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Excerpt from Thorn Changer by Christy Reed
Wingnai’s shriek pierced the air, as the hawk swooped over the horizon, and winged his way back to the city. Metal clanked. It grew louder as the army crested the rise in the ground. Xanka’s breath caught. Even from this distance, he could see the long scar that ran down each of the Iezomen’s left cheeks. Should have chanced the other city.
Paylor pulled him back as two other soldiers pulled the great wooden doors closed. “You’re like to get yourself killed, lad. Get to the keep with the rest of them.”
It felt like a wall crumbled inside, and suddenly he could move again. If they found him here… “I can’t stay, I have to get back home,” he tried to pull away as the guards on the wall released the portcullis.
Paylor’s grip was strong as he pulled him along. “Don’t be daft, lad. Your family would rather have you late than not at all.”
He thought about struggling with the guard, but quickly changed his mind. It would only make Paylor suspicious, and Yatu had said to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Steel clanged and soldiers shouted to one another as they poured out of the guardhouse by the gate, buckling on their armor as they hurried up the stone steps to the wall. Many were already up there, firing arrows and ducking behind the battlements as a shower of arrows returned. Xanka turned away, and almost ran into a soldier as Paylor thrust him forward. “There. If you keep going, you’ll find the keep right enough. I got to get back to the wall. Now where’s the lad Keo?”
Keo dodged around a woman carrying her child, his own arms full of arrows. His face was pale, and blood still seeped from the bandage tied hastily around his shoulder. “Figured we need these.”
Paylor grabbed the bundle from him. “Did you even see the medic, lad? Get back there and have him look at that.”
Keo shook his head. “The captain needs all of us out there. You know as I do those aren’t mere soldiers.”
“Lad, it does none of us a whit of good if you faint because your life’s seeping from you.” Paylor gestured toward the keep as he grabbed Keo’s other arm. “Get back in there.”
“Not till I’ve had my revenge,” Keo yanked away. His eyes blazed. “I will not rest till there’s none of the dogs left, Iezomen or not. You know yourself that I will not, Paylor. They killed my brother.”
“There’ll be plenty of time for such things, but if you don’t get that taken care of, you’ll be joining your brother. Are you daft? The Iezomen cannot be defeated by mere sword less we’d ten times their number, which you know we don’t. Go get looked to. Vengeance will wait. By my rank I ask you.”
Keo started to protest, but scowled instead. Paylor frowned at Xanka. “What’re you still here for? To the keep with both of you, or I—”
A screech swallowed Paylor’s words. They all turned around. Xanka’s stomach lurched as three great black birds swooped down from the clouds, diving to the wall and knocking three soldiers off into the fray beyond.
“What are dark hawks doing here in Beolki?”
Another screech. Talons dug into him as Wingnai landed on his shoulder. “Those birds are not like other dark hawks. They make not even the rudest of response.”
“Is there any way we can turn them against the army?”
Wingnai blinked balefully at him. “There is no Friiakan that I see. And they respond to nothing.”
Xanka paused, and glanced at the soldiers. He blushed. Both stared at him askance. So much for being inconspicuous.
Paylor chose not to comment. The giant’s ruddy face went pale. “What be this dark hawk?”
A long shriek cut off any answer. The birds dived again, knocking more soldiers from the wall like overripe acorns from an oak. Wingnai was right. Something was odd about the birds, besides being so far from their homeland. Usually, a dark hawk’s eyes were copper. All three of the creatures had green eyes.
Paylor shook his head, his eyes wide. “If that be them, there’s no hope in holding the wall.” He shoved Xanka toward the keep, sending Keo after him. “Men! Down from the wall. Head to the keep.”
Xanka didn’t look back as he ran alongside Keo, his heart hammering in his chest. How had Foaie gotten the birds from Arilan? After the downfall of Friiakan, if he had heard correctly, Arilan had placed a ban on all Friiakan ships. It was the reason he and his mother hadn’t gone there. And no Beolkin ships would have taken one of Foaie’s minions. Would it have?
He almost ran into the side of the keep. Keo grabbed his arm, and pulled him through the doors. Paylor and a slew of other soldiers followed them in. Just before the doors slammed shut, a loud crack split the air.
Paylor’s face blanched, as two other soldiers slid the bars into place. “They’ve broken down the gate!”
More soldiers hurried to take up their positions along the narrow murder holes. Others seized barrels and headed up the stairs to the roof. Paylor waved them away. “You can’t go out there with those creatures!”
A shriek rippled through the air. The whole building trembled as a great bulk slammed against the door. “They’re using them to ram the door,” a soldier shouted. Xanka felt the sweat run down his brow.
A guard wearing the captain’s crest came up from the keep’s basement, a bundle of arrows in his arms. His face was pale as well. “What in the emperor’s name was that, Paylor?”
“A dark hawk, Captain.”
“If that be dark hawks, we have no chance against them and the Iezomen with as little troops as we have. We need to send word to the king, and get a minstrel here.”
Keo appeared again by Xanka, his shoulder bound up. “I’ll go, Captain. My mother lives in the king’s castle. I know the way better than my own face.”
The captain looked askance. “You? Your shoulder’s busted, man. How are you to face them?”
Xanka clapped Keo’s unbandaged arm. “I’ll go with him part of the way to distract them. I need to get home any way.”
Paylor looked at him. “Will the dark hawks listen to a Friiakan?”
“They should,” Xanka did not bother to tell them that these were not like the other dark hawks he had seen, and that even those were not know to be particularly obliging to his people’s requests.
The captain shook his head. “We can’t risk your life like that, lad. You may need to get home, but certainly your folks would understand if you were a bit late.”
“You know I am Friiakan, and you must know what Foaie does to my people if he finds us.”
The captain nodded. “Aye. Go then. Help our Keo as much as you can. But when the opportunity arises, run.”
Xanka nodded, relief washing over him along with icy fear. “Thank you.”
The captain smiled grimly. “Don’t thank me for sending you to your death, lad. Good luck to both of you. Use the tunnel. It’ll take you some distance from town. If we can’t hold the keep, we’ll be sending more after you.”
Keo saluted, and Xanka did as well, before turning and following the young soldier down the stairs. They veered right at the bottom, and entered a long dark passage, lit only by the torch Keo took from the beginning. Xanka tried to focus on his breathing, and not on what they would find when they reached the end of the tunnel, and exited into the meadow. How long did this tunnel go on? How far outside the city did it stop? Was it hidden? Hopefully the army had passed by the tunnel opening outside, and didn’t have a party standing guard there, waiting for them.
He almost ran into Keo as the soldier stopped, his hand fumbling along the wall. In front of them loomed a heavy wooden door. He took a key, and grinned at Xanka as he put it in the lock. “Hope to see you in a week or so back at the gate.”
Xanka forced a grim laugh. “If we both make it.”
Keo nodded, as the key clicked. “Ready?”
Xanka’s shoulders stiffened, and Wingnai’s talons tightened on his shoulder, as Keo pushed open the door.
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That's the end of Chapter Two 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 Two Part Three will be available on Friday.
Chapter Two Part Three will be available on Friday.