Snippet #2 For The Unforgiven: Skharr DeathEater Book 1
Only two snippets in and already so many mysteries are building. Who is this old’un? Why is this DeathEater pretending to be something he’s not. Maybe a farm life is the better option…
In a forest as densely packed as the Druums Woodland, it was quite clear when one began to approach the perimeter. The trees began to thin, which allowed more sunlight to filter through the leaves and made it a brighter walk.
The old man’s knees and ankles continued to tell him that it was time to settle into a pleasant life of retirement in a location where there was enough civilization to protect him from the elements. But it was still a pleasant walk. Admittedly, it wasn’t the kind he made very often—not these days—and it was enjoyable despite the aches and pains that came with his age.
Turvall could see the edge of the forest ahead and he realized that his step had become a little more sprightly. Too much time spent in the murk and shadow of the woodland had left him desperate for clear sunlight. Of course, he would grow tired of it a few hours later, but it would be nice to feel the sun on his cheeks again, especially as the cool temperatures seemed to make things ache that hadn’t ached in years.
As the trees cleared, he needed to shield his eyes and allow them to adjust to the sudden brilliance. It was only a couple of hours past midday by the looks of it, which meant there would be a few hours of light before he needed to stop to set up camp.
When his eyes did adjust, he froze in mid-step and stared ahead with a puzzled expression that brought his bushy eyebrows down over his eyes.
“Who in the fiery godsforsken hell would try to farm this close to the Woodland?” he asked aloud.
Yern simply snorted, made no attempt to guess, and instead, chose to nibble the fresh green grass that grew beyond the tree line.
Nothing about the scene suggested an answer. A rough house made from hewn wood stood near a barn of similar construction. Beside the outbuilding, a few acres of open land had been cleared of grass and brushes to reveal rich, dark earth that had been tilled in anticipation of a crop being planted.
A man stood in the distance with his horse, but he could make no further details out.
“He is either an idiot or someone comfortable with violence.” He answered his earlier question and patted Yern’s rump. “I suppose we should find out what kind of man would risk taking up farming this close to the forest.”
There was nothing left to do but continue on the path that would lead him directly to the barn since the rich earth meant the grass grew thick and tall. Walking through it would be almost impossible. They continued with no attempt at haste before Turvall turned aside and walked over the soft, tilled earth.
Yern had no desire to follow him. The donkey simply came to a halt on the path, turned to the other side, and nibbled the grass nearby.
As the old man drew closer, the answer to his question became a little clearer. The man beside the horse was easily head and shoulders taller than he was. His broad shoulders were well-muscled, but the wide scars that marred his skin were difficult to ignore. They weren’t those that had been carefully tended by the caring hands of a skilled surgeon. He had seen scars like that. More importantly, he remembered the screams of pain from those who had been healed that way.
The stranger hadn’t heard him approach, likely because he berated the horse that pulled a crudely built plow. The language itself wasn’t unfamiliar to the old man, but the precise meaning was lost on him.
Still, their nature was not difficult to discern. The man made no attempt to strike or abuse the horse in any way but verbally. The animal seemed to pay no attention to him. Instead, it stood motionless and stared ahead like he wasn’t even there.
The beast was smaller than most farming horses, although larger and more powerful than those used for simple riding. This was a warhorse, which identified the man more than his size and scars did.
He paused in his verbal tirade, likely to breathe, and turned quickly, his hands raised and ready for a fight.
“You have keen hearing, warrior,” Turvall called before the stranger attacked him. He raised his hands in a placatory gesture, although he left his staff planted in the soft earth for easy recovery. “Have no fear, however. I did not intend to approach unheard, but your voice is quite deafening and the soft earth does make it difficult to hear footsteps.”
The man stood his ground but his fists lowered slowly to his waist. His eyes narrowed but his expression didn’t change as he studied the old man suspiciously. His hair had an odd, reddish-brown hue and was long enough to require being tied loosely with a strip of leather. A scar over his left eye made his appearance look more ominous than it was probably intended to, although the deep scowl and the tense muscles—seen clearly as his well-tanned skin was coated in a light sheen of sweat—left little doubt that he wasn’t to be trifled with.
Oddly, though, Turvall noted that he could discern no scent from the man. The horse was easy to identify and a man working hard in the afternoon should have been equally easy, but his olfactory sense found nothing.
“Do you speak the common tongue?” he asked, not comfortable enough to move until he was sure the man would not attack him. “Spriken gurral doves tiak?”
The stranger smirked as he tried to speak the tongue of the Western Clans to him and shook his head.
“Common,” he said simply.
“Excellent,” the old man answered and relaxed. “Do you mind? I think I can help with your horse troubles.”
A moment of consideration passed before the warrior took a step to the side and gestured for him to approach.
Turvall bowed his head slightly in thanks before he moved closer to the horse, avoided the range of the beast’s hind legs, and approached from the front.
“There now, greatheart.” As he moved closer, he realized the animal had almost as many scars as his master. These turned his gray coat white in crisscrossing patterns. He looked calm and his were ears up and attentive but otherwise, he showed no sign that he was bothered by the stranger who approached him. The old man reached into his sleeve, withdrew a bright red apple that he had been saving, and offered it slowly on his open palm.
The horse’s interest was immediately aroused by the sight of the fruit. He turned his head and his ears faced fully forward as his thick neck arched to reach the fruit and pluck it whole from his hand.
“You see,” Turvall said, speaking in a calm, quiet voice, “one attracts the bees with honey rather than vinegar. The secret to working with anyone is to give them a treat to move them in the direction in which you want them to go. Once momentum is achieved, alacritous work is easier, wouldn’t you agree?”
The warrior’s expression did not change and his sharp green eyes watched him carefully before he snorted and shook his head. “Large words, old’un. Speak simple.”
“Yes, they were,” he muttered and spoke under his breath. “But not too large for you, I think.”
The warrior showed no sign that he had heard what he said and continued to watch him. He resembled a drawn bowstring, ready to spring forward.
It was time to change the subject. “What has you farming out here? You know the Woodlands is dangerous for all those who live in its proximity.”
The large man smirked. “Open lands near forest cheap.”
He wasn’t wrong, of course. No farmer in his right mind would willingly elect to earn a livelihood this close to the woods, no matter how fertile the soil was.
“Yes, well, there are ways to make a living that bring a great deal more coin than simple farming.”
“Not thief,” the warrior rumbled after a moment of thought. “Not guard. War over and need food. Winter comes soon.”
Another good point, the old man conceded silently. The stranger undoubtedly had a barbaric appearance, but that wasn’t all he could see in him.
“It’s spring.” He tugged his beard gently before he retrieved another apple from his sleeve, which again caught the horse’s immediate attention. “Winter won’t arrive for a good while yet.”
The barbarian raised an eyebrow. “Winter always comes sooner than expected.”
He noticed immediately that it was a complete sentence. It seemed as though the man tried to hide his intelligence behind a hard and brutish exterior.
“You don’t want to farm.” Turvall made an assumption but one that had too much evidence supporting it to ignore. “It’s not the life you would have chosen unless you felt you had to. If I were to give you another choice—one that would give you the means to live out the winter without needing to till the soil—would you take it?”
The man’s massive shoulders bunched into a shrug. “Depends on choice.”
“It always does. How does mercenary work suit you?”
He felt a twinge of exasperation. There was nothing in the warrior’s expression that provided the slightest clue as to whether he was willing to accept the offer or not. No hint of desperation lurked in his eyes, only suspicion of the man who had appeared at his farm and begun a conversation with him.
The old man had hoped to not have to share all his information yet, lest he be of similar mind as the brigands he had dealt with the day before.
But there was no way to avoid it now. “I have a contract from the Mercenary Guild in Verenvan to clear a dungeon of all dangers found within. It is worth a great deal of coin to any man brave enough to accept it. I would be willing to trade it with you in exchange for your farm and the horse. The house and barn are your work, yes?”
The barbarian nodded.
“And the barn is full of seed for planting?”
Another nod was followed by, “Barley. Oats.”
“Perfect. What say you to the offer, then, my friendly giant?”
The man paused to think, and after a few seconds, extended his hand. Turvall couldn’t believe that it had been so easy, but as he reached out to take it, the man snatched it back. The barbarian growled, shook his head, and extended his hand again.
“Ah, yes, the contract,” Turvall muttered, fumbled in his coat, and drew the scroll clear. “It is wise of you to wish to inspect it before taking the deal, of course.”
Without so much as a word in reply, the barbarian plucked it from his fingers. Unlike the brigands—whose eyes had been drawn to the silver lettering on the side—his fingers immediately moved over the seal and brushed the wax lightly. There was no sign of the pain the other man had felt, but the furrowed brow vanished. It looked almost like the barbarian hadn’t expected him to tell the truth.
He handed the scroll to the old man. “Mark it.”
Turvall was no longer surprised that the stranger knew how to deal with contract scrolls. From his appearance, it seemed likely that he’d been employed by the guild at some point in his life. The old man scowled but did as instructed, pricked his thumb with the pin on his coat, and pressed it to the scroll. The bloody mark remained for a few seconds before it faded almost immediately, the sign that it had been given up voluntarily while he was still alive.
“Inside, you’ll find a map that will lead you to the dungeon and enable you to navigate its depths. If you can reach the bottom, there will be enough gold for you to live in any city in Rhuengeld for three years without having to lift another finger to support yourself. There will also be the bounty on the contract to collect from the guild, as well as enough of a reputation for you to gain any work you choose from this point forward in your life. It won’t be easy, of course, but nothing worth having in this world is.”
The wind brushed across the open farmland and made the only sound that could be heard for miles as the barbarian paused to think about what he’d said. The fact that he wasn’t one to rush into an engagement of this nature and away from the farm he had built showed more wisdom than most others the old man had met from the Western Clans.
Finally, the large man cleared his throat and brushed his fingers across his brow to clear the sweat that dripped into his eyes. “The farm. But not the horse. DeathEaters do not walk.”
Turvall’s eyebrows raised sharply. The name was familiar, of course. It would have been to any man, woman, or child east of the Youran mountains. Of the fifty Western Clans, DeathEaters were the most famous for the warriors they produced in the northern mountains where a living was unlikely to be made any other way.
“I thought your people mostly raided or sold their services to the highest bidder to sustain The Clan.”
The man’s face softened. Not many people knew to address the DeathEaters correctly and in their chosen fashion. All other clans had names but theirs was The Clan—above the rest.
“Myths. DeathEaters farm as well. Difficult to farm in the mountains. Easy here.”
“Interesting. It is quite cold up there. They produce good food, though. The Clan certainly know their spices.”
“Summer sun shines all day. Food grows quickly. Winter is time to war and raid. Planting here is easy. For food and spice.”
Old memories returned to Turvall of the last time he’d seen the DeathEaters raiding. Battle cries had echoed chillingly through canyons while arrows the size of spears rained from above and men scaled the rocks like scorpicores.
Winter was certainly not a good time to travel among the Western Clans.
“And what about the forest?” Turvall asked finally and shook the memories off like a bad dream.
“I hope something comes out. I can fight. If they stay in, I go after them myself.”
Which explained a few things about the uneventful nature of his trip through the woods—regarding the beasts that generally prowled there, at least.
“Well, then.” He nodded and folded his arms in front of his chest. “Do we have a deal, barbarian? The farm for the contract and you keep your horse, of course.”
The man nodded and extended his hand to take the scroll. “Skharr. To activate?”
“Simply break the seal. If it is broken by another without your mark, it will disappear and make it appear to be a fake. If you retrieve it, all you need do is seal it again and the map will show once more. I’m sorry—your name is Skharr?”
“Yes. Very well. I will collect my things and the farm will be yours.”
Again, the deep voice and foreign accent made it difficult to place him as anything but a brutish barbarian, but the clear and concise sentences spoke otherwise.
The easy slide from one to the other was intriguing, but it would have to remain a mystery. He had already unhitched his horse from the plow and clicked his fingers. Now free, the beast followed him willingly to the house and waited when he went inside. Turvall meandered after them, if only to get out of the heat, and Yern did as well to graze happily under the shade of the farm.
It wasn’t long before the warrior exited the house, carrying a few packs. One looked like it held all the food he had, along with a few sacks of oats. Everything in the barn was to remain, of course, but the rest belonged to him.
He had weapons and armor too—a war bow almost as tall as Turvall himself while unstrung along with a quiver of long arrows were items he almost expected to see among the man’s possessions. A simple leather and bronze helm, as well as a leather gambeson, a battle-ax, and a simple wooden shield were all strapped to the saddlebags he slung expertly over the horse’s back once a plain saddle was in place.
The bridle and reins were neither elegant nor expertly made but simple and effective—as long as the horse and rider knew each other well.
Turvall could see no sign of the scroll. It was most likely tucked into the shirt or traveling cloak the man had acquired while inside.
“You think you can survive the beasts from the forest?” the barbarian asked while he strapped his belongings to the saddle. “Old’uns prefer living where no fighting is required for survival.”
He scowled and tried yet again to reconcile the image of the massive, curt barbarian with the sudden verbosity he displayed.
The seemingly effortless changes from one to the other remained intriguing, but he resigned himself to the fact that he would never know the story behind it. The scroll was out of his hands and into those that looked exceedingly capable, which left him little else to do but to see what else he had to live off.
“I can take care of myself,” Turvall answered and snapped his fingers to call Yern closer. “I’ve learned a few tricks over the years to keep myself safe without needing to engage in violence, even with beasts from the woodlands.”
The expression on the barbarian’s face revealed his doubt, but he seemed to decide that whatever happened next had little to do with him. If the old man had a mind to try to succeed against the beasts of the forest, so be it.
“Fare thee well on your journeys, Skharr,” Turvall called as he watched him and his horse leave.
I’m so ready to follow the DeathEater on his journey, I’m already rooting for him! I’m also hoping we will see more of Yern… he is stealing the show. My Advice, head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy of The Unforgiven. Then first thing on October 26th when the book is released you can jump right in.