I originally had a character called Arthal, but I realised he was a character too many to manage, and he went nowhere so I cut him. I needed to wake Birlerion earlier in the book, originally he didn’t wake until Tagerill and the others were woken in Stoneford. I needed a Sentinal awake earlier (considering the title of the book was Sentinals Awaken!) and so he replaced Arthal. Birlerion’s arc grew from that moment. Hope you enjoy this snippet. It was longer than I remembered!
They both froze at the same time. Jerrol dousing the flames by stamping on the fire and melting into the deeper shadows at the back of the shelter asking Zin’talia to be still as Jennery took position by the open door. There was a repeat of the slightest scuff which had alerted them and they strained their eyes to see who and how many were trying to creep up on them unawares. It had stopped raining, the heavy clouds parting for an instant and a stray moon beam pierced the darkness, the light caressed the gleaming edge of a sword which hesitantly preceded the shape of tall man into the shelter. Jennery swung immediately upwards, the strike of steel on steel loud in the oppressive silence as he forced the assailant back out into the night, giving Jerrol room to manouvre.
The only sounds were the clash of steel on steel and breathless grunts of effort. Jerrol scouted the perimeter but found no other signs of ambush, he drifted back to the shelter leading a horse he had found tied up to a tree. The swordplay had descended more into a mud wrestling match. Jennery had the other man pinned face down in the mud and under the relentless pressure his struggles were gradually lessening as the man slowly suffocated.
“We need him alive,” murmured Jerrol softly.
Jennery grunted and pulled the man’s face out of the mud pinning his arms behind him. Although the man was tall, he was thin and slightly built, with a lack of the muscle that would have indicated a trained swordsman. Jerrol swiftly trussed him up and Jennery let him slump back down into the mud in disgust, the man lay gagging on the mud. Jerrol quickly rifled through his pockets and gathered up his weapons. “Let’s see if we can find anything out from this little lot,” he said as he stared more closely at the mud caked face. He frowned. “His face is familiar.”
Jennery snorted in disbelief. “You can tell that through all that mud?” he looked at the man more closely and shrugged. “Don’t know him, but then you’ve been about more than me!” He flicked some mud off his shirt in resignation.
Between them, they dragged the man into the shelter. Jerrol fished out his flint again and the flames leapt back up, casting a golden hue over everything. Jennery cocked an eyebrow at him. “Where did you get a flint from, I need one of those!” he said conversationally.
Jerrol just shook his head, “We all need our secrets.”
“I need to know that one,” wheedled Jennery. Flints were rare and cost a lot of money as a result.
Jerrol squatted by the fire rifling through the papers, tilting one to the light to read better. “Give him some water, clear his mouth a bit, he needs to answer a few questions.” He glanced up from the papers and smiled wryly. “You are going to need to do some washing, two shirts in one day!”
“If I never see any mud again, it won’t be too soon,” complained Jennery as he helped their captive rinse his mouth out. “I’ll go get my horse and saddlebag once we know there are no more assassins waiting for us.”
“I’m no assassin,” gurgled the man thickly as he spat out goblets of mud.
“Not a very good one, anyway,” agreed Jerrol. “Why were you trying to creep up on us?”
The man inhaled sharply, but before he could speak, he started choking on the mud still in his throat.
“Roll him over, quick,” Jerrol instructed sharply aiming a couple of hard thumps on the man’s back to dislodge the mud clogging his airways.
The man vomited up a muddy slimy mess, which made Jennery screw up his face in disgust, but he offered the man more water to rinse his mouth out with. After which the man slumped on his side exhaustedly closing his eyes, a grey tinge to his skin under the layer of mud coating him from head to foot.
After a quick assessing glance, Jerrol returned to the papers in his hands, travel papers in the name of Scholar Arthal, blank forms, and an introduction to Lord Hugh in Greenswatch from no other personage than Scholar Deane Liliian. A lot of camouflage for an assassin, Jerrol thought ruefully.
“Why don’t you go get your horse,” Jerrol suggested as he silently showed Jennery the papers from Liliian, “I don’t think he is an assassin, when you get back he can tell us who he really is.”
Jennery raised his eyebrows, “You sure? I can wait,” he offered.
“He’s not going anywhere and we need to move out soon, so if you want your ride and a change of clothes, you’d better go get it now. I’m thinking someone knows where we are and we need to make sure it’s someone with our interests at heart.” Jerrol frowned, “I wasn’t expecting you to turn up yet, let alone him.”
“Your orders were suitably vague but I got the message, obviously someone else did too.” He nodded at Jerrol and then ducked out the door and was gone the sound of the horse fading into the night.
Jerrol sighed deeply, folded the paperwork up and put some more water on to boil. He checked the man’s breathing and although shallow, it was regular. He tossed a rug over the man, the night was damp and chill and he didn’t look too good. He hauled in the man’s saddlebags Jennery had decanted off the horse and with one eye on the man he quickly searched the bags an eyebrow lifting as he found more papers, quills and ink, along with a much more detailed map.
After a thoughtful look at prone man he took one of the man’s daggers and teased the knots loose from the rope round his arms and rolled it up stashing it back in his own bag. The man remained limply sprawled on the floor. He added coffee to the heated water and sat quietly watching, waiting for him to stir. He was taller than Jennery, long legs housed in what had been an indeterminate grey before his mud bath, he wore a high-necked tunic reminiscent of court but severely plain and functional. Jerrol wafted his mug under the man’s nose and waited as he twitched. The man’s hands curled briefly as Jerrol watched, his fingers were long and slender beneath the mud. His legs convulsed as the man realized they were still tied together. He stilled and slowly opened his eyes. They were a clear blue and held a speculative gleam. He took a deep breath as his eyes skittered around the gloom, snagging on the relaxed form of Jerrol leaning back against his saddle bags, legs crossed at his ankles, sipping a pungent cup of coffee. The man carefully rolled himself over and sat up, pulling the rug closer around his shoulders and gingerly clearing his throat, he tried to speak, but winced as his abused vocal cords protested. Jerrol leaned over and poured another mug of coffee which he offered the man without comment.
The man inhaled the pungent smell of coffee and relaxed slightly as he carefully sipped the hot liquid. He tentatively massaged his throat which bore the vivid red marks of Jennery’s fingers, they would bruise spectacularly Jerrol thought.
“Note to self,” croaked the man, “never creep up on a King’s Rangers and his sidekick without an introduction.”
“Do you think that would have made a difference?” Jerrol asked softly.
“Nor in the middle of the night,” the man finished sourly.
“Do you normally creep up on travelers in the middle of the night expecting a welcome?” Jerrol inquired with a slight tilt of his head.
The man snorted, “I wasn’t sure it was you.”
“And you were looking specifically for me because?”
The man sighed, “I assume you’ve read my papers by now, I am Scholar Arthal from the Kings Chancellory, or was,” he frowned to himself.
“Was?” prompted Jerrol gently.
“Prince Kharel and the Chamberlain replaced some of the key positions in the Chancellory and decided some of us were surplus to requirements.”
“And he let you live because?” Jerrol prompted again as the man paused to commune with his coffee.
“He was too busy moving the King and the court to New Vespers. An oversight maybe.”
“New Vespers?” Jerrol sat up in surprise. “I am assuming the King didn’t get much of a choice. When was that?”
“They left the palace about two weeks after your discharge. The Prince cordoned off the Throne room, rumours of structural damage – anything to do you with you?” Arthal asked with a sharp glance at Jerrol but continued at Jerrol’s gesture with a sigh. “Once the Garrison settled down he whipped them all up to move to New Vespers.”
Jerrol paused for a moment. “I don’t always believe what I read,” he spoke softly, “I have been a man of the court and worked with the Chancellory quite closely and I don’t recognise the name Arthal, though your face is familiar.”
Arthal’s eyes gleamed in appreciation, “We have met but I was part of the King’s Inquisition, we were part of the King’s Justice.”
Jerrol snapped his fingers, “Of course! That’s where I know you from. Looks like you had a greater fall from grace than I did! What is a King’s Justice doing on his own ambushing me on the outskirts of Greenswatch?”
Arthal laughed shortly, “Learning a lesson, I think, though Captain Haven I believe yours is the greater fall. I did some selective researching when I heard the allegations, from what I knew of you I couldn’t believe it. I was initially surprised you fled the Prince’s ruling, though once I realised the allegations didn’t stand up to inspection and that the Prince was accusing you of treason I could see the wisdom in your actions. I thought you ought to know. Untie me and I’ll tell you what I found out.”
“Feel free,” Jerrol gestured to the ropes binding his legs.
Arthal tried to draw his long legs up so he could reach the knots but he had stiffened up on the damp floor and he struggled to reach them. He slumped back gasping as the effort. “I wondered why you only tied my feet,” he puffed closing his eyes.
Jerrol smiled and stilled as he heard the jingle of harness. He slid his dagger free and peered through the woven wall. He relaxed as he saw Jennery approaching leading Arthal’s horse. He sat back against the saddle bags placing the coffee pot back over the fire. Jennery sauntered in freshly washed and clad in clean clothes, happily mud free.
“Well, that didn’t take you long and you managed a bath too.” Jerrol said with a questioning look.
“I have my secrets too,” Jennery replied loftily. “Anyway, I hate being covered in mud.” He said ruining the effect. Jerrol just chuckled and handed him a cup of coffee which Jennery grabbed quickly before Jerrol could change his mind. “How’s our guest?” he asked looking down at the still semi-trussed man.
“Stiff and sore and still covered in mud thanks to you,” Arthal replied sourly opening his eyes and sitting back up.
“He speaks!” Jennery marveled.
“Ah, but does he speak truth,” Jerrol murmured squatting down to loosen the knots and release Arthal’s legs. Arthal massaged his thighs partly to encourage his blood to circulate, though he wasn’t looking forward to it reaching his feet and partly for warmth. His clothes were damp and uncomfortable and he regretted ever coming across these two, even though he had been searching for them. He hissed as his feet began to report back for duty. He managed to get a boot off and gingerly began massaging his foot.
“So how did you find us?” Jennery asked brightly.
“I wish I hadn’t,” muttered Arthal under his breath.
Jennery snickered, “Always be careful what you go looking for, you might find more than you bargained for.”
Jerrol watched Arthal closely, “How did you know where to find us?”
Arthal sighed heavily, “I had to get out of Vespers pretty quick before Prince Kharel changed his mind or found out about my unofficial snooping. I did what I thought you may have done, I hid in the Chapterhouse and persuaded Liliian to help me get on a boat to Lowalstall.” he flicked a glance at Jerrol but provoked no response. “I knew you had headed down here because I intercepted your orders to Lieutenant Jennery. I had a flag set on both of you. I expected you to reach out to Jennery at some point, though not as quickly as you did.” He ducked his head in acknowledgement, “it was pure accident I came across you tonight, I thought the barn was empty, I was just looking for shelter from this accursed rain.”
“Why were you looking for us?” Jerrol asked quietly.
“I came across a message from Prince Kharel to Nikols. He still wants you taken out permanently, he’s put a ransom on your head. He sees you as a threat to his plans.” Arthal paused to take a breath. “He is after the Crown, I am sure of it. He was furious with Nikols when he found out that he had allowed you to escape Vespers. He was expecting you to have been incarcerated for treason. Though from my investigations,” and he looked sharply at Jerrol, “the charges against you were not proven and I was surprised when you took the discharge without argument, so I ah, investigated a bit further.”
Jennery fist pumped the air, “I knew it. I knew there was something fishy about those charges, the King would never willingly let you go.”
Arthal managed to get his other boot off and began massaging his toes. He winced as the pins and needles started.
Jerrol rummaged in Arthal’s saddle bags and pulled out some clean clothes. “Do you think Kharel has sent out his thugs after me yet? How long have you been on the road?” He asked as he helped Arthal out of his muddy tunic.
Arthal speedily shrugged into clean clothes, though his stiff fingers struggled with the fastenings. His voice was muffled as he concentrated on getting the buttons done up. “It took me two weeks to find a boat, I was half expecting there to be news of your capture before I left, but it seems the Prince focused on Vespers and his plans to move the King. Once he’s settled in new Vespers maybe he’ll remember you again! He was very set on having you caught and locked up as I left, depends how long it takes him to get over his temper tantrum and issue orders.”
“I’m sure the Chamberlain hasn’t been so distracted.” Jerrol said thoughtfully.
“True,” agreed Arthal, tucking his shirt in his britches, “as I said, I was surprised you hadn’t been captured already.”
“Great,” Jennery groaned, “we’re gonna be looking over our shoulder as well now.”
Jerrol grimaced, “You said you investigated further, what did you find out?” He began clearing up as he spoke, tucking the mugs and canteen back in his bag and rolling up the rug.
Arthal watched him intently, observing the economy of movement and swift preparations. “First that you were arrested by the Prince in the throne room, in the early hours of the morning. I couldn’t find out what happened there, only that the Prince sealed the room immediately. Second, that Nikols let you slip through his fingers, I hesitate to say deliberately, but I think he may have looked the other way for some reason.” He paused as Jennery huffed but continued as he received no response from Jerrol. “It seems that you managed to re-enter the garrison prior to absconding?”
“Well I did need a few things,” Jerrol smiled tiredly, “and I had to send Jennery his orders of course.”
“You went back into the garrison to write out my orders?” Jennery repeated in disbelief, “No wonder they were so brief,” he muttered to himself.
Arthal glared at Jennery for the interruption, “Third, soon as they reached New Vespers Prince Kharel imprisoned Dennis, the King’s steward.”
He paused as Jerrol stilled and then spoke, “Imprisoned not killed? And what about the rest of the household?”
“Were being rounded up last I heard. Prince Kharel is closing his grip on the King, that’s why he is moving everyone to new Vespers, further from the Kings networks and the Chapterhouse. I heard he was getting really annoyed by Scholar-Deane Liliian trying to see the King every day.” Arthal stretched his back, holding his ribs carefully. He glared at Jennery, “What do you weigh anyway?” he asked, “I think you broke my ribs!”
“Nah,” Jennery grinned, “that was just a tap.”
Arthal huffed and turned back to Jerrol who was watching him intently. “The King’s illness is making him weak, the Chamberlain gains ground and it seems Kharel welcomes him.” Arthal finished bitterly.
“You risk much speaking so openly, how do you know I am not the Chamberlain’s man?” Jerrol asked as Jennery spluttered indignantly, but both Jerrol and Arthal ignored him.
“Captain Haven, your attempts to protect the King speak for themselves, as does the difficulties Kharel has experienced trying to overcome them. Which is why I don’t understand why you’ve deserted him now in his most dire need. Why did you not challenge the charge?”
Jerrol’s head reared up in anger, but he bit his lip and refrained from saying anything. He felt the cold flash of fear for his King shiver through him, but he had his orders, and he wasn’t turning back.
“Without you the King will fall.” Arthal argued, “You must go back.”
Jerrol shook his head, “Go back? To meet Kharel’s assassins, no, I have more chance outwitting them here.”
Arthal’s lips tightened. “You have a duty to protect the King.”
Jennery straightened out of his lean against the door frame in concern, as he saw the look of anguish flit across Jerrol’s face. Arthal was trying to provoke a response out of Jerrol, though Jennery wasn’t sure what.
“He has other Rangers better placed to protect him. I was not the only one and I wouldn’t be much use to him dead.” Pointed out Jerrol, back in control of himself and coldly calm. “Speaking of assassins, how likely is it that Kharel knows I was heading for the Watches?”
Arthal gritted his teeth angrily. He took a deep breath to calm himself. “Possible, Nikols was not particularly discreet.”
“Unfortunate,” Jerrol muttered under his breath as he swung his saddle bags over his shoulder, doused the fire and gathered up his cloak. “Time to move out,” he instructed Jennery. “So you found us now what?” he asked Arthal interestedly.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?” Arthal was almost stuttering in his distress.
Jennery snorted as he pulled the saddle bag off Jerrol’s shoulder and turned back to Arthal. “You’re the Scholar, you figure it out, before you say something you make us all regret.” He glared at Arthal menacingly before he left the shelter.
Jerrol looked at Arthal. “I can’t promise safety considering I have a target on my back though there is some safety in numbers. We are heading for Greenswatch to speak with Lord Hugh, so if your papers are correct you may as well travel with us.”
Arthal started in surprise. “You’ll let me travel with you just like that?”
“You’re a King’s man, supposedly incorruptible, we could use your skills as we check out the Watches. I have my orders. Get your boots on if you are coming with us.” He handed Arthal back his dagger as he left the shelter.
Arthal briefly stared at his dagger before galvanizing into action and pulling his boots on over his sore feet.
If you want to know what actually happens in the book then you can find Sentinals Awaken here.
If you enjoy fantasy books then you will love my Romantic Fantasy SoulMist series or the epic fantasy Sentinal series. As a new threat against Remargaren is discovered, only one man can wake the ancient guards who can protect them, only he doesn’t know how. Start the adventure and stay for the journey. Sign up to my newsletter and download a free novella called Sentinals Stirring and get notified when my next books are published.