As I mentioned in an earlier post, my editors at Angry Robot Books have allowed me to post monthly excerpts from my forthcoming sword and sorcery novel, The Hammer and the Blade, and I’ll be doing so through to the book’s release. The first excerpt can be found here. The second one is below. This hasn’t been through final editing, so typos and awkwardness are mine.
In choosing the excerpts, I’m simply looking for scenes that I feel capture the vibe of the book. I think the bit below does that nicely. Someone asked me via email if Egil and Nix are inspired in part by Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Absolutely. Leiber is one of my idols. But for these two, I probably draw just as much inspiration from Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega (from Pulp Fiction). Maybe some of that will come through in the following excerpt. This bit occurs in The Slick Tunnel, a tavern and ad hoc brothel that Egil and Nix come to own.
In any event, I hope you enjoy. The Hammer and the Blade will be released in June 2012.
The slam of Egil’s tankard on the bar, as loud as the report of a blunderbuss, cut short the chuckles of the hiresword’s companions. All eyes turned to the priest. The stool groaned with relief as Egil rose.
“It may be a shithole, but it’s our shithole, slubber. And you and yours are no longer welcome in it.”
Nix smiled, pleased to see Egil taking some pride of ownership. “I’m glad to hear you own up to—“
The hiresword let Lis go and put a hand to his blade hilt. His three companions pushed back their chairs and stood.
“Is that right? You mean to kick us out? Of here?”
He chuckled darkly and his comrades echoed him. The chuckles died, however, as Egil walked toward them, shoving empty chairs out of his way as he went. Nix fell in behind him.
“This is our place,’ Nix hissed. “Whatever you break is our lost coin.”
The priest seemed not to hear him and went nose to nose with the hiresword. “No, I’m not kicking you out. I’m telling you and them to leave. If I was kicking you out, my boot’d be in your arse.”
Anger colored the man’s pockmarked face under his mustache and stubble. With his narrow chin and large nose, he reminded Nix of a river rat.
“Ain’t you a priest or something?” the man said.
“Or something. Now, get out.”
The man looked over at Nix. “Is this slubber serious?”
Nix rubbed his chin and made a dramatic show of studying Egil’s face, the furrowed brow, the narrowed eyes, the way his chest rose and fell. Egil’s eyes never left the hiresword’s face.
“Hmm. Not yet, I’d say, but—“
The man whirled back on Egil, spraying spit as he spoke. “Then tell him to stop wasting my fakkin’ time, eh? And maybe get out of my face? I want to get drunk and then laid.”
“Ah, don’t we all,” Nix said, nodding sympathetically.
“You’ll do neither here,” Egil said, and Nix heard the promise of violence in his tone. The priest stood half a head taller than the man, and several stones heavier.
“Shite,” Nix said, and shook his head regretfully.
“What now?” the man said.
“Now I fear he’s serious.”
The man seemed bemused. “What are you two, a comedy troupe?”
“No, but I’m flattered you’d think—“
“Apologize,” Egil said.
The hiresword blinked. “To her? For calling her a whore? Fine, apologies to milady the whore.”
He made an exaggerated bow in the general direction of Lis.
“I think that resolves it, then,” Tesha said from up on the stairs, clapping her hands once. “Let’s all go back to—“
“We done?” the man said. The way he leaned in toward Egil suggested that matters had not ended.
“No,” Egil said. “Now apologize to me for calling my place a shithole.”
“Your place!” Nix exclaimed. “This is our place. And I knew you’d come to see the potential—“
“You’re pushing now just to push,” the man said.
“Isn’t that what you were doing when you stood up and started shouting about whores and shitholes?” Egil said, his deep voice low and dangerous. “When you bumped into Nix and me outside? Pushing just to push, right? You and your boys used to havin’ the run of places, are you?”
The man’s lower lip trembled. “You know what? Fak you, Egil the Priest and Nix the Lucky.” He spat on the floor. “I was trying to be cordial, but this is too much now.”
“You were trying to be cordial?” Nix said in disbelief. “Really? You need lessons.”
“Too much now, is it?” Egil said.
“It is,” the man said, his tone hard. “Far too much.”
Nix saw how things would go and sighed. To the man, he said, “Friend, I’d wish you well, but I’m not one for fruitless wishing. I think maybe those lessons I mentioned are forthcoming.”
The man licked his lips. The lump in his trachea bobbed up and down as he swallowed. “And who’s going to teach it? This priest?”
“Don’t kill him,” Nix said to Egil.
“Ha!” the man said. “There’s four of us and—“
The smack of Egil’s backhand across the man’s cheek nearly knocked him to his knees. The onlookers gasped, even Tesha. Snarling, red-faced from shame and the blow, the man reached for the hilt of his blade as his three companions did the same.
Egil lunged forward, seized the man’s wrist before his blade showed half its steel, and punched him in the jaw hard enough to mist the air with spit, blood, and at least one tooth. The man hit the floor like a poleaxed bull. Meanwhile, Nix bounded forward to the nearest of the man’s companions while clearing his awl dagger of its wrist sheathe. He put its point under the man’s chin before the man had cleared his own sword.
The two remaining hireswords got their weapons out, backed off a step, and took half-hearted fighting crouches. Sweat glistened on their foreheads.
The man at the end of Nix’s dagger glared at Nix but dared not move. Nix winked at him.
“Your friend there forgot that I’m called both lucky and quick. But I wager the three of you will not soon forget, and you can remind your loudmouthed friend of that when his senses return, yeah?”
The man bared his teeth. Nix pricked him with the blade.
“Yeah,” the man agreed.
Egil grabbed the semi-conscious man by an ankle and dragged him toward the doors. The other two made no move toward the priest.
The unconscious man groaned, his eyes rolling, his hair collecting bits of the filth from the floor as Egil pulled him along. Drool and blood dripped from the corner of his mouth.
“Go on, now,” Nix said to the other two. “Follow. And give your blades a home before I lose my smile. This is all done now, unless you’re stupid.”
The pair shared a glance, looked at Egil, who pulled their friend along as if he weighed no more than a child, and scabbarded their blades. As one they headed for the doors, mumbling inaudibly. Nix took his blade from under his man’s chin and pushed him after them. He realized he had the man’s coin purse in his off hand. He must’ve lifted it. One day he’d have to break himself of the habit.
“You,” he said, and the man turned. Nix tossed him the purse and the man fumbled it. “You dropped that.”
The man collected the purse and what was left of his dignity.
Egil opened the door and tossed the semi-unconscious man out onto the rain-soaked walkway, nearly hitting a group of four other men just about to enter.
“Pardon us,” Egil said.
The four newcomers wore mail shirts, metal caps, and blades at their belts. They waited while the three remaining hireswords filed out.
Nix called after the three as thunder rumbled outside. “Egil and Nix own the Tunnel now, you hear? You three are welcome to return, but next time bring your manners. Oh, and maybe leave the loudmouth behind? Done?”
Grumbles and an obscene gesture were the only responses. Nix figured he’d get no better.
Grinning, Nix turned and looked around the room. Everyone save Tesha already had turned back to their drinks, conversation, stew, or work. Again, no applause, no congratulations, no accolades, nothing.
“Come now, people,” he muttered. He saw Tesha eyeing him, one hand on her hip, an irritated glint in her kohl-lined eyes. He made a ‘What?’ gesture with his hands and immediately wished he hadn’t.
Thunder boomed again as she strode down the stairs. She walked up to him like she intended to put a blade in his innards. Instead, she jabbed a finger into his chest. “You won’t improve my business, or yours, by bludgeoning the customers.”
“What? But he said—“
“I know what he said. She is a whore, Nix. Hearing the truth offends neither her nor me. It goes with the work.”
“True,” Lis said, walking past him and up the stairs.
“But…he was disrespectful.”
“So?” Tesha said. “That goes with the work, too. Do you beat everyone who’s disrespectful to you?”
“Well not me, no, but Egil….”
“Don’t do it again, Nix. I mean it. I can’t have everyone who might be interested in one of my men or women worried about saying the wrong thing and getting crosswise of you and Egil. You want this place to make money, don’t you?”
Nix found himself at a loss for words. He located some only by changing the subject. “You’re quite lovely when you’re angry. Did you know that?”
“And you’re quite small of stature, angry or no,” she said.
And with that, she turned on her heel and walked for the stairs. He stood there, sputtering, and she shot him a final withering glance before she ascended.
“I believe I’m in love,” he said softly, watching the sway of her hips under her blue dress.
“You’re always in love,” Egil said, stepping beside him and checking his fist, where he’d scraped it on the hiresword’s teeth.