Monday, June 11, 2012

Novel Excerpt

Excerpt from The Fate of Kings:

The exhilaration Bishop Glauss had when he set the pile of dead aflame was disturbing, even to himself. He clenched his cigar in the corner of his mouth. He laughed with tears in his eyes. He laughed at the insanity of laughing at dead mothers and children and the men they called lords, father, my love. The whole of the Kaynebridge vanguard gave him a wide birth, altering their path from the weeping, laughing, singing man in the tall hat, whose eyes hid beneath a solid black visor. He wore a dark blue uniform, plated on the shoulders, forearms, chest, and thighs, a relished trophy he took from the Kaynebridge Royal Guard at the height of their civil war.  Bishop was but twenty when he helped to overthrow the aristocracy, tied the commander to the base of a stone column, and forced himself upon the two daughters and wife of the interim king in the same room that held his corpse. He left the commander alive to spread the tale, knowing those loyal to the fake crown would never serve fouled women. Bishop smirked. His seed had marred an empire.
          His ear itched, but he did nothing about it; he’d have to lift his hat. No one ever saw more of Bishop’s face than his crooked nose, mouth, and the stubble on his chin. No one had the spine to ask or closely look. The men at camp had plenty of stories: it was rumored Bishop was bald, ugly, and scarred by fire at the razing of Vaeland Tower, that he was blind, that he had no eyes, for a pagan God took them at birth. A thousand gold coins went to the first man or woman that could provide photographic evidence of what was under Bishop’s hat. In the beginning, many were apt to try. They bought him beer at taverns and asked plainly. They wagered for his hat in high-stakes card games. They challenged him to duels, yet any form of instigation while the man was drunk or in a bad mood, which was almost always, escalated to the drawing of weapons. Bishop didn’t let a man walk away. Once free of their holsters, his guns fired.
“What’s so funny?” asked Elias Turk, Bishop’s partner. Elias drank from a bottle of whiskey, something he’d found in a mansion overlooking Icehammer. Offering sunflower seeds to the hawk on his shoulder, his sullen, aged eyes passed over the smoldering mound of corpses as if they were a small stain. “What’s so funny?”
Bishop grinned. “The old days are back, coz. The Gods have offered us another chance to pen our deeds in the Book of Remembrance.” The flames ceased, and Bishop began to slap and punch the nozzle of his flamethrower. As a girl crossed his path he shoved her to the ground, shouting, “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
Covered in mud, the girl’s mother lifted her into her arms. “I didn’t see her wander off. Please, don’t kill my baby.” She rubbed the girl’s back, rocking her side to side, wondering what Bishop would do to her and her child, and the longer she wondered, the harder it became not to cry. “Please. She’s all I have.”
Bishop spat. He mulled the situation over and nodded. As a private dragged the girl and her mother away, a captain marched over. He waved for the private to come back, and like a fool, the private did.
The captain said, “Bishop, I want that girl dead. We have to set an example.” A crowd gathered as the prisoner lines halted. “I want that girl dead.”
“I heard ya,” growled Bishop. “I don’t kill girls, especially retarded girls. You saw her face. She don’t know two plus two.”
“Do you, coz?” Elias asked, trying to diffuse the situation.
“You seem to have no problem burning them,” said the captain. “There’s at least fifteen of them in that pile alone.”
Casually, Bishop pointed to the corpses with his cigar. “I didn’t kill these ones.”
“I gave you an order, merc,” said the captain, scowling. “Are you disobeying me?”
“This is a breach of contract,” Bishop said. “I do what I please when the fighting stops. Thems the rules decreed by your king. I ain’t one of your lackeys, and I don’t kill girls without reason. I ain’t gonna tell ya again.”
Before the captain could unsheathe, Bishop pulled his six-shooter, fired, and holstered. A smoking hole appeared through the captain’s face as he lingered on his feet, eyes rolling up into his skull, knees buckling. Bishop shoved the captain and added him to the pyre, chuckling, resuming his song, and spraying the corpses with more fire.
“That man scares me,” said Prince Kergis Trallonius, peeking from his war tent. “He’s as lethal at camp as he is on the battlefield.”
“We knew what we were getting,” replied Decitor Osiris, advisor to the king. “Him and the old man were necessary for a siege on Icehammer. The keep was somewhat modern and not built for defense against sharpshooters. Bishop and Elias are vile cutthroats, but their fee is rightly so, as is their company. Their guns saved the lives of thousands. Rather than a week, a month, hell, maybe even a harvest, we took Icehammer in less than a day with little casualties of our own. Most of Weslin has now sworn fealty to your father. Rather than a city, you will inherit an empire.”
“At what cost?” asked Kergis as he sauntered round a table covered in maps. “The people we conquer will fear our army, and in so doing, come to fear me. From the Horn of Deira to Old Furlton, they will loathe the heir to the throne, and when my father dies, they will test my hand.”
“And you will swat them.”
“Will I? What the men have done to the conquered on this campaign makes me question the spoils of war.”
“It could have been worse,” said Osiris. “We could have been ordered to burn their lunar domes, embargo their lands, and let them starve the harshest months while they debated their independence.”
“Or we could have called council with the city-states of Weslin, discussed the benefits of a union, and come together on financial terms,” said Gerid Gerard, entering the tent. His assistant followed, bustling to get him tea before he reached his chair. “Of course, that was all in my report. I wanted to make Kaynebridge the lead shareholder in a city-state conglomerate.”
“I was never told of this,” said Kergis.
Gerard’s eyebrow arched. “I was under the impression that you had a say in every measure. The first page of my report was addressed to you."
“An oversight.” Osiris tightened the flaps to the tent. “One your father deemed necessary, my prince. If the press found out we didn’t have a legitimate reason to invade our neighbors, our heads would roll. You would be the first one summoned to the hearing. We’ll leak the news when the war is won and take responsibility in the aftermath. By then, we’ll be too wealthy to care about opinion polls. The unification of Weslin is destiny.”

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