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The Shadowbearer – Aegis of The Gods prequel

04 Mar

Here is a snippet of chapter 1 to the new novel and prequel to Aegis of the Gods. Enjoy.

Chapter 1

Knight Commander Stefan Dorn surveyed the battlefield below him from his vantage point astride his horse. The oncoming Astocan army stretched in a long line that disappeared into the shadows of the mountains behind them. The Knight Commander grimaced. “Fools. They’re dead.” With a shake of his head, he let out a resigned sigh. “Prideful and stupid to the end.” It pained him to see such a waste of good men even from his enemies. Their general should have listened to reason. Together they could have averted the upcoming bloodshed.

“The way the Astocans would tell it, it’s bravery of the highest degree.” Knight General Garrick shrugged, broad shoulders made even wider by the pauldrons of his plate armor. He twirled his mustache around his thick forefinger. “They give their lives for the pride to claim they bent knee to no one. They would say their gods and people deserve nothing less.”

Atop his brown gelding, Knight General Kasimir snorted. “Too bad their gods aren’t fighting this battle.”

“Indeed.” Stefan nodded. As a believer in the gods, he understood how a man might wish to have the deities on their sides in a battle like this, especially if that man was an Astocan. He pursed his lips as he scratched at the annoying black stubble under his chin.

Overhead, the sun blazed, and the mountains of the Sang Reaches cast long shadows from which the Astocan army boiled in numbers to dwarf Stefan’s forces. The smell of horse, sweaty men, and metal choked the air as his cavalry spread to his left and right. Up ahead his infantry advanced.

“I still don’t understand your concern for them.” Garrick shook his head.

“You wouldn’t. Not after what they did—”

Stefan cut Kasimir off with a glare. “They’re men with families and livelihoods like us.”

“Never like us,” Garrick snapped. “Lose this battlle today and they would enslave us all, rape our women, and pillage our cities.” Nostrils flaring as they often did when he was angry, Garrick pulled so hard on his mustache Stefan wondered if his friend felt any pain at all. “So you’re right, Kas, I wouldn’t understand, not after how they made me suffer. But I know what it means to you, Stefan.” He nodded to the Knight Commander. “You have way more honor than I ever will.”

“Thank you.” Stefan dipped his head to Garrick. “You don’t give yourself enough credit, old friend. You’re as honorable a man as I have met, regardless of how you try to hide it.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the thin form of Knight General Mensa as the man made to say something. The Knight Commander spurred his horse forward a few steps. The King’s errand boy could wait a bit longer.

From across the battlefield, drumbeats, blaring horns, and the stomp of marching feet echoed. The jangle of weapons and the trundle of carts from Stefan’s army played accompaniment. In tight formations, armor dull and dusty, his infantry lines awaited their commands.

A buzz, like flies alighting on a bloody corpse, filled the sweltering air. Shot from the blackness beneath the drab grey and green mountains, arrows darkened the sky.

“Incoming!” boomed the voices of the silver-armored Knight Captains. Their warning rose unnaturally over the trumpets and drums echoing from the enemy’s ranks.

The men of Stefan’s Setian infantry legions brought forearms up to shield the eye ports of their helmets.

The buzz grew in intensity. Arrows began to land, pinging harmlessly off imbued steel plate.

“Be ready!” the Knight Captains yelled as the barrage ended.

Several horns blared down the cavalry lines to Stefan’s sides.

Stefan brushed a stray lock from his face then raised the looking glass to his eye. Despite their location at the base of the mountains some six hundred feet away, the encroaching Astocan soldiers sprang into his vision as if he stood among them. Their archers were preparing another volley.

“Infantry. Formations,” Stefan called out.

The trumpets sounded his order.

Two ranks of shield-bearing swordsmen marched forward. Spread from left to right, they made up the vanguard. A similar formation of pikemen wielding twenty-foot spears followed them ahead of an additional double rank of swordsmen. Behind the column of foot soldiers were Stefan’s ranged legion consisting of bowmen, operators, and Cardian slaves. In unison, over twenty thousand sabatons stomped. The impact with the parched earth resounded—a mocking challenge to the Astocan archers’ efforts.

“Return fire,” Stefan said.

The trot of a horse’s hooves accompanied Knight General Mensa’s appearance next to Stefan. Mensa made to speak, but Stefan spared the small man a look, eyebrows raised. Mensa’s mouth snapped shut, his bulbous nose flaring. With a gloved hand, Mensa dabbed at his sweaty forehead.

Horns announced Stefan’s command. At the rear of the infantry, the small complement of bowmen stepped forward. They drew fletchings to ears. Bows twanged and arrows loosed.

Stefan’s gaze followed the flight of the Setian arrows. As expected, they fell woefully short. No man could fire as far as the Astocans and the monster bows they wielded. A derisive cheer rose from the Astocan legions. Stefan smirked.

“Slow forward,” Stefan said to Kasimir and Garrick arrayed on either side of him.

With nods, they called out the order. The trumpeters blew. In response, the Setian heavy foot surged ahead, a step at a time. Their boots drowned out all else.

Across the plain, in numbers like swarming brown ants, the leather clad Astocans dispatched their infantry. Their cavalry spread to their flanks, lances upright, tassels blowing in the wind. Mounted archers moved among them. Stefan gave a wry smile. Renowned for their horseback archery, the large men deftly handled their mounts while firing their oversized bows with deadly precision. The sight was a thing of beauty or terror.

Read more here.

Chapter 1 : The Shadowbearer

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