Here is the next part of Betrayal’s Hands, officially title, “Chapter 1”. It’s rather long for a blog post but I wanted to get as much in as possible to make sense. Enjoy it and stay tuned for next weeks addition!
Annalyse woke to a bucket of dirty water being dumped on her face. She coughed and tried to wipe it out of her eyes. Her hands were bound, however, and she realized she had no idea what had happened to her since the chariot went down. A throbbing ache at her left temple alluded to a violent reason for her memory loss.
“Listen up you scum!” A deep male voice growled from her right side. As Anna began to focus, she could see the owner of the voice standing upon a rough wooden platform before them. He was dressed in the trappings of Aradmath nobility. He was accompanied by several warriors, further testimony to his rank.
“I am King’s Baron Makan dep Nathmar, and all of you northern beasts belong to me!” He raged, spittle flying from narrow, cruel lips, as he shrieked at them. “My soldiers captured you in your pathetic attempt to surround the great armies of Aradmath, and for your treachery to Our Kingdom, I should have you all executed!”
His hard eyes grew more narrow as a thought occurred to him. “As a matter of fact,” he rasped, “I believe I’ll do just that with a few of you, as an example of just how worthless you are,” Makan paced up and down the platform, eyeing up the prisoners. Each and every one of them able to do so glared up at him, the seething hatred in their eyes aimed at him and everything he professed to stand for.
“That one, that and that” Makan said, pointing to the three random prisoners that were unfortunate enough to have caught his eye. He chuckled, an insane little sound, and smacked his meaty hands together, “Yes, I do believe I will enjoy this. Squashing bugs.” He grinned again, drawing more antagonism from the ranks of captives.
“Leave them be, pig!” Anna shouted, struggling valiantly to rise to her feet.
A hulking guard stepped to her side and casually punched her in the face. He followed it up with a growl, “Silence! Hold your tongue bitch, or I’ll have it cut out!”
“Wait,” Makan said, marching over to get a closer look at her. Anna raised her head and glared at him, blood running freely from her broken nose and split lip.
“Who are you that you think you can speak to a King’s Baron that way?” He demanded.
“Annalyse Promus, Captain of these honorable soldiers!” Anna spat blood in Makan’s general direction, hoping to draw his rage against her.
“You have spirit, wench, something I’ll not tolerate in my slaves. Perhaps I should have you killed as well,” Makan said, eying her and considering his options.
“No, I have a better idea. Bring her up here, Guard.” He grinned again, gesturing to the makeshift stage his men had build for the executions.
The guard untied the harsh ropes from her wrists and ankles and dragged her up the stairs and onto the platform. Although her hands and feet were nearly numb from lack of circulation, she fought to make his job difficult. When he tried to strike her again, she ducked the blow and brought her joined hands into the side of his head. The heavy guard stumbled forward and Anna was on him like a cat, scrambling to pull his heavy sword free from its sheath.
Before she could fully commandeer the weapon, another guard had his hand atop hers. His other arm wrapped around her neck and pulled her to him, choking her. Anna managed to sink her teeth into his forearm, drawing blood and causing him to curse. The first guard had recovered and tapped her smartly on the head with the pommel of his dagger. Stunned, Anna went limp and fell to the ground.
“Yes, you definitely need to be broken,” Makan muttered, listening the cheering her soldiers were giving her from their bonds.
“Bind her to that pole,” Makan ordered pointing to a thick wooden beam that stood as a support for the hangman’s noose that hung over head.
Still stunned and unable to comprehend, Anna was dragged over to the timber and lashed to it. She was given no freedom of movement and scarcely enough slack to breathe. Her head hung low from the concussion but another bucket of scummy water flung upon her helped rouse her. She lifted her head up, eyes squinting from the pain in her head, and turned her venomous gaze upon Makan.
“Watch and learn, you foolish female,” Makan said to her, gesturing as three struggling Nordlamar warriors were led onto the deck and secured in various devices.
The first one, a grizzled old woman named Gretta, a pureblood northlander, struggled and spit on the guards who held her. They tied her kneeling and chest down to a stump, with her head laid across it. The second was a man by the name of Marcus, someone Anna had always been able to rely upon for his cool head in battle and keen aim with a spear. His head was placed in the noose and his feet upon another, smaller block of wood. The final prisoner was Valus, the young lad whose eyes were filled with fear.
Upon seeing Valus being tied to another headman’s block, Anna’s blue eyes grew wide and the blood of fury rushed to her face. “Leave him be, he’s just a boy!”
One of the guards standing next to her slapped her, hard. Her ears rung from the blow, but she used to pain to focus herself. Makan stepped over to Valus and looked down at him.
“Old enough to fight for the treacherous barbarians, old enough to die like one.” Makan laughed bitterly, “I’ve a daughter that looks to be his age,” he commented casually, “but I know enough to keep her safe from harm and on the winning side. She sides with those that the gods favor!”
The guards around cheered and saluted Makan as he smiled triumphantly. “Besides,” Makan continued. “You barbarians let your women fight with your men, another sign of your blasphemy and the disfavor of the Gods. The younger we can kill you beasts, the less chance you have to breed more!”
More cheering ensued. Anna struggled at her ropes, tearing at her skin where it rubbed her raw. She refused to relent, despite of the futility of her efforts. Her eyes were locked with those of Valus, who saw her actions and smiled.
Anna stopped, shocked by his expression. Valus’ smile reached his eyes and the fear left them. He nodded as much as his positioning would allow, letting her know all was well. He would meet his death with honor.
“What, has the fight been taken from you already?” Baron Makan said, looking at her and sneering. “The priests are right, you women truly are without souls to be cowed so easily!”
His insult was answered with appreciative laughter from his underlings. Anna kept her eyes locked on Valus then slowly turned her head to behold her captor.
“No,” she said when the laughter had died down. “I was admiring how much of a man that boy is, more than you will ever be.”
Makan’s cheeks flushed with anger and he clenched his fists. Angrily he held his hand up to stop the guard beside her from punching her again, then turned to the three captives and, one by one, made the gestures that started the execution in motion.
Gretta’s head rolled across the deck, severed by an axe, and was joined in bare moments by Valus’. Only valiant Marcus took some time to die, twisting and jerking from the rope that slowly strangled him after the guard had kicked the log out from under his feet.
When Marcus was finally still, Makan turned back to Anna and saw the rage in her expression. “Good, I was hoping you had some fight left in you,” he told her.
“Untie her and strip her, then tie her where the boy was,” Makan demanded.
Anna’s eyes narrowed, but she had no choice as she was approached by three of the heavyset guards. Her soldiers cried out in despair, but were silenced in as heavy-handed a manner as possible. In moments, her clothing was torn and shredded and laying on the wooden planks around her, Captain Annalyse Promus was tied to the same battered stump where Valus had lain only moments ago. Her cheek was laying in his blood, the coppery scent of it rising to her nose and nearly causing her, a seasoned veteran, to retch from anger and fear.
“Kill me, you pig,” Anna taunted him. “Kill us all, else one of us will return and take the precious daughter you spoke of from you. Then we will torture and kill your wife, and then your other offspring. We’ll butcher every member of your honorless family until you alone remain alive, then we’ll come for you too.”
“Oh,” Makan replied, chuckling. His hands moved to his belt and he unclasped it. “I’ve no intentions of killing you, yet. First you need to be taught your place.”
Anna’s soldiers gasped in outrage and shock as Baron Makan moved behind her and proceeded with his intentions. She gritted her teeth and forced the tears from her eyes as he thrust into her brutally. His rape was savage and quick, and then he staggered away from her.
Unable to see him, Anna nevertheless spoke in a ragged voice, “That was pathetic, you pig! I would wager that your children aren’t even your own if that is the best that you can do.”
Makan’s cheeks flushed again at her crude insult. He considered beheading her himself for her impudence, but a better idea came to him instead. “Have your way with her, men, and keep her alive, but waste no energy being gentle with this heathen bitch!”
He watched for a short while as the guards took advantage of his generosity, one after another thrusting themselves into her broken body in every perverse way possible. He watched her until her pain and hatred began to fade from her face, being replaced by a blank stare. Laughing aloud, he turned to his other prisoners, who had long since been beaten into being quiet.
“Learn your lessons well, and perhaps you’ll live long enough to redeem yourselves in the eyes of King Doremath,” he told them. Then he laughed cruelly at the absurdity of his suggestion. He turned and left the field, heading to his tent.
* * * *
“My Lord, a carriage arrives from the south bearing your flag.”
Baron Makan looked at the messenger, a squire barely in his 14th summer. He squinted, annoyed at the interruption, but rose from his chair and followed the boy from the tent he used as his field office. Sure enough, in the distance he could make out his standard flying from a carriage that approached the camp. He saw a full squad of knights riding with it as well.
“Damnation,” he muttered, turning and heading back into his tent. “That fool woman has no business being out here.”
“My Lord?” The squire stammered, concerned.
Baron Makan looked at him, surprised to see him still there. “Nothing lad. Go about your duties, I’ll tend to my wife when she gets here.”
“No, wait,” he said, stopping the boy in mid salute. “Take this wretched wench of a slave and put her in a cage outside, just as she is.”
“Yes, Sire,” the boy said, not daring to doubt his leaders wisdom. He expected the slave to freeze, if she were imprisoned naked for very long. They were far to the north from their own warmer lands in the south, so far north that many of them remained chilled around the clock. He didn’t know how anyone could live in such cold weather.
He went to the woman and grabbed her about the arm. She rose woodenly and followed him as he took her out of the tent. Makan watched her go, his thoughts distant. What would his wife possibly be doing visiting them out here? His mind also went to the vow spoken by the slave girl that he had just banished from his tent; she’d said that his family would be killed one by one with himself saved for last. He shook his head. A slave’s empty threats, made by one both a savage and a liar and female at that!
Makan chuckled and finished writing the report on his victory over the savages. He put his mark upon it and gestured for one of his servants to fetch him more wine. He pulled out a fresh piece of parchment and sighed, then begin putting quill and ink to it, writing another report. Makan longed for the days of glory, when his father, King’s Baron Nathmar, had been in charge and he’d simply led his father’s men at arms into battle.
Baroness N’meria ap Makan held out a white gloved hand to the young squire who opened the carriage door for her. With his assistance, she stepped carefully down from the conveyance, mindful not to set a dainty booted foot into a puddle just outside the carriage door. Once both feet were solidly upon the ground, she gestured imperiously that her daughter, Lady T’leren be helped also to step down. Once both ladies were out of the carriage, the squire motioned for the driver to remove it from the center of the camp. Shooting him a disdainful look, the baroness took her daughter by the hand and, dragging her in her wake, moved gracefully to the tent flap. She stood impatiently, waiting for the squire to catch up and open the door, when her eye was drawn to movement just outside the field of her vision. Turning, she gasped in shock to see the heathen woman suspended in the cage. Her gloved hands moved quickly to cover her impressionable young daughter’s eyes, but not quickly enough. T’leren had had a good look at the naked, disheveled and bruised woman. The thing that really struck her, however was the eyes. They’d changed from a look of blankness, of uncaring, in a split second to a look of absolute hatred. The girl’s shiver had nothing to do with the cold.
Their arrival at his tent flap having been anticipated, Makan sighed. He lingered long enough to be sure they’d experienced the cold before he bid them enter. His wife brushed in, pushing past the servants to stand glaring at him somewhat impatiently. Makan found himself preferring the sullen brooding of the slave girl, she’d at last finally been beaten and abused into her rightful place as his property. His wife, seemingly, would never accept such a role.
“What brings you to such a savage place, lovely N’meria?” Makan said while rising to his feet. He paused when he saw his daughter enter the tent behind her, his face flushing in anger, and again his mind flashed back to the vow made by the woman in the cage outside.
“Why have you brought our daughter to this place? At one time I believed you to have an ounce of common sense. I am finding this more and more unlikely! The battlefield is no place for women, you should return to your salon and your embroidery!” He raised his hand as though to strike her, and she flinched, just a bit, but enough to let him know that she had some fear of his anger. Lowering his hand, he turned away from her and muttered, “I’ll not waste my strength.”
Turning to the page who stood just inside the tent flap, he growled, “Alert the men, we will be returning to Duth Darek as soon as they can muster.” The boy scurried from the tent, hurrying to do his duty.
Shortly, one of the ranking warriors appeared at the tent. “What do you wish to do with the captives, M’lord?”
Makan took a moment to consider. “Load the cages on the wagons, we’ll take them back to the slave market and make some money from them. Prepare the brands, and we’ll make sure that this is a day they don’t soon forget.” The Baron laughed, a humorless cackle, totally devoid of human emotion.
“Lady, you will remain in this tent, and keep your daughter here also. I’ll not have you mixing with the common warriors, or the slaves. They are dangerous heathens, as like to take off your head as look at you twice.” With that the baron stalked out of the tent. His mind had moved beyond what had brought her in the first place.
* * * *
Anna watched with hatred burning in her eyes as the Baron walked out of the tent to the places where the prisoners were staked. His men were readying a single fire, piling on wood, making the embers glow hotter and hotter. One man brought out a strange metal contraption from one of the wagons. It appeared to be a cage of some sort with heavy leather straps on the back of it. The purpose of the object became somewhat clearer when the first of her remaining soldiers was grabbed by two Aradmath warriors, and the cage fitted over his head. The leather straps were buckled tightly to the post behind him, rendering him unable to move his head away from them. Anna frowned, wondering what new torture the Baron planned for them. Her breath caught in her throat, strangling a scream as one of the enemy warriors brought a red hot glowing brand from the fire and applied it to the still conscious soldier’s left cheek. The screams and the sickening smell of burning flesh caused spots to swim in front of her eyes. The cheering of the enemy locked into her heart a hatred of these creatures, a burning need to free herself so she could wreak vengeance upon them. Throwing herself at the bars of the cage, she screamed, a primal sound, ripped from her body by raw emotion.
Baroness N’meria and her daughter remained where the baron had left them, inside the tent. At the screaming, the baroness turned pale. She released her daughter’s hand, and sank down on the baron’s plank bed. The sudden scream from just outside the doorway drew T’leren. She moved, captivated towards the tent flap. Peering out, she saw the crazed heathen woman throwing herself at the bars of her cage, and wondered for a moment what she had done to be put in such a prison. The sight became too much for her, and she too joined her mother on the cot.
One by one, Anna watched as her remaining soldiers were branded with Aradmath’s ‘S’ for ‘slave’. The rope holding her cage was cut, and she fell as the cage hit the ground hard. Pulled from her prison by the two men, she was lashed to one of the posts, and for all her fighting, the cage was placed upon her head as well.
“Well, my little heathen, perhaps you have not yet resigned yourself to life as my property?” Anna looked up to see the leering face of Baron Makan. “This will be another step to breaking you…” He held out his hand and took the brand from one of his men. “I will personally deliver you into slavery, and it is by my hand that you are mine!” With that, he pressed the burning brand to Anna’s left cheek. She screamed hysterically with the pain for a moment, then blissfully passing into unconsciousness.
“I’d hoped for more screaming.” The Baron complained as Anna slipped from the waking world. “Load her cage onto the wagon. Deliver her to my private playground upon our return to the city, and have her bathed. Even I will only stoop so low.” The Baron laughed at his own crudity and went to collect his family for the return journey to Duth Darek.
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For people like myself one of the most beneficial skills in existence is being able to target a market. Sure, the first step is identifying the market, but beyond that I need to be able to find it and make them aware that my material exists. Short of spending large amounts of money on advertising, it’s often a difficult task to master.
It occurred to me the other day that my blog, while an avenue for communication, might not be serving me as optimally as it could be for talking to my target market. Common topics on this blog involve my experiments and research into writing and trying to share news of my books with the world. I’ve snagged a few readers along the way too, which is great, but the majority of the people who read my blog are other writers (writers read books too). I’m always trying to learn from my peers as well as share my insights with them, but I’d guess only 1% (or less) of the readers out there are writers as well.
So how do I find a way to bring in more readers to the blog to see what I’m doing, what I’ve done, and what’s coming next? That’s the real answer, and now I’m going to try some various things to see if I can make it happen.
I could offer to do more reviews on my blog, but I’m finding that the people most interested in reviews are either the writer of the book(s) being reviewed or other writers. Some readers will wander by, but by and large they’re looking at the reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, or wherever they’re buying their books at. Let’s be realistic, when we’re talking about the $.99 to $3.99 price of an ebook it’s not a major purchase that requires a lot of research. So I may continue to do an occasional review here and there, but don’t look for it to make a big dent in my blog’s content.
I’ve never been shy about admitting that I’m more than willing to give away some of my books. The first book in each of my series is either free on Amazon (and other sites) or it will be as soon as I can make it that way. That’s called a loss leader, in marketing parlance, and it gives readers exposure to my writing and if they like the no-risk first book, they can get additional books in the series. Well my latest gambit is to leave scenes or samples from my books on my blog from time to time, as well as the introduction of a blog-only series of posts that will eventually turn into a full fledged story.
So what will this story be about? Will it be a new setting, or take place in one of the ones I’ve already established in one of my books? The answer to those questions is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. I see pros and cons to both. Knowing me I’ll probably end up doing a couple of different things – I can’t seem to restrict myself to a single genre. And when I finish one of this linked posts and it becomes a full fledged story who knows, maybe I’ll wrap it up and publish it (and leave it on here).
So here’s to hoping I can show my appreciation to the book readers of the world with some free content. And in the process, lure in a few of them to hopefully try out my books! To my writer friends rest assured I’ll be happy to share the results of this experiment as the data becomes available.
A couple of peculiar things happened to me recently. In the first I was contacted by someone who told me they bought not one of my books, but four of them! Okay, I’d love to say that’s not out of the ordinary at all, and someday I hope to. Even if that happens it’s not the point of the blog. Not only did this individual tell me that, but they went on to admit putting aside another book they’d written to try mine out (Wanted), and were sucked into it and loving it. Sleep, when it finally came, was considered an enemy to their desire to read.
Peculiar item 2 was when another individual contacted me to say they were halfway through my book and loving it more and more with each page (Wanted, again). I thanked them and shared that the sequel to Wanted will be out soon. They, in turn, were thankful for the head’s up. Thankfulness is a neat thing, but that’s not the moral to the story.
The thing that strikes me as odd is that these readers are contacting and sharing this with me in the first place, then in some instances act surprised when I respond to them. The feedback is great – it’s what keeps me and the other writer’s I know going. It’s reviewing, rating, and sharing with us that we know whether we’re doing a good job or not and also how we can improve. Technically a sale is feedback as well, and it helps put food on the table, but all a sale tells us is that we managed a successful sales pitch, not that the finished product was well done.
I can’t imagine a day, regardless of future success, were I can’t take the time to respond to somebody who goes out of their way to share with me. After all, if a person can work time in their busy schedule to send something to me, why shouldn’t I take the same time to do the same? So too all my readers, past, present, and future – I thank you and appreciate the time you take reading and enjoying my work!
Speaking of future success, I read an article recently where a writer considered himself mid-list and made a living at it. He indicated he had roughly 100 titles available. If that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do. So far I’ve got 9 out with a 10th and 11th pending. Behind them I’ve got releases scheduled up through February of 2012 on a monthly basis. That takes me to 16. A bit shy of a 100 but I’ve got a lot of words left in me, not to mention a roadmap for several more Voidhawk and Dark Earth books!
Oh, and as much as I hate to admit it, I may even jump on the bandwagon and include some occasional vampire related stuff into one of my existing or future universes. They will not be sparkly and emo though, that I promise you!