Welcome to the Monday Morsel feature, where I share short extracts from the first draft of my adult epic fantasy/fantasy romance, In the Company of the Dead.
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Standing from the last of the sick, she jerked her head, and retreated to the bench where Leinahre had set up her apothecary’s tools. Lyram joined her, leaning against the wall with his arms folded as if he could drive the chill of self-loathing from his body.
‘This is right,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing else to do.’
‘Sometimes what’s right, and what must be done, are not the same thing.’
Her hand rested on the bench next to her hip. Lyram looked at it for a long moment, listening to the rasping breath of the dying slow and rattle in their throats. Unable to endure, he took her hand in his. Her gaze flicked to meet his, and she squeezed his hand. Tears pricked his eyes, and he blinked before they could fall.
‘How do you bear it without crying?’ he whispered.
‘Because otherwise I would never stop.’
They stood there, hands clasped, as the infected slipped into a deep sleep. Lyram studied their faces, relaxed now as the hemlock took its course, and tried to memorise their features. Badden, with his broad face and squashed nose. The two serving women, one old enough to be a grandmother, the other middle-aged. Two soldiers of the castellan.
Eventually they slipped from sleep into unconsciousness. From within her robe, Ellaeva produced a needle-pointed poniard. She went about the gruesome work with quick efficiency, rolling each man or woman to slide the blade into the soft spot at the back of the neck where it joined the skull.
‘Can’t you just…’ Lyram waved his hands, trying without words to indicate the man she had killed with a touch.
‘No. It is something I may only call upon in defence of my own life, and then it is at Ahura’s discretion to grant it.’ Her jaw tightened as she laid the last of the lifeless heads on the ground. ‘At least two of the five Battle Priestesses preceding me died because the touch failed them – whether because they abused the privilege or because Ahura was done with their service and called them home.’
Two out of five. She must wonder if she was destined to bring it to an even one out of two. ‘Poor reward for faithful service.’
‘Such is the life of a Battle Priestess.’ She thrust the poniard back inside her robes.
She was good at keeping her thoughts and feelings from her face, but he was getting better at reading her anyway. These deaths weighed on her, despite her attempt at matter-of-factness. How many other lives burdened her shoulders? What other truths of the life of a Battle Priestess preyed on her in the smallest hours of the long nights? Words failed him, and in desperation he reached out and her caught her hand again.
She met his eyes for a brief moment. Hers were as dark as night, like Alharne’s had been, but bitter with a depth of pain that left him weak at the knees. How could one woman – one girl – carry such weight? She squeezed his hand in acknowledgement, and they stood there, hands entwined, contemplating the remainder of the gruesome task ahead. For this little time, at least, the burden need not be hers alone.
A sharp rap on the barred door broke the moment, and Ellaeva pulled her hand away.
‘What is it?’ Lyram called.
‘Sir.’ The thick wood muffled Everard’s voice. ‘There’s an emissary, sir. From the enemy camp.’
Thanks for dropping by! Don’t forget, this is a first draft, and as such won’t be perfect. If you like what you read, and are so inclined, show your support by leaving a comment. I am currently 65% of the way through the first draft of In the Company of the Dead. If you’d like to sample more of my writing, check out my novella, Confronting the Demon, or the free fiction I am posting during the A to Z Challenge, starting with Burning: Dragon Bait (Part 1).
If this is your first visit to Monday Morsels, find others in the series by clicking on the ‘Monday morsel’ tag, or go to the first installment.
More about In the Company of the Dead:
Lyram already crossed a prince, and now he finds himself on the brink of crossing a god.
Son of a duke and second in line for the throne, Lyram is exiled to a lonely castle after assaulting the crown prince. When a hostile army arrives to besiege the castle, he believes the prince wants him removed – permanently.
As though answering their prayers, Ellaeva, the Battle Priestess of the death goddess, arrives unexpectedly. But she has not come to break the siege. Instead, she is in pursuit of a necromancer of the evil god of decay. When misfortune after misfortune befalls the beleaguered defenders, Lyram realises the necromancer is hidden within the walls, sabotaging the very defence.
Against the backdrop of clashing gods, Lyram must fight to save himself from the political machinations of his prince, and the dread plans of a necromancer. But as the siege lengthens, he realises the greatest threat may come from another quarter — a woman sworn body and soul to a god tempts him to pay a terrible price.