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Saturday, 29 August 2015

Saturday fiction – ‘Thunderstorm’ – an excerpt

Today, here’s an excerpt from ‘Chapter Eleven – Trial’, from Wings of the Overlord, book one of the Chronicles of Floreskand, a fantasy quest novel co-authored with Gordon Faulkner, both of us writing under the name Morton Faulkner. There’s a small glossary at the end for unfamiliar words appropriate to Floreskand. [Book two is a work in progress, To Be King.] The character descriptions have occurred earlier...

This scene attempts to incorporate weather (not for the first time in this quest, I might add), thus providing action and drama. Weather can often be used as a ‘character’ in a novel; certainly, it provides added conflict, and helps define other people:

A great bank of silvery cloud mass loomed, casting a shadow upon the grassland ahead.
       “Looks like a thunderstorm,” observed Rakcra.
       “It seems to be moving in our direction.”
       Sun shone brilliantly everywhere except where they were going. Darkness spanned the horizon; there was no way round it. The sight alone cast an indefinable fear into Fhord’s heart. Knowing that she was being premature and foolish, she nevertheless delved into her side-pouch and withdrew the storm-idols, and prayers traipsed over her lips. In the past, from the safety of her shuttered windows, she had peered through the wooden slats at the startling flashes of forked lightning, hurled down by the jealous Nikkonslor. But she had never actually weathered such a storm in the open. Yes, she realised, she was afraid. Greatly so.
       Rakcra reined in his whinnying horse. “Stay as outrider, Fhord, while I seek Solendoral and find out what he plans to do.” He squinted to manderon. “There’s no shelter anywhere – we may have to ride on through it, hoping for the best.” He swung his mount round and galloped down the crest into a small vale where the main body of the Hansenand montar rode, oblivious of the encroaching anvil-clouds.
       Musty, dry breezes gusted through Sarolee’s mane. An unhealthy taste filled the air, oppressive. Her palfrey baulked a couple of times but Fhord kept her cantering up and across the sloping bracken. Occasionally, she glanced back over her shoulder, anxious for word from Rakcra or Solendoral.
       At last a rider and horse hurried towards her, the man’s fur cloak billowing in the warm breeze. Fhord was almost wheezing on the close air now as she saw it was Alomar.
       “We’re to quicken the pace, lass. Solendoral says these summer hail storms can be deadly. If we stop moving, we’re lost!”
       Not for the first time on this expedition, her heart sank. “Hail? In summer?”
       “Freak weather hereabouts. Some say this is Nikkonslor’s peeving-ground. But I reckon it’s something to do with the weird cluster of mountains – the Sonalumes don’t seem to obey the natural laws as our so-called experts predict them. Give me a tried and tested stioner any time!”
       Fhord led her horse down the slope, joining the van with Alomar. “Did Ulran –?”
       “Yes – predicted it last night, he did – hence his advice this morn to carry fur cloaks. But what else can we do? There was no shelter at camp, and we’ve come across none since, either. Some of these slopes may shield part of the effects – if the hail falls slantwise. But if it comes down straight, then what?” Alomar grinned, his moustache long and unruly now.
       Fhord nodded and released her fur cloak, put it over her shoulders.
       “Close up!” came the shout from behind.
       Neither Fhord nor Alomar lessened their pace but after a time the rest of the montar, complete with trundling fire- and equipment-wagons, closed up to their rear.
       “Keep together!” shouted Solendoral as the horde began to ascend the shallow ridge directly in their path.
       Ahead, flat unrelieved ground of hedge and thicket with grass interspersed. Hardly a tree in sight, not a boulder cluster to be seen.
       “Keep it tight!”
       And so they rode full into the fury of the storm.
       The prospect was daunting as Fhord – still one of the front riders – entered into the deep shadow. The surrounding air-temperature abruptly dropped. The sun’s light and warmth were suddenly obliterated. She looked warily upwards and all was black, a great rolling mass of cloud, seething slowly on hidden winds.
       Then the torrential hail fell. Alomar’s words had readied her for it, but no preparation could have shown her what it would be like to experience.
       Each hailstone must have been the size of an eyeball. As Alomar had feared, the hail sluiced straight down, pounding upon their heads and shoulders and the backs of their necks. Horses whinnied continually and the great pounding persisted, reverberating through their bony frames, almost tearing the clothes from their backs.
       At least Ulran’s stionery had forewarned them. Upon entering the black shadow they all donned heavy protective cloaks and, if no helmets were to hand, hoods.
       The canvas roofs of the wagons boomed like massive drums, echoing thunder rolls from afar. The fire-wagon hissed and steamed and black smoke billowed around it.
       Bruised and slightly stunned by the storm’s vehemence, Fhord shoved a young Devastator by her side: “Use your shield over your head!” she shouted, pointing to others who had already done so. The rataplan of hail on wood and steel and canvas heightened. Some hide shields were rent with the hail’s force, but others held.
       Head down, Fhord rode on without a shield, riding unseeingly, her mind numb and unable to See ahead. Vision was impaired to fractions of marks as the hail fell in thick sheets.
       Many times Sarolee was jolted as another rider blindly led his horse off course. As for navigation, it was no real problem. The Hansenand, like all other hordes of the Kellan-Mesqa, had instinctive directional sense and would continue manderon.
       A shriek, from a woman just in front, momentarily halted Fhord. She realised that if she tarried, someone would collide with her from behind. But she couldn’t leave the woman to be trodden underfoot or perhaps drown.
       Bruised and weak from the constant pummelling, she gasped for air as the hail broke into water and drenched her to the skin. She gripped the reins tighter and peered through slitted eyes, bracing herself against the storm’s terrible oppressive fist.
       As she concentrated, she found she could perceive that little bit further through the slashing sheet of hail.
       Ahead, on a hard piece of ground – a small island midst the mud – where the hailstones bounced off with staccato sounds, she detected a slight movement, the patch of red – possibly a dress.
       With almost manic force, Fhord tore at the reins, brought Sarolee round slightly and headed the short distance to the patch of red.
       Now the shape was distinct. But there was no movement. It was a girl-child, lying prone. All about her were puddles, splashing. By the– she held back, biting on an imprecation. The child was probably dead already, drowned if not crushed under the horse-hoofs.
       She reined in beside the still, pathetic figure, peered behind and could picture nobody about to collide. But she would have to be quick.
       Against her better judgement, she dismounted and, whilst restraining Sarolee with one hand, she reached down and grabbed at the belt of the girl’s dress.
       Sarolee chose that moment to buck as a stark tongue of lightning flashed overhead, ephemerally illuminating the scene.
       Puddles of mud glared whitely and a deep gash of red appeared on the girl’s temple as Fhord pulled her over. Mud covered her eyes, nose and mouth, but she noticed the child’s small pigeon-chest rose irregularly.
       Again, Sarolee whinnied and heaved against her rein, jerking Fhord. The cloth belt of the dress snapped and for a brief moment she feared she had lost sight of the girl and would never find her again, her efforts wasted. And time was mounting against them. Above the roar of the storm she could hear the trundle of wagons, getting close.
       “Steady, girl,” said a calming voice and Fhord swung round.
       Ulran, astride Versayr, was stroking Sarolee. “Quickly, Fhord, while I calm your horse!”
       Amazed that the innman’s voice could carry above the storm’s din, Fhord needed no urging. She immediately loped across the squelching mess to the girl.
       Her chest still heaved.
       Fhord thrust an arm under the girl’s back and legs. Stooping under the weight, she wheeled round, only in time to avoid the heavy hoofs of wagon horses and their groaning load.
       Fhord stumbled as the fire-wagon passed no more than a hand-span away, hissing and belching smoke and steam like some infernal monster from Below.
       She reached Sarolee a little breathless, but nowhere nearly as exhausted as she’d have thought. Her knees trembled, felt weak.
       “Throw her over your pommel!”
       Fhord hesitated, anxious not to be too rough.
       “Quick, Fhord – no time for niceties, the other wagons will be here any–”
       The groaning and creaking were close enough to hear even above the storm’s noise. With an almighty heave Fhord slung the girl over her pommel and leapt into the saddle after her.
       Ulran threw her the reins and together they galloped forward, just in front of a pair of wagons.
       The wagon-loads were becoming heavier and heavier as leakage poured into them. Inside, the women were bailing frantically to lighten the burden for the already beaten and exhausted horses, but everything was so sodden and weighty they must have felt they were fighting a losing battle. And all knew that to stop now in this quagmire would be fatal.
       “Keep moving!” barked Solendoral, his port-wine birthmark livid in a ghostly flash of lightning. His brow furrowed. That lightning had exposed a couple of men on foot to his right, off the track of gouged mud and puddles. He brought his horse round and was at that moment joined by Alomar.
       “Trouble?” queried the warrior.
       “Join me!” Solendoral shouted.
       Thunder cracked, hail bounced off the ground, wagons creaked and horses and people shrieked and called.
       They were almost upon the two before they knew it.
       It was an argument, two Devastators fighting with bloodied fists, no horses in sight.
       Solendoral recognised them immediately. “Rakcra! Etor!”
       Their leader’s voice penetrated even above the din. Both simultaneously broke their hold and backed off. Defiance shone in their eyes, but there too was respect for Solendoral.
       “You’ve lost your horses, I see!” barked Solendoral. As Rakcra made to speak, he added, “No, not now! You, Etor, up behind Courdour Alomar – quickly, man! Rakcra, here–” And he offered his arm and the youth leapt up behind his leader. “Later, we will hear both sides. But not now!” And both doubly laden horses rode on with the now retreating rearguard of Hansenand.
       The storm seemed to go on for all eternity then finally a glimpse of light could be seen ahead, dreamlike in its quality. Yellow-white, completely framed by darkness, it was like viewing the Sonalume Mountains through gauze.
       Wisps of steam rose and meandered. Fhord heard the song of a bird. Prisms of light dazzlingly refracted on drops of moisture in the air. Bright green grass beckoned, still, soft. Thick beams of godly light slanted through the last shreds of black-grey clouds at the rear of the ranmeron-marching anvil-heads.
       “We’re through!”
       Such was the cry of relief as each member of the party passed into the sunlight again.
       As Fhord emerged, with the girl moaning half-consciously, she looked back upon an uncanny sight.
       It looked as though the Hansenand were riding out of some hideous black tunnel. The sky ranmeronwards as far as she could see was the same silvery mass she’d discerned earlier, yet close by the black feathered into brown-grey and grey and thinned into circling moving wisps, forming a mysterious tunnel. The steam and gasses from the sodden ground swathed about the horses’ fetlocks, creating the impression that they rode on the air itself. They appeared like an avenging army of the gods, returning after some victory over the Black.

- Wings of the Overlord by Morton Faulkner, pp141-146

Nikkonslor – great lord of night
Montar – part of a horde, a group of Devastators
Hansenand – a tribe of the Kellan-Mesqa, Devastators
Sonalumes – mountain range
Stionery – weather lore
Innman – inn keeper, Ulran being the most famous
Manderon – our north
Ranmeron – our south
Wings of the Overlord – hardback from Knox Robinson

A review: ‘… so descriptive you feel part of the story. A fantasy adventure that draws you into the quest…’
Amazon UK here

Amazon Com here

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