The NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month, and takes place every November. All you have to do is write a 50,000+ word novel in a month.
The fifth installment of the Have Sword & Sorcery: Will Travel series follows directly on from last year's entry, which ended on a sequel hook, and turned out to be the longest so far.
Book V of the Have Sword & Sorcery: Will Travel series.
(If you enjoy these extracts and want to read the whole thing, you can buy it.)
The robed men held Morgan at shoulder height as yet another of their number began fastening a rope around her wrists. She was wrenched back as the knots tightened, and she screamed into her gag. The men let her down in the cabin where she had been taken, and another rope was looped around her wrists, tying her to the bulkhead. She tried to stand, failed to find any purchase, and collapsed against the wood. The robed men backed off, and then, curiously, bowed, before filing out.
Morgan tried to spit her gag out, but it was lodged tightly in her mouth. She thrashed against the ropes holding her arms to her sides, trying to get free, but they had been well knotted. She yelled in panic and frustration, the gag making it sound like the death knell of a dying beast.
"Would you like the gag removed?"
Morgan's head whipped round to locate the source of the voice. Sitting under a porthole was another of the mysterious robed men. This one, however, was older, and his pale robes were richer. She nodded. He stood up and made his way over to her, then knelt in front of her. "No shouting now," he instructed, then reached out and pulled the gag out of her mouth.
Morgan spat to clear her mouth, and glared at the man. "Release me, or I'll incinerate the ship!"
The man visibly recoiled. "What happened to your voice?" he asked, shocked. "You are barely a woman, yet you sound like a bear!"
"You shouldn't give people magically-induced nightmares, then!" she replied. "Release me!"
The man stood up. "No. Do not try to burn yourself free – we are already out of the harbour, and the waters here are deep with strong currents. You would not be able to swim to shore, and we very much would prefer you to complete the journey uninjured."
"Wooden ship," she growled. "I might drown, but you would as well. I can turn this whole ship to ash in less than a minute!"
The man smiled at her. "No, you can't. Not yet, anyway. Your powers are not yet that advanced – which is why we have taken you."
"What do you mean?"
"I will explain in time. My task for now is to calm you enough so that your bonds are not necessary."
"So you fear me, or what I might do? Why? Oh yes, of course," Morgan continued sarcastically, "you kidnapped one of the most powerful fire mages the world has ever seen!"
The man bowed his head. "Morgan of Turnobae and Ra'ast, we do most sincerely and humbly apologise for the manner in which we took you. Time was of the essence, and we could not risk a refusal. But you are with us now, and you will be staying with us until your Destiny is fulfilled."
The next two days pretty much followed the pattern of the first one – drill followed by training and practice. Dalian, in the evenings, kept pestering Alys and Cullan for details of their livery, pay scales, procedures, and other administrative details.
"You can take the clerk out of the city," Cullan muttered, "but not the city … you can take the clerk out …"
"You hadn't really though that through, had you?"
"No. But he's still being a clerk more than a mercenary."
"Well maybe we should sort out what he wants to know," Kenyon suggested, "then he'd have nothing else to worry about except his impending disembowelment."
"All right, we'll start sorting things out. The livery's easiest, what should we have?"
"How about a variation of your father's livery?" Cullan suggested. "After all, it's thanks to him you've got a Company now."
"Yeah, a Company of four, plus you two, Rassillon and Dalian. No thanks, I'd rather have something new."
"You'd want something simple, really," Kenyon said, "something that doesn't involve too much work to repair or stitch up."
"All the simple one are already taken," Alys pointed out. "Kings and lords and so on got their liveries well before mercenary Companies."
"Oh, there surely must be a few simple ones left! I mean, Landry's is simple."
"Okay, we'll change the colour. We've already got blue, let's make use of that. White crossed axes on blue."
"Lord Sespitum, Warden of Bratisly," Kenyon reminded them.
"Right," Alys sighed. "Okay, you think of something, then."
"Blue crossed axes on yellow?"
"Fyodor of Genvar."
"Hell. A blue eagle rampant on white?"
"A blue duck rampant on white."
"Taken? What?" Cullan couldn't believe it. "What kind of loser lord's got a duck for a coat of arms?"
"It's not a lord," Kenyon told him, "it's the arms of a city: Retal, in Morat."
Cullan sighed. "Okay, an eagle killing a duck, on white."
Kenyon shrugged. "Morothlin, also in Morat."
"Okay, fine! You suggest something!"
"Two swords either side of a bend, on blue."
"That's Stifsen's arms."
"Is it? Oh, yeah. Alright, two swords on their own."
"Point up or point down?"
"The Earl of Gasson."
"Point up, then."
"Duke Leo of Forsagin."
"One pointing up, one pointing down!"
Alys knew that one. "The personal arms of the head of the Order of the Owl."
"Side to side?"
"In any combination?"
Cullan let his head roll back in frustration. Kenyon let his sink to his chest.
"A sword killing an eagle as it attacks a duck!" Cullan tried. "A frog killing a rabbit. Four elephants and a turtle! Nine drummers drumming, a bear balancing on the ace of spades, a goblet with a crack in it, a house on fire! I don't know!"
"I don't think anyone's got a frog killing a rabbit," Alys mused.
"No!" Kenyon snapped. "I am not going to go into a fight with a frog killing a rabbit painted on my shield!"
"Alright, alright," Cullan grinned. "How about a dragon?"
"Unless it's killing a rabbit, it's probably been done."
"What about a pair of dragons mating?"
"You can't put that on a shield! People'd call us the dragon-shaggers!"
"Better than sheep-shaggers."
"Not sheep either!"
"Well, we'll have to think of something!"
"We could ask Captain Shelt if he's got any ideas?"
"No – he probably already thinks we're a bunch of no-hopers," Alys decided. "Look, it can wait 'til we're back in Doronatha, can't it? They're not going to give a toss what we look like on the Eastern continent, and there's not really enough of us to need a full livery yet. We've got the sashes, let's just leave it at that for a few days."
"There's still all the other stuff – wages and so on."
"They know their wages, and we've got the cash to pay them. All the other stuff is just paperwork to keep clerks and lawyers happy. We can ignore it for now as well."
"Right. Is that rice done yet?"
The rice was doled out a minute later. When they had got their shares, including two for Hode and Roland, they took their mess tins back to where they had been hiding. They ate quickly, not having eaten anything since yesterday evening. When they were done, and after a while to let it go down, they tried a bit of weapons practice, but Tinghon scuttled up to them and stopped them.
"No, no fight! No noise! Ship notice, big trouble. No noise, no fight!"
"We need to keep in shape," Alys tried, but Tinghon was adamant.
"No! No noise, no fight. Stay quiet, stay here, all good. Noise, fight – found by so'jers, bad, all trouble."
"Alright! We get it. We'll keep our heads down."
At which point, a volley of stones peppered the tarpaulins of the barge. Everyone looked round for the source of them. Tinghon let out a shout, pointing to the right bank. "Hai! Tufei! Suo ju he chang mao! Yinbi qilai!"
"What?" Cullan demanded, following his pointing hand as the barge captain crawled forward to join his crew. But then he saw himself. "Everyone down! Bandits with slings and spears on the right bank!" He and the other members of the Burning Rose threw themselves to the deck as a second volley of stones went overhead, clearly launched at a shallower angle, but the bandits clearly didn't have the range right for hitting men crawling on the deck.
Alys crawled to the starboard edge and peered at the forest. "About a hundred and forty yards – they're keeping pace with us in small boats." She turned to Cullan. "Are the navy taking an interest?"
He looked up the length of the convoy. "Don't think so – Tinghon's not done anything to alert them, though, he and his crew seem to be arming themselves."
"They're edging closer. Down!" A third volley of stones crossed the deck, far closer to their targets.
"Bows!" Cullan ordered. "Get ready to shoot them back!"
"That'll be tricky," Hode told him. "We won't be able to aim very well if they keep throwing stones at us, and there's no cover."
"Of course there's cover! Use the hidey-holes we were in!" Cullan looked up at the front of the barge again. Tinghon and his crew were huddling along the port side of the barge, although two of them were kneeling at the prow, trying to throw a tow line to the barge ahead, either to pull them back to help with repelling the bandits, or to help speed their own barge up away from the bandits. He and the rest of the Burning Rose began crawling back to their pits. The bricks that made them were piled just above the level of the narrow walkway that went round the whole barge, with the tarpaulins tucked under it to keep them in place. They were still pulled back, which meant it was easy to duck into them. Cullan had Hode, Alys and Saggitta take the three nearest the bandits, with Boruta, Kenyon and Roland in the middle three. He, Dalian and Rassillon took the three on the far side of the barge.
A fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh volley of stones scattered themselves across the deck. By this time, the bandit's boats were sixty yards away, and their accuracy had improved considerably, with the stones whizzing inches over the top of the cargo. There had been a number of yelps from Tinghon and his crew, but so far the Burning Rose remained un-hit. Alys peeked over the top of her shelter, and waited for the eighth volley. It passed overhead, there was a yelp from up front as another of Tinghon's crew was hit.
Alys stood up, bow ready. "Bows!" she called, and Hode and Saggitta stood up with her.
"One volley!" Cullan ordered. "Don't waste arrows!"
"Aim!" Alys ordered. She pulled back her bow, as did Hode, and Saggitta levelled her crossbow at a bandit. Several seconds passed, the bandits prepared to hurl another volley of stones with their staff slings. "Loose!"
Two of the bandits dropped, a third staggered as Saggita's bolt slammed into his breatbone. The three of them dropped back into their shelters as a ninth volley whipped across the deck. "Kenyon! Next volley, your row swap places with Alys'!"
"Gotcha!" Ten more seconds, and another volley skipped over the bricks, most of them now aimed at the rear end of the barge. Kenyon leapt up, vaulted the wall between his and Alys' pit, and ducked down into it as Alys vaulted the other way. Roland and Boruta were slower, climbing rather than vaulting, but Saggitta and Hode vaulted back themselves. No sooner had they finished moving than an eleventh volley whizzed over the deck, and this time it included two dozen spears.
"Wondered when we'd see those," Cullan muttered. "Rassillon? Anything you can do from here?"
"Nothing useful," he replied. "I will try and flank the attackers from behind the cover of the driver sail."
"Good idea. Take Dalian with you. Try and keep him alive, if nothing else."
Another volley of stones and spears, the spears coming in at a high angle, but not hitting anyone. "Kenyon! How far?"
He poked his head above the bricks, then ducked back down quickly. "About twenty yards!" he called back. "We've got maybe one more volley, then they'll board, I reckon!"
"Get ready everyone!"
The thirteenth volley of stones and third of spears passed overhead. There was a scream from up front, Cullan risked a look. One of Tinghon's crew disappeared over the side with a splash, a spear sticking out of his gut. The two men at the prow were long dead, the tow line drifting alongside the barge, and the steering sail peppered with holes.
"Burning Rose!" Alys shouted. "Make ready!" Hands gripped weapons, fingers tapping nervously stilled or went through the motions of a good luck charm, breath was held. There was a slight bump against the side, and the attackers burst out in a hideous yelling as they leapt aboard. "Attack!" Alys ordered. They all leapt to their feet, weapons ready, and scrambled out of their shelters to meet the boarders who had arrived midships.
"Rassillon, stay by the sail!" Cullan yelled. "Hode, with me!"
As Kenyon and his heavies tore into the boarders, Alys and Saggitta met the second boat, which came alongside further back. Cullan went with Hode to a point between the two groups, to act as a reserve. A third boat touched the side of the barge, and another twelve bandits leapt aboard, between the two fights. Cullan signalled with his sword, and he and Hode charged them. Their opponents wore no armour and carried nothing more than long knives or crude, heavy shortswords. They were no match for the battle experience, sturdy armour and combat weapons of the Burning Rose. Kenyon's group wiped out the first boarders in seconds, then turned round and ripped into the side of the third group just after Cullan and Hode engaged them. Rassillon sent stone missiles into the boats still approaching, knocking men into the river. Another boat touched the hull forward as the last of the bandits already aboard was despatched, and Kenyon led his group to deal with it as the final boat touched near Alys. Her flashing curved blades eviscerated three men before they'd recovered their balance, and the remaining eight were easy prey for the four defenders. Rassillon and Dalian ran past behind them to help Kenyon's group finish off the forward group of boarders, and in under a minute, it was all over. The last of the bodies were tipped overboard, and the Burning Rose gathered midships to grin at each other and compare scratches. Boruta was limping and both Cullan and Saggitta had acquired black eyes, but other than that, and Rassillon exercising his shoulder every few seconds, they were un-wounded. That didn't stop Dalian from grinning wildly and passing out backwards.
He made it back to the camp unhindered by the cursory search the monks made of their nearby surroundings. He'd been gone roughly three hours, and found Alys waiting for him, sitting up instead of asleep. Boruta had the camp watch, and kept his short pacing patrol well away from them.
"Oh, thank goodness," Alys sighed in relief when Cullan appeared. "We heard the shouting, I thought you'd been caught."
"Heard the shouting?" Cullan slid down next to her and began divesting himself of equipment. "That place is a mile away, they must have been screaming for you to have heard it here."
"We were worried about that, but Rassillon reckoned this must be an echo valley, and Hode said the wind's been blowing towards us most of the time."
"Well, lucky us then, right?" He winced as he took his armour off. "Owhhh. I'm going to have a couple of interesting bruises for you to look at later."
"They caught you?"
"Noisy floorboards, woke one of them up. Got away, but had to kill two sentries. I'll tell you all about it in the morning, after Rassillon's Healed me a bit."
"A full report?"
"Oh, yes. And a plan."
"Good." She smiled at him.
"Yeah." They shared a long kiss before Cullan slid under his own blanket next to her.
Alys lay down and looked him in the eye, barely visible as a glint in an otherwise dark mass on the ground. "I do worry about you, you know."
"I know. Doronatha's proof of that."
They stared at each other for a long time before, finally, they muttered goodnights to each other, and closed their eyes.
© Brian Wakeling. GURPS® is © Steve Jackson Games.