EXCERPT: Death-Dealer

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Writing, writing and writing. Posting a little bit up here, just so you guys know I’m doing something other than bitching and moaning. Also for the sheep leg. Love the sheep leg. Love it.

In this scene Birdy Sard, the world’s least capable queen, has gone home to visit her village and her Pa. She’s found her Pa missing, and a lot of the village missing as well–the mysterious Women of the Wood have come forth to wreak havoc, and they weren’t counting on anyone having fire to throw at them. Birdy and her semi-trusty lieutenant are surveying the battle’s aftermath.

*****

The field was no longer the lush green field of her childhood. It was blackened, scarred. Smoke rose from it and from the corpses littered about it in dinted bits of bone armour. The remains of the sheep slumped here and there, caving forms covered in ashy wool. Directly in front of Birdy a sheep leg stood, strings of gristle up near the elbow where there should have been a continuation of sheep. The smell was abominable.

“Cor,” Birdy said, awed. “What d’you think could’ve done this, Salveed? Magic? There’s no more magic in these parts. Hasn’t been for years.”

Salveed shook his head, hunkered down and dragged his gloved fingers through the ashes that had once been grass and people and sheep. It wasn’t hot–was mid-autumn, in fact, long after the harvest–but he was sweating, and Birdy was too.

She felt it trickle down her spine behind her curiass, hopelessly out of reach. She debated saying they should abandon the armor, but then again, where would they put it? And they had been through the deep South in it, been through jungles and forests and beaches, by damn. It seemed silly to put it away now. Frivolous.

Also, the scene around them scared her. She wasn’t above admitting it. She had grown used to her armor, would feel naked without it.

Very naked.

Salveed held some ash up to his nose, sniffed it. His nostrils flared like a dog’s.

“Well?” Birdy said. “I hope you’ve got some idea. I’ve got nothing.”

Salveed held up a finger for silence. He sniffed again.

“Damn,” he said. “I don’t believe it.”

“What?”

“I didn’t think they had the rock for it, this far north. You’ve got to find the right sort of caves. Not the sort of cave you usually…”

“Salveed.”

He blinked, coughed. “Erm,” he said. “Sorry, your majesty. Let me think about how to tell you this.”
“Waiting.”

“You know all the metal you use in Karakul, right?”

“I wouldn’t say I’m more than passing familiar,” Birdy said, a bit more tartly than she had intended. “We’re not close friends or anything. But yes, Salveed, I am well aware that we use metal for things in our lovely modern city. Make your point.”

Fear made her edgy, made her snappish and short of temper. She wasn’t used to being afraid. Hadn’t ever had much truck with it, not since she was little: it was by and large useless.

That sheep leg, standing in the middle of the field like a burnt matchstick, was far from reassuring.

“It’s blasting powder.”

“What?”

“How they’re doing it. It’s some form of blasting powder, but…but stronger. A lot stronger.”

“What’s blasting powder?”

Salveed looked surprised. “Really, my lady? You’ve signed royal permission to employ it in the mines at least fifty times.”

“Like fuck I have. Even if I didn’t read the document all the way through before I signed it, Viril and I would’ve heard about this happening.”

“Well.” Salveed, ever-patient, sucked air through his teeth. “I’m from Asatigne, right? Where the river Darking joins the sea, a few hours away from the foothills of the Jerillee Mountains. We do a lot of the mining for Karakul right there. We’ve had to cut deeper and deeper into the hills to find the right ores so you city folk can have your eating utensils and deadly blades and whatnot. Eventually it got to be too much work and too much risk to keep digging as far as the veins extended. So somebody scraped a salt off the walls of the hill-caves, mixed it with fire-coal and a little sulphur, and created blasting powder with it. An alchemist, of course. You find some of the best alchemists in the kingdom in the mining towns; legend has it this one was trying to make a potion for headaches and got a little too excited.”

“Cor,” Birdy said. “We have this stuff?”

“Sort of. The blasting powder we use in Asatigne, it’s–well, it’s just enough to cut into a sheer rock face and save a mining team of twenty a weeks’ worth of work. Which isn’t to say it’s weak. It’s not. But blasting powder that can blast a whole field like this, tear everything in it apart–it’s not magic, but it might as well be. Whoever created this stuff had death in mind, not land clearing and ore.”

“And it works when you light it on fire.”

“Basically. I’m guessing your friend Dap took a lucky shot and hit someone who was carrying quite a bit of it.” Salveed held his fingers up to her. “Smell that?”

“Ugh. Smells like eggs gone rotten, only sharper.”

“That’s the smell of blasting powder. Remember it, my lady. Better than you remember to read all the papers you’ve signed.”

Birdy looked around one more time at the blackened field. “We know how to make this,” she said. She was uncertain if it was a question or an affirmation.

“Yes.”

“Could we make a lot of it? Fast?”

Salveed sighed his weary patient sigh. Though he must have been close to Birdy’s age, he looked very old. “Madam, would you want to?”

The silence of the place was absolute, the desolation absolute. The village with its children and livestock and cookpots and bustle seemed very far away suddenly. All the people seemed very far away.

“No,” Birdy said at last. “I guess I wouldn’t. Let’s go get Pa. Viril can figure the rest of it out–he’s the King, after all.”

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3 thoughts on “EXCERPT: Death-Dealer

  1. Does her cuirass have separate boob-cups? Because if it does, that’s very dangerous against a sword-swinger, because it allows a spearing blow go toward center mass, instead of bouncing to the less important areas. *adjusts nerd glasses*

  2. Cuirass. Shit. That’s why that word was looking weird to me. I tried it a couple of different ways–okay, every way except the right one, apparently–and. couldn’t for the life of me figure it out. Thanks again, man.

    Birdy’s not a boob-cup type of girl, so I think she’s safe. Boob cups are for people who didn’t steal a suit of armor off a rack in the palace armory, as well. 😛

    1. Good for her! (I didn’t know cuirass was misspelled, actually, although that’d be a perfect way to bring it to your attention. Hahaha My subconscious does a better job editing than me. So many details I didn’t know I put in, only to reread and go “THAT’S BRILLIANT, HARRY POTTER!”)

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