Right now, it's untitled and for a reason. This is the opening page of a novel that I am just starting. I hope that it turns into something, but for now, this is just a teaser. And since I don't title my work until much later into the writing process . . . I think you see where this is going.
Either way, I hope that you enjoy.
People bumped and pushed and shoved Taneid Valar as they moved en mass across the bridge into the relative safety of the city of Hrith. City was a generous term. It really wasn’t one. There were no walls, no towers, nothing to protect its inhabitants of from the hordes behind them. Nothing besides the river which looped around it, protecting three sides while the fourth led out to the plains of Loerien by a barely maintained road. Any trained eye could see it wasn’t much. And to have any hope of surviving longer than a day, they’d have to blow the five bridges that lead into the city. Assuming that enough powder could be found.
Valar looked over his shoulder. People, refugees all, stretched back as far as he could see toward the darkening horizon. Behind them, the light from fires reflected off of low lying clouds. Most of those fires marked funeral pyres for dozens of people. Burned alive in huts and houses. Crops too, adding their glow to the chaos, making picking off stragglers even easier. Damn it, they were farmers, not soldiers. At least most of them were. Worse, not everyone would make it. That would be the hardest lesson yet. Sacrifice the few in order to save the many. But that was its own razor’s edge. A death of a thousand cuts.
He looked at the girl he clutched tight under his right arm. That wasn’t right. Senar wasn’t a girl anymore. She was a young woman in the full bloom of life. But whenever Valar looked at her, all he could see was the little child who’d come to him with a scraped knee or a bouquet of weed blossoms. Forever, that’s who he saw, not the young woman who’d lost her mother and brother to the . . . .
Well, Valar didn’t know who’d done this. That was another hard truth. If he’d seen something that gave the puppet masters away, he might have been able to reason it out. As it stood, this seemed like random violence for violence’s sake. He knew of no one interested in just that. The Immortal Lords would have removed them long ago.
Senar stumbled and Valar caught her weight without even thinking. Should anyone go down on this bridge, their lives would be in fate’s hands. No one would stop to help another soul, not when their own lives were in danger. All around, people’s faces looked like frightened sheep, sent off to the slaughter house and scared of what fate held for them within the next few hours. And that was exactly what Valar feared they were.
The houses on the outskirts of Hrith weren’t exactly hovels, but they weren’t much better. Most of them were made of clay and plaster with thatched roofs. Distant firelight glowed off none to clean white walls. Already crowded streets were further cluttered with abandoned wagons, broken water barrels, and other detritus from everyday life. Most of the residents seemed to be gone, already fled from the armies almost upon them. Valar could only see a few people remaining as he wove he way through the hard packed streets—all of them huddled deep within their chosen coffins.
That might have been a harsh way to look at it, Valar knew, but unless they wised up and fled like everyone else, that’s what they would become. A few times, he heard the cry of a baby or the whimper of child not yet old enough to clothe himself, and he almost stopped and searched it out. He resisted, though it tore his heart apart each time. There was little he could do for them, lest he wanted to be responsible for an army of children. He had his own problems, but he silently cursed the parents who would lead their children into death. More than once, Senar looked up at him at the sounds, as if her thoughts mirrored his. At those times, he added an extra curse for the men who forced him to seem heartless to his own daughter.
Despite the press of people attempting to find safety across the bridge, the flow of people through the streets was a fitful one, with everyone stopping and going at seemingly random intervals. As they progressed through the city, Valar started to see why. With the progressively better built homes, soldiers garbed in the blue uniforms of local militia started appearing, blocking off streets and directing traffic. More than once, he saw a family try to dodge down a side street to make better time only to be pushed back by an officer here, a patrol there. Valar wondered if they were trying to help everyone or just protect the houses of those wealthy enough to deserve special treatment. He suspected the later, as occasionally he’d see a wagon stuffed to the gills escorted by soldiers down the street as the merchant or lordling and his family rode beside, a look of frightened superiority written on their faces.
A sudden boom sounded, echoing through the streets so that it was impossible to tell which direction it had come from. People screamed and attempted to run in any direction but that in which they’d been heading. Cries of “Cannon” and “They’re attacking” roared from every throat. A few people even dropped to their knees, clutching their heads in their hands and crying that they didn’t want to die. No one wanted to die. That was a stupid comment if Valar’d ever heard one.
He’d dropped to a crouch at the noise, still clutching onto Senar. As he returned to his full height, she looked up at him, eyes searching. “Is that—Are they here already?”
Valar shook his head. “No. It’s not possible unless we’ve been stuck in these streets longer than I suspect. Even then, I doubt that they won’t make it before sometime after daybreak tomorrow.”
Valar closed his eyes and pinched his nose. “The bridges,” he sighed. “They’re blowing the bridges.”