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Excerpt from A DARK SACRIFICE

Discussion in 'Teresa Edgerton' started by Teresa Edgerton, Nov 19, 2007.

  1.  
    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

    Joined:
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    (Some of you may remember this as the teaser at the back of THE HIDDEN STARS.)





    CHAPTER ONE​





    Voices of ice giants, thundering, tremendous, boomed in the distance.

    Prince Kivik shivered and wrapped his patched green cloak more closely around him. The western sky had cleared, allowing the sun to shine out brightly, but a wicked bitter wind blew down from higher peaks to the northeast. Gritting his teeth at the thought that this killing cold -- unexpected, unseasonable -- was likely to continue, he leaned across the pitted white stones of the parapet.

    From his present vantage point, high on the outer walls, he could see a wide swath of snowy ground below the fortress and before the gates, where the enormous footprints of giants and the bear-like Varjolükka coming and going were pressed deep into the drifts. And even though he could not see them, he knew that a host of fierce white bears and blue-haired giants would be somewhere very near: patrolling the valley floor just beyond range of his vision, or lurking in pinewoods along the valley walls, maintaining this seige that kept him and his men confined inside the ancient fortified city like rats in a trap.

    Standing there with the wind lifting his light brown hair, King Ristil’s son felt a familiar rage and frustration building inside of him. Before him lay the muddy chaos of the snowy fields, littered with frozen bodies of men, horses, and things that were neither beasts nor men, behind him, a vast landscape of towers, spires, parapets, balconies, peaked roofs, and cupolas, all arrayed in a glittering, improbable armor of ice.

    Far in the distance, he spied a bright splash of color, green and gold, against the white glare of snow. For a moment he felt his spirits rise, thinking it might be some vanguard of his father’s armies. But as they advanced, growing ever sharper and brighter, Kivik could just make out the indistinct forms of five-- no, six men riding their horses at breakneck speed down the throat of the valley. He felt his hopes sink, a cold lump begin to form in the pit of his stomach. These were his own scouts sent out many hours earlier, under cover of darkness.

    But what madness, he wondered, could have possessed them to return in broad daylight, when they risk being seen by the giants and the skinchangers? Then he saw what followed in pursuit: two of the Varjolükka, moving along at an incredible speed considering their ungainly bearlike bodies, gradually narrowing the distance between them and the scouts.

    Turning sharply on his heel, Kivik moved swiftly toward the stairs, meaning to alert the men who minded the gates. He had only descended two or three steps when a murmur of voices, a rattling of chains down in the gatehouse, told him that the guards had seen everything, were already preparing to throw the gates open. Realizing he had no other help to offer, he returned to his vantage point by the parapet, to watch the race and shout encouragement at the riders.

    As always, it disturbed him to watch how the were-beasts moved: the way bones and muscles slid beneath the skin, the uncanny action of the limbs, apparently clumsy but deathly efficient, as if magic rather than sinew held everything together.

    On came the men, their green cloaks whipping in the wind; on plunged the frantic, wild-eyed steeds, their flanks gleaming with sweat. Only when they drew near enough for Kivik to see foam flying off the bits did he realize that at least two of the horses were not so much running{/I] as running away, terrified to the point of madness by the proximity of the Varjolükka. It would not take much to spook them into throwing their riders.

    “Hold on,” he whispered around a hard knot in his throat. “Hold on!”

    To his horror, a grey mare near the rear of the pack stumbled. By sheer force of will it seemed, her rider just kept his seat, gripping with his knees while he fumbled for his sword. Before he could yank the blade more than halfway out of the scabbard the skinchangers were on him. Man and mare disappeared under a snarling pile of dirty white fur and bloody muzzles. The grey screamed once and then was silent.

    Kivik spotted his cousin Skerry (the one dark head among so many shades of blond) twisting around in his saddle to see what was happening. He began to rein in, as if to go back and render assistance, but a glimpse of the carnage was enough to convince him it was already too late. Skerry gave his sorrel gelding its head, and the big red horse flew across the field. Not far behind, the bear-men left what remained of the scout and his mare in a tumbled bloody heap, and went lurching after him.

    With a last desperate rush, Skerry and the others reached the gatehouse and disappeared inside, only moments before the iron gates slammed shut in the very teeth of the enraged Varjolükka. Rising up on their mighty hindquarters, the were-bears bayed their fury to the skies.


    * * * ​


    A short time later, just long enough to cool down the horses and stable them in an alley of make-shift stalls in the outer bailey, the cousins met by the second gate.

    “Another man lost,” Skerry ground out between his teeth. With his red nose and wind-bitten ears, he looked every bit as chilly and miserable as Kivik felt.

    The Prince nodded wearily. The tally of his dead grew longer and longer as the days went by. Twice he had gathered together some of his hardiest fighters and attempted a sortie out through the main gate; twice he and his men were beaten back. Though the numbers each time seemed to favor him, the axes and war-hammers of the giants, the immense strength of the were-bears, somehow prevailed. He and his band of stalwarts had been forced to retreat back through the gate, staggering under the weight of wounded and nearly lifeless comrades they carried in with them. Reckoning up his losses now, he found them much too great to justify a third attempt.

    Nor, Kivik decided, would there be any more scouting parties. “Even if we could break the siege,” he continued the thought aloud, “even if we could, where would we go?

    “More to the point,” he added, as he and Skerry left the windy outer ward for a smaller, more protected enclosure where the Prince and his officers had set up their tents, “what of the refugees who followed us here, the hundreds we found waiting for us when we arrived? Where can they look for safety, if we leave them here undefended?”

    With a sigh of frustration, Kivik ran a hand through hair grown shaggy and unkempt. Now that the excitement was over, he was once more keenly aware of his own dirt and discomfort, of unwashed skin itching under steel byrnie and quilted padding, in places he could not reach to scratch. He tried to remember the last time he had been warm enough, or clean, or slept in a real bed. Between that time and this stood the memory of a thousand mischances and miscalculations, a thousand horrors.

    A wild, inhuman ululation came carried on the wind, raising the fine hairs at the back of his neck. As he paused to listen, just outside the entrance to his tattered green pavilion, the sound echoed from ridge to ridge along the valley walls, then come back again, slightly altered and in a different key, from one of the high eastern peaks where clouds still gathered, black and swollen with snow.

    The giants are exchanging messages with their own kind further up the mountain, he thought, all the blood in his veins rushing backward toward his heart. “What mischief are the creatures plotting now?”

    “I can’t imagine them trying to storm the walls while we still outnumber them,” answered Skerry, following him into the dank, ill-lit interior of the tent. “Though when their friends from Eisenlonde arrive, I think we should be prepared to defend our position.”

    “Defend this fortress which ought to be impregnable, yet somehow never is?”

    Skerry shrugged. “We needn’t hold it for very long. The hawks we sent out with messages, some of them will get through. And then it can be only a matter of days before your father comes with the army he’s been raising to relieve us.”

    But Kivik did not feel nearly so confident. When King Ristil would arrive was a matter of sheer conjecture, but the Eisenlonder barbarians, being so much closer, were certain to turn up first. Along with more of the ice giants and the bloody skinchangers, unless he was much mistaken.

    Yet somehow his greatest fear was of the citadel itself. The Old Fortress at Tirfang, it had a bad name: witches built it, raised it by magic, infecting even the ordinary materials in which they worked, stone, timber, and slate, with their dark sorceries. It was not a place of safety, not of long-term safety anyway, Kivik was well aware of that. It had not proved so for the ancient witch-lords, nor for anyone since. No one in a thousand years had successfully defended it. The seven great encircling walls, the seven mighty iron gates, they still stood, but the flesh and blood defenders had always died.

    “We can’t really know what happened here five hundred or a thousand years ago,” offered Skerry, as if reading his thoughts. An ice-edged wind swirling through the courtyard shook the flimsy silk walls of the pavilion, blew a wintery gust in through the open doorflap, and then moved on. “It would be a great pity, would it not, if we defeated ourselves with our own superstitious fears, all for the sake of some old tales which might not even be true.”

    Yet when it comes to these old tales, how do you tell the true from the false? Kivik wondered, rubbing at a cheek grown bristly with red-brown stubble. As recently as two years ago, he might have dismissed frost giants and Varjolükka as purely imaginary, but now he knew better.




    ©2007 Teresa Edgerton
     
  2.  
    scalem X

    scalem X I am, the scallywag

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    Cool. Can't wait until I get my hands on a copy. :)

    (Deliberately never read the teaser since I knew I'd have to wait for a while when I had finished THS.)
     
  3.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes, it should prove interesting reading....
     
  4.  
    Michael01

    Michael01 Coven of the Worm

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    The people who love you are worth more than gold.
    Ooh, yeah! Mine is in the mail now. I can't wait...
     
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