A Warrior Discovers Who He Truly Is in the Second Chapter of Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred

This fall, grimdark legend Joe Abercrombie returns the the universe of his epic, bloody First Law saga for a new series that will welcome new readers and satisfy existing fans. A Little Hatred is the first book in the Age of Madness trilogy set in a world where the age of machines is dawning, but the time of magic is refusing to go quietly.

Earlier this week, io9 shared a sneak peek at the novel’s opening chapter, and we’re pleased to deliver the complete text of chapter two to you today. The excerpt begins below the official summary… and after you’ve devoured it, place your preorder to secure one of our limited quantity of first editions signed by the author.

The chimneys of industry rise over Adua and the world seethes with new opportunities. But old scores run deep as ever.

On the blood-soaked borders of Angland, Leo dan Brock struggles to win fame on the battlefield, and defeat the marauding armies of Stour Nightfall. He hopes for help from the crown. But King Jezal’s son, the feckless Prince Orso, is a man who specializes in disappointments.

Savine dan Glokta—socialite, investor, and daughter of the most feared man in the Union – plans to claw her way to the top of the slag-heap of society by any means necessary. But the slums boil over with a rage that all the money in the world cannot control.

The age of the machine dawns, but the age of magic refuses to die. With the help of the mad hillwoman Isern-i-Phail, Rikke struggles to control the blessing, or the curse, of the Long Eye. Glimpsing the future is one thing, but with the guiding hand of the First of the Magi still pulling the strings, changing it will be quite another…


Where the Fight’s Hottest

In battle, Leo’s father used to say, a man discovers who he truly is.

The Northmen were already turning to run as his horse crashed into them with a thrilling jolt.

He smashed one across the back of the helmet with the full force of the charge and ripped his head half off.

He snarled as he swung to the other side. A glimpse of a gawping face before his axe split it open, blood spraying in black streaks.

Other riders tore into the Northmen, tossing them like broken dolls. He saw one horse spitted through the head with a spear. The rider turned a somersault as he was flung from the saddle.

A lance shattered, a shard flying into Leo’s helmet with an echoing clang as he wrenched away. The world was a flickering slit of twisted faces, glinting steel, heaving bodies, half seen through the slot in his visor. Screams of men and mounts and metal mashed into one thought-crushing din.

A horse swerved in front of him. Riderless, stirrups flapping. Ritter’s horse. He could tell by the yellow saddlecloth. A spear stabbed at him, jolting the shield on his arm, rocking him in his saddle. The point screeched down his armoured thigh.

He gripped the reins in his shield-hand as his mount bucked and snorted, face locked in an aching smile, flailing wildly with his axe on one side, then the other. He beat mindlessly at a shield with a black wolf painted on it, kicked at a man and sent him staggering back, then Barniva’s sword flashed as it took his arm off.

He saw Whitewater Jin swinging his mace, red hair tangled across gritted teeth. Just beyond him, Antaup was shrieking something as he tried to twist his spear free of bloody mail. Glaward wrestled with a Carl, both without weapons, all tangled with their reins. Leo hacked at the Northman and smashed his elbow back the wrong way, hacked again and sent him flopping into the mud.

He pointed at Stour Nightfall’s standard with his axe, black wolf streaming in the wind. He howled, roared, throat hoarse. No one could hear him with his visor down. No one could’ve heard him if it had been up. He hardly knew what he was saying. He flailed furiously at the milling bodies instead.

Someone clutched at his leg. Curly hair. Freckles. Looked bloody terrified. Everyone did. Didn’t seem to have a weapon. Maybe surrendering. Leo smashed Freckles on the top of the head with the rim of his shield, gave his horse the spurs and trampled him into the mud.

This was no place for good intentions. No place for tedious subtleties or boring counter-arguments. None of his mother’s carping on patience and caution. Everything was beautifully simple.

In battle, a man discovers who he truly is, and Leo was the hero he’d always dreamed of being.

He swung again but his axe felt strange. The blade had flown off, left him holding a bloody stick. He dropped it, dragged out his battle steel, buzzing fingers clumsy in his gauntlet, hilt greasy from the thickening rain. He realised the man he’d been hitting was dead. He’d fallen against the fence, so it looked as if he was standing but there was black pulp hanging out of his broken skull, so that was that.

The Northmen were crumbling. Running, squealing, being hacked down from behind, and Leo herded them towards their standard. Three riders had a whole crowd of them hemmed into a gateway, Barniva in their midst, scarred face flecked with blood as he chopped away with his heavy sword.

The standard-bearer was a huge man with desperate eyes and blood in his beard, still holding high the flag of the black wolf. Leo spurred right at him, blocked axe with shield, caught him with a sword-cut that screeched over his cheek guard and opened a great gash across his face, carved half his nose off. He tottered back and Whitewater Jin crushed the man’s helmet with his mace, blood squirting from under the rim. Leo kicked him over, tearing the standard from his limp hand as he fell. He thrust it up, laughing, gurgling, half-choking on his own spit then laughing again, his axe’s loop still stuck around his wrist so the broken haft clattered against his helmet.

Had they won? He stared around for more enemies. A few ragged figures bounded through the crops towards the distant trees. Running for their lives, weapons abandoned. That was all.

Leo ached all over: thighs from gripping his horse, shoulders from swinging his axe, hands from gripping the reins. The very soles of his feet throbbed from the effort. His chest heaved, breath booming in his helmet, damp, and hot, and tasting of salt. Might’ve bit his tongue somewhere. He fumbled with the buckle under his chin, finally tore the damn thing free. His skull burst with the noise, turned from fury to delight. The noise of victory.

He almost fell from his horse, clambered up onto the wall. Something was soft under his gauntleted hand. A Northman’s corpse, a broken spear sticking from his back. All he felt was giddy joy.

No corpses, no glory, after all. Might as well regret the peelings from a carrot. Someone was helping him up, giving him a steadying hand. Jurand. Always there when he needed him. Leo stood tall, the joyful faces of his men all turned towards him.

“The Young Lion!” roared Glaward, climbing up beside him and clapping a heavy hand on his shoulder, making him wobble. Jurand stretched out his arms to catch him, but he didn’t fall. “Leo dan Brock!” Soon they were all shouting his name, singing it like a prayer, chanting it like a magic word, stabbing their glittering weapons at the spitting sky.

“Leo! Leo! Leo!”

In battle, a man discovers who he truly is.

He felt drunk. He felt on fire. He felt like a king. He felt like a god. This was what he was made for!

“Victory!” he roared, shaking his bloody sword and the Northmen’s bloody standard.

By the dead, could there be anything better than this?

~

In the lady governor’s tent, they were fighting a different kind of war. A war of patient study and careful calculation, of weighed odds and furrowed brows, of lines of supply and an awful lot of maps. A kind of war Leo frankly hadn’t the patience for.

The glow of victory had been dampened by the stiffening rain on the long trudge up from the valley, doused further by the niggling pain from a dozen cuts and bruises, and was almost entirely smothered by the cool stare his mother gave him as Leo pushed through the flap with Jurand and Whitewater Jin at his back.

She was in the midst of talking to a knight herald. Ridiculously tall, he had to stoop respectfully to attend to her.

“… please tell His Majesty we are doing everything to check the Northmen’s advance, but Uffrith is lost and we are giving ground. They struck with overwhelming force at three points and we are still gathering our troops. Ask him… no, beg him to send reinforcements.”

“I will, my Lady Governor.” The knight herald nodded to Leo as he passed. “My congratulations on your victory, Lord Brock.”

“We don’t need the king’s bloody help!” snapped Leo as soon as the flap dropped. “We can beat Black Calder’s dogs!” His voice sounded oddly weak in the tent, deadened by wet cloth. It didn’t carry anywhere near so nicely as it had on the battlefield.

“Huh.” His mother planted her fists on the table and frowned down at her maps. By the dead, sometimes he thought she loved those maps more than him. “If we are to fight the king’s battles, we should expect the king’s help.”

“You should’ve seen them run!” Damn it, but Leo had been so sure of himself a few moments ago. He could charge a line of Carls and never falter, but a woman with a long neck and greying hair leached all the courage out of him. “They broke before we even got to them! We took a few dozen prisoners…” He glanced towards Jurand, but he was giving Leo that doubtful look now, the one he used when he didn’t approve, the one he’d given him before the charge. “And the farm’s back in our hands… and…”

His mother let him stammer into silence before she glanced at his friends. “My thanks, Jurand. I’m sure you did your best to talk him out of it. And you, Whitewater. My son couldn’t ask for better friends or I for braver warriors.”

Jin slapped a heavy hand down on Leo’s shoulder. “It was Leo who led the—”

“You can go.”

Jin scratched sheepishly at his beard, showing a lot less warrior’s mettle than he had down in the valley. Jurand gave Leo the slightest apologetic wince. “Of course, Lady Finree.” And they slunk from the tent, leaving Leo to fiddle weakly with the fringe of his captured standard.

His mother let the withering silence stretch a moment longer before she passed judgement. “You bloody fool.”

He’d known it was coming, but it still stung. “Because I actually fought?”

“Because of when you chose to fight, and how.”

“Great leaders go where the fight’s hottest!” But he knew he sounded like the heroes in the badly written storybooks he used to love.

“You know who else you find where the fight’s hottest?” asked his mother. “Dead men. We both know you’re not a fool, Leo. For whose benefit are you pretending to be one?” She shook her head wearily. “I should never have let your father send you to live with the Dogman. All you learned in Uffrith was rashness, bad songs and a childish admiration for murderers. I should have sent you to Adua instead. I doubt your singing would be any better but at least you might have learned some subtlety.”

“There’s a time for subtlety and a time for action!”

“There is never a time for recklessness, Leo. Or for vanity.”

“We bloody won!”

“Won what? A worthless farm in a worthless valley? That was little more than a scouting party, and now the enemy will guess our strength.” She gave a bitter snort as she turned back to her maps. “Or the lack of it.”

“I captured a standard.” It seemed a pitiful thing now he really looked at it, though, clumsily stitched, the pole closer to a branch than a flagstaff. How could he have thought Stour Nightfall himself might ride beneath it?

“We have plenty of flags,” said his mother. “It’s men to follow them we’re short of. Perhaps you could bring back a few regiments of those next time?”

“Damn it, Mother, I don’t know how to please you—”

“Listen to what you’re told. Learn from those who know better. Be brave, by all means, but don’t be rash. Above all, don’t get yourself bloody killed ! You’ve always known exactly how to please me, Leo, but you choose to please yourself.”

“You can’t understand! You’re not…” He waved an impatient hand, failing, as always, to quite find the right words. “A man,” he finished lamely.

She raised one brow. “Had I been confused on that point, it was put beyond doubt when I pushed you out of my womb. Have you any notion how much you weighed as a baby? Spend two days shitting an anvil and we’ll talk again.”

“Bloody hell, Mother! I mean that men will look up to a certain kind of man, and—”

“Like your friend Ritter looked up to you?”

Leo was caught out by the memory of that riderless horse clattering past. He realised he hadn’t seen Ritter’s face among his friends when they celebrated. Realised he hadn’t even thought about that until now.

“He knew the risks,” he croaked, suddenly choked with worry. “He chose to fight. He was proud to fight!”

“He was. Because you have that fire in you that inspires men to follow. Your father had it, too. But with that gift comes responsibility. Men put their lives in your hands.”

Leo swallowed, pride melting to leave ugly guilt behind as pristine snow melts to show the world rotten and bedraggled. “I should go and see him.” He turned towards the tent flap, nearly tripping on the loose strap of one of his greaves. “Is he… with the wounded?”

His mother’s face had softened. That made him more worried than ever. “He’s with the dead, Leo.” There was a long, strange silence, and outside the wind blew up and made the canvas of the tent flap and whisper. “I’m sorry.”

No corpses, no glory. He sank onto a folding field chair, captured standard clattering to the ground.

“He said we should wait for you,” he muttered, remembering Ritter’s worried face as he looked down into the valley. “So did Jurand. I told them they could stay with the ladies… while we handled the fighting.”

“You did what you thought was right,” murmured his mother. “In the heat of the moment.”

“He has a wife…” Leo remembered the wedding. What the hell was her name? Bit of a weak chin. The groom had looked prettier. The happy couple had danced, badly, and Whitewater Jin had bellowed in Northern that he hoped for her sake Ritter fucked better than he danced. Leo had laughed so hard he was nearly sick. He didn’t feel like laughing now. Being sick, yes. “By the dead… he has a child.”

“I will write to them.”

“What good will a letter do?” He felt the stinging of tears at the back of his nose. “I’ll give them my house! In Ostenhorm!”

“Are you sure?”

“Why do I need a house? I spend all my time in the saddle.”

“You’ve a big heart, Leo.” His mother squatted down before him. “Too big, I sometimes think.” Her pale hands looked tiny in his gauntleted fists, but they were the stronger then. “You have it in you to be a great man, but you cannot let yourself be swept off by whatever emotion blows your way. Battles may sometimes be won by the brave, but wars are always won by the clever. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” he whispered.

“Good. Give orders to leave the farm and pull back towards the west before Stour Nightfall arrives in force.”

“But if we fall back… Ritter died for nothing. If we fall back, how will that look?”

She stood. “Like womanly weakness and indecision, I hope. Then perhaps the rash heads on the Northmen’s side will prevail and pursue us with manly smiles on their manly faces, and when the king’s soldiers finally arrive, we’ll cut them to pieces on ground of our choosing.”

Leo blinked at the floor and felt the tears on his cheeks. “I see.”

She had her soft voice, now. “It was rash, it was reckless, but it was brave, and… for better or worse, men do look up to a certain kind of man. I won’t deny we all need something to cheer for. You gave Stour Nightfall a bloody nose, and great warriors are quick to anger, and angry men make mistakes.” She pressed something into his limp hand. The standard with Nightfall’s wolf on it. “Your father would have been proud of your courage, Leo. Now make me proud of your judgement.”

He trudged to the tent flap, shoulders drooping under armour that felt three times heavier than when he arrived. Ritter was gone, and never coming back, and had left his weak-chinned wife weeping at the fireside. Killed by his own loyalty, and Leo’s vanity, and Leo’s carelessness, and Leo’s arrogance.

“By the dead.” He tried to rub the tears away with the back of his hand but couldn’t do it with his gauntlets on. He used the hem of the captured standard instead.

In battle, a man discovers who he truly is.

He froze as he stepped into the daylight. What looked like a whole regiment had gathered in a crescent, looking up towards his mother’s tent.

“A cheer for Leo dan Brock!” roared Glaward, catching Leo’s wrist in his ham of a fist and hoisting it high. “The Young Lion!”

“The Young Lion!” bellowed Barniva as a rousing cheer went up. “Leo dan Brock!”

“I tried to warn you.” Jurand leaned over to mutter in his ear. “She give you a roasting?”

“Nothing I didn’t deserve.” But Leo managed to smile a little, too. Just for the sake of morale. No one could deny they all needed something to cheer for.

It grew louder as he raised that rag of a standard, and Antaup swaggered forwards, throwing up his arms for more noise. One of the men, no doubt drunk already, dragged down his trousers and showed his bare arse to the North, to widespread approval. Then he fell over, to widespread laughter. Glaward and Barniva caught Leo and bundled him high into the air on their shoulders while Jurand planted his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes.

The rain had slackened off and the sun shone on polished armour, and sharpened blades, and smiling faces.

It was hard not to feel much better.

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