Chapter 1 Excerpt from the Siege of Anticus: A Zombie Fantasy Novel
Background: This is an excerpt from the sequel to my “critically acclaimed” and “best-selling” novel, The Curse of Troius. This excerpt deals with the introduction of some new characters, members of Baron Northreach’s expedition to investigate the odd message sent by his son, Mikel Anders. It revolves around 4 young recruits attached to the veteran outfit. It is absolutely and 100% unedited so bear that in mind!
A cramp lancing down his left calf broke Adel’s daydream. He couldn’t do anymore; after three days of endless marching with all the ridiculously heavy gear, sleeping on rock-hard ground as the early spring wind reached easily through his thin blanket, and the rest of the miseries piled on miseries, he was done. He opened his mouth to beg the sergeant for a break, no longer caring about the reaction his capitulation would cause.
“Rest!” The sergeant’s harsh voice sounded to Adel’s ears like the mercy of Ban. He leaned on his spear in the center of the cart-rutted road, feeling the tingle of overstimulated nerves up and down his legs. The sound of Wels collapsing with a groan beside him gave Adel enough renewed energy to look casually for a more comfortable place to rest. An old fallen tree off the path looked promising, and he gratefully sat on it, letting his pack slide – gently, not wanting to arouse the ire of the sergeant scowling nearby – to the ground in front of his feet while taking the opportunity to loosen the built-up heavy mud on his boots. Jaeden and Reld plopped next to him, each loudly chewing a piece of dried something. Adel felt an elbow rap into his arm and he looked up.
Smirking, Jaeden nodded his head over at Wels, still groaning on the ground as he tried feebly to remove his heavy pack. The way he gingerly moved his arms made it look like his shoulders were completely numb. The sergeant stood over him, calmly berating him in his even tone that masterfully demonstrated the level of contempt the tall, broad-shouldered soldier had for the short pudgy worm that writhed in the dirt and mud. The sight made Adel smile and his feet hurt that much less. The other members of their detachment settled in, talking in that low way they shared with one another as they gathered far away from Adel and his friends. He couldn’t help but think of those others as the “real soldiers”, as compared to himself and the other young untried youths from Town Northreach.
In truth, the two groups couldn’t be much more different. Adel knew he and his friends were little better than children in comparison. The others were true soldiers, actual veterans of the Lords’ Uprising, all of whom had served in Baron Northreach’s small army that decided the civil war. They knew each other, trusted each other, and understood each other, and were equally unified in their contempt for the callow youths that now served with them. Adel and the others steered clear of them, after the first time he’d tried to break into a conversation amongst a pair of them. Their flat eyes and set mouths told Adel everything he needed to know about mud-eared bumpkins interrupting their betters, and he’d scuttled off before they even needed to say a word.
Since that day, he and his friends had kept their distance. They stood watches together, always along the places that Adel figured would be the least important areas. All of the new recruits the Baron added from the town drilled and trained together, under the hard eye and caustic tongue of Sergeant Gillen, so there was very little interaction between the veterans and recruits. Even the mealtimes ended up segregated, mostly through the fear the youngsters had of the grizzled and scarred men and women who represented the last vestiges of the Baron’s victorious army.
Adel didn’t even know the names of most of the soldiers on their detail. He knew the commanders, of course, near-mythic beings to Adel that he tried to avoid: Boulden, Northreach’s Master of Arms and the right hand of the Baron himself; Lieutenant Villios, an adviser and Boulden’s second; and lastly Herndin, supposedly a historian or chronicler or somesuch but someone treated with grave respect by all of the real soldiers. Of the rest, he’d caught some nicknames through overheard snatches of conversation, like Fat Trout, Crumb, and Beans, but didn’t know anyone’s actual real names, nor had he been able to catch the rest of them as yet. Even three weeks into the Baron’s service, Adel felt like he was playacting, pretending to be a soldier while trying to avoid the adults who were the real thing.
Mud spattered into Adel’s face as Wels’ pack dropped into the mud beside him, his cry of disgust and surprise ignored by the glassy-eyed fellow as he dropped onto the log at Adel’s left. The complete state of pathetic exhaustion quickly defused Adel’s anger at the mud, and he laughed at the nearly catatonic shell the educated and verbose young man had turned into during their long march. Serves him right, Adel thought as he once more took strength from his companion’s suffering. If it wasn’t for Wels and his stupid ideas, Adel would be comfortably ensconced in Northreach Tower right now, sleeping under a roof and eating regular hot meals. He went back to scraping the mud off of his boots, his mind drifting away from his battered and exhausted body.
That first day as a guardsman had been one long shock to Adel’s senses. His father hadn’t been happy about it at first, until one of the Baron’s men came to speak with him. Adel wasn’t sure what they discussed, but it seemed to satisfy his father. His mother was just happy that he’d be safe and close to home. Marching up the road to the keep with Jaeden and Reld as the sky dawned, Adel felt on the precipice of something grand, as if he were about to officially become a man.
Before the morning was done, he felt like a lost and blubbering child.
His clothes were taken, replaced by ill-fitting and coarse garments. His tunic was too large and the breeches so short that the bottoms kept pulling out of the tops of his boots. Everything became a blur of running, sparring with wooden weapons, calisthenics, marching, running, then standing perfectly still that was followed by more running. His fingers were bruised by an opponent’s wooden blade, his feet and hands blistered, his lungs burned, and his dreams of the glorious Carela-filled future forgotten. By the time he fell onto the thin blanket-covered straw that would be his bed, he was too exhausted to let fall all the tears he’d built up.
By the next morning, he’d resolved to leave and go back home. He hurriedly whispered his plans to Jaeden as they hungrily shoveled porridge into their mouths. Adel didn’t understand the look of incredulity on his friend’s face as he unfolded his plan, until Jaeden managed to ask a simple question: “You do realize we’re apprenticed, right?”
The casual interrogative couldn’t have had a more profound effect on Adel. The gummy porridge sat heavily in Adel’s mouth as every fiber of his being came to a complete stop. The thought that perhaps his heart had stopped briefly floated across his consciousness, but failed to alarm him. In fact, at that moment it might have been a mercy.
As a hired soldier, he might have had some ability to extricate himself from the position he found himself in, but as an apprentice, he would be trapped. His father would have been paid a sum and a contract issued forcing Adel to stay where he was, for however many years the agreement was written. The Baron would essentially own him for the life of the deal. Certainly, the man would be obligated to teach Adel a trade in exchange for the lad’s service, but that was of small comfort to the youth at the moment.
He generally estimated that whatever Jaeden said had a 90 percent chance of being utter shit. The boy had more stories of exploits and adventures and sexual conquests than anyone could manage in a mere fifteen summers, and if anyone believed everything that came from his mouth, as Reld did, then they’d think themselves friends with a descendant of noblemen and conquerors. This time, however, Adel believed him. Completely. Why else would his father reverse his position on the whole matter so quickly unless he’d been paid off? Adel felt tears rise into his eyes at the thought of his own father selling his oldest son to some unknown nobleman as he were just another of the old man’s goats.
There was still the faint and flickering hope that Jaeden was wrong, so after Reld finished the rest of Adel’s unwanted porridge the troubled youth approached Sergeant Gillen with trepidation. He put on a rather ghastly smile, trying to be casual, and said, “So Jaeden and I were talking, and he said that we were apprentices, and I was completely sure about that, so I thought I would, uh, ask you, uh, Sergeant sir.”
Adel felt the man’s contempt radiating from him before his head finished its slow ascent from the trencher filled with cold fowl in front of him to the eyes of the now-trembling lad in standing next to the table. The sergeant chewed once, then twice, before answering, “Of course you are. Why else would the Baron agree to bring on a useless gaggle of stumblefooted idiots without the basic skills necessary to remove their trousers before pissing all over themselves, feed them and clothe them, and teach them the bare necessities of adulthood while wiping their stupid arses until they learn to do it for themselves without apprenticing them? What, did you expect that you’d be paid?” A burst of laughter from the other soldiers at the sergeant’s table made it clear the question was rhetorical in nature.
Adel swallowed, and in perhaps the most courageous moment of his life, managed to say, “Well, the crier did say….”
The sergeant cut him off quickly. “Yes, the crier did say that former soldiers or experienced guardsmen would be hired and paid a generous wage. Since you and your friend are neither of those things, you were brought in as apprentices, as your friend was well aware. I assume then that you didn’t actually learn these particular details until recently?” The man’s voice managed to make even a plain question a withering rebuke.
Adel made some sort of spluttering noise with shrugging and nodding and shaking his head and then turned to leave. Something the sergeant said made him stop and turn back, and as a testament to the spinning in his head he managed to say something else. “Ah, Sergeant, sir, you said ‘friend’ there, but, uh, there’s also Reld with us, so….”
The icy look in the sergeant’s eye told Adel that he’d asked his last question of the day. They locked stares for several heartbeats, with Adel terrified of looking away and so missing when the man went for his neck, until the sergeant finally spoke again. “I said ‘friend’ because the other fellow has experience. He’s being paid. I realize that it is very difficult for you to grasp the simple concepts that life is nevertheless relentless at sending your way, but perhaps, shortly after you learn the differences between boys and girls, you will begin to understand a small amount of the things that happen around you.” The soldiers, both male and female, laughed again as Adel nodded with his rictus grin and moved back to his own table.
Jaeden was chuckling as the pale and shaking Adel thumped heavily onto the bench. “Pleasant chat with the sergeant, eh?”
Adel didn’t even hear the question. He turned to Reld and asked, “How in Reap’s Pit do you have guardsman experience?”
Reld looked up from Adel’s bowl and smiled broadly. “Remember last spring when Tevas came through and was worried about reports of banditry on the road south and so me and my da went with him?”
Adel spluttered, his face finally leaving its pale hue to flush with indignation. “Yeah, and you carried a hoe, and spent four total complete days away from home, and saw not so much as a rabbit the entire time.”
Reld narrowed his eyes as he looked up at the ceiling, brow furrowed. “Actually, I saw three rabbits, two deer, and one small wild pig.” He smiled and nodded at Adel, who sat with his mouth open and eyes wide. “I guess it was enough.”