Monday, November 23, 2020

Knight of Grey: Preview

A Viking, a Paladin, and a Crossroad.

Knight of Grey released on December 1st to become a darling of critics and reviewers. So much so, in fact, dear readers, that I want to let you look just a little closer at the very first scene of the book...

“Northkeep is the High Prince’s northernmost fortress.” Brandr said, his bay’s hooves churning the thick brown mud that covered the Low Road. Frost painted the yellow-green grass along the roadside. Overhead, flocks of birds sang and honked on their way south. A small round tower rose above the upcoming town’s snow-dusted roofs. “Radaburg’s a small town, but an important crossroad. The Low Road runs up to the Crown, and the Western Highway goes all the way to the sea.”

“It’s more squat than most of Aethlburg’s fortresses," Arindel commented. Salaphra’s ear twitched at a buzzing fly, and the paladin absentmindedly leaned a little forward to give the mare’s white mane a comforting stroke. 

“Many of Aethelburg’s fortresses were inherited from the elves,” Brandr said. “Northkeep was not.”

              Fraki barked; Brandr looked over just in time to see the enormous elkhound dive into the frost-rimed thickets bunched on the shore of a shallow stream. He re-emerged a second later, pert tail wagging, a rabbit clutched in his powerful jaws.

“There’s a lot of white stone here,” Arindel continued, watching the grey-white elkhound with a small smile. “It’s a nice touch.”

“That’s what the local quarries have,” Brandr replied dryly. He reached up and rubbed calloused fingers against the dark bags under his steely blue eyes. “They wouldn’t have wasted money on aesthetics for a glorified watchtower.. The manor house, though. That will be decorative.”

Arindel looked back at him, idly scratching her horse’s shoulder. The hooves of the horses clip-clopped across the lowly-arched stone bridge that spanned the stream, leaving a trail of mud. “And whose manor house is it?”

“Lord Harren Tawny. A member of the High Prince’s Council. He’s rarely here. He prefers the Aethelburg.”

“”You know a lot about this place.”

“I spent some time here before I made it up to the Crown. I learned the way of the land." He flashed her a smile. “I never saw the lord once.”

“Still,” she said. “A lawful lord is a lawful lord.”

“He collects taxes for the council. That’s it.”

“And maintains the garrison. And protects the town.”

Brandr laughed. The road became muddier in town, the many horses and wagon-wheels churning the packed earth into a quagmire. “This town would have been a prize. No walls? Scant garrison?” He shook his head. “Pity it’s so far from the sea." 

She gave him another sideways look.

He held up a hand. “Those days are long behind me. We’re just here to resupply, sleep in real beds and rest the animals. I’ll ask a few questions, see if I can track down more of my crew.”

“Do you not know where they are?”

“I know some,” he said. “Barin and Ringr are in the Jarlokona’s guard. Signar…” his voice trailed off. “But there are others. The more I can find before the curse gets them, the better.”

“We still don’t know how much we can fight it.”

“If you can do to them what you did for me… it gives us a chance.”

“Fair,” she said.

He squinted. “There’s a gathering outside the Lord Tawny,” he said. “Looks like trouble.”

A mob teemed outside the inn, armed with cudgels and pitchforks. They surrounded a man in humble, weather stained robes,  the nine-pointed star of Nifelhem tattooed in crimson on his forehead. Two women stood with him, clad in steel plate-and-chain that gleamed, long grey cloaks draped from shoulder to calf. Their breastplates were each engraved with a single sword in bright silver. “That’s the symbol of the Grey Lady,” Arindel whispered, so quiet Brandr could barely hear her. “These are Grey Sisters.”

“Stand down,” the taller woman told the crowd. The polished visor of her helm hid her expression, but her voice was calm like still water. “This is not a fight you want.”

“He’s a mage!” the leader of the mob snarled. “There isn’t a family here what didn’t lose someone in their damn war, and now he dares walk among us like decent folk?!”

Brandr glanced at Arindel as he slowly dismounted. She shook her head.

“The war is over,” the second sister snapped, with none of the other’s calm. Her voice cut through the clamour with an edge like brandished steel. “Stop fighting it." Her gauntleted hand drifted down to the leather-wrapped hilt of her sword. “I suggest you leave.”

“There’s just two of them,” a voice from the crowd cried. “What…”

Arindel nudged Salphara; the mare whinnied and the mob turned. The paladin’s silver eyes glittered hard like winter ice. Brandr stretched his arms up in a luxurious, leonine motion, and his shoulders pushed back his checkered cloak so that the lang saex hanging from his waist became visible.

“We will not stand aside.” the first Grey Sister replied, her voice still unworried. “We do not want bloodshed. But we will not stand aside. If you pursue this course of action, there will be. You might take us all; but you will pay a steep price.”

The Grey Sister inclined her head. “I am certain you are right.”

The man flinched as if struck. He turned and pushed his way through the mob, already beginning to disperse. 

The mage watched the crowd leave with sullen dark eyes, then glanced at the Sisters. “Well,” he said, “That was a thing. If you’ll excuse me, sisters, I’m going to go brood in my room.”

“You do that,” the shorter sister said. “And stay there. Understood?”

The mage gave her a withering look and nodded before turning on his heels and slinking inside.

The tallest of the armored sisters took off her helmet, shaking free a long red-gold ponytail before pushing it back behind her sharply pointed ears. 

“Well,” she said. “Let’s get a drink.”

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