It’s April, and that means it’s time for another monthly excerpt from The Hammer and the Blade (Amazon, B&N). As always, the goal here is to give you a sense of the novel’s tone. Previous excerpts are here, here, here, here, and here. Early reviews of the novel are here and here.
Also, I received a quote about the novel from Jim Lowder, a writer and editor for whom I have enormous respect, and he said this:
The Hammer and the Blade is a gritty, rollicking yarn that captures the essence of sword & sorcery adventure. A tale of lost treasures and lusty demons that Egil and Nix are sharing right now somewhere, bellied up to a tavern bar with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Conan, and, of course, Kemp’s own Erevis Cale.
I like that very much.
Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this month’s excerpt. As always, our boys are in trouble.
By the time the water clock tolled three hours past deepnight, the Tunnel was almost empty. A few drunks slouched over tables, sleeping. Gadd and Egil escorted them out the door and Gadd made a half-hearted attempt at sweeping the floor.
Nix’s eyes kept going to the stairway. No one had emerged from the upstairs pleasure rooms for hours. Nix didn’t think any patrons remained up there, or at least he hoped not. In his mind’s eye, he saw Kiir… servicing that country hob, and it bothered him more than he liked to admit.
Gadd’s cups, tankards, and platters stood arrayed behind the bar in formation, an army of ceramic and tin. Nix put Kiir from his mind and tried to fight down yawns.
“You can go, Gadd,” he said to the towering tapkeep. “We’ll close up.” He gestured at himself and Egil and spoke slowly. “We will close.”
Gadd seemed to take his point and nodded. He gathered his cloak, smiled, showing eye teeth filed to sharp points, and took his leave.
“What do you suppose his story is?” Nix said. “Got more ink on his arms than a sorcerer’s spellbook. And those teeth.”
“He’s from the east and brews the gods’ own ale,” Egil said. “That’s all I know and all I need to know.”
“Speaking of his ale,” Nix said, and jumped over the bar. He shook the last tapped hogshead and it sloshed satisfactorily. “Still half-full.”
“Let’s remedy that.”
Nix placed the sloshing barrel on the bar and drew two tankards.
“To ownership, then,” Nix said, hoisting his tankard.
“Ha!” Egil said, and bumped it with his own. “To an eventful first day.”
They sat at the bar, their bar, for the next hour. They sat in comfortable silence, as only friends can do, with Ool’s clock tolling the time, the Lord Mayor’s portrait staring down at them, and Egil tossing his dice to no apparent purpose. Before long Egil had his head down, snoring on the bar, the eye of Ebenor tattooed on his head keeping watch on the priest’s behalf.
Nix continued his war with yawns, shaking the hogshead from time to time, determined to finish it for no reason other than a sense of completion.
When the dissonant notes of Ool’s clock proclaimed the fourth hour after deepnight, Kulven had set and Minnear rode high in the vault. Viridian light leaked through the Tunnel’s windows to stain the floor, the mullions putting a crosshatch on the floor. By then, Nix was done. Fatigue and drink blurred his vision. He slid from the stool, leaned on it for a moment to steady himself. He was drunker than he’d realized. He staggered for the doors.
The common room felt enormous with no one in it. Dying embers crackled in the huge hearth. Nix stumbled, caught his balance on the hearth, and patted it appreciatively.
Made from mortared stones tossed up onto the banks of the Meander by the river’s slow current, the hearth struck Nix as one of the sturdiest things he’d ever seen. He imagined all of Dur Follin could fall and the hearth and chimney of the Slick Tunnel would remain, keeping company with the Archbridge, jutting out of the ruins like a stone giant’s erection.
The image made him chuckle, and chuckling made him lightheaded, and lightheadedness caused him to hook a foot on the leg of a chair as he walked. He stumbled and fell to the floor, cursing. Face down on the wood floor, he called for Egil. A snort and an inarticulate mumble answered him. He chuckled, rose to all fours, and the door of the Tunnel flew open. Through the table and chair legs he saw boots, five pairs, presumably attached to legs.
“We’re closed,” he said, using the end of a table to pull himself up. “Just neglected to bar the–”
Five men stood just inside the doorway, the four men Nix and Egil had made earlier as city watch, and the loudmouthed hiresword with the thin mustache whom Egil had punched in the face. Loudmouth had a shine on his right eye and a nasty grin on his thin lips. The rest had ill intent written on their faces.
“Shite,” Nix said.
Beard spoke with the voice of a man used to being obeyed. “Nix Fall and Egil of Ebenor, you are both hereby detained under the authority of the Lord Mayor.”
Egil groaned, lumbered up from his stool, and stood there swaying and squinting.
“What is all this now? Lord Mayor what?”
“How things looking now, slubber?” said the hiresword to Nix.
Nix didn’t quite understand how the hiresword connected to the watchmen, but the threat of arrest helped clear the mold from his mind. He steadied himself on the back of a chair.
“I’m sure we can work this out,” he said. “Now–”
“If you resist, we are authorized to use force,” said Beard.
“Egil’s voice boomed from behind Nix. “I asked: what is this now?”
The hiresword sneered. “This is you getting payback, priest.”
The sound of opening doors carried from the second floor of the Tunnel, the murmur of voices.
“Stay up there,” shouted Beard. “Everyone stay up there. We are on the Lord Mayor’s business.”
Tesha’s voice carried down from the top of the stairs. “How do we know you speak truth?”
“Just do as I say, woman!” said Beard, and nodded at one of his guards, who bounded up the stairs, drawing his blade as he went.
“Back,” the man at the top of the stairs said. “Stay back by authority of the Lord Mayor.”
Nix heard angry grumbling from Tesha and her workers.
“It’ll be fine, Tesha,” Nix called, still trying to make sense of what was happening. “Egil and I will work this out.”
“I know how you two work things out!” she shot back.
Nix’s words seemed to relax Beard. To Nix, he said, “Now you’re talking sense. So just come along and–”
“I said we’d work it out,” Nix said. “But I meant with blood. Mostly yours. Maybe you understood me to mean something else?”