To mark Hadley Rille Books’ tenth anniversary the e-book of After the Ruin, and many other HRB titles, is on sale for the next ten days.
There’s a ‘look inside’ feature on Amazon to read the beginning of After the Ruin so here’s a snippet from much later in the book to whet your appetite:
As he had done before Eulana, the nightwatch slept the light away, all through the morning and far past noontime, to wake only when the sunlight, slanting from the west, slipped beneath the sealskin awning and shone full onto his face. But now, when he woke, he sat always in his brother’s place, though he no longer wore his brother’s cloak and no longer honed his knives. They were sharp as could be; blades bitter with regret, sharp as sorrow, edged with ill intent. Come the evenings, in the hours before his duty, he would call out for a game of fox and geese. Ruthless with fox, baffling with geese, he played with all his skill and none of his jesting; played any who would take him, aye, and beat them too, nine times out of the ten – the boatswain and the quartermaster, a clansman with a broken sword-arm, the boy if he could find no other – his black eyes glittering within his pale, cold face, pocketing their tally-sticks and promises to be redeemed upon the shore.
The fifth night, the piper took the challenge; sitting down to play, he shook his head at Ardùvai’s offered stake. “I’m but a beggar, lad. I’ve neither gold from the mountains nor ivory out of the northern seas.”
The nightwatch’s mouth stretched itself into a wide grin. “I’ll play for love of playing with my friends, Kenu Vanithu. You were not among them last time I made count. My stake is there – set down one to match it or else give way to one who can.”
The dwarf’s smile was no more mirthful than the man’s as he laid his pipe beside the board. “Is this playing high enough to tempt you? I’ll set my livelihood against your promise.”
“That you will answer when I ask, and do what I require.”
“What would you have me do?”
“If I told you that where be the gamble? So will you play?”
Ardùvai’s eyes were chips of jet, glinting beneath black brows. “Aye, I’ll play – but you must take me fox and geese to win this wager. Less than that and I’ll have four fingers from your right hand to mar your livelihood forever.” He set a knife beside the pipe and sat back, lounging against his brother’s gear. His smile was thin and wolfish. “You have the geese.”
The piper stretched out his hand, turning it this way and that before his face. A fair hand it was for one so twisted, fine-fingered and graceful, with neither line nor scar to mark its age. A moment’s pause, then, with a shrug, he reached down and moved the first goose.
Ardùvai’s fox was lithe and nimble, snapping at the edges of the flock as the geese waddled across the board. One goose was down, and another, and another, but it was the piper’s face filled with mocking laughter as he moved another into the fox’s path.
“You know that you must take it,” he said, against the nightwatch’s hesitation.
“And when I do you close the trap.” Ardùvai made the move, then swept the pieces from the board. “It seems you’ll have fingers left enough to play the second of the pair.”
Then Ardùvai set up the board and they played again. A long, defensive game this one, the geese clustering tight to give no entry to the fox, pushing it towards the edges and the margin. And yet, and yet, slowly, slowly, the fox crept round, nipping and nibbling at the flock, sliding, slippery as any fish, through the traps sent to catch it, until at last it slunk behind the line to wreak carnage at its leisure.
“It seems,” the dwarf said, smiling, “I’ll keep my fingers to play another day. Your promise binds you, Ardùvai.”