16
May

Fire Slings

   Posted by: thefourpartland   in Other Stories

This is an excerpt from an upcoming Splintered Lands story titled Kingdoms in Conflict.

Galdere muttered and cursed and shouted at the soldiers that reported to him as they struggled to fit together the second of the lever-armed devices. The technologically-minded soldier still hadn’t come up with a name for his creation, but he would, eventually. It was hardly relevant at the moment. And most people just called them giant slings anyway, which was accurate enough. It was what he’d based them on, after all. Just using the power of nature to do the tossing, instead of the power of a human’s arm.

As they assembled the second of the devices, there was another team in the woods, hunting down appropriately shaped trees and limbs to be used to create a third. And to create more spare parts, which were in constant demand. There was now a second set of embankments around the giant slings, one facing outwards, in case of an enemy raid, and the other at the rear, with a low trench behind it. That was where everyone stood when the device was being fired. No one trusted it not to throw splinters all over the place. Especially not after it had almost taken the arm from one unlucky soldier. Still, the risks were worth it.

Nearby, Hálsung and Iudas stood watching the assembly process, occasionally turning when there was a thump from the more distant device. First to see if anyone had been killed, and second to follow the flight of the ball as it impacted into the wall or flew over into the town. Although it was clearly damaging the walls, progress was slow, much to slow for the liking of the baron, and of his army’s food supplies. So now he debated ways to speed the matter up with his subordinate.

“And what would you fling into a town you wished to conquer, Hálsung?”

“I’ve always used arrows and sling stones, lord.”

“So have I, but neither of those seem to be that effective.” He drummed his fingers on his chin as he paced up and down, staring at the walls of Abboddóm. “Perhaps fire?”

“How would we do that?”

“Well, we’re throwing stones, right? Why not carve the spheres from wood, hollow them out a bit, and fill them with burning tinder? If we fire them fast enough they won’t damage the slings. Galdere, come here!” That last was in a shout that carried across the battlefield and cut through the technological soldiers meandering curses.

“Would firing partially hollow spheres of wood that were on fire work?”

Galdere pondered for a moment. “I don’t see why not. We might need to weight them down with a few stones so they flew farther, but I’m sure we can manage. I’ll play around with a few designs this afternoon after I get the sling up and firing, and we’ll try them out overnight.”

Iudas clapped him on the shoulder. “Good man. Just don’t take too long.”

The veteran blanched.

7
May

Village Fair

   Posted by: thefourpartland   in Other Stories

This is an excerpt from an upcoming Splintered Lands story titled Kingdoms in Conflict.

“If that is a precursor to the battle for Abboddóm, then we have already won. They die almost man for man with our poorer troops.” Hálsung gestured at the carnage around them.

“You’re an idiot.” Iudas waved his arm in the torchlight. “They used peasants, same as we do. And they managed to chew up better equipped troops without losing many of their own. They mistimed the ambush, but otherwise, it went well for them. Anyway, spend the night digging graves for our men. We’ll camp here for the night and bury them with the rising of the dawn light.”

“Don’t you mean organizing the men to dig graves?”

“I don’t think I said that. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t say that. So you can either dig a grave, or sleep in it.”

Hálsung grabbed a shovel.

The next morning saw Iudas’s troops advance on Castel. There was little doubt that they would meet resistance there, after the ambush in the woods, but even so Iudas kept them in tight formation, and sent out scouts. If nothing else, it was practice for those soldiers that needed the discipline.

They came out of the woods to find the village was still mostly occupied by those who lived there, a strange occurrence that surprised all of the men in the army. Iudas looked at the pitiful walls of the village, barely more than rotten timber, and began giggling.

Iudas rode to the front of his troops, waving at the village behind him. “The man who brings me the prettiest woman in Castel gets first pick of the loot, plus a gift from me!”

The troops surged forward, the peasants charging in headlong, the more experienced professional soldiers holding back and watching. Although those with bows did unlimber them and begin taking pot-shots at the peasants on the walls. It was pitiful covering fire, but would be enough to keep the defenders discouraged.

Iudas glanced over at Hálsung. “Do you think I should have used this as practice for siege warfare?”

Hálsung shrugged. “I’m not sure. I don’t think they would have gotten that much practice out of it. And the peasants need blooding. They need an easy fight they can win, so they think all fights are easy fights. Better that they cover themselves in slaughter this time around I think.”

“I like that thinking. Perhaps a little mayhem afterwards as well?”

“If there are any creatures left to play with.”

“No village ever dies in the first wave. But Castel won’t survive the day. Not any of it.”

There were screams coming from the village now, for Iudas’s soldiers had broken the barricades and charged through the mud streets, pulling people from buildings, slashing down any who dared to resist. The weaponry of Iudas’s peasants was rudimentary, and broken on occasion, but a stone mace was a brutal weapon against unprotected flesh, and soon the howls of the wounded began to float over the village, providing a backdrop to the scenes of slaughter.

The women, however, were kept unharmed, and as each of the few pretty young girls were found, the soldiers who captured them left the village, eventually forming a line before Iudas. Their ruler strode up and down, glancing at a face, touching their hair, and occasionally ripping their clothes open for a closer look at the important parts.

Hálsung gestured to the village. “They’re all done, lord. There won’t be any more to inspect.”

“Pity. None of them are particularly attractive. But I keep my promise to the troops.” Iudas meandered through the women once more, his hands roaming freely. After a little while, he settled on a young brunette, maybe fifteen years of age. “Take her to my tent, and tie her up there.”

Iudas glanced at the village. It was deserted, aside from the wounded who howled in its streets. “Hálsung, round up all the loot and pile it before the village gate. The men who found me my woman for the night get first choice. And anyone who does not share the loot they’ve found is to be locked into a hovel. I’ll burn them alive later.”

As those words were communicated through the peasants who had sacked the tiny village, there was a mad rush to drop any goods they had found in the communal pile. Losing out on a little bit of stolen food was far better than dying.

“Oh, and Hálsung. Tonight’s entertainments. I think we should have some gladiatorial games. Make fathers fight sons, women fight husbands. That sort of thing. And for the finale, I want to see two healthy men fight. Except cut a leg off of one, and an arm from another. And give them each big heavy weapons they can’t swing well. A large branch or something. You know, usual promise of freedom to the victor and all that. See to it, would you?” Iudas strode for his tent without waiting for an answer.

Hálsung looked over at the little collection of prisoners and walking wounded and grinned. Tonight was going to be a fun night.

3
May

Bloody Peasants

   Posted by: thefourpartland   in Other Stories

This is an excerpt from an upcoming Splintered Lands story titled Kingdoms in Conflict.

Iudas grumbled when he looked out at the scene before him. It was all just taking too long. Too damn long.

“Gather up those bloody peasants!”

Hearing his voice becoming annoyed, his men moved faster. They had long ago learned what Iudas’s annoyance could do to a person. Soon enough, the villagers had been gathered in from all the little farms that surrounded the hamlet, and tucked into a small mass in front of Iudas. He sighed at the pitiful looks and thin bodies. What a worthless lot of cretins he ruled.

“You have been selected to join me, to fight for me, as we wage war on the horrid beast Inswán! He has invaded our lands, burned down our villages, slain our people! He sends spies to take what little we have, to steal from us! Now we bring him retribution. And you shall be the agents of our retribution!”

One of the peasants looked around, raised a hand, and spoke. “Begging your pardon, lord, but we aren’t much of a retribution. We’re just poor farmers.”

Iudas gestured. A soldier rammed a dagger into the peasant’s gut, then ripped it sideways.

“Anyone else want to interrupt me?”

The peasants cowered in fear.

“You’re learning. Good. That puts you above the village of idiots I burned down. With them inside of it, mind you.” Iudas took a slug of wine from a skin hanging off his saddle. “Soldiers, you know the drill.”

The healthy men were separated out from the rest, and a small cadre lead them off at a fast march, heading in the direction of Gárhéap, Iudas’s capital. There they would be given basic weaponry and training. Very basic, sadly, much as Iudas wished he could do better. But his lands were poor in metal, and what little he had was not going to be wasted on illiterate peasants. They would be little more than fodder against the walls of Abboddóm, anyway.

Once the new recruits were safely out of earshot, the remaining soldiers started pulling attractive women from amongst the rest who stood there. This was their reward, taken from every village captured. The prettiest of them all went to Iudas, although he thought that wasn’t saying much. Mud-covered farm peasants weren’t really his type, but he made do with what he could find on campaign. It was mostly just a form of tithing, anyway.

Shouts and cries began to echo around the little village. Iudas listened for a moment, then nodded. His men had been given strict orders to impregnate as many of the women as possible, rather than to harm them. After all, the world contained far too few people. The Breaking and the plagues that had followed has seen to that.

Pondering over what might have been if the world still stood as it once had, he took the peasant girl by the arm and lead her into a hovel. He was feeling gentle today. Mostly.

27
Apr

Honest Thieves

   Posted by: thefourpartland   in Thieves Abroad

This is the continuation of Thieves Abroad. Previous entries can be found here

“Náhte, why is there a net on your head?”

“I needed a hat.”

“Náhte, it’s a net. It lets the sun shine through. And doesn’t keep off the mosquitoes either. Also, it smells of fish. Dead fish.”

“I know. I’m hoping fish will jump into the net and I can eat them. I’m hungry.”

Butan just sighed.

They’d been in Át?san a week now, and had, for once in their lives, honest employment. Neither of them liked it very much.

“Kagdor didn’t bring any food, did he?”

“He brought me more nets to wear. Draped them over my head when he left.”

“That was probably because he doesn’t like you. You cut up one of his nets and used it as a fishing line.”

“He wasn’t using it!”

“Náhte, we’re supposed to be repairing the nets, not breaking them.”

“Oh, is that what this job is? I thought I was just a clothes rack.”

“You just might be.”

“Do I get more money as a clothes rack?”

“No, less.”

“Then I don’t want to be a clothes rack.” Náhte thought for a moment. It was a long moment. “I don’t want to be honest any more, Butan. Honesty is kind of dull.”

“You mean there’s nobody shooting arrows at you? Or trying to sell you into slavery?”

“Exactly!”

“You want people to shoot at you.”

“I think so. I like the sound that arrows make as they whiz by.”

Butan started crying.

“Why are we here?”

“Because I was bored of being honest as well.”

“But this is the Knights of the Broken Wheel mission. We can’t join them, they’re honest!”

“I don’t want to join them, I want to rob them.”

“Doesn’t that mean they’ll poke us with pointy things?”

“Given everything else we’ve met tried to do that, what’s the difference?”

Náhte paused.

“They have bigger pointy things?”

“On that, you’re probably right. Ready to go over the wall?”

“Why not swim up the little creek into their complex that no one ever guards?” Náhte pointed.

Butan clapped a hand over his eyes. “Náhte, that’s an open air sewer.”

“Oh, that means I’ll smell foetid. I’ll have all the pretty flowers again, and I can paint them.”

“Fine. Náhte, you can swim in, and I’ll climb over the wall.”

They went their separate ways.

Butan dropped over the wall, huddled in the darkness behind a crate, and looked around. There wasn’t any movement he could see, so he crept towards the storehouse against the back wall of the complex. A Knight stepped out from the barracks, heading to the outhouse, and Butan froze, posing himself like a tree. And then almost fell over.

When the Knight had gone, he made it the rest of the way to the storehouse and slipped inside. Oddly, the door had been unlocked.

“Butan, you’re slow.” Náhte was sitting on a chest, munching on some flatbread.

“How in the name of all the gods did you get in here so quickly?”

“I followed the stream. I knew it came here, after all.”

“You knew the stream came straight into the storehouse, and you didn’t tell me.”

“I’d swum in it before, Butan. I like swimming. Lets me be closer to the fish.”

“I thought the fish tried to bite your fingers and you didn’t like them.”

“We’re on better terms now.”

Butan shook his head, and started hunting through the stacks. Most of what was there was either sealed barrels of food, or military equipment that would be difficult to sell.

“I don’t suppose you’ve worked out a perfect way to sneak stuff out of here, Náhte?”

“I usually swim with it in my shirt. It gets a bit smelly though. And damp.”

“Selling urine-soaked bread is probably not going to go down well. Next idea?”

Well, we could weight a barrel down with some rocks so it floats just below the surface, push it along, and then pop it out of the stream when we’re outside.”

Butan stared at his friend. “Did you just have a smart idea?”

“I’m not sure. What makes ideas smart?”

Butan puzzled on that one. “You’ll have to ask a philosopher.”

“What’s that?”

“A man who thinks about the big questions.”

“You mean like ‘To surrender, or not to surrender’?”

“No, more like whether we perceive reality, or if what we perceive is only a shadow cast by the true reality.” He stopped. “Incidentally, why’d you bring up surrender?”

“Because there’s five Knights outside.”

They both dove for the open sewer.

The thieves came up spluttering, covered in foul smelling liquid. Unfortunately, the first thing they saw was a pair of boots. Followed by a sword tip, the rest of the sword, and a large angry man.

“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to let us surrender?”

The sword swung.

“Thought not. Knights aren’t known for their mercy.”

Náhte ducked, and Butan grabbed a lump of, well, better not think about it and threw it into the Knight’s face.

With the Knight clawing at the adhesive filth, they ran. Well, Butan ran. Náhte charged into the Knight, knocked him to the ground, and stole his helmet. Then he ran.

After they were a good safe distance away, inside the edge of the swamp, Butan looked at Náhte and gestured at the helmet. “Why?”

“I always wanted a Knight’s helmet.” He plopped it on his head. “I look dashing in it, don’t I?”

A man in rags with the metal helmet of a Knight. Dashing wasn’t exactly the word that sprang to Butan’s mind.

“You look exotic, Náhte.”

“Oh, I like that even more.”

“Yes, I thought you might. That’s why I said it. Now, what are we going to do?”

“Well, there’s a nice sunset I could paint on the tree. With mud, of course.”

Butan shoved Náhte into a puddle.

“No, Náhte, big picture what are we going to do next?”

“Oh, hrmm. Die, probably. At least, I think that’s what comes after living.”

“You aren’t helping. Especially not since I think those Knights are organizing a search party.”

“We could flee?”

“I like your thinking.”

They fled.

2
Jan

The Family is Growing

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Other Stories

Now, it probably looks like things are fairly quiet around here these days. They aren’t, really. They’ve just gone underground. We’re actually quite busy behind the scenes, drawing up plans for the anthology, and the novels. Yes, novels. Two of them are in the works, currently.

Splintered Lands has grown just a little bit from our initial plans. At first, it was going to be a standalone anthology with stories from the team, as well as from a collection of outside authors, but as time passed, we were getting such good stories, and the authors were enjoying working in Splintered Lands so much that two ideas that started out as short stories have grown and grown, until they’ve become full fledged novels. For one author, this was how he described the opportunity – “… Other stories? Boy, that’s like giving me the keys to a space shuttle…”. Just slightly enthusiastic, and a joy to work with as an editorial team.

Now, if you’re wondering when these novels are going to start appearing for sale, well, we’ve a slight disappointment for you. The first of them is probably still nine months away, but if things go smoothly, you just might be able to read Splintered Lands stories on the beach, and we promise that will be one hell of a treat.

The anthology is also coming along nicely. We’re finishing up and polishing the short stories already submitted for it, but if there’s any brilliant last second stories that come through the door, we’ll take them too. Now, you’ve seen some of the stories that will end up in the anthology on here, but there’s plenty more that are tucked away, waiting to see the light of day with that first publication. Some will have characters written about here in new stories, but most will unveil completely new areas of the world. And we promise, you’ll love them.

So there’s a little update to you all from the Splintered Lands team. We’re growing our family of tales, we’re just being a bit quiet about it.

A Happy New Year to you all!

18
Nov

Narcotic Bush

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Thieves Abroad

“The bush was tasty, wasn’t it?”

Groans.

“Was that a yes?”

“No, Náhte. That was the warning that if you keep asking stupid questions, I will kill you and eat your corpse.”

“I don’t think you’d want to do that without cooking the meat first.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll cook you after I kill you.”

“Thank you Butan, that makes me feel much better.”

“Náhte, I…” The thief paused. “Never mind.”

They walked for a while. Hopefully in the direction of Át?san.

“Well, at least I understand why you painted the tree with mud.”

“It looked good, didn’t it?”

“It did. While I was tripping off whatever the hell was in that bush. How did you manage to find the one plant with narcotic buds in the entire swamp, and then convince me to eat half of it?”

“You were hungry?”

“Fair point.”

Time passed. Stomachs rumbled.

“Despite its other effects, I don’t think the bush was that filling.”

“You should have eaten the twigs as well as the leaves and buds.”

“You ate the twigs? How did you not get splinters?”

“Swallowed them mostly whole.”

“And you didn’t choke?”

“I have very good control of my throat muscles, Butan.”

“Suddenly I’m wishing I was back floating down the river on a raft.”

“With me?”

“No, me on the raft, you here in the swamp. Far away from me.”

“That hurts.”

“Not as much as this sharp stick will if you don’t keep your distance.”

Pause.

“Is that smoke?”

“Probably marsh gas.”

“That’s your explanation for everything, isn’t it, Náhte?”

“I read it in a book somewhere.”

“Along with your painting, I take it?”

“That was a different book.”

“Okay, now that we’ve descended further into lunacy, I ask my question again. Is that smoke?”

“Probably marsh gas.”

“Start running Náhte, you’re a dead man.”

He ran.

6
Oct

Muddy Trees

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Thieves Abroad

“Do you think we’re safe yet?”

“Define safe.”

“Not in danger of being eaten by your pet ogre.”

“It’s not my pet. But I think it’s gone.” Náhte paused. “Maybe.” He stopped again. “Perhaps?”

“Náhte, has it gone, or hasn’t it?”

“Well, we’re up a tree, and it hasn’t eaten us yet, so we’re probably safe.” The thief dropped to the ground. “I’m not dead yet!”

Butan grumbled. “You will be when I get down there.”

“So, do you think we can make it to Át?san?”

“If your magical sense of direction is still working, probably.”

They stumbled about for some time.

“Náhte, do you think you could try trailing your fingers through the water again? I’m hungry.”

“I am not getting my fingers bitten!”

“All the fish did was suck on them, they had no teeth.”

“It hurt!”

“Fine, I’ll just starve to death so you can eat my corpse.”

“That’s very kind of you, Butan.”

“Oh shut up.”

They stumbled about some more.

“Náhte, we really need to do something about food. I can count your ribs through your shirt.”

“Well, if you’re feeling really hungry, there’s a nice bush over there with nourishing buds on the end.”

“Are they really, or are you being stupid again?”

“They tasted nice when I chewed the end into a paintbrush.”

“When in the whole holy host did you manage to find time to need a paintbrush?”

“While you were sleeping. I painted a tree.”

“Oh really. And what did the tree look like after you’d painted it?”

“Like a tree, but with some mud on the bark.”

“Náhte, you are a true idiot.”

27
Sep

The Alliance

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Dangerous Journey

Crellan cursed Drekkan’s adept handling of the sails. That would likely put Drekkan in the captains favor. His eyes narrowed at the sight of Drekkan and Captain Richane having a nice little chat. He stepped back into the shadows, hoping to stay unnoticed so he could follow them if they left the deck.

As he’s suspected, the captain and Drekkan moved below decks. He was about to follow when Bruce grabbed his shoulders.

“Why don’t you come with me so we can have a conversation regarding what you find so fascinating about Captain Richane recruiting a new hand.”

Crellan sneered slightly. It was phrased politely enough, but Bruce’s bruisers were only a couple of steps behind their boss. He really had no choice. He followed as Bruce walked to a separate part of the deck. The two henchmen walked on other side of Crellan. He gave them a dark look, particularly the one who’d been the jizhare’s target, then ignored them. Pondering how to handle the situation, whether to appear meek or defiant, he wasn’t prepared for Bruce’s abrupt stop in the middle of nothing.

They were in the prow, looking out at the wide river as they fought against the stream. Crellan had seen the men who were rowing down below when he’d stowed his gear. Richane had the largest crew he’d ever heard of. Something to put in his report to The Duke when he had a chance.

“I noticed you’ve been paying undue interest to what’s happening on this ship,” Bruce began. “Quite the rescue with the jizhare earlier. What’s your game?” he asked as nonchalantly as if he’d been asking about the weather.

Crellan wasn’t fooled and stared back at the overdressed man, rapidly trying to figure out the best approach and what to say. “Undue interest? I’m not sure what you mean. As for the jizhare, I have no death wish and it was clear you had no intention of killing the great cat, regardless of the danger it posed.” He shrugged and looked off in the distance, by all appearances unconcerned with the direction of the conversation.

He looked back when there was no answer. The smile on Bruce’s face gave him chills. He’d never been around a man like this before.

“I’m sure you know exactly what I mean,” Bruce said quietly. “Don’t insult me with your childish games. Who do you work for and how much are they paying you?”

The quietness of Bruce’s voice might have put someone less experienced at ease, but not him. The man was furious at being treated like an idiot. However, the mention of money made Crellen much more receptive to what Bruce was selling.

“What’s it to ya if I’m working for someone?” he asked belligerently.

“Depends on who you’re working for and how much money you’re getting. Now tell me, how much?”

Crellan looked Bruce up and down, noting every detail of his finer and the quality of his weapons. He had no real allegiance to The Duke, other than he was the most powerful man in the area he was from. Plus, he could pay for services rendered, something not many could afford. By the looks of Bruce’s clothing, he could probably pay better.

“Just an errand for an overlord,” he said, deciding that throwing The Duke’s name around could get him killed. “It pays well. More than most people in Brrksvin will see in years.”

“And I suppose it pays in the currency of Brrksvin as well,” Bruce said meaningfully. Crellan frowned at him.

“What’s that supposed to mean? There is no other way of getting paid.”

Bruce laughed unkindly. “For all your tough exterior, you really are a babe in the woods. Do you really think that they’ll take Brrksvin money in Arrowvin do you?”

Crellan wished he’d kept quiet. He sullenly stared at Bruce. Bruce laughed harder. “Oh, you have much to learn. We are headed to northern territory that is as wild as any you’ll find in Brrksvin.”

“Then why you headed that way?” Crellan sought to turn the tables.

“That is of no concern to you. I have my reasons and that should be enough. Question is, do you want money for the territory you’re headed to?”

“What kind of money are we talking about?”

“There’s no set system of comparison, but to put it in your terms, more than most people in Arrowvin will see in years,” Bruce replied.

“What is it you want me to do?”

“I want you to be my eyes and ears on this ship. Captain Richane had his own reasons for bringing you aboard. He’ll trust you more than myself or my men. Report anything of interest to me, as well as the habits of all the crew.”

“What if I say no? I do have a prior commitment,” Crellan said.

“Whoever your prior commitment is to, they are not here. You will do as I say. If not, well,” he looked over at the two men who’s stood silent through the exchange. “Accidents happen.”

Accidents his ass. “Since you make the offer so tempting, I’ll say yes. Where’d you like me to start?”

Find out who on the ship is open to bribes. I need as many on my side as possible before we reach our destination.”

Crellan swallowed, hard. The trader was talking mutiny. The penalty for mutiny was death. Everyone knew that. Before the sail incident he might have doubted Richane’s strength to follow through on the punishment. Anger sparked, but he didn’t let it show.

“Mutiny?” he asked instead.

“Such a harsh way of putting it. I prefer to think of it as staying informed. My men will bring you a payment everyday that you provide me with useful information. If I ever feel that you are not putting your heart into this task, I’ll consider our little deal off and act accordingly.” Bruce waved his men closer. “Take him below decks.”

Crellan shook off the bruisers’ grasp. “Don’t touch me. I can make my own way. If I ever feel you are welching on our deal, I shall act accordingly.” He stalked off, making a show of his anger, but inside, he was shaking. It was one thing to spy on others and reveal information, but to incite a mutiny? If he got caught, Richane was likely to cut off his head.

He did a quick check to make sure all of his knives and daggers were still in place. Now all he had to do was figure out how to do as Bruce ordered without getting caught. Right. He’d rather face the Jizhare again. With this lot, he might have to.

23
Sep

Swamp Monster

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Thieves Abroad

“I’m beginning to think I liked being tied up more than this.”

“What makes you say that Butan? We’re only crawling on our bellies through snake and insect infested swamps.”

“That was rather my point, Náhte.”

“But I thought you wanted to get out of the ropes.”

“I did. But I also thought we were in Át?san, not some atrocious muddy hut hidden so far in the swamp the sun hasn’t been seen here in several years. I can barely tell where I’m going.”

“Well, if you want the direct route to Át?san, it’s over that way.” Náhte gestured to his left.

“How do you know that?”

“Where the moss grows on trees, and the way the current moves. It’s easy if you think about it.”

“Náhte, you’ve never been in a swamp before.”

“I know! This is an adventure.”

Butan shook his head. “Lead on.”

Some time passed.

“Butan, why are you growling at me?”

“I’m not. Well, maybe my stomach’s rumbling. But I’d hardly call that growling.”

“Oh good. So it is the predator hunting us from the trees.”

“The what?!”

“There’s a big ugly monster in the trees back there growling at us.”

“And we aren’t running why?”

“I like strolling.”

“Náhte, you’re going to get us both killed.”

“Well, I can outrun you so I think I’m safe.”

“Why thank you so much.”

“You’re quite welcome.”

Butan looked back. “Náhte, it’s on the ground now.”

“You know, maybe we should run.”

They ran.

21
Sep

Writing Contest Winners

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Contest

We would like to announce that Krista Wayment’s Maev of the Moür as the winner of the Splintered Lands Writing Contest! Her story demonstrates consistent growth from beginning to end, with strong characterizations that draw the reader in.

We heartily appreciate the time and effort that she has put into creating this story and in understanding and helping shape the Splintered Lands setting, and look forward to working with her in the future.

The Splintered Lands Editorial Team would like to thank all those authors who participated, but unfortunately, due to consistent voting irregularities, multiple authors were disqualified.

Once again, thank you to Krista and all the other authors for participating. We have received many wonderful tales, and you have helped shape the Splintered Lands.

9
Sep

The Hunter’s Prey Part 15

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in The Hunter’s Prey

After a circumspect meeting with Malik, Dendera found herself unwillingly waiting before the High Priest’s chambers once more. Malik’s orders were very clear, and utterly loathsome. However heinous the means to the end, she could not afford to fail.

“What are you doing here?” the High Priestess demanded when Dendera tapped at the door.

“I wish only to serve,” she said, bowing forward from the waist so that her hair curtained her face, lest it give her away.

“The servants are here to serve,” she snapped, about to close the door. Dendera drew a breath in to sigh in relief, when the High Priestess paused. “I cannot let them help with the most intimate tasks, though,” she continued, thoughtful. “You are a handmaid of Assim and worthy to touch a holy man. Come in.” Smoothing her face with an effort, Dendera followed with woman into the dim, smoky sickroom. “The poisons have been pouring out of his flesh. He needs to be bathed.”

Servants were sent for a basin of warm water and some cloths. Dendera knelt beside the motionless man, wiping the sweat from his forehead with a firm hand. His eyes followed her as she bathed his face and limbs, burning into her bent head. When she began to unfasten his robe of office, at the High Priestess’ instruction, he convulsed violently, then lay twitching like a fly-stung horse.

“I don’t think he wishes his clothes removed,” Dendera said, backing away.

“Then just keep his face clean,” the High Priestess said. “I am going to rest.” Steeling herself, Dendera sat with the High Priest, pillowing his head in her lap when the other woman had gone. Throughout his recovery, she never left his side, except to change out of her ceremonial garments and tell Laurin he could use her chambers while she was busy elsewhere. They had little interaction, but his eyes on her were heavy. The High Priestess quickly left him in her care, claiming the duties of running the temple desperately needed her attention. It would have been a simple thing to hold a pillow over his head, weak as he was, and finish the job, but her instructions had changed and she must obey. Too many eyes in the city now, Malik had said.

The instant the power of speech returned, Dendera sent for the High Priestess and made her escape. If she had played her cards right, the High Priest would initiate the next stage of her mission himself. Returning to her chambers after far too long, she was surprised to find Laurin stretched out in her bed again. In truth, she had nearly forgotten about him. Without bothering to wake him, she began to rummage through her drawers, setting things out that she would pack in her travel trunk.

“Where have you been?” Laurin asked. He did not sound like someone awoken from a deep sleep. He didn’t even seem startled.

“None of your business,” she answered absently.

“It most certainly is,” he insisted. “You plucked me off the streets, involved me in some nefarious plot, and left me to rot! Your business and mine are inextricably bound, my sweet.” Dendera arched an eyebrow at him.

“I am not your sweet,” she said flatly. “But I suppose you are right about the rest. I have been tending the High Priest he was stricken ill during the Cleansing ceremony. Now I am hoping he will take me back to the Great Temple with him.”

“So you can finish him off?” Laurin guessed. Dendera whirled on him, dagger appearing in hand.

“Never voice such accusations,” she hissed, glaring. Now it was Laurin’s turn to raise an eyebrow.

“As you wish,” he said, perfectly at ease with the knife under his nose. “In any case, I’ll be going with you.”

“Are you mad?” she wondered, slipping the dagger back into her sleeve.

“Hardly. As I said, I am involved in whatever you are involved in. You are not leaving me here. And, besides, I could teach you a thing or two.” Before she knew it, he had leapt of the bed like a jungle cat, landing behind her, the keen edge of a knife at her throat. Without pausing for thought, she stomped on his toes and planted an elbow in his gut, twisting the knife out of his hand as he doubled over. But when she spun, expecting to find him at her mercy, she found empty air. Laurin had rolled behind her, producing another knife that pricked at her ribs. If he had not learned that she was lethal, too, he had at least decided to keep his distance.

“Very well,” she said, raising her hands and dropping the knife point down toward the floor. “I suppose you are my stray puppy and I must do something with you.” He gave her a good swat on the backside with the flat of his blade for that comment. “At any rate,” she said, stepping out of reach, “I do not know for sure if he will ask me to go with him yet.”

As though prompted by her comment, a steward tapped at the door with a missive from the High Priest. Sharing a look with Laurin, Dendera smoothed her hair and followed the steward to his master’s quarters.

“Priestess,” he greeted her, sitting up in his bed of cushions. The pallor of sickness clung to him, but he seemed otherwise completely recovered. “I would express my gratitude for your selfless service,” he said. Dendera bowed, afraid to meet the man’s eyes.

“I did only my duty, my lord,” she answered humbly.

“Well, then, you are the only one who did your duty and I would reward you. There is a place for the faithful at the Great Temple. Would you come and serve your god in his most sacred place?”

“It would be my honor,” she said, clenching her jaw to keep the triumphant smile from her face.

“We ride out tomorrow,” he said, looking pleased as a cat in the cream.

“Is my lord strong enough for such a journey,” she asked, feigning concern as she noted his reaction. If she was the one pulling the strings, why did you look like he had won something?

“I shall use a litter. I have tarried too long as it is. Until tomorrow,” he said, dismissing her.

“Until tomorrow,” she agreed in a murmur.

24
Aug

Writing Contest Winners!

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Contest

We would like to announce Jeffrey Pfaller’s The Steward’s Sister and Jeff Farrington’s Seramien as the winners of the Splintered Lands writing contest. And for those of you who didn’t win, don’t worry, there’s another chance to be published in the Splintered Lands Anthology. We’ll be posting the remaining stories on Friday to let our fans vote for one more lucky winner.

After that, who knows, we might still have our eye on a story or two…

And now for a few excerpts from the winning stories!

The Steward’s Sister by Jeffrey Pfaller

The world broke before my time. To me, nothing is shattered. It’s just the way it always was.

Salty brine choked Thom’s windpipe and coated the inside of his mouth. Something lurched in his stomach, and buckets of the Argaatic Sea spewed out onto the coarse, loamy sand. When Thom wrestled back his constitution, he opened his eyes and saw the land he’d washed up on.

Into this land, his fingers plunged. Fat, well manicured things. Nails worn long and cuticles kept short as was the fashion for stewards dwelling in the Valley of the Titans. Normally clean, the black beach swallowed them. The dark grains of sand were the remnants of one hundred years of relentless death and decay pounding on these foreign shores.

Between the lapping waves of the Argaatic, the low-slung vines and banyans that marked the edge of the swamp, was a strip of charcoal grit just wide enough for four men to walk abreast. It wasn’t oppressive, just disarming. Thom thanked the old gods for that.
In the same breath, he cured Lord Daalish for sending him here.

Lord Daalish had been kind enough to tell him the name of the island he was being exiled to. After nearly fourteen years of loyal service, starting when Thom was barely a lad of eight, his liege owed him that much.

“Banish them. They are forsaken to the Isle of Targen. Tear of the Dragon,” Lord Daalish had sighed, refusing to look any of his vassals in the eye. Thom had stood in front of the other outcasts, stunned, while the others screamed and struggled against the guards. Lord Daalish left without saying another word, while Thom stared after, hoping for some measure of comfort that never came.

Even when the ship carrying the forsaken to Targen lurched around Windfell’s Horn, long after his homeland vanished under the horizon, Thom gazed backwards. He didn’t blink when they rounded the last bastion protecting the rest of the world from the fierce storms of the north.

The Isabella rolled and rollicked in the froth. She was the forgotten bastard child of Daalish’s puny navy. Every year Lord Daalish complained of the cost of upkeep, even though it was a fraction of the gold in his treasury. “The people of the mountains have little use for ships,” he said. But his lands bordered the sea, and a small fleet was necessary for trade and token defense.
The wretched Isabella carried Thom and fifteen other condemned souls to be tossed about by a tempest that must have made even the underworld cower back into shelter.
“Thom! Help me!” Gregor, his childhood friend, screamed as the boiling ocean surrounded them and the ship broke apart. Thom’s fingers traced the gouges Gregor’s fingernails left as the ocean swallowed him.

I’m the only one, now, Thom thought, looking up and down the beach. Swamp, sea and black stretched to either side. No wreckage, no bodies. Just Thom and a strange home, clinging to the edge of the world.

Seramien by Jeff Farrington

Seramien didn’t look back as he ran. There was no need. Behind him, the thunder of hoof beats reverberated off the steep-faced walls of the narrow canyon, growing louder with his every labored breath. His pursuit would be on him within a handful of minutes. If that happened, he wouldn’t see another sunset.

He would have upped his effort, if he had yet more to give. Every part of him burned with a different kind of fire – his legs, his lungs, the open gashes on his back. He pushed all pain aside. His body might be battered and torn to the point of surrender, but if these counterfeit knights were going to defeat him, by the gods, it wasn’t going to be because they broke his will.

The echoes chased Seramien from the canyon into a much wider valley. Shin-high stalks of grass and bushes with sharp leaves clutched at his bare torso and linen trousers with every step, but he didn’t dare slow. His eyes darted about, searching for options.

The ground undulated down the valley in leaps and bounds, with hillocks and greenery blocking large portions of his sight. In the distance, maybe three hundred paces if he could have walked a straight line, a stream flowed from a copse of aspens, snaked across the meadow and fed into a small lake. A herd of deer grazed in the meadow on his side of the lake, either unaware or uncaring of his approach.

He was so focused on what awaited down the valley that he almost missed what was right in front of him. The ground disappeared. Some sense alerted him, and he found himself bent at the waist at the edge of a short bluff, arms wind-milling to keep from pitching over the edge. Several pebbles fell; he watched them drop the thirty feet to the ground below.

Somehow, he regained enough of his balance to keep from following the pebbles down. He took a step back and then bent at the waist again, hands on knees as he tried to catch his wind. Too close, he thought. He was taking too many risks, but what choice did he have? The knights had to have a tracker of some skill, or else Seramien would have lost them hours ago. He needed to outrun them.

Or did he? He studied the landscape again. Beyond the lake, the valley forked. The sides cupped into steep but passable slopes up the surrounding hillsides. A desperate plan formed in his mind.

With a short prayer to whatever gods might still be listening, he stepped off the edge of the bluff.

19
Aug

The Hunter’s Prey Part 14

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in The Hunter’s Prey

For a moment, the scene before Dendera was frozen, not a muscle twitched, nor eye blinked. Then the High Priestess stepped forward, having collected herself with a single breath.

“Oh, what a holy man is our High Priest!” she exclaimed, hands thrust toward the nearest sculpture of Assim. “He has swooned before the glory of his god! Be not afraid, but go forth, and rejoice in the auspicious day of Cleansing! Assim has forgiven us indeed,” she said, her earnest tone heartening the frightened crowd. They shouted their approbation as they dispersed into the waiting arms of Omari, swarming the streets, the celebratory mood sure to turn violent when the drinking began.

The High Priestess lost no time in summoning servants, not as reassured as the gullible horde, to carry the High Priest’s prone form to his quarters. They struggled along, the deadweight of such a large man a ponderous burden. In his chambers, composure melting, the High Priestess gave orders in a shrill tone.

“Find a healer, find an apothecary. Someone! Bring someone!”

Dendera watched from the shadows as the others scurried about like ants, some lighting lamps in the dark inner rooms, some igniting incense to banish ill humours, some fluffing pillows to keep their hands busy. The High Priest, sprawled across a pile of cream silk cushions, regained consciousness after a short time; the healer had not even come yet. Brow furrowed in consternation, Dendera kept still in her hidden vantage, uncertain what would happen. She thought he should have been dead by now!

Instead of expiring, heart stilled by an invisible fist, the High Priest remained stubbornly alive, albeit immobile. His facial contortions suggested pain, cramping of the stomach, perhaps, but his limbs seemed paralyzed. As they all waited for the healer, Dendera took note of the room. It was windowless, as was the room she had first served the High Priest in. Perhaps he was afraid of something.

“Forgiveness,” a high voice quavered, quickly followed by the bulk of the apothecary Dendera had consulted. She shrank farther into the shadows as he bustled into the room. “We made all haste, but forgive slowness,” he said. The High Priestess waved his apology away.

“Can you help him?” she demanded, dry washing her hands in an unconscious gesture. The apothecary put a pudgy hand to the High Priest’s clammy forehead, humming to himself as he checked the pulse in his wrist.

“Possibly,” he answered, forcing some dried brown beans into the High Priest’s mouth. The pungent aroma of burned coffee overpowered the incense as the apothecary helped the High Priest grind the beans between his teeth. Swallowing also seemed beyond him, so the apothecary forced it down, hand over hand, working his throat like a clogged tube.

“If all he needed was a cup of coffee, I do not think he would be in this state!” the High Priestess snapped.

“Cup of coffee would do little good, Graciousness,” the apothecary murmured, bending over the High Priest all the while. “Stimulant from many times roasted beans may overcome whatever holds his muscles locked. Heart is strong. He recover, mayhap.” The apothecary put his shiny, bald head on the High Priest’s chest and nodded to himself. “Was snake in ceremony?” he asked, holding the High Priest’s eyes open and peering at the pupils.

“No. Why?”

“This seem like snake bite,” the apothecary answered, “though I see no puncture mark.” He glanced up as he spoke. Dendera was not sure if he saw her or not. Going to his pack, he withdrew a vial of brownish liquid, a blade, and a small tube. Without consulting the High Priestess, he made a slit in the blue vein clearly visible in the High Priest’s muscle corded forearm, inserting the end of his tiny tube, and forcing the contents of the vial through. The irony spike of fresh blood on the air was underscored by the hard, metallic odor of old blood. Dendera wrinkled her nose.

“What are you doing?” the High Priestess demanded, face ashen.

“I give him blood of the goat,” the apothecary told her, as though that sounded reassuring. Her pencil-thin eyebrows disappeared beneath her coif.

“Are you insane?”

“Forgiveness,” he whined again. “Goat was bitten by snake, and lived. This blood fight venom.”

“But, I told you, there was no snake!”

“Of course,” he said, bowing his head obsequiously. “Blood of goat is precaution. He rest now.” The apothecary shooed the servants out. Dendera slipped out, as well, certain he had seen her. Why else treat for snake poison? Burying her anger, she returned to her room, where she flung herself across the bed. The next second, she was in the air, strangling a startled scream! Laurin emerged from the rumpled covers.

“What are you doing in my bed?” she demanded, trying to quite the hammering of her heart.

“The servants’ quarters are a bee’s nest just now,” he explained. “You kept me up all night. I need a few winks. Anyway, how did the poisoning go?”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, irritated.

“Don’t tell me we milked that snake for nothing!”

“I needed that for… medicinal purposes,” she evaded. Laurin didn’t look convinced. “Stop questioning me! I need to find that damned apothecary,” she decided.

“Then why did you come jump on me?” Laurin asked.

“Oh, Assim take you, have your nap!” she yelled, storming out. If she were to follow procedure, she should find Malik and report, but her business was unfinished. As she had suspected, the apothecary was loitering outside the High Priest’s quarters. The graceful way he moved belied his great bulk.

“Ah, little snake, I thought you would come,” he said without looking up at her. Was she such a noisy lout, stomping about like some huge oaf?

“Why did you mislead me?” she asked in her most dangerous, quite voice.

“Not my intent, mistress,” he said, voice high and obsequious once more. “Mistaken, I was. Erabu brings on paralysis. Is King Cobra who bring stilling of heart.”

“Keep your voice down,” Dendera hissed. “Is the High Priest out of danger?”

“If it is venom of Erabu that afflicts him, yes, mistress. Is my job to heal,” he added, defensively.

“I should slit your throat for betraying me.” In an instant, she felt his thick hand around her windpipe, the pressure slight but threatening.

“Have not betrayed you yet, mistress. Pray you, remember it.” Silently releasing her, he bowed in his strange way and withdrew.

15
Aug

Writing Contest Deadline

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Contest

The writing contest closes today, and we will announce the winners of the contest this Friday. We’ve definitely had some fun entries so far, and we’re looking forward to seeing what the last day brings in.

Don’t forget submissions are supposed to go to Queries@SplinteredLands.com as an attachment.

12
Aug

Writing Contest – Last Weekend

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Contest

We’d like to remind everyone who is planning to submit for the writing contest that this is the weekend to get the stories in, and that Monday is the last day to send in your entries! Don’t forget they are supposed to go to Queries@SplinteredLands.com as an attachment.

We’ve reposted the entirety of the rules below, just in case there are any last minute entrants or questions.

It’s contest time and Splintered Lands wants your story!

We are currently looking to add more material to our anthology, which is due to be published in 2012, and we thought it would be fun to open up submissions in a contest form:

  • All submitting authors will need to pick a spot on the Splintered Lands map
  • All entries should be a minimum of 4,000 words
  • All entries must comply with the Submission Guidelines. If you are unsure of any aspect of our world, please ask questions.

Splintered Lands is a post-apocalyptic world and the stories should reflect that. While humor, romance and happy endings may occur, the overall theme of the story should be one that depicts the despair and struggles that a world such as ours would experience.

Now, I’m sure you want to know about the prizes, yes? Here we go…

The Splintered Lands editorial team will review all submissions and choose the top two stories, and fans will vote for a third. These three winning submissions will be published as a part of the Anthology. Yay, exciting, right?

But wait, there’s more…

The top pick will also receive a free platform analysis by Deepwood, Inc. They will examine the author’s current exposure on the web, and provide recommendations and tools to help the author grow their brand.

So…what are you waiting for? Submissions are officially open NOW until August 15th and can be emailed to Queries@SplinteredLands.com.

You may also email your questions, or visit us on Twitter (@SplinteredLands).

Happy Writing!

8
Aug

The Hunter’s Prey 13

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in The Hunter’s Prey

Dendera, like all the servants of Assim, had been scurrying about since daybreak, and her feet hurt. A multitude that threatened to buckle the mighty temple at its seams had gathered in the courtyard, spilling out the gate and encircling the edifice. The priestesses stood at strategic intervals, salt-scoured brass basins offered to the pilgrims, who would dip their fingers in and sprinkle the water over their heads. The light reflected off the polished brass and the still water made for blinding counterpoints around the courtyard.

The snake wood Dendera had hunted out was carefully arranged on a low alter, which sat on a raised dais, where the incumbents would preside. The sun beat down on the restless throng, a merciless burning disc that had sweat trickling down the backs of peasants and dignitaries alike. The ceremonial tunic clung to Dendera’s damp skin in a manner most indecent, but she paid it no mind. Her ebon hair was intricately piled on top of her head, leaving her neck free to feel the sweet caress of the shy breeze, which teased goose bumps from her moist skin.

It was for this occasion, this portentous day, she had so carefully ingratiated herself to the High Priestess, becoming her most called upon attendant in matters of state. As her sisters of the cloth stood about the courtyard, comforting the masses with their shining bowls and sacred water, she alone held to the shadows, decanter of wine in one hand, vial of poison clasped beneath her tunic in the other.

Trumpets blared, hushing the mumbling crowd, a roaring beast cut off at mid breath. All eyes turned to the dais, empty all morning. With slow, exaggerated steps, the High Priest and Priestess, dressed in flowing gold robes, minced their way to the altar. The High Priest raised his arms, sleeves plucked this way and that by the playful breeze.

“Children of Assim,” he intoned in a deep, resonant voice that carried over the masses, “you have come here today to shed your iniquities, as the serpent shed’s his old skin. You have come to be purified, cleansed, made clean! It is the will of Assim. Glory to him.” The crowd cheered as the High Priest stepped back, beckoning to a steward waiting in the wings. He came forward, a magnificent golden eagle perched on his arm. The bird cocked its head, regarding the High Priest with a shrewd, beady eye. With a shake of his heavily padded arm, the steward deposited the raptor on the piled snake wood and retreated to a respectful distance. Unconcerned by the proceedings, the eagle looked out over the crowd, shining eyes tracking every movement instinctually.

“We offer Assim the blood of his natural enemy, this bird that preys on snakes,” the High Priest said, voice gentle, obviously not wishing to startle the bird. With a movement swift as a snake himself, the High Priest clamped one hand over the eagle’s peak and slit its throat with a tiny knife hidden in his other. Blood sprayed over the snake wood as the bird’s heart pumped madly, the great wings flapping feebly as the light went out of the piercing, predacious eyes. The throng gave a wordless shout of approval as the steward removed the feathered carcass, and the High Priestess moved forward.

With the crooking of one long-nailed finger, she summoned another steward, who carried a shuttered lantern. Her face was so heavily made up, it looked like a living mask. Gold powder covered her skin, giving the appearance of molten metal. Powdered emerald decorated her eyes from lid to brow, coal made her lashes blacker than sin, and carmine stained her lips as red as the blood dripping from the altar.

“We have offered blood,” she said, her voice falling flat after the theatrical timbre of the High Priest. “Now let fire burn us clean.” Taking the lamp in both hands, she raised it above her intricately coifed head and smashed it with all her might upon the blood-soaked wood. Hungry flames escaped the wreckage, licking at the beautifully-patterned wood with frenzied tongues. Black smoke, rank with the scent of blood, rose above the altar, puffing out over the transfixed multitude. The flames were bewitching, performing their twisted dance of destruction, racing each other to the perimeter of the pile. Silence reigned while the fire raged, consuming its fuel with wanton haste, then fizzling out with a pop of surprise when the wood was gone, leaving only smouldering coals to glower at the predicament.

“We give the ashes of our evil to the wind,” the High Priestess said, scooping the gray fluff from the edge of the altar where it had cooled. Raising her hands above her head, she let the breeze scatter the ashes over the crowd. Some reached out to touch the remnant of the scared fire; most watched in sacred stillness, nearly holding their breath as the wind carried their sins away.

Finally it was Dendera’s turn to approach the dais. The High Priest waved her forward. Stilling her trembling hands with an effort, she approached the little table behind Priest and Priestess where two chalices waited. With a deft movement, Dendera popped the top off the tiny vial hidden in her palm and poured its contents into the more ornate of the two chalices. Serpents climbed the stems of both vessels, but that of the high priest was crusted with jewels. The sanguine wine obscured the clear poison immediately, swallowing it whole.

With the perfect, fluid grace of long practise, Dendera handed the chalice to the High Priest, willing him not to hear the telltale hammering of her treacherous heart. Offering the second chalice to the High Priestess, she withdrew to the colonnade, her task in the ceremony finished. Her greater task almost finished.

“With wine of bitter grape, we thank Assim for his beneficence and beg his grace for another year,” the High Priest said, face solemn with the gravity of the ceremony. Dendera held her breath as he lifted the chalice to his lips, noticing paradoxically what a strong line they drew on his handsome face. She felt the breeze caress her skin, lapping at the sweat that had nothing to do with the heat, smelled the acrid smoke that lingered on the air, saw every muscle contract as the High Priest swallowed his wine. The people cheered, but the cheer trailed off into confused silence, as the High Priest clutched at his stomach. He sank to his knees, head barely visible above the altar, then collapsed out of sight, though, from her vantage point, Dendera saw him spasm and grow still.

5
Aug

Reading Stories

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Thieves Abroad

“Butan, I think we might have made a mistake coming to Át?san.”

“Given I am currently tied up and going to be sold into slavery, I think you might be right.”

“You don’t know you’re going to be sold.”

“I’d rather be sold than not sold. Not sold is dead.”

“Oh, you’d probably be sold if you’re dead too. I’m sure there’s apothecaries who want bits of your body.”

“Strangely, I’m not reassured by that, Náhte.”

“But why not? You said you were worried about not being sold.”

Butan shook his head. “Never mind.” He thought for a moment. “So how are we going to get out of here?”

“We could wait for the building to collapse. It sounds like it’s almost there.”

“Yes, but then we’re inside the building when it falls down.”

“But we’d be free.”

“And dead.”

“Oh. Is that a problem?”

“Possibly.”

“Well then I could probably cut the rope with the knife in my boot.”

“The what?!”

“The knife in my boot. I read about it in a story once. But it does cut your ankle something awful.”

“Náhte, do you have a dagger in your boot without a sheathe?”

“Well, the story never mentioned a sheathe.”

“Stories don’t mention a lot of things that are necessary. Now cut yourself free and give it here.”

“I can’t get my hands into my boot when they’re tied together.”

“So you can’t get the knife out.”

“Let me wiggle about, it might help.”

“I’m sure.”

Butan listened to strange noises in the dark.

“Ow!”

“Náhte, what happened?”

“The hilt hit me in the chest.”

“What did you do?”

“I tried to stand on my head to see if that would make the knife fall out. It worked.”

“Sometimes you amaze me.”

“I do?”

“Oh yes. Now cut our bonds and lets get out of here before our friends come back to say hello again.”

3
Aug

The River

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Other Stories

Jelsin looked over his shoulder, then eased his way through the thicket. The river wasn’t far. If he could make it to open water he’d be home free. Well, not exactly home, but free. Home was a relative concept. He didn’t have a permanent one. Right now, an abandoned hut was serving well, but that was on this side of the river. He wouldn’t be going back there for a while.

The whispering of leaves on leaves, the dry crackle of twigs under heavy boots reached him, sounds of cautious pursuit. He shifted the small, heavy box under his arm into a more comfortable position. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea, but he’d honestly thought the Knight was dead. How was he supposed to know, for starters that he wasn’t, and then that his friends were only over the hill?

Jelsin offered up a curse on lazy Knights who lay out in the sun in the middle of the day and inched on through the thick plants. He had to stay ahead of the pursuing Knights so that they didn’t cut him off from the water. Going into the river was risky this far north. The kelp was thick and you had to move fast to get into deep water in time to avoid it. He altered his direction slightly to the right.

Damned thieves and their sticky hands, groused Chirrix internally as he struggled through the thicket after the boy. Losing that box didn’t bear thinking about. The mage circle they had just wiped out had protected it literally to their last breath, sighed out by a man whose grey-streaked hair curled around his hands as he protected the box with his body, even in death.

They hadn’t been able to open it, but Chirrix was confident that Lord Felter would have some ideas about that. If we ever get the damn thing back. The thicket was a tangle of thick stems and thorns, all apparently intent on tearing Chirrix’ clothes from his body. He growled and pushed on, slashing through the plants with sweeping arcs of his dagger.

Jelsin heard a growl, too human to be anything other than an angry Knight. He swallowed. Maybe I should just leave the box here and run? No. If they saw him they’d kill him anyway, for daring to steal from a Knight. He slid through a gap in the plants, small enough to accommodate his malnourished body, and saw daylight at the end of a faint trail. Twenty yards beyond that, water glittered.

He trod quietly but quickly along the trail and hovered on the edge of the thicket, hearing the Knights behind him, gathering his breath and his courage. He was too far north to even be contemplating this, but he had no choice. He could hear four Knights behind him, spread out in a loose crescent. There was only one way open and that lay straight ahead, across the river.

He clamped the box tightly between his hands and ran, streaking across the grass and sandy earth towards the water. He was only a few feet from the shore when he heard the first yell behind him and he knew they were too late. He threw himself into the water and began swimming, as hard as he could, albeit grossly hampered by the box in his hands. He put it under one arm again and pulled hard with the other, desperate to get away from the shore before the evil that lurked there realised his presence.

Chirrix watched in disbelief as the boy, not more than eleven years old, swam one handed across the river, the box plainly visible under his left arm. Kerles raised his bow and Chirrix held out a hand to stop him.

“If you shoot him now, the box is lost. That river’s deep and fast. We’ll have to go around and get him on the other side. Ready the horses.” Kerles turned and vanished back into the thicket, swearing as a thorn caught him unawares. Chirrix smiled faintly, his eyes not leaving the river.

Nearly there! Jelsin was tiring, his frantic strokes having drained his energy too fast, and he knew that if he got out of the river it would be a miracle. He wanted to wait for a while, to tread water and get some energy back, but with the box weighing him down it simply wasn’t going to happen. He was just going to have to hope for the best.

He pulled hard for the opposite shoreline. Ten feet. Five feet. Four. Three. Two…

“Aargh!” His scream echoed, then cut off sharply as he was jerked underwater. He clawed his way to the surface, looking round for the algae that would destroy the barbed tentacle now wrapped around his leg but there was none. Was that a faint glow at the shore? Before he could take a closer look, three more strands of kelp found him, securing both legs, his torso and his right arm and pulling him under for good. He held the box tight until several minutes after his death, the mother plant’s teeth finally severing the arm that held it and letting it drop to the floor in front of her.

Chirrix heard his name being called as his eyes strained, hoping against hope that somehow the boy had escaped the kelp, even though it was broad daylight and impossible to miss a child climbing out of a river with a box. It was no good. Both boy and box had vanished. He sighed. Lord Felter would not be happy.

29
Jul

Slaving Away (For a Coupon)

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Thieves Abroad

In addition to our normally scheduled post today, we have a little gift for you readers from Splintered Land’s founder, James Tallett. If you go to Smashwords and enter coupon code LV72P, you’ll get Tarranau for 40% off.

AND L.M. Stull is making this deal even more enticing —> Visit her blog for details on how you can snag an autographed paperback!  But you’ll have to hurry – these offers only last until Sunday night California time.

Now, onto our thieving! 

“Náhte, don’t you think your friends aren’t all that, well, friendly?”

“They followed me here and help you and everything! They must be friendly.”

“I’ve been poked with more pointy things by them than the rest of the trip.”

“They’re having fun?”

“Yes, Náhte, they are. Me, I’m kind of sore.”

They were quiet for a time.

“I’ve been thinking, Butan.”

Butan shook his head. “About?”

“My friends. I think they might be slavers.”

“Whatever gave you that impression? They only tied both of us to a tree in the centre of the swamp, and left on boats.”

“It was a bit tricky Butan, but when I heard them coming back with chains, I figured it out.”

“Bugger.”

They spend the next three nights in chains on the bottom of a swamp boat, only allowed out when they needed to water a bush.

Náhte nudged Butan awake early the next morning. “I think that’s Át?san.” He stopped. “Maybe they have painters here.”

Butan kicked him.

The slavers smacked both of them until they stopped scuffling.

“Náhte, those look like piles of rotting wood that fell into a vaguely building shaped clump.”

“I thought you wanted to come here for honest work.”

“Well, it looks like we’re the most honest people here.”

“Do you just mean we’re the worst thieves?”

“Well, that might be true as well.”

The slavers unloaded the two thieves and dragged them into the nearest cabin.

“Something’s crawling on me, Butan.”

“Don’t worry Náhte, it’s probably just an insect.”

Náhte leaped as far as the chains would let him.

“Relax. The big problem is if it’s a snake.”

“It’s too dark to tell, Butan.”

“I know. That’s how I know it was an insect.”

Náhte cocked his head. “That doesn’t make sense, Butan.”

“Trust me, it does.”

Silence settled in, aside from the creaking of the building.

“Butan, what do you think slaves do here?”

“Cleaning, sailing, repairs. Probably. And anything worse you can think of.”

“No painting?”

Butan sighed. “What would you paint?”

“The sky was nice, the last time I saw it. I could paint that.”

“Náhte, what would you paint onto?”

“A wall. Maybe a tree. A large fish, maybe. The silver would make an interesting sparkle.”

“You might actually be an artist. But you’re still an idiot.”

27
Jul

Whipped Sailor

   Posted by: Splintered Lands   in Dangerous Journey

Richane cursed as Bruce’s men cast off. The last delivery of supplies hadn’t arrived, so they’d be shipping out with less than he’d like. If they rationed, they could make it. But odds were these bruisers weren’t good at rationing. Together he and Erran could magically hide some of the food resources but it could cause more problems than it solved.

The whole world was used to famine since the breaking, so they could get by with very little food, but the animals were a new complication. Wild beasts and hunger weren’t his favorite shipmates.

Glaring at Bruce, he, Erran and Jon, the help his wife had said he needed to replace, rapidly unfurled the sails. He ran to the helm, holding the rudder steady and cursing his luck at having to ship to the most dangerous waters he’d ever been in with a shortlisted crew. Not all of his crew had arrived to help man the rivership and Bruce already wasn’t listening to him. No one but the captain should yell when it’s time to cast off. One more complication on the dangerous journey. Heading north with a band of brigands and hungry animals was the last thing he wanted to do.

A gust of wind tore at the main sail and Jon lost control of the main rope. The sail became a frenzied whipping mass with a potentially lethal tail. Maybe no help would have been better than Jon’s help. Richane cursed Bruce again, “Firestorms on impatient landlocked lovers.” Even Erran was having a rougher time as the loosened sail caused the ship to rock violently.

He yelled to Bruce to take the helm and ran for the main mast. Drekkan beat him to the spar and started climbing up to where the ropes and lines for the sails were tied. Richane watched for a moment, then ran, yelling instructions to Jon as he grabbed at the tails of the rope and the cross line.

Jon jumped and attempted to grab the mainstay and ended up getting snapped by the corner of the sail as it furled back on itself. A red welt welled up on his face.

“You great blundering fool! Grab the damn rope and get this sail under control,” Richane yelled while pulling his own end taut. Drekkan pulled on one rope, helping to stabilize the heavy cloth and the wind died to a slower crawl. Finally, the three of them were able to get the sail tied back up and set to take the wind when it blew.

Richane stormed over to Jon, pulled out his sword and held the tip to Jon’s throat. In all the years as captain, he’d never pulled his sword on his own men before. The ship held its collective breath.

Fury rocked him hard. “You could have killed us,” he seethed. “One more false step and I will kill you. Is that clear?”

Richane’s sword glinted in the sun and even the wind seemed to still as if waiting for Jon’s answer.

“Aye, captain,” Jon replied resentfully. “It’s na’ my fault them bruisers are crazy and casting off early like.”

“Be careful. Soon, the only mercy you’ll have is that of the leader of those bruisers as I’ve lost all mine,” Richane said quietly before lowering his weapon. “One more dereliction of duty and you’ll have the choice of getting dropped off on whatever lands we happen to be near. Clear?”

“Clear.” Jon went back to his duties and Richane sheathed his sword. Bruce was looking at him in an assessing manner. The goddess knew what the trader was thinking about his show of power, but Jon needed to be brought in line.

Drekkan touched down on deck after descending the spar, as lithe as the jizhare they’d just caged. He walked over to the young man, grateful for his unasked for help. “Drekkan? You’ve worked on ships before?”

Drekkan looked at him then at Bruce and Richane nodded. Best to talk of these matters in private.