In this modern era, there comes a day in every writer’s career when they choose to dabble in self-publishing. Today is mine. Via Kindle Electronic Publishing, I offer you a short tale called Amarante: A Tale of Old Tharduin. It’s an Orc story, set in the shared world of Tharduin — and at a little over 6000 words (20 pages) for .99 cents, I consider it a right-proper steal!
Here’s a snippet for your consideration:
Muzgaash led them deeper into the East Bank of Siphäis, into that part of the city which had borne the brunt of the Butcher’s siege engines, back in the early days of the War. By the faint light of a gibbous moon, the mismatched pair skirted ruined plazas and cut through the gutted remnants of shops and homes. Once, the city had boasted a population of well over five-hundred thousand, sprawling as it did over the east and west banks of the sluggish Aornus River. Half died in the siege, of starvation, disease, or the relentless hail of stone, arrow, fire, and spear; of those who survived to kneel before their Orcish masters, nine out of every ten later succumbed to the Black Death. Siphäis had become a city of ghosts, and the Orc-captain could feel their eyes on him.
Though uneasy, Kraibag nevertheless kept pace with the fast-moving Witch Hound, past landmarks he remembered from the 10th’s bloody push for the river, after the rams had split Siphäis’ eastern gates asunder. They darted down a broad street lined with colonnades, where his archers and shield-crews had fought a battle of wits with their human counterparts. Kraibag’s eyes swept the colonnade roofs, the sense of scrutiny growing more pronounced. He snarled.
“Someone’s watching us!”
“Blasted rebels,” Muzgaash spat. “Lurking about like they still have a chance to win the War.”
The two Orcs paused in the lee of a shattered bell tower, Muzgaash snuffling the air and the ground. Kraibag recalled the place well, for here he’d dueled a champion of Siphäis, a knight whose axe the Orc still carried; doubtless the bastard’s bones yet moldered somewhere along the tower’s foundations.
“It’s taking its sweet time,” Muzgaash whispered. The Witch Hound started under the thick stone arches that upheld the bell tower, but stopped. His nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply. “Gharn! The little rat doubled back.” He motioned to Kraibag; they went back they way they had come and plunged down an alley hemmed in by high, windowless walls. The elements had eroded the roadbed and exposed the trickling stream of foul water that was the city’s sewer. A hedge of weeds and thorny brambles grew along the banks of this makeshift brook. Instantly, Kraibag’s hackles rose.
Muzgaash was on the verge of pushing through that hedge when the captain of the 10th grabbed him and hauled him back. “Open your eyes, snuffler.” He pointed to the edge of the thicket, where the bones of animals and birds mingled in the leaf-mold. “One thorn-prick will send you off, as quick and pretty as you like. It’s an old trick the whiteskins used, after we’d broken through the gate and brought the fight to them. Find a way around.”
Muzgaash shook his head. “Trail goes through it, not around it.”
“And I say find another way!”
Snarling, the Witch Hound spun around . . . and froze. A figure stood at the mouth of the alley, cloaked and hooded, dark with menace. Even as Kraibag turned, Muzgaash raised his bow and loosed an arrow. The broad-head struck the figure square in the chest; the silhouette rocked back but did not fall. Muzgaash snatched another arrow from his quiver, but before he could nock and draw, Kraibag pushed his bow aside.
“Fool! It’s a scarecrow!”
The cloak fluttered, revealing a dressmaker’s mannequin, its arms and legs pieced together from delicately-carved wooden spindles, twisted nails, and bundles of yellowed bone; a severed Orc head was lashed to its neck, empty eye-sockets like holes in a dry and leathery mask. Salt-rime gleamed in the moonlight.
Amarante is available now on Kindle, as a pdf download from DriveThruFiction, and coming soon to Smashwords! The gorgeous cover art comes courtesy of the phenomenal Richard (RW) Ware!