The seventh and last installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Once Ellgis had healed sufficiently to use an axe, he set about building a raft, while Fryca organized their notes and belongings. Once both tasks were complete, they set out in the skiff, towing the raft north and hoping to find a village where they might stay.
Their trip was long and arduous, for both Ellgis and Fryca grew ill at various points along the way. Only the supreme luck that sickness did not affect both of them at the same time allowed the technologists to continue their journey. Many days they made little more than a mile’s distance in the swamp, for they had to navigate around fallen timber and the deadly animals that dwelt in the pools of open water.
Meals were few and far between, only what little food could be hunted or scavenged. Water they boiled when they could, and strained through layers of cloth when they could not.
When at last the skiff bumped against the shore, they sighed with relief, staggering to their feet with the strange gait of one who has spent too much time upon the waters. From there, the technologists scouted the area, stealing a horse from a farmer in order to carry their belongings to the nearest village.
Instead, Ellgis and Fryca found Abboddóm, the seat of Baron Inswán, and a place that accepted them without compunction. They were given an empty hovel, a remnant from when the town had been populous. Now it was but a shadow of its former size and glory, and weeds grew upon the streets.
The first task the partners undertook was to restore the horse to its owner, for they could not deprive a man of his livelihood. They left it staked outside his house one night, none the worse for the use it had seen.
Ill news circled the town when the experimenters returned. A vulture from the north, a bastard by the name of Iudas, had come south, bandits and soldiers at his command. The townsfolk of Abboddóm had been ordered to pack their things, for if Baron Inswán was unable to halt the foe, he would at least buy his people enough time to flee.
The worst came to happen, and Ellgis and Fryca fled with the rest of the town, into the swamp.
The sixth installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Weeks passed as Ellgis and Fryca hid in their hut, nursing their wounds. Ellgis had been struck in the meat of the shoulder as he lay on the skiff, and the impact had cracked the bone. His was the better of the two, for after a week he was all but his old self, although his left arm was close to useless for the time being.
Fryca writhed in her bed as the red heat of infection clawed at her wound. Dipping in and out of fever dreams, she ate little more than thin vegetable broth, for Ellgis would not leave her to hunt meat.
One night Ellgis was forced to carry her into the water of the swamp, holding her beneath the cooling water for hours as marsh creatures circled near, and insects stung at their hands and faces. Fryca shivered in his arms, and Ellgis wept, for she moved not.
A shudder rippled through her, and Fryca turned in his arms, seemingly in a deep sleep and not a faint. Relieved, the technologist carried his partner back to their small hut, washing her and laying her in the bed.
The next morning saw Fryca wan but smiling. “Food? I’m ravenous!”
Ellgis wept as he pulled her into his arms, and the two stayed like that for a time. He then headed into the swamp, lines trailing from the skiff while he hunted with a spear. That night they roasted fish over a small flame, and had their first meat since Fryca had gone to rescue her partner.
“The Knights know we’re in here, and they’re going to come after us.”
“Of course. So we go after them instead.”
Ellgis blinked. “We do what?”
“We go after them.” Fryca gestured at the marsh about them. “You want to live in here for the rest of your days? Our experiments fail because of the damp, we have little more than a rotted hut and some paper, and we eat swamp grass and small animals.”
“Fryca, they’re an organization and an army. We’re two jumped up peasants with some smarts.”
“And that organization and army is on another continent with plenty of troubles of its own. You think they sent twelve Knights here because they thought it was enough, or because that was all they could spare? I’m going to bet on the second.”
“And the townsfolk? Whose side will they be on? They’re afraid of the Knights, and have tried to turn us in multiple times.”
“So we start small. We help out a village, and begin slowly picking off Knights.”
Ellgis shook his head. “That won’t work. If we pick them off slowly, they can report. We’ll need to get them all in the same day.”
“Now you’re getting ambitious. I like that.” Fryca chuckled. “We’ll need time, tools, and quiet. I think we move north for a time, find a village beyond the range of this set of Knights. They won’t have heard of us, and if we’re smart, we can prepare.”
Her partner stared upwards for a moment, thoughts racing. “You know… if we do this right, we keep the Knights out, we might be able to found a technologist republic. The Knights are far enough away we can do it without information slipping out for a while.”
“You really are getting ambitious. Now we have work to do.” Fryca struggled to her feet, hand on Ellgis’ shoulder.
Together they walked into the hut, to heal and to plan.
The fifth installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Fryca slipped past the inn, stepping around peasants forced to sleep outside as she made her way to the stable. There, she looked for a Knight’s warhorse, for she would rather steal from them than a villager. Finding none, she saddled a draft horse and muffled its hooves.
There should have been guards at the town gate, but with the Knights in town, the few sentries slept in their homes. No bandit lord would risk the wrath of the Knights of the Broken Wheel for a few petty trinkets.
The horse protested mildly as it was lead away from town, more from being asked to work at night than any true tiredness. Scrub farms slipped past on either side, and soon Fryca was searching the edge of the swamp for the skiff she had tucked away.
Good, it was still there. Smiling, she lifted the heavy crate onto the pommel, then strapped it down tightly. She swivelled it about a few times, seeing that it moved smoothly, before stepping into the stirrups and onto the horse’s back.
Seated there, she slotted two crank handles into the case, one on either side, and let her knees guide the horse at a gentle amble back to town. Fryca chuckled and shook her head. Not her first rescue, and likely not the last. Ellgis was always getting himself in trouble.
The Knights guarding Ellgis looked up as the horse clopped into the square. One grabbed at the sword next to him, the other raising his lantern to see the rider’s face. Fryca waited a moment as they came towards her, shields at their sides. The tool in the crate worked better at close range.
She turned the crank handles, taking up tension on a spring inside the box. The motion set the Knights running, their armour slowing them just enough. A dull thud sounded as Fryca finished the rotation, and a bolt appeared in the chest of the closer Knight. He died with surprise on his face. The second Knight shouted, his lungs good and strong. He dodged and rolled, and the next two bolts missed. The third took him in the leg, the fourth the head.
Fryca jumped down from the horse, grabbed a dropped sword, and slashed at the bonds holding Ellgis to the stake. Pulling him into her arms, she tossed him over the saddle before climbing aboard herself. A quick cut sent the bolt-thrower tumbling away. A painful loss, but they needed speed more than anything else.
Shouts echoed through the town as Fryca kicked the horse into a gallop, holding onto Ellgis with one hand and the reins with another. The horse snorted and took off, thundering down the dirt street. Their only chance was a head start, for although this was a healthy horse, it would be no match in speed for the chargers of the Knights.
Urging the animal on, Fryca bent low over its neck as they raced from the city gates. The shouts behind them grew more frantic.
In the scrub farms, she looked back to see four Knights pounding after her. No armour on, for they had been roused quickly, but she no longer had a weapon, and to fight four without surprise would be a fool’s task.
There! The edge of the swamp! Fryca prodded the horse into a final dash. They should make it. Maybe.
Shoving Ellgis to the ground, she dove from the horse, dragging her stumbling partner to the skiff, kicking him into it as she pushed the boat off the shore. He lay in the bottom groaning as she jumped in, grabbing at the oars and pulling.
Thunk. A scream of pain had Ellgis writhing on the floor, and as Fryca bent to look, she felt a searing anguish in her thigh. An arrow wound was already staining her clothes red.
The archer stood on the bank, taking aim for a third shot. He let fly, but only hit the gunwale. Another strong pull and Fryca disappeared into the mists and tangled woods. Then she slumped over the oars.
The fourth installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Fryca knew she had a few days before the trial. Well, farce. The Knights would accuse Ellgis of trying to create another cataclysm, and nobody would say a thing. They’d all be too scared of the Knights.
Chuckling to herself, she lifted a heavy crate into the skiff. She’d need a horse to use what was in that box, but she and Ellgis had been stealing the goods they needed for a long time. With luck, she’d sneak a Knight’s warhorse from the stable.
The skiff bumped gently into the harder ground that marked the edge of the bog, and Fryca hopped out, dressed in peasant rags and carrying a sickle she’d taken from the dead villagers. Soon she fell in with the thin stream of peasants heading down the single track of mud that led to the small town that squatted on the outskirts of the swamp.
The lands hereabouts were poor, blessed with little more than scrub farming. Once it had been a lush forest and bounteous plains, but the forest had slipped under the waters and become the salty swamp, while the rich topsoil had faded into a thin dust, stolen away on the winds. From the tales told, this land had been spared the worst of the plague, only to see famine wipe away all but a few of the populace.
The terrain had never recovered, which was why the technologists had chosen it as a place to work. Here, they had thought themselves safe from the prying eyes of the Knights, but in every community a peasant had become frightened of the new villagers and their experiments, and told the nearest protectorate.
She shook her head. Bastards couldn’t see that if Ellgis and she were left alone, they’d create tools that helped people. As it was, much of the time they spent constructing elaborate traps and defences around their homes. And portable devices, like that crate she’d hidden in the skiff.
Fryca was passed through the small gate in the town wall with nary a glance from the Knight at the entrance. He took in her simple attire and farm tools and waved her on by, his attention clearly elsewhere. She pushed her way through the jumbled mass of humanity to the little patch of trampled dirt that called itself the town square.
Ellgis was there, guarded by two Knights in gleaming armour, the Broken Wheel symbol stamped prominently on their shields and helmets. He looked much the worse for wear, staked to the ground, and it was clear the Knights had beaten him, although whether for interrogation or their own amusement she did not know.
A meander about the town showed her three other Knights, making a total of six. Usually, the inquisitors came by twelve, which meant the other six were either rounding up people from the outlying villages, or still hunting for her through the swamp.
As she’d expected, the Knights had stabled their horses at the one inn, and taken it over completely. The thieves probably weren’t even paying the owner. They usually didn’t, self-righteous ingrates.
With the town scouted, Fryca settled down to wait, tucking herself in a dim corner near the inn. Soon, others began to settle down as well, and the town grew silent as twilight cast a blanket upon the populace. When the stars spoke of midnight, she would begin.
Splintered Lands Volume One is here! Telling the story of Ellgis and Fryca, a pair of technologists designing machinery to help their fellow men, and Baron Inswán, a noble trying to make his land a paradise in a shattered world, Splintered Lands Volume One opens a new world of post-apocalyptic fantasy.
Instead of being allowed to bring relief to those in need, Ellgis and Fryca are attacked by the Knights of the Broken Wheel, a far-reaching organization born in reaction to devastation caused by magic. Seeing any attempt by man to use forces beyond their own limbs as an assault on the sanctity of life, the Knights have dedicated themselves to purging magic and technology from the world.
Baron Inswán has a more prosaic problem – his nearest neighbour wants his barony. Unfortunately, his nearest neighbour is both bigger and stronger than Inswán is. And so he is forced to use every ounce of his skill and fighting ability to defend his lands. But whether he succeeds or fails, he at all costs will save his people.
Kobo and other platforms will arrive shortly.
The third installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
The skiff bumped land, and Ellgis crept from it to peer through the tangled brush. Little stood of the hamlet now, with stumps showing where the huts had once perched. The stench of the swamp clawed at his nostrils, but underneath it he caught decay. Some of the inhabitants had not fled the Knights in time.
A tap on his arm spun him round, but it was only Fryca, come to see what had happened. They watched as birds fluttered across the village, and vermin crawled forth from the wreckage with strange prizes in their teeth.
Satisfied the ruins were empty, the inventors clambered from their hiding place. A short stroll brought them to the door of their hut, which stood erect and undamaged, tucked away in a dell some distance from the ruined homes.
Ellgis glanced about, and waved Fryca back. She snorted, and strode into the building only to come out fuming moments later. “They took everything! Everything!”
“They took it? They didn’t burn it this time?”
She gestured irritably at the doorway, and Ellgis stepped inside. The hut was empty, cleaned of anything remotely mechanical. Only the beds remained, those and the small table and chair at which both had worked for hours upon hours.
Ellgis slumped to the ground. “I had hoped…” His head sunk into his hands.
“We knew the Knights would destroy what we built. At least we have our notes, and plenty of supplies.”
“Supplies? Bah! Nothing ever works right in this swamp. The wood’s too wet, it won’t burn, it’s weak, cords rot and fail, and we can barely perform a third of the experiments we can think up. We should be in another kingdom.”
“You mean one where we can’t hide from the Wheelies? Where we end up hanging? No thanks Ellgis, I’ll take the swamp.”
“Go!” Fryca ran for the door, tumbling at the last moment as a mace swung through the air. She rolled to her feet and sprinted toward the skiff. A glance back showed Ellgis on the ground, bleeding slowly. He hadn’t ducked the weapon.
Knights pounded after her, but in their armour they were nowhere near as fleet of foot as she, and she pushed the skiff into the swamp with several feet to spare. A spear sailed past and ploughed into the front of the boat, but she was away, pulling strongly at the oars.
Fryca’s last image of Ellgis was of him bound over a horse, being led away by the Knights of the Broken Wheel. She’d have to see if she could rescue him, the poor fool.
You may have seen me mention that I have a few upcoming releases. Well, the first of them is almost here, and this is the cover art.
Splintered Lands Volume One will have three interconnected short stories set in the Splintered Lands universe. Coming in at 21,000 words long, each story showcases both the tragedy and the hope that comes of living in a devastated land.
Click on the image for a larger look at it.
The second installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
Ellgis cursed long and loud as the bucket of stones was hoisted into the air, his back bent into a curve from the strain. Fryca watched anxiously, slowly paying out a guide rope that kept the counterweight hidden from the path.
The hourglass sitting on a rock nearby had almost run dry by the time they finally got the weight into position. Pinning it with a release catch, they fled. If the ropes broke or the traps didn’t catch the Knights of the Broken Wheel, so be it.
At their home outside the village, Ellgis stuffed books and scraps of paper into a bag. Experiments he could rebuild if he had his notes, but without the notes? All his work was lost. Fryca grabbed food and tools. As they exited their house, a massive thump echoed through the swamp, followed by shouts and curses.
Maybe the trap had caught the Knights, maybe not. The two experimenters ran anyway, rowing a small skiff deep into the bog, following a twisting path they had marked out when they first came to the village. It was different now, for the swamp changed like a living thing, but they had left signs amongst the old trees, and enough remained that they were able to find their way to a mound rising out of the murky water.
On top was a simple hut, one room, nothing more, but it had enough supplies within that they could stay for a time. The waters about the camp had fruitful fishing, proven during one of their past sojourns. This was not the first village they had been forced to flee from, nor would it be the last. The Knights of the Broken Wheel were persistent in hunting down those accused of heresy, accused of bringing back the old ways that had shattered the world and brought down a plague upon the living.
No matter that sorcery had been responsible, and not knowledge. The Knights discriminated not at all between magic and technology, and so Ellgis and Fryca moved from hamlet to hamlet, staying only long enough to be spotted by some Wheelie sympathizer and forced to flee.
That had happened once again, and if any of the Knights had survived, the village would be put to the torch. Or more likely hacked apart with axes, for nothing burned well in the swamp.
The two technologists waited a week in their refuge, and only after the glass had turned over for the eighth day did they venture back towards the village and their traps.
The first installment in a new short story, one of three from the upcoming Splintered Lands: Volume One.
With a twang, the rope snapped, and Fryca cursed. “The bloody thing broke again.”
Ellgis patted her on the shoulder. “We’ll have it mended soon enough.”
“We’ve got Knights of the Broken Wheel breathing down our necks. We don’t have time for soon enough.”
“We’ll flee again if we have to.”
“I don’t want to flee again. I want this buggered contraption to kill them all.”
Ellgis glanced over the path, where dead logs, hidden trips, and pressured stones covered the ground. If the devices worked, they were supposed to fire spears, swing logs across the causeway, and drop mud on those knocked into the water. He was sure the Knights of the Broken Wheel had never seen anything like it. And the Knights still wouldn’t if he and Fryca didn’t get the counterweight working. The technologists had attached it three times, but each time the ropes had failed.
They’d used stronger weaves and more of them, but still the massive basket of stones tore away. If this contraption didn’t work, the technologists would have to flee deeper into the swamp. Which meant losing all of their inventions.
To Ellgis, the machines were more important than the village where they lived. People could be replaced. Years of experiments could not. Fryca felt the same way, and so the two of them were here, trying to fix that blasted basket. If they saved the villagers as a result, well and good.
The technologists fumbled in the darkness for some time, resulting in failure after failure, until Fryca threw her lantern into the swamp and stormed off. Ellgis retrieved it before following.
The next morning they found the basket of stones had sunk into the bog. By the time they were ready to lift it into the air again, the Knights of the Broken Wheel had arrived at the edge of the swamp.
Yes, we all know how that particular saying ends. And like almost every time it is employed, it’s true. I am not dead, and I have certainly not given up on writing. I just appear to have given up on blog posting for some time, although I can say the holidays and then a long ski trip had something to do with the matter. However, I am now back in the lab, and have a series of projects coming out over the next several months.
Chloddio: The second book of The Four Part Land arrives in April, and follows the exploits of the ex-safety engineer Chloddio as he joins the army, and then finds himself embroiled in subterfuge, revolution, and hidden societies. Around him swirl a cast of characters and soldiers based out of the city of Tri-Hauwcerton, together marking the beginning of the second trilogy set in The Four Part Land. And for those of you wondering what happened to Tarranau, don’t worry, he’ll return in Læccan Waters.
Wolven Kindred: A standalone ebook, Wolven Kindred follows Nietan, a human skirmisher and mercenary, and Ær, his bonded wolven companion, as they seek to rescue their failing mercenary group. Holy berserkers, undead priests, and howling barbarians become unlikely allies and implacable enemies as the Wolven Kindred engage in a desperate hunt for coin, and for their long forgotten honour. Wolven Kindred will appear in March.
Splintered Lands: Volume One: Yes, the first book of the long overdue Splintered Lands series will appear shortly, containing a trio of short stories entitled Into the Swamp, Kingdoms in Conflict, and A Baron’s Return. Together, they detail the arc of the southwestern lands, and the great swamp that dominates that tip of the continent. Lands rise and fall, struggling against the ever-present devastation of the Breaking. And yet somehow, there is hope, if distant and faded. Look for this ebook in April.
Ancient New: An anthology I am the editor of, Ancient New is a Deepwood Publishing book exploring the world of alternate history, of a Victorian Internet and an Aztec empire beyond the stars. Comprised of fifteen short stories written by rising stars from the fantasy and science fiction universe, it will capture the strange beauty of future technology, and the lost nobility of the past, and sweep them together into a tremendous mixture that delights and endears. Ancient New will appear at the end of March.
And if you’re curious what else is on my plate and underway, well, there is Læccan Waters, which sees the return of Tarranau as he heads north over the mountains beyond Tri-Hauwcerton, Splintered Lands: Volume Two, following the exploits of terrible thieves and long forgotten wizards, and an unannounced short project.
Finally, later this week, you should expect to see excerpts from the various stories start to appear, little teasers to whet the appetite before the tales go online.