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Excerpt from Thorn Changer by Christy Reed
Her shoulder throbbed. She grimaced and sat up, a hand to her head. Something orange glimmered in the corner of her eye, on her cheek. She wiped her hand over it, and the orange slippery glitter rested on her palm. She wiped it on her cloak, and then scrubbed her face with the edge of the fabric. Light peeped in from the tent opening. No guards outside, no shadows across the tent. She reached into her belt pouch and started to put on her metal-studded gloves. The cloak began to glow brightly. She tore it off her, and threw it. It vanished before the fabric touched the ground. She shivered. Was that dark magic?
She rose to her knees, and rubbed the back of her aching head. “He sure can hit hard.” Her lips stung. Her probing fingers stopped as they felt the crusty blood. She shook her head, and almost wanted to laugh. “Looks like you’ve got yourself into something, Skey. Who knew Cinote was so smart? I didn’t think those idiots could find their own feet, let alone that map I dropped. But how did they get here so fast? Unless Cinote had them here in the first place.”
Was that it? Had he known what she planned to do from the beginning? Had someone realized the map was missing?
She shook her head. If they had, they wouldn’t have let her keep it. Maps weren’t cheap, and definitely weren’t something you let prisoners have.
How would he have known to send men to Beolki anyway?
She bowed her head and sighed. Oh well. She’d just have to figure out another way to escape him. If she could just get to one of the Beolkin nobles’ castles… Once there, she could disappear. At least for a while. Right now, though, she’d do better to make up a plan for getting out of this camp.
Her head jerked up. “What was that?”
Steel clanged. “Why, they’ve been attacked,” she scrambled to her feet. Her harp rested by her. She snatched it up.
Cloth ripped. The beam of light widened as she turned back to the door, only to be darkened as a man’s form ducked in. “Ah,” he halted. “What do we have here? A lassie, it looks like.”
Skey stood up, and slung the harp over her shoulder. “A minstrel,” the soldier laughed. “Well, you’ll come in handy. You can write a song about our victory.”
“I write songs for no one unless I choose to.” How could she get by him?
The burly soldier chuckled. “Ah, you’re a feisty one. That’s good. They write the best songs.”
“Try this for a song,” Skey struck him right below the jaw.
He let out a roar. Another when she kicked his legs out from under him. She darted past him, but he seized her ankle. She fell, and kicked herself free. She jumped up, and ran. He was right behind her. “Get the lass.”
Skey darted around the tents. Soldiers were ducking in and out of them, shredding the fabric with their blades. Too busy to notice her. Now where was that gate? There. She ran towards it, and skidded to a halt. Two soldiers had just swung it shut.
The soldier seized her arms. Fire rippled through her right shoulder. She kicked him hard. He grunted, tightening his grip as he looked about. “I can’t keep hold of her.”
A soldier and a captain ran towards him. One grabbed her legs, while the captain drew his dagger. “I’d be still, if I were you.”
Skey froze as the cold metal brushed her throat. The captain nodded to the burly one. “You take charge of her. Keo, watch her, keep your blade drawn. We’ll see what the prince has to say.”
Keo relinquished his hold, and drew his own knife. Skey tried not to swallow as the steel touched. The captain watched her a moment, then sheathed his blade. “Much better. March.”
Skey scanned the camp as they headed toward the center. There had to be another way of escape. The soldier holding her laughed. “You’re meek enough now, lassie. Tired?”
“Maybe your face finally got to her, Paylor,” the other soldier teased.
The first glared at him. “Most like to be your face that scared the tongue out her, Keo.”
“Perhaps she’s the wisest of you blockheads, keeping her mouth shut that I don’t yell at her like I am at you,” the captain glared back at them. “Now shut up.”
They reached the center of the campsite. On the other side of it, a lad not much older than she was sat tall astride his horse as he talked with two soldiers. The general? He’s awful young, she tried not to smirk as he ran long fingers through his spiky orange hair, then folded his arms across his chest and laughed. He doesn’t look much like a general.
“Prince Kotua,” the captain waved, stopping Skey a few yards away. “We’ve a prisoner.”
His ice blue eyes sparkled as he turned to them. “A prisoner, you say? Well, she sure isn’t a prisoner I’d expect to find here. In the Iezomen army camp.” He smiled. “A minstrel, are you? Since when does General Sodoma have a minstrel in his camp? He must’ve gotten a better sense of humor since I last met him.”
Skey didn’t answer. What a stupid grin. As if he didn’t expect her to reply, Kotua went on. “What shall we do with you? If only my uncle could see you. I’m sure he’d find you like no other.” He rubbed his chin. “Maybe I should bring you with us. My uncle might like another minstrel for his castle. Maybe he’d give me a break from looking at those state papers.”
“I sing for who I choose, and no other,” Skey jerked away from the soldiers. They reached for her, but Kotua held up his hand. “I was seized for no cause. I demand you release me.”
The prince laughed. He laughed way too much. “So you can talk. I was beginning to wonder, you know.” He shook his head. “A mute minstrel. That’s like a blind artist. Or a deaf scribe.”
“Will you release me?”
“You remind me of my uncle. He acts the same way, you know. All business, no fun. Or at least when he has a game to win. Which’s been often lately, considering the war and all.” He shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t. I’ll have to take you with me, in case you’re a spy or something like that. But, not to worry. A few days in the dungeon and you’ll be as free as one can be. That being, of course, that you don’t know anything that’d warrant you being dead instead.”
Her jaw clenched. She wouldn’t be imprisoned again. “You’ll not have an easy time of it.”
“Easy or not, I still have to do it.” He looked to her captors. “Bind her.”
Skey struck the one called Paylor as he tried to seize her, and gave Keo a sharp kick in the side. The captain caught her about the waist. She elbowed him sharply in the ribs. Kotua swung down from his horse, his eyes not as laughing as they’d been. “You’ve a temper like my uncle, too.”
He grabbed her wrist. Her fist came in contact with his jaw. He rubbed it with his other hand, but his grip didn’t loosen. “You sure hit hard for a little kid.”
Skey’s teeth clenched. “I’m not a little kid.” A sharp kick hit his shin.
He winced. “And you kick hard, too.” The laughter changed to a scowl. Her other hand was trapped with her first one, as his arm seized her about the waist. “I don’t have time for fooling around, lass. I’ve papers to look to when I get back.”
Skey struggled to get her hands free. She drove her elbows backwards into his ribs. “You’re getting there without me.” She wrenched away, and sprinted towards the horse. It squealed, almost rearing as she threw herself into the saddle. She forced it down, digging her heels into the creature’s flanks.
The steed took off as its hooves struck the ground. “Stop her.” She glanced over her shoulder. Kotua stumbled after her, one hand gripping his side. A blood-drenched bandage peered through the tatters. “Don’t let her escape.”
She kicked down a soldier who grabbed at her foot, and charged on. The gate was still closed, but it and the walls weren’t much taller than the prince. This horse could jump over it, given a running start. She drove her heels harder into its sides. Her heart kept time with its hooves. The horse had to make it. “Come on,” she whispered in its ear. “You can do it, boy. It’s only a little jump.”
“To the gate. Come on. It’s closed. She can’t possibly escape.”
Didn’t he realize the power of his own horse? Good thing she had taken it then.
The gate loomed up in front of them. The horse stiffened. “You can do it, boy.”
“Make sure the gate’s secured,” the prince was still behind her. “I don’t want her slipping through.”
“I know you can. Just don’t think about it.” The pupil of its eye grew wide as they neared the gate. “Just jump when I say. Okay?” Her eyes scanned the wooden structure, the only barrier between her and freedom. “Ready?”
The horse’s eye grew wider, but he didn’t slack his pace. “Stop her.” Skey smiled at the dismay in the prince’s voice. So he finally realized what she planned to do? Took him long enough.
She leaned closer into the horse. The time had come. “Jump.”
They were flying through the air, the wind whipping against their bodies. The hooves struck the ground hard on the other side of the gate. She clenched her teeth against the jar, her rear bouncing hard against the saddle. “Now run,” Skey hissed.
There was no need. The speed the horse had built up kept him going. The gate burst open. She glanced back over her shoulder. A group of horsemen urged their steeds after her, at their head Prince Kotua. No smile on his face now.
“She must be a spy, or a deserter. We can’t let her get away.”
She spurred her horse on faster, towards the city looming up ahead. Smoke and char wafted from the blackened ruins visible through the sagging gates. She coughed, her eyes watering. So that general had attacked this city. But he’d lost. Those chasing her now weren’t the same that captured her before.
They were gaining. Foam gathered on her horse’s mouth, flying back and spattering her cheek. Its sides heaved under her, its gait slightly off. It wouldn’t be able to go much farther. She glanced up at the city. They were almost there. If they could only make it. “Come on, my friend. You’re tired, I know, but we’re almost there. Just a little farther, and you’ll be able to go where you please. They’ll never find me in there.”
“We’re gaining on her,” Kotua’s voice was close enough to make her uneasy. “Come on, only a little farther.”
She turned her eyes to the wall. The moments passed like hours. “Come on. Only a few yards more.”
The wall reared itself up but a yard in front of them, broken here and there but mostly still intact. Skey wheeled the horse from it, and jumped off. Her fingers clawed at the rocks, as she scrambled up over them. She lost her footing when her hands reached the edge, and she hung there for a moment until she was able to scramble onto the top. “She’s on the wall,” Kotua grabbed the reins as the riderless horse bucked and reared. “Easy, boy, easy. After her,” he waved his men on. “If she escapes, it’ll not be well for the one who caused it.”
Skey scrambled away from the edge, and catapulted herself off towards the guard house roof. Arrows whistled in her wake, and struck the wall by her as she clawed at the edge of the roof. “I didn’t say I wanted her dead,” Kotua voice rose over the wall, over the sound of men running towards the steps down and other running through the city gates. “I want her alive, unhurt, if possible.”
Like that was going to happen. No more dungeon days for her. She scrambled onto the roof, and scuttled across the shingles, making for the lower part of the roof. She jumped down, and took off to the other side of the city. Armor clanked and men yelled right behind her. If she could escape them long enough to hide… She’d give them the slip come nightfall.
“There she is.” She glanced back. They were barely a score of yards behind her. They were fast, even in mail. She bowed her head to the wind, and ran even faster.
The gap widened as she veered left. An alley loomed up ahead. She sprinted to the opening, slipping in just as the guards rounded the corner. She pressed herself against the shadowed wall, and held her breath as they passed by. As their footsteps sounded down the road, she let out a sigh of relief, trying not to breathe in the rotting vegetables and human filth. She was safe. For now at least.
Green filled her vision, the pin feathers sprouting. A dingy gray sparrow hopped about for a little, pecking at the ground, and then flew up and away from the war-marked city of Mokayi.
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That's the end of Chapter Four Part Two. I hope you enjoyed it. For right now, Thorn Changer is available exclusively on Amazon. Feel free to share this excerpt, just please include all text between the asterisks (* * *), as well as a link to Thorn Changer's Amazon page. This will give your viewers a link to where they can purchase Thorn Changer if they're interested. Thanks.
Chapter Four Part Three will be available tomorrow.