the will to move again, Jared jerked his hand away and nearly cried for help, until the look in Kaine’s eye silenced him.
Kaine meant every word. He would make these people suffer and raze the town. How many people lived here? Hundreds? Perhaps thousands? He couldn’t let their deaths be on his hands! All Kaine wanted was him. If he walked away with him right now, they’d all be safe; Bart, Marta, Hattie, and Tamra. All he had to do was accept the offer.
“No!” Tamra said. “You can’t go with him! We can take him! Together we-”
“‘We’?” Kaine asked, interrupting her. “Wait,” he said, a thought coming to his mind. “Is this the little rabbit who helped you?” Tamra shut her mouth, but it was too late, Kaine knew. He laughed and Jared shivered again.
“I’ll go with you,” he said quickly, rising from his chair. He had to protect Tamra. He had to get Kaine away from her.
“Oh, no,” Kaine mocked him. “It’s too late for that now. You see, the offer has changed. I will have the rabbit as well.”
He didn’t remember leaping over the table, didn’t remember locking his hands around Kaine’s throat, but somehow, he did both these things and now sat straddling Kaine’s chest, his hands tightening around the man’s throat and slowly crushing the life from him. Somewhere in the distance, Tamra cried out his name.
“They all die,” Kaine croaked, gasping for air, “if I don’t walk out that door.”
Looking up, Jared noted the soldier loitering near the door, hand on the hilt of his sword. He knew Kaine wasn’t lying, he didn’t have to. Kaine had all the power, he was the one in control. But Jared didn’t want Tamra to come, didn’t want her to suffer the way he knew Kaine would make her suffer. In the end, she called his name again, softer this time, and the fire left him. He eased his grip from around Kaine’s throat and stood up. After a fit of choking, Kaine smiled up at him and extended a hand, expecting help up. Swallowing pride and anger, he helped the man rise.
“I knew you’d see reason,” Kaine said amiably, then he struck Jared hard across his face and sent him careening into a table. The table crumpled beneath him, shattering into a dozen pieces before he ever hit the floor. Tamra was there in an instant, helping him to his feet again. He could taste the blood as it trickled from the corner of his mouth. He knew it was only the beginning.
“What be the meanin’ of this?” Bart asked as he entered the common room. He had a large club resting on his right shoulder. His eyes went from Tamra to Jared before settling on Kaine. Had Jared been the one to face Bart when he had that look in his eye and was carrying that club, he would have turned tail and run, but not so with Kaine. The tattooed man simply smiled and fished a coin out of his purse. Jared caught the glint of gold as the coin flipped toward Bart. Bart let it fall to the floor untouched.
“For your troubles, good sir,” Kaine said with a smile. “My young friends and I will be leaving now.”
“And just why would they be a doin’ that?” Bart asked, his voice a low rumble. “It don’ look to me as if they be wantin’ to go w’th likes o’ you.”
“Ah, I understand your confusion,” Kaine laughed. “You see, they know that if they don’t both come with me right this minute, that I will have my army turn this town into a killing ground. That I will impale men, women and children on pikes set around the city walls for the crows to feast upon. Well, those that I don’t simply burn along with their ramshackle dwellings. Or give to my Trolls for their cookpots. Now do you understand.”
The blood had drained away from Bart’s face, growing paler with each word until he looked a ghastly shade of white. But there was still a set to his jaw and a determination in his eye when he looked to Jared. For that moment, Jared admired the man his loyalty and his courage. He was still willing to fight if Jared wanted him too. He had given his word, and Tamra was like his own daughter. He would fight to protect them, even against insurmountable odds. Jared admired him, but he couldn’t allow it.
Shaking his head slightly, he told Bart ‘no’, and the man seemed to deflate. Picking up the gold piece, he tossed it back to Kaine and told him his money was good here, then he stepped aside.
“She stays here,” Jared said, finding his voice again.
“No,” was all Kaine said before heading out the door.
Jared turned to Tamra, a thousand things on the tip of his tongue, yet all of them fleeing at the sight of her eyes. God, he thought, how I love her.
“I go where you go,” she said, then she kissed him, quickly and passionately and pulled away again just as quickly. She wrapped her arms around Bart, hugging him just as hard as he was hugging her. Jared waited patiently, though his lips were on fire. He still felt her body pressed against his, some places soft and others hard, but all of her warm.
“Boy, I do be sorry,” Bart croaked, tears brimming in his eyes.
“No,” Jared said quietly. “There’s nothing you can do. Don’t blame yourself.”
“You’ll take care of her?” he asked.
“As best I can,” Jared answered. Then they clasped hands briefly. The soldier still stood at the door, making it clear that they had to come now. Jared walked out into the sunshine, Tamra beside him, and found Kaine sitting atop his horse, three other mounts tied to the hitch. The other soldier took one, leaving one for Tamra and one for him. Mounting with as much dignity as he could manage, Jared grasped the reigns firmly and followed Kaine as he led them back through the city and out the gate.
He was a captive again, but he was not alone. This time, Tamra was a captive as well. The Fates were truly cruel.
* * *
They spent the night huddled together in the center of a huge camp. Kaine’s army surrounded them, and it had grown incredibly large. Jared counted at least two hundred men on horseback, a thousand Orcs and a dozen Trolls, their huge forms visible high above the rest of the army as they made their way through the camp.
Though they appeared to have been forgotten, there was no chance for escape. They were truly held in the center of the camp, with dozens of campfires spread out around them, and the sounds of the army crashing in on them from every direction. Kaine had learned from his mistake and would not repeat it.
They spoke in whispers, trading words of comfort between them as the night passed and they fell asleep, each clutching the other for warmth as well as security. When the sun rose, they were kicked awake and left alone to take care of their personal matters. There was no where else to go, so they did so right there in the open.
Kaine came soon after, leading a horse behind him and holding a good piece of rope. Jared eyed the rope as he would a serpent about to strike, but could do nothing as his hands were bound before him and the lead rope handed to Kaine. Tamra was forced into the saddle of the horse beside him.
“You will run,” Kaine said with a smile.
“No!” Tamra shouted. “He won’t be able to keep up with the horses!”
“Oh, he’ll keep up. He will have incentive.” Kaine leaned down from his saddle as if to confer with or pass some great secret, but when he spoke, his voice was loud enough for all to hear. “You will run. If you fall, you will not be whipped, but she will. And it will not stop until you are up and running again or we make camp for the night, whichever comes first. Do you understand?”
Jared wanted to scream, wanted to toss obscenities up and wipe the smirk from his face, but he couldn’t find his voice. Instead, he merely nodded. Once. This seemed to have a better effect on Kaine than had he actually spoken, the man flushing red, eyes wide with barely contained rage. Perhaps it was Jared’s face that had enraged him. He felt so calm, as if he had passed the point of terror and come to a new place within his heart and mind where nothing could touch him anymore. He would run, of course, and he would not fall.
Tamra would not be whipped. Ever.
* * *
Tamra flew from her saddle, catching Jared just before his head hit the ground. Clutching him to her chest, she cried and rocked. He was drenched in his own sweat, but cold from the wind. His breathing came in great gasps and his lips were cracked and dry, his wrists rubbed raw and bleeding where the ropes cut into the flesh. Cursing she called to Kaine for water and food. He laughed at her.
“The way you’re running him, he’ll die without food and water!”
Kaine urged his mount forward until he towered over them, his features hidden in the twilight shadows of the setting sun. All expect his smile, which showed straight white teeth gleaming bright and wickedly down at them.
“No, he won’t do that. I will give him a new incentive. Boy. Boy!” at this, Jared stirred in her arms, his face turning toward the sound until he too, stared up at Kaine, his eyes wide. “Listen to me, boy,” Kaine hissed. “If you die before we reach the Tower, I will know her, do you hear me? And then I will pass her to all of my men for their pleasure for as long as she survives, and we have ways of keeping a person alive for a very long time. Do you understand me, boy? Do not die.”
Jared nodded, once, and Kaine pulled his horse away, but not before barking orders to one of his soldiers. He looked no different from the others, who all wore black armor to match Kaine’s, but Tamra cared little for how he looked as he dropped the waterskin and loaf of bread down to her before riding off with her horse in tow.
Cradling Jared as she would a baby, she trickled the precious water into his mouth, and moistened the bread before she fed it to him. He needed his strength if he was going to survive until they could escape again. Only, she didn’t know how they would escape. They were kept in the center of the army now, and forced to remain with Kaine throughout the days ride. They had no weapons and no supplies.
It was hopeless.
But she had to keep Jared alive. Tears streamed down her face as she fed Jared, her Jared, and gave him water. He was so brave and so strong and she felt so weak and useless. She only served as a weapon for Kaine to use against him and she hated herself for that. But she hated Kaine more, hated him like she had never hated anyone else in all her life. He had caused them this pain, and continued to cause them more pain and would never stop until she killed him.
And she realized right then that she would kill him. She swore an oath to it.
* * *
As the Black Tower loomed above them, Jared seemed to lose his strength and, at last, fell. He was dragged the last few miles to the Tower as one of the men riding with Kaine whipped Tamra, each slash of the whip sending ripples of pain through her body. He was careful to land each slash across her back, and she collapsed into shuddering sobs that lasted until they rode through the massive black gate.
Her vision blurred and she had to hang onto consciousness with all her will power as they dragged her and Jared through the twisting labyrinth of dark stone, stopping at last in the dungeons below. She heard the click as the metal snapped around her writs, felt the cold against her skin as she was thrown to the floor.
Opening her eyes, she saw Jared, arms stretched wide, wrists manacled to chains hanging from the ceiling with not enough slack for his knees to touch the floor. His head was down, his hair falling off his shoulders and dripping with sweat. They tore away his clothes and she saw his body was a mass of bruises and cuts, some still bleeding. Kaine took a handful of hair and pulled hard on Jared’s head, raising his half-closed eyes up to meet Kaines’. He whispered something she couldn’t hear, Kaine did, then laughed and left, the door to the cell banging shut and leaving them in darkness.
Struggling to rise, she tested her own strength, but the chains which held her were so short she couldn’t rise above her knees. Nor could she cross the room to Jared. Sobbing again, she called to him and he whispered something too faint for her to hear, but it was enough. He was alive and so was she, though they were trapped within the Black Tower.
Suddenly the darkness seemed far more threatening. Curling into a ball, she tried to ignore the slick yet burning feeling on her back as the shudders came. Her body shook for a long while before sleep simply took her.