It’s January, which means another excerpt from my sword and sorcery novel, The Hammer and the Blade, forthcoming from Angry Robot Books (June 2012). Previous excerpts are available here and here. The book is available for pre-orders at online retailers, and such pre-orders are, of course, much appreciated.
As always, the purpose of the excerpts is to give you a feel for the tone of the book, the voice of the characters, and style of the storytelling. Hopefully this does that. I hope you enjoy.
Nix came to with someone shaking him hard by the shoulder. His head was still covered in the sack, but he wasn’t in the cart anymore. Instead he sat on cold earth, the damp seeping through his trousers. Through the haze of his injuries, he smelled the nasty tang of fish and sewage. That put them near the Meander, probably in the Docks.
How long had he been out this time?
“Up!” said Beard, shaking him. “Up, man!”
The shouting made Nix’s head pound. He nearly blacked out again.
“Wake up, Nix Fall. You’re soon to be in the presence of your betters.”
“That ain’t saying much,” Nix managed.
“Still with the smart mouth,” Beard said, still shaking.
“Enough, man! I’m awake.” Nix tried to push him away but his hands were still bound. His head started to clear a bit. “Where’s Egil? Egil!”
“Here,” Egil answered, from Nix’s left.
Nix did not bother a go at the bonds. He’d never slip them quickly enough, and he had no desire to take another blow to the head. He resigned himself to the mercy of his captors, taking solace only in the fact that if they’d wanted him dead, he’d already be dead.
Unless, of course, he’d done something to earn himself a slow, painful death.
He didn’t remember anything, but he’d had a fair number of nights recently with which memory had only distant relations.
“We should drink less, Egil,” he said.
“Bah. We should fight better. Or use fewer damned gewgaws.”
Nix turned his bagged head in the direction he’d last heard Beard speak. “If this is about that job you mentioned back in the Tunnel, we’ve had some time to reconsider….”
Dark chuckles from before him and behind, at least four men, all of them within a few paces. No doubt several more were within earshot, as they had been back at the tavern.
“Gods, man,” Beard said. “Do you ever stop blathering?”
“He fancies himself a wit,” said the hiresword. “Never knowing his mouth is full of shit.”
“I thought you said I was in the presence of my betters?” Nix said, blinking at a particularly painful ache behind his eye. “That hiresword with the eyeshine is two steps below the hindquarters of a horse. Hey, tell ‘em how you got that eyeshine, Hindquarters.”
“You shut your hole,” said the hiresword, and Nix heard him take a step toward him.
“That’s enough,” said Beard, though Nix wasn’t sure if he was talking to him or the hiresword.
“Is that the Hindquarters I backhanded at the Tunnel?” Egil said, joining in. “I didn’t recall his voice being so girlish.”
Nix chuckled, though it made his head ache worse.
“Fak you both,” the hiresword said sharply.
“It is girlish,” said Nix, sinking the blade of his words in deeper. “I hadn’t noticed before. I suspect he was stabbed in the genitals at some point. Or perhaps was born without balls. Which is it, Hindquarters? We’re all aflutter with curiosity.”
A sudden cuff to the side of the head caused Nix to see sparks. He fell to his side and balled up on the floor, expecting another beat down. Hands seized him by the shirt and jerked him off the ground.
“I said that’s enough,” Beard said. “Enough, Jyme. And you, Nix Fall, you shut your godsdamned mouth. It runs like it has the fakkin’ brown trots.”
Jyme, however, ignored Beard and pulled Nix close. “Let me tell you something, Nix the Lucky. I knew these mates here from way back, when I was still Watch. I saw them coming into the tavern while your big friend was showing me out.”
“Tossing you out, you mean,” Nix said. “And I’m surprised you could see anything through that eyeshine.”
Egil chuckled. “Went down as easy as a child.”
“Fak you, priest!” Jyme said. Then, to Nix, “I waited outside until they came out later and that’s when Baras told me they was looking to nab you two. Well, I signed up then and there for that.”
Now Nix had a name for Beard – Baras.
Jyme gave Nix a rough shake. “And it was just happenstance, see? Just the gods smiling on yours truly.” He cast Nix back to the ground. “So who’s got the luck now, Nix? Who’s got it?”
Nix sat up and his mouth kept going, as if of its own accord. “I didn’t hear a word you said, distracted as I was by your breath, which, even through this sack, has stink enough to rouse the dead. You mind starting over back at the beginning?”
Jyme growled and Nix steeled himself for another blow.
“Jyme!” said Baras. “That’s it. It’s done. You’re here on my word. You needed a job and now you have one. But you act professional, just as we did back in the Watch. That, or you’re out.”
“If you’re Watch,” Egil said. “Then you’re also liars. You denied as much back at the Tunnel.”
“You mind your tongue, priest,” Baras snapped. “Call me a liar again and I may let Jyme have his way.”
“What’s he going to do, kiss me?” Egil said. “You want to kiss me, Hindquarters?”
“Fak you,” Jyme said.
“Your mouth keeps tolling the same time, Jyme. Fak you. Fak you. That’s all it says. Are you mentally deficient?”
“Fak you! Er…Fak! Just…damn you.”
“We’re not Watch,” said Baras.
“Then what in the Eleven Pits is this about?” Egil shouted.
“Soon enough and you’ll know,” answered Baras.
“Not even a hint?” Nix prodded. “Come on. A small one? Let’s make a game of it. Maybe sing a song, too.”
“Shut up!” said Baras, flustered.
Moments later, Nix heard muffled voices, as if coming from behind a door. A bolt slid through its housing and a door creaked open. A gust of wind hit him, ripe with the odor of the river. He heard a nightgull call and thought instantly of the Heap and Mamabird. He decided that it wouldn’t do for him to die with a bag over his head.
“My Lord,” Baras said, and Nix heard smart motion from the other men in the room, as if they were saluting.
“Baras,” said a resonant male voice. Nix did not recognize it. “Who is this?”
“I’m Nix—,” Nix said.
“Not you, fool,” said the man.
“His name is Jyme, my lord,” Baras said. “He served with me once, long ago. He was useful to us in our mission tonight. He needs employ.”
“In capturing these two, my Lord. He has no love for them and he’s a good man.”
“Agree with the former but disagree with that last,” Nix said, but no on acknowledged him.
“My lord,” Jyme said.
“These are Egil of Ebenor and Nix Fall?”
“They are, my lord,” Baras answered.
“Nix is the mouthy one?”
“Aye. Mouthy like few others I’ve ever heard.”
Nix heard the approaching tread of soft shoes. They stopped before him.
“I didn’t want things to go this way,” the man said. “But you left me with little choice.”
Nix knew lies when he heard them. Whoever he was, the man had very much wanted things to go exactly as they had.
“What is it you want?” Nix said. He felt ridiculous speaking through a bag, looking up from the ground. “Your man mentioned some kind of job?”
The man paced before him, the motion jerky, agitated. “Right now, I just want you to listen. Will you do that?”
“I’ve been known to listen from time to time. Egil?”
“Speak, man,” said the priest. “I can barely feel my hands. And this bag smells like shit.”