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Below are my example excerpts taken from my first two books in The Shifting Balance Series. Two are smaller sword fights, one is part of an epic large scale battle, and the last is the speech before the final battle in Book 2. If you like them and want to see more, take a look at my other sample chapters HERE.
Example 1 from Prophecy of the Stars, Book 1 of The Shifting Balance: Mahren (the main character) was just having a vision, and ended up sleepwalking through a forest. She wakes up to find that she had nearly walked straight into a camp of the pursuing Imperial soldiers who have been searching for her. This is, basically, her first real life or death fight.
Knowing she had to find her way back to Sam and warn him, Mahren turned… and came face to face with a heavily armed patrolling guardsman. The man blinked at her, surprised to see a woman standing before him, and then a smile slid across his face when recognition hit him.
Before he could call out an alarm, Mahren lunged at him with the sword, but he was quick and he blocked. The soldier, stronger than her, easily pushed her backward. The ringing steel of their two blades echoed into the night. She had only a few moments before the others would be alerted by the sound.
Mahren blocked his swings as he kept coming forward, until her back was up against a tree. The man smiled wickedly as he leaned in, his blade near her neck. He wouldn’t kill her, but there was nothing stopping him from wounding her. When he was close enough, Mahren drew her leg up and kicked the man in the stomach, pushing him with all of her strength. He stumbled backward.
Before he could react Mahren lunged at the man. With a deadly swipe, she sliced through the man’s throat. The guard reached for his gushing neck in surprise. Unable to scream, air escaped his throat creating bubbles of blood. He fell to his knees. In a panic he tried to inhale only to drown himself in his own blood as he landed on the ground.
Mahren barely had time to think about what she had done, when a second guard came upon the scene. With a shout, he lunged for her. She turned just in time to duck as his sword sailed passed above her head; the breath of the blade moved through her hair. She rolled forward and then swiped at the man’s legs; he brought his blade down and blocked. As she rushed to her feet, he made another attack, coming at her fast with his heavy, two-handed blade. Mahren gripped her sword in two hands, deflecting each blow; she used the trees as defense, dodging when she could. Large pieces of bark flew into the air with his angry attacks. He was getting frustrated that he had not yet caught her. Another swipe just barely missed her shoulder, cutting through the delicate fabric of her shirt. This seemed to spur the man to come at her harder. He lunged at her again, and Mahren ducked around a pine. His next swing caught his blade in the soft wood; it stuck there, giving her the opening she needed. She thrust her sword into the man’s chest, her blade cutting easily through his heavy chain mail. His eyes went wide with the shock of the sudden pain before falling over dead.
This commotion was all that was needed to alert the rest of the soldiers camped in the distance. Mahren could hear their hurried shouts, hoarse and angry, as they dropped what they were doing to pursue. Among the voices was General Bastilla bellowing out his orders.
Mahren didn’t stop to find out what he was saying, she ran as fast as she could and did not look back, fleeing in her bare feet through the darkened trees. She ducked under low branches, and swerved to avoid tripping on hidden stumps. All she could think about was getting back to Sam, getting to the horses, and running as hard as they could to stay ahead of them.
Mahren ignored the pain in her side as she continued to run. Perhaps she was lost. It was hard to believe she had walked so far while she dreamed. She angled toward the direction of the beach, hoping she would come across their camp.
Behind her was the horrific sound of heavily armed men running through the trees in pursuit. She did not want to look back and see how close they were. She imagined at any moment she would feel them at her neck. Shadows flickered along the tree trunks ahead. Many had brought torches and were using them to try to find her in the woods.
“Mahren!” Sam’s voice called ahead of her.
Mahren could just barely see his shape in front of her. He was carrying her sword.
“Sam, they found us, we have to run!” Mahren called out breathlessly.
They almost ran into each other and Sam caught her up in his arms. He saw blood on her shirt.
“Mahren, are you all right? What happened?” Sam asked, out of breath, confusion mingled with fear in his voice.
“I don’t know,” she replied. Looking down at herself, she was horrified to see the spray of blood on her shirt. “It’s not mine, I’m all right. But Bastilla has found us.” She looked back the way she had come—the soldiers were getting closer. Shadows running toward them among silhouetted trees in the torchlight.
A sound came from the darkness nearby. A guard who had been close behind, suddenly lunged at them.
“Duck!” Sam shouted.
Mahren ducked and Sam deflected the blow that was aimed at both of their heads. He countered with a strike of his own, throwing the man off balance.
“Mahren, run!” Sam shouted to her. The guard blocked Sam’s attack.
Mahren backed away, afraid to leave Sam to fight alone. A second guard attacked from the right. He had not yet seen her, and instead he went for Sam. Mahren jumped in front of the man, deflecting the blow that would have cut Sam in half as he struggled with the first guard.
The second guard laughed when he saw her, thinking he would win easily. He brought his weapon down. It was not a sword, but a large axe. It caught on the blade and threatened to pull it out of her grip. Mahren spun around and kicked the man in the groin, yet his leather armor protected him and the kick did not disable. He laughed at her again, but she was already swinging; it caught him in the side and he howled in pain as she pulled her sword up and out of his stomach as he fell.
“Run!” Samuel shouted.
Mahren turned to see that Sam was just pulling his blade from the fallen guard. She immediately began to run for the beach. The rest of the soldiers were getting closer. She could hear Sam just behind her.
Example 2 from Thy Will Be Done, Book 2 of the Shifting Balance: In order to protect those she cares for most, Mahren let Raiff, a man she once loved, take her to the Emperor, where she is now his prisoner. The man she is engaged to, and also shares the Life Bond with, has been racing to catch up to her. Sam knows Raiff is in the city, he is searching for him not only to seek revenge for betraying Mahren, but to take back a very important and powerful sword that he stole from them, the sword that Mahren will need in order to destroy the Emperor.
The streets were overcrowded, full of beggars and criminals of every kind. Prostitution had become an extremely popular way to make some money. Yet even they would soon start to suffer as money was slowly becoming harder to come by. Those who could still pay for work were starting to run out. Unable to meet payroll, businesses were forced to let go of workers, and as more people flooded the streets in need of money and work, less people were able to buy services. Businesses were closing their doors all over the place. Several buildings were abandoned, only to be used by those looking for shelter. Many rich landowners were slowly taking ownership and turning them into hazardous tenements. If the people living there couldn’t pay, they were thrown into the streets. The destructive cycle would only continue.
Sam wondered if things could get any worse. He passed a busy brothel. The pub inside was full. Music was drifting out through its open doors. Sam realized things would get much worse. When people could no longer pay for drinking and whoring, the city would become downright dangerous. Everyday things were getting closer to this reality. It was amazing, how many people were starving and in need of help, yet so many still found enough coin to come down here every night, just so they could forget how desperate they really were.
A fight broke out nearby, and Sam had to sidestep the brawl. Another man was getting sick in the street. Prostitutes were everywhere, eyeing him as he walked by; trying to hustle him. And then there were those who were still selling cheap trinkets, ‘to ward off the evil Sceleste’. Sam had to suppress the urge to punch a man as he went by. Every word he said was just another terrible lie and curse against them, yet people still huddled around him, listening, ready to waste their hard earned money.
Sam couldn’t believe how these people could be so ignorant. They were living under the doorstep of the man who had brought all this pain and madness on them, with a promise of a better life, yet here they were, more than twenty years later, and things had only gotten worse; people were still disappearing, fear was still at an all time high, and Kahrus only talked about his attempts at fixing it, while the public still believed him and blamed the Sceleste. The corruption of the Sceleste had become the excuse for every misfortune these people suffered. Even saying their name had become a curse. He wondered if John’s planned uprising would work. How many of these people would really be willing to stand up for themselves? To take back their own lives?
Sam gritted his teeth against the anger he felt. Mahren was about to die for these people—the Stars expected her to die for them. The prophecy had foretold it. But did these people really deserve someone like Mahren fighting for them, putting her life in front of theirs in an attempt to save them from the Emperor’s twisted and evil regime? It made him sick to think of it. He would not let her die for them. The prophecy was wrong, and he would change it. Kahrus was going to die, not Mahren.
A light mist clung to everything, casting a hazy glow around all the lights. It was getting increasingly harder to see. As Sam walked, he kept his eyes open, scanning the shadows, looking at all those around him as he concentrated on finding the face he had only seen once in person, yet would never forget.
Sam remembered the night at the cottage as he lay in the mud, already in so much pain. Raiff stood there, staring down at him, and Sam would never forget the look in his dark eyes. Raiff’s words were still clear in his mind. Telling him he had chosen the wrong side; that their parents had been wrong, and corrupted by their power. And that once Kahrus had Mahren, people wouldn’t have to live in fear anymore. Afterward, Raiff had ordered him to be beaten so he would not forget this lesson. Well Raiff was right, he would never forget it. It didn’t matter that Raiff now understood he had been wrong. It was too late, the damage had already been done—and Mahren was suffering because of it.
Sam turned down a side street. It was darker than the last. Many of the lamps had not been lit and most of the buildings here were abandoned; only a few were noisy tenements, yet the street was still busy, mostly used as a thoroughfare to get to the more popular areas beyond, though this did not change the fact that it was still very dangerous. Hidden in shadow, this street was the perfect place to conduct more sinister dealings.
Sam followed the slight incline of the road on his way to the next street, where more inns and brothels were located. As he walked, he noticed the place was also a popular area for prostitutes to do their business. He should have taken more of Raiff’s money. It was very possible one of them might recognize Raiff, and they were not likely to give out any information for free. Sam stopped, deciding he would have to go back, it could end up being worth the extra time.
Sam turned to go back the way he had come. He looked down a moment to avoid a large puddle. When he looked up, he saw the face he had been searching for, at the bottom of the hill, coming toward him. Sam was sure it was Raiff. He looked just the way he remembered him. Maybe a little more disheveled, but it was definitely him.
Raiff smiled politely at a prostitute, declining her offered services, and then turned away. He looked up and down the street for a moment, and then crossed it.
Sam’s heart pounded with renewed rage as he began following Raiff. This was it—he would not get another chance. Sam crossed the street, keeping his eyes on the man he wanted to kill. The man who had taken Mahren away from him. The man responsible for all the terrible pain Mahren was now suffering at the hands of the Emperor. Raiff was about to pay for it all, and he would pay with his life.
Raiff never once looked in Sam’s direction as he walked down the other side of the street, back the way they had come. He stopped for a moment, and Sam stopped too, wondering what he might do next. Raiff looked off into a narrow alleyway between two buildings. As he turned, something glinted in the dim light—Raiff had the sword. Sam knew it was not just any sword, he could tell by its size. He actually had the sword with him. Raiff suddenly disappeared into the darkness of the alley.
Sam would catch him there—perhaps with his pants down with some whore, but he didn’t care. An intense rage boiled within, he wanted Raiff’s blood. He would make the kill fast and clean; there would be no words. The only thing Sam wanted was for Raiff to see the one who had killed him. When Raiff took his last breath, he would know why.
Sam came to the place where Raiff had disappeared. The alley was dark and quiet. There was no movement beyond, and no sounds of either a prostitute or otherwise. It was impossible to see anything; only a dim light at the alley’s far entrance made the silhouettes of some crates tucked away beneath a small balcony stand out.
He didn’t want to waste any time. Afraid he might lose Raiff on the other side, he stepped into the shadows. Slowly and quietly, Sam slid the sword from its scabbard, trying to keep the sound of its ringing steel from echoing against the walls around him. He moved forward cautiously. He couldn’t discern any windows or doors; there were no obvious hiding places. It was like walking through a dark tunnel. The wet ground smelled like a mixture of rot and decay, among other things he did not want to think about. All he could see was the opening ahead and even that light was fairly dim.
Sam moved ahead slowly, keeping his sword held at the ready in case someone tried to attack him in the darkness. He listened hard for any sign of movement, but all he could hear was his own pounding heart. When he came to the place where he had seen the crates against the wall, he noticed a small, broken set of stairs leading up to a balcony; barrels were stacked on top of it, but it was too dark to see anything other than their shape. There was no one else here.
He stepped out into the dim light and looked around, trying to guess which way Raiff had gone. To his dismay, the area was completely blocked. He found himself in a small yard used for storage and garbage. Barrels, crates, and large rotting piles of wood were stacked against the high wooden fence that surrounded him. There were no gates or openings that he could see.
He was walking into a trap. Heavy raindrops started to fall, but Sam hardly noticed this as his heart leaped to his throat. The sound of someone dropping to the ground behind him was quickly followed by the familiar ringing he knew so well. The sword was being drawn.
Sam turned around. Raiff was standing in front of the entrance to the alley, blocking it. In his rage, his want for revenge, Sam had ignored the voice of reason in his head. Raiff had seen him and he had led him here, intentionally.
“I tried to tell you, staying with Mahren was only going to cause you more suffering,” Raiff said. “You should have listened to me, Sam.”
“Maybe if you had listened to Mahren in the first place, we would not be in this situation,” Sam replied, nearly shaking with rage. He didn’t want to hear anything Raiff had to say.
Raiff stepped forward slowly until they were standing only a few feet from each other.
Sam was not about to let him make the first move; he lunged forward bringing his sword down in a tight arc, aiming for his chest.
Raiff swiftly pulled the sword up, blocking him—he had been expecting a fight—and returned with a strike of his own. Sam countered, bringing his blade around and sidestepped with a blocking maneuver.
Immediately both men were moving, matching each other in skill, yet Raiff quickly gained the advantage, pushing Sam backward, forcing him into a corner.
When Sam realized this, he sidestepped a thrust aimed for his chest, and pulled his blade up to block, yet he only managed to deflect it. He felt the sting of the powerful blade that John had made, cut into his right side; when he reacted, Raiff swung high, aiming for his neck. Sam ducked and then spun away; as he moved he kicked Raiff hard in the stomach, causing him to fall backward. Raiff tried to catch himself and this gave Sam the chance to move into a better defensive position.
Raiff turned and lunged at him again. Sam blocked and pushed forward with a thrust of his own, but Raiff caught the blade with his and twisted it around, driving it away. Raiff was stronger, more rested, and Sam started to feel the pain and exhaustion of the last few weeks beginning to take its toll. His muscles burned; his arms felt heavy and were already shaking. He could feel Mahren’s fear, for she had felt the cut to his side; a burning pain as blood mixed with rain, soaking his shirt. He didn’t dare look down to see how bad it was.
Raiff began to push Sam backward toward a stack of crates, trying again, to trap him. Sam felt one of the crates at his heel; he swiped his blade as hard as he could, and as Raiff blocked, Sam swung his left arm forward. His hand in a tight fist, he hit Raiff square in the jaw. Raiff’s head spun with the blow and Sam immediately brought his knee up into his stomach. With a grunt, Raiff leaned into it and took a step back, but he ignored the obvious pain and kept his sword high, ready to block the next swing. Sam used the moment to climb onto the crates behind him—he needed to get out of this corner. Raiff lunged forward, reaching for Sam, and the long blade just missed hitting him in the back as he scrambled out of the way.
Sam moved across the top of the crates, trying to get around Raiff, but Raiff was tall and could easily reach him. He swung at Sam, forcing him to jump the blade. Sam swung, angling toward his neck, but Raiff easily blocked it. Before Raiff could move to swipe at him again, Sam leaped off of the crates, jumping over Raiff’s head; he landed and rolled with his momentum. Before he could stand, Raiff was already there, swinging the blade with enough downward force to cut him in half. Sam just managed to bring his blade up in time, holding it above himself with both hands and blocking the attack that would have connected with his left shoulder.
Sam rushed to get up and he pushed back; Raiff was beginning to tire. Sam forced himself to push even harder, to move even faster. The rain made the muddy ground treacherous, and as Sam took a step back to block, he slipped. He felt the second sting of the blade hit his right arm. The intended target had been his stomach, but the slip had caused Raiff to miss. Sam realized he was losing this battle, amazed at how skilled Raiff really was with a blade, for he had thought of him only as a horse rancher. Sam had severely underestimated him. Raiff was strong and he fought like he wanted his blood.
With the rain, it was getting increasingly harder to see. Sam just managed to see another swing aimed for his neck. The blade came at him, and Sam leaned back. He could feel the breath of the blade as it moved passed his face at eye level, just inches away. Raindrops bounced off of it; the water hit his face as those droplets slid off the slick steel with the momentum of the swing. He didn’t hesitate, as soon as the blade was passed he lunged forward with his own. Raiff saw it coming, he twisted out of the way and Sam only managed a glancing blow to his back.
Ignoring the cut to his back, Raiff came at him with another powerful swing. Sam was forced to take a step back in order to brace himself to block. His back hit the crates; he had nowhere else to go. Sam pulled his sword up, and Raiff’s blade hit it with a jarring force. Sam’s sword—the sword that had been Mahren’s—shattered into pieces against the powerful blade that Raiff had stolen. Sam heard the shards land in the mud, some flew yards away, hitting the side of the building. In shock, Sam looked at the pommel he was still holding in his hand.
Before Sam could make a move to push him away, Raiff grabbed his shoulder and with his arm across his collar bone, he shoved him up against the crates. He pulled the blade back with a rage-filled cry. Raiff held Sam in place, about to thrust the sword into his chest.
Sam held his breath, and Mahren’s face, her beautiful blue eyes, were smiling at him. He whispered a silent, “I love you, Mahren,” and braced himself for the strike that was about to kill him.
Raiff thrust the blade forward, hard and fast. When the cold steel touched his skin, it froze. Sam could feel its point against his sternum, the blade was already cutting into him.
Raiff glared at Sam, breathing heavy. “Do you have any idea why I am here?” He suddenly asked. Sam could see the darkness in his eyes, but it was a different kind of darkness, not one caused by a curse or the obsession.
Sam didn’t answer. He knew Raiff would kill him, he just wanted to tell him why first. He didn’t want to hear any of Raiff’s explanations.
“I have been sent to kill you, Sam. Kahrus wants you dead before the dawn after the eclipse,” Raiff explained, tears of pain reddened his eyes. “If I don’t finish this, do you know what he will do? He will kill all those I have made a vow to save. Every one of them will die a painful and violent death—one of them already has,” Raiff sobbed. “Someone I was once… very close to.”
Sam knew of the girl Raiff spoke of—he had seen her terrible death. He stayed quiet, swallowing against the pain in his heart. He could not hide the fear he felt for Mahren, or the pain of knowing he would not be there to save her. He glanced at his chest, blood was beginning to bloom on his shirt. He tried to hold his breath steady; to stay absolutely still, but he could feel the painful cut as the sword’s tip continued to push into him with every breath he took. The blade was so powerful that Raiff wouldn’t need much pressure to kill him—one small thrust and he would be dead.
“This is why I must kill you. So that the people I care about won’t die this way,” Raiff continued. “I really have no ill feelings toward you, Sam. Your only fault is that you love Mahren,” he said quietly. “But first I must tell you how truly sorry I am for the pain I’ve caused you, and for the pain I have caused her.”
Sam could see the anguish in Raiff’s eyes, his arm shook as he held the sword against him. Raiff believed he had to do this—it was all over. Sam took a shaking breath and tried to suppress a sob; he didn’t know what was worse about his death, knowing that Mahren would feel it, or never being able to see her again. He prayed that Jacob would be able to do what he could not.
Sam held his gaze and did not look away; he wanted Raiff to see the pain in his eyes—he wanted Raiff to remember it. Sam wanted his death to haunt Raiff for as long as he lived—at least until the moment Jacob caught up to him.
Raiff took a steadying breath and gripped the sword. “And now, I will do what I must,” he whispered.
Example 3, from Prophecy of the Stars, Book 1 of The Shifting Balance: A large contingent of Imperial forces have laid siege to Mahren’s home town. They must stand up and fight in order to survive. The first Battle for the People has begun. John, Mahren’s father, has been planning and inspiring all those strong enough to fight. Now it is time to take back their town.
Horavol suddenly showed up sitting atop his big gray draft horse, Dixi. With the blade John had forged for him years ago, Horavol saluted him, “Vehdo en proserah fehortuah.”
John smiled at hearing him use the ancient salute in Ehlve`esh; it had been years since he had heard it. “Hen teh,” John saluted with the traditional reply.
Horavol trotted Dixi away, to where he and the other riders would be waiting to make their move.
Morgan had seen the small exchange. Puzzled, he looked at John. “What was that?” He asked as they started walking back to the first intersection near the center of town to take their positions.
“Well, I thought the troops just needed a bit of a boost, we have a lot riding on our shoulders and they are not experienced fighters,” John replied.
“No, what did Horavol just say?” Morgan stopped, laying a hand on John’s shoulder.
“Oh that,” John smiled. “Vehdo en proserah fehortuah, it means ‘go with good luck or fortune’ in the ancient language. I responded with the traditional reply. Hen teh, which means, ‘and you’.” He clapped Morgan on the back. “Hen teh,” he repeated, squeezing his shoulder.
Morgan smiled back and nodded before he turned to head to the east side of the street. He went into his pub, where he would be in charge of letting loose the trap that had been set in the side street running along the length of his inn.
John watched him disappear into the darkened space. The lights had been extinguished inside all of the buildings. Instead torches had been spaced, lighting the main street and the center of the town, and also across the north end of the road. They cast eery, wavering shadows. The people would appear as silhouettes and shapes to the Imperial army. Backlit by the fiery torches, it would be nearly impossible to see any one person. Instead, the torch placement would be an advantage to the citizens, lighting the army and making it easier for the archers to pick their targets. His people would need every advantage they could get. Though John knew it was unwise to go into battle at night, this was their town, their territory, and they knew it well. The army thought they were dispelling a few restless tantrums and so would think nothing of storming in at night. They had no idea what lay in store for them.
Before John had a chance to think on it some more, he heard a sound, a small whistle through the air. It became louder as it got closer before disappearing into the wind. The watcher had sent his warning, a specially designed arrow that whistled as it flew.
The storm had arrived.
John made his way into the General Store. It was dark and he had to move carefully around the people who were hiding in their assigned places. He moved swiftly to the back of the shop and up the creaking stairs to where the now empty store rooms were laid out. More people filled this room, though most had taken their places near all the windows. Another ladder was near the inner wall, leading to a trapdoor in the ceiling. It was left open for those who had found an even higher perch.
John glanced at the two men who stood by a side window. They wore thick hide gloves and held on tightly to a rope that disappeared through the window and up into the trees behind the buildings. Another rope, doubled on itself and twisted to capacity, also disappeared through the window. Its looped end was anchored to a large metal hook, which had been driven through the floor and secured. A hook just like this one was anchored to the floor in the second story room of the building across the way, securing the other end of the twisted rope.
The two men nodded as they made ready to untie the first rope. Once this was done, they would have to use all their strength to keep hold of the tension that was building on the other end.
John made his way to the front window to watch. He had a good view of the southern end of town and the square below, where the small group of women and the ten riders waited for the signal.
John heard the army before he could see it. It was the sound of thunder as hundreds of boots trampled the dry grass and dirt of the road. Clinking metal and armor, squealing wagon wheels, and snorting, anxious horses added to the din. John prayed all would go as planned and the arrogant army would do what they had always done, and react the way they had always reacted—never thinking freely or questioning the possibility of trying something different.
In the room, the quiet was palpable. John could hear his own heart pounding in his chest along with the others’ nervous breaths as they waited anxiously for what was about to start.
A glimmer of metal caught John’s attention, and then he saw them. Their armor and weapons flickered in the torchlight. Many soldiers carried their own torches, though they would be quickly dropped in order to do battle. The general’s arrogance probably assumed that most would not need to fight once they’re numbers were seen.
Stopping just short of the blacksmith shop, the general, who was out in front, sat atop a large black warhorse. He was flanked by a line of cavalry; many of which were also very large animals.
For this part of the battle, Horavol had insisted he be placed elsewhere. He could not stomach the violence of the traps they had set, knowing such good animals would have to be sacrificed. John had agreed and asked him to lead their own cavalry troops, promising that all those of the enemy’s horses that survived, he would get to keep.
John held his breath as he waited to give the signal. The small group standing below Emily’s oak tree stood still. In only a moment, they would be spotted.
“Hurry, they’re coming… This way!” John suddenly shouted out the window.
“Come on, hurry up!” Morgan yelled in reply from across the street.
This was the signal. The women suddenly broke into a run, their silhouettes would be visible to the army. The ten horsemen appeared from behind a building and began to follow them. When they caught up, they slowed so the girls could hop onto their backs behind the riders. The men kicked their mounts and they were away, running up the main street toward both the General Store and the inn. When they were at the two side streets below John’s position, the riders split up and disappeared behind the buildings. They came to the set traps, and the riders aimed straight for the obstacles—the only safe place. The horses sailed over the obstacles and disappeared into safety.
John watched as the general gave the order to chase them down. The group had made it look as though the townspeople were making a run for it, abandoning the town. The general had taken the bait. Not even half of his cavalry gave chase, just as John predicted, though he had hoped it would’ve been more.
The horses came at a full gallop. Their hooves pounded the dirt as they made their way up the street. Suddenly the riders split into two smaller groups to give chase down each of the side roads. One group sped toward Morgan’s inn, the other was racing toward John.
John moved from the front window to one of the side windows. The two men, who now strained on the rope, waited for his signal. John held his hand up high as he watched the riders round the corner. He knew that if he let the trap spring too soon, it would be a wasted effort. He gauged the distance, quickly calculating.
“Now!” John shouted, dropping his arm.
The two men who had been holding on so hard that one had to brace himself with a foot against the sill, let go of the rope. It disappeared out the window. The whistling of something moving fast through the air could be heard. The twisted rope nearly sizzled with friction in the hook as it spun itself loose. The thunderous sound of the galloping horses was suddenly cut short by a sickening impact. The trap that had been sprung was one of the spike laced posts attached to the center of the taught and twisted rope. The two men had held onto the end of another line keeping the post high over the road in the trees. When let loose, it swung down from above, spinning toward the powerful horses running at full speed. As it spun, swinging down from the trees and arcing toward them, the riders would not have seen it coming.
Screams of both men and horses, followed by the sounds of their heavy bodies collapsing and breaking, pierced the tense and quiet darkness. Across the main road and just under the side windows of Morgan’s inn, more screams echoed through the buildings. The trap there was the pit they had dug, filled with more of the spiked posts.
John peered down and winced as he saw the mangled mess of bodies and gore below. Those in front had suffered the full brunt of the weapon, while those just behind collided with the animals that had been thrown back into them. He was glad Horavol had not had to witness the sight.
John did not have time to mourn the deaths of the innocent animals. He ran back to the front window. Just as expected, the general, now clearly troubled by the horrific screams of his cavalry, barked an order to his infantry. A mass of men broke away from the line and quickly moved down the street.
John watched as they split into two groups.
“Ready archers,” John said quietly. Above, through the trap door to the roof, he heard someone repeat his command.
As one, the men and women around him lifted their bows and nocked their arrows. Two younger girls knelt on the floor of the room, each had a bundle of extra arrows and were ready to resupply those who called for more.
Cautiously, the soldiers rounded the corners into the two side streets. A few in the front had torches. They stopped short at the sight, their comrades behind, running into them. At seeing the carnage before them at the end of the narrow street, a few turned to run back and report what had happened.
However, before they could take more than a few steps, John called the next signal.
“Fire!” John shouted. Above, a voice called out the echoed command.
The sound of plucking bow strings, followed by the buzzing of many arrows moving through the air, was soon lost to the screams of the men below them. The archers kept firing arrow after arrow. Each mindful of targeting each shot before firing. John had talked to them in the space of time while they had prepared and planned. He had told them, calm and patience, along with skill, was what won such battles. And now, they were heeding his advice. Their faces were serene as they carefully aimed. Each arrow would hit its mark.
Below, a few of the soldiers began to run from the ambush, but those who were up on the roof were sure to cut them down before they had the chance.
Knowing this was his cue to leave, John went for the stairs. Before he went down, he paused to look at the men and women around him.
“Be sure to make good your escape. When the main force reaches this point, if they set fire to the buildings, don’t hesitate to get out. You know what to do next. Take care of each other, watch each other’s backs,” John reminded.
A few nodded at his advice as he turned to rush down the stairs. Outside in the distance, he could hear the hurried shouts of the general. John joined the men and the few women who were ready to fight the soldiers, waiting in the rooms below. Ella and Brittany were among them.
As he passed, Brittany smiled up at John. “For Beatrice and for Mahren,” she said. She held up the sword John had given her in a small salute.
John cupped her chin and smiled back, nodding in reply.
Outside, the army was realizing they were under attack. The surprise had worked. Now the real battle was about to start.
John looked out the window and down the street. The army was moving forward and they were almost to Emily’s tree. A ring of guards formed around the general, and the few shields that were visible—having assumed they would not be needed—were held up in defensive positions.
The remaining cavalry had taken positions at the head of the line. Being the heaviest and the strongest, they hoped to intimidate the rebel’s chance of a frontal attack.
John grinned when he saw this. They were still using tactics for dispelling an angry mob.
The sounds of battle suddenly echoed in the distance. Horavol was right on time. John could hear the distant screams of the soldiers who made up the rear guard. Horavol would have directed his own cavalry charge into those men. They would not have been expecting such an organized attack from the rear.
John and the others waited a few tense moments inside the General Store. Up above, and in other buildings spread out around the main street, the archers were continuing to fire into the soldiers who were visible, harrying them from above.
The thundering sound of hooves was suddenly heard again, as riders galloped passed the window. The rhythmic breathing of Horavol’s big draft horse flew by. As soon as the last rider was passed the door, John opened it and led the charge out into the street. The men and women behind him raised their weapons as they shouted. From everywhere, the townspeople flooded the street, coming out of buildings where they had been lying in wait. Filling the entire width of the street, they stood their ground instead of charging forward to attack. Markers in the dirt noted the pathways they were to leave open between their numbers.
Horavol led his men on horseback, and turned them around, readying to face the enemy again. His riders moved through the crowd of angry people and formed a line just in front of them.
Horavol came to a stop near John; he was holding the reins of another horse. Big and black, the restless animal snorted, shaking its head. John leaped onto the back of the big stallion. It pranced, eager to continue with their business.
Horavol smiled at John and nodded once as if they were passing each other on a lazy morning walk.
“Sort of reminds me of the old days, riding into battle together,” Horavol said.
“It’s good to be back fighting along side you,” John replied with a smile.
Horavol nodded and looked out at the waiting army. “Let’s get this over with, I’ve got things to do,” he said casually.
John smiled back at the man, “You always were the sentimental one.”
Horavol winked in reply before holding up his sword so the other riders could see his cue. As he brought his weapon down, it glinted in the torchlight.
The riders lurched forward. In an instant, they were at a full gallop.
What was left of the army’s cavalry, saw the attack. They didn’t hesitate to start their own charge.
John kept his horse pointed straight, not allowing him to veer. The powerful animal moved fast, its legs pumping hard, kicking the dry dirt up with each stride.
Time seemed to stop as he moved forward. In his peripheral vision, John could see the men off to his left and to his right. Their passionate screams melded into one long battle cry in his ears. Some would not survive the collision and violence of such an attack; he might not survive such an attack. His mind drifted, and he could see Ember, smiling at him. It was the smile which had always taken his breath away. Mahren had that smile. She looked so much like her mother. John knew he might not see her again, and he probably would not live to see the sun rise after this night, but he was not going to die a slave to Kahrus. No matter what happened, he would die fighting.
More than anything, John wished he could have seen Mahren’s smiling face, one last time.
As the charging horses swiftly closed the distance, John lifted his sword up high. He screamed Mahren’s name as his battle cry.
The gap between the two charging forces seemed to close in an instant. The power of the collision was deafening. Men and horse alike went flying, their death screams penetrating the cacophony. Steel clashed against steel. John was almost shocked to find that he was not one of those who had been killed. He had brought down his sword just in time to block the charging blade of an enemy. Deflecting the other man’s blade, John swung his sword again. As their two swords clashed into each other, shards of metal went flying. The rider’s cry of shock was quickly replaced by a death scream. John grinned to himself. It was a blade he had repaired with his cheap iron. He knew that all around, other blades and items used by the army would be snapping into pieces, unable to withstand the forces of battle.
John turned and swiped at another attacker on his right, sending the man flying. He maneuvered his horse into a pivoting turn, slashing and blocking as more of the enemy came at him. He caught sight of another rider coming for him. John lunged for him, swinging his blade. He used all his strength, along with his mount’s forward power to strike, the last downward swing instantly severed the arm of the enemy rider.
Horavol had trained his horses well. In the heat of battle, John’s horse kicked and bit at other horses and men alike, sending them flying, and trampling the fallen. Other riderless horses fled the nightmarish scene, but the Serhena riders continued forward with their momentum, cutting down both infantry and cavalry—anyone who stood in there way.
When the forward charge began, Morgan had led the rest of the Serhena forces on foot into a charge just behind the riders. Being sure to stay away from the enemy horses, they instead, skirted the edges of the battle and began attacking the infantrymen from the sides. The enemy was now surrounded on nearly three points.
Horavol caught John’s attention and pointed toward the buildings on the left. John followed his gaze. Some of the enemy soldiers had dispersed. Carrying torches, they moved along the edges of the buildings. John cursed when he saw them begin to throw torches into windows, igniting the rooms within. The long and dry summer had made their buildings as dry as tinder. He knew this was one of the risks they were taking. He had expected such retaliation, yet there was nothing they could do about it. At the first sign of smoke, the men and women up on the roofs and in the second stories were instructed to get out. Ladders and ropes had been placed along the back alleyways, giving them a quick escape. He prayed all the archers would get out in time.
His attention having been drawn away from the battle around him, John was just barely able to dodge the thrust of an oncoming blade. He maneuvered the big stallion, yet he was caught along his left arm. Ignoring the sudden pain, John attacked with renewed anger. The man did not last long. As he looked around for another attack, John deflected a weak blow from a foot soldier, and noticed, though all the remaining enemy cavalry had been killed, their own forward movement had slowed. He did not want to risk his people anymore than he had to and so he gave the signal to fall back. The command was repeated until all of the Serhena riders heard it. One by one they backed away and out of the battle.
Horavol led his riders north, back up the main street, into the light of the torches where they would be hard to see. Further up the street, they split off into two groups and disappeared behind the buildings to each side.
Instead of following them, John stopped short just in front of the long line of torches. He dismounted and looked back at what was left of the army. The general was having a hard time keeping track of his soldiers. He screamed out orders, trying to reorganize his troops. The man probably thought he had the Serhena people on the run.
Morgan had done well, his people continued the fight, just as planned. Most of the army’s attention was now diverted to their flanks.
Nearby, the archers began arriving. They ran in from both sides.
“Archers, form your line!” John ordered. He used his bloodied sword to point out the invisible line that ran the width of the main street.
The nervous archers, now out in the open for the first time, blackened with soot and smoke, and some wounded from having to fight their way out of the buildings, rushed to do as John asked.
“Right here, form a second line!” John shouted, pointing to a spot in front of the first. The men and women quickly followed his orders. “Those in front, on one knee!” He instructed. “After each shot, those in back, step forward and kneel as you reload. Those in front, stand as you reload and continue this forward movement. Show them you are not afraid. Show them that you will keep pushing forward with each strike until every last one of them is dead.”
The archers listened carefully to his instructions. Everyone brought their bows up, arrows nocked and ready. They held the strings tight. Those not strong enough to fight, stood behind the lines, ready with their bundle of replacement arrows. They would watch for empty quivers and fill them when needed.
Johnquil held up his blade and watched the army ahead. Their armor glinted, the night was awash in colors of orange and yellow. The heat and smoke from the burning buildings nearby was almost suffocating. Sweat and soot dripped down the side of John’s face, but he ignored it. He ignored the burning pain in his arm, the blood that soaked his shirt and dripped down to his hand. He ignored the bodies that lay on the ground. He didn’t look to see if any of them were people he knew. He pushed away all the pain and horror of what was happening in his once quiet town, named after the ancient word for peace.
“Hold,” John called. He wanted to keep his archers calm and patient.
When the smoke swirled and cleared, John spotted Morgan. Their eyes met and Morgan could see that the archers were ready. He gave his order. Those who had been on foot, attacking the flanks of the enemy, began to retreat. They disappeared into the shadows. To the enemy, with the smoke and the brightness of the fire, it probably seemed as though they had disappeared into the smoke itself.
“Hold!” John called again; arms of those closest to him trembled while they held tight to their bowstrings.
Ahead, just in front of Emily’s oak tree, the soldiers began to cheer thinking they had won. John smiled to himself at their arrogance; he would not hesitate another moment.
“Fire!” John shouted, bringing his sword down, the steel flashed in the fire light.
The rain of arrows was let loose. The Serhena archers moved as one, the back row moving forward, kneeling after each shot. It reminded John of a slow moving wagon wheel. He would have thought it looked graceful and beautiful if it had not been in such a grotesque setting.
The archers advanced slowly, step by step. At first the confused soldiers did not even know from which direction the arrows came. Eventually, the general was able to reorganize them, and those still alive with shields managed to move to the front and protect what was left of the army.
In reply, the archers just aimed higher. Making the arrows come down from a different angle, striking the men just behind the shields.
At the same time, Horavol moved in again and began attacking the rear guard with his riders. More and more soldiers fell, the mass had finally become smaller. John could actually see the Serhena riders in the back. The general was still surrounded in the center by his ring of guardsmen, yet even they were slowly dwindling.
“Hold your fire!” John called suddenly. He could see that their arrows were nearly reaching Horavol’s riders. The archers stopped.
John did not wait. He charged into the battle. Sword flying, he attacked the first man from behind, thrusting into his kidney. Twisting away from a hard thrust aimed for his chest, John pulled his blade back and then swung hard, taking the head off another.
When Morgan saw John’s attack, he took the cue to charge in himself, along with the rest of his fighters. Battle cries were heard over the death screams of the remaining soldiers. Rage and fury ruled their minds, and controlled their movements. It was a frenzy the likes John had never seen before and he was a part of it, he was caught up in it. He savored each connected blow. He let each clash of steel with each block feed his rage. They were winning. It was the first battle against Kahrus’ army, and they were succeeding. These people were proving that they could do it. And if these peace loving, quiet folk could stand up and fight for themselves, for their future, then anyone could.
Example 4, from Thy Will Be Done, Book 2 of The Shifting Balance: This is John’s speech before the largest and final Battle for the People.
John surveyed the crowd slowly. Every eye was focused on him. He wanted to talk of Mahren, but he knew that was a risk he could not take. These people were not ready to understand the full implications of this battle. That they were here at all, was enough. Each of them was already exhausted; nearing the breaking point. They had all worked tirelessly in the last few weeks to get everything done. Now it was up to him to reignite the fire that burned in their hearts; the fire that had brought all of them here in the first place.
“I am just a man,” John began. He spoke as loudly as he could, and met the eyes of those nearby. “I am just a man,” he repeated, “And I am just like you; I have lost too much. I am just a father, and once, I was just a husband. I was just a working man, who always did what was asked of me, who worked hard for myself and those whom I loved. Yet in the eyes of the Emperor, it was not enough. Like you, I lost too much, not because I deserved it, not because I disobeyed, or refused to do as I was commanded. No, I lost almost everything I had, merely for the simple reason that I was a simple man trying to live a simple life—the same as all of you. I am not a hero; I am no one special. I am just a man, who has become fed-up and angry. The Emperor took everything from me. First, he took my wife, and then my livelihood. Next he took my daughter, and the daughters of my friends. But still, that was not enough. He took our homes and then our town, and then last but not least, he stole the hope and the pride we once had in ourselves.
“I am just like you. All of you have lost what meant most to you, what you kept close to your hearts. Your families, your homes, your livelihoods. We have waited long enough for hope to return. We have waited long enough for the Stars to come back to us and make things right. We have prayed long and hard for change, but it did not come. Yes, you thought the Emperor had come here to help you, long ago, but what happened to those vows he made? Where is the life he promised to make for each and every one of you?” John looked around, seeing the faces of those who were finally starting to understand the lies they had been fed for so long.
“The Gods do not step in to take control when things get hard. The Stars do not shine only on a few souls. You cannot sit back and wait on change if you do not expect to have to stand up for it yourself. People, the Stars have not abandoned you; they are shining on you now. You have all realized that enough is enough, and it is time to make change happen. Not everyone has seen this, and some are not ready, but we will make them see. Some are scared, or frightened, or they have become so lost they do not care, but we will make them care. We will show them that they no longer need to be frightened; that they are not alone. We are here for them; we are here for each other. And now, together, we will stand. It is time for the change you have been praying for.”
The crowd began to grow restless. John could feel the anger rising, the fires were slowly being rekindled; he was the air which pumped the flames of their rage.
“It is time to take it back,” John shouted, his own rage flaring, the sting of tears in his eyes. These people were here for Mahren, even if they didn’t understand it. John pounded his largest hammer in his fist, emphasizing his words. “It is time to take back our hope for a better future; it is time to take back our homes, our jobs, our lands. It is time to take back our families and our children, and the hope that they will suffer no longer.” The crowd cheered after each statement. Even those who could not hear were cheering, they were feeling the passion in the people around them growing. “It is time to take back what has been stolen from us, it is time to take back our own lives so that once again, we may live!”
The people closest to him began to shout and cheer. They held their weapons in the air, and John knew the people were ready, they had what they needed to get the job done. Now, it was up to fate to give them each what they needed to continue on, to keep the fire of hope burning within their hearts.
“Now, each of you must stand tall. Each of you have a job to do. You all know what it is you must do. Hold fast to your purpose, listen to those who will lead you. Be courageous, be patient, and stay vigilant. As the tides turn you must act, reasonably and swiftly. Each and every one of you is a hero, and each of you have a purpose. Go now, to meet your destiny. Stay true to your hearts and your minds, and you will win the day!” John shouted over the roar of the crowd.
The cheers and the chanting continued and John took it all in, letting their voices wash over him, feeding back to him the hope, courage, and strength he needed in return. John wished Mahren could see this, he wished she could feel it, and know how many people were out here ready to fight along side her.
John stepped off the wagon and the crowd quickly began to disperse. It soon became organized chaos. Everyone gathered with their assigned groups. As soon as they were ready they would begin moving, entering the streets of Caireth in stages to join those who were already there making preparations for their arrival. By the time they were ready and in position, the army would be alerted to their presence and the sun would be setting. The battle for the people—for Mahren—would begin.