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Bhaal sat on his most prized possession. A golden and ivory throne bought with the money he had earned during the adventures of his youth. It rose up from the floor like the stump of an old dead tree. Two huge armrests flanked each side of the seat, fanning out at the top to end in a smooth flat surface. Gold, etched with runes, spiraled and swirled through the structure everywhere. The sides were as the bark of a tree, rippled and pitted as if worn by time and water damage. The back reached up high enough to support his slender shoulders and bent back into a curl like the edge of aged parchment.
Bhaal, however, was in stark contrast to the throne. His once statuesque body had wasted away. He was nothing more than skin and bones. The stench of his breath was that of a carcass. The dark black orbs that were his eyes stared straight forward from his skull into the hallway before him. He had the look of someone seeing into eternity. A tarnished bronze crown sat on filthy, dusty black hair. His tunic had rotted away to nothing more than tatters. A rusted shirt of chain mail lay on top of it, torn away at the waist. His leather britches had dry rotted away from the knees down. A rusted chain skirt covered his thighs. Its links were broken and jagged at the seams. High top plate boots, rusted from years of neglect, covered his feet. A light coating of dust everywhere told everyone who looked upon him that he had not moved in years.
It was hard to tell that Bhaal was still alive, but alive he was. He had somehow managed to live far beyond his own time. He existed without eating or moving. The doctors had long ago given up on trying to figure out what it was that kept him so. Theologians had inspected him. Philosophers debated his refusal to die in his present state. In truth, he had not spoken in twenty years even though the wilderness and upstart usurpers had carved away at his empire till all he still owned was the small town that rested at the base of his small keep.
And then there was the sword. An elegant bronze and Damascus steel broadsword reached up from the base of the throne to the palm of Bhaal's hand, point inserted into a crack in the floor. Red rubies adorned the hilt and pommel, and even through years of nonuse the whole sword was immaculately polished and clean. It was the sword that had carved out Bhaal's once mighty empire, and thousands of legends were attributed to the thing. It was rumored to have dispatched more than one demon out of existence.
It was this very sword that brought Niana to the small keep. Being a dark elf, she had no fear of creatures that were unnatural, and it was common knowledge that Bhaal had been undead for some time. She looked over the whole room, carefully committing the whole place to memory.
Plenty of room for a fight, she mused. Excellent position here at the doorway to cast spells over the heads of the fighters. Two fighters abreast would keep Bhaal from getting at her. She would need at least four or five in all. Sven, her champion, would be her main combatant, and Cord could carry the axe she would need to cut off Bhaal's hand. She would need someone to help with guards, should they appear. Her sister came to mind. Breeya always wanted to come along. One more, she placed her finger at the corner of her mouth and tapped. She would need healing should things go wrong, but healers were a messy business and expensive too. Later, she thought, I will get my last position filled later.
The eyes of Bhaal had not moved the whole time. If he had a single clue that she was plotting his death, he did not show it.
She turned on her heels and walked out of the room and into the hallway beyond. The guard she had ensorcelled into slumber was still asleep at his post. The road beyond was still dark and devoid of guards. She wrapped her cloak around her and proceeded back to her home in the underground caves to the north.
It was still early when she entered the quarters of Serran. He was dressed in his usual red cloak. A large white marble altar with black swirls served as his work place. His attention was forever fixed on the books he studied diligently. Aged books littered everything in sight. Red fires licked at the walls of his cavern, from braziers placed evenly throughout. Scraps of wood, steel and bone littered the corners, and burnt candle wax stained the floors. Only a bed made from stuffed burlap sacks covered in exotic animal furs hinted that he lived in this place.
"I will need the use of your axe if you want me to retrieve the sword for you," Niana interrupted.
"The axe is extremely valuable," he said matter of factly, his attention never leaving the book he was reading. A boney hand covered in rings raised and began making gestures in the air.
Niana cast a spell of protection on herself in response. She knew Serran to be evil, far more evil than anyone had a right to be, even herself. With this man she could take no chances.
"You realize that the price of losing the axe will be very high?" Serran turned to look at her. His face had a chiseled handsomeness that she admired. Deep inside, she played with the idea that the price of losing the axe would be paid in his bed. She stifled these thoughts lest she reveal her indiscretions to him. She had playthings to occupy those moments of need, Sven and Cord among them.
"I won't lose your axe, and besides, if I did, I can pay the price," she said. Her mind was still thinking of some deluded servitude to the sorcerer.
Serran looked deep into her eyes. "Indeed you could," He said as if he already knew what she had that he wanted. He crossed the room and pulled a menacing looking axe out from behind a pile of wood. He then crossed the room once more to stand before her.
"Lose my axe and pay my price or don't return at all," he said. "If you run off with it I will find you and you will wish death was the worst thing that could ever happen to you."
Niana grabbed the axe and disappeared from sight. She had tricks and spells at her disposal, but she truly feared the man. She ran through the hallways carved out ages ago by thralls and other slaves. Her apartment lay at the far side of the underground city and she meant to reach it before Serran changed his mind.
Once there, she scrambled into her room and threw back the sheets of her most elegant bed. It was a splendid affair of colorful plush sheets and fluffy pink pillows. Just being here made her feel safe. All thoughts of Serran's threats vanished and she was back to her carefree self once again. She placed the axe in her bed and covered it as if it were sleeping. She was secure in the knowledge that the spells placed on her personal residence were sufficient to guarantee the item's safety.
Breeya sat in the dark tavern watching Sven and Cord playing a drinking game with Threan, a young healer in training. He had been secured as per Niana's instructions. Threan fit those instructions to a tee. She knew the young elf to be boisterous and foolish to no end. She also knew that Sven had no intention of guaranteeing the boys return should they fall into trouble retrieving the sword. No sense in cutting him in for the split they promised him. It was her duty to remove him if things went well. The sharp dagger in her boot would do the trick.
She looked over the rest of the group and evaluated them. They had been her constant companions her whole life. Niana had taken her in the day their mother was murdered in the market. Her sister had let her have the killing blow some twenty years later when they exacted their revenge on the killers; Sven and Cord had shown their true worth that day.
She liked Sven most of all. His skin was just the shade of darkness she desired in a man. He was also confident, the kind of confidence one could get only from mastering the arts of fighting. He walked as if he owned everything in sight. She liked to fancy that he was her champion, a guardian who would slay anyone who threatened her.
Cord was altogether different. He was built big and strong. His muscles bulged out of his tunic like some monstrous growths. He walked like a yak, swaying from side to side. His hair never seemed to be combed and his manners were atrocious. What Niana saw in Cord she did not know?
Sven and Cord both felt the same way about Breeya. She was a thrall, a non-magic using elf, and she belonged to Niana as did they. She was cute but just not worth the effort. Besides, if all went well with the raid on Bhaal's keep, they would be more than welcome to have their way with her, with or against her will.
Niana burst into the room. All eyes turned to her. Sven, Cord and Threan stood up from their stools and walked to a table next to her and sat down. Breeya joined them, and Niana quickly filled them in on her success with getting the axe.
"When will we be leaving?" Sven asked.
"Just a few hours before sunset," Niana replied. "Get yourselves ready, pack light, but bring what we will need. We will meet here," she said as she turned to leave.
Sven thought it odd that she would use a term like sunset. And then all of his thoughts turned to lust as he watched her walk out the door. There would be more to be had than just the thrall if all went well.
THE KEEP LAY before them. Breeya had led the way. She had her dagger hidden in her cloak just in case. Sven stayed close beside her. His chain shirt was gleaming in the light of the fading sun. His twin kukris, the pair of swords bent at a forty five degree angle halfway down the blade, were firmly in his hands. They had been magically blacked as well as having other enchantments placed on them. Cord stayed back by his mistress and carried the precious axe barrowed from Serran. Niana and Threan stayed near the rear. They all wore cloaks of dark hues and traveling boots made to made no sound as they walked.
Niana pushed to the front as they reached the wall. She motioned for Cord. He ran over and braced himself against the wall. He bent over and placed his hands on his knees. One by one they all climbed up onto him then onto the wall. Once there, they jumped off to land on the ground. Sven, being the last, stopped at the top of the wall and pulled his friend up so he could cross also.
They crossed the grounds around the keep in silence, using the shadows whenever they could. The bridge was as unguarded as it had been the night she first visited it. All had gone well so far. They crossed the bridge as tactically as they could. Cord went first and then pulled guard on the other side as the rest crossed one at a time. Sven went last, since he would be needed there should some guards come.
The guard at his post was asleep as expected. His feet were propped up on a stool as he lounged on a bench. His back rested against the wall. Niana motioned for his immediate death and Breeya cut his throat while holding his mouth shut. It was the blood gushing down his throat that awoke him. She held his mouth closed as she stared into his dying eyes. What a glorious way to die, she thought, getting to look at my beauty as darkness closed in around him. When he was finally dead, she lowered him down to the bench, making sure his helmet did not fall to make a sound.
As planned, Sven was the first to enter the throne room. Cord and Niana followed and took up their places on each side of the room. Threan and Breeya took up positions behind Sven, and Threan prepared a spell.
Bhaal stood up without warning. Dust, disturbed by his sudden movement, made a cloud that hung in the silence that continued. He looked from right to left and took stock of about his foes' abilities. He brought his sword up in a defensive posture and looked ready for combat.
"I thought you said he was dead and didn't move," Sven said pointedly to Niana.
"I said he was most likely dead and didn't move when I was there," responded Niana. "If I thought he was dead I would not have brought so many fighters."
Sven nodded and readied his weapons. The sword Bhaal carried was much larger than he had anticipated. The edge promised some sort of magical possession, not to mention that Bhaal himself moved with a speed Sven had not faced before. Sven's assessment of Bhaal was that he was unnaturally deadly, and Sven did not want to die here.
Bhaal exploded into movement. A series of figure eight swings assailed Sven. Sven began his own series of blocks in an attempt to draw the sword into position, but, being caught off guard, he was slow and even absent in some of his blocks. Blow after blow reached the swordsman, and cuts here and there sprouted blood in several spots on his arms and legs. It was clear that even though Niana's champion had felled several combatants in the arena back in her home city, he was no match for Bhaal.
Threan recovered from his shock. This was the first time he had ever seen combat, not to mention the first time he had ever seen the undead. He quickly fell into spell casting mode and healed Sven just as he was falling.
"Hurry up with that or we will all die here," Niana screamed at him.
Cord saw his friend in danger. It wasn't part of the plan, but he began swinging the axe back and forth in a desperate attempt to push Bhaal away. Time and time again the axe bit into Bhaal with no reaction from him. Not even blood sprayed as the axe tore away at the feeble chain. It was as though the lick was totally immune to the nasty axe's edge.
Niana, seeing that direct damage was useless against such a foe, began weaving a deadly spell. A round ball of light sprang from her hands and struck Bhaal's exposed side. He flew sideways to land at Cord's feet, who quickly backed away lest the fiend notice him. Bhaal sprang back to his feet immediately and rushed the dark elvin female.
Sven was there to intercept him. He barreled into Bhaal and tried to toss him off his feet. Bhaal struck Sven cleanly in the back, sending him to the floor. Sven rolled out of the way of Bhaal's next overhead swing and sprung up to his feet with both kukris ready. The two continued their fight.
Threan set himself back farther against the wall. He positioned himself so that he could easily reach the hallway should things go sour. Once he felt safe, he began casting once more. His second spell landed just as he saw Sven take a savage cut across his throat. The slice was severe enough to kill Sven outright and would have if the spell had not landed in time. Immediately, Threan began his third spell.
Breeya watched the fight from the safety of the hall. It was not her job to risk her neck and she held no intention of doing so. She had slid back there just as Bhaal had attacked. Twice she saw Sven slain only to regain his feet and continue the fight. She looked from him to Cord and then to her sister as she waited patiently for the sword to fall.
Bhaal was no fool. He had dropped the fighter twice now, only to be saved by his friends. So he changed his tactics, trying to get the fighter to back into the cleric. Sven had backed into Threan just his third spell fired. Bhaal had waited, and here was his chance. He swung low and connected with Sven's leg, tripping him. Sven fell, leaving the cleric open. Threan's eyes popped open as Bhaal's blade spun around and chopped into his head, dazing him. Then Bhaal, quicker than anyone could have imagined, thrust his sword hard into his stomach.
Cord had just returned to his position as Bhaal struck. It was the moment he had been waiting for. He quickly swung the axe in a straight downward chop that severed the arm of Bhaal right at the wrist. Bhaal spun around to face Cord directly and brought his fist around to connect with Cord's face. Cord was slammed backwards hard into the wall. The axe spun wildly out of his hands and landed far to Cord's left. It clanked as it toppled end over end through the great hall.
Breeya moved as if by instinct. Her only job in this battle was to grab the sword should it fall out of Bhaal's hands, and it just had. She darted toward Threan with no care for her own safety and wrenched the sword from his chest. Threan managed to grab her arm as she began to head out of the throne room. She jerked away and he toppled over onto his face, blood pouring out of him like spilled milk.
Bhaal turned just in time to see the elf sprinting away with his sword. Another blast slammed him back sideways into the wall. He scrambled back to his feet as Niana and Cord ran out of the room. He grabbed up his severed hand and held it in place. Only Sven was left in the room and Sven was already on his feet. Bhaal knew where the axe had landed and made his way back to it.
Excerpted from Fox Elvensword and the Sword of Bhaal by George Allen Butler II Copyright © 2011 by George Allen Butler II. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 21, 2012
Couldn't put it down once I started reading it. Unique and fresh was something I needed and the author didn't disappoint! Look forward to see where we go from here!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2011
Fox Elvensword and the Sword of Bhaal was a great read. It was easy to get sucked into the characters lives. This book is full of action mixed with romance and magic; it has it all. I can't wait to see what the author does with his next book. If you want to good fast read get this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.