Read an Exerpt of Kings & Vagabonds - Part One

The man sat, relaxed, astride the rangy gelding and looked down the valley at the distant spires of Almara Tor, the seat of power for Almaric, secure behind its fortified walls. The tor was rumoured to be impregnable, surrounded as it was by rivers on two sides and a sheer cliff on a third. Yet the same had been said of Umala'h and hadn't he just seen that fall to the Eastern menace? He turned his horse northwards and kicked the tired beast into motion. He had business elsewhere but he hoped that Almaric would fare better than its neighbours against the barbarian horde flowing out of the East. He rode into Missa two days later relieved to find that nothing about the town had changed, but knowing that the information he carried would change it forever.

Gauleiter Bekk stared thoughtfully from the second storey window that overlooked the town square before slowly turning back to face his council. Twelve men waited expectantly for him to speak, bland faces reflecting malleable minds, and Bekk understood that he alone was supposed to make a decision. As the silence grew in length, individual councillors began to shift uncomfortably, until after several more minutes the gauleiter decided to put them out of their collective misery.

"These are difficult times we face. You have heard the reports from Q'Ubbri and Keloria, and I believe that the threat from Ragnatha is real. Their armies are on the move and it is only a matter of time before Almaric itself will be forced to defend its borders; something that has not happened in many years. Let me make this clear however; we are not prepared for war."

"Surely we have the resources..." began Trimbal Metz, the treasurer.

"Metz," interrupted the gauleiter, "you, more than anyone, should know that we don't have the resources necessary to undertake a lengthy conflict. The Ragnathan's have been ready to do battle for a decade, while we have spent our time making vast amounts of money through trade; Keloria and Q'Ubbri have spent ten years protecting our borders and keeping the peace but even they will tell you of the constant border skirmishes between their united forces and Ragnatha."

"Then what is to be done?"

"Missa is going to need defending. It needs an army. We have some time yet and our coffers are full."

"You are talking of a mercenary force I presume?"

This from a slightly built man in his early forties who reclined easily in his chair and spoke in a cultured accent, which Bekk thought privately made him sound as if he had a mouth full of pebbles.

"Your presumption is correct, Master Rollo. Where else are we to find trained soldiers at a moment's notice?"

Rollo inclined his head in deference to the point being made and steepled his fingers in a familiar gesture which Bekk knew to be the prelude to a lengthy diatribe. Purposely he turned away and addressed the fourteenth man in the room. Unshaven and still dressed in his worn travelling clothes, his features were drawn and haggard from an obviously rough journey.

"And you, Ezra Standish, what is your opinion in this? You have first hand experience."

Standish lounged idley in a chair set to one side of the great hall, dozing in the heat. His eyes remained closed as he answered.

"You have all heard my report and know as much as I know. The Ragnathan's are mobilising. We have no army. My job is over, now yours begins."

"But surely you have some ideas of your own? Some advice for us?" prompted Rollo.

Standish sat up in his chair at last and slowly looked from one man to the next, his startling green eyes burning in hollowed sockets.

"My advice to all of you is to pack up your things and leave on the next vessel out of Missa. Lord Gris and his armies will sweep through Almarac like reapers through harvest wheat and I, for one, would not care to be one of the survivors. Mark my words, those who die in the first invasion will be the lucky ones. Now, gentlemen, if you will excuse me, I need a bath!"

Without another moment's hesitation the Ranger rose and with a courtly bow turned on his heel and strode out of the hall, leaving thirteen shocked and fearful men in his wake.