11/20/14, on Amazon for pre-order now.
I'm releasing the Prologue and the first four chapters on the blog prior to the book's release. Come get a taste.
Veil of a
~ Hammerblood, Book 1 ~
By Clifton Hill
(Novel is Epic Fantasy, approx 550 pages)
Expected Publish Date: 11/20/2014
All rights reserved. © Clifton Hill
All rights reserved. © Clifton Hill
~Present Day, the 343rd year of Molroun~
An unnamed man sat with one arm draped over his chair, in the corner of a busy tavern, windows dark with night. An untouched mug of ale adorned his table, dripping in condensation and dimly lit by the orange glow of burning wall sconces. Sitting as far from the revelry as possible, he wore a black cloak that hid him in shadow. Only his scarred hands were shown to the light, the puckered skin worn like a mark of pride.
The air was filled with raucous noise, as sailors on leave sang discordant but merry, drunken tunes. The patrons swayed with their song, their mugs in the air, while others spun and jumped about. A mix of other customers filled scattered tables and the long dingy bar, while a squinty-eyed flutist played along, sitting on the smoke-stained hearth.
The seaport of Corlea was filled with soldiers, some lining the bar with their coin and their oaths, their officers flooding the mayoral palace.
The city was full of farmers selling their pickings, full of merchants selling their wares, smiths working their art. It was full of candlemakers and tanners, coopers, farriers and even queer jugglers.
The city was full of washer women, camp followers and full of women selling themselves.
The city was full, too full.
A softly moving finger arced back and forth as the unnamed man kept tune with the sea shanties — another joyous customer sitting in the corner. But this man lost in shadow had other thoughts, his slender blade a comforting reminder, nestled in the middle of his back and secured in his belt. He dreamed of dancing among that drunken and crowded mass, slim dagger held in reverse along his forearm, slitting their throats to musical accompaniment. Swirling around their falling bodies, a shadow of death, covering the room in sprays of crimson, content to hear them cease their abandon in squeals of delight.
He smiled broadly at the thought, though the expression did not touch his eyes.
Into the tavern rolled a man of large girth and short stature, clothed in silk and jewels. As out of place in the rowdy tavern as a pig in a wolf pack. He scanned the room with small eyes set in a pudgy face, nose twitching. He placed one finger to his sparse mustache at the olfactory offense, but he did not leave. The light from the room picked up the rich maroon of his clothes, though they were soiled in places from greasy food and sweets.
Seeing the unnamed man in the corner he gave a start, then relaxed. Searching the rest of the room, he moved his head up and down in little jerks, then waddled forward. Reaching the table, the richly attired man cleared his throat with nervous authority.
The unnamed man remained sitting with one hand upon the table, the finger waiving still. Without looking up at the newcomer, he spoke quietly, not bothering to hide his accent, “Sit, Corbin Phallish.”
Eyes shifting back and forth, the man called Corbin corrected hesitantly, “That would be Lord Corbin Phallish, good sir.”
“You will be called what I choose, now sit.” There was no anger in the voice, but spoken with conviction and confidence, the self-proclaimed lord grabbed a chair and flopped down — wood creaking in protest.
“And what is your name, good sir?” asked Corbin quietly, eyes shifting about the room, watching the patrons. But in the noisy din of the tavern, no one could have heard them at the next table.
The unnamed man shook his head slightly. “No name needed, Phallish. If we need to meet again, I will find you.”
Corbin looked unhappy, but kept his complaints silent. “So you say that you have a proposition for me?”
The man looked at Corbin in the eyes and said slowly, “One you can not refuse. You know who I represent?”
Corbin nodded warily.
“You know that there is no fighting us.”
Corbin nodded again. “Never wanted to get tied up in the whole thing to begin with. Always knew things could be arranged. Dormir and his grandiose plans were far too patriotic for me.” His smile was irritatingly ingratiating. “So what is it that you want me to do?”
“Nothing much will be asked of you, or the others. It will be easy work, from which you can only benefit.”
If they were back in the homeland, he would have broken the man’s jaw for being a fool.
“We work with many, Phallish. You didn’t think that we were only seeking to work with you?” The smile on his lips this time did touch his eyes.
“No, of - of course not.”
The deception was paper thin. “You just came from the conference organized by the Falmeeran, General Zakea Dormir. You have orders to wait on a ship of engineers and escort them to Stronghold if there is a siege.”
Corbin dropped his jaw. The closed and barred meeting had only finished minutes ago, and on the other side of town — and yet the unnamed man sat idle and relaxed.
The unnamed man continued, “You will not do that. You will take the engineers and hole up in your keep. You will stay there and give no aid in finances or other to any of the Molroun rebels.”
“Your information, is...uh, incredibly accurate. But what will the general do when he learns of this?”
“What do you think he will do?”
Corbin shrunk away. “What will you—your people do—”
“We will do what needs to be done.”
“I see.” Corbin scratched his rotund belly. “I think this can all be arranged, but what if I refuse?” Corbin’s daring words lost their effect as he squeaked the last.
Sweating under a stare that would have broken a priest, Corbin spoke again, “Uh, well, but—but what about my recompense?”
The unnamed man replied quietly, “You will get to live and keep your land.”
Blanching, Corbin continued, “Of course, but my good sir, I take on great risk to accomplish this, and it will be very difficult. To—to impede the war effort, I must risk the name of my family, my fortune and my armies. I could lose everything in this. I must also arrange for all of the complicated changes in my towns and villages to make sure that profits are not going to the war, and that we are upholding our end of the bargain to an absolute.” At the last Corbin smiled, as if he was showing how very good of a business partner he would be, if only the man would agree to some of his requests.
The man said nothing.
Continuing nervously, while the corpulent lord’s fingers plucked at the short hairs of his mustache, Corbin began to outline what he should be given in exchange for his assistance.
The unnamed man’s nose flared in insult as he thought to himself while the pig named Corbin prattled on. He disgusts me with his gluttonous sweat and fearful stink. He is like a swine, plumped up for the slaughter, but none I would like to eat. He sits across the table from me wheedling, desiring, wanting more and more and more. He wants assurances of safety, he wants money, he want, he wants, he wants... I am close, but not quite ready, to lean across and slit his jowls with a second smile, stand up and leave. But that is not my job...not yet.
Finally he said, “Enough! You will get nothing more than your land and your life,” but to forestall more of the incessant whining, he pulled out a small pouch and pushed it across the table into Corbin’s hands.
Corbin pulled the drawstring loose and peered inside. He smiled at the sight of precious gems and golden coins, then closed it swiftly and stashed it away. “Surely there is—”
The unnamed man scowled as he cut Corbin off, “Any more land or riches you wish, you must take on your own. If you do well, you may be...further rewarded.”
Corbin gulped down the rest of what he had to say and slowly nodded his head.
“We’re done here, do not disappoint. I, or another, will contact you again. We will be watching.”
Without another word, the man rose and left, leaving the stench of the sweaty lord behind.
Corbin, the lord of House Phallish stared after the man’s back, which slipped too quickly out of sight amidst the press of customers, and he exhaled roughly. Touching his mustache with a nervous finger he glanced around at the commoners. They paid him no heed as they drank and sang some crude song out of sync and terribly off key.
He had just met with a Saeordin, and he still lived to tell of it. Corbin wiped at a bead of sweat from his brow, drying his finger on his tunic. Or at least, he would continue to live if he kept his mouth shut.
Careful Corbin, we must be careful. It was a dangerous game he had begun, but while the rest of Molroun died fighting the invaders, Corbin and his house would find survival and perhaps even: prosperity.
Touching the pouch of gems and coins, Corbin smiled at the weight — it was a small fortune in itself — and he congratulated himself on an expert negotiation.
Swallowing dryly, Corbin looked at the sweat beaded mug of ale. Left behind by the Saeordin spy, it was still full, though most of its head had disappeared. His mouth and throat were parched. He had sat through the whole conference with little more than boiled tea to drink. Unable to stand the stuff, Corbin had abstained, and the low-class but incredibly wet-looking mug beckoned to him.
Reaching out quickly he picked up the mug and put it to his lips. It was little better than swill to a man of his taste, but it was better than nothing. With a pouch full of jewels he could reward himself better that night.
Gulping down the contents, he rose and waddled his way through the press of dirty bodies and out into the clear night, a smile on his lips and a dribble of ale on his chin.
The unnamed man walked down the alley backing the tavern, glad to be away from the detestable Lord of Phallish Keep. The lord would do as he had wanted, the unnamed man had no doubt. He might look in on Corbin from time to time to make sure his own stupidity did not change things, but for now he needed to set up a meeting with another.
The man passed swiftly through the back alleys of Corlea, heading to his destination.
The bustling seaport was a center of influence in Molroun, with thriving trade routes. To many it would seem a haven of diversity and even tranquility. But any large city had its unsavory sections, no matter how prosperous or civilized it was. Despite this, the unnamed man walked without concern. The man passed through a long and narrow alley awash in the smell of garbage and old urine. The beggars that called it home were absent as they tried to find a few more coins for the day. Down one offshoot lay a dead man, hidden behind a shattered barrel. The town watch might find him one day, though it was not likely to be soon.
The unnamed man stopped suddenly and turned around in the silent alley to face the way he had come, devoid of all life. He stood frozen, watching.
This spot would be as good as any.
Three men detached from the shadows, clothed darkly, their steps light. They had been following silent, in the distance. The unnamed man faced them without concern or surprise from under his hooded cloak, waiting.
Glancing amongst themselves in confusion, there was an exchange of nods. The three trackers walked closer. Pulling weapons free from concealment, they faced the unnamed man with two short, agile swords and a small crossbow among them.
They walked to within a few paces and stopped. The man with the crossbow stood in the rear, his weapon trained on their target, while the others had their swords at the ready. The tracker in front spoke, “Why did you meet with Lord Phallish at the tavern? What did you speak of?”
The unnamed man gave no reply, his eyes were the only thing that moved, as he looked over the trackers in the dimness of his hood. Several moments stretched out quietly. The trackers shifted their feet and moved their weapons.
The one in front shared a look with his fellows before turning back, “Look, if you don’t tell us—”
But he never finished as the unnamed man lunged forward. The tracker dropped his mouth in surprise but brought his sword around quickly. The unnamed man batted the weapon to the side with a metallic ring, grabbed the man’s other hand and crushed it with a crackle of bone and cartilage.
The tracker gasped.
The crossbowman rushed forward, his shot obscured, the other man moving as well. But they were too late as the unnamed man grabbed the tracker’s head, eyes wide, and twisted with a loud snap. Grasping the body, he flung it through the air to slam into the crossbowman; sending him flying into the wall with a crash and bouncing into a pile of garbage.
The remaining swordsman didn’t blink as he flung a dagger from his belt. It spun through the air with precision, but the unnamed man caught it mid-flight. Without expression the unnamed man flung it back, dropping the swordsman with a thud.
The remaining tracker staggered to his feet, reloaded his crossbow, and ran backwards as he trained it on the man and fired. The bolt flew true but the unnamed man twisted to the side, jumped the remaining dozen paces and threw the tracker into the wall with a crunch of bone.
The crossbow fell to the ground and cracked, and the last tracker dropped to hands and knees, shaking his head in a daze.
Grabbing him by the throat with one hand, the unnamed man pushed him up against the wall.
Grunting, the tracker sought breath desperately in sputters and gasps. Eyes wide, and blood running from his scalp, he forced out, “Who - are - you?”
The unnamed man tilted his head in amusement and replied, “You know who I am...” Then he silenced the last of the three.
Thanks for reading, watch for the book release: 11/20/14.
And read the short novelette, Seeking the Veil. See Hestea as he first leaves his secret home, raw and untested. Discover his past and the trials of Beckenburg that he will not speak of. Part 1 is now available on Amazon, Parts 2 and 3 will release in 2014.
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