As the last installment for the Worlds of Wonder blog hop, here is another excerpt from the forthcoming release in The Brotherhood of Dwarves series:
From Chapter 7
Leinjar stopped on a crest of the trail overlooking the gate to the Tredjard kingdom. After a few more feet, there could be no turning back, and as he listened to the birds singing in the scrub pines on the mountainside, he almost turned around. He couldn’t remember how many years he had been gone, fifteen or sixteen, maybe more, but to Tredjards, no amount of time could eclipse the bearing of a grudge. As a boy, he had heard a story from his father about the long memories of his people.
Jorland the Coward had fled from duty during a battle and had hid in the mountains for forty years. As old age overtook him, he had longed to see his birthplace once more, so he had ventured back into the kingdom, expecting to have been forgotten. At the gate, the guards had been trained to interrogate everyone, especially returning Tredjards, for few dark beards willingly ventured out of the kingdom. Those trying to come back were usually outcasts, and during the five hour interrogation, Jorland had slipped up and used his real name.
He was delivered to the king, who hadn’t been born when Jorland had abandoned his post, and despite the passage of forty years, he had been executed for cowardice. As he had told the tale, Leinjar’s father, himself a veteran of many battles and missing an arm, had stressed to the downy-bearded young Tredjard the value of courage and the penalty for spinelessness. Death in battle left one in honorable standing. Failure to fulfill one’s duty was unspeakable shame. To Tredjards, no gray area existed, and now, much like Jorland the Coward, Leinjar would have to face the guards’ interrogation, one he himself had been trained to administer.
He looked at his two companions, whose faces hid any excitement they may have felt at returning home. One had been in the cage when Leinjar arrived and had survived hundreds of leisure slave battles. The other had only arrived a few years back but had fought valiantly on the Slithsythe, at Hard Hope, and in the logging town. Both deserved better than to be executed for his shame. He asked if they were certain they wanted to enter the kingdom with him, and both nodded, so Leinjar mustered up his courage and continued down the dirt path.
The gate rose from the mountainside like a warning to turn back, its stone and steel fortifications offering no hint of hospitality. Even on this border, far from any threat of orcs or the Great Empire, the bars were thick and sturdy, and crossbows peeked through the slots, watching for a threat. As he neared, Leinjar held out his palms and advanced slowly, anticipating the order to halt. His last opportunity to turn back was gone, for the crossbows shifted positions, trained on him and the other two.
The sergeant at the Ghaldeon gate, as it was known, peered through the slots and watched the three Tredjards moving down the trail. They were dirty and unkempt, their beards and hair tangled, matted, and greasy with no beard clip to signify rank. Their clothes were a beggar’s rags, and they looked thin and aged. However, their weapons, orcish pikes, were battle-tested and well-maintained. If any Tredjards seeking re-entry to the kingdom fit the profile of outcasts, these three were it, and the sergeant told his troops to ready themselves for trouble.
“That’s far enough,” he called, stopping the three ten yards from the gate. “State your business.”
“We seek an audience with the king on behalf of the Kiredurks,” the middle one said, his eyes those of a madman.
“That so?” the sergeant scoffed. “You’re the best those weaklings could send?”
“We’ve covered many miles. Please, forgive our appearance.”
“Lie to me, and we’ll fill you with bolts. Where did you get those weapons, dark beard?”
“The orc plantation we escaped from, sergeant.”
“How do you know my rank?”
“I once wore the same clip.”
The sergeant turned to his archers, who shrugged in confusion. He looked back at the crazy-eyed dwarf:
“Your name, then?”
“I’m Leinjar, Sergeant of the Torjhien and Stoljehn gate.”
The sergeant glanced back at his archers, whose expressions had changed from confusion to bewilderment. Surely he had misheard the dwarf. Only a fool would appear at the gate, using that name to gain entrance. He asked the archers if they had heard him, and they nodded.
“Say again,” the sergeant called through the bars.
“My name is Leinjar.”
“What should I do?” the sergeant whispered to the dwarf beside him.
“It can’t be him,” the archer whispered back.
“I’ll give the scum this much,” another archer said. “He has guts.”
“What should I do?” the sergeant repeated.
“Call the captain,” the first archer said.
“Good idea,” the sergeant whispered. Through the bars he called, “You three wait right there.”