How the Axe Falls – Chapter 8

Talon threw his hands up to his face and made a sudden intake of breath at the flash of white that almost blinded him.

Once certain his eyes had adjusted from the darkness of the hold, Talon slowly lowered his arms and took in his new surroundings.

Some of the ship’s crew danced about the length of the deck securing ropes and scrambling up the masts like spiders.

The three lateen sails whipping gently overhead in the breeze could only just be heard over the clamour and foot stamping of the crowd gathered under the quarterdeck.

The craggy-faced Captain leant over the quarterdeck, picking at his teeth with a dagger. His black trench coat hung over the railing, red lapels jiggling. A musty, yellowing vest, which may have been white at one time, exposed the curled silvery hair of his chest. His other hand held onto the thick leather belt at his waist housing the mean curve of the cutlass that had been held to Talon’s throat not long ago.

‘What’s going on?’ Talon asked the girl.

‘A bit of sea sport,’ she replied.

Some of the crew turned angrily when they pushed through but quickly recoiled when they saw the green-eyed girl accompanying Talon.

‘Just in time, Cleo,’ a stocky lad with hoops through his earlobes greeted her. ‘Razor’s ‘bout to take on Kurt.’

Talon froze. Cleo? Was that even a dream he’d had?

‘Is he now? Good for him.’

In the middle of the baying crowd, a rather burly man paced around the blood-stained deck, flexing his monstrous arms back and forth.

His opposing number, a boy only a few years older than Talon, sat on his haunches chewing his lower lip. It hardly looked like a fair fight.

Cleo laughed softly when she caught Talon’s frown. ‘Size isn’t always everything, farmboy.’

In a bare-knuckle fight, it is, Talon disagreed.

‘Are you ready yet, you great lump of lard?’ the boy called. ‘I’m getting bored!’

‘It’s Razor!’ the big man roared.

‘I thought razors were meant to be dead thin, pork chop,’ the boy thumbed his lips thoughtfully.

‘RAZORRRRRR!’ the burly man screamed his name as he charged at the boy. Talon swore he could feel the whole ship tremble.

What happened next surprised everyone.

The boy, Kurt he assumed, stamped his foot forward on the deck, dislodging a plank, which the burly man then proceeded to take a nasty tumble over.

The moment Razor’s shoulder hit the floor, Kurt launched his foot against the man’s jaw with a resounding CRACK! Razor stayed down after that.

The crowd went awfully quiet.

‘You’ve got a loose floorboard there Cap’n,’ Kurt pointed down at the deck.

A slick cackle, like bones rattling in a glass jar, speared through the silence. The Captain slapped the wooden railing of the quarterdeck approvingly, the crowd following his lead with hesitant, at first, applause before quickly finding their feet.

‘You owe me a damn floorboard, boy!’ the Captain shook his fist at Kurt.

‘Sorry cap’n,’ the boy a splayed hand to his head and grinned mischeviously, ‘I’ll get it done cap’n.’

The Captain waved him off with a chuckle then his eyes found Cleo and Talon beside her.

‘Back among the living then, little fish?’ the Captain said.

Talon stepped forward and bored his eyes right into the Captain’s blue. He wasn’t quite sure what compelled his next few words, perhaps a certain green-eyed girl standing behind him. Or maybe he just needed a little taste of blood to keep him going till they reached Clovaine.

‘I wanna fight,’ Talon told the Captain. A few of the crewmen sniggered around him. He ignored them all.

‘Farmboy, you’re still injured,’ Cleo whispered behind him.

‘I’ll be fine,’ he hissed back petulantly.

‘So, the little fish wants to swim with the sharks, aye?’

Not just any shark, Captain.

‘Where’s Little Jimmy?’ the Captain barked at his crew.

Talon shook his head, ‘not a fist-fight.’

‘Eh?’

‘I said–’

‘–I heard what you said, lad,’ the Captain waved a hand. ‘So, you fancy a taste of iron then?’ the man’s blue eyes seemed to sparkle at the prospect.

God, yes, he did.

‘Talon!’ Cleo said warningly.

It felt bad to ignore her.

‘Which of these lazy louts do you fancy the look of?’ the Captain spread his hands over the railing.

‘None of them,’ Talon grinned.

The crewmen scratched their heads at that.

‘None of them?’ the Captain echoed. ‘Who you fighting then?’

‘Ye’,’ Talon pointed at the Captain.

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

The Crew turned to their Captain expectantly.

‘Aye! Do you now, lad?’ the Captain scratched at his ginger-grey beard.

The crew snapped their heads back to Talon.

‘What? Afraid to come down?’ Talon held up his arms in an open challenge.

The crew guffawed and stamped their feet against the deck.

‘If you do be set on it,’ the Captain shrugged nonchalantly. ‘Name your terms.’

‘My terms?’ Talon scrunched up his brow.

‘A forfeit, little fish. You tell me what you what. I tell you what I want.’

Talon bent his head in thought.

What did he want? A little blood would do for now but he hadn’t considered anything more.

The glint of the Captain’s rings under the sunlight caught his eye, a silver one in particular with a fat gem, as green as Cleo’s eyes.

‘How about yer’ ring,’ Talon suggested, ‘the green one.’

‘Hear that lads? The little fish do have an eye for treasure!’ the Captain chuckled, as he made his way down the stairs to his right.

‘Ye’ accept?’ Talon asked him, doing his best not to gulp when the Captain stood before him. The man looked awfully tall compared to his crew and practically shadowed Talon with his sheer height.

‘Aye!’ the Captain’s gold tooth sparkled underneath his raised lips. ‘But what forfeit for you, little fish?’

‘Get ‘im to clean the bog!’ one of the crewmen shouted, earning uproarious laughter.

The Captain held up a hand to quiet them, then pointed at the dislodged floorboard between him and Talon.

‘You’ll fix that, lad,’ he said. The bearded bastard sounded awfully confident.

‘Fine,’ Talon agreed.

The crowd parted as the Captain strode past Talon towards the middle of the ship. He snatched a cutlass from one of the crewmen’s rope belts and tossed it along the floor.

‘Shall we say… till first blood?’

Talon picked up the cutlass, it felt awfully heavier than it looked, and nodded his agreement. He could imagine Cleo shaking her head behind him.

The crew gathered around the combatants, affording them a wide berth, at least as wide as the ship’s narrow deck would allow them.

The Captain held his sword lazily against his pinstriped, flaxen coloured breeches, as they circled each other. Talon sounded like an Ox barrelling through a field compared to the Captain’s light, padded footsteps.

Then suddenly the bearded man was on him swiping his cutlass towards Talon.

His brows rose in surprise when Talon brushed the blow back.

Talon jumped forward, poking his cutlass forward, the Captain just managing to block the direct hit to his stomach.

He darted forward again and the Captain was forced to retreat to the sea.

The man always managed to wriggle his way out however, either with brute force or trickery of foot.

He quickly recovered composure and began to pin Talon back against the railings. His eyes lit up when he noticed the boy had lost his footing and he let the cutlass fall against Talon’s with a fierce two-handed strike that sent shockwaves spasming through his body.

Their blades held against each other at first, then the Captain began to push Talon’s blade back, using his own weight to force the boy to his knees.

‘Give up, little fish, before you do hurt yourself.’

Looking up at that Captain almost made him want to. The blue of his eyes seemed to harbour deep wells that carried the depth of the deepest ocean. What demons did he keep hidden in those murky depths?

As soon as Talon’s right knee hit the deck he took another gamble. He released one of his hands from the cutlass, withdrew the hiding knife from his boot and made an arc across the exposed flesh of the Captain’s chest.

The Captain managed to catch Talon’s wrist just before the blade could do him any harm.

Bugger.

‘So, little fish, you be a cheat, do you?’ his breath was an unpleasant concoction of fish and wine that made Talon want to gag.

Talon grunted under the effort of trying to move the knife closer to its intended target but the Captain’s grip was iron.

‘I like you, lad but I do be afraid you play a game I’ve known for years.’

The Captain pressed his thumb hard into Talon’s wrist, sending shooting pains up the boy’s arm, forcing him to drop the knife. He released Talon then, leaving him to nurse his wrist.

The Captain stayed for a moment as he struggled to stand, giving him an appraising look.

‘You do got some guts, little fish,’ the Captain told him. ‘Mind no one tries to strangle you with them while you do waggle them about.’

With that strange warning, the grey-haired man turned on his bootheels.

Growling through gritted teeth, Talon pushed himself onto one leg but couldn’t quite get up the other.

‘Where ye’… where ye’ going?’ Talon shouted at the Captain’s back.

‘Fight do be over, little fish,’ the Captain replied simply. ‘I want that floorboard fixed tomorrow.’

‘Ye’ said till first blood!’

‘Aye, lad! And your stitches do be broken.’

Talon didn’t want to look down. Tentatively, he touched a palm to his bandages. They felt wet.

‘Wait…’

Talon made an attempt to lift his second leg, lost his balance, and slipped to the deck, thankfully not on his wounded, and now profusely bleeding, side.

‘Wait…’ he pleaded with the shadows closing in on all sides. Talon held them at bay for only a moment before succumbing to their cold embrace.

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How the Axe Falls – Chapter 7

Talon couldn’t move.

Well… he could wiggle fingers and toes and shift about but lengths of rope had him pinned to the wall.

Thin lines of amber peered through the cracks of floorboards above, wavering over an empty table with empty chairs, a couple lying on their backs.

Indistinct shapes, barrels he presumed, lined the hold. Spices and herbs, some familiar to Talon wafted under his nose, making him sneeze. A dry, salty smell punctuated what came from the barrels – meat, it must have been, swinging lazily from the ceiling.

The moan of wood struggling against the sea brought along the eventual realisation: he was still on the ship.

Talon struggled against his bonds to no avail, earning rope burn and a burning sensation in his side for his trouble.

He thought of the man-servant who had stabbed him and the green-eyed girl spinning out of the shadows like a spider from a web. The girl who had saved Talon, only to choke him near to death on her ship.

Had she followed him inside the Viscount’s Tower without him being aware? No, surely, she must have come from inside the tower. But given how easily she adopted the pale shade of the Tower’s nooks, Talon did not doubt she would have found it child’s play to hide amongst the villagers of Edge Cliff.

Yet, he would have bet all the gold in the world she had been in the tower all along. Oh, those green eyes could get her anywhere. Talon reckoned she could have swooned Buck Owens into giving up his prize flock of sheep and fooled the oaf into thinking he’d been done a favour. Those eyes could get her anywhere… Perhaps at the arm of a Viscount? A now very dead Viscount, rotting in his stone grave far sooner than he’d imagined. The thought brought some comfort but did little to sate the bloodlust, curdling as it rose from the depths of his stomach. Talon knew a feeling such as this would not be easily dismissed.

A sharp slapping noise, which sounded like the skimming of book pages, cut through the dark.

Someone, no several people, sat at the table in the middle of the hold. Though, Talon could not recall seeing nor hearing anyone enter, let alone the vagrants that now occupied the once empty chairs.

‘Vangrantsssss?’

Talon stiffened. Had his thoughts been read?

The voice had an unnatural hiss to it that made Talon’s skin crawl. It couldn’t have possibly belonged to anything human.

‘Is that what the boy thinks of us?’ another snorted. His voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once, filling the room like smoke.

‘Now, now, gents–’ a more cheerful sounding voice began.

‘–and ladies,’ a woman added, her words carried much weight that her voice seemed almost lazy.

‘–and ladies, but of course, of course,’ the cheerful voice added hurriedly.

‘Devil’s blood… what a pushover,’ another voice, so deeply disgruntled Talon almost mistook it for another of the men, intervened. ‘Wanna lick her boot heels while you’re at it, Angus?’

The lazily voiced woman made a soft tsk. ‘Better mine than yours, Cilia,’ she said.

The light trickling down from the floorboards illuminated a patch of the table. A pair of gloved hands shuffled a deck of cards once more before spreading out the contents in a neat arc across the table. Like crabs emerging from fissures, more pairs of gloved hands reached into the light, dragging their hand of cards back into the shadows.

A shape which Talon initially thought to be one of the barrels, upended by the ship’s lurching, rolled towards him. The closer the noise came the more he realised it couldn’t have been one of the ship’s cargo. The barrel didn’t sound as if it were made of wood but rather a coil of ropes dragging itself across the floor, gently scratching against the wood.

Unaware, the card players carried on with their game.

‘Is that a King and Queen of hearts, Angus?’ the smoky voice inquired innocently.

‘Now, now,’ Angus giggled.

The ‘ropes’ blinked a pair of golden eyes at Talon, as it slid over his outstretched legs and wrapped around his waist.

Like a flag flapping in the wind, something hissed in Talon’s ear and… licked him. ‘I don’t ssssssee why we’re bothering with this… peasssssant.’

The ropes began to tighten against his stomach, slowly drawing out every last breath Talon had left to give.

‘Silas,’ the lazy voice drawled.

‘Yes, I’d much rather we weren’t playing for a corpse,’ the smoky voice added. ‘Ignore Silas, child, the snake’s form is merely for show.’

The snake sighed and withdrew its bulk back to the table. Another shadowed form took to one of the chairs.

Who are these people?

‘Who are we?’ Silas hissed.

‘Isn’t that quite the question,’ the lazy voice said.

‘You don’t speak much do you, Talon?’ the smoky voice chuckled.

They know my name, he thought. How much else did they know? Stop thinking you fool! Suppressing his own thoughts was surprisingly difficult. His mind seemed determined to give up every little secret he had. Talon closed his eyes and thought of the green-eyed girl, picturing her olive skin, her fountain of dark brown hair…

‘Ssssshe is not for you,’ Silas proclaimed angrily.

‘Oh, why don’t you slither off back to sleep Silas, you begin to bore me,’ Cilia growled.

‘Very well, I have better things to do than sssssit with the likes of you.’

Talon blinked. A glimmer of light revealed that one of the chairs had toppled soundlessly to whence it had lain before. Its owner had disappeared.

Talon breathed a sigh of relief. At least now, his thoughts could be his own once more. He hoped.

‘Cards, gentlemen… and ladies,’ Angus called.

The gloved hands slid back into the light.

‘I fold,’ the lazy voice said. It was difficult to tell if she sounded disappointed.

‘Likewise,’ Cilia said. A pair of cards were chucked into the middle.

‘Just you and me, Angus,’ the smoky voice announced.

‘Best of luck,’ Angus chirped.

‘I am luck,’ the smoky voice replied.

The cards were flipped over inviting a soft groan and disdainful sighs.

‘I’ll be damned – a King and Queen,’ Cilia said.

‘How did you know?’ Angus asked in a pained voice.

‘Sorry, my friend,’ the smoky voice said.

The lazy voice sniffed loudly. ‘Silas was right, the boy is worthless.’

Another blink and the second chair had fallen on its back.

‘Enjoy your prize,’ Cilia said.

Angus left alongside her without comment.

Only one chair remained filled.

‘Who are ye’ people?’ Talon demanded.

“Ye’” the smoky voice mimicked him. Boots padded across the hold towards him. The light from the floorboards caught the top of his hood and the upturned line of the man’s mouth. Talon suspected that placid smile rarely left his lips. ‘You do amuse me Talon but you’re going to have work on that diction of yours after Ducard’s court.’

Ducard? As in King Ducard of Clovaine? Talon thought. Ducard – the man who had conquered Borne and placed Viscount du Puis in charge of Edge Cliff, the man responsible for murdering his family.

Talon licked the roof of his mouth thoughtfully. He fancied he could already taste the iron tang of blood. The blood to come.

‘Oh? Didn’t you know?’ the smoky voice feigned surprise. ‘Ahhh Cleo, choke first, inform your charge later. I do admire her style.’

Cleo. The green-eyed girl?

‘Dear me! So much to learn! Forgive me, I know your village must have had limited opportunities.’

The man slipped something into Talon’s hand and closed his fingers gently around it. ‘Keep an eye out for me, Talon Carth. There is much for you to do.’

The man patted his closed fist and Talon felt his chin collapse against his chest.

The white of the man’s teeth swirled away in a cloud of smoke and Talon felt the lull of sleep snatch him away.

In the distance, someone called him.

‘–boy!’

‘HEY! Farmboy! Wake up!’

Someone pinched the skin around his wound and Talon yelled out as if he’d been kicked in the ribs.

‘Devil’s eye!’ Talon spat.

Rays of amber shone past the now ajar door at the end of the hold, forming a path of light towards Talon. The table and chairs in the middle sat unoccupied. Cards, abandoned mid-game, had been left scattered across the table-top.

A dream, Talon thought with some relief, just a stupid dream.

‘You’re up, farmboy! I thought I was going to have get a bucket of seawater.’

A pair of vivid green eyes blurred into view.

The girl who had saved his life, who now held him prisoner, stood over him. She looked almost angelic with the light of the rising sun streaming around her, turning the edges of her brunette hair gold.

She had abandoned the grey cloak for a bodice held up at her shoulders, which left her toned stomach and arms exposed. A strange looking half dress, half skirt fell above her knees in front and down to her bare feet in the back.

The knife she held in her hand gave him pause at first, until he recognised what it was.

Uncle Jack’s hiding knife.

Talon looked down at the bandages wrapped around his bare waist. A plume of blood had dried at the side where the hiding knife had formerly rested.

‘I can’t promise you won’t scar but you’ll live, farmboy,’ the girl said, as she began unfastening the ropes. ‘I wouldn’t–’

As soon as his binds had slipped, Talon jumped to his feet. The pain in his side suddenly flared and he had to put an arm against the hold’s wall to remain upright.

‘–do that.’

Taking in sharp breaths, Talon slowly released himself from the wall, keeping himself as upright as possible, and took a step forward. It hurt less but it still hurt.

‘And where are you planning on going?’ hand on hip, the girl raised an eyebrow at him.

Where was he going? He was on a ship in the middle of the narrow seas, most likely too far away to safely swim back and certainly not in his current state.

Talon stopped walking and patted his bare shoulders. His stomach dropped.

‘Where’s my cloak?’ Talon rounded on the girl.

‘Somewhere safe,’ she replied calmly, ‘by chance, how did you come across such a thing?’

Talon shook his head, ‘where is it?’

‘Tell me how you found it and I’ll tell you where I put it.’ The girl’s eyes never left him while the knife spun recklessly in her hand, somehow never catching the flesh.

Talon narrowed his eyes at the girl. He suspected that she had played this game so often before it had become natural to her. Information for information. He wondered how valuable his piece was to her.

‘Why did ye’ kill the Viscount?’ Talon demanded. He was mine! Talon wanted to scream at her but he had bit down his tongue.

‘Who says I did?’ the girl didn’t even blink. She was a good liar.

‘Ye’ gonna tell me the manservant did it?’ Talon said.

‘No, I’m telling you I didn’t,’ the knife didn’t even alter tempo. She was a very good liar. ‘What were you doing in the Viscount’s Tower?’

Talon felt a lump rising against his throat. He was not sure he could lie half as well as the girl. Her green eyes looked expectantly. The fierceness of her stare should have blinded him then and there.

‘It was my mother’s,’ Talon blurted out suddenly, immediately feeling angry with himself.

‘The cloak?’

‘Yes.’

The girl didn’t even take time to ponder his answer or what it meant for herself. The knife’s handle snapped against her palm and she flipped it over in her hand for Talon to take.

What had that information been worth to her?

‘The cloak has been stored in your quarters, farmboy. I wouldn’t take it out, for now.’

Had his answer not mattered to her? Or was she keeping her cards close to her chest?

‘Come on farmboy, I think it’s time for you to meet the crew.’

The girl disappeared into the sunlight outside.

Talon shrugged. No harm in playing along, for now.

He went down to one knee, wincing as he did, and tucked the hiding knife back inside his boot. Something slipped from Talon’s other hand and made a soft clack against the hold’s floor. It looked like a piece of paper, trimmed in red, which had been folded four times.

He picked it up and rubbed it between his fingers. It had a waxed feel to it, like a playing card.

Talon’s palms began to sweat.

It was just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream.

He flattened the card out in his hand.

A pale face with sinister eyes smiled at him with gleaming, white teeth. The Joker.

Keep an eye out for me, Talon Carth. There is much for you to do.

Talon followed the green-eyed girl into the sunlight, shuddering despite the warmth.

 

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– Farrell

How the Axe Falls – Chapter 6

The kill that never was.

His kill.

Snatched away from him after all that planning.

All that rage he’d bottled up, saving for this very moment, and all he had to show for it was a very dead corpse.

A dull ache snuck behind Talon’s eyes as he stared down at the Viscount’s limp body.

The stopper was close to popping loose – that dull ache was beginning to burn.

Talon screamed, not caring for the noise he made as his fists rained down upon Du Puis’s body.

Blood, some of it his own, streamed past Talon’s cracked knuckles in rivulets once he was finished. His chest heaved up and down from the exertion but he didn’t feel any less angry. He needed something, someone new to kill, and he’d start with whoever had stolen his revenge.

There was a crash and Talon whipped round to find a small weasel of a man trembling over a cracked pile of crockery.

‘M-Murderer…’ he whimpered. ‘MURDERER!’ he cried, lunging towards Talon.

They struggled against each other, rolling over the carpet and smacking into furniture.

Then the man was atop him, straddling his waist whilst he attempted to choke the life out of Talon.

‘MURDERER!’ he screamed in Talon’s face, half weeping, half snarling in a most ugly fashion.

On the weasel’s side, he was a grown man, albeit a pathetic excuse for one at that. Talon, however, smaller he was, had years of working the pastures with his Uncle.

He smacked the weasel in the jaw with his fist, his greased back hair jolted at that but the man now had a hand firmly clamped against his throat.

Talon caught the man again and he toppled over to the side clutching a bleeding nose.

Rubbing his throat, Talon picked himself up the floor and ran to the stairs, not making it halfway down before the weasel tackled him from behind.

They fell away from each other after the last step, panting underneath the chandelier.

Shaking as he did, Talon pushed himself onto his knees.

The weasel was already on his feet and he had wicked grin plastered over his face.

Talon glanced down at the handle of his Uncle’s hiding knife, the one now stuck in his side.

Oh, he thought. He hadn’t even felt it go in.

Smug-like, the weasel began to advance toward him.

The shadows swallowed the man before he could reach Talon.

Dark fingers closed around the man’s neck and face and twisted. The weasel’s neck had snapped with as much noise as leaves crunching underfoot.

Shrugging off the shadows, an olive-skinned woman garbed in a grey cloak stepped over the limp sack of bones and flesh now lying before her. She had a head over Talon but she couldn’t have had more than three or four years on him.

The most beautiful green eyes Talon had ever seen swept over his half-cloak, brow raising half a degree as she did, then flickered to the knife jutting out underneath.

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ she said warningly.

Talon withdrew his hand from the knife hilt, feeling his cheeks flush. ‘M’lady,’ Talon grunted, clutching his side. Whatever adrenaline had hidden his pain was beginning to wear off.

The girl fell silent and Talon didn’t like how her eyes ran over him, like Uncle Jack had over his knife – before Talon had stolen it – checking its sharpness, its weight, its durability.

‘I’m no bloody tool!’ Talon shouted at the girl. She seemed just as surprised as him by that sudden statement.

BANG!

The explosion, like a hundred rocks shattering against each other, was distant sounding, as if the cliff behind the tower had fallen in on itself.

The girl wheeled Talon out of the tower until they stood by the cliff edge, overlooking the ship that lay in wading distance of Cliff Edge’s shores.

It was a long vessel, if a bit thin looking, with three lateen sails pointing into the water like arrowheads frozen in motion. Smoke still leafed faintly from the cannons at its side.

‘That’s yers’?’ Talon asked the girl. He was trying as hard as he could not to growl with that knife in his side.

She grinned mischievously at that. ‘I’m sure Captain prefers to think it his.’

‘HEY! You two! Stop right where you are!’

The two soldiers had returned. A sword screeched as it was withdrawn from its scabbard.

The girl was a blur after she had released Talon, a hint of silver pirouetting through the air in two sharp arcs that brought the soldiers clanging onto the ground.

‘Follow me, farmboy!’

The girl snatched Talon’s arm and dragged him along with her, not bothering to dry her blood-soaked blade.

Eli’s house burned still as they dashed through Edge Cliff – what remained of it anyway. The roof had collapsed; only a blackened wall remained standing defiantly in the face of the dying flames.

‘Excuse me, out of the way please, excuse me!’

The girl cut past the sea of bodies, demonstrating a surprising amount of strength for a girl only a little taller than Talon. She pushed a couple men onto their backs, one of whom Talon thought might have been ox-thick Buck Owens.

‘Flayin’ whore!’

A glance back proved it to be the case.

‘Where are ye’ taking me?’ Talon demanded. He tried tugging his arm away but the girl had an iron grip and she squeezed his wrist more tightly every time he tried to break free. Not to mention the knife was making it all the more difficult to move, let alone resist. Tears ran down his cheeks but he refused to make a sound.

‘This is for your own good, farmboy,’ the girl told him. ‘Don’t touch that knife!’ she slapped his hand away from the hilt.

She led him down the hill past the bowl of land containing the headsman’s block. The executioner was sat on the debilitated tree stump, still sharpening his axe.

Talon was certain the girl hadn’t even looked, she’d just whipped her hand out at the air behind her. Beady black eyes blinked down at the quivering knife handle protruding from his chest. The headsman offered a faint grunt before his knees buckled.

The headsman had meant nothing to Talon. Just another tool he reminded himself. Talon felt the burning in his side subside for a moment – it had still felt good to see the man die.

The knife had stopped jangling as painfully as soon as they were on the beach. A mist of sand followed in their wake.

The indigo sky slowly crushed the remaining streak of amber into the sea, beyond the moored ship. A few people were gathered against the ship’s rails, in between the two cannons, watching their progress. Talon thought he saw one of them wave.

The girl tucked her knife into her boot the moment they reached the water, letting go of Talon’s arm as she waded in.

‘Afraid of the water, farmboy?’ she turned back to him when waist-deep.

Talon laughed and clutched his side with a wince. He wasn’t afraid, he just happened to have a bloody knife stuck in him, and he certainly had no reason to go with her.

‘Why?’ he shouted at the girl.

‘Why what?’ she yelled back.

‘Why should I come with ye’?’ he demanded.

Talon had expected a grand speech, the girl to hold aloft her arms and speak promises of adventure that all began with the ship behind her. He would have just settled for just finding out who had killed the Viscount.

The girl didn’t do any of that.

‘Why not?’ her green eyes twinkled with a curious mix of mystique and challenge.

Talon stared at the spot she had submerged in. Honestly, a speech would have annoyed him. The girl’s indifference in his coming or going however, snagged him like a fisherman’s hook.

He dove into the water after her, screaming dark oaths into the depths of the ocean as sea salt burned his side.

The girl had told him not to touch the knife but right now he would have loved nothing better than to be rid of its weight.

Somehow, he managed to catch up with the girl and followed her up the rope ladder the sailors had tossed overboard.

A ring covered hand extended over the edge towards him and Talon grasped it.

He was hauled roughly over the side and slammed against the railing, uttering a sharp cry as the knife stirred.

‘What we have here then eh, little fish?’ A gold-plated tooth glinted at Talon. The man clutching Talon by the mantle of his half-cloak had a mean look to his face. Talon had not witnessed a man alive pull off a full bushy beard without looking soft. But this one, well… He could have told Talon that he died his ginger moustache, and the parts of his beard that hadn’t been touched by grey, with blood, and Talon would have believed him. He had a face like a cliff, weathered-like but sturdy, with hard lines and wrinkles as trenched as if the ocean had carved the stone of his face. Waves of grey hair ran back over his scalp, falling against the nape of his neck.

‘I’d normally commend your caution, Captain but given we’re dealing with a mere child with a knife in his guts, I think you can relax.’ The girl with the green eyes was casually upending her boots onto the deck as she spoke.

In my guts? Talon felt the blood leave his face, it couldn’t be that deep, could it?

The Captain eyed the knife below with a grimace and withdrew the cutlass he’d held to Talon’s throat.

‘Be glad that did no leave in water, little fish,’ the man pointed a ringed finger at the knife.

‘TALON!’

Talon peered over the railing to see Uncle Jack tearing down the beach towards them.

The Captain brought up a funny looking pole of wood from behind the ship’s rail. The thing was longer than Talon’s arm and had a sheen to it, as if it were polished. The pole was about two inches thick with a shining silver cap at the end which glinted in the sun. The wood curved at the back and widened, fitting neatly against the Captain’s shoulder, as he aimed at Jack.

Talon didn’t know what in the Devil’s name that thing was but he quickly deduced it couldn’t be anything good.

‘RUN JACK!’ Talon waved his arms frantically, urging the man to turn back.

A bang almost as loud as the cannon sounded from the pole, which bucked upwards in the Captain’s hands, as if he held a ram by the horns.

The green-eyed girl had tipped the pole ever so slightly with the flat of her blade. Whatever had flown out struck the sand harmlessly a few metres to the left of Uncle Jack.

Red-faced, the Captain lowered the smoking pole and looked at the girl murderously. ‘You – I wasn’t going to shoot at him,’ he said. ‘I’ll take the little fish, if you do be set on it. But not him as well!’ The Captain pointed at Talon’s Uncle, who showed no sign of stopping his pursuit.

‘Nor would I wish you too,’ the girl said.

A second later she had wrapped an arm around Talon’s throat and held her other hand flat atop the crown of his head.

He thrashed his arms about and kicked out his legs but the girl may as well have been made of stone for how little it bothered her.

Uncle Jack fell flat on his face in the sand just as the sailors had pulled the ladder back up to the deck.

‘Let… go… a’ me,’ Talon wheezed.

The edges of his vision had begun to darken. Black spots gathered in the numbers like blots of ink oozing across a page of parchment.

Talon fell to his knees.

‘It’s alright,’ a voice whispered into his ear.

Someone hoarsely screamed out orders close by, the words coming out clipped, one after the other.

‘HOY! … ANCHOR! … MAINSAIL!’

Talon blinked and saw his Uncle waist deep in water.

The ship lurched suddenly but Talon remained rooted to the deck.

‘TALOOOOONNNNNN!’

Talon collapsed onto his side. The wind smoothed his hair back, or maybe it had been a gentle hand. Two balls of green, no, two gems glistened underneath a hazy blue sky, swirling above like clouds of sand.

‘…alright… farmboy.’

Talon blinked once more, and the dark took him for its own.

House of Blades Review

“Prophecy has nothing to say about Simon. He has no special powers, no magical weapons, and no guarantee that he’ll survive. But he sets off anyway, alone, to gain the power he needs to oppose the Travelers and topple their ruthless Overlord. It may not be his destiny, but Simon’s determined to rescue his fellow villagers from certain death.
Because who cares about prophecy, really?”

This is not your typical fantasy story. Will Wight’s debut novel contains all the constituent parts of a work of fantasy – a prophesised hero wielding world-breaking powers, a damsel in distress (who is more than capable of defending herself), and a trusty side character. Although the story flits between these three characters – Alin, Leah, and Simon – Wight focuses mainly on Samuel’s story and his harrowing training in Valinhall, the aptly named ‘House of Blades.’

There’s a price to pay for every scrap of power and ability ‘Travelers’ gain from training in their own unique ‘world.’ Some can channel creatures wrapped in fire or thunder, for Simon, he learns how to kill his enemies with extreme speed and strength, gifted to him after facing some of the gruelling trials of Valinhall and a dubious pact made with the Nye.

The interactions between the characters can be awkward on rare occasion but for the most part are actually quite enjoyable. The older brother/reluctant younger brother dynamic between Alin and Simon, who seek to best each other in rescuing the damsel, is particularly funny. Though Simon is often overlooked (see the village reunion scene) for his more powerful counterpart, it is arguably a far more interesting story perceived through Simon’s eyes than Alin’s, and a commendable decision on Wight’s part.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced fantasy book with danger around every possible corner, you can’t go wrong with Wight’s House of Blades. Though by the author’s own admission his sequel, Crimson Vault, is a better all-round novel, House of Blades is a delightful self-published work, which deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the genre.

 

– Farrell

For the latest updates on my upcoming sequel, Nathaniel Grey and the Obsidian Crown, and other writing shenanigans, you can follow my Facebook page and Twitter!

Current Read: House of Blades

“Nye were exactly as they appeared: humanoids made up of cloth and shadow who tried to strangle outsiders with their chains… They kept out of sight and left generous hospitality in their wake. They folded clothes, dusted shelves polished swords; except for the periodic murder attempts, they were perfect hosts.”

How the Axe Falls – Chapter 5

The sun shone brightly over Edge Cliff in the morning, searing the uncovered half of Talon’s back as he crossed the now dry, cracked mud. He should have boiled under the half-cloak, yet, for all intents and purposes, his right side may as well have been lying under cool shade.

The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect.

‘Gah!’

Buck Owens almost jumped out of his skin when he opened his door to find Talon waiting patiently outside.

The man’s face tightened after he’d fully taken in Talon’s garb but he too remained silent as to the reason for this reaction.

‘What are ye’ doing here, boy?’ Buck plucked his pitchfork from the floor. ‘I’m about to – look, I’m sorry about yesterday, I was – bah! Never mind.’

‘It’s what I’m here about,’ Talon said, before the man could barge past. How was he supposed to look if he had to give bad news? Scratch his head, kick his feet together? He eventually settled on thrusting his hands inside his pockets and staring down at the dirt path.

‘What’d’ye mean, boy?’ Buck asked.

Talon put a finger to his lips and indicated that the man should come closer.

‘What’s going on?’ Buck demanded.

‘Yer’ wife’s dresses – some of them went missing yeh’?’

Buck’s eyes narrowed into a squint and he planted the pitchfork a foot closer to Talon. ‘What would ye’ know about that, boy?’ he asked.

He’d have to be very careful now. Say one wrong thing and, given Buck’s previous comments about his mother, Talon could very well end up skewered on the end of that pitchfork.

‘Eli Gill,’ Talon said quickly.

That caught Buck’s attention.

‘The toad?’ Buck bared his front teeth and growled like a wolf, ‘what about him?’

It took all Talon’s concentration to suppress a smile; this could be far easier than he thought. Just a little bit of encouragement there, some embellishment here and his plan would be set in motion.

‘Ye’ think he’s been eyeing up your wife, Buck?’ Talon said.

‘Think? Think?’ Buck said, his eyes almost popping out of his head, ‘I bloody well know, boy! My woman crossed eyes with the toad once, just once mind ye’! And now he be stalking her!’

Ah, Eli. Talon felt a little guilty for what he was about to do but he had no other choice. While he wasted time with sentiment, the Viscount planned future acts of cruelty from his little tower. He could not balk now.

Talon’s jaw set and he drew himself up in his half-cloak against Buck, not that it meant much against the man’s sheer bulk.

‘I saw her, yer wife, sneaking out the back of Eli’s garden,’ Talon said. Knuckles whitening against his pitchfork, Buck edged menacingly towards Talon.

‘Ye’ little –’ Buck made as if to grab Talon by the scruff of his neck. The balance was going against him once more, he would have to speak quickly.

‘I have proof,’ Talon continued, ‘just look at the toad’s fence!’

‘What?’ Buck’s face scrunched up, resembling something akin to a bulldog.

‘I can show ye’,’ Talon insisted. He raced back across the path, kicking up dry mud flakes in his wake. Buck Owens stood stock-still, staring blankly at the space Talon had formerly occupied.

‘Come on!’ Talon waved his arms at the man.

Buck eventually followed, hesitantly at that, and, at Talon’s insistence, lowered himself into a hunch as they came around the back of Uncle Jack’s house to reach Eli’s back garden. Fortunately, the toad was nowhere in sight.

‘I swear to ye’, boy…’ Buck began.

‘There,’ Talon pointed at the side of Eli’s wattle fence.

‘Flay me… flay me… flay me…’ the man muttered to himself with increasing ferocity as his eyes ran from one tangled scrap of dress to another.

‘Flay me!’ Buck made Talon jump with his sudden growl and he glanced nervously at Eli’s house, hoping he hadn’t heard.

‘Ye’ believe me?’ Talon asked quietly.

‘I believe…’ Buck’s eyes did circuits of Eli’s fencing as he gripped his tuft of blonde hair so tightly Talon wondered if the man might actually yank it off. ‘…I’m going to kill the toad today.’

The man marched around the house with Talon close in tow.

Now this was the most important part of his plan. Fail here, and he may as well throw himself off the cliff’s edge.

He grabbed the man’s arm to pull him back but Buck simply threw him off into the dirt, as if he were merely a fly buzzing round his head.

‘TOAD!’ Buck cried, slamming his pitchfork against the man’s door. ‘Come out where I can see ye’!’

Now or never.

‘What’s to stop another man from sneaking yer’ wife?’ Talon said.

‘Ye’ what?’ Buck rounded on him.

Talon licked his lips. That pitchfork did look like it would slip awfully painfully between his ribs.

He pulled himself to his feet and dusted off his trousers, unaware that the half-cloak remained completely unblemished.

‘If ye’ kill him, yer’ wife may sneak about with another man,’ Talon said, holding up his hands as if trying to appease a bull.

Buck wrung the pitchfork in his hands furiously but listened on.

‘Ye’ need to make an example.’

‘Oh, I’ll make one alright,’ Buck laughed bitterly. The look he gave back at his house suggested he had switched the focus of his fury.

Talon shook his head. ‘Ye’ need to make an example of Eli, one everyone – Edge Cliff and yer’ wife – can see.’

Buck frowned, doing that bulldog impression again. ‘What’d’ye’ mean by that?’ he demanded with a shake of his pitchfork.

‘Remember last year? When Ty tried to set some of the fireworks off in his garden?’

How could anyone not? It was wonder how Ty hadn’t blown off one of his legs in the process. Uncle Jack had been kind enough to house the man after what the fireworks did to his home.

‘Yeh’, what of it?’ Buck said suspiciously.

‘Make an example,’ Talon simply said. He spun around before Buck could notice the grin spreading across his face.

Buck scratched his head for a moment before heading down the dirt path to the farms beyond, muttering dark oaths under his breath.

Talon hoped Buck understood what he’d been suggesting, he certainly couldn’t have made it any plainer.

Poor Eli. He debated warning him of Buck’s likely intentions but quashed the thought before it could take hold.

No sentimentality. Not while the Viscount still drew breath.

*

Blotches of crimson streaked across the sky as the sun sunk below the pink waters beyond the cliffs with such haste, as if it could sense the coming bloodshed.

The guards, bored as they hung outside the Viscount’s Tower, but a few paces away from Talon, had eventually given up with their sidelong glances in his direction. Though, with tight jaws, they made innocuous comments about the boy’s half-cloak, which made little sense upon reaching Talon’s ears.

‘Is that… one of them?’ one of the guards whispered to the other. The velvet flow of his voice and his blue eyes marked the man as a soldier of Clovaine.

‘…can’t be… look how young the child is,’ the other shook his head.

Talon cocked his head to the side. Some of the villagers were filing up the dirt path after a hard day of work out in the farms. He spotted Uncle Jack with his bushy beard but Buck hadn’t yet come into view.

What was taking so long?

BANG

Talon jumped to his feet and whirled round to see one of the thatched roofs lining the dirt path catching fire. It looked like it was Eli’s roof.

The door had been flung open and sparks fizzled and cracked outside, much to the delight of the small children who crowded outside.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he noticed a small, slightly singed looking man prancing frustratedly among them. At least he was alive.

‘Not again!’ one of the guards cried.

‘Du Puis will lose his damn mind!’ said the other.

Their chest plates rattled like tin pots as they scuttled down the hill towards the fire, forgetting all about the half-cloaked boy and the now unguarded door they’d left behind.

And now time for the gamble.

The arched door had been left unlocked apparently, opening outwards towards Talon when he tugged lightly at the round iron knocker. He moved his head towards the gap and peaked inside.

A dozen candles in a chandelier chained to the low ceiling illuminated the lavish scene before him. Considerable expense had gone into making the inside seem a palace rather than a cold stone tower teetering against the cliff edge. Red carpets trimmed in gold covered the floor revealing not an inch of stone.

He pushed the door open a little further, the gap was almost wide enough for him to squeeze through.

Besides the tapestries, bearing the golden hawk of Clovaine, strung either side of the winding staircase directly in front of Talon, painted wooden shields crossed with swords were hung.

Not meeting any resistance, Talon budged the door once more then scraped himself through the gap.

He clapped a hand to his mouth to stifle his startled cry.

Another guard sat inside to the right of the door. His sword laid unsheathed across his lap and the man’s chin rested atop his chest plate as he slept, undisturbed.

Fortune really was on Talon’s side this day.

Unwilling to test the extent of his luck however, Talon quickly crept up the stone steps, mindful of any other guards at the Viscount’s disposal.

He came across a very short corridor halfway up the stairs, leading to an open archway, its door lying ever so slightly ajar.

Satisfied that nobody was watching from the stairs leading higher into the tower, Talon flattened himself against the wall and pulled out the hiding knife from his boot. Dull at its edges, the weapon looked about as threatening as a toothpick. He had been tempted to draw one of the swords from a shield the floor below but thought better of it. Best not to push his luck. He twisted the knife before his eyes and shrugged, it would have to do.

The room connected to the middle of the corridor was even more extravagant than the first.

The four-poster bed instantly caught Talon’s eye. Its green curtains had been tied to the posts revealing  a double bed with plump white sheets that could have slept a small family. The wall to Talon’s right had been adorned with paintings. The most impressive of which depicted a man atop a mound of bodies wearing golden armour and holding a sword aloft in one hand whilst tweaking a curled moustache in the other.

A fireplace sat cold underneath directly opposite a strange white couch. It was half-backed and curved in such a way that would have made it comfortable only to lie down upon it like a bed or sit up straight right at the end of the couch close to its one velvet arm.

Amidst it all sat the Viscount.

Back curved into a crouch, Talon held back a low snarl as he approached the gilded chair upon which Viscount Du Puis sat overlooking Edge Cliff.

This was it. The moment he’d been waiting for. Months of planning and here he was, alone with a completely unaware Viscount.

The handle of his Uncle’s hiding knife seemed to pulse in his hand.

Every step caused his heart to beat with increasing voraciousness and he could feel his hands becoming clammier by the second.

Talon raised the knife above the Viscount’s head and placed his free hand on the man’s shoulder, ready to strike.

The Viscount toppled from the chair the moment he’d been touched, landing face first against the carpet with his arse arched up against the chair.

Talon stood stunned for a moment then he shook himself, pushed the chair roughly aside so it tumbled against the carpet, and turned the Viscount onto his side.

Blank blue eyes stared dully up at the ceiling and when Talon snapped his hand back from the Viscount’s tight ruffled collar, his finger tips were stained red with blood.

The knife slipped from Talon’s limp fingers and rolled away.

The Viscount was already dead.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed the latest chapter to How the Axe Falls, please leave a vote on Wattpad below to help it rise up the ranks!

https://www.wattpad.com/692368545-how-the-axe-falls-chapter-5

– Farrell

How the Axe Falls – Chapter 4

‘Ahhh Talon, I’ve just prepared us some sou– flay me, lad! Yer’ soaked through!’

Uncle Jack dropped the steaming bowls onto the table and ushered Talon towards the cauldron.

‘What were ye’ thinking staying out in that for so long?’ Jack said scoldingly, draping a couple of blankets around the boy’s shoulders. ‘I’m not about to lose ye’ to the damn flu, lad!’

Talon merely shrugged. As long as his plan worked, the flu could take him afterwards for all he cared.

‘What’s that ye’ got there, lad?’ Uncle Jack fingered the sodden shawl in Talon’s fist.

‘Mother’s,’ Talon told his Uncle sharply.

‘Ah, well – right…’ Jack cleared his throat awkwardly. Struggling to meet his nephew’s hard eyes, Jack slapped his knees as he rose and began busying himself with the cauldron.

Talon did not mean to be harsh with his Uncle but right now he could not afford to give in to the man’s questioning. Jack surely meant well but nothing could give Talon pause from his plan. Nothing would get in his way, nothing would stop him from sinking his blade into the Viscount’s heart.

Talon reached down when Uncle Jack turned his back and adjusted the skinning knife hidden in his right boot. It was a crude weapon but one that would serve his purpose well enough. Talon only wished he hadn’t been forced to steal it from his Uncle.

‘Here, lad, eat up,’ Jack handed Talon one of the piping hot bowls.

A few small chunks of fish meat swam amongst the beans and onions of the stew. ‘It’ll put the hair on yer’ chest, my son,’ his father had often claimed proudly. His mother had always been quick to point out, however, how bare his father’s chest actually was, much to his chagrin.

No. He crushed the memory with visions of his parents’ severed heads. I need to focus.

The first spoonful of stew seared the roof of Talon’s mouth but he continued wolfing the stuff down long past the point his lips had gone numb.

Uncle Jack, on the other hand, hadn’t taken a single sip. He kept twirling the spoon round the bowl clockwise then anti-clockwise in an almost hypnotic fashion.

‘There’s something I ought to show ye’,’ Jack said the moment Talon placed his bowl on the floor beside him. The way he stared down into the stew, Talon thought that his Uncle seemed a little reluctant to do what he ‘ought.’

Placing the bowl back on the table, Jack kneeled beside one of the beds and dug his hand into the straw. After a moment of rifling around he drew out a folded bunch of black fabric.

‘Yer’ mother left this with me after yer’ father… ye’ know…’ Jack looked down at his shuffling feet. ‘She wanted ye’ to have this.’

Talon’s eyes widened when the bundle unfurled with a sharp whip of Jack’s hands.

He had never seen anything of its like before. It appeared to be some sort of cloak, although the actual ‘cloak’ itself looked like it would only cover half his back, with the material shortening up as it curved to where his right arm would be. A hood was stitched to the back of the mantle.

‘What is it?’ Talon ran a finger down the half-cape. It felt awfully smooth, like silk.

‘Try it on, lad, if ye’ want,’ Jack held it out for him.

The half-cloak fitted on Talon like a sort of strange poncho. Despite how light the material felt, it was strangely warm, as if the half-cloak was formed of heavy layers of wool rather than the silk like fabric that sifted through his fingertips. It had been designed for someone taller, that much was clear. The cloak itself trailed past his boots like a king’s cape. The material shortened as it wrapped around his arm, falling past his knee, though Talon had the impression it had been cut to just cover the hand from view. He thought of the knife rubbing against his ankle and smiled.

‘Hmph, well don’t ye’ look the vision of a little lord,’ Jack chuckled lightly.

Talon looked down at himself. He supposed he did. The half-cloak was certainly finer than what the other boys wore and, dare he say it, fancier than all the women’s summer dresses put together.

He paused mid-twirl and clenched his fists at his sides. Idiot, he thought to himself angrily. Spinning yourself about like some fool girl with her new dress, what would your Mam think?

‘Everything alright, lad? I could put it away if ye’d rather not see it?’ Jack looked on worriedly, running his hands through his bushy beard as if he suddenly regretted showing Talon the half-cloak.

Talon backed away and shook his head firmly. The cloak had been meant for him, so he would keep it. He just had to remember that he had a plan to enact.

Uncle Jack sighed as Talon regained the stone-set poise of his mouth. There was something strange loitering in his Uncle’s eyes – a sort of sad look and… fear? Whatever it was, Jack couldn’t muster the courage to say and Talon was in no mood to ask.

When the cauldron fire dimmed to a few crackling embers, Talon lay on his straw bed, still garbed in the half-cloak.

‘Thank ye’, Mam,’ he whispered to himself, imagining the cloak as if it were his mother’s warm arms wrapping round his chest.

The knife in Talon’s boot seemed to rattle as he stared down at the crack under the house door, impatiently waiting for dawn to shepherd away dusk.

 

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed the latest chapter to How the Axe Falls, please leave a vote on Wattpad below to help it rise up the ranks!

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– Farrell