excerpt

Grace the Mace excerpt III

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

*****

Grace the Mace – Excerpt III

The track became busier, people from the outlying farms and villages trotting towards or away from the city, sometimes with horses, mules, carts. Farmers working to bring in their harvests looked up at the mercenaries, giving them the flat stares of folk used to strangers, but no less wary for their familiarity. Dalvin nodded and waved to them, smirking at the narrowed eyes she got in return. Like a fearful waterfall. Well should these serfs and civilians fear her.

As they drew up to the city walls, somewhat impressive shrines dueled on either side of the city entrance, one an ornate well to Old Man Chance, the other, with the brass motif of Unicorns in obeisance, an altar to the Maker. Vec reached in his purse for a pair of Yaa copper pups, skillfully slinging one into the center of each.

“Hedging your bets?”

“I prefer to play it safe, when it comes to forces beyond the blade,” the man said, rubbing at his stubble. “If a copper will sate ‘em, why not try it?”

Grace snorted. “I play it safe by keeping my coin to myself,” she said, patting her own purse.

“It’s only a couple of coppers.”

She shrugged, letting the matter fall as they drew up to the gate guards. The greensmen on duty eyed them suspiciously up and down, calling for them to halt, herding them to the side. Dalvin smiled tightly, slowing to a stop and spreading her arms away from her body, letting her cloak open up to freely reveal her leather armor and the mace-and-chain. She met their eyes, challenging.

Von officers hated to let mercenaries into their cities, but for all the trouble they caused, they brought too much revenue to the taverns, inns, and brothels for the cities to afford turning them away. The two in front glowered and questioned them about where they’d been, where they were going, and how long they intended to remain in the city. A third stalked around behind them, looking them up and down.

Her pride blistered as Vec answered, but these were gate guards. What do you think you’ll find—weapons? Dalvin wanted to say, but held her tongue. Besides the lead-cored batons carried by regular patrol officers, these also bore nasty blackwood staves, for dealing with anyone with swords, spears, or polearms trying to rush the gate. It was their right and their responsibility to ensure that the armed parties that entered their cities were not at that time under the employ of enemy nations, and to see that suspicious numbers of them didn’t enter at a time.

Dalvin’s stomach rumbled as the interrogation continued, and standing still with her cloak hitched back over her shoulders and her hood down, the chill started working through the layers. Her smile turned to a bare-toothed grimace, and one booted foot began tapping against the earth. If they kept her here until she started shivering, she’d—she’d—well, she’d continue to grimace at them and otherwise do nothing.

At last—after Vec said for the fifth time that they were heading home for the winter, told the name of their band, that they’d come from Nor’Hiymar, that they were headed to Urynad and Southhold respectively, that they intended to remain two nights in the city—the von waved them through. One swept his stave as she passed, swatting her rear with a loud crack. The others snickered as she kept her face smooth of a wince, her hands seizing into fists to prevent them from reaching for her flail.

She waited until they turned the corner, then snarling, she reached back to touch the broad welt. “Rot-spawned, seedless, plague-ridden midden heaps,” she snarled, loud enough that several passers-by glanced at her in surprise, but not so loudly that the gate von would hear. “I’d like to shove those greenies’ staves through the brains in their assholes. Chance’s Ill Daughter and a goat, that hurt!”

Vec gave her an amused look. “I’ve seen you take worse in sparring without grousing with such a concentration of obscenity.”

She only growled, her cheeks flushed. It wasn’t about the pain. Well, it was halfway about the pain. It was the insult of it, and her inability to answer the insult. It was infuriating to know she could likely have clobbered any one of those men senseless, but to be barred from the brawl by their greens and the medals of office on their chests.

“Calm down.” Vec tried to sling an arm around her shoulder, but she sidestepped. “Come now, Grace. I know the von are a bitter brew to swallow, but you simply must let it go.”

Of course she did. Because they were too powerful. However strong she got, there were still, there were always those that were too powerful. Too connected. The greensmen in each city reported only to the city’s lord, which reported only to their high court and king. Who was a mercenary in all that?

As she stewed, a skinny youth darted across their path, stumbling against Dalvin and muttering a hasty apology before darting into a side alley.

A surge of energy jolted through her, and, silent, she lunged into the shadows after him. An outlet for her rage! Her hand closed on his shoulder and she spun him around, slammed him back against the wall, and covered his mouth with her hand. They were of a similar size, but she had lean muscle where he had slack skin over thin bones. She caught his knife hand and stripped the blade from it, not caring that she nicked her fingers, and flung it into the recesses of the alley. She rammed an elbow up into his sternum, then reached for the purse he still clutched in his other hand.

As she yanked it away from him, he sagged, going limp in her hold. She growled, looking at the sliced leather cord. The reparation would cost her. She pinned it under her arm, her hand going to seize his throat. She squeezed and lifted, glaring as he looked back at her with hopeless eyes.

“Weak,” she growled. “You’ll never get anywhere without some fight in you.” She spat and released him, and he sank down against the wall, cringing. “Fire and famine. You’re not worth two copper pups,” she told him, pulling open the mouth of the purse and fishing out two of the coins. She flung them at his feet. “You can’t just give up when it’s all gone to rot. You’ve got to look for the salvage. Maker take it, man, you’ve got to want to survive.”

She took out another coin and scraped it against a buckle, then checked its edges. It would be a fine thing, giving a speech like that, to later find that he’d switched her purse for a pouch of coin that was shaved or painted.

“Idiot,” she told the cutpurse, who hadn’t moved. “What are you lying there for? Think you’re getting anything else off me? Scat, thief.”

Grabbing the pair of coppers, the cutpurse ran, scrabbling to snatch up his knife as he did. Grace glowered after him, shaking her head. “Some people don’t deserve to live.”

“But you gave him—”

The girl whirled on her fellow-mercenary, who’d followed her down the sideway. “Shush. Not in the mood, unless you’re telling me those von are behind us on bended knee, offering me their skulls to crack. Let’s resupply, then get smashed. I want to leave first thing after my hangover in the morning.”

*****

After talking about other people and their works for as long as I have, I’m not sure how to say this, but…

It’s mine! That’s the work of Tirzah Duncan, my own self. That’s the from my novella. Here’s the opening.

Now Available! 

Headshot_Ireland

Grace the Mace – Excerpt II

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

*****

Grace the Mace – Excerpt II

Cresting a rise, Dalvin called for a rest. Stepping to the wooded side of the path, she cast about for a rock or log to sit on. Selecting a moss-covered lump of firm but indeterminate nature, she sipped from her water flask. Vec leaned against a tree nearby, studying the terrain ahead of them.

Their path wound down between lower foothills, with grasslands sloping to the east, and rocky woodlands rising to the west. The path, its track either faintly visible or painted by Grace’s fancy, rose up through a multi-green patchwork of farmland, then to a walled city, dark on its hilltop.

She breathed in deeply, and the open mountain air smelled sharply of conifers and matted late-autumn leaf litter, of the grasses to the left of their path, of good earth and damp stone and the age of the hills themselves. She didn’t mind cities, with their closeness, commerce, and crowds, but they smelled worse than a soldiers’ camp: stale with the stain of humanity.

Even so, she didn’t mind occasionally trading the freshness for walls and a real mattress. She studied the city in the middle distance. “We’ll make that by, what, early evening? Early enough to resupply and still have plenty of time for drinks and dice?”

Vec looked up at the sun, two hours past its zenith. “If we’re brisk, and if you don’t dally here.”

She took one final swallow and stood, shifting her pack’s strap from one shoulder to the other. “Let’s haul.”

They were still several days north of Urynad, but they’d started early enough to keep ahead of winter’s onset. Grace’s back and shoulders ached under the weight of her pack, its strap digging into her shoulder and chest. Her face and hands stung with cold, and her feet ached in spite of a good pair of boots. Wish I had a horse, she thought, stretching with a sigh. Or at least a pack-mule. She’d been taught how to care for either, and even knew a bit of her way around mounted warfare, but she wasn’t even close to having the money for any such thing.

Even so, she grinned up at the birds that flew in wedge-formation, arrowing their way to warmer lands. The day was crisp and beautiful, her body was young and strong and hale, she’d eaten breakfast and lunch and marched now towards drinks and dinner. Mounts and packhorses or none, hers was about as good a life as any but nobles and merchants could expect.

Vec let out a gusty sigh as they reached the lowest point, his eyes tracking up over the foothills before them.

“Tired, old man?” Dalvin grinned across at him. “Need me to take your pack?”

He snorted. “I wouldn’t say no. But nay, I’m just not looking forward to going home. Don’t mishear me; I like walls and a hearth in winter as much as the next fellow. Even the herbs that old woman stinks the place up with aren’t so bad after a few days, and she can patch up a fever right well enough, which is a boon.” He made a face. “She’ll just be expecting me to go to market for her, and gather any winter herbs, and take care of the firewood. And I’m not looking forward to any winter babes. You’d think people would want to bear their children in the comfort of their own home, but not everyone does. All that, and the only pub of any real size is a two hours’ walk from our door.”

The girl grimaced. “At least I’ve got a city, or I’d go snow-mad. Village folk are such skittish, clumsy fawns. Why do you keep going back?”

The older mercenary shook his head. “It’s where I’ve got to go. I haven’t had a lady for years now, and who’s got the coin to hole up in an inn for a whole season? I talk like I want her to pop off, but once she’s gone, I’ll be one of the poor sons of famine who winters with the band.”

“Your mum’s not passing you the house?”

He shook his head. “That’s going to her apprentice, along with all her coin, she’s made clear to me every winter for the past ten years. Anyway, I wouldn’t have any means to keep the place up in the other seasons. Will you get your Mum’s place?”

Dalvin grunted. “I hadn’t thought about it. I expect she’s willed it to me, but I should probably make sure.” Their one-room house and the small garden around it was one of the few things that had always been there, through thin and thinner; that precious wood-and-plaster barrier between starving on the streets and simply starving. Mum had gotten it when her own da died, and it had never been sold, because without it, she could grow no flowers, and without flowers, she wouldn’t have even the slim trickle of income that she did manage. Paying the taxes on the thing had been an annual miracle.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with it,” Grace realized aloud, “once it’s mine. I guess I’ll just sell it.” Once it’s mine. She took a deep breath against the strange stitch in her chest. She didn’t like to think of losing that one thing she’d never lost. She didn’t like to think of losing Mum. “Ah, what am I saying? I’m a soldier of fortune. I’ll die long before she does.” That brought another odd stab with it. Who will look after her, then? Who will bring home coin to stretch through the winter?

“That’s what I thought, too, when I first ran off to join the Yaa army,” Vec was saying, chuckling. “I was, what—fifteen? I figured I’d fall young and handsome in a hail of javelins. And here I am, near on three decades later, marking my kill-count in dozens instead of ones, and I’ve not lost so much as a limb.” He snapped his fingers. “Chance’s Fair Daughter must like me.”

The girl shook her head sadly. “The Fair Daughter has poor taste.”

He smiled sideways. “No poorer than you.”

She smirked. “I’ve never boasted of my taste in anything but weapons, armor, and teachers.”

“Oh, you only want me for my skills, is that it?”

Dalvin swatted his arm, the muscles of it hard as packed earth. “Of course. Winner takes all. And I want to be the winner, so you’ll show me what you know.”

He grinned, reaching up to straighten his headband. “You’re as strong as any youth I’ve known, girlie, and more skillful than most your age. They think they know all they need know, already. You’re always scrabblin’ for more and better; I’ve seen it, even before you turned to me. If you do live, you’ll have a real name.”

“I’ve already got one.” She smiled. “Grace the Mace.”

“It’ll do.” The older merc scratched at his stubble. “Aye; it’ll do, and folk will learn it. You move like a waterfall—the fearful sort. Not that you don’t have plenty room to learn.”

Her smile grew more satisfied. “Aye, sure,” she said to both sentiments. Not knowing how else to take the praise, she fell silent as they began to pass farms and orchards.

*****

After talking about other people and their works for as long as I have, I’m not sure how to say this, but…

It’s mine! That’s the work of Tirzah Duncan, my own self. That’s the from my novella. Here’s the opening.

Another excerpt to follow!

Cover reveal to follow!

Now Available!

Headshot_Ireland

Grace the Mace

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

*****

Grace the Mace – Excerpt I

Onnie winced as an apple fell from the gather of her apron, striking root. She stooped, inspecting the small gash and bruise on the pink skin. It had been perfect for market; now it would be tossed in with the cider apples. No great loss, but she hated to see a pretty thing marred. She reached to gather it up again, then froze as a harsh, foreign laugh sounded across the orchard.

Spinning on her heels, she searched for the sound’s source. There— a pair of men, walking through the trees as though they owned them, their rollicking voices nearing with every step. With great hilts bristling at shoulder and hip, with leather and mail gleaming, they could only be mercenaries. They weren’t in any regular army—fearful enough—and they couldn’t be bandits, bold as brass as they strolled, picking the apples off the trees.

Onnie pressed the apron hem to her nose, shrinking against the trunk. Only thing worse than bandits were mercenaries, everyone knew. Only difference between them was that one kept hidden, and the other had your lord’s coin and protection. Was the trunk hiding her? How she wished it were bigger. Were the men coming closer? Maker save her, they were. She muted a whimper.

“No, it gets better. See, what does he do then,” one was saying, “but try to loose a warning bolt, right by the messenger’s head. But it turns out he fancies himself a better bowman than he is, because—hold, what’s this?”

They stopped. Onnie, who’d been edging towards the trunk’s other side as they walked by, tried to spring to her feet to bolt, but her foot tangled in her apron, sending her sprawling at the men’s feet along with two-dozen apples. Likely ruined now, she thought dimly, watching one roll between a large pair of boots.

She pushed up to her knees, staring with mute terror at the pair looming over her. One had an eye patch, and a terribly scarred face. The other had a bristling brown beard, and both had wicked grins.

“Aww, it’s a little apple blossom, all alone,” drawled the bearded one, stepping closer still. “Where’s your minder, girly? Surely you aren’t old enough to be out in the woods on your own.”

Onnie’s lips quivered as she fought to find her voice. “It’s our orchard. You’re shouldn’t be here.” It came out in a whisper.

The mercenaries laughed. “Well, we weren’t doing any ill, were we? Only taking a little walk. Sure, we might be taking a few bites as we go, but where’s the harm? Now, now. No need to shriek. We’re only having a chat.”

No use in shrieking, there was the truth of it. If she screamed now, her mother and brothers might come out, but her brothers were children, whatever they said to the contrary, and children armed with pitchforks would be quickly cut down by these monsters. She’d have to try to run again.

She’d hardly gathered her legs under her when the bearded one stepped forward again, his boot coming down on her tunic’s hem. For the first time Onnie could think of, she actually wished her tunic would rip, but the contrary thing stayed whole, pinning her to the earth. The apple-sweet air now reeked of sour sweat, and worse.

Let me be. She mouthed the words, but her breath had knotted in her chest so she didn’t think she could even squeak. If there was any point in squeaking, or in saying anything to the brutes.

“Help the poor girl up, Creyl,” the man with the eye patch chuckled, stooping down to wrap a massive, callused hand around her upper arm. It clamped tight as a shackle, yanking her to her feet. The tunic did rip, then, as her arm bruised. Ruined. She stared up into the one-eyed leer, feeling faint. She wished she would faint, hoped she might.

A third figure appeared in the trees, lanky and lean and leading a mule. Oh, two were more than enough to champion for Hell. What had she done to fall so foul of Chance and the Maker?

“What’re you louses doing?”

Onnie blinked, focusing on the newcomer. A woman’s voice? A young woman. Of a height with an average man, she wore a round shield on her back, and some menacing looking ball-and-chain weapon hung at her hip. Her blond hair was short and tousled, her face pale and her eyes bright blue and—flat. Onnie dropped her gaze. She’d hoped for a rescuer, but mercs were as mercs did. This one being a woman, really more of a girl, didn’t change that.

“Just talking with this little delight,” the bearded man said, taking Onnie’s other arm. “Not much for conversation, though, she isn’t. Maybe she’s more the physically expressive sort.”

The newcomer snorted a laugh. “Oh, lay off, you luckless sons of famine. Nor’Hiymar is quick to close its borders to troublemakers. Are you looking to throw muck on the band’s name?”

“She’ll be no trouble.” The bearded man’s grip tightened. “Will you?”

“No, she won’t.” The girl hooked her thumbs in her iron-studded belt. “Because she’ll have no reason to be. Because you’re laying off.”

Onnie looked up from under her bangs, hope rising like a fresh breeze.

“Don’t be a buzzkill,” the bearded man began, but, “Aww, Gracie, we’re only teasing her,” the one-eyed man spoke over him.

“Yeah, good fun,” said the blonde mercenary. “Now the joke’s over. Hey, girl. Look at me.” She passed the mule’s lead to one of the men, and bent to snap her fingers in front of Onnie’s face. “Don’t go glaze-eyed now. We can buy apples here, yeah? Where should we go to buy them? Let go, y’louts. We’ve got a job to do, don’t go forgetting.”

Grumbling, the men’s hands drew away from Onnie. The girl collapsed, tears pricking her eyes.

“Tch.” The blond kicked at Onnie’s knee. “Scared her useless. Come on, fawn-face. We’re here looking for food. We can go on looting your trees, or you can tell us who to give coin to. We’re getting fresh food for two-hundred suppers; there’s coin in that for your little orchard, better than you’ll get at market. Speak up.”

Onnie reached out, clutching at the woman’s boot for support. It pulled back out of reach. “Well. You’ve scared her simple. Can you point, addle-pate? We’re only going to buy. We’ll not hurt anyone.” A sigh. “I swear we’ll not.”

“House isn’t far,” Onnie said softly, pointing. Her gaze on the ground, she swiped her tears on her apron. Her hands were shaking. “My Mum will be there. And my brothers,” she said, trying to make that sound like a warning. “They’ll help you.”

“You heard her. Let’s go.” The three started off, but Onnie caught the blonde’s tunic as she passed.

The mercenary girl yanked the hem free, but paused, scowling down. “What?” she asked in a low voice. “What else d’you want from me?”

“Thank you,” Onnie whispered. “I don’t know what would have happened if—what’s your name?”

The girl’s jaw tightened, her eyes a biting blue, but she answered. “Dalvin. Better known, Grace the Mace. But don’t think you can call on me by it.”

“Thank you, Dalvin. Lord Chance be kind to you. If there’s anything I can do—”

“There clearly isn’t.” Dalvin’s lips pulled into a sneer, and she turned away after the men.

Upset, afraid, and above all, relieved, Onnie buried her face into her apron and wept.

*****

After talking about other people and their works for as long as I have, I’m not sure how to say this, but…

It’s mine! That’s the work of Tirzah Duncan, my own self. That’s the opening of my novella.

Further excerpts to follow!

Cover reveal to follow!

Now Available!

Headshot_Ireland