Here is the opening scene from MORGARTEN (Book 2 of The Forest Knights). The novel is in final edits now and I hope to be able to announce a release date soon. Please consider signing up for The Forest Knights Mailing List (or the J. K. Swift Mailing List) to get special pre-release pricing and to be the first to know when it’s available! Thanks for reading…
a novel of The Forest Knights
The whispers came for Seraina in sleep, as they often did. Some time ago, or perhaps only moments before, she recalled sitting down against a giant spruce and closing her eyes. Seraina could still feel the ridges of rough bark pressed against her back. That sensation was a tie to the waking world and she latched onto it, resisting the pull of the voices.
Her visions were rare and, so she was told, a gift from the Great Weave. Something to be treasured. But these voices calling from afar, differed from the ones she had heard before. They grew, both in volume and quantity, and as they became louder, they seemed to insist that Seraina listen. No, they demanded to be heard. Finally, Seraina understood.
They were screams.
Wails of terror, pain, fear, and rage. The realization tore Seraina completely away from the waking world. The comforting reassurance of the tree’s bark against her back was gone. She found herself hurtling through grey mist that clogged her nostrils and filled her mouth as she drew in deep breaths to ease the frantic pace set by her heart. The screams became louder, the anguish so unbearable, she clapped her hands over her ears knowing full well it would do little good.
She had to help them.
The mist cleared. Not gradually, but all at once, like the goddess Ardwinna herself had banished it from her forest realm with a clap of her hands.
Seraina floated high above the ramparts of the Altdorf fortress. A great host encircled the keep, pouring through and over broken sections of the outer walls. In the distance, the sky glowed with the heat of a thousand fires as the town burned.
The winds carried Seraina lower, in an erratic swoop like a swallow chasing mosquitoes. But this bird had no control over her descent and Seraina soon gave up trying to direct her flight. She took a deep breath and surrendered herself to the Winds of the Weave, knowing full well where they meant to take her. She closed her eyes, but that only brought the gruesome images of war into focus. There was no way to shield one’s eyes while trapped within a vision.
She watched as a man with a two-handed sword cut another in half from shoulder to hip-bone, and he in turn was skewered from behind by another man’s blade. They fell, and other men ran over their bodies, howling, their faces red and twisted by the furies of battle.
Seraina winced as she felt their rage, their need to kill, and the great relief as a man slid his blade into the open mouth of another. His teeth dragged against the steel, ringing out a long, grating note. Tears filled her eyes and she tried to look away, but it was futile. The winds were merciless. They whisked her throughout the battle, from one gory scene to the next, like she was some wealthy patron of a macabre series of plays.
An old man sat astride a young soldier and pummelled his head with a bloody rock. A young girl, not yet in her teens, attempted to crawl through dirt muddied with blood, as two men tore the clothes from her back. Nearby, a group of soldiers laughed and passed around a wineskin. They watched a man grind against an unmoving naked woman, her arms and legs tied to stakes thrust into the ground. No sounds came from her broken lips, but Seraina could hear her screams. Shrieks that mingled with all the others, forming background music for the chaos.
Finally, relief, and no small measure of guilt, washed over Seraina as the winds took her away once more. They left her standing on top of a crumbled section of the outer wall.
In front of her, stood Thomas.
His tunic was drenched in blood, dripping with it, like it had been freshly pulled from a dying vat. He looked directly at her, and smiled. The scar, extending from the corner of his left eye all the way to his jawline, was so white it hurt Seraina’s eyes.
He took a step toward Seraina but a man appeared between them. Thomas crushed his skull with a quick swing of his mace. More figures climbed onto the wall. Thomas stepped over the dead man at his feet and slashed with the sword in his other hand. Another man fell, only to be replaced by two more.
Seraina blinked. It occurred to her then, that of all the people she had seen thus far, Thomas was the only one she recognized. She had sensed the others’ terror and pain, felt their need to kill or maim, but, thank the Goddess, she did not know their faces. And while she knew Thomas’s face, when she quested out to him from within her own mind, she felt… nothing. No emotions whatsoever. It was as if he were already dead.
Thomas opened the throat of another and, when the dying man fell to his knees, Thomas brought his mace down upon his head. With every death, Thomas took one step toward Seraina. But he could never close the distance.
Seraina called out his name, and Thomas heard. He lowered his mace and sword and stared at her. He shook his head slowly.
Enemies flooded around him. A dozen swords pierced his body and he stumbled. His dark, almost black, eyes never left hers until he tumbled backward over the wall.
Seraina gasped and leaned out between two crenellations. She watched his body fall, and though she was too far away to see his face, she knew he wore a contented smile. A moment before his body smashed against the rocks below, she felt the first hint of emotion emanate from Thomas’s mind. It was only a simple pause, like a breath before sleep, and was gone in an instant. But she recognized it for what it was.
Tears clouded her eyes as she stared at the blood-red form lying broken below. The Weave came for her then. Seraina shouted in protest and reached toward Thomas, but the winds plucked her from the walls and sent her spinning back into the mist.
Seraina woke with a start and she fought back a cough as breath poured into her lungs. She pushed her spine hard against the tree, and let it cradle her, as she allowed her senses time to recover from her vision.
The mist was gone but now she was surrounded in darkness. Two sets of eyes stared at her, reflecting the glowing coals of a dying campfire. One set was blue and ancient, the other gold and wild.
“What have you seen, my child?” Gildas asked.
The violent images were still too fresh in her mind and they stole her voice. Suddenly cold, Seraina wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head. She stared into the hissing embers, jealous of their warmth. It took several minutes before she was able to answer the old druid, but Gildas waited patiently and did not press. He knew better. The wolf at his side, however, whined at her silence.
Eventually, Seraina forced words from her throat.
“Something is wrong,” she said.
***end of sneak peek of MORGARTEN***
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