This week’s BLOODFORGED teaser brings us another new point of view, and one of my personal favourites. Enjoy!
Belatedly, Rig realised that the forest had gone silent. He froze. A breath of wind rustled the budding branches around him, but nothing else moved. He closed his eyes, listening. Still nothing.
A squirrel erupted into chatter above him. Swearing under his breath, Rig looked up, thinking to silence it with an arrow; instead he saw a dark shape plummeting down from the branches. It struck him full force, knocking him to the ground and driving the wind from him.
A moment of confusion, the world reeling overhead, a mass of leather and steel piled on top of him. Metal flashed. Rig’s hand shot up and seized the wrist above him, gave it a sharp twist. The man grunted, but the dagger didn’t fall; instead it continued to inch nearer. They struggled; somehow, the scout managed to get a knee up against Rig’s throat, a crushing weight against his windpipe. Panic arced through him, stronger even than the pain. The knee ground into him. A few more moments of this, and he’d never draw air again. He writhed violently, trying to throw his attacker off even as he kept the dagger at bay, his left hand clawing ineffectually at the man’s leathers. The scout shifted again, looking to pin Rig’s left arm with his other knee.
That was a mistake.
With his legs freed, Rig was able to get the leverage he needed; he threw his left fist into the man’s temple, landing a solid blow that stunned his enemy. Another punch pitched the scout sideways, and Rig rolled, putting himself on top. He used all his considerable bulk to pin the man down, and then he went to work, driving his fist down again and again with the brutal force of rage and relief.
It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t last long. By the time he was through, the face below him was scarcely human.
Rig lurched to his feet over the bloodied form, coughing and fingering his throbbing throat. He couldn’t see any pockets, pouches, anywhere the scout might have stashed information of value. The Warlord was too smart for that. Like Rig, he sent his scouts into the field with little more than their leathers and their wits. Which was why so many of them ended up gutted, felled by an arrow, or beaten to death by large, angry men.
Pausing to catch his breath, Rig took in his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was the bright scar on the tree bark beside him, from where the scout had scrabbled up to ambush him. How did you miss that, you oaf? He was lucky to be alive.
The second thing he noticed was that he had absolutely no idea where he was.
Brilliant. He was ploughing with a full team today.
He had two choices: head back the way he’d come until he picked up the trail, or make for the road, which had to be broadly northwest of here. He chose the latter. A longer route, but a surer one, and less likely to run him into prowling enemy soldiers.
A good hour went by before Rig found the road. And naturally, it started to rain. A cold drizzle at first, followed by a deluge. Water streamed down his face, soaking his beard and plastering his hair to his forehead. It trailed icy fingers down the back of his neck and under his mail. He might as well have gone for a bloody swim. The storm let up after a while, but by then, the damage was done; Rig was shivering down to his bones. If he didn’t find dry clothes and a fire soon, he’d fall ill for certain.
Wouldn’t that beat all, he thought. Survive the siege and bloodbound thralls, only to die of fever.
It was about then that he realised he was being watched.
He turned, already swinging his bloodbow down from his shoulder. A figure on horseback stood in the middle of the road. The rider’s features were obscured within a hooded cloak, but the long black hair cascading over the left shoulder marked her a woman. A brazen one at that, leaving her hair unbound. A noble lady might get away with that, but it surprised Rig that a woman from these provincial parts would be so unabashed.
“Ho there.” He slung his bow back over his shoulder to show that he wasn’t a threat.
The woman brought her horse closer, turning it aside so she might get a clear look at the stranger in the road. Rig resisted the urge to wipe at the mud on his breastplate. It wouldn’t do any good anyway.
“Is that how you greet a woman, soldier? Ho there?”
She spoke with a light Onnani accent. An easterner, Rig wondered, or the real thing? Either way, it seemed he’d offended her. He offered his most charming smile and swept into a bow. “My deepest apologies, my lady. I meant no offence. Army life erodes a man’s manners.”
“Are you lost?”
“Not lost, at least not anymore. I’m not far from home, actually, but the going has been slow.” He gestured at the muddy road.
“Are you wounded?”
“Thankfully no, though I did encounter a spot of trouble.”
“I can see that. There are spots of trouble all over your breastplate.”
Rig looked down and winced. Soaked to the smalls, but somehow he still managed to be spattered with blood. The gods were not on his side today.
“Yours,” she asked, “or someone else’s?”
“An Oridian scout.”
“May he find peace in his Domain,” she said gravely.
A number of possible responses occurred to Rig, but he thought better of them.
“You are on your way back to your comrades, presumably. My horse can carry two, if you like.”
A woman leaving her hair unbound in public was brazen. A woman offering to ride double with a total stranger—a soldier spattered with blood, no less—was something else entirely. Fortunately, Rig was quite comfortable with brazen women, having more or less raised one himself. “A very generous offer,” he said, “one I’m inclined to accept, given that my fingers are turning blue.”
Her horse danced up alongside him. Rig could see her face now, gazing down from within the hood, dark-skinned and dark-eyed, quite lovely. His admiration must have shown, because her mouth quirked. “You’re staring, soldier.”
“I suppose I am.” He smiled. “Last chance to back out.”
“You don’t frighten me. The Virtues protect their chosen.” She threw back one side of her cloak, revealing the robes of a priestess. She laughed then, obviously enjoying the look of astonishment on Rig’s face. She leaned down, so close that it was all Rig could do not to recoil. “Last chance to back out,” she purred.