Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Stop the Presses! Jeffrey Getzin’s “King of Bryanae” is Out . . .

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I’m pleased to report that Jeffrey Getzin’s newest novel, KING OF BRYANAE, is now available. This is the fourth book in his series revolving around the Kingdom of Bryanae, and is an interesting and captivating read.

But why am I announcing this novel release here? Well, it’s simple. I’ve known Jeff for quite a few years. I’ve also edited his last several novellas, including SHARA AND THE HAUNTED VILLAGE and A LESSON FOR THE CYCLOPS, and was fortunate enough to edit KING OF BRYANAE as well.

So trust me when I tell you that this story, which is all about Willow the Elf, swordswoman and Captain of the King’s Guard (also the protagonist of his first novel, PRINCE OF BRYANAE), and her encounter with a man who may — or may not — be the King of Bryanae, who’s reappeared after a long and mysterious disturbance — is unlike anything you’ve ever read in the sword and sorcery genre. And somehow, Getzin’s iconic swordsman, D’Arbignal, will also play a role . . . (note that because I don’t want to completely ruin your reader’s experience, that’s all I’m going to say).

With Jeff’s kind permission, here are two short chapters to whet your appetite for KING OF BRYANAE:

 

Chapter 1   

The elf Willow feared no one. No matter how outnumbered, she had yet to meet her match in battle—which was largely why they had made her the Captain of the Guard in the first place. She did more than carry a weapon; she was one. She was efficient, deadly, and unbreakable.

No, danger did not worry her; what concerned Willow was boredom. She’d seen and done so many things over the many, many years that her life had become monotonous. Sometimes, she felt like she was living in a dream.

Take now, for instance: she crouched in the rough vee between two gnarled branches of a large pinterac tree, spying on an old, dilapidated farmhouse. She knew three of the five suspected kidnappers she hunted were holed up in there. She expected the other two to arrive shortly with the stolen infant. The Runjuns had been hiding elsewhere, some place Willow hadn’t yet discovered. But instead of waiting for information, she’d decided instead to smoke them out of hiding. If she couldn’t go to the Runjuns, the Runjuns would have to come to her. She knew about their family farm, which was why she was out here, observing the farmhouse, and waiting for the last two Runjuns to show up.

The farmhouse had once belonged to Meriema Runjun, an extremely wicked woman who’d died a long time ago. The contemporary Runjuns all knew of the place; it had served as a hideout on numerous occasions. Willow had leaked false information that the Runjuns’ lair had been located, but that the kidnappers themselves had not been identified. She knew they’d hear that a raid from the King’s Guard was imminent. She had bet that they’d flee to their family farm again … and so far, that bet looked to be paying off.

Within a few hours, she would enter that dilapidated farmhouse, kill some people, retrieve the child, and return him to his family as per the Chancellor’s orders. Which meant that within a few hours, she would be fighting for her life.

But she felt nothing.

No nerves, not even a trace of the pre-battle excitement that used to make her hands shake.

She did not worry about anything. She knew she’d recover the child—probably alive—and she certainly did not fear the Runjuns.

She felt … nothing.

Actually, that wasn’t entirely true. She felt boredom. Willow’s mad worship of that thankless bitch goddess Discipline kept her moving and fighting, but where she moved or whom she fought was largely immaterial. She had no drive other than to carry out her duties with clinical efficiency.

Come to think of it, how long had it been since she last genuinely smiled? Years?

Life had become dull: dull, joyless, and tedious. And oh, so predictable.

Willow had been Captain of the Guard for more than a hundred and fifty years. She had fought in battles waged first with enormous two-handed swords and heavy plate armor, and then later with rapiers and leather. She had seen royalty come and go. She had seen kingdoms rise and fall, the bizarre technical innovations of the Szun spreading like a disease from Panineth in the north, and the deaths of countless men and women.

Right now, she just did not care about any of it. And she hadn’t for a long, long time.

But she still had her duty.

Tonight there would be five kidnappers here, all brothers, and two wives. Willow predicted that by sunrise, she would kill at least three of the Runjun brothers and one of the wives. She was largely certain she would be able to recover the Snyde infant alive.

But none of that really mattered to her. She didn’t care about the kidnappers. She didn’t care about their wives. She didn’t care about the anxious family awaiting word and she didn’t even care about the damned baby.

She would fulfill her duty to the letter as always, and it would be easy. Easy, predictable, and oh, so boring.

 *   *   *

The sky was nearly black, and sheets of midnight blue clouds muted the stars. The rain had started an hour ago: dull, fat droplets that splattered on the tree limb and plunked on the cowl of her dark wool cloak. A cold wind blew from the west, chilling her. She wrapped the cloak tightly around her body for warmth.

The activity touched the wisp of a memory, and despite herself, Willow shivered. She had been in a similar position once before—shivering in a tree, frozen and wet—but the details eluded her. Memories leaked from Willow like from a weathered keg, little rivers of her past trickling away.

She heard the ghostly wail of a crying baby. She shuddered for a moment before realizing the sound came from nearby, and not from her past. Ah yes, that would be Dillis Runjun and his wife Mara with the stolen Snyde child.

The hours sitting nearly motionless in the tree had left Willow stiff. She began to loosen up her body, starting with small shoulder rolls. She felt more than heard the little pops her body made as it prepared once more to kill.

Her keen elvish eyes discerned two figures moving furtively through the dark. There was precious little light on this dismal evening, yet the two remained vigilant and dashed from the cover of one tree to another.

Dillis was the larger of the pair, and was the leader of this little coterie of criminals. He was strong, and while he wasn’t especially bright, he possessed a raw cunning that often caught his adversaries by surprise. He was skilled with the club and the dagger, but he preferred the silent lethality of the stiletto. He was a low-level thug with aspirations for more. Those aspirations often involved breaking bones for local enforcers, and as of now, kidnapping.

Willow had been aware of Dillis for years, of course. She’d known that he’d eventually try something stupid enough that she’d have to find him. Kidnapping the Snyde child certainly qualified.

Mara followed a few steps behind. She was a shrewd and vicious little harpy who seemed almost as devoid of emotion as Willow herself. She had managed to keep her hands clean as far as the law was concerned, but multiple informants had told Willow that Mara was the brains behind her evil little family.

Willow watched as they crossed the field to the small, two-story farmhouse. Two sentries, most likely El and Elgy Runjun, eased from the mudroom’s doorway and spoke with them at length. One of them held a lantern at arm’s length, looking into the night.

Idiot. The lantern made him visible but would make it all but impossible for him to see anything outside the radius of its light.

Willow hated dealing with stupid criminals; if she had to be sent out here at all, couldn’t she at least be sent up against someone who might prove to be a challenge?

It was indeed Elgy; his bearded and pockmarked face was unmistakable, even at this distance. El lacked the intelligence to commit any crimes on his own, but he often went along with whatever schemes Dillis and Mara hatched.

The sentries stood aside to let Dillis and his wife enter. Once the couple had disappeared within, Willow climbed down from the tree. She collected the various items for the next stage of her plan, including the sharpened branch she had whittled while she had watched the house.

She circled along the tree line toward the back of the house. She moved slowly and silently over the moist ground, which was covered with twigs and leaves. The damp cold clung to her skin and seeped through any gaps in her clothing. The wind whipped against the hem of her cloak.

When she was directly behind the farmhouse, she sprinted toward the back door across a weed-filled field. When she reached the house, she pressed against its outer wall. Its boards were beginning to rot, and she felt the slime along her back as she moved. She was careful not to lean too hard against the wall for fear it might crack and give her away. She thought that if she pushed hard enough, the whole house might cave in.

She fit together the pieces she had brought—the stick, the cord, and so on—and set the assembly in place near the back door. Then she reversed her path, and returned to her tree. She climbed up to a thick branch and reached down for her bow and quiver, which she strung, then hung across her back. She adjusted the quiver several times until she could draw from it quickly.

She paused. She observed.

The wind whispered through the trees. Leaves blew along the ground. The sentries were stationary; the one on the left leaned against the doorjamb, smoking a pipe; the one on the right sat on a barrel, trying to get his own pipe lit.

Willow gauged the speed and strength of the wind. She drew an arrow and nocked it to the bow. She sighted Elgin on the left and held her breath, adjusting her aim to compensate for the wind and distance. As she exhaled, she let the motion of her breath bring the sight line lower. She released the arrow halfway through her exhale.

Before that speeding arrow reached its target, she loosed a barrage of arrows at El on the right. Her first shot pierced Elgin’s throat; in the two seconds it took El to realize what had happened, four arrows hit him in the face, shoulder, chest, and abdomen.

Elgin died within moments. El was not so fortunate. He tried to say something, perhaps even to yell, but all Willow heard was a wet gurgling sound, and that only because she had been listening for it. It was unlikely that those in the house had heard a thing.

Now that she had silenced El, she lined up another, careful shot and loosed the arrow just to be certain. It pierced the struggling man’s eye socket, and he fell to the ground dead.

So much for the sentries.

Willow removed the quiver from her back and hung it upon a convenient branch. She unstrung her bow, lowered it carefully to the ground, and climbed down.

She checked that her rapier was loose in its sheath and then drew her knife from her belt. Crouching once more, she zigzagged across the field toward the front door. When she reached it, she verified that both sentries were dead. (They were. Very.) Neither had been particularly smart, nor remotely honest; the world would not miss them.

* * *

Chapter 2       

Willow squatted beneath the boarded-up window adjacent to the mudroom, and listened for several minutes. She heard nothing.

Good.

Next, she examined the ramshackle door, which appeared to have been repaired many times with mismatched boards. She inspected the gap between the door and its frame, verifying that the door was not barred from within. If it had been, of course, she could just kick through the door; it looked like it would be hard-pressed to keep out a strong sneeze, let alone a determined soldier. However, the less warning she gave the Runjuns, the better chance the Snydes had of getting their child back alive.

She placed the tip of her index finger upon the door handle. She exerted a minute amount of pressure, increasing the pressure gradually until the handle began to move. She remained patient, easing the handle until the latch had cleared the mortise notched in the rotting frame.

Willow placed her ear to the door one more time, verified that the entryway was clear, and eased the door open. The hinges started to squeak when the door was only a third of the way open, but that space was sufficient.

She slid her lean body through the gap in the doorway and into the mudroom. The room was empty and smelled of rot and mildew. It was dark save for the lamplight flickering in the adjacent room. She heard the baby crying and the Runjuns talking in that nearly unintelligible dialect of theirs. They seemed agitated and at odds, which served her purposes since it kept them distracted.

Using the shiny surface of her knife’s blade as a mirror, she reflected the lamplight within the room, allowing her to spy and map out its occupants in her head.

Kel Runjun was closest, leaning against the wall by the door, and seemed indifferent to the squabbling. His wife Sil stood a few feet away from him, her arms crossed, arguing vigorously with Dillis and Mara. Willow could only understand snippets of what they were saying.

“… killt de cholde now a’fer the Gerd comma finddit ‘im,” Sil was demanding.

Willow arched an eyebrow, grimly amused. The “Gerd” had already “finddit” them, and the child was the only thing keeping them alive. If they killed him, they might as well just cut their own throats and be done with it.

“Ain’t se s-s-sure …” Dillis said, wavering. Anxiety tinged his voice. Willow often wondered if the reason he was so vicious was to compensate in some way for his stutter. “Hiz f-f-adder iz loads with d-d-de gold an—”

“Notting done!” snapped Mara. Her voice contained a note of exasperation, as if she had had this same argument many times before. She held the bundled child at her bosom, her dark eyes bearing down first on her husband Dillis and then on Sil. “Weze fer the money an de cholde iz needs fer the money. Haf yer ballacks falled off, Dillis? Are nit ye a man?”

“Ye dern unnerstand.” Sil said. “I herd theyz sending the elf beech.”

That line almost brought a grim smile to her face. The reason they had heard that was because she had deliberately leaked that information. Idiots.

An ominous silence filled the room, interrupted only by the gurgling of the Snyde infant.

“That ain’t be true,” Mara said, but there was no conviction in her voice. “An if she a-come, we’d take her.”

“Sh-she ther one’s a-kilt Eryon,” Dillis said, his voice almost a whine. The man was spineless … and he was their leader?

Willow tried to recall which one Eryon was. She couldn’t remember. She had killed so many people during her career, it would be impossible to recollect all of them.

Willow risked a quick peek into the room. Sil had a knife in her hand and seemed to be working up her nerve to kill the child. Her husband Kel had likewise drawn a knife. His misaligned teeth were set in a humorless grin.

Willow sighed quietly. Yes, this was pretty much going the way she had expected. Might as well get started.

She took a deep breath, picturing the positions of the Runjuns in the room. She planned her attack and took a deep breath.

Then she moved. Fast.

She shouldered through the door and rounded the corner low. She cut a deep gash across Kel’s thigh, severing the artery. He howled and stooped to strike at Willow with his knife. She grabbed his knife hand at the wrist and yanked him down into an induced somersault. Willow yanked his hand upward as he fell, stabbing him in his groin with his own knife.

The two Runjun women shrieked. Mara fumbled with the blanket-wrapped child. Willow stood and flipped the knife in her hand, holding it by the blade.

Sil watched as Kel bled out and died. She exhaled puffs of rage through flared nostrils. Her lips were pressed tightly together.

“Ye merd’ring beech,” she said. She fixed her eyes on the child in Mara’s arms and took a step toward her, raising a dagger.

Willow threw her knife. It whizzed through the air and landed in the side of Sil’s neck. Willow grimaced; she had been aiming for the carotid artery, but had missed her target by less than an inch. She needed more practice.

“Give me the child,” Willow said to Mara, drawing her rapier.

Dillis’s face had turned as white as bleached parchment. A wet stain spread on his crotch. He slowly removed a stiletto from his boot and tossed it out of reach. Then he dropped to his knees and raised his hands in supplication.

Wise choice.

Sil yanked the knife from her neck and howled in pain. Doing so, she managed to sever the artery Willow had missed. Blood jetted from her neck. Her eyes rolled up to the whites. She collapsed into a crimson pool on the floor, not three feet from her dead husband.

Amateurs, Willow thought. It scarcely constituted a fight when going up against idiots of this magnitude.

Willow took two running strides toward Mara and dropped into a feet-first slide. She scissored her legs, buckling Mara’s knees in with one and kicking her ankles out with the other.

Mara toppled forward, with the Snyde infant perilously close to following. Willow was preparing to catch the child, but then Dillis unexpectedly reached up and steadied his wife so she didn’t fall. Instead, she righted herself, grabbed the infant even tighter, and fled to the back of the farmhouse.

Dammit. It was supposed to be Dillis running, not Mara.

Willow climbed to her feet. She stomped Dillis’s face with the bottom of her boot. He fell back, blood gushing from his nose. She pointed her rapier at him while calling after his wife: “I’m not here for you, Mara! I just want the child. Give him to me, and you get to live.”

Mara didn’t slow.

Dillis looked like he wanted to get up, so Willow discouraged him with a solid kick to the knee. His howls turned to sobs and pleas, but she had no time for him. Instead, she sprinted after Mara. The baby in Mara’s arms wailed in distress. Once more, Willow felt her chest tighten. Goosebumps rose on her arms, and for a moment, Willow had a sense of impending doom.

She shook it off and yelled again, “Don’t run, Mara! Just give me the child. You and your husband will both live.”

Too late. Mara had reached the back door and yanked it open.

The cord Willow had secured to the door yanked free of the chock restraining the bent branch. The branch straightened, and the sharpened stick plunged into Mara’s thigh. Mara shrieked as the baby flew from her arms and into the night.

Willow hurdled over Mara into the darkness, trying to locate the child. Its ghostly wails echoed in the cold night.

She dropped to her hands and knees and crawled through the freezing mud. The cold wetness seeped through her breeches and sleeves. The unearthly cries guided her until at last, her hands closed upon the infant’s pudgy leg. She gathered him into her arms. The screaming child grasped at Willow’s neck. She ran toward the lamplight leaking from the open farmhouse door.

Of course, he was covered in mud; Willow used her shirttail to wipe as much off as she could. A raw scrape along his chubby cheek made him look almost demonic in the flickering light. However, he was alive and healthy.

Objective achieved.

Willow wrapped the child in her cloak and walked back into the farmhouse. Mara was still transfixed by Willow’s trap, but she started wriggling, trying desperately to break free and escape Willow’s vengeance.

Only Willow had no vengeance. She hadn’t been lying when she said she was only here for the child. She really didn’t care about Mara or Dillis, but for their sake, they had better not ever cross her path again.

The two of them would survive if they just were sensible. Mara’s wound looked severe, but if she kept her head, she had every chance of surviving. Dillis’s nose would never be straight again, but he certainly would recover. Of course, Willow would barely have noticed such minor discomfort as a broken nose, but the amateur kidnapper clutched his hand to his face, howling in pain and misery.

Earlier in the day, Willow had considered torturing one or both of them to ask if that monsters Four Fingers had somehow been behind this kidnapping plot. Now that she had the child, though, she decided that it was best to get him back to his family as soon as possible. The last thing she needed was for the child to catch a chill and die on the way back.

She stepped over Mara as if she were going for a casual stroll. She walked through the room, pausing only to tell the dumbfounded Dillis: “Apply pressure to the wound in her leg and get her to a healer. She might live.”

Then she walked past him, too, and out through the front door. She stepped calmly past the two dead brothers and headed for the field and her tree, where she collected her bow and quiver.

The child wailed in Willow’s arms, but she assiduously ignored it.

* * * End of Excerpt * * *

Now, if you want to find out what happened to the little baby, much less what else happens to Willow and the man who may — or may not — be the King of Bryanae, head to this link (which will take you straight to Amazon).  Or if you’d prefer the Nook version, go here instead.

Hours of reading enjoyment await!

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Written by Barb Caffrey

July 8, 2014 at 11:48 pm

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