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.